Will Ospreay vs Mark Andrews is perhaps the best matchup in British Wrestling today. It’s no surprise that PWG chose to showcase the pair together in their first match in the promotion at BOLA this year. They work very similar style; flashy and crisp high-flying, and are two of the very best in the world at it. It’s more than just a big exhibition matchup in PROGRESS though, because the pair have fought twice before in the promotion and both times Andrews came out the victor. For Ospreay to legitimise his championship reign further, he must beat the man who he has never beaten before. It’s also Andrews’ return to PROGRESS after almost a year in TNA full-time, so however you look at it, this is a very important main event.
Elsewhere on the card, Tommaso Ciampa comes to PROGRESS for the third time to take on Marty Scurll, who has fully turned into a vicious and opportunistic heel, and the issues between the Sumerian Death Squad, London Riots and The Origin come to a head as they all battle for the PROGRESS Tag Team Championships.
Rampage Brown vs Big Daddy Walter
Walter’s second outing in PROGRESS sees him take on Rampage Brown in a rematch of their Super Strong Style 16 contest, which was a satisfying burly hoss battle. As soon as the match starts, it’s obvious the ropes haven’t been fastened properly. Brown leans on them gingerly to test them out and they wobble about as the big men hit the mat, and eventually the inevitable occurs when Walter throws Brown into the corner, collapsing the top two ropes. It’s a cool visual, and RJ Singh and Glen Joseph on commentary pass it off as ‘the ring isn’t big enough for these two’, so it plays into the billing of the match as a hoss battle well. The pair work around the ring breaking well, as Walter takes the advantage and hits Brown with some hefty power moves. I liked that they didn’t mess around and got straight down to hitting each other with slams and powerbombs; both men looked extremely strong when throwing around the other. Walter had the advantage much of the match but Rampage only needed one reversal into his piledriver to get the pin. Perhaps the finish was a little anticlimactic and it would have been better if they had more time to work with in a spot higher up the card, but it was a physical match and both guys were really focussed on delivering a strong in-ring performance, so the match ticks plenty of boxes for me. ***½
Natural Progression Series Quarter Final Match
Shen Woo vs Damon Moser vs Jack Sexsmith
Jack Sexsmith is a ridiculous character, but one who comes across as someone who exists and has a life outside the world of wrestling. A very unusual life, sure, but I can definitely buy that this guy owns a gimp, a large collection of dildos, and paid for his own set of branded condoms. This is Camden after all. Another reason the character is so strong is that, much like Dalton Castle, the nature of his sexuality is very ambiguous. He is a cartoonishly sexual enigma; his sexual preferences shrouded in mystery. The only sure thing is that if you’re in a match with him, he will try to shove ‘Mr. Cocko’ (a condom worn like a sock-puppet) down your throat. I’m on board.
The other participants are a bit blander; Damon Moser’s gimmick is ‘wrestler’, while Shen Woo is from Hong Kong and has a pretty unique look, but is nowhere near as fleshed out as Sexsmith. Sexsmith’s entrance is suitably frivolous, replete with Gimp and Pulp Fiction soundtrack (not the first time Tarantino has been referenced in PROGRESS while the scene’s soundtrack is played), but once the toys have been put away, it’s Shen Woo who proves the most impressive in-ring. He has good facial expressions and dangerousness to his offence. He’s also willing to have ‘Mr. Cocko’ in his mouth, so it’s basically impossible to bash the guy after that. The match feels overly-choreographed, as any triple threat between young guys from the same wrestling school is likely to feel, and there’s too much time spent wrestling one-on-one, although the three-man spots that are in there are creative, such as Moser’s double running knees to break up a strike exchange. Really though, your enjoyment of this match hangs on your enjoyment of Sexsmith. If a man going for a stinkface but having his opponent reverse it by jamming a dildo into his bottom is too lowbrow for you, then there’s nothing this match can do for you. For me though, this match was a welcome comedy segment, in the same place the GZRS usually occupy on PROGRESS cards. Moser gets the win with a Knee Trembler on Woo, completing a very innocuous performance from him. **½
Paul Robinson vs Mark Haskins
This match put the two failed challengers to Will Ospreay’s PROGRESS Championship reign against each other, in a sort of contender-elimination match; the winner has a much stronger claim to a future re-match than the loser. Other than that, there were no issues between the two going in, but sometimes it’s good to keep it simple.
One thing that stands out immediately is how popular Haskins has become. He was respected at the start of the year but not really a star of the promotion, but he has become one of the best and most liked wrestlers in Britain after a fantastic 2015. This only makes Robinson’s heel work more effective, as he efficaciously and effortlessly riled up the crowd. It’s a good contrast to have, although the crowd’s love for Haskins and hate for Robinson does begin to distract from the match a little bit. A lively crowd is good, but not when it becomes the focus over the wrestling. Haskins gets the match on track again though by busting out some very exciting submission attempts; he’s one of the best in the world at setting up submissions, either by reversals or combo-ing his own moves into another hold. It’s an exciting, fast-paced, ground-based attack, and those phrases don’t usually mix, but Haskins pulls it off delightfully here. When Robinson is in control the match dies down a little bit; although he’s hateable, his ‘heat period’ work just isn’t that interesting. In the closing stretch though, both men get to unleash their best work, with Robinson busting out his vicious-looking corner curb stomp that almost put away Ospreay at the last Chapter. Eventually though, Haskins hits a driver-into-armbar combo for the win. When the match was worked around Robinson trying to escape Haskins’ creative submission attempts, it was really strong, but it was a little too slow to start. ***
Tommaso Ciampa vs Marty Scurll
Ciampa is back again in PROGRESS, and is now the most prolific import wrestler in the company. PROGRESS are using more imports in 2015 than previously, but they’re ingratiating them as part of the roster rather than placed above the regulars, so it’s a smart long-term use of imports.
The focus of the match is really more on Scurll though, as he continues to build his new heel character. He attacks Ciampa during his entrance, smartly avoiding Scurll’s own entrance with the popular ‘Woop Woop’ chant. Scurll has eliminated all the crowd-friendly aspects of his act, or inverted them into heel mannerisms, and has done so fairly effectively so far. He needs more time and more matches to really cement the nuances of the character though.
My main criticism of Ciampa in his match against Haskins at Chapter 22 was his mid-match ‘subtlety hammer’ mood-swing from happy-to-be-here entertainer to pissed off asskicker with little rhyme or reason. There’s none of that here, as Ciampa is immediately fighting Scurll with anger, exchanging forearms and throwing each other around. Ciampa is really good when working ‘strong style’, and Scurll kept up with him, while still incorporating his heel tricks to keep pushing his new attitude. The strong style wrestling on display here really worked well because they committed to it throughout. Almost. The end of the match got very convoluted and gimmick-y as Ciampa decided, for no obvious reason, to take off part of the ring canvas and expose the wooden boards underneath. This backfired on him, as Scurll took one of the wires that hook the canvas to the apron and choked Ciampa out with it, covering the wire in the process to avoid disqualification. This ending furthers the Scurll heel character and protects Ciampa, but at the cost of an unsatisfying end to the match. This is supposed to put heat on Scurll, but it also makes Ciampa look like a chump for unnecessarily tearing apart the ring instead of pressing an advantage on a guy he knows will look for any opportunity to cheat to win. The booking got in the way of a very good match in this case. ***½
PROGRESS Tag Team Championship Match
Sumerian Death Squad (c) vs The Origin vs London Riots
This match was so slow to start that Tommy End actually got on the mic five minutes in to call out his opponents and tell them to start fighting properly. The Origin are supposed to be cowardly dicks but their stalling and encouragement of crowd chanting went way too long here. After End fired himself and the crowd up, the match entered ‘PROGRESS Car Crash’ mode, and the now traditional sight of El Ligero getting thrown through five rows of chairs was a pleasure to see. As awesome as SDS are, I’m getting a bit bored now of saying that they are best when they stay in the ring. End and Dante love a crowd brawl, and while I appreciate the PROGRESS Car Crash, especially when it happens live right in front of me, I’d rather see some new people get a chance to do it instead of it always being SDS. There are few teams better in the world and their double team moves are some of the best I’ve ever seen, but they’re stuck punching and kicking on the outside for half the match every time.
Sadly, once the match actually does get in the ring, none of the teams really get a chance to shine before it’s time for the finish. Another convoluted situation sees Ligero steal one of the Riots’ cricket bats and blindside End with it, but just like the last chapter in the 8-man involving these teams, everyone’s timing was a bit off and none of it looked natural or satisfying. The Origin pick up the win and become two-time Tag Team Champions, but the real story of the match came afterwards, with the Riots and SDS pull-apart brawling, setting up a salivating tag team match for Chapter 24 in Manchester. It’s a shame that this was barely a match, but rather a car crash/advertisement for the next show. *½
Natural Progression Series II Trophy & Title Shot Match
Zack Gibson vs ‘Flash’ Morgan Webster
This is a rematch of the NPS II Final from January, which was a surprisingly good match between two relative unknowns in PROGRESS. Since then, Gibson and Webster have established themselves more firmly in PROGRESS, but it’s been Gibson, not the NPS Series winner Webster, who has flourished more in that time. He’s had a great match against Zack Sabre Jr. and entrenched himself as an easy to hate heel, while Webster has been floating around a bit more, unable to find a proper role on the roster to fill.
The pair work well together again here, with Gibson’s domineering yet easily frustrated approach playing off Webster’s frenetic flying offence very well. I’ve actually turned a corner on Webster’s style; he’s nowhere near as crisp as Ospreay or Andrews in his execution of moves, but his clunkiness is sort of endearing, in the same vein as Dean Ambrose’s style. Webster’s style paints him as an underdog, and Gibson works off of that expertly here, grounding Webster and forcing him to look for any opportunity to create some space and hit some daredevil maneuverers. Indeed, the match really picks up when Webster hit a great series of dives to the outside, a high knee sending Gibson into the crowd, before hitting a moonsault from the railings next to the DJ booth. A highly intense five minutes of action follows, culminating in an awesome 450° splash from Webster. Gibson rolled out of the ring before Webster could get the pin though, and eventually managed to get Webster into his armlock submission. Webster made the ropes but Nathan Cruz pulled his leg off of it, allowing Gibson to pull him back to the middle of the ring and get the tapout victory. Webster’s two best matches have come against Gibson; it’s fair to say the two have a great in-ring rapport. ***½
A fantastic piece of camera work in the post-match, with Webster’s bloodied and shocked face in the foreground and the entire Origin team celebrating with NPS Trophy and Tag Shields in the background, expertly telling the main story of Chapter 23 in one shot.
PROGRESS Championship Match
Will Ospreay (c) vs Mark Andrews
It’s obvious that Andrews and Ospreay know each other incredibly well. The movement in their exchanges is so smooth and aesthetically pleasing. Every new sequence of the match exhibits something that makes your eyes pop or elicits claps even through the computer screen. It’s impossible to describe every nuance that occurs in this match because every sequence of moves is laden with them. It’s far more than a spot-fest, but rather a very well worked match that happens to have some of the most athletic and exciting action you can see in a wrestling ring today.
Both men are cagey to open the match, running through some basic sequences and testing each other out. In doing this both Andrews and Ospreay still exhibit athleticism and charisma, making even basic moves look just a little bit more spectacular. Andrews is the first to gain the upper hand, and attempts to lock Ospreay into a surfboard. Ospreay is belligerent however and refuses to give his arms up, so Andrews just stomps on his already locked-in legs; the first sign of aggression in this match, moving beyond the friendly exhibition tone so far. Ospreay turns things around seemingly effortlessly; he makes a hurricanrana seem as easy as walking. A twisting moonsault to the outside only seems a little more difficult than that.
The match then enters an intriguing phase as both men give up their own high-flying offence in order to try to prevent the other from unleashing theirs. The commentators do a good job selling the idea that neither man can afford to give the other space. Instead, the pair reverse each other’s attempts at high impact moves, for example Ospreay stopping Andrews hitting a DDT, attempting his own brainbuster move only for Andrews to counter back with a stunner. Some incredibly high level sequences here, with only one botched Ace Crusher reversal to put a slight damper on some otherwise gorgeous wrestling. Ospreay finally creates room to hit a Shooting Star Press but only gets a two count from it. Then it’s Andrews’ turn for a top rope move; a ridiculous Spanish Fly from the top rope. After using Ospreay’s Essex Destroyer against him, Andrews is aghast at not scoring the pin. He leaves himself open for attack, and Ospreay takes advantage, finally getting to hit the 630° Senton for the win. A high-flying carnival of a match with some of the best-looking moves you will see outside of Mexico. Perhaps a little too light on psychology and real back-and-forth drama to be seen as a MOTY contender, but this was still a great main event and a memorable showcase of aerial ability. ****
Final Thoughts: Chapter 23 had its ups and downs, but in general it was another very strong showing from PROGRESS. They have yet to have even an average show this year, it’s been all quality. They will look to complete 2015 with another great show at their debut in Manchester for Chapter 24, where Will Ospreay will take on Zack Gibson and Morgan Webster for the PROGRESS Championship, after Webster’s title shot was re-instated in the aftermath of this show.