Photo (c): Rob Brazier Photography (robbrazierphoto.com)
At Chapter 28, Tommy End knocked out PROGRESS Champion Marty Scurll with a huge spinning head kick, defeating him in a non-title bout and earning himself a shot at the Championship in this show’s main event. Also, this show sees PROGRESS host two of the three European WWE Cruiserweight Classic qualifiers, as well as continuing their Atlas Tournament Group Stage matches.
Atlas Championship Tournament Group Stage
Michael Dante def. Big Damo
The Big Lads kicked the show off with a fun little match, full of big forearms and bigger slams. All Atlas group stage matches have a 15 minute time limit, so this was always going to be short and thus never had a chance to be anything more than a decent opener to get the crowd warmed up, but the work was good here and the guys delivered what they needed to. The finish of Dante spearing Damo for the win happened very suddenly after Damo was in control for most of the closing stretch, so perhaps a more extended back-and-forth ending was warranted. Dante needed to be re-introduced post-Sumerian Death Squad break up, so it makes sense for him to win here. **½
The next pair of matches were Global Cruiserweight Series qualifiers, and as Jim Smallman allowed the crowd “10 solid seconds of swearing” to get it out of their system for the PG-friendly matches coming up, there was a heightened sense of excitement in the Electric Ballroom. Everyone knew the stakes of the GCS and that created a unique atmosphere that really helped the qualifiers feel special.
WWE Cruiserweight Classic Qualifier
Zack Sabre Jr. def. ‘Flash’ Morgan Webster
Sabre Jr. dominated the early going, stretching Webster in a variety of directions, fully living up to ‘The Greatest Technical Wrestler in the World’ moniker repeated by the commentators. Indeed, Sabre took control of much of this match, and as the man qualifying into the tournament, this makes sense. He got to look very impressive and pull off all his most spectacular technical manoeuvres, which are sure to please the WWE officials watching the tape back. This isn’t to say that Webster didn’t play a big role in the success of this match though, and it’s safe to say this was the best performance we’ve ever seen from him. Flash looked fired up by the occasion and the very receptive crowd, and he eliminated a lot of the sloppiness that he has been criticised for in the past. Going against Sabre helps greatly, but this was a far more polished and entertaining Webster than usual. As the underdog, Webster withstood the early punishment but battled back, managing to create the space to pull off a series of wild dives to the outside, upping the intensity of the match even further. Sabre took back control with his unparalleled technical skill though, and got Webster into a position to hit his running penalty kick, before unleashing the ‘Young Boy Killer’ submission that took down Will Ospreay at EVOLVE, a gorgeous yet gruesome finish that fits Zack’s style perfectly. He could be in for a big run in the Cruiserweight Classic. Unfortunately, Webster suffered two injuries in this match, dislocating his shoulder and tearing ligaments in his ankle. It’s great shame that he’ll be out for a while after such a strong performance. ***½
WWE Cruiserweight Classic Qualifier
Jack Gallagher def. Pete Dunne
This was Pete Dunne’s first match in the Electric Ballroom for almost two years, and only returned to PROGRESS at the last Manchester Chapter in a tag team opener. I was worried that Dunne might not get much of a reaction from the crowd here because of that. But Pete Dunne is fantastic, and has quickly grown to become one of Britain’s best wrestlers over the past year. His time as the top heel at OTT in Ireland has done his work wonders, and he has a natural ability to know when to egg the crowd on to garner heat, and when to turn up the physical intensity in a match. He seems to always be doing the right thing at the right time to get the crowd invested in him and his matches, so while he received a minimal reaction for his entrance, he was very much over by the end of the match. Gallagher has a strong fan base in PROGRESS by now, and so his babyface support, Dunne’s excellent heel work, and the continued unique atmosphere these qualifying matches had really pushed this match to becoming something special. Gallagher’s tricky technical expertise meshed really well with Dunne’s ‘Bruiserweight’ bullying style in a very satisfying way, and both men’s work had an edge to it as they rose to the occasion of the qualifying match. A brilliant late false finish saw Dunne with his feet on the ropes so nearly score a three count, before the referee noticed it and stopped the count, getting a big crowd reaction. After that, the crowd stayed very hot as the match built to the finish, with the men going counter-for-counter before Gallagher pulled Dunne into a beautiful Ankle Lock to score the submission victory. A great showing from both Gallagher and Dunne, and it’s almost a shame that only one of them gets to go into the Cruiserweight Classic. Dunne will be back for the Super Strong Style 16 tournament though, so it’s a decent conciliation prize. ****
Natural Progression Series Final
Pastor William Eaver def. Damon Moser
Right now, Pastor William Eaver has everything that Damon Moser doesn’t. Eaver has a distinctive look, an established character, exciting signature moves that the crowd recognises, and is going through logical booking phases to establish him as a major player in PROGRESS in the future. Moser looks very generic, has no character traits whatsoever, and really only a couple moves that I’ve seen him perform more than once. The only thing established about him is that he is ‘that guy who was in the Faceless/Origin for one show’. This isn’t to say that Moser could become an interesting wrestler in the future, just that he has nothing going for him right now, and he and PROGRESS need to go back to the drawing board to figure out something compelling that works for him, like Eaver has.
As for the match itself, it took a long time really getting going. Both guys are still young, and while Eaver looks very comfortable on the Chapter shows now, Moser still looks nervous, and unable to really perform at his top level. Again, it doesn’t help that he has no established signature moves or character traits that the crowd can latch onto. He’s Just A Guy, and generic wrestlers have generic matches. The last few minutes were decent though, with Eaver hitting out his wonderful finishing sequence; a crucifix bomb into the Clothesline From Heaven, to win the Natural Progression Series and earn a Money In The Bank-style title shot. **
Post-match, Eaver celebrated with his ProJo graduate friends Chuck Mambo and Ali Armstrong, a cool moment for him after a match that was designed to highlight the talent coming out of PROGRESS’ own wrestling school. Eaver was definitely the right choice to win the tournament, and is more than ready to have a shot at a main event contest.
PROGRESS announced that the Natural Progression Series 4 will be a tournament to determine their first Women’s Champion. With their women’s division becoming very interesting now, this is a welcome move.
Dahlia Black and Elizabeth def. Pollyanna and Jinny
The women’s division in PROGRESS has been building really well this year, and all the stories and rivalries that have been built up so far merged in this match. Pollyanna and Dahlia picked each other’s partners before the match, and each picked a woman that they would find tremendously awkward to work with; Polly’s long-time rival Jinny, and Jinny’s ‘personal assistant’ Elizabeth. The crowd gave a huge reaction to Elizabeth, who has never even wrestled on a Chapter show, but her agonising treatment by Jinny as her ‘Virgil’ has been a really well built story, with a fun pay-off in this match. Everyone else’s entrances in this match were also delightful; Pollyanna played up her ‘Khaleesi’ gimmick sat on a full-on Iron Throne that PROGRESS procured from somewhere, Dahlia’s face lit up with horror as she was torn away from her lover TK Cooper, and Jinny’s evil gaze continued to strike fear into all who dared look directly into her eyes. The characters of the women of PROGRESS have been built up so well, and that makes their segments a lot more interesting as a result. The match was quick and completely story-based, with Elizabeth hanging out on the apron before eventually tagging in and getting her revenge on Jinny with a backstabber for the win. Presumably Jinny and Elizabeth will get a singles match soon, and that will be very intriguing indeed. **½
Atlas Championship Tournament Group Stage
Joe Coffey vs Rampage Brown – 15 minute time limit draw
If this match is indication of what we can expect from the rest of the Atlas tournament, then we’re in for a hell of a ride. Coffey and Brown absolutely licked each other in this match, with grimace-inducing chops and big shoulder block battles in the ring and out of it. Both guys sold the fatigue of such a hefty battle very well, and made the 15 minute match feel like a real slog, in a good way. As the match continued, they did a good job of appearing to work through the pain, attempting to keep up the pace despite the damage they had sustained. They were too proud and just too damn Big Lad-y to ever admit defeat just because a giant man had continually run into them for 10 minutes. Ultimately, this meant the match ended with a draw, and despite feeling slightly telegraphed, it didn’t feel at all like a disappointing ending, but rather the natural conclusion to a physical war. Coffey in particular impressed here on his first Electric Ballroom outing, busting out some flying manoeuvres to try and counter Brown’s size advantage, and he had no problems getting over in front of the new crowd. This summer may be the summer of Cruiserweights, but the Big Lads division is still going to be a very fun part of it. ***½
F.S.U. & The London Riots def. The Origin
Eddie Dennis played the ‘stupid babyface’ at the start of the match, as he ran to attack El Ligero and Nathan Cruz, armed with chairs, alone, and got beaten up by them and the rest of the Origin surprise attacking him for doing so. Maybe take your best friend and partner with you next time Eddie? Zack Gibson snuck in from the other side of the ring as well, taking out James Davis with his own cricket bat, meaning that the face team was down to the odd-couple pair of Mark Andrews and Rob Lynch to properly start the match. The Origin took advantage and controlled the match, although Andrews and Lynch both had sequences where they took all four of their opponents out, Andrews with a big dive and Lynch with some great-looking power moves. The Origin always seized control again though, and their Dragon Gate-esque sequences with every man hitting a move on one opponent always looks cool. Davis returned to the match and suplexed Nathan Cruz out of the ring onto everyone, before Dennis returned with a primal scream, rousing his team and evening up the match. A lot of fun, fast-paced action ensued, making the most of the number of men involved in the match yet without devolving into just a spot-fest. While no single man shined, everyone came off looking very good and both face teams got to hit their signature spots, with the Riots earning the pinfall and a shot at the Tag Team Championships at Super Strong Style 16 Day 1. ***
PROGRESS Championship Match
Marty Scurll (c) def. Tommy End via DQ
This match started off very quickly, with Scurll attempting a ‘Superkick Just Kidding’ but getting kicked in the face by End for his troubles. The story of the match was of End trying to keep the match at a high pace, where his explosive kicks and strikes would give him the advantage, but Scurll shut him down by throwing him into the chairs, and maintaining his desired methodical pace from there. End defeated Scurll at the previous chapter using a huge spinning kick, so Scurll was determined to avoid End’s strikes and keep him grounded. Every time End had the room, he was going for huge knees and kicks, and there’s very few wrestlers who deliver more satisfying strikes than him. This created some great spots in the match where End got to show off his kickboxing skills and delivered a hurting to Scurll, but at times the match felt a little disjointed, jumping from spot to spot rather than feeling fluid, like Scurll’s matches with Will Ospreay always do. Even if it didn’t always feel ‘natural’, End’s spots are always a sight to behold. His strikes always look and sound vicious, and he even got to vary things up a bit, including attempting a moonsault, which was beautifully, viciously countered by Scurll as he kicked End in the face mid-flight.
The match was really hitting top gear at this point, and End had Scurll dead to rights, when the lights went out and Mikey Whiplash emerged, hitting Scurll with a chair to disqualify End. This finish was as flat as could be, and while Whiplash got decent heat, a bullshit finish at an indie show is always risky. It either comes off as the crowd being pissed at the interfering wrestler, or at the promotion itself for booking a crappy finish, and this one fell into the latter. Whiplash screaming “It was my time!” was just nonsensical; he’s had one match in PROGRESS in the last year and a half, and he lost it. He can be in SSS16, but to claim that it was his turn for a title shot instead of End is just far-fetched. Anyway, he and End will likely encounter each other in SSS16, so I at least appreciate PROGRESS building some feuds into the tournament. It sucks that they had to kill a good match and the main event of their show to do it though. ***
A really strong show for PROGRESS, and one of their best of the year so far, even if the main event finished in a really flat way. The two Cruiserweight Classic qualifiers were very strong matches with a fantastic atmosphere, and the women of PROGESS are becoming a highlight of every show they are on.