PROGRESS Chapter 30
Super Strong Style 16
London, ENG – Electric Ballroom
May 29, 2016 (Day 1)

Watch: Demand PROGRESS

PROGRESS Wrestling’s second annual 16-man tournament, spanning over two days, sees some of the best wrestlers in Britain, and the world, fight for a shot at the PROGRESS Championship. Missing from this year’s tournament is last year’s winner, Will Ospreay. The rising star is taking part in NJPW’s Best of the Super Juniors, while Marty Scurll is the PROGRESS Champion and Zack Sabre Jr. is injured, meaning that the ‘big three’ of BritWres are not in the field. This allows some of the second-tier stars to really show just how good they are on a major stage.

Alongside tournament favourites such as Mark Haskins, Tommy End, and Zack Gibson are major import names Sami Callihan, Matt Cross and Chris Hero. A stable of lesser known guys looking to make a name for themselves such as TK Cooper and Kenny Williams are featured, as well. It’s a unique mix of wrestlers to bring together, and as we will see, they absolutely delivered over the two days.

Mark Haskins def. Pete Dunne 

Haskins and Dunne may be cruiserweights, but they are both firmly strong style wrestlers, and they started the tournament with a mile-a-minute contest. Being the bigger man, Dunne was looking to throw Haskins around, while Haskins wanted to use his superior skill to submit Dunne. They worked a frenetic pace and went back-and-forth, hold-for-hold; an excellent way to get the crowd fired up for a long day of action and set the bar for the matches to come. That said, both men knew when to slow it down as well. Even at just 23, Dunne has an innate sense of when to pander to the crowd to rile them up, and when to go all out into a long sequence of counters. He’s emerged as a fantastic heel and after just a few appearances in PROGRESS is already getting very loud reactions out of the crowd. Haskins was a great foil for Dunne, as he is very popular in PROGRESS and many saw him as favourite to go all the way in the tournament, making Dunne seem an imposing blockade to get past. Haskins took the victory with his signature armbar after flipping out of a Dunne suplex attempt to end a very hot match, perhaps too early for it to be considered great. Still, a strong start to the tournament, which unfortunately took so much out of Haskins that he collapsed from dehydration afterwards and had to withdraw from the tournament. ***½

Mikey Whiplash def. Damon Moser

Mikey Whiplash has returned to prominence in PROGRESS after interfering in the main event of the previous chapter, costing Tommy End his chance at the PROGRESS Championship. This match was designed to establish him as a real threat, and Moser was the sacrificial lamb. Moser isn’t quite ready for such a prominent stage just yet, but PROGRESS seem to have faith in him to swim instead of sink. He’s just really bland and has nothing for fans to latch onto, and the only reason he was cheered here is because Whiplash’s character is impossible to root or. To be fair to Moser though, this was his best performance so far, as he brought some physicality to the match and got across that, although he was overmatched against a more experienced opponent, he was forcing Whiplash to give his best effort to defeat him. Moser got a late-match fighting spirit pop-up spot, only to be put down for good. This match accomplished what it needed to. **

Zack Gibson def. Kenny Williams

Both men had a great pre-match; Williams’ Back to the Future entrance got over immediately in the Electric Ballroom, and Zack Gibson dialled the Scouse accent up to 11 for his pre-match promo, infuriating the crowd. There may be no-one better in Britain at marrying character and  in-ring work than Gibson, as his constant trash talking towards both his opponent and the crowd all stem from his Scouser gimmick, which he plays up brilliantly pre-match. It’s so easy and so fun to hate Gibson, and his in-ring style when dominating smaller opponents such as Wiliams allows him to give the crowd plenty of opportunity for vitriol. Williams plays the plucky underdog well, and while he’s still getting there in-ring, his character work and selling are both strong and he knows how to appeal to the crowd for support without seeming desperate for it. His exuberance contrasted well with Gibson’s maliciousness, so even though it wasn’t the best worked of the night, the match was still very involving and entertaining. Gibson found an underhanded path to victory, moving the referee into Williams’ way, then throwing him into the turnbuckle post, allowing him to do as he predicted and lock the Shankley Gates submission for the victory. Williams will be welcome back in PROGRESS, though he’s still a couple of years off his prime yet. **½

Jack Gallagher def. TK Cooper (with Dahlia Black) 

TK Cooper and Dahlia Black have mastered being despicable. They come across as though they might genuinely be the worst people in the world; Cooper with his swaggering, tongue-wagging and ‘100 emoji’ pyjamas that have to be seen to be believed, and Dahlia with her inability to be physically sperate from TK for more than about 10 seconds. They are brilliantly awful, and project their personalities very well. Just like the previous matches in this first half of the show, the eminently hateable heel helped the entire crowd root for the face; Jack Gallagher here. Gallagher’s built up a strong resume in PROGRESS now, and the dynamic between him and Cooper was excellent here. Cooper mistimed his pre-match attack on Gallagher, meaning he had to wait through the whole of the introductions for the bell to ring to continue his attack, by which time Gallagher had recovered, allowing him to school Cooper on the mat, and almost pin him immediately. Gallagher throughout was presented as the far more skilled wrestler, but Cooper was craftier, able to use his greater size to counter holds, and had Dahlia to distract Gallagher if necessary. Unfortunately, Cooper got a little too distracted by Dahlia himself, exchanging kisses with her and taking his eyes off of Gallagher, and getting knocked out by a corner dropkick for his troubles. The South Pacific Power Couple act is a joy to watch and Cooper is sneakily good in the ring, so hopefully they become Chapter show regulars going forward. ***

Big Daddy Walter def. Dave Mastiff

This match doubled up as an Atlas Tournament match; if the match went longer than 15 minutes, both men would earn 1 point for that, but the match would continue as a Super Strong Style match. It’s good when promotions actually care to logically explain stipulations.

Mastiff is having lots of fun as a member of The Origin, disingenuously waving to the crowd with the smuggest, most jolly look on his face a man could possibly have. He’s a heel who doesn’t realise he’s a heel. Mastiff was all business once the match started though, and he and Walter knocked the absolute stuffing out of each other here, adding another bout to the growing list of strong Big Lads division matches PROGRESS have put on since the end of last year. The match was surprisingly fast-paced, with each man at different points in the match following up impressive slams with sentons to their downed opponent. Those kind of combo moves created a more energetic dynamic than we’re used to seeing from super heavyweight wrestling, and these guys along with Rampage Brown, Joe Coffey et al are sneakily pushing this ‘genre’, if you want to call it that, of wrestling forward. This match got especially exciting down the stretch, as the pace never relented and the moves each man was hitting became more impactful, culminating in Mastiff hitting a superplex, only for Walter to power through, land a Saka Otoshi(!) and Gojira Clutch combo for the win. Really satisfying big match wrestling here, and PROGRESS’ Atlas Tournament has so far provided exclusively very good matches that have beefed up their shows very well. This was Walter’s first PROGRESS win too, making the match that bit more satisfying. ***½

Chris Hero def. Mark Andrews

There was an amazing atmosphere in the Electric Ballroom for this match; Chris Hero may well be the best wrestler to have ever stepped into a PROGRESS ring, and the crowd responded in kind, being hot from the opening exchanges all the way through to the finish. Hero was in full dick heel mode, bullying Andrews with elbows and bicycle kicks while shrugging off his early shoulder blocks as if he forgot Andrews was even in the ring with him, such was the size and power difference between the two men.

Good films establish plot important information early on, then weave that information into later scenes in new and fascinating ways that remain consistent with what the viewer has been told. Likewise, good wrestlers establish important information in their matches early, such as that Andrews can’t physically knock down a fresh Hero, in order to play with that established information later on. This match was one of the best examples of this idea in action, as almost everything that was performed in the early exchanges informed how spots later in the match played out, making the match as a whole so much more satisfying. Hero established himself as the dominant force early on and started to play around with Andrews too much, who never got frustrated and instead worked diligently for offensive openings which eventually emerged. Andrews continually tried to exchange strikes with Hero, trying to prove his fighting spirit, but as established, he just is not physically capable of out-powering Hero. He is more acrobatic than Hero however, and managed to chain some offence together, including an awesome hurricanrana to the outside. Nothing Andrews did could keep Hero down for long though, and Hero’s punishment was relentless.

After Hero hit Andrews with a devastating piledriver, the match was assuredly something special. The crowd was going ballistic and was now fully behind Andrews, who then went for a German suplex. As established, Andrews just isn’t physically capable of doing it, and Hero countered, only for Andrews to hook him again and finally succeed in slamming Hero, firing up the crowd. Andrews spent the entire match on the ropes and trying to beat Hero at his own game, then finally managed to suplex him and get the upper hand in a strike exchange for a nearfall, making Andrews’ engaging journey through the match reach its conclusion. He went for his Shooting Star Press finisher, but got caught in a cravat on the way down and smashed with a rolling elbow for a nearfall that literally the entire crowd stood up for. Hero was finally sick of Andrews and dumped him with a climactic piledriver to finish Andrews for good. A fantastic, emotionally engaging match, which may have been the best PROGRESS match ever. The crowd reaction to it would certainly suggest it’s up there. ****½

Sami Callihan def. Matt Cross 

Despite this being a match between two vaunted import stars, this one had no chance to succeed after the exhausting Hero/Andrews match. Weird match placement to put that on before this match, which should have had a much more responsive crowd than it did. Callihan and Cross knew they had to do something a little bit different to fire up the crowd again, so they began the match with duelling repeated dives to the outside. The whole match felt like an exhibition of each man’s skills, with signature spots being hit crisply, but without a strong story to link them together. Callihan was the more aggressive of the two, but they never really conveyed a struggle of Cross trying to work his way back into the match. Instead, it was a collection of cool-looking moves, which was good, but maybe not the best use of the pair’s potential. Cross won a bicycle kick battle and looked to put away Callihan, but Callihan low-blowed him while grabbing the referee, allowing him to hit a spike piledriver to advance. Smart move to turn Callihan fully heel before Day 2, giving an extra edge to his quarter-final match. Cross’ showing was very fun, but also relatively unimpactful. ***

Tommy End def. Rampage Brown

This was an odd match, because it came across much better live than on tape; perhaps because some of the physicality and impact of both men’s offence was lost when watching it back compared to being there in the heat of the moment. Brown dominated the first half of the match, and even managed to hit his piledriver finisher, only for End to kick out, which according to the commentators was the first time anyone had kicked out of Rampage’s finisher in PROGRESS. End is being built really strong, having beaten the PROGRESS Champion clean, and only failing to win the title because of interference. He’s been built to an almost annoyingly strong level a la Roman Reigns, but at least Tommy has the right ‘badass yet humble’ charisma to carry it off, unlike Reigns. End came back into the match with his signature strikes, and while Brown hung with him for a while, End put him down for good with his new roundhouse kick finisher. It’s a bit of a clumsy finisher, because it doesn’t look any more impactful than any of his mid-match kicks and knees, and looks far less climactic than his old diving double foot stomp. Singles Tommy End needs a bit of ironing out before he can claim to be one of the best in the world, but he is still hugely impressive in bursts within a match. **½

PROGRESS Tag Team Championship
The London Riots (James Davis & Rob Lynch) def. The Origin (Nathan Cruz & El Ligero) (c)

These two teams have battled in various combinations of 6-man, 8-man, and 3-way tag team matches over the past year, and have both gotten very good at the ‘Car Crash’ style of match where interference, crowd brawling and foreign object usage is rife, and are all used to increase the drama of the match and the hype levels of the crowd. This was the first time they have met two-on-two though, and it may have been the best match they’ve ever had together. Cruz and Ligero have gotten so good at aggravating the crowd as the pest champions, but there was a sense that their time as champions was coming to an end here, marked by the adaptation of the ‘Will Grigg’s on fire’ chant into ‘Origin is terrified of Riots on fire’, which the fans sung throughout the match. A common theme of this weekend was matches being made even better by the live crowd reaction to them, and that very much applied to this match.

So much happened in this match that it’s actually pretty difficult to break it all down. The work was good and maintained a solid pace, but nothing stood out that much until the Origin started to cheat, with Gibson and Mastiff running in to try and get their guys the pinfall. Eventually, the Origin stopped trying to win all together, and actually attempted to get disqualified intentionally and retain their titles, attacking the referee Chris Roberts as well as his replacement Paz. The referees actually refused to disqualify them though, standing up to the bullshit interference that the Origin had made them suffer through during their title reign; a very interesting wrinkle that made this a more satisfying blow-off match. The third referee, Joel Allen, outright attacked El Ligero after Ligero pulled him out of the ring, for one of the biggest pops of the weekend. This led into a very close nearfall on Cruz which even Jon Briley on the sound desk thought was the finish, as the bell rang and the entire crowd leapt to their feet thinking the Riots had won. A lot of confusion happened, but it ultimately led to Ligero eating a spear after being launched off the top rope for the true finish, ending a very eventful and exciting match with a suitably bizarre finishing sequence that gave both Origin members their comeuppance. ***½

Final Thoughts: A very strong show for PROGRESS, full to the brim with very good matches, with one absolute gem in Hero/Andrews that has the potential to turn up in some Top 10 MOTY ballots. There were no major upsets on Day 1 of the tournament, but what was lacking in surprise was made up for in the quality of almost every competitor, with the losers getting a chance to shine even in defeat and the winners being well poised to create some great matchups on Day 2.