Chapter 17: Harder, Better, Faster, Stronger
Sunday January 25
The Electric Ballroom, Camden
PROGRESS has quickly gained a remarkable reputation for presenting awesome wrestling in a stylish, grungy and adult package that has garnered a dedicated and rabid following of fans. Its next show, Chapter 18, sold out an allocation of 700 tickets in less than an hour and a 16-man tournament featuring the best of UK and international talent in the same vein as the wXw 16-Karat Gold is planned for a double-header show in May.
It’s fair to say that PROGRESS is a major success for UK indie wrestling. This was my first time experiencing PROGRESS live in the Electric Ballroom in Camden, having watched on DVD/VOD since Chapter 11, and I was not disappointed at all.
PROGRESS Tag Team Championship Match – FSU (Mark Andrews and Eddie Dennis) (c) vs The Faceless: This match was originally scheduled to be Mark Andrews vs Eddie Dennis for sole ownership of the Tag Team Titles, which are two halves of a shield with the PROGRESS logo on the front. This was a weird stipulation with no prior build, so it was always likely that shenanigans would occur, and indeed they did. The Faceless debuted at the last Chapter after a Twitter account teased their arrival for several months, attacking FSU during intermission. They wear ski masks and are portrayed as unwelcome and anonymous invaders. After attacking FSU again and making off with the shield, FSU demanded a match for the titles. This was really more of an angle than a match, with The Faceless dominating the beaten up Welshmen, and winning the Tag Shield in a couple of minutes. The two Faceless wrestling the match looked very similar in body type to the recently ‘fired’ from PROGRESS London Riots team, so they may very well be under the masks, but there’s still at least a couple of other Faceless men, so the stable could be pretty deep. Unfortunately, while they still have the masks, the crowd didn’t really know what to make of them. In a promotion where Jimmy Havoc creates mayhem wherever he goes, The Faceless have seemed quite tame so far. *
Post-match, FSU apologized for losing, and Andrews said that he didn’t want this chapter of his career to end like that. He, Dennis and co-owner and ring announcer Jim Smallman agreed to have their scheduled match later in the show.
Mark Haskins vs Rampage Brown: Haskins and Brown are former friends, but Brown turned face a few Chapters ago and turned on Haskins and Team Screw Indy Wrestling at Chapter 16: Very Very Very Breaky Breaky Breaky BISHI BISHIII (Yes, they called a show that), setting up this match. Haskins promised to ‘batter’ Rampage in a YouTube video, but never got the chance, as Rampage worked most of the match on top, with Haskins getting in a few shots here and there. Ultimately though, Rampage was too strong for him and he resorted to a (protected) chair shot to the head for a DQ loss. Rampage was mega over with the crowd, and he responded in kind with a lot of intensity. Haskins played off him well, playing a dick heel. Alright for what it was, but hopefully a future No DQ match will produce a more complete match. **
Marty Scurll vs El Ligero: Both men are veterans of British indie wrestling, with Scurll getting a big break with his new ‘Villain’, getting matches with Tanahashi, Colt Cabana and Kevin Steen in his last UK match. Ligero is a former PROGRESS champion and a major focus early in the promotion’s life, with a distinct luchador look along the lines of El Generico. No story heading into this match, just two guys ready to tear it up. Scurll smashed Ligero with his umbrella before the bell, as he is wont to do. Lots of cool strikes and kicks in this one that made that ‘smack’ sound that always pops the crowd big, especially when a few are done in quick succession. I’ve always wondered how the wrestlers make that satisfying sound, but I guess it’s like a magic trick and once the illusion is ruined, it’s no longer satisfying. Best not to find out then. Scurll put Ligero away by rolling through into his Chickenwing submission. A good, fun, but inconsequential match. **½
Dave Mastiff vs Tommy End: This was a true heavyweight hoss fight, between two of the most exciting big men in the world. Mastiff is a beast of a man; large but moves very quickly. End is taller and slimmer but still a monster as well, and has some awesome tattoos that make for a great look. Dutch native End is making his return to the UK, while Mastiff lost a three way main event for the PROGRESS Championship at the last Chapter, but did not lose the fall.
This match went less than 5 minutes, but it was action-packed. End began by launching a huge running knee into Mastiff for a near fall, before both men traded big blows in true strong style fashion. Mastiff got the upper hand though and launched End from several Brock Lesnar-style Release German Suplexes that looked absolutely vicious, before finishing him off with a Powerbomb. Despite losing so quickly, End didn’t look weak as he took an absolute barrage of high-impact offence. Mastiff got put over huge in this one. Awesome spectacle of a match worked at a lightning pace, and it would be great to see a longer re-match in the future. ***
Post-match, End said that he didn’t expect his return to go like that, but said that he would be back soon and wouldn’t come alone, hinting at bringing along his Sumerian Death Squad partner Michael Dante. That should be awesome.
Paul Robinson vs Noam Dar: Paul Robinson has been a masterful chickenshit heel since he turned on his tag team partner Will Ospreay, riling up the PROGRESS crowd who respond with remarks about his less than desirable facial features, his short stature, bald head, or his status as ‘Jimmy’s Bitch’. Robinson’s look is very fun to detest. For his entrance, the entire crowd put their middle fingers up at him, while some had even bought dirty socks and bog roll to chuck at him. Awesome stuff, and the environment of PROGRESS encourages this kind of fan interaction that makes the show that much more fun to attend. Very similar to PWG in America in that regard.
For Noam Dar, the crowd response was much more positive. I’d describe Dar as ‘Like Grado, but can actually wrestle’. He has tons of charisma and athleticism, and at only 21, he could go a long way in his wrestling career.
Robinson took control early, and attacked Dar (and the crowd) with… silly string. Amazing. Dar fought back with some cool reversal-based wrestling, and eventually hit a huge Dar-li Chop (like Khali but…) breaking Robinson’s nose, with blood spurting all over ringside. Gruesome. Dar put on a Jimmy Havoc mask and set up Robinson for Havoc’s finisher; The Rainmaker, but Havoc’s music hit to interrupt. Robinson rolled up Dar on the distraction, but Dar reversed into a Champagne SuperKneeBar (AKA an Ankle Lock) for the win. Really fun match between a beloved face and a hated heel that had the crowd really into everything they did. Robinson is a tough nut to continue through his nasty injury. ***½
Mark Andrews vs Eddie Dennis: This was the send-off for Andrews, facing his best friend before leaving for TNA. The pair came out together for an awesome entrance visual. Lots of spots working around Dennis trying to use power moves against the smaller Andrews, while Andrews tried to wriggle out of them. The finish saw Andrews attempt to hit a Shooting Star Press, but getting cut off by Dennis, who hit a Side Slam from the top rope for the win. Dennis was on top for most of the match as Andrews did the job on the way out, but Andrews got to pull out some awesome moves as well. The two embraced afterwards, and Eddie wanted to ‘shoot from the hip’. He said that while he was only a weekend warrior, Andrews making it to TNA made all the effort they’d both put into their careers worth it, and that this was the most important match Dennis will ever have. Really cool send-off for former PROGRESS champion Andrews, who needs to be presented as a star in TNA, because he is really good. ***
Natural Progression Series II Final – ‘Flash’ Morgan Webster vs Zack Gibson: The Natural Progression Series is a tournament for young and lesser-known British wrestlers to show what they can do on the big PROGRESS stage. The first NPS final was between Mark Andrews and Paul Robinson, so it has a precedent of helping making stars. The winner gets a PROGRESS Title shot, a trophy, and gets to put a wrestler from this NPS series into the next one.
Webster has a ‘mod’ gimmick. For non-Brits, mods were basically the hipsters of the 60s. Gibson’s gimmick is even more out there; Liverpool Football Club fan. In Britain, Football is something a lot of people live and die by, so a heel wrestler working a Liverpool gimmick is a heat magnet for a London promotion if done right. This was a match I had no expectations for having not seen much from either man that suggested they were future stars, but they impressed the hell out of me in this one. Webster was fighting an uphill battle for most of the match, as Gibson controlled him and cut him off, all while the crowd ripped him to shreds, with chants like ‘Scouser stole his hairline’. A ‘scouser’ being a person from Liverpool, often used with less than positive connotations. Hmm, it seems like this match is difficult to put into context for non-Brits, so I’ll give up now.
Webster hit a big Senton dive from the top rope to the outside, which popped the crowd huge and got them firmly behind Webster. The finish came with Webster countering a Powerbomb into a roll-up for three. The last few minutes were really dramatic, with the crowd really perking up after a disinterested start. ***½
Post-match, Webster thanked the crowd for their support, and named Pastor William Eaver as the returning wrestler for the next NPS, after the crowd chanted for him. Eaver has an amazing gimmick, is hugely over in PROGRESS, and is one of their ‘Projo’ graduates, so he has to be a firm favourite to win next time. Smallman asked Webster when he wanted to cash in his guaranteed title shot, and Webster hinted wanting it now, which bought out the champion, Jimmy Havoc.
As soon as Havoc’s music hit, the atmosphere in the Electric Ballroom changed. It’s a cliché, but it’s true. Havoc has done such good character work as a ruthless psychopath that people are legitimately scared of him, or at least know that shit is going to go down when he is around. Havoc had The Omega in tow, who beat down Webster while Havoc chastised him, which bought out his opponent for the Championship match, Will Ospreay. Ospreay made the save for Webster and Havoc attacked him, which sent us straight into the main event. Loved the way these two matches flowed into each other and kept the crowd ultra-hot.
PROGRESS Championship Match – Jimmy Havoc (c) vs Will Ospreay: This match started with an awesome brawl, with both men throwing each other into the giant DJ booth and into the crowd itself. The crowd was massively behind Ospreay and genuinely hated Havoc. It’s so awesome to see a heel in 2015 get such a reaction, when in WWE and even NJPW heels tend to be tame and cheered more than booed. Havoc is the real deal. So is Ospreay, a 21 year old who is an amazing high flyer, has tons of energy and charisma, and is getting really good with the technical side of wrestling as well. He’s had a number of high profile matches recently against the likes of Matt Sydal, Akira Tozawa, and in February AJ Styles. He keeps getting better and may well be scarily good in a few years.
The big story of the match was that Ospreay had nearly broken his neck performing his 630 Senton finisher (Prince Puma’s finisher) a few months ago, and has yet to use it since. Havoc isn’t afraid to do anything to his opponents or himself to win the match, while Ospreay is afraid to use the move that could put Havoc away. They went to the ‘Ospreay can’t do the move’ spot one too many times in this match, but they did help increase the drama and the noise from the crowd, so I guess they served their purpose, even if it made Ospreay look like an idiot after failing to pull it off four times.
In the spot of the night, Havoc bit Ospreay’s ear, making Ospreay give out a blood-curdling scream. Blood was smeared over Ospreay’s ear and Havoc’s mouth in a brutal visual. People were cringing in the crowd. And then Havoc bit him AGAIN. Fucking crazy.
Both guys got some cool and believable nearfalls, before Havoc decided to remove the top turnbuckle entirely from the ring post, breaking off the top rope from the ring and stopping Ospreay from attempting the 630 entirely. Ring destruction always looks cool, especially with a deranged character like Havoc doing it. Havoc began to take control after this, and despite Ospreay kicking out of a Rainmaker at 1, would eventually pin Ospreay after another Rainmaker to end a crazy and dramatic match. ****
Post-match, the crowd gave Ospreay a standing ovation as Smallman put him over as one of the most exciting talents in the world, to end the show on a bittersweet note.
I have some issues with the finish to the main event. Entering this match, Ospreay had dispatched of Jimmy Havoc’s Regression stablemates the London Riots and Paul Robinson, who was also his former tag team partner. His story had progressed perfectly up to this match and the crowd was behind him more than any previous challenger to Havoc. This was the best time to pull the trigger on Havoc losing PROGRESS has ever had, and I don’t know when they will get as good a chance as this to have an incredibly satisfying title win. Obviously they want to ride Havoc’s great run for as long as possible, but unless they plan to have him as champion forever, there needs to be a solid plan for the eventual title switch. Ospreay looked like the guy to do that, and I doubt potential future challengers Dave Mastiff or Noam Dar will have the same kind of heat behind them. Of course, Ospreay could win a rematch down the line, but he may not have the same momentum as he did at this moment. Only time will tell whether Havoc winning was a good decision or not.
Overall, Ospreay’s loss didn’t change the fact that this was a great show, and the benchmark for the rest of the year for all British indie shows. The Natural Progression Series Final was an unexpectedly great match, and the Mark Andrews send-off was an awesome moment. If you live anywhere even remotely near London, you need to go see a PROGRESS show sometime, because their atmosphere and presentation is unparalleled in European wrestling.