We’re in Camden at the Electric Ballroom for the latest PROGRESS chapter show. This is the show before PROGRESS heads over to the USA for a pair of shows, and the penultimate show before their big Alexandria Palace supershow. As I’m sure you’ve gathered from the thumbnail, this show featured the monumental return of the South Pacific Power Couple.

PROGRESS Wrestling
Chapter 53: Fate Loves the Fearless
July 30, 2017
The Electric Ballroom
London, England

Watch: Demand PROGRESS

Commentary comes from Glen Joseph and RJ Singh. As competent as they are I find myself missing either Callum or Matt. They have a certain endearing quality that I like.

#1 Contendership Match
#CCK def. Extra Talent-ed

Starks & Solow have been on tour in the UK and have appeared all over the place but this is probably their biggest gig. They’ve wrestled CCK several times but this time they’re going in fully blown heel against a babyface CCK. Those battle lines were not clearly drawn at Fight Club Pro and the match suffered for it. This is a number one contender’s match, which telegraphs the outcome. Solow gets a quick promo complaining of small rings and bad referees. The match featuring a third team (Origin: Banter) concluded with a dodgy pinfall that I’m fairly sure Extra Talent-ed were supposed to break up. The crowd enjoy themselves chanting abuse at the Yanks (telling Solow that “Bayley’s too good for you”. He’s also a shit Essa Rios) and putting “Best Boys” into various songs. Extra Talent-ed again expose themselves by not being in the right place for a spot, causing Brookes to haul Solow out of the corner. Not even these failings can prevent an array of sick fucking tag moves, from both sides. The American lads have some sickening ideas, frankly. Solow tries to win with Bayley to Belly, the scurrilous scamp. Despite the odd whiff from the North American duo there’s plenty to enjoy, from both teams. Lykos goes to the air, a lot. Babyface CCK are very different to heel CCK. Brookes ends up planting Bayley’s chap with the Moneymaker (© Kid Kash) for the pin. This would have been even better received had everything gone right but even with the mistakes it was easily my favourite Starks & Solow match from this tour. ***3/4

Chief Deputy Dunne def. Chuck Mambo

Dunne is three matches back in Progress, bringing his popular Anti-Fun Police gimmick to Camden. His in-ring has been much improved over his original stint (as a Dunne brother) and the gimmick helps him to stand out. I’m hoping there’s a plan to have the Anti-Fun Police as a group as a comedic heel turn could freshen up a few of the guys on the Progress roster. Even as bizarroworld one-offs the likes of Flash Morgan Webster and Mark Andrews have shone in the role. Mambo busts out a favourite of mine; his People’s Elbow where he’s wearing five or six elbow pads so he never gets around to dropping the actual elbow. The idea being that Dunne is running through an assortment of ‘fun’ personas that Progress have to offer. Although every time Damian yells “no fun-aaaaah” I can’t help but laugh. Could it be that Damian himself is…fun? Mambo looks good here. Frequently hitting moves that look far more fluid than I was expecting, like the springboard 450 to the outside. Mambo is sneakily getting good. Dunne drops him with the funless DDT off the ropes. No more fun-aaaaah for Chuck. Dunne confiscates Mambo’s elbow pads so he can’t fuck around on the People’s Elbow anymore. Killjoy! **3/4

James Drake & Zack Gibson def. Never Say Die

This is a shrewd move; hoping that Gibson’s heat will rub off on the technically sound but dull Drake. It does make me wonder where Nathan Cruz, Gibson’s normal tag partner, is. Cupid and D’Angelo are Projo guys and it’s nice to see someone graduating to the main cards from there, although Spike Trivet was present on a pre-show match. Never Say Die already have merch, which is a smart move. They also both look like they shouldn’t be out this late on a school night (I know, it’s the summer holidays). Gibson gets a promo where he puts over James Drake mentioning the criticism of Drake online. Gibson does sensational work in calling the crowd quiet and a parody of their former selves. It’s beautiful. “Nathan Cruz has took his ball and gone home” says Gibson of the now defunct Origin. Given what happened to the group they might as well have lost the ‘Origin must disband’ match at Brixton last year.

Gibson, who was looking in fantastic condition towards the end of last year has lost a lot of his upper body definition. It doesn’t affect his wrestling ability but it unfortunately gives him moobs. The two Projo lads get beaten up a lot with Drake looking solid as Gibson’s cohort. Their sympathy comebacks are nice and it’s a good little match up. Naturally the more experienced duo triumph with the Ticket to Mayhem double team. Gibson & Drake are a good pairing who’ve already got some terrific double teams. ***

Atlas #1 Contendership Match
James Davis def. Rob Lynch

The London Riots fancied a challenge so they’re here to batter each other. Winner gets a shot at the Atlas title. I always thought Big Rob had a genuine shot at being a singles wrestler but Davis has been impressing of late. You don’t get to be that good of a tag team and be a shit singles wrestler. They have, apparently, never wrestled each other in a singles match. Davis is looking very slim. I hadn’t noticed how much weight he’d dropped recently until seeing him square off with Rob. They still have a burly brawl. It’s two blokes who’ve wrestled together for years and probably knew they had a good match in the locker. They both attempt to out-crazy one another. Rob does a speedy tope and Davis replies with a moonsault to the floor! The match has the feel of a ‘pull out all the stops’ bout. Rob Lynch in particular looks hugely motivated. He throws out moves I’ve never seen from him, like a cartwheel along the apron a la Will Ospreay. When they’re not being graceful they absolutely leather each other. It’s a great display of Big Lads Wrestling. Rob has a history of neck and shoulder problems, which the crowd are very aware of and he goes down hurt after attempting a Spiral Tap (yes, really). This creates not only a core storyline focus but also gives Lynch something to sell. Without the injury it’s two guys waffling each other but there’s no end for that. Someone will eventually win but there’s no story to it. Here Davis goes after the shoulder because he wants to win and Rob taps out. Davis lets go immediately and hugs his tag partner to get the Atlas title shot. The crowd shows some signs of displeasure with James for targeting the shoulder but in doing so ended the match quickly and prevented Rob from getting hurt any worse. Yes? Great battle though. Two guys beating the shit out of each other and turning the dial up to eleven in the process. ****

Rob Lynch announces his retirement, citing his history of neck and shoulder problems. Specifically when he got badly hurt in the Garage and had to be tended to by EMT’s. The promo is from the heart, where he talks about not wanting to lose what’s important to him. He wants to get his life back together. It’s a really nice moment and then JD hits Rob with a cricket bat to turn heel. This went from one of the most tender emotional conclusions to a career I’ve seen to a shocking heel turn. JD’s heel promo on an unconscious Lynch, where he calls him a “loser” is devastating.

Pete Dunne def. Jack Sexsmith

As with any match before Alexandra Palace if Sexsmith can beat Pete he gets a title shot at a later date. Dunne is super intense and eager to batter Jack before the match even starts. Sexsmith takes a few sickening bumps into the chairs and he sells like a champ. Sexsmith has so much sympathy that Dunne gets a tonne of heat on him. Not content with fighting Sexsmith he decks one of the trainees who act as crew at the shows. It’s sensational. He forearms the poor guy out of nowhere and the trainee, to his credit, sells it like death. It looks like he legitimately knocked him out cold. I love that air of danger that surrounds Dunne, where anything can happen. He’s been known to involve fans in matches and if you’re close to him, you’re at risk. There aren’t enough heels of that magnitude in wrestling. The contrast to lovely Jack and Dunne’s selling of Jack’s sexual weirdness make for a tremendous combination. Especially as Jack is such a fragile boy. Sexsmith’s comebacks are so great and the personal investment is there on every face in the Ballroom. I had a wacky theory that Sexsmith would get a fluke win here and go on to main event Alexandra Palace where he’d get an equally lucky win for the belt. He is the biggest babyface in the company. Dunne wins with the Bitter End and then beats Jack with his own boot. This was textbook heel dickery vs. babyface fire. The great part about this, for Sexsmith, is he just went toe to toe with one of the best wrestlers in the world and nobody would have batted an eyelid if he’d won. They would have just cheered loudly. What a year Jack is having. ***3/4

PROGRESS Women’s Championship
Toni Storm def. Candice LeRae

This is Candice’s Progress debut but she’s wrestled a lot in the UK. Her most appeared for promotions makes for bizarre reading in 2017: Southside, DDT, WWE, Fight Club Pro. What is that? Wrestling is mad at the minute. Candice is naturally Johnny Gargano’s wife and John Graps has worked for Progress so he’s probably put over what a lovely place it is to work. Candice is tiny but she has a great record in wrestling, especially in Intergender stuff. Toni hasn’t faced someone of her calibre in Progress. She’s used to being a big fish in a relatively small pond, pushed hard by less experienced talent. Candice is aware she doesn’t know Toni that well and is careful not to blow anything. This includes a slow motion tope. Toni is less worried about making mistakes and tries for more ambitious counters, including catching Candice with a German suplex in mid-air. Toni’s killer move is the piledriver but Candice pops out of that at one, which is a little surprising. When you’ve got a champion over you generally want to protect their finish. When Candice attempts a comeback Toni flattens her with three successful piledrivers to ensure victory. ***1/2

PROGRESS Tag Team Championship
British Strong Style (Bate & Seven) def. Jimmy Havoc & Mark Haskins

The two challengers are both former Progress champions, in singles, but have formed an alliance to combat the incumbent champions. It’s notable that both men have tried and failed to unseat Pete Dunne as Progress champion and that’s partly because of the strength in unity that the group has. Havoc and Haskins is, at best, a tentative alliance against a common enemy. This kicks off as a wild brawl around the building, which reflects the star power involved and the animosity between them. Haskins vs. Tyler is a fantastic match whenever they clash. It’s all so smooth and it shows how far Tyler has come over the past two years. He’s literally grown up in front of this crowd. The challengers do ok for a spell but the inevitable miscues begin during a frantic tornado sequence. Pete Dunne grabs Vicky Haskins, who was watching from the corner of the building, to distract Mark further and Havoc gets hit in the balls for the cheap loss. Havoc’s point proves true here though. Haskins cares more about his family than his in-ring career. Hey, there’s nothing wrong with that unless you’re a singleton who doesn’t get family. Vicky tries to play peacemaker but when Jimmy shoves her it all kicks off. The Havoc-Haskins bout was inevitable but this flashpoint helped to cement a genuine issue between them. They’re both right, from their own perspective, so there’s no heel turn. The match was a solid mixture of brawling and technical stuff but the cheap finish took away from it slightly. However it is a necessary evil to get to Havoc vs. Haskins. ***1/2

Keith Lee def. Travis Banks

Travis has been set up to take a beating in his warm-up matches for Alexandra Palace. First Pete Dunne had him up against Matt Riddle and now it’s Keith Lee! Keith has the added bonus of having his own entrance music, which immediately makes him look like a star. Travis stole the show at Chapter 52, having a killer midcard bout with Riddle. Keith is hugely popular, considering he’s debuting, and the Ballroom bask in his glory. Before we start Pete Dunne removes RJ Singh from commentary to take his spot. Now that, WWE jamokes, is how you do guest comms. Dunne is perhaps a little too softly spoken but he’s learned that from Trent. You don’t have to yell if what you have to say is worth hearing. Keith is here to show off and allow people to bask in his ridiculous rana’s. That, along with catching Travis on his trademark tope and just powerbombing the Kiwi on the apron, are sufficient for the crowd who were on the fence to get very excited about seeing the next twenty minutes of Keith Lee. The American isn’t particularly tall but he is a large man and his flights of fancy, combined with hard strikes make him an easy crowd favourite. The boisterous crowd ensure that Keith lives up to his hype. He wants people to remember him and we all know Progress has become a stepping stone to greater things. The way he hurls Travis around the ring is inhuman. The biel into the chairs and the sit out Last Ride where he throws Travis up are sick. It’s one of Travis’ toughest tasks, ever. He has to convincingly fire up on Keith Lee and by god, he does it. It’s like when Ishii refuses to sell, while showing fragility. Pete Dunne strolls down to distract Trav though and he gets dropped by Lee attempting Slice of Heaven. Travis Banks’ run against Pete Dunne’s opponents hasn’t been too good, huh? This, like the Riddle match, was a cracker until the interference. ****1/4

Trent Seven and Tyler Bate appear to beat Travis down but CCK run in for the save. However Pete Dunne, and sledgehammer, puts an immediate stop to that. Pete looks to be on the verge of executing Banks when a familiar refrain kicks in. Keep it one hundred? They’re not back already…oh shit! TK Cooper and Dahlia Black, the South Pacific Power Couple, make a dramatic return to the Ballroom. Which is totally unexpected and the crowd lose their shit. You can see people dancing around the ring. The noise is unreal. It’s one of the loudest pops, ever. There’s a tremendous moment where Travis is left kneeling between #CCK and South Pacific Power Couple and he doesn’t know who to side with! Brookes gives him the nod and he gets to hug it out with TK and Dahlia as the show goes off the air to a roar of approval from the Ballroom. Wow.

Final Thoughts:

Only the very top promotions manage to achieve a certain level of emotional connection. It’s something WWE are very good at. It’s something New Japan, DDT and Dragon Gate are capable of. However in the UK, there’s only one promotion that delivers on this emotional level and the wrestlers want to do emotional things in a Progress ring because they love it there. The London Riots angle was touching and a slap in the face at the same time but even that paled in comparison to the dramatic return of the South Pacific Power Couple. Absence makes the heart grow stronger and fate, does indeed, love the fearless.