When I first saw that PROGRESS Wrestling was going to running a show in the New York City area, in conjunction with EVOLVE, I knew immediately that I had to get tickets.
The opportunity to see one of the hottest independent promotions in the worlds (which played a big role in spearheading this boom period in British Wrestling), along with a promotion that I followed regularly since 2013, was too good to pass up. In the days leading up to the shows, I was really excited, and admittedly a bit nervous, but I had no doubt that I was in for a great night of wrestling.
I travelled to New York City via bus and got off at the Port Authority Bus Terminal, which wasn’t a new experience for me, as it’s been my routine every time I come to see a ROH event in the city. It was during my taxi ride over from the bus terminal to Queens that I learned that Pete Dunne (the PROGRESS Champion and the WWE UK Champion) was off the PROGRESS card due to an injury he suffered during a match with Darius Carter (a regular of the independent scene in NYC and best known for his time in Beyond Wrestling as part of the Crusade For Change stable) at a Battle Club Pro show. Dunne suffered a nasty gash on his temple after Carter gave him an unprotected pedigree onto one of his title belts, and wasn’t medically cleared to compete for PROGRESS. Whether this was simply an accident, or a case of recklessness (and if you ask someone like Matt Cage, it was definitely the latter), the point was that Pete Dunne wasn’t going to be wrestling on the show.
Obviously, I was extremely disappointed, as I was really looking forward to seeing him live for the first time, especially with the incredible year he’s been having (arguably the in-ring MVP of WWE in 2017). It was also upsetting because everyone that was going to PROGRESS was denied the rare sight of seeing a title from WWE being defended on an independent show. If there was any silver lining to this unfortunate news, it was that it meant the card was going to get shaken up a little bit, which would add an aura unpredictability to the show.
After having some lunch at an Argentinian Restaurant with a group of fellow fans (including Aaron Taube, co-host of the Everything Evolves Podcast on the VOW Podcast Network), we went to the venue at the Elmcor Youth & Activities Center in Queens, New York. The building the show was actually held in was part of a larger complex, and actually wasn’t on the main street itself (you had to go through a triangular courtyard to get there). My initial impressions when I was inside were quite positive. I thought the venue was perfect for a wrestling show. There appeared to be a lot of space on the floor, the different sets of bleachers (both the two sets of side bleachers and the larger, more permanent bleachers that went up to the entrance of the building) provided a lot of space for General Admission, and the entrance way that came out from underneath the main bleachers was unique.
As a whole, I thought it was a great venue for EVOLVE 91 which, based on my poor guess of attendance, had about 500 fans or so (the floor seats appeared to be 80%-90% full, the main bleachers about half full, and the side bleachers were barely half full). I know La Boom has become the home base for EVOLVE in the New York City Area, but I wouldn’t be opposed to them running the Elmcor Center again in the future. The one thing I don’t like about La Boom is that it always seems incredibly tight. By contrast, the Elmcor Center is much roomier for EVOLVE (which is ironic, given what I’m about to talk about), and in general felt less constraining. Maybe they could go back and forth between which venue they use, but for my money, the Elmcor Center was a perfect place for EVOLVE to run.
— Sean Sedor (@SASedor2994) August 13, 2017
Of course, when it came to the PROGRESS card later that night, it was a different story.
By the time the show started, the building was absolutely packed. Every available seat in the venue, from the floor seats, to the side bleachers, to the main bleachers (where I was located) was filled. The current estimate (as I type this) for attendance at this show was around 1500 people, who were all crammed into the same venue that was quite comfortable for EVOLVE a few hours earlier. With that many people in a space like that, it should come as no surprise that it got pretty hot, pretty quickly. Now a lot has been made about the venue, what the actual capacity was, the issue of overselling, and so on.
I’ll try to provide the best breakdown of “Heat Gate”, from my perspective.
— Sean Sedor (@SASedor2994) August 13, 2017
There’s no question that the building was a sweatbox for pretty much the entire PROGRESS show. I was covered in sweat for a good three to four hours, along with everyone around me in the main bleachers (I was sitting near the top of the tunnel used for the entrance way). The floor in the lobby area by the merchandise tables and the concession stand was wet, flyers were becoming glued to the bleachers, and condensation from ceiling above (which I believe was caused by the A/C in the building, though I’m not positive) slowly dripped on me and everyone in my immediate vicinity throughout the entire show. For people who are have attended independents shows regularly over the years in the NYC area, this wasn’t that big of a deal. In fact, a person behind me noted to me that he once attended a ROH event in Basketball City many years ago that was much worse.
However, for someone like me, who had never really experienced this kind of situation at a wrestling show before, it was definitely annoying. I never had the feeling that my health was in danger, but I would be lying if I said I wasn’t uncomfortable. In these sorts of situations (wrestling shows, concerts, or any events, indoors or outdoors, that end up being very hot), it’s crucial that you stay hydrated at all times. I can’t stress that enough. It was certainly tough for me, but with multiple trips to the concession stand for water (there were reports that they ran out of water, but both times I went to the stand, which were once before intermission and once after, they had plenty of water), and getting the chance to step outside during intermission, it was definitely manageable. The fact that the wrestling on the show was so awesome certainly helped me sit through it (I would’ve strongly considered leaving if it was a lesser show), but at no point did I feel like I was in danger of passing out. If anything, I was more annoyed about sweating through my new Zack Sabre Jr. T-Shirt, and the fact that the condensation was constantly fogging up my glasses.
As far as the attendance at the PROGRESS show is concerned, it seems like some people have blown the overcapacity issue way out of proportion.
While it definitely seemed like the building was a bit oversold (from my perspective), it wasn’t to the degree that some made it out to be. As I mentioned previously, every single available seat in the Elmcor Center was filled, from the floor (which, by my poor guesswork, was set up for 400), to the different bleachers (which probably came close to sitting 1000 in total). The only real issue that I noticed was that there were somewhere around 100 people, maybe a little more, just standing in the area between the floor seats and the bleachers, with apparently no seats of their own. If the GA section was oversold, it was only by a hundred people, not by nearly 900 as some have claimed. Would the conditions inside the building have changed if those 100 or so people wouldn’t have been there? Probably not. Again, it appeared to me that the GA section had been slightly oversold, but it was nowhere close to being grossly oversold. The bottom line is that I think all of the various issues with the building, whether it be the heat, the capacity, or something else, we’re all overblown to varying degrees.
The natural debate that comes out of all this is whether PROGRESS should run a different building if they return to New York City in the future (which I think they will, given all the positive reactions to the show even with the various issues). If anything, this event showed that the demand for PROGRESS, when it comes to live events in the United States, is pretty high. It’s a good problem to have on the surface, but in a place like New York City, it’s a hard problem to tackle, as there aren’t many options for a venue that would comfortably host 1500 fans, if not more, for an independent wrestling show.
What’s difficult is that you need to find the right balance of location (while it’s a nice venue, the Elmcor Center isn’t exactly in an ideal location, especially for those who might come in from out of town), what it actually costs to run the venue, and the right capacity. For instance, I believe the Hammerstein Ballroom would be a perfect place to run a PROGRESS show. It’s centrally located, and you can comfortably fit over 2000 people inside (and I have no doubt that PROGRESS could draw a sellout in that building). The problem is that the Hammerstein Ballroom is an expensive building to run. At one point, it got so expensive to run that ROH stopped running shows there for well over two years (though they returned there recently after the price for using the building was presumably lowered). Outside of that, there doesn’t seem to be any strong options within the city itself. ROH learned the hard way that finding a new venue in the city was difficult, and their eventual solution (Terminal 5) wasn’t exactly the best. Plus, I’m sure ROH wouldn’t be happy to see a promotion with a WWE connection running the building (though I don’t know if they would have any say in potentially blocking PROGRESS from running there). There could be other options, but another thing to keep in mind is that some of these buildings might not want anything to do with wrestling. It would be awesome to see PROGRESS in New York City again, but (to borrow from one of their show titles), they’re gonna need a bigger room, and in a place like NYC, those are hard to come by.
It really sucks that the debates surrounding the building were major talking points coming out of all this, because I thought both shows were great!
EVOLVE 91, which I was sitting front row for (right behind ring announcer Joanna Rose), was supposed to start at 4:00, but it seemed like the show ran at least fifteen minutes late (at least that’s what it felt like to me). Regardless, the opener saw a battle of “The Troll Boys”, as Ethan Page defeated ACH. After their “match” (if you would call it that) at EVOLVE 89 back in July, these two joined forces after both felt like they were being mistreated in EVOLVE. They’re essentially a comedy team (complete with a entrance theme that’s a parody of the COPS theme) that’s making a mockery of the serious pro-wrestling that EVOLVE represents.
The match they had here was more serious than their EVOLVE 89 encounter, but still featured a ton of comedy. I had a feeling these two would end up in a tag team after what happened during the shows in July, but I didn’t see it going in this direction. Some people strongly dislike what these guys are doing, and while I do think there’s a limit, I thought this match was entertaining for what it was. To me, The Troll Boys come off as a team that are presented as (and act like) heels, but are seen as babyfaces by the crowd because of how entertaining they are. In fact, I’d argue that theses two are practically faces already. I just seem them as an act that most fans who come out to EVOLVE shows will see as too entertaining to boo. Could that change on upcoming shows? Perhaps, but from my vantage point, the majority of this crowd was really entertained by these two.
There were two other singles matches on the undercard, both of which I thought were pretty good. The first of those saw an upset Darby Allin defeated Timothy Thatcher with a new trap pin that he used the night before at EVOLVE 90. I was a little worried about this match (because it’s Timothy Thatcher), but it was a definitely a step up from their match at EVOLVE 89 last month. The basic story was that Allin took the fight to Thatcher, who didn’t take Allin seriously at first. Stokely Hathaway (who was on the receiving end of a Darby Allin dive early on) introduced a chair so that Thatcher could end Allin’s career, but his indecision allowed Allin to take advantage and he got the win shortly thereafter. It was technically the worst non-comedy match on the card, but it was still very solid. They did this bit after the fact where Thatcher left Hathaway to be with his Ringkampf stablemate WALTER. This seemed like a breakup angle, with Thatcher leaving the Dream Team to be fully committed to Ringkampf, and if fact, that appears to be the case. It was confirmed this week that Thatcher won’t be appearing for EVOLVE again in 2017, as he’ll primarily be based in (and focused on) wXw in Germany. The other singles match saw Mark Haskins getting a win over Austin Theory after Priscilla Kelly took out Theory on a springboard dive to the outside that was intended for Haskins. While it wasn’t the best bout on the undercard, I thought it was really good, and it served as a great showcase for both guys. Haskins wasn’t at the very top of the list of PROGRESS talent I was excited to see, but in hindsight, he should’ve been, because he’s an awesome pro-wrestler. I was so excited to see the likes of WALTER, British Strong Style, Jimmy Havoc, and so on, that I feel as though I forgot just how good Mark Haskins is, and he showed in both of his outing on this night just why he’s so great. Meanwhile, Austin Theory continues to impress at such a young age. He’s already a very solid performer, and if he keeps working hard to improve, there’s no telling how good he’ll be in five or ten years. The potential is definitely there, and competing against people like Mark Haskins will only help him grow.
The highlights of the undercard on EVOLVE 91 were the two tag team matches. Anthony Henry & James Drake vs. Fred Yehi & Jason Kincaid for the EVOLVE Tag Team Titles and Catch Point vs. The South Pacific Power Trip were both great.
They featured exciting action from start to finish, and in each case, the crowd was hot throughout. While they were only a makeshift team, Fred Yehi & Jason Kincaid proved to be strong challengers, and were definitely a tough test for the Work Horsemen, who had a much better outing here than they did in Joppa, Maryland the night before. Henry & Drake have proven to be a really good team, and if they can have more matches like this, we’re in for a strong title run. Meanwhile, Chris Dickinson & Jaka managed to even the score with The South Pacific Power Trip after hitting their tag team finisher, called Death Trap. It was good to see Dickinson & Jaka bounce back after some questionable booking on EVOLVE 90 (losing to the Troll Boys), but I came away impressed with just how popular The South Pacific Power Trip really were. Every time the “Keep It 100” song played (on both shows), the crowd exploded. They were easily the most over PROGRESS talents on this EVOLVE card, and it’s really unfortunate what happened to TK Cooper later on the PROGRESS show, because they were definitely riding a big wave of momentum heading into this weekend. In terms of which match was better, I would give the slight edge to their initial encounter at Mercury Rising 2017, but this bout was still great.
As for the main event, Matt Riddle successfully retained his WWN Title in a Fatal-Four Way against Tracy Williams, Keith Lee & WALTER. This was definitely the best match on EVOLVE 91. It was an awesome main event that featured some great action throughout and a lively crowd. There were a ton of fun exchanges and everyone involved had moments to shine. Seeing Keith Lee & WALTER go at it on a few occasions was really fun to watch, and I hope that they do have a singles match at some point down the road. Tracy Williams played the role of the opportunist perfectly, as there were a few occasions where it looked he was going to steal the title. Matt Riddle was his great, usual self, and got the victory after tapping out Williams with the Bromission. Keith Lee came close to breaking things up, but he just couldn’t make it in time. A bit of tension was teased after the match between Riddle & Lee, as it looks like they will have a rematch of their own in the future, with the WWN Title likely at stake. Riddle also had a face-off with WALTER, ahead of their match later in the night at PROGRESS.
While the EVOLVE show was really good as a whole, there’s no doubt that PROGRESS put on a fantastic show.
The atmosphere alone was something to behold. The crowd was electric the entire night, and this show truly felt like a big deal. They exploded for Jim Smallman’s usual promo at the start of the show, and it even got to the point where everyone was chanting “please come back” a few minutes into the show, before the first match had even begun. The electricity in the crowd never died down (aside from the semi-main event, and there was a reason for that), and I can say with certainty that it was one of the best wrestling crowds I’ve ever been part of. It was honestly unlike anything I had ever experienced before. I was too young to experience the original ECW in person, but while I was watching this show, I realized that this is what it must’ve been like to attend an ECW event back in the mid to late 90’s. Similar to ECW, PROGRESS just has this special aura about it that makes it stand out amongst everyone else. It’s a brand that grew from practically nothing to a worldwide phenomenon (by independent wrestling standards). When “For Whom The Bell Tolls” started playing, I knew that I was about to be part of something special, and I think the rest of the crowd knew that as well. PROGRESS is a special promotion, and the atmosphere is just so festive. This even extended to before the show, as at one point, this random guy sitting on the bleachers to my left took his shirt off, and started dancing while jaw jacking with Trent Seven & Tyler Bate. Something totally spontaneous like that just added to the ambiance that this show created.
People were there to see the authentic PROGRESS experience, and even though this show was thousands of miles away from their home base, I think we definitely got that, which is truly awesome.
As far as the card itself is concerned, it was (for the most part) an excellent show. From a live perspective, I would go so far as to say that, if the PROGRESS Tag Team Title bout would’ve occurred without an issues, this would’ve easily been a show of the year contender for me. That’s not to say that it would be in my top three or anything (this show doesn’t top things like Wrestle Kingdom or Dominion), but it’s the kind of show that would at least be in the conversation before ending up in the honorable mentions. There were a number of great matches, and even the lesser bouts were still really good. As far as match of the night is concerned, I think there were a number of viable options. The first of those was the main event, which ended up being WALTER vs. Matt Riddle for the PROGRESS Title. This was an incredible match that featured these two just beating the absolute crap out of each other. In particular, there were a number of hard strike and chop/slap exchanges that were particularly memorable. It’s funny that this show took place the same weekend as the G1 Finals, because this match made me want to see both of these guys in New Japan, particularly in the G1 Climax. I mean, could you imagine WALTER going up against the likes Ishii, Goto, or Elgin? How about Riddle facing the likes of Okada, Naito, or Tanahashi? They also did a great job in a tough spot, as they brought the crowd right back into the thick of things after TK Cooper’s injury in the match prior. Riddle ultimately won this match to regain the PROGRESS Atlas Title, which was a bit of a surprise, as WALTER had just won the ATLAS Title a couple of weeks ago. I suppose they just wanted to have a big title change occur on one of these two shows in the United States, and the ATLAS Title was the best option.
— Jocay ?? (@Jocay19) August 13, 2017
The Fatal Four-Way Match that kicked off the second half of the show was also fantastic.
This was one of the bouts that underwent changes due to the Pete Dunne injury. It was originally scheduled to be a Triple Threat Match with Mark Andrews vs. Mark Haskins vs. Zack Gibson, but it was changed to a Fatal Four-Way with the additions of Austin Theory & Keith Lee (the latter got one of the biggest reactions of the night when he came out as the fourth participant).
This featured a ton of action from start to finish, and it was so much fun to watch live. What I also really liked about this bout is that it was totally different from the Fatal Four-Way from EVOLVE 91 earlier in the day. While that match was worked more of a big-time main event championship match (with more dramatic moments mixed in with the great action), this match was essentially a spotfest, but an incredibly entertaining one. Everyone had moments to shine, and there were so many cool spots. One in particular that stuck out was a tower of doom spot involving Keith Lee, Austin Theory, & Mark Andrews (Lee had Theory in the powerbomb position, while Theory was going hit a superplex on Andrews). Instead of just immediately falling down, like we would normally expect in that spot. Theory managed to hold Andrews in the air for a good few seconds (sort of a delayed vertical suplex) while Lee still had him in the powerbomb position. It was honestly one of the coolest spots of the night. Haskins eventually emerged victorious, but all four men looked impressive.
— Jocay ?? (@Jocay19) August 13, 2017
Two other matches that turned out to be great were the No DQ Match between Jimmy Havoc & Joey Janela, as well as the impromptu opener between Jack Gallagher & Zack Gibson. The former was one of the most anticipated bouts on the entire card coming into the show. We all knew that it had the potential to be crazy (especially where you consider some of the insane things both men have done on their own in the past), and when the dust settled, it definitely lived up to the hype. This was a wild brawl that included weapons such as chairs, tables, doors, thumbtacks, and even cinder blocks. Some of the highlights included a Canadian Destroyer DDT off the top rope onto several chairs, a Death Valley Driver off the apron and through a table on the floor, and a german suplex onto cinder blocks. We even saw Jimmy Havoc take off Joey Janela’s shoes so he could drop him feet first onto thumbtacks. Havoc ultimately got the win here, in what was a super fun harcore encounter.
— Jocay ?? (@Jocay19) August 13, 2017
The aforementioned opening match was surprisingly great, as Jack Gallagher (who, during an in-ring promo with Pete Dunne before this opener, expressed joy about being able to say the word “wrestling” again) defeated Zack Gibson. I had no expectations for this one, as I had never really seen Gibson before, but he’s probably the one PROGRESS talent who impressed me the most. I had seen pretty much all of the other PROGRESS regulars who were on this card before, so I knew what to expect, but because I’m not that far into my viewing of the chapter shows (I’m still in the early teens), I hadn’t gotten the chance to see Gibson yet. He impressed me on multiple fronts. Firstly, he got nuclear heat from this crowd in Queens when he came out, to the point where I’d argue that he got one of the loudest reactions of the night. Every time Gibson tried to talk, he got shouted down with a chorus of boos, and they got increasingly louder with each time Gibson attempted to speak. It reminded of promos that BJ Whitmer would cut on ROH shows during his time in The Decade, where he got a very similar response from the fans on those shows. From there, Gibson really impressed me here against Gallagher. I’ve been told these two have a history, so I’m sure that helped this match a lot. The most memorable spot saw Gibson deliver a brainbuster on the floor (which had no mats, as there was only a blue tarp covering the basketball court) after catching Gallagher on dive. Even though Gallagher won, Gibson definitely made a lasting impression on me, and I look forward to seeing more of his stuff as I make my way through the chapter shows.
The rest of the matches on this card, while not great, were still pretty good in their own unique ways.
Jinny & Deonna Purrazzo defeated Dahlia Black & Dakota Kai (formerly Evie) in the show’s lone women’s match. It was a pretty entertaining tag team bout that featured some solid action throughout. The most noteworthy item here was the result, as Deonna Purrazzo pinned Dakota Kai (a WWE contracted talent) to win the match for her team. Even though we’ve seen Deonna Purrazzo on WWE TV (both on the main roster and NXT) plenty of times in the past, it was still surprising to see her get the win here. Elsewhere, Timothy Thatcher defeated Donovan Dijak to earn himself a future shot at the PROGRESS Atlas Title. This was very good, and what really helped it out was the fact that it wasn’t a Thatcher style of match. I find that whether Thatcher’s opponents either force him to work their style, or just shut down attempts by the former EVOLVE Champion to wrestle style, the matches can be good. Also, as I alluded to earlier, Stokely Hathaway was in Thatcher’s corner here, which doesn’t make sense given what happened at EVOLVE earlier in the day. This was another bout with a surprise result, as Thatcher picked up the win. I figured Dijak would pick the win and challenge for the ATLAS Title at the PROGRESS event in Boston the next day, but that didn’t come to pass. Hathaway announced that Thatcher would cash in his title shot at the big show in Alexandra Palace next month, but based on developments that occurred on this show as well as the Boston show, it looks like that match will now be a Triple Threat Match with Thatcher, Matt Riddle, & WALTER.
The other big story to come out of this show was the injury to TK Cooper, who suffered a nasty injury (later confirmed to be a dislocated ankle) in the opening minutes of the PROGRESS Tag Team Title bout between British Strong Style & The South Pacific Power Trip. I did see TK Cooper on the floor for a few seconds after that big dive, and what I briefly saw caused images of Sid’s famous leg injury from WCW to flash through my mind. It looked like a broken leg initially, but it turned out to be a dislocated ankle, which I guess is a less serious injury (Full disclosure: I don’t know much about leg injuries). The crowd got very quiet, but they were all supportive of TK as he was carried to the back. It was a real shame to see this happen, especially after he and Dahlia Black just made their return to PROGRESS after getting their visa situation sorted out. Hopefully he makes a full and speedy recovery. After TK Cooper was carried away, the action continued in the form of a non-title handicap match that saw Travis Banks defeat Trent Seven & Tyler Bate. It came nowhere close to the quality of some of the other bouts on the card, but considering the circumstances, they did the best they could. Continuing a match after someone gets taken out with a serious injury has to be one of the hardest things to deal with, and I commend everyone involved for making the best of a bad situation.
As a whole, despite various issues here and there, the PROGRESS experience was simply phenomenal. The wrestling was great throughout the card, and the fans were amazing. We even got to see a proposal! This truly felt like an authentic PROGRESS atmosphere, but the only other criticism I would make is that it ran pretty late into the night, lasting about three and a half hours. I did here that a few people had to leave before the end of the show to catch their trains, and I myself just barely made it back to Port Authority Bus Terminal to catch my bus (the last bus left at 12:30, and I got there at 12:29). In hindsight, having what was originally a seven match card go that long is a little egregious, in my view. I’m not sure if the TK Cooper injury had anything to do with that, but still, it was tough on those who relied on public transportation to get home. I think that if PROGRESS does return to NYC, and runs at a similar time, they can do a better job with the timing and pacing of their card (though a slightly earlier start time would help as well).
It was also interesting to compare the PROGRESS show to EVOLVE, and the show they ran earlier in the day. This was brought up on the most recent episode of the Everything Evolves Podcast here on the VOD Podcast Network, but this double header really accentuated some of the issues EVOLVE has at the moment. PROGRESS has a clear identity, as you know exactly who they are, the kind of atmosphere they bring, their philosophy and the type of wrestling they promote. With EVOLVE, you know that (nine times out of ten) you’re going to see an entertaining show with some very good to great matches. Beyond that, they really lack an identity right now, and that’s something I talked about earlier this year in my review of EVOLVE 83. With the loss of so many key talents since WrestleMania Weekend in Dallas back in 2016, and weird influx of former ROH talents over the last few months (most of them have already finished their brief runs with EVOLVE, as they were basically in a holding pattern until they were signed to NXT), EVOLVE is truly in the midst of an identity crisis, and that was made more apparent when you compare them to PROGRESS. They have a ton of talented guys on their roster at the moment, but the promotion as a whole really needs to work on finding an identity, or they risk getting completely lost in the shuffle.
That wraps up my extended look at EVOLVE 91 & PROGRESS: NYC. If you haven’t seen either show yet, I would definitely recommend checking out both of them.