We’re in Birmingham at the O2 Academy for Chapter 61: Don’t Touch Me. Commentary comes from Glen Joseph and Matt Richards. Both nice lads.

PROGRESS Wrestling
Chapter 61: Don’t Touch Me
January 14, 2018
O2 Academy Birmingham
Birmingham, England

Watch: Demand PROGRESS

Jim Smallman kicks us off and has an important announcement; Mark Andrews is injured and is off the show. This in turn brings out Eddie Dennis to confront his former tag team partner. It feels like a part of this angle got lost, which is probably due to snow confining Mandrews to the south when PROGRESS ran in Sheffield. Apparently the booking was altered on that card and I can only hazard a guess that an Andrews-Dennis altercation was scheduled to take place. Instead that happens here with Dennis barking at his former best friend to fight him but Andrews wants none of it. This is clearly one of those slow-burning feuds and I dig what they’ve been doing with it so far. Eddie accidentally wrecks the importance of this with his Welsh inflections and the crowd mock him for it. Mark does a fine job of slyly burying and upsetting Dennis by saying “I’m sorry you felt you were in my shadow”. Also the timing of his pause when Eddie yells “you’re a fucking coward” as he’s walking away is excellent.

PROGRESS Tag Team Championship
Grizzled Young Veterans def. Moustache Mountain

Trent Seven has become PROGRESS’ go-to guy for humorous antics and that’s how this show starts out. It’s very comedy heavy. There’s a suggestion that perhaps title matches should be more important but the Grizzled Young Vets aren’t exactly the most serious of acts, routinely miscuing during matches and relying on Gibson’s promos for heat. Trent’s pre-match telephone conversation with Triple H is a major highlight. “You know Gibson? Yeah, ITV guy?” The “stay cerebral” sign off is one of the best off-the-cuff gags in ages.

The result of the pre-show angle and Trent’s antics mean it takes us 30 minutes to get to the actual wrestling, Tyler does some terrific work in trying to motivate his less athletic tag team partner. Another string to his considerable bow. The match itself runs around 14 minutes and starts comedy heavy before developing into a match where GYV’s sneak out with a belt shot to Bate. The pinfall doesn’t look great. Glen asks a meaningful question afterwards; “what’s next?” for the tag team division. Big T and the OJMO hopefully. Get them on the Chapter shows. ***

Drew Parker def. Chris Ridgeway

Drew is a belated replacement for Mark Andrews, although I suspect that was planned for a while with the Andrews-Dennis angle and Brookes being switched out of his Ridgeway match to wrestle Travis Banks. Shame Ridgeway vs. Andrews never happened because I reckon it would have been a banger. Some other time perhaps.

This match I was less excited about. Drew is a decent wrestler but he’s been concealing his inexperience by being in insane matches. Putting him in a straight up match with someone who’s more experienced and technically gifted is asking to expose him a little. To be fair to Drew he has improved a lot, which is why he’s here. Ridgeway does the better mat work but they’re fairly even in the stand up. The crowd is audibly less into this than anything else on the show, which is pretty inevitable given the lack of exposure both guys have and the match they put on. It does have high spots but it doesn’t have the ‘clash of styles’ magic that Ridgeway vs. Adam Chase had. I don’t want it to seem like this is a bad match because it’s really not but the Ridgeway-Chase match landed better and they try and replicate that. Parker deliberately doing more high flying stuff than usual and eeking out the win with a 450 Splash. Good effort from both guys. The future of British Wrestling is still bright. They keep coming through. ***1/4

Charli Evans & Millie McKenzie def. Bea Priestley & Nina Samuels

Bea is trying to make her character a bit of a weirdo and I’ve always considered her to play better as a bully. I’ll watch to see where she goes with it; jury is out right now. It’s nowhere near as weird here as it was at York Hall for Rev Pro. PROGRESS, like everywhere else, have noticed that Millie McKenzie is an outstanding professional wrestler and have gotten behind her quickly. It’s nice to see veteran (well, four years but that’s experienced nowadays) Nina Samuels getting a shot too. She’s very good at what she does. It’s great to see a group of wrestlers grow together, in this case the UK women’s wrestling scene. Someone like Bea, who was pretty useless a few years ago, is now an accomplished grappler with focus and a good understanding of psychology. Nina does a solid job here of controlling the younger women and structuring the match so that Charli takes a beating and Millie is left stewing on the apron, awaiting the fiery hot tag. It’s easy to forget that Millie isn’t particularly experienced, especially in tags but her timing here is exquisite. The interactions between Millie and Nina are particularly good. I’d like to see that in singles. It probably won’t happen in PROGRESS where Nina gets dumped on her head with a Coventry Destroyer for the pin. Hey, this was good too. ***

WWE United Kingdom Championship
Pete Dunne def. Joseph Conners

Conners has really struggled to adapt to the PROGRESS crowds and it’s not been helped by his behaviour being reinforced by people in the business. You have to adapt your game to suit a crowd. If you walk into a room and your shit is not over whatsoever then there’s an issue and you either need to remedy that or keep plugging away and hope for the best.  He’s stepping in the ring with a world beater here and that forces him to up his game. His pre-match chair assault and mimicked pose is good stuff. Conners has to prove himself here and he does so by taking some lovely bumps into the lawn furniture in the O2 and a sickening backdrop on the wooden floor. Killing yourself for people’s pleasure is one way of getting over. Conners hits another high, by grabbing a microphone mid-match and telling the crowd to “look at the person next to you…they’ve probably broken the one rule of PROGRESS”. The actual work in this is fine. It’s extremely hard to have a bad match with Pete Dunne so that was never going to be an issue. It was more about Conners trying to adapt and change and he at least takes a run at it. There’s one thing for sure; this is a better performance from Conners than anything Sebastian did during his much-maligned run. It’s probably not fair to even make the comparison but I’ve heard it made recently so it merits comment. I’m particularly pleased with Conners yelling “I fucking hate you too” to a fan who hated him. Pete shows Conners how to be a bastard here by going after his ear. Conners isn’t sadistic enough. Pete knocks him out of the air with a forearm on a tope and finishes with the Bitter End. Dunne retaining was an obvious outcome, as there’s no way Conners is going to carry that belt, but outcome aside this was a solid outing from the frequently criticised Conners. ***1/2

Will Ospreay def. Adam Brooks

“Loose Ledge” Brooks is having a little UK tour and isn’t particularly well known. He has already wrestled in PWG though. Brooks is keen to prove himself and matches Ospreay’s fast-paced start. Maybe with less flips but he’s in place for stuff. Ospreay gets slightly miffed at Brooks mocking his poses and we start into a belter. Ospreay has had so many great matches this year already. They throw caution to the wind early too, Brooks being thrown into the lads from ATTACK! who worked on the ring. Brooks’ cockiness clashes with Will’s own egotistical need to be the centre of attention. It makes for a game of one-upmanship. Ospreay is definitely the biggest show-off going but he manages to conceal it under the guise of ‘entertaining the fans’. When he needs to wrestle a subtle match he can (look at his bout against Sabre Jr at RPW’s Global Wars UK) but I almost prefer him when he wants to do a bunch of flips so he can out-do his opponent. Maybe the match quality isn’t as good but it’s so much fun. I love how Will has added another layer of moves to his moveset this year – the Marufuji hook kick and the 619 over the ropes for example. He’s learning from his experiences in other promotions. Ospreay kills himself in the bumps here too, flinging himself backwards onto his neck. He just can’t help it. Brooks eventually turns himself fully heel by spitting in Ospreay’s face and trying to punt him in the balls.

It’s also about big moves. The Destroyer on the apron is so uncalled for. Will does some cracking selling down the stretch but I also dig the savagery of his strikes when he mounts a comeback. The Decapitator Elbow is another very welcome new addition to his arsenal. Imploding 450 doesn’t get it done, so Ospreay hits the Oscutter. This was a fucking banger. Brooks brought a lot of character and Ospreay might be the best professional wrestler in the world right now. ****1/4

Jimmy Havoc & Mark Haskins def. Aussie Open

Aussie Open are doing good work with formula and Mark Davis is a cracking hot tag. Normally Havoc and Haskins are dickheads but Havoc opts for some early comedy here instead, tagging out immediately after taking one move from Davis. Obviously Kyle gets himself isolated and Havoc is a dick about, going after the ankle and doing the ‘replacing the opponent for the hot tag’ deal. The match does suffer from having to follow Ospreay-Brooks and logically Ospreay-Brooks probably should have come just before intermission to give the crowd a cooling off period afterwards. Haskins is his ever reliable self with Havoc opting for a more light-hearted approach to being a dick. Havoc has barely changed his offence from when he was a babyface. I liked this match just fine but by this point on the show my attention took a stroll. It gets dragged back by Mark Davis missing a tope completely and killing himself into the chairs. That’s a lot of size for that spot! H&H hit the Kiss of Death on Fletcher to get the win. If they didn’t have heel champions with the tag belts they’d surely be due a title shot. Aussie Open would make logical challengers but with a loss you can’t really justify putting them in that spot. What do Havoc & Haskins want from PROGRESS anyway? I can’t really tell. Do they want titles or do they want to ruin everything for the new guys? ***1/4

PROGRESS World Championship
Travis Banks def. Chris Brookes

These two lads are tag partners in CCK, although not in PROGRESS. So they recognise each others stuff and switch it up to keep each other unbalanced. Brookes in particular tries different things to get into Travis’ head. Matt points out that Travis has all his friends lining up to fight him and how much that must suck. It’s a good dynamic. This match won’t ruin Brookes and Banks’ friendship but he’s then got TK Cooper on the horizon too. It’s interesting to note that Travis draws a line under what he’ll let Brookes get away with. So when Brookes tries for the wet willy Travis shuts it down. Brookes is the same, cutting off a cannonball by booting Trav in the spine. It’s a match full of counters based around how well they know each other so throughout they have to switch it up; Travis hits Slice of Heaven off the apron which is new. Brookes, in response, starts stealing Travis’ moves and Banks responds in kind. It’s good storytelling throughout although sometimes it doesn’t quite come off as they’d like. I do love Brookes tapping out when he’s just made it into the ropes during the Lion’s Clutch. I feel like they don’t let the match breathe enough though, and rush from one sequence to another, perhaps pressured by being in the main event slot and having to live up to Ospreay-Brookes. The storytelling peaks with Brookes tempted to use the PROGRESS title belt but having second thoughts because they’re mates. He sure smacks Travis in the head with the CCK cookie sheet. TK Cooper opts to pull the referee out to preserve his title opportunity. This gives Travis the opening to finish with the Lion’s Clutch. I enjoyed this a great deal and liked the issues between CCK and TK Cooper. ***3/4

Post Match Travis Banks and Chris Brookes make up, being aware they may have crossed a line with the cookie sheet but allow it because of Brookes’ desperation to win. However Brookes is in a less forgiving mood with TK Cooper, who cost him the title. There’s also a nice bit of storytelling when TK hands Travis the title belt and holds onto it for too long.

Final Thoughts:

Don’t Touch Me was a beautifully consistent show. Everything delivered. The stand-out match coming from Ospreay and Brooks but everyone should be proud of what they achieved here. Even the maligned Conners delivered, albeit in a match he shouldn’t fail in under any circumstances. Ospreay meanwhile is on an absolute tear. His start to 2018 has been incredible and he’s having excellent matches with everyone.