A new phase of PROGRESS’ history has meant more opportunities for guys who weren’t getting very much to work with pre-Brixton. On this show, The Hunter Brothers are back, the women get to sink their teeth into the beginning of the Natural Progression Series, Rampage Brown continues to get spotlighted with his Atlas Championship Open Challenge series, and Jack Sexsmith and Roy Johnson, two comedy undercard guys, get the first half main event against their long-time rivals, the South Pacific Power Trip. Oh yeah, and Jimmy Havoc’s back, which is just a little bit exciting.

PROGRESS Wrestling
When Men Throw Men at Men
October 30, 2016
Electric Ballroom, Camden, England

Watch: Demand Progress / Photos: RobBrazierPhoto.com

The Hunter Brothers def. The New Nation

The debuting New Nation of Alexander Henry and Jason “Primate” Prime were rather unknown commodities entering this match, while Jim and Lee Hunter haven’t been seen in PROGRESS for over a year, but despite all that, this match proved to be an immensely fun start to the show. The New Nation are big lads, and one might have expected a big team vs little team dynamic here, but instead Primate and Henry threw themselves around the ring just as much as the Hunters, and even hit some crazy Fosbury Flop dives to the outside as well. The Hunters are always great to watch and are severely underrated because of their lack of exposure outside of the Midlands; their tag team wrestling is genuinely some of the best in the world, as they always work so efficiently that it seems like there’s four Hunters running around the ring at any one time.

This was a high-octane match to start the show off with a bang, making the New Nation look good but the Hunters look even better. The Hunters proved to be the smarter team, letting Henry hurt himself by recklessly flying into various parts by dodging his attacks, before rolling him up for the impressive victory; their first on a Chapter show. ***½

Natural Progression Series 4 Match
Jinny def. Pollyanna

A rematch of the first women’s Chapter show match, and one where both women have improved a lot since that match. Back then, they needed to lean on a No DQ stipulation to mask some of their deficiencies, but this was a better match and featured plenty of animosity even without the weapons. Jinny controlled a perhaps surprising amount of the match, with Polly on the back foot for most of it until she hit a couple of her big moves, including a Pollynator. Both women hit some high impact moves which probably should have ended the match, but they were pushing too hard for something ‘epic’ and too early in the show too, meaning that the moves started to cancel each other out and the match suffered from a little over-ambition.

Jinny kicking out of all her moves infuriated Polly, who then decided to inflict as much punishment as possible, dropping Jinny on her head a couple of times before overbalancing and getting rolled up for a three count. The story of Polly’s frustration had been effectively told prior to the pair ‘doing too much’ and hammering us over the head with it. I wish they’d held back a little bit and stressed the focal points of the match more than just trading finisher kickouts at the end. Other than that annoyance, this was a match that displayed just how far they’ve come since their debut contest a year and a half ago. ***

Paul Robinson def. Pastor William Eaver

It’s great to have Paul Robinson back in the Ballroom. It’s just not the same show without a blast of Scroobius Pip and the whole crowd turning their backs to the stage, fingers in the air. The absence has made my heart grow even fonder of Robinson’s style, and I think I’ve figured out why it works to well. He immediately tries to take down his opponents with sweeps and trips, then presses the advantage. Most of his offence is delivered to a prone opponent, emphasising his viciousness and de emphasising his size. Robinson plays to his strengths, and it’s impossible not to get drawn into his matches when he gurns to the crowd while simultaneously beats on a downed opponent. Eaver felt a little like second fiddle in this match, with little in the way of story advancement to focus on without his rival Sebastian around. Indeed, the match lacked focus and even the commentators struggled to find much to talk about; they were still reeling off ‘fun facts’ about the wrestlers when Robinson hit his Curb Stomp and won the match in a very abrupt finish. Robinson was good here and Eaver was decent, but this match was just a means to an end for both guys and not particularly interesting in a vacuum. **½

After the match, Sebastian came out to accost Eaver after his injury in their match at Brixton. At first this elicited plenty of groaning from me, but Sebastian’s promo was much more coherent and impactful than his segment back at Chapter 35, mainly because his problem with Eaver is now very much based in real life and not the ‘secret’ fantasy bullshit. We all know how potentially serious Sebastian’s injury could have been, so we actually care that he’s pissed with Eaver and are consequently more interested in their feud. Sebastian told Eaver that he would sue him unless he got to ‘control’ Eaver’s career from now on. It’s still a fairly lame story but miles better than the ‘secret’, which Sebastian never mentioned here and has hopefully been dropped into the PROGRESS Mystery Spot along with Isaac Zercher and The Faceless toolbox.

Tables Match
South Pacific Power Trip def. Jack Sexsmith & Roy Johnson

In the past I’ve ragged on Jack Sexsmith. His early stint was poor and some of his mic work has been borderline offensive. But his work in this feud with SPPT has been really strong; he had his best non-comedy singles match against TK Cooper, and has worked well in the tag team and trios matches these teams have faced off in too. When you give a wrestler something to sink their teeth into, they naturally look better by virtue of being more motivated. This tables match marked the zenith of Sexsmith’s early career; a battle that defined who he is and where he stands in PROGRESS.

The great video promo by Johnson and Sexsmith leading into this match outlined their story; losing in their three encounters with SPPT, they now wanted to prove that they were not merely comedy fodder, and could stand up for themselves in a fight with their tormentors. As Sexsmith himself says here, “This isn’t about wins and losses anymore, this isn’t about revenge. This is about Jack Sexsmith. Is he anything more than comic relief?” Jack couldn’t have summed up the narrative of this match any better. When the build to the match marries the actual match this well, the emotions being conveyed by the wrestlers come across so much better.

This isn’t to say that their opponents, TK Cooper and Travis Banks, didn’t add anything to the match, because they absolutely did. In the opening seconds, Banks proved that he is absolutely mental by doing a dive straight into a chair-wielding Sexsmith, ending up in a car crash into the first row. Cooper is so utterly despicable, and his ‘tongue Dahlia while looking into the camera’ routine is beautifully annoying. They served as perfect foils for two comedy characters trying to earn respect.

Sexsmith in particular shined in his performance here, mainly due to the drive and desire he wrestled with. He got flung off the stage into an oblivion of chairs, and came out a few minutes later with some nasty welts on his body, ready to go on the attack again. Later, his forearm exchange with his primary tormentor Cooper was delivered with a ton of ferocity; he looked like a kid who’d had enough and decided to fight back against his bully, it was fantastic. I could have done without some of his comedic elements creeping in, particularly with his forcing Cooper to tap out with Mr. Cocko. I feel it would have worked better if he’d used a regular submission move, but I understand his desire to retain his unique personality too. I’m also not a fan of him forcing a kiss on Dahlia, not only because it’s a weird move for a babyface, even if they are morally ambiguous, but also because his character shouldn’t even want to do that after all the nasty things they’ve said to each other.

Those gripes aside though, this match was a star-making performance for Sexsmith, as his character transformed in front of our eyes. For Roy Johnson, it wasn’t quite the same level of performance. He felt a bit like ‘Jack’s big buddy’ here, going through a table early to put Sexsmith in further peril. It was still his best performance yet though, and his power moves looked great, especially with SPPT bumping around for him. Cooper played foil to Sexsmith, while Banks got to put the nail in his coffin, crushing Sexsmith’s dreams with a final powerbomb through the table. Banks has looked like a total badass when he’s gotten the win for the Power Trip, and had a great icy cold death glare just after scoring the victory here. SPPT look like legit contenders, but the break-up angle is cooking. Cooper accidentally punched Dahlia off the apron and through a table here, and Banks once again cleaned house on his own to win.

This was the redemption of Jack Sexsmith. From complete joke, to curious novelty, to battling with genuine heart and fire. He lost all four of his contests with SPPT, but comes out of the feud with his head held high knowing that he finally proved his worth. Also as a performer, he displayed some genuine star potential. He and Johnson more than earned their standing ovation here, for absolutely delivering in the biggest match of their careers so far. ****

Atlas Championship Open Challenge
Rampage Brown (c) def. Bad Bones John Klinger

Bad Bones is a much cooler opponent for Rampage than Mikey Whiplash at the last Chapter, and they had a much more fun match too. Atlas matches already feel different to the rest of the card, being wrestled in a much more straight-laced and physical way. There’s very little in the way of flash and that could be considered boring, and I’m not sure the hyperactive PROGRESS crowd really know what to make of them yet, but Brown has gotten the style down really well and Bad Bones wrestles this sorts of match in wXw all the time. They built the action really well, saving the most impressive moves for last; a beautiful short clothesline from Rampage and some surprisingly agile flying from Klinger were the highlights. The finish saw Brown burst out some extra energy having outlasted Bad Bones, dodging his corner splash, throwing him out of the corner with a German suplex, and destroying him with the piledriver. Rampage is one of the strongest looking guys in PROGRESS right now and whoever eventually beats him for the title will be a made man. ***

Smash Wrestling Championship No.1 Contender Match
Matt Cross def. Mark Andrews

The transition from an Atlas match to the ‘small lads’ here may have been too drastic; this was a really good match but it had factors working against it. First off, the commentary went too far with the quips here, calling every other move ‘flippy shit’ and not letting the wrestlers speak for themselves at all in the early going. They’re obviously trying to appeal to ‘wrestling twitter’ fans who use these sorts of terms and I appreciate that they’re zeroing in on a target audience, but as part of the kayfabe the commentators also need to make the match feel like a competition, and instead they suggested here that the flips are extraneous and it’s all just a bit of fun. The placement of the match on the card wasn’t great either, between the completely different Atlas match and the super serious main event, this felt like too much of a sideshow, and could have possibly had more room to breathe in the first half.

All that nagging aside though, this was very enjoyable in a vacuum. Andrews and Cross both move around the ring so fluidly, and they had already displayed their chemistry very briefly back at SSS16. This was an expansion of those sequences they shared, and the moves they performed were some of the most spectacular stuff I’ve seen either man do. Particularly impressive was Andrews’ mid-air powerbomb counter, which looked like something out of Street Fighter. Unlike a lot of other mid-air counter moves, Cross wasn’t going for a ‘flying nothing’ and was actually doing a dropkick, but Andrews pulled him out of that move and into his in the air. That’s the kind of chemistry lasted throughout the match and made every sequence feel that bit more natural, which for a high-flying match like this is very difficult to achieve, and it’s why I’m annoyed the commentary pigeon-holed the match as ‘flippy shit’, even jokingly.

The final minutes were particularly dramatic, with Cross and Andrews reversing just about everything the other did until finally Cross landed an Ace Crusher to win. Both guys looked really good here; Andrews is starting to get overlooked but he’s still one of the best in Britain and getting better, while Cross has mastered his art and deserves a better regular gig than wrestling in a mask on a year’s tape delay. Maybe come live in London and pop into the Ballroom more regularly? ***½

PROGRESS Championship Match
Mark Haskins (c) def. Marty Scurll and Jimmy Havoc

This match has the unfortunate fate of having to be watched through the spectre of Mark Haskins announcing his neck injury post-match, being forced to vacate the Championship and take an indefinite amount of time off from wrestling all together. It’s terrible news for one of Britain’s best, who had just reached the prime of his career, and makes this match very difficult to review. I was more morbidly focussed on seeing how many bumps Haskins took in this match than actually judging the quality of the wrestling. When you zero in on it, you see just how safe Haskins worked this match, only taking two bumps off of two Acid Rainmakers.

Haskins’ injury also overrides Jimmy Havoc’s return to PROGRESS after over a year out injured. It’s great to have him back and he hasn’t lost anything from the injury; his confidence and the aura he projects still shine through. He, Haskins and Scurll all worked really hard here and managed to have a triple threat match where all three guys interacted with each other in the majority of the sequences. There seems to be an epidemic of triple threats recently, and I wish they’d go away because singles matches are always more interesting, but PROGRESS have put on two of the better multi-man matches this year with this and the Brixton main event. Knowing what happened to Haskins though, it’s very difficult to enjoy this match beyond the live experience, and it’s not one that I would ever want to go back and watch again, even if the work was decent. Haskins retained the title after Havoc got shoved off the tope rope and through a bed of chairs, leaving Scurl to tap out to the Sharpshooter after a fun finishing stretch. ***

So, post-match, Haskins left the Championship in the ring and walked out, later revealing that he had to give up wrestling for the time being due to a neck injury. PROGRESS’ ‘break glass in case of emergency’ plan to crown a new Champion is mouth-watering though. At Chapter 39, 5 matches throughout the show will qualify 7 men into an elimination match in the main event, the winner of which will become the new PROGRESS Champion. Matches in this mini-tournament include British Strong Style vs London Riots, South Pacific Power Trip vs The Hunter Brothers, Jimmy Havoc vs Marty Scurll, and a match that will be sure to induce a blizzard of stars; Will Ospreay vs Matt Riddle. Outside of SSS16, this is the most hyped for a PROGRESS show I’ve been all year, as pretty much anything could happen. Will Jim/Lee Hunter walk away with the gold? We’ll find out soon…

Final Thoughts:

My lasting memory of this show will be the Tables match, and the excellent storytelling throughout it. Jack Sexsmith stepped up big time when given the opportunity and stole the show. Several other matches were good here and very much worth your time too, it’s just a shame that any fun the main event produced was completely overshadowed by the sad news immediately afterwards.