Dunne Brothers (Pete and Damien Dunne) vs Moustache Mountain (Trent Seven and Tyler Bate)
These teams had a really fun opening match earlier in the year for PROGRESS in Manchester, so a Camden rematch was very welcome. Pete pushed Damien out of the way during their entrance, setting up the eventual story of this match but also playing off the idea of Pete feeling superior to his brother due to his now international reputation on the indies. The Dunnes were cohesive for most of the match though, swarming face-in-peril Bate, who had some very fun near-tag spots as he just barely failed to tag in Seven every time. Bate got in plenty of offence on the Dunnes though, including his always-impressive fireman’s carry/giant swing double manoeuvre. When Bate finally put the Dunnes down and tagged in Seven however, Trent blasted him with a punch, followed by Pete low-blowing Damien. Seven and Pete left together to make the match a double count out, leaving Damien, Bate and the entire crowd bemused. **½
It’s a ballsy move by PROGRESS to break up two very good and very well established tag teams before they’ve even had a chance to be used properly within PROGRESS. It could be a gamble that pays off, but as it stands, two tag teams have been broken up to form one inferior tag team, at a time when PROGRESS’ Tag Championship challengers are the jobber Dazzler Team and outsiders War Machine. A proper PROGRESS tag division where the Dunnes, Moustache Mountain, FSU, the Hunter Brothers and any other well established British tag team could have been so much fun, and as it is, we only ever got a taste of that. I hope Dunne and Seven get to move up the card after this and become main event contenders post-Brixton, because if this is just a lateral move for them and they remain in the tag division, I can’t really justify it.
Jack Gallagher def. Zack Gibson
This was a rematch from the SSS16 quarter-finals, and even just three months after that tournament, both these guys feel like bigger deals than they were in May. Gibson got the expected, but still tremendous, nuclear heat for his now signature pre-match promo, first delivered begrudgingly by Jim Smallman and then spouted by Gibson himself. Gallagher got a great reaction fresh off his first CWC appearance, and has certainly seen his stock grow having had one of the best matches of that tournament’s first round. The early part of the match felt fairly similar to their SSS16 contest, with Gibson using his superior size to gain the advantage, only to be continually frustrated by the crafty skill of Gallagher. A really fun callback to that SSS16 match saw Gibson attempt to wrap Gallagher up in a ball as Gallagher had done to him in May, only for Gallagher to immediately find his way out of the pretzel and return the favour on Gibson. Gallagher got a lot more offence from this point on than you would perhaps expect, and Gibson looked more vulnerable than he has for a long time, which was an interesting way to change up the usual dynamic between these two. Gibson had the Shankly Gates locked and Gallagher landed his corner dropkick, but neither could finish off the other. After a fun exchange of moves though, Gallagher caught Gibson trying to hit a Codebreaker and turned it into an ankle lock, forcing the tap out. Gallagher has won several matches this year using a variety of moves, which really fits his grappler gimmick and the idea that he put forward in his CWC interview that he aims to win through every hold and move he performs. This win showed that philosophy in action. Will we see the rubber match between these two at Brixton? ***½
South Pacific Power Trip (TK Cooper and Travis Banks w/Dahlia Black) def. ‘Bodyguy’ Roy Johnson and Jack Sexsmith
This match came about after a Wasteman Challenge segment, which has become very over now thanks to Roy Johnson’s brilliant charisma. The friendly neighbourhood grime artist is something that’s never been done in wrestling before and Johnson is making a name for himself by basically just being himself turned up to 11, which is how a lot of great wrestlers are born. He’s on the right track, even if we haven’t seen much of him in the ring yet. Getting paired with Jack Sexsmith, who is still hung up on the South Pacific Power Trio despite losing to TK Cooper on the last Chapter, is perhaps not the best career move for Johnson. I know Sexsmith’s gimmick is literally to be ‘morally ambiguous’, but his calling out SPPT with his Wasteman Challenge rap just came across as dickish, between insinuating Banks and Black are having an affair behind Cooper’s back and talking about Dahlia in the crudest of terms, I’d say the Power Trio appear far more likeable than sore loser Sexsmith.
Once the tag match was made, it was clear that Travis Banks, making his PROGRESS Chapter debut here, is legit. He’s only been in Britain for a year now, but what a revelation he is. Every move he performs is so well executed and his facial expressions are strong too. He and Cooper could go very far, and Black, although not on the same level as the men, has shown lots of good stuff in her matches too. SPPT are a fantastic team, and really deserve a lot more than a feud with dorky Sexsmith. Johnson looked good coming off the hot tag; he’s a natural athlete and has solid in-ring skills, so in a few years he could really be something. Sexsmith however got exposed in this almost 30 minute segment; on the mic he guffed his way through a borderline-misogynistic promo, and in the ring played generic babyface, adding nothing to the match.
I like Sexsmith in short bursts, but this promo/match segment dragged way too long and Sexsmith and Johnson aren’t experienced enough yet to warrant such a chunk of time. This feud will go at least one more match, with a 6-person match featuring Pollyanna on the Chapter 34 card, but that needs to be where SPPT put away these buffoons for good and enter the Tag Title scene. *½
Mark Andrews def. El Ligero
In true Origin fashion, El Ligero forced Jim Smallman to read out a comedically overblown list of his accomplishments while he mugged off on the top rope. In less than true Origin fashion though, Ligero came out solo for this match, and remained on his own throughout. This is a new development for the Origin, with all of the members distancing themselves from one another, for now at least.
As for the match, there’s not a whole lot to say. Both men ran through their regular stuff, with Ligero hamming it up throughout and really getting the crowd engaged, while Andrews busted out his arsenal of flips. There was nothing memorable about this match, but in the moment it was a lot of fun, and sometimes you need fun mid-card fodder, especially on this show loaded up with story beats and less than satisfactory finishes. Speaking of which, Andrews rolling up Ligero here came a little out of nowhere, and the match could have easily had 3-5 more minutes to make it memorable. As it was though, no-one will remember this match in even a month’s time, but it was fun while it lasted and serves as a strong win for Andrews, who will get a proper chance to succeed in a PROGRESS Championship match at Chapter 35. **½
PROGRESS Championship No.1 Contender’s Match: Mark Haskins def. Will Ospreay
Big reactions for both men’s entrances helped this match feel significant before it even began. BritWres fans’ streamer game is typically very weak and we need to step it up to compete with the perfectly-timed, colour-coordinated throws seen in Japan, but Will Ospreay seems to inspire a strong streamer showing for his entrances at least. There was an amazing moment early on here where Ospreay did a flip over a prone Haskins, turned around and just gave him the most cocky, shit-eating grim you could possibly imagine, which Haskins responded to by attempting to lock in an armbar. Ospreay does such a good job at coming off like a likeable yet very cocky young man who knows he’s really good but thinks he’s even better. A great contrast between him and the no thrills, perma-underdog Haskins, who fights and grinds out victories instead of showing off and gurning to the crowd. Truly, this is the BritWres version of Okada vs Shibata. Ospreay sustained his cockiness throughout the match, easing into covers and shouting the names of his signature moves, although the crowd didn’t pick up on the significance of his Rainmaker pose. To counter Ospreay, Haskins dug deep into his arsenal, even pulling out old moves of his such as a trusty Dragon Gate Meteora. All of Haskins’ attention was on Ospreay’s injured shoulder, and he did a good job of targeting Ospreay’s arm with just about every move he attempted, especially when countering Ospreay’s flips; shutting down a handspring elbow attempt with a good kick to the arm. Of course, an arm injury still can’t stop Ospreay from doing a no-hands handspring, which is one of the most impressive moves in wrestling today.
The result of this match was never really in doubt but both men did an excellent job of showing just why Ospreay couldn’t have won this match. Haskins’ laser-targeting on Ospreay’s arm and Ospreay’s selling of his injury showed that Ospreay wasn’t on peak form, but Ospreay also got across that he wasn’t taking the match completely seriously; it was just another match for global star Ospreay, but it was life-or-death for Haskins, who craves the PROGRESS Championship that he’s never managed to win. He simply wanted it more and was in the better condition to win the match, and both men got across those concepts really well. Haskins worked over the arm all match and tapped out Ospreay with his armbar finisher, and will head to Brixton to challenge for the PROGRESS Championship. This wasn’t as good as their Chapter 21 match, which was probably the best PROGRESS match ever, but did tell a better story than that match and was another significant win for Haskins on his road to Brixton. ****
PROGRESS Tag Team Championship Match: London Riots (James Davis and Rob Lynch) (c) vs War Machine (Ray Rowe and Hanson)
War Machine are a somewhat strange team to bring into PROGRESS, since they aren’t big stars on the indie scene, but they do have consistently good matches and the Riots need solid opponents now after being fed the Dazzler Team in their first title defence. Rowe and Hanson established their physical superiority over the Riots early on, hitting some very cool and inventive double team moves, such as a Rowe superman punch having leapt off of Hanson’s back. War Machine put Lynch and Davis into a situation they don’t often find themselves of working from behind, but the Riots used War Machine’s own miscommunication and a crazy dive from the video board by Davis to take advantage in the match. An action packed closing stretch saw plenty more cool double team moves by each team, but ultimately ended with Davis rolling up Rowe and grabbing the tights to score a tainted babyface win, a very interesting development for the Riots who never had an in-ring turn, and only came back as faces after being ‘fired’ as heels. War Machine proved to be very good opponents for the Riots and brought out the best in Lynch and Davis, so a rematch at Chapter 34 is very welcome. ***
PROGRESS Championship Match: Marty Scurll def. Pastor William Eaver (c)
This was the biggest match of Pastor William Eaver’s career so far, and the one in which he absolutely had to deliver a strong performance to justify his sudden PROGRESS Championship reign and first Chapter show main event. Sadly, Eaver had an uninspiring performance, and that was perhaps the least of PROGRESS’ problems with the reception of this main event and the angle that concluded it. The match started solidly and Scurll tried his best to inject some charisma into proceedings, but it seems the majority of the Ballroom just wasn’t biting on his heel work. Scurll may be ‘The Villain’, but he’s actually proven to be a much better performer when working as a pseudo-babyface in RevPro and EVOLVE, and his deliberate removal of his more fun mannerisms when working in PROGRESS is detrimental to the overall enjoyment of his matches. Scurll hasn’t been helped by the booking in getting heel heat this year, as he’s been made to look like a weak fool multiple times since becoming champion, but he’s not helping himself either by being a dissapointing heel and seemingly always coming across like a poor man’s Jimmy Havoc. Eaver may have been overwhelmed by the main event situation, or by the length of the match being much greater than what he’s used to, but he brought none of the flair that he showed in his really good opening matches against Jack Gallagher and Noam Dar last year. It seemed like Eaver wasn’t comfortable in the ring and Scurll was having trouble leading him without his bag of ‘tweener’ tricks he can rely on in other promotions, so the match fell apart and became extremely generic.
Things were picking up slightly towards the end of the match when Eaver started to hit his signature moves and became more confident as a result, but then PROGRESS had to ‘tell a story’, cutting the match short. Sebastian, who hasn’t been seen in PROGRESS for over a year and was a comedic babyface back then, came out onto the stage and said that he ‘had a secret’ about Eaver, which was enough for Eaver to be distracted, allowing Scurll to lock in the Chickenwing and score the submission victory, becoming a two-time PROGRESS Champion. **
There’s a lot to unpack about this finish. First, Scurll once again looks weak by lucking into a victory. Not in a conniving, mastermind Jimmy Havoc-esque way, but via Deus Ex Machina catching up to his opponent, and Scurll weaselling in to win and act as a third wheel in someone else’s angle. On the last two Chapters Scurll has looked like a really weak champion who is incapable of defending his title cleanly. PROGRESS has now completely wasted Scurll’s clean victory over Chris Hero by following it up with two bullshit wins that make Scurll appear to be chickenshit again.
Second, this Sebastian finish was almost exactly the same as the Mikey Whiplash interference finish a few months ago, and that went nowhere quickly. It’s almost insulting to the live audience to routinely end shows with bullshit finishes under the guise that, on a future show, the comeuppance will be greater. PROGRESS always used to balance the disappointment of seeing Havoc win against something positive that came out of it, be it a new challenger or a more minor accomplishment by the babyfaces. Now they’re relying on confusing and unsatisfying finishes that don’t really advance any stories.
Another problem is that Sebastian, previously an undercard comedy guy who’s never even threatened to have a good match, is the man that was chosen to be the most prominent character in the show-closing angle. Not an established heel like Paul Robinson, or your new potential main event heels Trent Seven and Pete Dunne. Even worse, there’s literally no reason to care about ‘his secret’. It reeks of awful WWE-style on-the-fly booking, and even if they’ve elaborately planned out what it is and how it will be revealed, there’s no way it can be satisfying, because it’s a bullshit pantomime excuse for a feud that PROGRESS has proven that they can do a lot better than (see the natural, satisfying and engaging storyline built between Jinny and Laura Di Matteo).
And then there’s Eaver, who has been horribly mishandled with an out-of-place fluke title win, and immediate proof that he never belonged in the main event by losing the title on the very next show. Why did he win the title with a heel cash-in move when a noble, straight-up challenge for the title where he proved he could hang with Scurll but ultimately came up short would have done so much more for him? I know that’s fantasy booking, but it’s frustrating that Eaver was made to look like loser, and had his first ever title defence look like an undeserving fluke. We know from the Roman Reigns debacle last year that you can only ever win the Championship for the first time ONCE, and every other time sees diminishing returns. Eaver had a bad performance in the ring here, but nowhere near as bad as the booking that’s damaged his potential to be a future main eventer.
This was almost certainly the worst booking decision PROGRESS have ever made. It’s not going to sink their reputation as one of the best wrestling promotions in the world, but it can’t happen again. PROGRESS are heading into the most important stage of their history over the next few months, with the Brixton show being their biggest ever, and moving onto the international stage with a show at WrestleMania weekend next year as part of WWNLive’s promotions there. If they can knock those shows out of the park, and I know they can, their reputation will rise exponentially. But if they pepper the shows in between with bullshit finishes like this Sebastian mess, their new international attention will draw eyes onto a product that just doesn’t live up to the hype.
On a personal level, this finish is sort of the straw that broke the camel’s back, in that I’m now seriously sceptical of ever bothering to spend the whole day travelling to and from a PROGRESS show and laying down £30+ to do so only to leave the show on a confusing non-angle that I couldn’t possibly be satisfied by. Super Strong Style 16 is a must-see event, and their upcoming Mystery Vortex-style show ‘Unboxing Live’ looks like it will be a ton of fun, but I’m turned off attending the rank and file chapter shows because I’m more likely to see a bullshit finish to the show than a clean one.
I’m being hyper-critical here because I thoroughly enjoy PROGRESS and think it can be even better than it already is. It has the potential to be the best wrestling promotion in the world if they’re able to figure out how to cut the bullshit and maximise the potential of the roster they have. Travis Banks, Pete Dunne and Paul Robinson, among others, should not be treading water while Sebastian, Mikey Whiplash, and (at this stage in his career) Eaver dominate the main event storylines. PROGRESS is capable of becoming the best promotion in the world, but they need to get out of their own way to get there.