They started from the bottom (sort of) and now they’re here. PROGRESS sold approximately 2,400 tickets to PROGRESS Wrestling Chapter 36, their biggest ever at a new venue; the 02 Academy in Brixton. I’ve talked about the build-up to the card at length in my previous show reviews and a special Brixton preview piece, so this review will be purely about Chapter 36.

My first impression of the 02 Academy was that, while the size of the venue was very impressive, it’s a very awkward setup for wrestling. About 100 seats were laid out on three sides of the ring, and 2,300 seats on the fourth side, so the crowd was just a little bit unbalanced, and that seemed to throw off some wrestlers over the course of the evening with regards to mugging off towards the fans. It reeked a little too much of WWE’s hard camera obsession at times. Ironically, with the hard camera on the side of the 2,300, the size of the crowd was actually de emphasized somewhat. This setup also left the entrance way very cramped and short, making the setup actually less impressive than either the Camden or Manchester stages, which both overlook the crowd and allow the wrestlers to enhance their entrances. So while the size of the crowd was great, the effect of holding this show in the larger building was to the detriment of the look and production of the show, which is such a key strength of PROGRESS.

PROGRESS Wrestling
September 25, 2016
02 Academy Brixton
London, England

Watch: Demand Progress

Credit to and Rob Brazier Photography

Atlas Championship Tournament Final
Rampage Brown def. Joe Coffey

I questioned whether putting the crowning of the first Atlas Champion on first was the correct decision, but after watching the match, it was the right way to kick off the show with a straight up singles match that didn’t go too long and got the crowd ready for this lengthy show. Coffey was playing pseudo-heel with Rampage as the PROGRESS original ‘home team’ guy, but really this match was just about the big guys clobbering each other. The Atlas tournament matches have generally been satisfying but rarely ‘great’, and it was the same story here. It was disappointing that these two got less time than their first and much better group stage match, which went to a draw, but on this card they were never going to get the same focus that they did on that previous show. I’d recommend just clicking through the Demand PROGRESS library and watching that match instead of this, because there was nothing here that they didn’t do better in that one. It was still a good match, but didn’t reach the lofty heights of their first, which was the best of the whole tournament. Rampage got the win with two piledrivers. ***

Credit to and Rob Brazier Photography

Jinny, Alex Windsor & Dahlia Black def. Pollyanna, Laura Di Matteo & Nixon Newell

This one was fun right from the entrances through to the end of the match. TK Cooper was wearing one of my girlfriend’s dresses as he engaged in some thoroughly uncouth activities with Dahlia, and Di Matteo had taken her Ritalin and was much perkier than usual during her entrance, running around and giving everyone high-fives. Good to see her break out of her ‘overwhelmed everywoman’ act now that her feud with Jinny has moved beyond that.

The action here was suitably fast paced and felt Dragon Gate-y, as all the various feuds and stories that have been built between these women clashed together in the ring to form some very fluid and good-looking spots. It was a little jarring to see the rivals start off by arm dragging each other around rather than trying to kill each other, but once things got going the women got more and more inventive. Di Matteo especially looked good as she landed some very clean and impressive moves without the pesky bother of putting together a cohesive match around them, which is what sank her and Jinny’s singles match. Dahlia’s execution was a little less crisp, with some of her kicks looking bad, but in general she kept up with the match and combined with Jinny on some good-looking double team moves against Pollyanna. This match was certainly a spot-fest but I was very much in the mood for something like this. Amidst all the other super-serious matches on this card, a fun personality-driven match like this one was very welcome. Jinny got the win for her team, pinning Laura to get even and set up another singles match between them down the line. ***½

After this, Sebastian vs Pastor William Eaver happened, but early in the match Sebastian got legit knocked out after landing on his head, and the match was stopped. By all reports the injury was a scary one, so one hopes only for the best regarding Sebastian’s long term health. On the storyline front, Sebastian has no timetable for a return according to PROGRESS, which means his terrible feud with Eaver is somewhat mercifully over too. PROGRESS elected to cut the match from the VOD completely, which was definitely the right move.

Credit to and Rob Brazier Photography

PROGRESS Tag Team Championship
British Strong Style def. London Riots (c)

The usually jovial Trent Seven has turned out to be a remarkable shit-eater in his new role as part of British Strong Style, as he roasted the injured Rob Lynch prior to the match. Indeed, Lynch’s eye injury was the focal point of this match, with the nefarious BSS poking and squeezing it at every opportunity. It also gave the Riots an out for their eventual defeat, giving them room to claim a rematch in the future.

A fair stretch of the match was built around cutesy mirror spots, with each member of the team hitting the same move in tandem, the teams pairing off for forearm exchanges, and even at one point all of the men biting each other’s hands, led of course by noted cannibal Pete Dunne. It was fun but felt very forced and un-Strong Style. I’d rather see the four of them just leather each other really. Luckily, the rest of the match was just that, with each Riot getting isolated by BSS before going on an offensive tear through them, at least until Seven poked Lynch in the eye with a cricket bat, allowing him to piledrive Lynch and win the Tag Team Championships in just BBS’ second match as a tag team. I was hoping that PROGRESS would hold off on their Championship win until their first show in Birmingham in January, where BSS would likely be received as mega babyfaces a la Bret Hart in Canada, but this still felt like a pretty big win for them. Now we’ll see if Seven and Dunne can hold onto the shields until Birmingham. ***½

Credit to and Rob Brazier Photography

Paul Robinson def. Chuck Mambo

An impromptu bout that signalled Paul Robinson’s return to PROGRESS after half a year away. PROGRESS cycled him out of storylines to give the character a rest, and it’s great to see him back, because Robinson was outstanding as a heel in the summer of 2015 and had great matches with Jimmy Havoc and Will Ospreay too. Mambo was basically a jobber here, getting in some hope offence and letting the crowd play with some beach balls for a bit before Robinson drooled on him and curb stomped him, enough to put anyone off their dinner. Welcome back, you awful, awful man. **

Credit to and Rob Brazier Photography

Two Out of Three Falls
Zack Sabre Jr. def. Tommaso Ciampa

The first two matches in PROGRESS between these two were very strong and also unique to each other, with their SSS16 sprint providing something different from their epic at the first Manchester show. This match was also good but lacked the identity of either of the first two matches to really be considered memorable, and as such has to be considered a disappointing end to their rivalry.

I’m not sure why the Two Out of Three Falls stipulation was used here, because it seemed like the wrestlers didn’t want it and certainly didn’t pace the match like a usual match of this type. The first fall was a double pin, so it counted as both of the first two falls, but there was no crescendo of action leading up to it. For a moment in the match that essentially skipped one third of the expected match, it did not feel very meaningful; the wrestlers glossed over it and were going like nothing out of the ordinary had happened less than a minute later. It just felt the gimmick didn’t feel important and the match wasn’t being worked around any of the permutations that could have arisen from it.

The action in the third fall offsets most of my criticism about the match structure though. These two are among the best in the world and certainly showed it in the last 5 minutes, not just based on the super-indie level action but also the great storytelling that came through in Ciampa’s last match for PROGRESS and indeed the indies as a whole. ZSJ has kicked out of a Project Ciampa before and did so again here. Then Ciampa went for a Pedigree, the perfect move to get a reaction out of a smarmy indie crowd. It showed Ciampa is not of this world anymore; that he doesn’t belong in PROGRESS. Then he hit a top rope Project Ciampa, which Zack also kicked out of. It was a great looking move and made Zack look great for kicking out of it. Ciampa’s out the door, his moves don’t need to be protected at all. Finally, Zack caught Ciampa in his Octopus hold with the very long name and scored a tapout after a dramatic fight from Ciampa. This match didn’t live up to the hype but at least it got across the messages that it needed to and made ZSJ look like the best wrestler in the world. Zack has never faced Mark Haskins one-on-one in PROGRESS before, so he may well be in the running for a title shot soon enough. Haskins/Sabre would be a European dream match if it were to occur soon. ***

If The Origin loses, they must disband
The Origin def. F.S.U., Jack Gallagher & Damon Moser

Zack Gibson and The Origin got pelted by very large quantities of bog roll during his pre-match promo, maybe one of the more unique sights to have seen happen in a wrestling ring, and also an indicator that Gibson really is hated to that degree (and that the level of streamer planning among PROGRESS fans/staff seems to have improved). F.S.U. were the first wrestlers to master the diminutive entranceway and blew straight past the set and the ring, opting instead to party hard during their entrance in the middle of the 2,000 fans, giving a good indicator of just how large the crowd on that side really was for the first time on the show. Meanwhile, much like Malibu Stacy, Damon Moser has a new hat.

This match felt like a ‘Greatest Hits’ for The Origin, with pretty much every spot or story beat from the last year being repeated here. You had their Dragon Gate four-on-one attacks on Moser into the corner, referee Joel Allen attacking El Ligero, copious cheating, everyone but Mastiff getting rolled up into a ball by Gallagher, and just the general banter we’ve come to expect from the lads. No new ground was trodden for most of the match, but as a spectacle that held the crowd’s attention, this completely succeeded. The Origin have turned into such fantastic foils that anyone facing them turns into an ultra-crowd favourite merely by association. Obviously Jack Gallagher has worked very hard on his own to get himself to where he is now, but his feud with The Origin got him bigger reactions from the crowd than ever before, and that’s because Ligero and Gibson were willing to look like absolute goofs and give all the shine to him.

Speaking of Gallagher, he got a huge reaction from the crowd, who knew that this would be his last indie date before leaving for RAW. They ate up everything he did and gave him a huge standing ovation post-match, which Gallagher more than earned within the match too. He and Gibson squared off at the end of the match, and ended their sneaky great feud with a few minutes of really fun wrestling, topped off with Gibson putting Gallagher away with a new finishing move, a sort of spinning suplex. Gallagher’s on his way out, so it was a great move to give something new to Gibson in the process and really make him look like a main event threat with more than one weapon to win a match with. Gallagher had a fantastic run in PROGRESS, really finding his niche within the promotion and developing an excellent character and style that’s taken him all the way to the biggest wrestling company in the world in a very short amount of time. That said, The Origin were the true stars of this match and will continue to spread the banter (and the car stereo attacks) in PROGRESS. **½

PROGRESS Championship
Mark Haskins def. Marty Scurll (c) and Tommy End

Concluding a trilogy of ‘final indie matches’, this served as Tommy End’s farewell, and his entrance was suitably satanic, with all black streamers and deathly facepaint. His look is major league, and he’ll thrive in NXT soon enough.

The triple threat stipulation meant that this match was never going to be a blow-away classic. The nature of Scurll’s screwy reign also guaranteed shenanigans of some kind, so the level of crowd engagement with the match in the early stages was pretty low, as everyone waited for ‘stories’ to be told. These early stages felt fairly unimpactful, and more like playing a triple threat in a WWE video game, as everyone went for quick pins that were broken up even more quickly, and no momentum was gained by one party. I commend the wrestlers for trying to work pretty much all the match without resorting to ‘one person on the outside rests, while two people wrestle in the ring’ triple threat formula, but there weren’t enough truly creative spots to make the three-way moments memorable. With few exceptions, triple threats just aren’t very good.

End and Scurll suplexed Haskins through a table on the outside, heralding the coming of ‘stories’. End kicked out of everything Scurll threw at him, including multiple umbrella shots, making Scurll more and more irate. Unlike Gallagher and Ciampa, End wasn’t giving anyone the shine on the way out; he must have some Sebastian-esque secrets about PROGRESS to have been booked so continually strong this year despite having one foot out of the door for most of it. Scurll attacked all three referees with umbrellas, and then the ringside staff too. Jim Smallman entered the ring to calm him down and Scurll threatened him too, and that’s when Jimmy Fucking Havoc returned.

The first notes of Havoc’s music and ‘Die Havoc Die’ showing up on the video board got a thunderous reaction, as the entire crowd flipped out over PROGRESS’ biggest star returning to the promotion after over a year’s absence. Havoc is one of the few wrestlers in the world to have the ability to change the atmosphere in the room as soon as he enters; he has an aura that only a handful of wrestlers can match. If you ever get the chance, you have to see his entrance at PROGRESS live, because it is genuinely show-changing every time he walks out. This is the only moment of the show that I’m gutted I missed live, because I would have flipped the fuck out too.

Havoc hit his Acid Rainmaker on Scurll, promptly leaving before anyone had had a chance to calm down. After a short tussle between End and Haskins, it was Haskins who was able to isolate the prone Scurll, lock in a Sharpshooter, and win the PROGRESS Championship for the very first time. This match was all about Jimmy Havoc’s return and much less about the actual action, which was pretty mundane up until the final moments. Haskins’ moment felt big, but still overshadowed by Havoc and the End/Gallagher/Ciampa farewell that happened after this match. Hopefully Haskins gets treated like the biggest deal on the next show. ***

Final Thoughts:

There weren’t any amazing, must-see matches on this show, but there weren’t any stinkers either. It almost felt like PROGRESS were ‘playing to not lose’ rather than ‘playing to win’ with this show, ensuring that their biggest show ever wouldn’t be an artistic flop, but at the same time not really pushing for anything ‘special’ aside from a few singular moments. Gibson’ bog roll streamers, Havoc’s return, and the farewells of End, Gallagher and Ciampa are what the show will be remembered for, so depending on whether you value the ‘big moments’ or the ‘great matches’ more in your wrestling, this show either delivered the goods or fell short of expectations.