PROGRESS Chapter 64: Thunderbastards Are Go!
February 25, 2018
The Electric Ballroom
Camden, London

We’re in Camden at the Electric Ballroom. PROGRESS show times have been creeping up regularly past the three hour mark so I was quite pleased to see this one land at 3h 4m. Jim Smallman introduces the show from the ring and the focus is on the sound booth’s removal at the Ballroom. Commentary comes from Glen Joseph and Matt Richards.

Sexy Starr def. The Anti-Fun Police (Chief Deputy Dunne & Los Federales Santos Jr)

Great to see Los Federales Santos Jr in PROGRESS. He’s earned that by being consistently funny on other shows. I’m also happy to see the return of Sexy Starr. Santos getting worked up at Starr’s suggestion that this will be “fun” is marvellous. Santos doesn’t do much here but he doesn’t need to. That’s the beauty of the character. When he stops the kissing spot and lays a liplock on everyone, resulting in Dunne absolutely freaking out I am in bits. If this doesn’t get him a regular gig everywhere I’ll be upset. He’s totally over as a babyface though, instantly. Sexy Starr double team Dunne for the pin but Los Federales Santos Jr was the star of this one. His act has gotten steadily better over the past year and he’s worked hard to be here. Meanwhile both Starr and Sexsmith looked good in victory, joining in with the comedy until Dunne crossed a line and then winning with relative ease to show their superiority. Fun opener. After the win Jack talks about his Road to the Championship shot at Chapter 69. Next up are Havoc & Haskins, who heel turned on this duo. ***

Charlie Morgan def. Millie McKenzie

Charlie turned heel on Toni Storm at the last show so now she’s part of the House of Couture. Toni’s only potential ally is Millie, so Jinny has targeted her here. They opt to have the more experienced Morgan run heat, which is fine. Charlie is capable of both heel and face work. Millie plays her fiery babyface role perfectly, waiting for an opening for her suplexes and strikes. Charlie slightly upsets her rhythm but being somewhat tentative hitting moves. Millie has none of the same issues, which leads to her offence looking more explosive. In a way Charlie does Millie a favour by making her look more important. Jinny mistimes her interference too, whiffing on a boot shot on the floor and having to swing a second time. Charlie finishes with the Implant DDT to stress the strength of the House of Couture. The numbers game paying off. **1/2

Natural Progression Series
Mark Davis def. Maverick Mayhew

Mayhew and Davis both overcame their tag team partners to get here. However there is a huge difference between plucky upstart Mayhew and the huge and experienced Aussie Davis. Dunkzilla is so much bigger than Mayhew. Maverick has to bring speed and tricky lucha moves, which he excels at. While he can take Davis off his feet, the difference between his best stuff and a Mark Davis punch is enormous. Davis just manhandles the poor kid. Instead of it being a squash it becomes an intriguing battle for Maverick to overcome the odds and fire up against a genuine monster. They even have me believing that Mayhew can win with flash pins. Davis gets sick of that, kills him with the running forearm and finishes with Close Your Eyes (And Count to Fuck). One of the most brutal versions of that piledriver I’ve seen in quite some time. This was great. ***1/2

PROGRESS Tag Team Championship
Grizzled Young Vets def. Jimmy Havoc & Mark Haskins (c)

PROGRESS generally don’t do title rematches as the norm but they did quite a few last summer and here’s another. The heel/heel dynamic of the original match meant it was tough to find someone to route for. There’s an interesting pre-match note. Gibson foregoes his usual spiel because he’s taking this so seriously. The crowd feel the same as me as chant “none of these guys” and “you’re all wankers”. They even side with Chris Roberts over both teams. There’s nothing technically wrong with the wrestling but with no one to even think about siding with what’s the point? At least the atmosphere isn’t tainted as the crowd get behind hating everyone equally. Jimmy Havoc is the focal point of the match. First by raking eyes and then by messing up his knee on a double stomp to the floor.

Match is over and Gibson cuts a promo to kill time. He goads Haskins into defending the belts by himself by pointing out he “walked away from one title reign”. Finally we get a babyface, whether intention or not, in the form of Haskins. It’s a little strange that the Grizzled Young Vets won the titles accidentally due to a Kid Lykos injury and now find themselves in the same situation after transitioning the belts to Havoc & Haskins. The solo Mark Haskins sees him get a lot of crowd support and him clearly have the match won several times, only for the GYV to use the numbers game. Grizzled Young Vets are able to hit a succession of double teams with Roberts just allowing both men in the ring for most of the match. Havoc returns, tags in and gets beaten with Ticket to Mayhem instantly. Well this whole thing was just bizarre. The Havoc injury, the babyface Haskins battling the odds and then the flat finish. In isolation the Haskins vs. the odds section was good but, as a whole, the match was strange. **3/4

Zack Sabre Jr def. Jonah Rock

Big Jonah is making his PROGRESS debut. He is a huge bloke. His chest is extremely thick. Sabre Jr’s new entrance music “Mother” by Idles is getting over huge. It’s a great sing-a-long. The story of this match is Jonah bringing in his powerhouse offence and Sabre countering that with his usual technical skill and flummoxing Rock. As Jonah throws Sabre around it makes me wish they’d put Rock in with a bigger opponent to really showcase his power. Like Rampage Brown. Sabre does a bang-up job of making Jonah look like a killer by selling a lot for him, including a sensational back bump into the crowd from a chop. Sabre’s technical stuff never ceases to amaze me. Here baiting Jonah into stomping him just so he can hook a leg grapevine. Sabre is having a killer year already and this is yet another example of his capacity to have his match work with any opponent. This is at the lower end of the scale for a combination of reasons; a lack of familiarity in Jonah’s work, a slight clash of styles and Sabre having to take big bumps to sell Jonah’s big offence, which isn’t his strength. Where the match does succeed is in drawing up limitations of what to expect from Jonah and then having him smash them. Especially with regards to the ropes. Jonah getting all fired up and kicking out of stuff at one, no selling and generally being a total badass works. Sabre picks him off with a heel hook but it felt like a hard fought victory due to Jonah’s aggression. Really good stuff. Hey, it’s Zack Sabre Jr. ***3/4

Thunderbastard Match

Last year’s Thunderbastard did a cracking job of piecing together bits and pieces of storylines and having them pay off. It was excellent and rewarded long-term fans. Rich Kraetsch parachuted in and found it all very confusing. Tyler Bate and Chris Brookes start. West Midlands represent! They do some tidy technical stuff until #3 arrives, which is TK Cooper. He has issues with Brookes and they absolutely wail on each other, brawling out of control on the floor. The crowd are very into TK vs. Brookes, which is weird as the feud has actually hurt Travis Banks as champion as he’s been stuck in the middle. #4 is Trent Seven and that gives Moustache Mountain a teaming advantage. Trent brings a comedy element too. His backflip has no flip. #5 is Eddie Dennis, competing in his last match for months with his pectoral surgery scheduled right after this. Eddie really struggles to do anything because of the injury. He has to dodge anything that looks like it’ll ruin him. So they can realistically have the match without him getting hurt any worse. #6 is Flash Morgan Webster and Eddie’s disappointment at it not being Mark Andrews is palpable. Flash hits the Eton Rifle on Eddie and this results in Dennis curling up in the foetal position. #7 is Pete Dunne. It’s a little weird how there have been no eliminations so everyone just waits around on the floor for most of the match. #8 is Mark Andrews. He’s the final man in the match and Eddie, who had been lying on the floor, jumps back into the ring, determined to fight his former best friend.

Andrews vs. Dennis is one of the feuds of the year and they’ve not had a match. While Eddie is getting fired up TK Cooper rolls him up for the pin! I honestly thought Dennis was winning this match. I do love that he never even got to touch Mark here. Brookes is the next focal point, going on a rampage and this includes a canny spot where he traps Flash into a brainbuster as a counter to Morgan’s headbutt. Focus then switches to Webster as Matt Richards shows us how many of Flash’s moves he knows the names for. I told Matt to his face at Fight Club: PRO that I felt he’d developed into a good commentator and that’s been in evidence on this show too. A combination of confidence and knowledge. He seems totally at ease. Focus then switches to Pete Dunne, the biggest star in the match, as he bosses the majority of his opponents with relative ease. It’s one of his most dynamic performances in PROGRESS for some time. The British Strongstyle lads threaten to overwhelm proceedings as they can triple team everyone. This is especially in evidence when TK tries to do his circle below the waist deal and Dunne bites his fingers. TK sneak punts Tyler and Trent in the balls but when Pete retorts Paz catches him and Dunne is out! Sneaky fucking Kiwi. Then he rolls up Trent and gets his third elimination.

Given his recent history TK Cooper needed a strong showing here and he’s certainly got that; eliminating three and overcoming the odds of British Strong Style single-handedly. Brookes dumps him with the Praying Mantis Bomb to further their issues. TK got to stay strong here and Brookes got the upper hand on him to extend their feud. This leaves a final four of Chris Brookes, Tyler Bate, Mark Andrews and Flash Morgan Webster. There are less issues with those that remain. Mark and Flash are pals and Brookes and Tyler had issues last year with CCK vs. Moustache Mountain. Andrews pins Brookes after a series of moves from him and Tyler. His involvement essentially ended because his storyline arc with TK had peaked. Tyler Driver ’97 puts Mark out and it’s Webster vs. Bate for the title shot. They have a technically sound contest but there’s a weird dynamic. Webster had a losing streak and an angle with Vickie Haskins, which seems to have stalled. Bate is an excellent wrestler but seeing as BSS all turned face he seems to have nothing to do. He gets all fired up here to take on Flash. When Tyler starts no selling and looking like a badass he comes across as a bigger star.

Speaking of the Vickie Haskins angle; she runs down here denying Tyler the clear win by distracting Paz. And yet Flash clearly doesn’t want her help. It’s a weird angle. Hopefully it pays off. Flash then catches Tyler with a fluke pin to win the Thunderbastard. I’m not overly keen on the finish as Tyler looked the better man and the distraction finish didn’t feel like enough to swing it. Interesting that Tyler refuses the shake Flash’s hand after the match, suggesting he believes Webster’s assist from Vickie was deliberate. This was a nicely layered match, although it lacked the huge pops and highs of last years match. Nice to see both TK Cooper and Flash Morgan Webster getting the star treatment when they most needed it. ***1/2

PROGRESS World Championship
Travis Banks (c) def. Matt Riddle

These two have a lot of history. Ever since Riddle’s debut, where Travis was the only guy in a scramble match to try him on the mat. Since then they’ve had a few belters both in PROGRESS and elsewhere. Travis Banks’ title run has been a little disappointing, which is possibly why FCP took the strap off him almost immediately. The best option now would be to turn him heel to create some intrigue in his defences. The likes of Keith Lee allowed him to look good as an underdog champion but that feels a little played out already. Although he’s not lacking in intensity. Every match feels like a big deal to Travis Banks and ultimately that’s what really matters. Riddle helps as he is rapidly becoming a ‘Big Match Wrestler’. Everything he’s involved in feels like a big deal because of his presence. He’s not as special as he first was when he came to the UK, because he’s wrestled here so many times he’s virtually a native, but he still has that presence. He’s easy to love. They play off their previous matches, but Riddle looks more driven than usual. Aiming to kick out of everything at one and mess with the champ’s head. As the matches progresses something suddenly happens; the crowd (although not all of it) turn on Travis and want Riddle to win. They wanted Riddle to win anyway but not at the detriment of Travis. It’s an audible change here where it goes from 50-50 to the crowd mostly supporting Riddle. It looks like they’ll get their change of champion too when Riddle hits the Tombstone off the top. I know Riddle’s version of the Tombstone isn’t as devastating as the Undertaker’s version but it’s still a big move. Travis looks beaten multiple times with the Gotch Tombstone and the Bromission but he flukes a roll up and retains. The crowd loudly boo that outcome. This was another excellent match in the continuing rivalry between the two but the crowd clearly wanted a different outcome and time is ticking on Travis’ title run. Or at the very least his babyface title run. The post match is interesting as Flash Morgan Webster strolls onto stage to gesture at the belt and he has Vickie Haskins with him. He’s been fooling everyone all along! ****

Final Thoughts: 

The Thunderbastard is always a fun match. This wasn’t one of the best incarnations of it but there was still a lot of strong storyline work involving Eddie Dennis, Flash Morgan Webster and both TK Cooper and Chris Brookes. Also a new development with Tyler Bate showing his clear distrust of Flash Morgan Webster. Something which played out after the main event. Flash was on a losing streak and he’s taken steps to change that. The rest of the card was solid. Riddle-Banks was the best match but Sabre-Rock and Davis-Mayhew all delivered too. Plus the opener was tremendous fun and I’m really happy for Los Federales Santos Jr.