PROGRESS have announced a lot of things to look forward to in 2016. Not only is the Super Strong Style 16 tournament coming up in May, and their debut at the 2,000 seat Brixton Academy is on the horizon in September, but they will now host two WWE Cruiserweight Series qualifying matches at Chapter 29. They also announced a second singles title; the Atlas Championship for wrestlers over 205 pounds, which is the MMA distinction for the Heavyweight class. A hoss division is a good, unique idea and gives the big guys such as Dave Mastiff and Rampage Brown, often left on the fringes of the PROGRESS storyline, something to do. The first champion will be decided in Brixton in the final of a mini-G1-style tournament.

Natural Progression Series Semi-Final Match
Pastor William Eaver def. Damian Dunne

Eaver is becoming the king of the PROGRESS opening match, and being in this spot so many times now has helped him become much more proficient at telling a quick but interesting story in the ring, as well as become truly popular with the PROGRESS crowd. It’s a similar formula that helped make Yohei Komatsu and Sho Tanaka so popular, so PROGRESS are certainly onto something here with Eaver as he grows as a performer. Dunne had his best showing in PROGRESS yet here, as he too has grown in confidence over his three matches in the Ballroom. The crowd still haven’t really taken to him yet, and it led to some rare moments of silence from the eternally rowdy crowd during his control periods, but Dunne had the composure to keep the match interesting through this, unlike in his first outing against Sebastian. Eaver did a good job in his rally back, and Dunne hit a sweet superkick to cut him off into a believable nearfall. In the end, Eaver took the win with an awesome Crucifix Bomb into the Clothesline from Heaven. Another good performance from Eaver as he heads to the NPS final, which will be the first test of his ability in a longer, more promoted match. All in all, a fitting way to spend Easter Sunday. ***

Jack Gallagher def.  Johnny Kidd

Kidd was a star during the World of Sport era of British Wrestling in the 80s, and made his PROGRESS debut here at the age of 60. For Gallagher, this was an important exhibition to prove his skills against a master of technical wrestling, and the type of match that will go a long way to making him appear to be one of the top stars of PROGRESS. Kidd’s reputation precedes him, so even though he isn’t established in PROGRESS, Gallagher’s victory here made him seem like a true technical wizard.

This was a really fun exhibition style match, with both men showing off some smooth transitions, performed with plenty of flair, and Kidd routinely put Gallagher in some amusing predicaments, outsmarting him using his veteran wiles. This was very much a World of Sport style match, and not one that promoted the usual rowdy chanting. Instead, the crowd was more reserved, actually paying attention to the minutia of the match, because Kidd and Gallagher made the little things important here. It also felt like each hold was trying to bring the man applying it closer to winning the match, and towards the end each hold seemed like it actually could. Some forearm strikes in the last couple of sequences saw the match take a more aggressive turn, and it was Gallagher who was clearly better when more athletic and ‘modern’ elements of wrestling were introduced, as he should be. A very fun and very different match that was a definite highlight of this show. If this is Kidd’s one and only stop in PROGRESS before his retirement, he can be proud of it. ***½

Dave Mastiff def. ‘Bodyguy’ Roy Johnson

This was Roy Johnson’s Chapter debut, as he brought his ‘Wasteman Challenge’, established on ENDVR shows, to the Ballroom. He had a pair of cheerleaders with him, who appeared to be paying homage to the Left Shark/Right Shark Super Bowl halftime show routine. Johnson has a ton of charisma and is a legitimately decent rapper, and his ‘bars’ were very fire emoji here; good crowd pleasing stuff and a strong gimmick to get his career going. He is also a national level powerlifter, as he was keen to remind us, so he has the sort of skillset that gives him great potential for the future. He is still very green though, and there was nothing particularly intriguing about his actual match with Mastiff. Mastiff beat him down for the majority, and a brief Johnson comeback was cut off with a Cannonball. Basic stuff, but Johnson does have a future, and a bit more time in ENDVR should do him well. Mastiff recognised his potential in his post-match promo, before ‘spitting’ his own bars while announcing his intention to win the Atlas Tournament.

Tables, Ladders and Chairs, Losing Team Disbands Match
London Riots (James Davis and Rob Lynch) def. Sumerian Death Squad (Tommy End and Michael Dante)

The build into this match over the past four months was very strong, with believably serious resentment being stirred between the teams, so there was a lot of expectation riding on this match. SDS had the warpaint on and a special entrance theme, which sort of tipped off that they were going to lose the match. If you’re going to do special entrances with a stipulation like this, make sure both teams get something.

The ‘PROGRESS Car Crash’ began immediately, as the teams brawled through the crowd, and Tommy End got chucked several rows back, straight in front of a certain reviewer. The live PROGRESS experience is always enhanced when a very large man gets thrown at you by another very large man, but on VOD (or when sitting on the other side of the Ballroom) the impact is lost, meaning these crowd brawls can be very hit and miss. The action did return to the ring though, and both teams got to work hitting some great crowd-pleasing spots, including Dante hitting a jumping senton through chairs onto Lynch, and a Riots piledriver on End through a ladder. The spots came at a slower rate as the match progressed though, and the more complicated ones to set up and execute really slowed the pace to a crawl, as the four men tried to communicate with each other and find the equipment they needed. The spots were still cool, but only in the moment; the ensuing downtime after each one lessened the impact, and the number of men in the match wasn’t used to keep the rate of action high.

Then the teams were betrayed by their furniture. As the Riots tried to set Dante onto a table, it was very clear that the table was not made to hold Dante’s weight. It wobbled, and then Dante collapsed it, sitting on the wreckage and looking like Homer Simpson in Bart’s broken soapbox car. The blood feud had turned into cringe comedy, and the teams only barely made it through the spot at the second time of asking. Dante got off the table before the end of the spot and it was Lynch who ended up going through it anyway, so better communication, or just rehearsal beforehand, could have changed the spot so no-one ever had to lay on the wonky table in the first place. Then the ladder broke. Only one of the three ladders could actually reach the hanging contract, and it too couldn’t handle the weight of two burly men combined with getting thrown around, and essentially broke in two, with the two halves leaning on each other. This made the ‘two guys on the ladder’ spots very dangerous and awkward to watch, and eventually the referees had to hold up the ladder as the Riots retrieved the contract, ending the Sumerian Death Squad’s PROGRESS run. The Ts and Ls falling apart were very distracting and became the only story of the match, and the four men’s great effort was turned into accidental comedy, a great shame for a very well-built match with some crazy spots. **½

PROGRESS Tag Team Championship Match
The Origin (Nathan Cruz and El Ligero) def. Tommaso Ciampa and Zack Sabre Jr.

El Ligero’s cape was taken away by one of the ringside crew, and the Ligero character is established to be very touchy about his cape, so the Origin went to the back before the match could start, hilariously returning in full entrance gear about two minutes later. A fantastic early moment in the match saw Zack walk across the ring very calmly while Ciampa was brawling with the Origin, step out onto the apron, and very casually level Nathan Cruz with a big penalty kick. Some consider Zack to be uncharismatic, but his charisma shines through in his movement; every step he takes in the ring presents himself as an imperious ring general, who is always in control and picks his spots with skill and smarts to dish out the punishment. Those qualities really came through in that moment, and the live crowd ate it up. Unfortunately, apart from that bright spot, this match felt stale throughout, especially when Sabre wasn’t in the ring. The Origin’s control period was fairly bland and failed to hold interest. Intrigue grew when Ciampa accidentally levelled Sabre with a discus clothesline, but Zack kicked out of the Origin’s ensuing pin, suggesting that Ciampa and Zack could have been on the way to winning the titles. Then Ligero had a very exciting nearfall after being hit with Project Ciampa and a big kick. If the crew legitimately weren’t supposed to take his cape earlier, Ligero did a good job of noticing and covering for it, as he needed it for the finish; Cruz throwing the cape over Ciampa’s head while on the turnbuckle, allowing Ligero to low blow Zack for the roll-up win. **1/2

Post-match, Ciampa attacked ZSJ and challenged him to a match at Brixton, after running down the crowd and using the American pronunciation of ‘Progress’ with an inflection on the ‘o’; a true heel move if ever there was one.

PROGRESS Championship Thunderbastard Match
Marty Scurll def. Will Ospreay, Paul Robinson, Rampage Brown, Zack Gibson, Mark Andrews, ‘Flash’ Morgan Webster, Mark Haskins and Eddie Dennis

The Thunderbastard uses the same rules as Aztec Warfare; Royal Rumble style entry, pinfall and submission eliminations. As champion, Scurll had the right to enter last. Robinson and Haskins started off, with Robinson being a tremendous heel in his entrance, pushing a fan who got a bit too big for his boots. Gibson was out third, putting Haskins at a natural babyface disadvantage, only for the top face Will Ospreay to come out fourth and even things up with a beautiful spinning dive straight after entering the ring. This led to a wonderful little Swords of Essex reunion, as Robinson and Ospreay faced off only to instinctively work together and hit a couple of double team moves; a nice throwback and one of the most fun moments of the match. Out fifth was Mark Andrews, who I genuinely forgot was in the match before writing this review. Andrews’ stardom has fallen greatly since his big return match at Chapter 23, and he was a complete also-ran in this match. Sixth was Eddie Dennis, and seventh Webster, who really impressed during his spots in the match, hitting some great-looking moves and generally looking better than ever before in a PROGRESS ring. They’ve stuck with him through some growing pains, and it looks like it’s paying off as Webster has grown into a much better performer than this time last year. Eighth was Rampage Brown, who destroyed Robinson with a piledriver for the first elimination, with Gibson stealing the pin from Brown. Robinson flew across the ring on his sell like he was The Rock getting hit with a Stone Cold Stunner; fantastic stuff. Finally, Scurll entered the match, only to park up at the commentary table and look on as his contenders took each other out. Gibson unleashed his inner Matanza and took out Dennis, Andrews and Webster, with some help from Origin-mate Dave Mastiff, giving him the first four eliminations.

Every near-fall Ospreay suffered, Marty gasped and groaned on commentary; clearly their rivalry was the focal point of the match, which makes it a curious decision to add seven other guys and force them to give away pinfalls and tapouts many of them had no business taking. Haskins scored an elimination on Brown, only for Scurll to enter the match straight after, lock in the Chickenwing, and eliminate Haskins. At this stage, Haskins really had no business giving up a fall, even if he was blindsided. It makes him look bad and takes away a potential title challenger for the next few shows, as all of Haskins’ win-streak momentum heading into 2016 has now been lost.

Gibson sharing the ring for several minutes with top stars Ospreay and Scurll, as well as scoring four eliminations, seems like a push for him, but he was largely worked around rather than into an Ospreay/Scurll showcase, as the pair wrestled some great sequences that raised the excitement of the match. It may have been a 5 minute segment of one of their longer singles matches transplanted straight into this match, but it was still strong stuff. The spectre of Gibson hung over the pair though, routinely sticking his nose into the action, and almost scoring a very clever double pin on them. The finish fell flat though, Gibson was pinned by Ospreay after one Spanish Fly, only for Scurll to roll Ospreay up immediately after and steal the win. Then it became clear that Gibson only hung around in the Final Three because he was a prop in the continuing Ospreay/Scurll feud; there needed to be a guy for Ospreay to be distracted by so Scurll could roll him up, and Gibson was the prop chosen. No wrestler should ever feel like just a prop for another wrestler’s story, and all of Gibson’s earlier eliminations were now feeling pretty insignificant after being eliminated with just one non-finishing move. Just strange booking all around hurt this Thunderbastard, and too many top guys ate pinfalls that they didn’t need to take, leaving the line of true contenders for the PROGRESS Championship feeling very empty indeed. Still, the match had good action throughout and it’s always exciting to see and react to quickfire entrances and eliminations. ***

Final Thoughts:

Unfortunately, this was a very rare underwhelming PROGRESS show, due to strange Thunderbastard booking and very flaky furniture in the TLC match, which let down the strong performances of the wrestlers involved. The Gallagher/Kidd showcase was a lot of fun though, so the show was not without its highlights.