After the success of PROGRESS’ biggest show ever at the Brixton Academy, they return to the more humble setting of the Ritz in Manchester to begin a new phase of their existence. We’re now on the road to Orlando, PROGRESS’ next ‘big show’, but before then, new champions Mark Haskins, Rampage Brown and British Strong Style must be cemented, and several new faces must be debuted. This show feels like a fresh start for the promotion after some strong but fairly stagnant cards in the build-up to Brixton. Who will stand out now that there are more opportunities open at the top of the card?
A Sudden Sense of Liberty
October 16, 2016
02 Ritz, Manchester, England
Bubblegum def. Chuck Mambo
Bubblegum has been hanging around in PROGRESS for a while as an occasional jobber to the stars, but has the potential to move up the card post-Brixton. Mambo looks like he’s becoming more of a regular now too, and is getting some necessary experience on the bigger stage of Chapter shows as well as working for other promotions around the country after spending most of his first three years in wrestling only on ENDVR cards. Indeed, Mambo looked a lot more confident here than ever before and had his best singles performance that I’ve seen from him.
Bubblegum got to look pretty vicious and the quirky, sympathetic Mambo played great foil while getting his face stomped in. Your tolerance for Bubblegum’s gross-out comedy spots will vary your opinion of him, but he kept the butt stuff to a minimum here, and generally came across more dangerous than disgusting, which is a good thing. Mambo got in more offence than he did against Paul Robinson in Brixton, but this match went the same way as that one, with Bubblegum taking a decisive victory, establishing him for bigger things to come in this new phase of PROGRESS. **½
Kay Lee Ray def. Kimber Lee
Both women were making their PROGRESS debut here, but obviously KLR figures to be sticking around instead of import Kimber Lee, and this match was designed to make her look as deadly as possible. The first section of the match was particularly well wrestled, with both wrestlers showing very impressive technical prowess, before KLR went for her first guillotine of the match. Lee fought out but KLR aimed to get back into the guillotine at every opportunity throughout the match. I’ve never seen much of Kimber Lee, and while I was very impressed with her early, she got worse as the match went on, and her sequence of sloppy suplexes didn’t land with me at all.
The ending here was confusing and fairly off-putting at first, with PROGRESS using a worked injury angle just one show after a legitimate injury happened in their ring, but it succeeded in making KLR look absolutely merciless as she applied the guillotine for the submission victory. KLR feels different to all the other women on PROGRESS’ roster right now, so I’m excited to see her presumably be part of the Women’s Championship NPS tournament which starts at the next show. **½
James Drake def. Fabian Aichner
Two exciting debuts here, with James Drake, a Futureshock Wrestling guy who impressed PROGRESS management with his performance at a recent ENDVR show, and Fabian Aichner, who had a surprisingly great performance in his one and only CWC match against Jack Gallagher. Aichner’s WWE appearance gives him immediate star power and credibility, but his in-ring talents are more than enough reason to see him back in PROGRESS and appearing for plenty of other European promotions soon enough. The man can do some amazing things, as he proved in this match, with numerous aerial moves executed so beautifully despite his size, highlighted by a huge top rope dive to the outside with dazzling hangtime. Aichner gives off Cesaro vibes, and that’s not just because he’s from the same part of the world and is bald.
Aichner was clearly the star of this match and perhaps of the entire show, but Drake more than impressed here too. His look is a little too ‘2005 Smackdown Create-A-Wrestler’, but he already has an aura of danger surrounding him and the crowd took to making fun of his face appearing on the arse-end of his tights, so he’s getting legitimate heat after just one appearance. Drake also got to look crafty and cunning at the finish, where he avoided an Aichner frogsplash and planted him with a lifting DDT while Aichner was stunned. Aichner was impressive but Drake knew how to find a weak point and took advantage, so both guys looked good coming out of the match. Really fun stuff with two debutants who looked right at home straight away, and I look forward to their future appearances. ***½
PROGRESS Championship #1 Contender Match
Marty Scurll def. Joe Coffey, Pete Dunne and Trent Seven
Trent Seven was a replacement for Shane Strickland in this match, after Strickland’s falling out with wXw the night may or may not have affected his ability to work this show. This at least gave Seven the chance to take a hilarious shot at the ‘fake Strong Style’ fans of PROGRESS; Seven has a unique, laid back charisma in his promos that make him innately watchable. He even looks cool while miming wanking.
Seven’s addition was probably supposed to make this match a lot more hard hitting, but it ended up not only surprisingly fast-paced and spotty but also more of a comedy match than anyone could have predicted, in part accidentally thanks to Seven’s quirky charisma. While attempting to initiate a double team move on Coffey with his British Strong Style partner Pete Dunne, he called for “Peter” to come help him. The crowd latched onto “Peter”, chanting it for the rest of that match, and the wrestlers adapted the match to it, with Pete Dunne firing up after being laid out as the crowd chanted his (sort-of) name. Dunne is even printing ‘This is Peter’ shirts now with his face in the middle of the PROGRESS logo. Wrestling is weird.
Away from the Peter silliness, this was a really fun affair with guys flying all over the place, and all four men managed to keep everything logical when it could very easily have fallen apart. British Strong Style attacked Coffey for much of the match, trying to keep the big man down, while Coffey kept coming back against them, tearing through them in some cool comeback sequences. Meanwhile, Scurll kept himself on the fringes of the match, playing up to the comedy at times but always pestering and being in the right place to break up pins or sneak attack an opponent. Scurll’s superior strategy ended up allowing him to get the drop on Coffey, who had just disposed of BSS, by locking in his Chickenwing from behind and scoring the submission victory. It was a logically laid out match that still had a satisfyingly brisk pace, so was very enjoyable on all levels. ***½
Post-match, Scurll began to moan about losing his Championship at Brixton and boasting that he would become a 3-time Champion soon enough, prompting Jimmy Havoc to emerge through the crowd and deck him with an Acid Rainmaker, before nonchalantly leaving immediately after. Havoc and Scurll are going to meet soon enough, and that match will be as close as you can get to a British dream match from the current crop of wrestlers we have.
South Pacific Power Trip def. FSU and The Origin (Mastiff & Ligero)
After surviving a ‘disbands’ stipulation at Brixton, The Origin have gone a little bit strange. El Ligero and Dave Mastiff’s obsession with themselves has morphed them into ‘The Banter Squad’. It’s an interesting move for the arch-heels of PROGRESS to essentially play up to the crowd and invite them in on the joke. They even threatened to turn face in this match, with the crowd eating up Mastiff’s ‘Banter Crown’; a beer-chug hat with four Fosters cans on top. Naturally, his offering the New Zealanders SPPT some (fake) Australian beer did not go down well, and neither did SPPT slapping the cans away, drawing the ire of Eddie Dennis, who vows never to let a beer be spilt.
If you couldn’t tell already, this was an all-out comedy match most of the way, with The Banter Squad bringing out the dangerous foreign objects (foam fingers) and generally being amazed that they were getting paid money to do this stuff. Towards the end of the match, things got serious, with FSU and SPPT exhibiting an excellent rapport with each other. The ending of the match was particularly great and made Travis Banks look fantastic, as he cleared the ring all on his own and landed the best looking Airplane Spin slam that I’ve ever seen on Mark Andrews to pick up the win. TK Cooper channelled Rocky Romero by rolling into the ring while Banks stood victorious and claimed “We won!”, sowing the seeds of dissention between the Power Trip. After Banks got snubbed from the Brixton card, it’s great to see him look this dangerous on the very next show and prove that PROGRESS are interested in pushing him further. ***
Atlas Championship Open Challenge
Rampage Brown (c) def. Mikey Whiplash
Whiplash as the Open Challenge respondent induced a massive groan from me, and probably most of the Ritz as well. He was damaged goods in PROGRESS months ago, and is easily the most uninteresting wrestler on the roster now that Sebastian is out injured. Whiplash is clearly trying to change things up in an effort to get out of the funk he’s in; he’s tried out different attires and here wrestled without his signature fishnets, and is also changing up his wrestling style from show to show, but the writing’s already on the wall. Just like Poochie, Fetch and Roman Reigns, Mikey Whiplash is not going to happen.
At least Whiplash’s wrestling was more exciting in this match than his diabolically boring performance against Mark Haskins two Chapters ago. He was back to throwing himself around the room and taking risks, making himself look like a dangerous opponent to Rampage in the isolation of this match. Sadly, his booking has sunk any legitimacy he had coming into this run with PROGRESS, and no-one believed that he was a threat to take the title from Rampage. The final few spots of this match were genuinely impressive, with Whiplash hitting a maverick dive over the top rope, before Rampage caught him attempting the Kyle O’Reilly/Dean Ambrose rope rebound and lifted him up into a Piledriver, ending the match.
In isolation this was a fairly fun sprint with some really cool moments, but Whiplash’s intrigue in PROGRESS has been dead for a long time now, and there’s no reason for him to still be on these shows. Leave him for a few months, let him come back with something actually interesting to sink his teeth into, because this incarnation of Whiplash has no intrigue left. **
PROGRESS Championship Match
Mark Haskins (c) def. Zack Gibson
Haskins won the Championship in the Brixton main event, but played second fiddle to Jimmy Havoc’s return in terms of the big news at the end of the show. In this match too, Haskins was a bit anonymous compared to his opponent. Zack Gibson’s heat has built to nuclear levels in the past few months, and his ultra-long pre-match promo that he’s established so well as a heat magnet made Gibson the main focus of this match. The early going of the match was slow and seemed designed to let the crowd really lay into Gibson as he controlled Haskins. This isn’t to say the crowd didn’t get behind Haskins, but it felt like when they did, they were rooting against Gibson rather than out of an overwhelming support of Haskins. There were even a lot of pro-Gibson chants duelling with Haskins ones. Haskins got those kinds of reactions in midcard matches, but are people buying into him as the PROGRESS Champion yet?
While the opening was slow, the match really picked up later on. Both men used their size mismatch really well, with Gibson hitting a few more power moves than usual, and Haskins throwing himself around the ring, and out of it, with aplomb. There were some very dramatic submission spots late on, including a believable Shankly Gates false finish. Haskins found a way out of it though, and got on a run of offence that ended with him locking in a sharpshooter, earning the submission victory.
Gibson looked very comfortable in this match, and was clearly ready to take advantage of this main event opportunity. He proved that he belongs at the top level of PROGRESS here. Haskins has already proven that, but now that he’s the Champion and will main event almost every show, he needs to go even further and I don’t feel he reached that ‘Champion’ level in this match. Still, a really good showing from both guys to cap off a show where I had very little to criticise. ***½
The first post-Brixton PROGRESS show felt very fresh, with lots of new talent being featured and very little in the way of overbearing storyline affecting the matches. The focus was the wrestling, the winners and the losers, with no looming ‘big show’ affecting things. Pretty much everything on this show was enjoyable, so while there were no great matches either, it was a fun and easy watch that I fully recommend.