PROGRESS’ 2017 has seen some tremendous wrestling, marred somewhat by their dealings with WWE hurting their main event storyline and creating concern among fans over what the future of PROGRESS as a promotion will look like.

It’s been very difficult for me to engage with the British Strong Style storyline, where Pete Dunne, Trent Seven and Tyler Bate have been positioned as corporate shills intent on stamping WWE authority on PROGRESS and their titles, when PROGRESS themselves regularly display their friendly relationship with WWE. Yes, it’s ‘just Twitter’, but it causes the company image to be one that’s a direct contrast to the image it’s supposed to battling against in storyline.

This was probably the reason I stopped reviewing PROGRESS for Voices of Wrestling. My head would probably explode if I had to write that paragraph in every PROGRESS review I did. Which I would have inevitably done, because it’s the first thing I think about when I think of PROGRESS these days.

Luckily, SSS16 over the past two years has always been the antidote to over-complicated PROGRESS stories. Now over 3 days, this tournament gave PROGRESS a chance to build some compelling stories and characters over a full weekend, making all three shows much easier to buy into than previous 2017 Chapter shows.

PROGRESS Wrestling
Super Strong Style 16 – Day 1
May 27, 2017
Electric Ballroom
London, England

Watch: Demand Progress

Super Strong Style 16 First Round
Jeff Cobb def. Nathan Cruz

This was designed to introduce the crowd to Jeff Cobb, in case anyone had never seen him before, and let them know that he has an unparalleled ability to chuck other people around. Cruz has no real status in the current PROGRESS hierarchy but he still managed to get some heat and drive the match forward here. To be honest, if anyone wasn’t able to make the SSS16 weekend crowd to make noise at any point, they would have been really failing. Cobb made a big impression with his one-of-a-kind power moves, but his lasting impression this weekend would be made on Night 2. **½

Super Strong Style 16 First Round
Mark Haskins def. Flash Morgan Webster

The atmosphere in the Electric Ballroom when Crobot’s ‘Nowhere to Hide’ hit and Haskins exploded down the entrance way was always awesome. His replacement theme creates nowhere near the same level of excitement. PROGRESS’ entrances have been hit hard by the new necessity to use unlicensed music on VOD, and they should have a think about returning to the recognisable themes for the live show and just omitting them from the VOD release, as wXw does, because wrestlers like Haskins and Webster have definitely lost something without them. Presentation is crucial for wrestlers to feel larger-than-life, and a bad entrance theme is sometimes all that’s needed to spoil a wrestler’s aura.

The match itself definitely suffered from a lack of atmosphere early on, with some of the crowd still reeling from the underwhelming Haskins entrance. Haskins’ targeting of Webster’s leg to soften him up for an eventual Sharpshooter submission victory made sense, but the pace just wasn’t very exciting and the action didn’t feel impactful. A really difficult match for me to get into, though both men would do better later in the weekend.

Super Strong Style 16 First Round
Travis Banks def. Jimmy Havoc

This was more like it in terms of creating energy and emotion. Both Banks and Havoc wear their hearts on their sleeves in the ring and make it very easy to invest in their matches emotionally. They got the ‘football’ atmosphere in the Ballroom going here as the crowd split their allegiances with dueling chants. The pace was energetic, which is exactly how matches this early in the tournament should be. This was short, sharp and violent, getting the crowd properly fired up for the first time of many this weekend. Banks should be careful about using some of his trademark ‘fire up’ spots, such as continually shoving thrown chairs away from him, because they will start to lose their impact if done too often, causing diminishing returns in the reactions they provoke. The closing stretch of Banks repeatedly kicking Havoc in the head before dropping him with a Michinoku Driver was suitably vicious and established Banks has more than one way to defeat an opponent. Good, exciting stuff that got the Ballroom going. ***

Super Strong Style 16 First Round
Zack Sabre Jr. def. David Starr

David Starr has no problem at all getting over with a new audience. He’s a natural showman and always manages to get a great reaction, whether he’s being straight-faced or comedic. This was his most serious match of the weekend, and he was definitely aiming to have the best match of the show. The crowd was also very much into ZSJ’s ‘Jeremy Corbyn superfan’ gimmick. Obviously Zack is a big supporter of Labour and Corbyn in real life, but to see him emblazoned in Red wearing his Corbyn shirt was fun and the kind of passion you want to see in wrestling. And of course, doing it in Camden, you’re likely to get a strong pop from it.

Both men had plenty of fun with the Corbyn stuff and Starr’s ‘Look at It’ routine, but Starr took the shit-chatting a little too far, causing ZSJ to flip and just stomp the crap out of him. This very evident passion got the Ballroom pumping, and Sabre and Starr were able to keep that momentum throughout the rest of the match. This felt like a real fight with Sabre never giving Starr a moment to breathe without wrenching on his arm or just stomping him, meaning Starr had to go through a lot of torment to get into a position to hit a big move. Some of those big moves looked super impressive, including the best Project Ciampa-style move I’ve ever seen, which caused Sabre’s body to bend in a most uncomfortable-looking way. Starr worked very hard to come very close to putting Sabre away, but ZSJ’s reversal of Starr’s bridging suplex pin trapped him in one of Sabre’s labyrinthine submission holds, forcing him to tap out. A really strong performance from both men, which could have been truly great if it had had any sort of build. As it stands, this was a really good one-off match. ***½

Super Strong Style 16 First Round
Jack Sexsmith def. Zack Gibson

This served as the culmination of a story PROGRESS have told with Sexsmith for the last 9 months, with him standing up to his tormentors, the South Pacific Power Trip, and turning his character from a purely comedic one into someone who fights on behalf of his identity and for what he believes in. He’s come up short in almost every test he’s faced, but he’s faced them with sheer heart and fight that the PROGRESS crowd has genuinely rallied behind. If Sexsmith’s performances hadn’t been strong, this storyline wouldn’t have worked, or worst case scenario, could have felt like pandering, but he’s absolutely risen to the occasion in 2017 and because of that, the story has easily been one of my favourite things about PROGRESSS this year.

One of the roadblocks Sexsmith fell to was Zack Gibson, who defeated him via countout a couple of months ago, seeing Sexsmith as ‘not good enough’ to be in the ring with him. The Helter Skelter that Gibson planted Sexsmith with on the outside to win that match looked vicious, and it was inevitable that the spot would come back into play in this match. Sexsmith of course beat the count back into the ring this time, doing so with the crowd aiding him back in, which simultaneously made the spot great and ruined it. It was a great visual to see the crowd that was solidly behind Jack physically help him on to win, but they did so on a count of 6, not 9, so it did destroy a little bit of the tension.

That sort of crowd participation was what made this match so memorable. The sea of rainbow flags for Sexmith’s entrance was a unique visual that was fan-made and fit the moment perfectly. The love for Sexsmith and the contempt for Gibson was managed really well by both men, and they milked the reactions all the way to the finish, with Sexsmith defeating a past demon and finally legitimising himself, winning without the condom and all. The Sexsmith story has felt ‘hyper-produced’ at times, but the genuine warmth the crowd has received it with proves that it resonated. Sexsmith picked up an injury in this match, so now would be a good time to plan out the next step of the story, because this felt like a definitive end to the first chapter. ***½

Super Strong Style 16 First Round
Tyler Bate def. Pastor William Eaver

Absolutely nothing jumps out to me as memorable from this match. Bate would have some excellent performances later in the weekend but he was just there for this one, and this was another ‘important’ match for Eaver where his charisma disappeared. Eaver’s showing here looks even worse in comparison to his Night 2 and 3, where he looked really good in a comedy role and commanded the crowd’s reactions well. This was a perfunctory extended squash that did serve to make Bate look strong as a tournament favourite, but is completely skippable. *

Super Strong Style 16 First Round
Flamita def. Mark Andrews

It was so special to see Flamita in SSS16; PROGRESS made a point to pursue a wrestler who hadn’t already been booked everywhere else in Britain for this spot, such as Pentagon or Fenix. Jim Smallman, like myself and many others, fell in love with Flamita when he saw his 2014 match against Jimmy Susumu, so Flamita became the logical choice for an out-of-left-field choice to enter into the tournament. His matches this weekend certainly weren’t up to the lofty heights of the Susumu matches, but Flamita acquitted himself nicely and was made to look like a star. This match against Mark Andrews was probably Flamita’s best match of the weekend. Both men were aided by the fact they both had their ‘proper’ entrance themes, with Andrews’ own band having always provided his and Flamita using his brilliant Dragon Gate theme. That gave an extra spark of atmosphere to the beginning of this match that most others lacked on this show.

Andrews and Flamita did not have amazing chemistry by any means and you could see them working through the match with difficulty at points, but this was one of the better matches I’ve ever seen where there was so little chemistry. While the links between moves were not fluid, the actual sequences were great. Flamita was right not to go into ‘dive mode’ straight away to pop the crowd and instead let the crowd actually invest in him first before doing any high-flying shenanigans. The big spots here felt really impactful, something that’s necessary for a flying match to stand out in modern indie wrestling. Flamita got to establish his moveset and also his Flam Fly finisher, which looks awesome live. A good start to the weekend for Flamita. ***½

Super Strong Style 16 First Round
Matt Riddle def. Trent Seven

A big surprise here with the main event of Day 1 ending in 6 seconds. The move to a 3 day SSS16 allows for this kind of booking, because the crowd was pretty much all signed up for 3 full days of wrestling and received the lightning-fast win much better than a crowd that may have wanted full-on main events as part of a 2-day tournament. The crowd erupted for Riddle’s victory which confirms it as a good booking decision.

It may not have worked if Trent Seven hadn’t riled up the crowd so successfully. Seven has been (wrongly) underrated by the VOW Flagship guys, and while he may not have the same in-ring ability as his British Strong Style mates Tyler Bate and Pete Dunne and certainly doesn’t have the same upside, his true value to the group comes from his excellent promo skills and generally engaging personality. He set himself up so brilliantly to be knocked down in such a memorable way.

Riddle’s knockout knee here evoked his UFC past and successfully presented him as more dangerous in any given situation than anyone else on the PROGRESS roster. He has a unique aura and unlimited potential which PROGRESS have tapped into better than any other promotion. He doesn’t feel like an ‘import’ in PROGRESS at all, and a 6 second victory like this displays PROGRESS’ faith in going all in on him as a ‘native’ character. N/A

Final Thoughts:

A very solid start to the tournament with four very good matches and a shock main event that worked well within the 3-day structure. The live atmosphere definitely suffered without licensed entrance music, but it’s something that PROGRESS will have to deal with and perhaps make the tough to choice to dub entrances on VOD at the expense of capturing the live atmosphere for perpetuity.