PROGRESS Wrestling Chapter 34: Keep It Unreal Review
August 14, 2016
02 Ritz
Manchester, England

Watch: Demand Progress / Photos: Copyright and Rob Brazier Photography

Marty Scurll vs Mark Haskins for the PROGRESS Championship was established as the main event of PROGRESS’ biggest show ever in Brixton in September at Chapter 33, but Tommy End will have the chance to join them if he beats a mystery opponent chosen by Marty Scurll on this show.

Also at the last Chapter, the London Riots defeated War Machine but with a handful of tights on the pinfall, so after beating the South Pacific Power Trip at an ENDVR show since then, War Machine are back on the warpath and hunting the Tag Team Champions. The main event of Keep It Unreal is a proven matchup between BritWres’ biggest international stars; the Best of the Super Juniors Will Ospreay, and Cruiserweight Classic quarter-finalist Zack Sabre Jr., in a contest that should rival their already great matches in EVOLVE and RevPro so far this year.

Atlas Tournament Group A
Dave Mastiff def. Iestyn Rees

This is the last match in the group, with the winner advancing in second place. Rees hasn’t had much of a chance in his PROGRESS run so far, having been relegated to ENDVR for his first singles match and being just a bit player in the tag match, so this is his best chance to shine. He suffers from looking too much like Chris Masters, which doesn’t sound like that bad a thing, but Masters doesn’t have the best rep in the world (except here on VOW where Joe Lanza will remind you of his ‘classic’ Superstars matches from 2011) and so Rees gets a hit by association.

If you can get past that jarring similarity though, some of Rees’ work in-ring is impressive, and he’s particularly good at hitting good-looking power moves. Re-package him just a little bit and Rees could be a lot more prominent in BritWres. But while Rees got to look impressive with some dives and big power moves, this was always going to be Mastiff’s match to win, and much of the match was a plodding affair which the crowd weren’t very into, knowing that Rees wasn’t going to advance. Mastiff at least got good heat for winning the match with a roll-up, and should take that through to his semi-final match with Joe Coffey at Chapter 35. **

Tommy End def. Zack Gibson

Marty Scurll picked two mystery opponents for Tommy End here, with the stipulation that if End beat them, he would earn a future shot at Scurll’s PROGRESS Championship. Scurll introduced Gibson as well as Mikey Whiplash, although Whiplash didn’t make it 5 seconds through the curtain without getting smashed by a chair-wielding Michael Dante, who threw him back through the curtain and out of the match. Whiplash has been presented as a total geek on several occasions now, so this was about par for the course.

The match started with Gibson on top and working End’s arm, but Gibson didn’t seem to have the same nuclear-level heat as he usually does, perhaps because he was only representing Scurll here and not his own interests, which makes very little sense since Gibson should only be concerned with Origin affairs and has actively pursued Scurll’s title in the past. There was a lack of agency in Gibson’s character here and that was likely the reason why the crowd weren’t too vehemently against him. Gibson took the majority of the match in fact, and almost had End in the Shankly Gates, but a few key strikes from End got him the sudden win. The match didn’t have much of a natural flow to it, with End selling for almost the whole match, Hulking Up, and then quickly finishing Gibson, making for a not very satisfying conclusion. End at least looks strong taking everything Gibson gave him. **

Post-match, Glen Joseph returned to PROGRESS and instated End into the Brixton main event, making it a three-way. I’d have preferred a straight one-on-one and End’s inclusion muddles the established story a little bit, but I’ll reserve judgement until after the actual match.

I feel that End’s babyface act has grown stale at this point. Unlike other top PROGRESS faces like perpetual underdog Mark Haskins or ‘too talented for his own good’ Will Ospreay, End appears infallible. His only character trait is ‘badass’ and he hasn’t dropped a clean pinfall since the 2015 SSS16. At this point, he feels like PROGRESS’ Mary Sue, and it’s so bizarre that he’s still booked stronger than anyone when he’s out the door in a month. This makes me think that something is up with End, and that PROGRESS will leverage their links to NXT with a ‘Summer of Punk’ style storyline over the next few months, getting End back for select shows and turning him into a heel outsider in the process. That would instantly refresh his tired character and allow him to put over someone properly on his (extended) way out, but it’s just as likely that it will never happen at all of course.

South Pacific Power Trip def. Jack Sexsmith, Roy Johnson & Pollyanna

All three members of SPPT looked awesome here, and their stock has risen significantly over the past few months, and they’ve been able to establish their moves and characters against opponents clearly presented as not quite on their level. Travis Banks especially has shined, having slotted really well into an already very fun double act and shown off potentially elite in-ring skills that have him earmarked as a future star of indie wrestling.

This match was designed as a firm showcase of SPPT, and while Sexsmith and Pollyanna got to have small but emphatic moments of revenge against TK Cooper and Dahlia Black for their actions earlier in the feud, ultimately SPPT were by far the better team. They hit some impressive triple team manoeuvres, such as a Magic Killer with Black hitting a double stomp from the top rope added to it, and carried themselves like a truly dangerous trio, as opposed to the borderline comedy act they’ve been presented as in the past. SPPT have now definitively put away this set of rivals, having beaten them in singles, tag team and trios matches, and now a Tag Team Championship shot is very likely on the horizon, potentially at Brixton. ***

Atlas Tournament Group B
Joe Coffey def. Michael Dante

Joe Coffey had already qualified before this match, but a win would put him against Mastiff instead of undefeated T-Bone, while Dante was fighting for his tournament life here. This started off with a big man forearm exchange, but much like Iestyn Masters earlier, once you notice something like Michael Dante’s left arm hanging limp at his side while he strikes with his right arm, it’s so off-putting that you can barely focus on anything else for the rest of the match. Luckily, each man’s strikes were hefty enough to just about ignore such a strange technique. Coffey’s moves especially throughout the match had a weighty feel; even though he’s one of the smaller Atlas guys, he knows how to make his moves look and feel powerful. This match was at its best when Coffey was hurling his body at Dante, and his victory was absolutely the right choice, setting up a semi-final match against Dave Mastiff, while Rampage Brown will get a sneaky good matchup against T-Bone. The Atlas tournament has been hit-and-miss so far, but the semi-final and final matches are set up to succeed. **½

Tornado Tag for the PROGRESS Tag Team Championship
London Riots (c) def. War Machine

This match started off with the Riots asking for handshakes, but in response War Machine just started attacking them, pissed off after James Davis hooked the tights on the winning roll up at the last Chapter, so this one started off with a lot of ferocity. The Tornado rules kept the action up in the early going; there was lots of crowd brawling but since the cameras kept switching from one set of action to the other, there was always something cool happening on screen, which often isn’t the case with crowd brawls. Eventually, everyone was doing dives to the outside and the collection of Big Lads hurling themselves around was certainly a sight to behold. When the match moved back into the ring, things maintained a high pace and control ebbed and flowed very naturally between the teams.

War Machine seemed to have the best of it but the Riots toughness meant that they were never down for long. Getting up from the crazy offence War Machine was hitting them with made the Riots look really good, but their comeback into the match felt steady and logical, and never just a magical Hulk Up. Eventually the Riots managed to keep Hanson out of the ring long enough to hit two District Line powerbombs on Rowe to win a really gruelling match. War Machine lose nothing by falling short in this manner but the Riots really look like legitimate champions after this win, and possible upcoming defences against SPPT and British Strong Style are salivating prospects now. ***½

Jack Gallagher def. El Ligero

El Ligero is having the time of his life as a heel, using his already masterful use of exaggerated body language to get the crowd to boo him is somewhat different to what he’s used to, but he’s been a riot since embracing his comedic side while in the Origin character. His ‘fight’ with a fan in a wheelchair, concluding with Ligero being pushed over and claiming that the ‘floor was slippery’, was a genuinely hilarious moment. Gallagher very much played up his comedic side here too, so enjoyment of this match very much depends on your tolerance towards comedy matches. Gallagher has looked a lot more confident in his character since appearing in the CWC; he realises which elements got him onto that show and which didn’t, and so has emphasised the more ‘fun’ parts of his act, and he stands out a lot more because of that. As his career progresses he will likely adjust, but right now he’s doing exactly what he needs to do to advance.

The match itself saw both run through their staple comedy spots, such as Ligero’s stalling and Gallagher’s ball, but the whole thing was frenetic fun and both played off of each other’s spots very well, making this more than just a by-the-numbers comedy match. Ligero especially looked a lot better than he has in the last few months, and is definitely relishing the opportunity to stand out by himself as a heel. That said, post-match, his Origin teammate Dave Mastiff attacked Gallagher from behind and together they almost cut Gallagher’s solid steel moustache off. There’s something cooking with The Origin’s losing streak story, presumably leading to an ‘if Origin loses they must disband’ match at Brixton. ***

Marty Scurll & Jinny def. Mark Haskins & Laura Di Matteo

This match was stated to be fought under ‘mixed tag’ rules where the genders weren’t allowed to fight each other, as opposed to the earlier ‘intergender’ match on this show. Ironically though there was a lot more interaction between the girls and the guys here; maybe not much physical action, but everyone in this match took part in a lot of very well planned and executed spots, creating some very unique moments between wrestlers who have never shared the same ring. This is especially good for the presentation of Jinny and Laura; by interacting with main eventers in the ring, they feel on the same level of importance and appear more legitimate as a result. Both women really stepped up to the lofty task of keeping up with Scurll and Haskins in what was probably the best performance of each of their careers. They nailed the timings of their very complicated spots and were always in the right place in and out of the ring; this is the stuff that we take for granted but is one of the hardest things in wrestling to get right consistently, so Jinny and Laura matching Haskins and Scurll in these areas is a very pleasing thing to see.

Because the match was very well planned out and the combination of wrestlers so unique, this was so much more than the standard ‘Road To’ tag match that I was expecting it to be, with lots of cool, memorable moments, the best of which was a synchronised tope by Haskins and Di Matteo. The finish was a bit too telegraphed; a bad camera angle showed exactly what was about to happen way before it did, as Scurll pulled Di Matteo into the path of a Haskins superkick, allowing Jinny to steal the pin on her. Aside from that though, this was a really fun and distinctive match that used the interactions between the guys and girls in an enjoyable, sensible way. ***½

Zack Sabre Jr. def. Will Ospreay

The battle of BritWres’ international stars was a great pick to headline this show after the last couple of bullshit main event finishes PROGRESS have had. There was no way this wasn’t going to deliver a pleasing finish to the show, and the wrinkle of Ospreay’s overly-cocky character development also made this more than just a one-off special attraction match.

Sabre Jr. made his entrance (and fought the whole match) with an unexplained head bandage, making him look like Basil Fawlty attempting to entertain his German guests. Smallman had to explain that he’d received stitches the night before because it looked so bizarre. Props to Zack for dealing with that to wrestle here.

This match felt similar to matches these two have had earlier in the year, with Sabre Jr. for the most part schooling Ospreay by wrapping him up in holds, but whereas in the past Ospreay has been the underdog face fighting through the pain, here every time he got out of a hold he’d go back to playing to the crowd and flipping around like nothing bad had happened, coming across like a cocky bastard. He’s still nowhere near turning heel, but there’s an uneasy edge to him now in PROGRESS where you just want to sit him down and tell him to stop thinking he’ll just waltz to victory. It’s an expansion of Ospreay’s natural cockiness and I’m on board with it, since it makes him flawed, more relatable, and easier to support (or be hurt by if he turns). Part of Ospreay’s cockiness seemed to be treating the match as simply an exhibition, and because of this he was unwilling to attack Zack’s injured head.

Meanwhile, Sabre was wrenching on Ospreay’s head with cravats and striking him on the head repeatedly too. Ospreay was suffering but stayed well in the match due to his natural talent, however his lack of any vicious streak to challenge Sabre wrapping him up like a pretzel was ultimately what cost him the match. He had Sabre down and was kicking him the chest, but was unwilling to end the match in such a way (an inversion) of Sabre’s kicks that defeated Jeff Cobb at RevPro, which turned the crowd against him there). A PK, a powerbomb, and a Young Boy Killer later, and Zack Sabre Jr. put a big win on his resume ahead of his battle against Tommaso Ciampa at Brixton. Ospreay won’t be at Brixton, but his overly-cocky storyline will presumably continue to develop whenever he’s able to appear for PROGRESS. ****

Final Thoughts:

After a weak offering at the last show, PROGRESS Wrestling Chapter 34 felt like an antidote to the disappointing bullshit finish of 33 by offering several really good and memorable matches, as well as plenty of satisfying story advancement that has the road to Brixton back on track.