Photo: Rob Brazier Photography
Day 1 of the SSS16 saw few surprises in results, but that means that Day 2’s match line-up looks really strong on paper. The prospect of a Chris Hero/Tommy End clash in the semi-final is salivating, and it’s genuinely unpredictable as to who will actually win the tournament, with 4 or 5 legitimate and logical contenders for victory. Day 2 is a long show, with 9 matches and a ‘Wasteman Challenge’ scheduled, so the action will have to maintain a very high standard to avoid having the show run out of steam. PROGRESS managed that feat in last year’s SSS16, so we’ll see if 2016’s Day 2 can match 2015’s excellence.
Mark Andrews won a 10-man Redemption Scramble Match
Mark Haskins collapsed from dehydration after completing his match on Day 1, and so had to pull out of Day 2, and a planned 10-man tag team match was changed into a 10-way, single fall match to determine his replacement in the tournament, featuring the 8 losers from the SSS16 opening round, and El Ligero and Nathan Cruz, who lost the PROGRESS Tag Team Championships on Day 1. Dave Mastiff teamed up with Origin stable-mates Ligero and Cruz throughout the match, and unleashed their Dragon Gate-style group offence several times throughout the match, particularly on former member Damon Moser. Mastiff also impressed with his multiple German suplexes on TK Cooper, who took each one brilliantly and made Mastiff look absolutely devastating. Another highlight of the match was the sequences between Matt Cross and Mark Andrews, who flipped around the ring to ‘Vader hates this’ chants. This was a complete spot-fest, but a well-executed one which made sure the crowd was awake, and I actually would quite like to see this kind of big multi-man match become a tradition to open up the Day 2 show, even if it wouldn’t always be for re-entry into the tournament. Andrews pinned Pete Dunne to get into the quarterfinals against Mikey Whiplash, who attacked him while Andrews celebrated his victory to begin the match straight away. ***
Mark Andrews def. Mikey Whiplash
Just 2 minutes into the match, Andrews rolled up Whiplash to win and advance to the semi-finals, after not even being in the tournament just 5 minutes beforehand. Whiplash dominated the match but looked like a complete punk losing to a man who had wrestled just before, and Whiplash certainly lost a lot of the threat and credibility he entered the tournament with by losing in this fashion. Still, a fun moment to see Andrews advance; as I watched live, my mind started to entertain the notion of a Hero/Andrews re-match in the final, which made me very excited for the rest of the tournament. N/A
Zack Gibson def. Jack Gallagher
Gallagher started the match by schooling Gibson in some technical wrestling, getting out of every hold Gibson attempted with plenty of flair, making Gibson incredulous and start arguing with the jeering crowd. The flashy Gallagher infuriating Gibson at every turn made for a great dynamic, but Gibson, over the last year in PROGRESS, has learned to control his anger and maintain control of matches using his superior size. Whether in control or being frustrated, Gibson’s facial expressions were excellent, keeping the match engaging and showing just how well he can work his character into his matches. Gallagher’s flashy comeback offence was also really impressive, and he evokes great babyface energy in just about all his actions in the ring. A great spot towards the end of the match saw Gibson commit a Gerrard Slip, and Gallagher capitalise by hitting the corner dropkick that he defeated TK Cooper with on Day 1, but this time only got a nearfall. The Gerrard Slip always gets a huge reaction in PROGRESS, as the misery of Gibson’s Liverpool fandom bites him at the most inopportune times in-ring. However, Gibson recovered by pulling the referee in front of him as he did on Day 1, allowing him to throw Gallagher into the corner and lock the Shankley Gates for the tapout win. Gibson repeating the same pre-match promo and finish as his first round match served to irate the crowd more, and establish the finish as something to watch out for in the semi-final. ***
Chris Hero def. Big Daddy Walter
A huge hoss battle between two guys who clearly wanted to beat the hell out of each other from the very beginning. Walter and Hero traded some very good looking strikes early on; Hero is obviously one of the best in the world at making strikes look vicious, but Walter has gotten sneakily good at making his moves look very dangerous. Much like the Walter/Mastiff match from Day 1, this was worked at a really good pace, with little downtime and lots of action, which you don’t always see when two guys the size of Hero and Walter wrestle each other. Walter has clearly learned much from the masters of strong style at BJW in terms of how to maintain a strong pace while also presenting the match as an absolute war of attrition. Walter was in control late in the match, and looked to end it with the awesome Saka Otoshi into Gojira Clutch combo that finished Mastiff on Day 1, but Hero stayed on his feet and levelled Walter with some crushing elbows that looked deadly. Walter got a great reaction for kicking out of these, only to be finished for good by a Gotch piledriver; a brutal end to a brutal match, and one of the best of the weekend. Walter’s stock has gone up significantly after his two great showings in the SSS16, and hopefully he now makes it to the final in the Atlas Tournament. ****
Tommy End def. Sami Callihan
Callihan and End started by staring at each other for a very long time, only for Callihan to get kicked in the head when he charged at End. Callihan established himself as a heel on Day 1, and here repeated some of the moves he hit on Matt Cross in that match again, but including plenty of gurning the crowd while doing so this time around. He and End had good chemistry but none of their sequences got time to breathe. The match only lasted 7 minutes and they packed a lot of big power moves into it, making this a fun sprint but lacking in impactful moments. End kicked out of another piledriver finisher here, as he did on Day 1 against Rampage Brown, and then came back into the match, catching a running Callihan with a roundhouse kick for the quick win. Callihan’s run in the tournament was very fun in the moment but also almost instantly forgettable, while End continues to be built very strong before his showdown with one of his trainers; Chris Hero. ***
Mark Andrews def. Zack Gibson
For the third time this weekend, Gibson cut exactly the same pre-match promo, laying on the scouse accent even more thick than either of the previous two times, raising his despicableness to astronomical new levels. PROGRESS Champion Marty Scurll served as guest commentator for this and the other semi-final, and sounded like he’d possibly had one too many as he rambled and raged against both Andrews and Gibson. As for the match itself, it intentionally mirrored both of the previous two Gibson matches in the tournament, as he controlled the tired Andrews and dominated much of the contest, with Andrews only managing to hit a few token flips, much to the chagrin of both Gibson and Scurll. The finish of the match also mirrored the previous Gibson finishes, only this time, Andrews managed to flip out of the Shankley Gates and roll up Gibson for the surprise pin. Andrews got a huge reaction for managing to get into the final only about an hour after he qualified back into the tournament. It was a really engaging scene to watch unfold live, and while that sense of excitement doesn’t quite translate to VOD, especially if watching spoiled, it was still a really fun story for PROGRESS to tell and Andrews was great as the undersized underdog finally getting the better of Gibson’s underhanded tactics here. Gibson got the heel equivalent of a standing ovation after this match; his performances over the weekend were fantastic and have put him right in the upper echelon of the PROGRESS hierarchy. Surely a main event run is not far away. ***½
Tommy End def. Chris Hero
The Heroes Eventually Die theme played before the start of this match, and there was a really heightened sense of intensity for this match, since it was the one everyone was expecting and most hyped for since the brackets were announced. The two men exchanged strikes in a long test of strength that went all around the Electric Ballroom, culminating in Hero hitting a senton through the front row of chairs to a prone End. These two might be the best strikers in wrestling today, so it was a pleasure to see them show off what they do best. Hero took control with a piledriver (there were a lot of piledrivers across the tournament, and Tommy End kicked out of a fair few of them), but End managed to land a string of awesome strikes, culminating in a diving foot stomp and a roundhouse kick for a nearfall and a fantastic crowd reaction. Hero then hit a piledriver from the middle rope for a nearfall, and that’s where I would argue that the match went ‘too far’; if End can kick out of that kind of devastating move, he shouldn’t be up and wrestling 10 seconds later. That’s what happened though, as he rolled up Hero for the win, garnering a huge reaction from the crowd.
The match was very exciting throughout and had a strong emotional edge to it, so even if they clearly leant on the edge of believability with the final piledriver kickout, it worked on a purely emotional level and created one of the loudest reactions in PROGRESS history. This match really felt like the peak of the tournament as a whole, created a moment that won’t be forgotten for a long while, and concluded a hell of a tournament for Chris Hero, who once again proved that he might just be the best wrestler in the world. ****
#1 Contender Tag Team Street Fight
Dazzler Team (Darrell Allen and Earl Black Jr.) def. Sweet Jesus (Chuck Mambo and Pastor William Eaver)
A bizarre change-of-pace match to bring the crowd down from the very emotional charged semi-final matches. Beach balls were batted around the crowd to beckon the arrival of Sweet Jesus, and the two teams proceeded to level each other with an unconventional array of objects, from shopping trolleys to watermelons. The outlandishness of Mambo and the ‘comedy-mode’ Eaver juxtaposed the snarling Dazzlers, and the two teams did mesh pretty well, hitting some satisfying plunder spots. It all ultimately felt very inconsequential though, which is why I question some of the spots chosen. Three guys went through thumbtacks, and Mambo did a risky dive into the crowd, all for a match that no-one really cared about and was merely a buffer match before the SSS16 final. It was an entertaining distraction from the seriousness of the tournament, but perhaps needlessly violent for its purpose. Sweet Jesus dominated most of the match as the Dazzlers played foil, but Allen and Black managed to take control at the most opportune time, hitting a Dazzler Drop through the thumbtacks on Eaver to pick up the win. Allen is the head trainer at the ProJo, so getting a Tag Title shot seems like PROGRESS’ way of rewarding him for his hard work. Black Jr. is a very basic wrestler, and failed to impress even slightly in his previous Chapter outings. We’ll see what they can do against the London Riots in a much more important match. **½
Wasteman Challenge Segment
A final comedy segment to fill time before the final, as ‘Bodyguy’ Roy Johnson called out the entire roster for a Wasteman Challenge. Johnson is a very good talker already with his distinctive South London grime cadence that makes his promos unlike anyone else’s in the world. It helps that he’s a legitimately decent rapper too. Eddie Dennis answered the challenge, proceeded to sing ‘Your Mother’s Got a Penis’ by Goldie Looking Chain, and dropped Johnson with a Next Stop Driver, for a fun little distraction to warm up for the serious business to come.
Tommy End def. Mark Andrews
This match may have been the finale of two days of wrestling, but it never felt climactic. Perhaps because the semi-finals had been so emotionally charged, End and Andrews failed to find the right atmosphere for this one, and the crowd reactions had peaked at the second rope piledriver from End/Hero. There was a good sense of urgency early in the match, as both men went for big moves early on, and End even hit his roundhouse kick for a nearfall. He then went for a top rope foot stomp, only for the lights to go out, signalling interference from Mikey Whiplash was about to occur. When the lights came back on, Whiplash was in the middle of the ring, but looking the wrong way, and End from behind levelled him with a roundhouse, knocking Whiplash out of the ring. Andrews tried to take advantage, and even hit a Shooting Star Press, but quickly fell to another End roundhouse in just 6 minutes. The crowd seemed fairly shocked that the final had ended so early and on a very underwhelming finishing sequence, and were very slow to react to the end of the match; the eventual standing ovation End received seemed rather begrudgingly given if anything.
Obviously this wasn’t the reaction anyone was hoping for, but this final was underwhelming, especially in comparison to the 2015 final where Will Ospreay and Zack Sabre Jr. got across the fatigue they were fighting through really well while also delivering a fantastic match; one of the best and most memorable in PROGRESS history. This match achieved neither a sense of fatigue nor a great standalone contest, and just felt a bit too by the numbers for such a big occasion. If End’s finisher had felt a bit more impactful, then maybe the sudden end wouldn’t have felt so flat, but he needs to move away from the roundhouse kick as his main finisher, because it lacks any feeling of finality.
Luckily, the final didn’t really need to be the emotional climax of the weekend, as the semi-finals had already served as that, but the match still underwhelmed and suffered from taking place well after the peak of the show. **½
This show and the tournament peaked with two highly emotional and very fun semi-final contests, although the final itself was disappointing in its brevity and lack of really strong emotional engagement. Day 1 was the better show, and didn’t run out of steam before the end, but overall, the 2016 SSS16 was better than the first. PROGRESS booked the tournament really well, with the majority of its participants coming out of it looking better than they did coming into it.