PROGRESS Wrestling
August 28, 2016
Electric Ballroom
Camden, London, England

Watch: Demand Progress

As the last show before PROGRESS’ biggest ever at the Brixton Academy in September, Chapter 35 was all about the build to that show, with almost every match posing ramifications for the Brixton card. Will Ospreay vs Shane Strickland however was just a stand-alone contest, billed as an exhibition of two of the best high-flyers in the world. What it turned out to be however, was so much more…

British Strong Style def. Tyler Bate & Damian Dunne

Pete Dunne and Trent Seven formed British Strong Style after turning on their respective partners at the last Chapter, and now those partners, Damien Dunne and Tyler Bate, are out for revenge. Dunne retains his Bruiserweight persona for the BSS act, but Trent Seven has turned heel and away from his regular personality. BSS’ theme song even reflects Seven’s change; his usual chant-bait song ‘Seven Nation Army’ by the White Stripes has been replaced by a much more downbeat song by Jack White, the lead singer of the White Stripes, reflecting the idea that Seven is very much still the same guy, just showing a different attitude to wrestling in PROGRESS.

Another fascinating aspect of BSS is their claim to representing true Strong Style wrestling based out of the West Midlands, angry that PROGRESS adopted the Strong Style moniker when Seven’s company Fight Club Pro introduced it to the country. The London Riots on commentary were representing the South East and stoking a feud between the two teams that feels like a burgeoning old-fashioned territory war that has a lot of potential as a story, especially with two PROGRESS shows in Birmingham coming up next year.

With all this focus on the beginning of BSS, Bate and Damian could have very easily been overlooked here, but both put in really energetic performances, throwing themselves around the ring and hitting some good-looking offence to ensure the crowd could get behind them. Damian has had a tough go of it in his PROGRESS run so far but he got over as a face here, and that seems to be the alignment he more naturally thrives in, so hopefully he gets the chance to come back to the Ballroom on his own merit soon.

This match was essentially an extended squash by BSS, with some fun hope spots from their opponents, who were ultimately doomed as they could not work together well enough. Pete destroyed Damian with a tombstone to the outside, then BSS isolated Bate and Seven put him away with a single leg crab. Even though the match was short, they packed a lot into the time and the action served as a very hot start to the show. BSS showed a lot of promise as a team and their Tag Team Championship challenge at Brixton is one of the best built matches on that card. ***½

Nixon Newell def. Alex Windsor

Both women were making their PROGRESS debuts here, and Newell was one of the most hyped British talents to have never wrestled for them before now. Nixon is super confident despite her youth and relative lack of experience, and is so easy and fun to root for. Windsor has been wrestling for longer, but just recently changed up her gimmick, so may still be finding her feet as a fully-fledged heel. She’s channelling Paige a little too much for my liking (not helped by sharing the same hometown of Norwich), but at least it immediately identifies her as the heel.

This match took a while to get going, only really picking up after Windsor hit a spinning DDT on the outside, which led into a fierce forearm exchange and Newell battling back, picking up the win with a great Tiger Suplex. Newell displayed a lot of charisma here, and Windsor held her own too, so both should have more than earned a spot in the upcoming all-women Natural Progression Series, which starts sometime after the Brixton show. **½

Jack Gallagher def. El Ligero, Eddie Dennis and Zack Gibson

The Origin members in this match hammed it up pre-match, with Ligero getting Jim Smallman to brag on his behalf about all his (made up) accomplishments, and Gibson getting out a megaphone to bellow his brilliantly annoying pre-match promo above the massive amounts of booing. This was all very fun and Ligero once again shined with his body language, flailing himself around when Gibson pulled him to-and-fro while Ligero held up a microphone for him. The match itself basically felt like an excuse to have the pre-match antics, and at the same time set up The Origin’s match at Brixton. The action was decent enough, but probably would have worked better as a tag match. Ligero and Gibson teased dissention but ended up having the softest of strike exchanges, which was funny but nothing we haven’t seen before in places like Dragon Gate. I will however give this match an extra half star simply because of Gibson attempting to use an actual car stereo as a weapon, which was a hilarious payoff to a long running chant. Gallagher tapped out Ligero, only to get beaten down by the rest of The Origin, building to Gallagher’s last indie match at Brixton as he leads a team of babyfaces against The Origin in an attempt to disband them. **½

Atlas Tournament Semi-Final
Joe Coffey def. Dave Mastiff

Out of all the debuting wrestlers in the Atlas Tournament, Coffey has thrived in PROGRESS the most, and has more than deserved his place in the semi-final. He had another very good showing against Mastiff here, who has also looked good in this tournament, highlighted by his great match with Big Daddy Walter that was also part of SSS16. Coffey keeps all his matches going at a brisk pace but still makes every move feel like it hurts, so he manages to claim the best of both worlds of Big Lads matches. Putting away Mastiff with a combination of a German suplex and two discus clotheslines felt brutal and like genuine effort had been extoled to defeat one of PROGRESS’ most well established heavyweights, and made Coffey look more than up to the task of having a great match in the final at Brixton. ***

Shane Strickland def. Will Ospreay

This was a rematch of a fantastically fun match from this year’s 16 Carat Gold, which was so exciting that it broke the commentary desk. Before the bell, there were a smattering of boos for Ospreay, who has been playing up his cocky nature in PROGRESS (and selling stupid T-shirts) to warrant them. In response to hearing them, Ospreay muttered under his breath “Who’d want to boo me?”, something which sadly the cameras didn’t pick up and so wasn’t on the VOD, but live served as a noteworthy moment which set the tone for the upcoming match.

The pair immediately launched into a long sequence of dodging kicks and flipping around the ring, providing some jaw-dropping action that could have potentially become long in the tooth, but the creativity and inventiveness of both men kept the acrobatics interesting throughout the match. Ospreay avoiding a bicycle kick by back-flipping off the apron and smashing Strickland with a kick of his own afterwards was such a fluid and amazing moment that needs to be seen to be believed, and pretty much the whole match was made up of this sort of never-before-seen action.

While the elite athleticism on display was how the match was expected to play out, it certainly was not the lasting memory of it, as Strickland and Ospreay went far away from their wXw bout when for the finish of this one. After landing a 450° Splash, Ospreay came up clutching his shoulder, rolled to the outside, and had PROGRESS staff and referee huddled around him, looking like a real injury. He rolled back into the ring after a good minute or two of selling, and when Strickland moved towards him, Ospreay decked him with a kick, the crowd responding with unanimous booing. Ospreay has played up his injuries a lot in interviews, to the point where he could use them as part of this match in order to get genuine heat. You could tell that the crowd were so ready to boo Ospreay, and finally having the reason to do so was like opening up a pressure valve, leading to fantastic crowd reactions to everything in the finale of this match. Ospreay laid into Strickland with ground-and-pound strikes, reversing the expectations of the match that he had so far willingly fulfilled, before attempting an OsCutter that was beautifully countered by Strickland. Ospreay’s facial expressions are some of the best in all of wrestling, and he had another corker of a mug after he realised Strickland had slipped out of his finisher, just waiting for the inevitable soccer kick he had coming to him. Strickland hit his signature offence to huge reactions and picked up the win in a surprisingly emotional rollercoaster of a match that both met and subverted the high-flying expectations we had going into it. ****½

Post-match, Ospreay apologised for being a dick and said that he was moving on from PROGRESS, as his New Japan schedule didn’t match up to PROGRESS’ going forward. He condensed a heel turn into five minutes here and it worked perfectly, giving the fans a chance to experience the other side of Ospreay without ever having the chance to become a tedious act.

Ospreay had a hell of a run in PROGRESS, his story meshed with Jimmy Havoc’s perfectly last year, and his match with Mark Haskins last summer was PROGRESS’ best ever.

Hopefully we see Strickland back soon, and potentially in next year’s SSS16.

Mark Haskins def. Mikey Whiplash

What a come-down from Strickland/Ospreay. Mikey Whiplash has been made to look like a geek in his past few PROGRESS appearances, and at the last Chapter could barely walk a few steps out of the curtain without Michael Dante making him look like a chump. There’s room in PROGRESS for a completely ineffective enhancement guy, and Haskins should have squashed Whiplash here to make him look as strong as possible heading into his PROGRESS Championship match at Brixton. The exact opposite happened though, with this match going a painful 17 minutes.

Whiplash coerced Haskins into putting that Championship shot on the line in this match by insulting his wife and son, but got so little reaction in doing so as people didn’t buy the lazy attempt at getting heat and certainly didn’t believe that Whiplash would be main eventing Brixton. Whiplash couldn’t garner much reaction once the match started either; it’s not his fault he’s been booked like a chump, but he’s also not helping himself with bland, chinlock-grabbing ring work either. The crowd were into Haskins and rallied behind him, but only the most absolutely die-hard PROGRESS fans were reacting to Whiplash at all. Haskins and Whiplash should have channelled Ricky Marvin and KENTA and wrapped this one up lightning fast, but the end result was a plodding match that only came alive when Haskins was stringing some offence together. Whiplash felt like an intimidating presence at the beginning of the SSS16, but now he just feels like a joke that PROGRESS aren’t quite aware of. Haskins will have a much better match than this in the Brixton main event. *

Atlas Tournament Semi-Final
Rampage Brown def. T-Bone

T-Bone not having his own entrance graphic on the projector board summed up the predictability of this match. There was no way Rampage, who has been on just about every PROGRESS Chapter show, wasn’t going to be going to Brixton, especially not after Joe Coffey, who he went to a time limit draw with in the group stage, won his semi-final match. T-Bone won all of his group stage matches, but he was here to be a roadblock for Brown to get past. Weirdly, T-Bone was playing face here, not the intimidating heel that Rampage would have to vanquish, but the crowd were still firmly behind Brown anyway. This was a little more plodding than the earlier Atlas match, but the closing stretch built around Rampage’s piledriver was good stuff. He eventually hit a brutal-looking piledriver for the pin, and the final will likely be built around Coffey trying to avoid that move, since it’s been built up as insta-death in this tournament. **½

Sebastian Speaks

After the worst ending to a PROGRESS show ever at Chapter 33, where Sebastian interrupted the main event claiming to know ‘a secret’ about Pastor William Eaver, which would cost Eaver the PROGRESS Championship, this segment would hopefully move the story on from the utterly uninteresting ‘secret’ and into something fans could sink their teeth into. Well, we didn’t learn anything more about the secret here, but we do know that their upcoming match will take up one of the seven spots on the Brixton card. Sebastian looked nervous and lost in his promo here, which really hurts his stock as a performer, since his whole deal is that he’s supposed to be an audacious and unfiltered shit-talker. He couldn’t focus on a single issue to centre the angle around; in 30 seconds he went from talking down to the fans, to ragging on Eaver, to doing a lame ‘shoot’ on PROGRESS management, and said “You know what” four times. This lack of clear focus over what the promo was actually meant to be about caused everything that could have had meaning to get lost underneath all the forced exposition and dead-air filler phrases. Just really poor preparation by someone whose biggest asset is supposed to be their promo ability.

Once Eaver entered the ring, things didn’t get much better. Sebastian revealed that Eaver has “a temper” and invited Eaver to hit him with a chair. Eaver refused, so Sebastian hit him a few times. Some of Seb’s chair shots went dangerously close to smacking Eaver in the face accidentally, but the beatdown didn’t feel impactful and the crowd weren’t really into it either. This match is easily the least anticipated match on the Brixton card, and frankly Eaver should just squash Sebastian there and end this crappy angle. Sebastian’s heel character hasn’t lived up to his billing so far, and it’s unlikely that he’ll pull out a good match at Brixton. Eaver deserves better.

PROGRESS Championship
Marty Scurll (c) def. Mark Andrews

The big problem here was that no-one truly believed that Andrews had a chance of defeating Scurll and headlining Brixton as the PROGRESS Champion. Scurll has feuded on-and-off all year with the two challengers at Brixton, Mark Haskins and Tommy End, and so there was no possibility that he was losing just before receiving comeuppance on behalf of one of them at the biggest show of the year. Andrews was a filler challenger here, but that doesn’t mean they couldn’t have at least a good match, if not an important one.

Indeed, Andrews seemed to finally be the opponent who allowed Scurll to thrive in the heel role that has hamstrung him to less interesting performances than the natural tweener character that he uses in PWG, EVOLVE and RevPro. Andrews is such a natural babyface and really helped Scurll to look vicious and dasterdly, getting the crowd firmly behind him and against The Villain. This is the sort of match Scurll should have been having much earlier in his reign to better establish his role, rather than his multiple cowardly performances against Tommy End. Andrews never got on the offensive for long, getting beaten down by Scurll at every point in the match, but his roll-up nearfalls still felt semi-believable.

Towards the end of the match, a rather forced spot saw Andrews back Scurll towards the stage with a chair, only for Scurll to take the chair himself and chuck it at guest commentator Mark Haskins. While the setup was awkward, this extra moment in the build to Brixton makes Scurll look like a genuine dick and rekindles the feud that Scurll had with Haskins earlier in the year, so it came off well in the end.

While Andrews landed a dive off the stage onto Scurll, he was locked into a Chickenwing immediately upon returning to the ring. Andrews reached the ropes though, and then the match really picked up with a couple of great nearfalls for Andrews, including a ‘foot on the ropes’ 3 count that was shot really well. A second Chickenwing put Andrews away for good after a dramatic closing stretch. Despite all the story factors working against Andrews and Scurll, they made this match feel meaningful in a vacuum. Scurll feels like a more genuine threat after this win, although it remains to be seen if that aura will translate to the Brixton main event. ***½

Post-match, The Origin hit the ring to beat up Mark Andrews, who embarrassed El Ligero a couple of Chapters ago. Eddie Dennis, Jack Gallagher and Damon Moser came to his rescue and chased them off, setting up an 8-man tag ‘if Origin loses, they must disband’ match (which I totally called on the last Brit Wres Roundtable).

Scurll then came back into the ring and Chickenwinged Andrews once more, but this time Mark Haskins saved the day, superkicking Scurll and staring at the title he will soon challenge for. Total WWE go-home show booking, but I understand the desire to have these visuals ahead of a big match. Of course, it begs the question “Where is Tommy End?” in all this. The third man in the Brixton main event feels like he doesn’t belong in Haskins’ redemption story, which suggests that something may be up with the man who is leaving PROGRESS after that match. Will we be seeing a new ‘Summer of Punk’ scenario in September?

Final Thoughts:

Remove Sebastian and Mikey Whiplash from this show and you have one of PROGRESS’ best of the year. Strickland/Ospreay won’t be forgotten by anyone who saw it anytime soon, and served as an emotional and satisfying closure to Ospreay’s excellent run in PROGRESS. Now we’ve finally reached Brixton, and while the road taken to get there was hit-and-miss, almost every match on the show looks to be fun, so it’s well poised to live up to the ‘biggest show ever’ billing.