We’re in Camden at the Electric Ballroom for the final PROGRESS show of 2017: Unboxing Live 2. PROGRESS have made a habit of trying to be unpredictable of late, which makes this card all the more tantalising.
Chapter 60: Unboxing Live 2
December 30, 2017
Watch: Demand PROGRESS
Host in the ring is Jim Smallman. He points out today is going to be a bit silly. The Ballroom is looking very festive and Jim is massively up for this show; his energy levels are visibly higher than on recent shows. That’s not a criticism of previous shows, just an observation of how fired up he is here. His bit on Jim Duggan is brilliant. “We can’t afford Virgil”. “We’re doing Liger against Hacksaw Jim Duggan”. I may have suggested trimming Jim’s intro in a previous review but this was brilliant. Keep it all in.
Elimination Tag Match
Chris Brookes, James Drake, Mark Davis & Tyler Bate def. “Kid Lykos”, Kyle Fletcher, Trent Seven & Zack Gibson
The tease is Moustache Mountain vs. Aussie Open. However CCK’s music plays and we also get Chris Brookes… and inflatable Kid Lykos. Inflatable Kid Lykos is a national treasure. It looks like a fun time until the Grizzled Young Vets show up to be team four. Only it’s not, it’s a four man elimination tag match and Gibson & Drake are the captains. They have to pick their teams. When Gibbo refuses Trent and Tyler get to be captains. “Like Survivor Series but we’re not allowed to call it that”.
Lykos starts and headlocks Dunkzilla. This is very DDT with Brookes playing outside helper on a series of running shoulderblocks. Richards and Leslie treating Lykos like a living being is good work from both lads. Gibson isn’t playing and Roberts forces a legal tag. I love how everyone basically treats Lykos like a logical actual person and it leaves Gibson and Drake looking in from the outside and thinking everyone is weird. I love it when weird stuff is considered normal by everyone involved. Trent’s horrible conditioning is a cause of much mirth, usually with help from Tyler. People get confused and the Grizzled Young Vets get hit with a bunch of moves and are thrown on top of each other for a double pin. Oh, good lord.
The madness is not over as Brookes walks off with Lykos so he can brawl with him on the balcony! Brookes managing a competitive brawl against an inanimate object is like him auditioning for DDT. The “I’m sorry, I love you” before tossing Lykos off the balcony is wrestling at its purest. Tyler goes for the Tyler Driver ’97 on Lykos and Kyle rolls him up for the pin! Oh my word.
Fletcher is ditched by Brookes, after Roberts fails to count three on a clear pinfall. I love Lykos attempting a brainbuster on Brookes but Mark Davis puts him out with Close Your Eyes (and Count to Fuck). It’s an emotional moment. Trent is left against Brookes and Davis. Perhaps he’s not made the best of tactical choices during this match. However his violent brawl with Davis, albeit brief, reminds me that I want that singles match. Trent has been buried in tags and trios matches for over a year. He has some epic singles matches up his sleeve. He decks Davis with the Seven Stars and then gives Brookes the same, only to pull him up on the pin to hit a piledriver, which is countered into a roll up. Death By Roll Up! Brookes takes it for his team. This was hugely entertaining. It was silly for the most part but the interactions between characters were near perfect from the picking of the team section. ***3/4
Jack Sexsmith def. Joe Coffey
Sexsmith has had a blinding 2017, moving from ProJo graduate level (he was mixing it up with Mambo, Eaver and Sebastian last Unboxing) to a genuine competitor. One that can match skills, if not physique, with the very best. He’s also perfected his selling and last gasp kick-outs. He’s got that underdog vibe but he’s also convincing in what he does. I don’t just expect him to get beaten up anymore, I expect him to create an interesting narrative as to how he’s going to battle a bigger opponent. Whether it’s through psychological warfare or speed or technical surprises. Here it’s psychological, as he refuses to be backed down, and even yells at Coffey to hit him harder, causing Joe to tire himself out beating on him. The biggest moment in this match is Jack hurling Mr Cocko out of the ring, with the assertion that he’s going to take 2018 seriously. He promptly catches Joe out with an assortment of jabbing offence. There is a sloppy set up on the crossface finish, which is a pity, but otherwise this was rock solid from Sexsmith. That one little flub will probably sit in his memory but he should be proud of how he’s evolved in 2017. Sexsmith’s tearful post match promo where he talks about the “fucking mess” that his 2017 has been outside of the ring is beautiful. “You guys invested in me, man, I can’t thank you enough”. Jack is so easy to like. It’s no wonder the crowd are on their feet for the fella. ***1/4
Millie McKenzie def. Candyfloss, Chakara, Charlie Morgan, Charli Evans, Sierra Loxton
Chakara has been working on her look, because she was far too likeable for a heel. She’s gone for an Egyptian goddess. Some chapter debuts here and a sign that British women’s wrestling is about to get extremely hot. The talent is there and most of them are really young with huge upside. Charlie Morgan and Millie McKenzie are phenomenal for their experience levels. Chakara is the only firm heel and she seems to be working Candy. Speaking of which, Floss looks so comfy in the ring. She’s another natural. The experience levels and ability levels vary here but they do have one thing in common; they’re all on the up in this business. It’s tough to put together six-way matches but they do a solid job of getting over some of the personalities and styles. Especially Candy. The varying talent levels sometimes cause issues but I am excited to see Millie vs. Charlie Morgan at some point. Millie gets to throw suplexes, Sierra gets to throw hip attacks. The idea seems to be to introduce these women to a larger audience, rather than to put on a good match but those Millie/Charlie interactions are crisp as hell. Millie pins Charlie for the win. Presumably she’s in line for a title shot at some point and I would love to see Millie vs. Toni Storm. However you slice it, the group pose at the end of this match shows the future of women’s wrestling in this country is bright. **3/4
12 Days of Christmas Match
Mark Haskins & Jimmy Havoc def. Clint Margera & Drew Parker
There are Christmas presents in the ring and the contents of those presents are legal in this match. What are they? Time will tell but Vicky Haskins has a barbwire bat covered in fairy lights so I expect something seasonal and violent. More debuts here! Margera is FCP’s death match guy. Drew Parker is everywhere’s death match guy. Drew is only a kid but he’s after that ultra-violent niche already. He’s got a great attitude and no fear. “Seasons greetings, one and all, now fucking kill each other” – Jim. Clint gets lager, Drew gets a kendo stick and the bad lads get Lynx gift sets. Haskins is along for a death match ride here with the others and Havoc does a lot of violent things with lemons and such. There are “Unboxing vouchers” so Jimmy orders the ring crew to go and get him some tables. Kudos to the crew guy who gets the voucher for his reaction facial. Haskins vs. Parker in a straight match is another contest I wouldn’t mind seeing. PROGRESS has really freshened up their cards since Travis Banks won the title. It’s pretty surreal watching these guys batter each other on the floor with Jodie Marsh looking on. There are an assortment of weapons including a TV and a box of Lego. There’s a lot of blood and Drew gets to show off his skills, both in taking abuse and getting creative. His double flip dive is beautifully executed. If the match achieves nothing else with its random acts of violence, then it gets Drew Parker over fully with the Camden crowd. He eats an Acid Rainmaker/bat shot combo for the loss but earns the respect of yet another audience. ***1/4
Rampage Brown def. Flash Morgan Webster
Rampage has his actual music again, which is dubbed on VOD. The crowd reaction tells me this is the way forward. Flash is wanting to be taken more seriously too. He’s definitely improved since coming back from the shoulder injury, although he’s relatively directionless. Great match versus Keith Lee for example. Rampage is one of the original PROGRESS Big Lads but he’s put the work in elsewhere during 2017 and he’s in great shape. Both for power moves, which he’s always been good at, but his all round game is very slick now. The story of the match is much like Flash-Lee, with poor Webster taking a beating and pulling out desperation kick-outs. It’s perhaps a little too soon after the last time he got beaten up and lost, although it’s clearly part of a bigger, longer storyline. One of the major highlights of the contest is the crowd singing the 12 Rampage Brown’s of Christmas. This somewhat distracting for Flash’s comebacks unfortunately, which is supposed to the focus of the match but the crowd are more into Rampage. The trouble with having a guy lose a lot is eventually he’ll just be considered a loser. Rampage does give him plenty of big spots to ensure he doesn’t look like he’s being squashed. Lots of kick-outs and comebacks. Rampage kills Flash with a powerbomb off the top and a piledriver finishes the contest. This was like a lesser Keith Lee-Flash match but still very solid. Post match Flash grabs a mic to say he’s going away for a bit because he doesn’t know where he fits in. It makes sense, as his stock could get hurt by a prolonged sequence of losses but he’s gotten so much better during 2017. ***1/2
PROGRESS World Championship
Travis Banks def. Will Ospreay
This is certainly a shocker! Ospreay had left PROGRESS after a defeat to Jimmy Havoc. There’s no reasoning for his return but I’ll take it. He’s one of the best professional wrestlers in the world. Jim botches the Ospreay introduction by calling Best of the Super Juniors “Battle of the Super Juniors” and claiming Will is the only IWGP Junior Champion from the UK, ever, when the current champion is Marty Scurll (at time of show). This has a tasty ‘big match’ feel, which is what you get with Ospreay. It’s notable that Ospreay is faster and more creative than the aggressive, smashmouth champion. It’s a challenge that deviates from Travis’ other title defences. There’s nobody like Ospreay. Travis is modifying his work slowly as champion and something I really dig is how he stops being in position for abuse in the middle of it, like Ospreay’s spinal taps, to mount a comeback. It looks weird but it’s great logic. Why would you sit there waiting for the other guy to finish kicking you? Unfortunately this approach leads to Ospreay dumping him on his head thanks to mid-move transitions. Ospreay continues to defy physics and manages a 619 that somehow connects with a standing Travis. Short jokes aside; that should not be possible. Banks targets Ospreay’s bad neck and it’s getting to the point where Will landing on his neck and downright uncomfortable to watch. You don’t need to do that, mate. The argument for is that the true great bumps like maniacs. The argument against is that Ospreay is special without landing on his neck. I’d rather he had a long, healthy career, rather than Tom Billington shortness and being wheelchair bound. That said a lot of this match is relatively safe and Travis takes the nastiest looking bump. Will does fine work in knowing his character’s strengths and while he has learned to hit harder in Japan, he gets decked when they duel because Travis brings that New Zealand strong style. Will also shows bits and pieces that he’s learned over the past year. Like the 619 from wrestling Rey and the around-the-corner kick from Marufuji. He’s lacing bits together into a bigger tapestry and developing the most dynamic moveset in wrestling. Well, apart from Kenny Omega but Ospreay might even have better variety. This match is so great. Ospreay tries to bring his Rainmaker and Travis completely no sells it. It’s the two characters colliding. Ospreay with all he’s learned and his Little Kaz gimmick versus Travis and his Terminator approach. Ospreay’s Decapitator Elbow is fucking magic. As is Travis countering the Oscutter by hitting the Slice of Heaven on Will in mid-air. In mid-air! Then they do the same in reverse and the timing is so, so good. Ospreay tries to flippity off the top but his Shooting Star is caught into the cutter and the Lion’s Clutch finishes. Oh my god, this was brilliant. There’s a moment, just after the bout, where they grab each others hands. This meant a lot to Travis Banks. I’ve seen this match before, in FCP, but it was nowhere near this good. Wow. Jaw dropping. ****3/4
Post Match Travis grabs the mic to say he’ll wrestle absolutely anyone in 2018 and TK Cooper is here! Holy shit! He asks for a title match, with Trav still recovering from Keep It 100 kicking in during his speech. There’s no turn or anything here. Just a friend asking a friend for a title match. Lovely stuff. They could have ended the show at this point and sent me home happy. It is like 3 hours in at this point.
WWE United Kingdom Championship
Pete Dunne def. Jack Gallagher
I’m not sure I approve of the WWE UK title going on last, after the PROGRESS title. It’s weird to see Jack back with an attitude. He was always a babyface in PROGRESS and with Pete recently turned we have an angry, invading Jack. It’s an aggressive bout with very little technical business occurring. As if they felt the need to move outside of their comfort zone to wrestle this impromptu main event. It’s very hard to live up to the previous match so Pete makes a point of throwing himself into this, rather than relying on character. His strikes are just as beautiful as ever and Jack does a fine job of getting over an unfamiliar character and challenging himself in the process. It’s a very good match. There are some sensational counters. The block of the corner dropkick into a powerbomb from Pete is incredible. Jack plays up his heel persona here by trying to use the ropes on a pin before stealing Brian Kendrick’s finish. The Bully Choke! Pete is having none of it and they battle back and forth doing false finishes until Pete kills Gallagher with the Jumping Tombstone. This was really good but it did suffer because it followed Travis-Will. Good work from both guys, and the countering was lovely. ***3/4
Post Match Pete Dunne punts Callum Leslie in the nuts for old times sake.
Unboxing was a long show but it was a very worthwhile one. The opening mixed up tag teams business was hilarious and a riotous success. Banks-Ospreay was blow-away good. Everything else was at the very least entertaining, and the way this set up future runs for the likes of Sexsmith, Flash and Millie was a joy to behold. Great show to the end the year from PROGRESS. I’m fired up for 2018.