We’re in Manchester at the O2 Ritz for Chapter 57: Enter Smiling.

PROGRESS Wrestling
Chapter 57: Enter Smiling
November 12, 2017
02 Ritz
Manchester, England

Watch: Demand PROGRESS

Host in the ring, as always, is Jim Smallman. He starts out by shaming the fans who’ve never been before. While this is good for a laugh at the live shows but it could probably be excised from the VOD. I know a few people who skip it. Hosts are Glen Joseph and Matt Richards.

Jimmy Havoc & Mark Haskins def. Jack Sexsmith & Matt Riddle

Sexsmith had a ‘mystery partner’ here after David Starr wasn’t available to follow up on the angle where Havoc & Haskins turned heel at the last show. Sexsmith cuts a lovely little promo about not having ‘friends’ in the business but you can rely on your family and your “bros”. Havoc does some mild comedy stuff with Sexsmith while Riddle and Haskins give each other a beating. Sexsmith makes a point of firing up on Havoc after a while, because he needs to be taken seriously to move up to the next level. It’s interesting to note he’s stopped wearing the uggs. This is for the best. It’s still Sexsmith that’s picked off for heat, which logically makes sense but kinda hurts his attempt at revenge. Instead it’s Riddle who executes the revenge ploy on his behalf.

There’s an awkward spot where Sexsmith has to position himself for a pinfall so Havoc can pull him out of the ring. It’s very obvious that he’s out of position and correcting himself. The crowd don’t seem to notice, or care, because they’re so into Riddle doing Riddle things. Vickie Haskins is the X factor for Havoc and Haskins and she stops Riddle in his tracks. Luckily for her Riddle is a gentleman. Riddle gets taped to the ring post and Sexsmith is left alone to lose. Sexsmith tries valiantly but he can’t fight against two men and his revenge will have to wait for another day. The tease after the match is that Riddle isn’t done with Havoc & Haskins either. ***1/4

Joe Coffey def. Doug Williams

Outside of ICW Joe has had a rough year. It’s stemmed largely from working with Five Star and ITV and all that collapsing. He’s been unlucky. He’s also regressed a little in the ring but again that’s not really his fault. If you’re not working top talent regularly you’re going to struggle. Just working one place will inhibit your progress.

Joe knows his gimmick and has gotten someone to basically re-write Ironman as an instrumental. These guys know they won’t be able to out-modern wrestle everyone else on this card but they sure have a few tricks up their sleeve. Doug almost laughing during a long criss-cross sequence is evidence of how much fun he’s having. They certainly work hard. It’s not the mat-based affair that Doug had with Thatcher and they do a lot of standing counters. Doug isn’t as crisp as he once was and Joe finds himself waiting for Williams a few times. It’s pleasing that the crowd get into the match and support both guys. I’m not overly fond of Joe kicking out of the Chaos Theory, which has always been a killer finish. Joe hits the discus lariat out of nowhere for the win but this was all about Doug Williams. I would have put Doug over and had him go on ‘one last run’. He turned back the clock here. It was lovely to see. Post match Doug gets a deserved standing ovation. It’s not just about tonight it’s about his celebrated career and what a sublime ambassador for British Wrestling Doug has been during my entire adult life. What a talent. During the dark days of BritWres he was a shining beacon of excellence. He had to go to Japan and the USA to ply his trade. I’m thrilled that BritWres is now a place where people can make a living. Love you, Doug. Thank you for your sacrifices. ***1/2

Alex Windsor def. Candyfloss, Dahlia Black & Jinny

Candy is making her chapter debut. She has a ‘cute’ gimmick, which will no doubt get over in Japan one day. Interesting that Dahlia, the only one with decent entrance music, gets the biggest pop. Technically she’s also the biggest babyface but hey. Her issues with former BFF Jinny started in the USA during the tour shows and has continued. Toni Storm joins commentary for this match, which is pretty cool. Having a champion turn up for a show they’re not wrestling on is a habit of a big-time promotion that plans ahead and wants to create strong storylines. There is carnage from the bell with Dahlia and Jinny both taking a Brookesing. Jinny actually clears her way to the back row! Jinny and Dahlia end up brawling to the back, the camera picking up on Jim Smallman’s incredulity as they go past him. It slyly leaves the focus on Candy on her debut. The progress that the women’s division has made in Europe over the past two years is pleasing. They started off as good characters but have morphed into solid wrestlers. The newer additions (Candy, Charlie Morgan, Millie McKenzie etc.) just demonstrate that depth that didn’t exist in the past. Alex drops Candy with a DDT to get a shot at Toni after Jinny and Dahlia brawl out of the ring a second time. Alex Windsor has a few bad matches on her resume but she’s solid given the right opponent. It’s a fresh challenger for Toni but nothing more than a stop-gap in the long term booking. ***

British Strong Style def. Grizzled Young Veterans

Moustache Mountain’s flop back face has been well received in PROGRESS, where people have wanted to cheer them for some time. Trent has basically been wrestling face for six months anyway. Gibson is drowned out by the fans, as per usual, but his promos have gotten ridiculously good recently. His generic “sooooon” promo has developed into something else. Trent stirs shit up by pointing out everyone in the match has a WWE contract apart from Gibson. “We’re your boys”. Trent’s mockery is hilarious and the same kind of thing he does before Fight Club Pro shows. He’s so good at taking the piss. Gibson vs. Seven on promos is honestly brilliant. “Get in, colleague” says Seven to Drake. “We’ll plan the Christmas party”. Grizzled Young Vets are generally working heel heat matches but they do a lot of light-hearted comedy here. Joseph Conners runs in after a few minutes, making it four WWE UK guys and poor contractless Zack. Conners starts to run down Pete Dunne, claiming he’s “probably sunning himself in Orlando” and Pete is here! It’s a six-man!

Trent goes in for crowd interaction by using a child as a weapon. Pete Dunne uses a crew member as a weapon. They’ve been heading toward a banter-driven unit for a while. The storyline of the match is that Pete goes down with an injury and Trent finds himself isolated. The good news is that James Drake finally looks to have gotten over. No joy for Conners as yet. These things take time. I’ve seen a lot of these British Strong Style trios matches but this one does feel very different because of the dominance of the heels and Pete Dunne spending so long out on the floor. Dunne’s intensity is a major highlight as he treats Conners like someone who’s legitimately upset him. Dunne’s belittling of Drake shows who the real star is in this match. When it breaks down British Strong Style all pin Drake at the same time, which is clearly not legal. I’m sure Robin Reid is enraged. British Strong Style are running through their finishers when Conners hits Dunne with a chair for the DQ. Not sure I get what Conners is all about. What is his motivation here? Join a match he’s not in, get surprised by Pete Dunne who he surely saw backstage at some point and then lose the match on purpose. Everyone else was good and the pre-match promos were killer. Pete demands Conners in a one-on-one and gets it booked for the next show. ***1/4

PROGRESS Tag Team Championships
#CCK def. Ringkampf (Thatcher & WALTER)

Kid Lykos is cleared and back in action after his broken paw. However he’s now up against WALTER and a two-eyed Tim Thatcher. “Pray for Lykos” chant the crowd as the poor little wolf gets murdered by Thatcher stretching him. Brookes makes the mistake of sticking his finger in Brookes’ ear and that gets him the jaw-held slaps and his bad shoulder stomped. Lykos leans heel, with a low blow, because he needs to survive. Tim is great in this match, looking unimpressed with #CCK’s antics and WALTER plays more of a cameo role. Ringkampf feel like a grown up manly team against a couple of crazy kids who caught a lucky break in winning the belts. Especially when Lykos has to face off against WALTER. He tries, the shitty little wolf, but he’s really got no chance and that’s the issue. WALTER is very good at making other people look capable of beating him, even when you don’t get that feeling from everything else in your brain. When WALTER switches gears it seems like it’s only a matter of time before he’s a double champ. #CCK use sick fucking tag moves on Tim to retain. It’s interesting to note that WALTER wasn’t even in the ring at the time. Eliminating WALTER was key to #CCK retaining. I’m not convinced it was a logical victory but it was a well-fought one. As per usual WALTER was stunning but Tim Thatcher was great here. ***3/4

Keith Lee def. Flash Morgan Webster

This was an intriguing booking decision by the PROGRESS lads. Keith Lee has been in a series of dream matches during his UK tour but no one has thrown him into this underdog scenario against a plucky smaller wrestler (apart from Travis Banks, but he came in as champion). The crowd are really fired up for this, given Keith’s recent track record of pure excellence. Flash tries a few interesting approaches, when Keith doesn’t take him at all seriously, including cheap shotting Keith while he’s basking and trying various holds. The sunset flip is predictably unsuccessful but the best part of Flash’s approach is that he keeps moving and keeps trying something different. The tope where Flash is caught like a child is the point at which Webster realises just how out of his depth he really is. Keith is a monster but you forget he’s a monster because he smiles all the time. Keith’s chops in this are savage. They need to be. Flash needs to take a thrashing, otherwise he’d probably draw heat for dodging the abuse. Webster’s sheer range of attempts to survive and inflict abuse on Keith are hugely entertaining. He does a few things that worked for Travis, like a series of quick dives, harking back to Lee’s Progress title shot. Flash also does a masterful job of selling during the match with his expressions. Like when his headbutt has no effect whatsoever. By the end Flash has nothing left. He’s taken such a thrashing from Big Keith. There is one last twist in the tale where Webster kicks out of the Spirit Bomb but it’s just delaying the inevitable. Great story between the monster Keith and a plucky resilient Webster. Ground Zero puts Flash away but he showed Manchester his grit and determination. He hung with Keith Lee here! ****

PROGRESS World Championship
Travis Banks def. Mark Andrews

Mark Andrews is a perennial challenger. As long as there’s a PROGRESS Championship, Mandrews will be there. This is his 7th title shot since losing to Jimmy Havoc all those years ago. Whoever the champion has been Mark Andrews has been there to challenge him. And lose.

Here we get some fan friendly stuff, although it’s all a bit lightweight. Flips and dives for the sake of having a cruiserweight style match because they’re both so small. Travis has a vicious suicide dive. Andrews finds himself absorbing a string of abuse and has to find counters to Banks’ trademark spots like a Slice of Heaven into a powerbomb. It’s predictably smooth pro-wrestling with slick mat work. It doesn’t particularly capture my imagination and it’s notable that the crowd aren’t as into this as they were Keith Lee vs. Flash. This is despite the efforts of both men. It’s a tonally weird match as they go into this big near falls like Andrews kicking out of the Kiwi Krusher and the reaction is very muted. The crowd are noisy throughout but it’s hard to buy into a potential title switch. Even when Andrews is hitting reverse superranas and the shooting star press. Lions Clutch finishes Andrews off and Banks retains. I liked this match but it struggled to draw me in. Being technically proficient is easy, when you know how, but actually drawing in an emotional response is hard. After the match that asshole Eddie Dennis runs in and lays out Mark, which makes me sad. There’s the emotional connection. He lays out Travis too and poses with the PROGRESS title. ***1/2

Final Thoughts:

Enter Smiling was a consistently good show, which is exactly what you’d expect from PROGRESS. As a promotion they put out these consistently good cards, show after show. Sometimes they’re spectacular. This wasn’t one of those shows but it was good. Keith Lee/Flash Morgan Webster is a highlight for me but there’s nothing you really need to go out of your way to watch. It’s just a solid show. Thumbs up though.