PROGRESS Wrestling
Chapter 20: Thunderbastard – Beyond Thunderbastard
July 26, 2015
Electric Ballroom – Camden, Greater London

Will Ospreay’s win at the Super Strong Style 16 Tournament in May granted him a title match against Jimmy Havoc at Chapter 20. Ospreay lost to Havoc in a PROGRESS Championship match in January, but after regaining his high-flying confidence by beating Zack Sabre Jr. with a Red Arrow to win the SSS16, is now better equipped to take on the malevolent Havoc. In the Tag Team division, The Hunter Brothers became Number One contenders at ENDVR 11, and challenge new Champions the Sumerian Death Squad here. Meanwhile, the 2nd annual Thunderbastard match will grant the winner a PROGRESS Championship match in the future.

Owner Jim Smallman delivered his usual opening monologue, gearing up the live crowd for the show, before introducing the first match.

Noam Dar vs Pastor William Eaver

Eaver replaced Dave Mastiff, who had to miss the show, meaning that the blowoff to Dar and Mastiff’s feud will have to wait. Eaver is probably the most promising graduate of PROGRESS’ Projo, and definitely has the potential to be one of British wrestling’s biggest stars in the next few years. His gimmick of ‘wrestling holy man’ seems far-fetched, but it’s eye-catching and he pulls it off with aplomb, and his entrance music (‘Personal Jesus’, what else?) is perfect. This was wrestled at a fast pace throughout, and while it ended too early to get the chance to be anything special, it served its purpose as a hot opener to the show. Eaver picked up the surprise win after hitting a clothesline; easily the biggest win of his young career. After the match, Dar’s expression was sombre as held up a ‘Chapter 1’ PROGRESS shirt, suggesting that he will be away from the promotion for a while. Eaver was really in the right place at the right time here, and giving him such a big win is perhaps an even better result than giving the established Mastiff a feud win. ***

Kyle Ashmore vs Bubblegum vs Wild Boar vs ‘Flash’ Morgan Webster

Webster holds a title shot due to his Natural Progression Series win, but has yet to pick up any really significant wins in PROGRESS outside of that tournament. This sort of match is what Webster needs to show what he can do, and winning this one gives him more legitimacy as he moves towards an eventual main event title match. However, it was Bubblegum, not Webster, who impressed the most in this match. He showed off some very flashy offence and acted as a veteran anchor who kept everything in this match flowing, even when things went slightly wrong. Along with Damo O’Connor and Zack Gibson, Bubblegum is someone who should be featured more prominently on PROGRESS’ new Manchester shows in the coming year, being better established in the North than in London.  Ashmore and Boar got to hit their very cool Meltzer Driver-esque ‘Buddy Driver’ move, and it seems sensible for PROGRESS to make those two a full-time team. This was a very well put together spot-fest, and all the participants worked off each other well. ***

Natural Progression Series III First Round – Sebastian vs Damian Dunne

Sebastian’s place in this match marked the debut of the GZRS on a Chapter show, and they were met with a huge ovation. Sebastian and Tom Irvin have been proclaiming how ‘Geeze’ they are for months, and their genuinely funny Twitter and YouTube output has gained them a great fan following without even wrestling any prominent matches and despite technically being heels. Dunne has made a name for himself throughout the UK indies, but very few people in the Electric Ballroom seemed to know who he was in his first PROGRESS outing. These two didn’t mesh very well, and nothing they did got a strong reaction; a technically competent match, but no spark of energy to push it into higher gear. An awkwardly long turnbuckle removal spot also hurt the momentum. The GZRS act is very fun and very over, but their in-ring production certainly leaves room for improvement. Sebastian won with a GTS to move on to the NPS Semi-Finals. **

PROGRESS Tag Team Championship – Sumerian Death Squad (c) vs The Hunter Brothers

Tommy End and Michael Dante as Tag Team Champions appears to be a move towards bringing stability back to the division after the FSU breakup and The Faceless angle made a mess of things. Their first defence against Jim and Lee, The Hunter Brothers, was an excellent match to showcase both teams and put some prestige back onto the titles. The Hunters haven’t been in PROGRESS for a long time, but they are a very strong act in the Midlands scene and fully deserve this high profile spot. It sometimes felt like there were four Hunters in this match, not two, such was the efficiency of their double team moves. They swarmed the Death Squad and neutralised the size disadvantage, making the match very interesting as it developed and the Sumerians inched the advantage back with power strikes and key counters. Both teams got fun and believable nearfalls, before the Death Squad finally put Jim away. A very exciting encounter with a great connection between the two teams’ styles, definitely a must-see. ****

An advertisement for Demand Progress featured interviews with Pollyanna and Jinny, who fought at Chapter 19 – Part 2, where they discussed their rivalry in character. It was good to have the women on this show in some form; hopefully we’ll see them and other women in-ring on the Chapter shows again soon.

The second half kicked off with co-owner Glen Joseph announcing that the first ProJo graduate Ali Armstrong will have to retire, at least for the time being, due to an injury. Ali is a fun wrestler who was still very early in his career, so hopefully he can come back in the future. Ali’s moment was then interrupted by Nathan Cruz, who antagonised everyone. A pissed off Joseph made Cruz the first man in the Thunderbastard match, and brought out ex-Faceless/Origin member Damon Moser as his first opponent.

Thunderbastard Match – Nathan Cruz vs Damon Moser vs El Ligero vs Rampage Brown vs Mark Haskins vs Marty Scurll vs Eddie Dennis vs Tom Irvin

The Thunderbastard is a Royal Rumble-style match, but with eliminations coming from pinfall, submission or DQ. As well intentioned as Glen’s action may have been, it was a little short sighted, since Cruz’s Origin teammate El Ligero was the third man into the match, and the two made quick work of Moser. Most of the early match saw each new entrant hit their signature offence on the Origin members, who worked as a dominant team and punching bags in roughly equal proportion. Significantly, there was a Screw Indy Wrestling reunion spot as Brown and Haskins teamed up to kick the crap out of Cruz. The last entrant was Tom Irvin, who downed a pint, cleared the ring by Stone Cold Stunnering everyone, and rolled up Ligero to eliminate him, only to be eliminated himself a few seconds later by Cruz. This was terrific and the crowd absolutely loved it; Irvin and the ‘GZRS’ act is best when it’s kept short and completely mental. This also put significant heat on Cruz for the rest of the match.

After this, Dennis eliminated Brown and Cruz eliminated Dennis, which is when the match really picked up and became fully-formed rather than just a series of storyline-heavy encounters. Marty rolled Cruz up after a fun sequence, leaving just Haskins and Scurll. Two of the most skilled British wrestlers delivered a thrilling 5 minutes of action that definitely makes this match worth watching, with Haskins reversing a Chicken Wing into a roll-up to win. He will challenge the PROGRESS Champion at Chapter 21 in September. Most of this match was very spotty and mainly served to establish The Origin as a threat, but from the final three onwards was a real treat. ***

Fun Fact: Mark Haskins has pinned Marty Scurll on Marty’s birthday two years in a row. Last year Haskins defeated him at Dragon Gate UK on July 26.

PROGRESS Championship – Jimmy Havoc (c) vs Will Ospreay

This match was a year in the making, and an excellent video package played beforehand to recap the story of Havoc’s title win and Ospreay’s subsequent emergence as a top star, including their title match from January where Havoc retained after Ospreay couldn’t hit his 630° Senton finisher.

Both men got special entrances; Ospreay had an Assassin’s Creed-themed intro, while Havoc got his two AFI songs along with face paint and the Regression stable covered in blood. Some people may find the dressing up to be cheesy, but I think it establishes the importance of the moment well.

The atmosphere in the Electric Ballroom throughout this match was incredibly intense; a real testament to how strong both Havoc and Ospreay’s characters are and how well their feud has been built. There was a tangible sense that something epic was going down, and that can only really happen when pro wrestling is truly great. From staredown to the finish, both men fed off the energy of the crowd to deliver a strong, dramatic finish to a fantastic story.

This was a complete ‘car crash’ match, but none of the spots felt unnecessary or inconsequential. Both men went through tables, Ospreay took a goddamn Burning Hammer through a chair, and Havoc teased chopping Ospreay’s head off with his axe, only to be stopped by a low blow. Ospreay had the London Riots backing him up, while Havoc’s Regression stable supported him, but both teams only got involved for one spot halfway through, and their contribution to the match was logical and unobtrusive. Two referees got hit by an Acid Rainmaker courtesy of Havoc, who wanted Jim Smallman to count the pin, as he had done when Havoc first won the title. Havoc hit an Acid Rainmaker on Ospreay, who kicked out, regained control and ran through his entire signature offence. It took everything in Ospreay’s arsenal to put Havoc down for good, which is exactly how it should have been. After hitting an Essex Destroyer and a 630° Senton, Will Ospreay became the new PROGRESS Champion, with the pin counted by Smallman, putting away for good both Ospreay’s doubts about his finisher and Smallman’s guilt for being the man to give Havoc the title in the first place. Such a satisfying conclusion to a long-term angle that rewarded the viewer for paying attention and investing in the story.

There is an argument that Havoc and Ospreay did ‘too much’ in this match; Ospreay kicked out of three Acid Rainmaker finishers, while Havoc went through a table and was on offence about 10 seconds later. Jim Ross would probably have a heart attack watching this. However, when it was over, I didn’t see anyone angrily sitting in their chair, arms folded and murmuring “The Board will hear about this”, I saw everyone leap to their feet in celebration that Havoc had finally be dethroned. This match needed to be ridiculously dramatic and over the top to effectively end what has been a ridiculously dramatic title reign. The number of big moves and kickouts from both men only ramped up the tension that eventually burst and blew the roof off the Electric Ballroom at the finish. Obviously not every match can be like this, but this was the kind of ‘car crash’ style that one comes to expect from PROGRESS/Jimmy Havoc main events, and what they lack in traditional wrestling psychology, they make up for in drama, atmosphere, storyline progression, and a hefty helping of ‘Holy Shit’ moments.

The end of a 600+ day championship reign is a very significant moment for PROGRESS. It will be interesting to see where Havoc goes from here, and how the booking adapts to the expanded schedule of shows PROGRESS are running in 2016. For now though, this phase of the PROGRESS story has concluded, and it is fitting that British wrestling’s new star Will Ospreay gets to end it as Champion. ****

Final Thoughts: If you’re a PROGRESS fan, this show is a must-watch. It’s not the best show for a first-timer due to so much storyline involvement, but SDS/Hunter Brothers is an easy recommendation to any wrestling fan. Both title matches were quality, for very different reasons.