PROGRESS’ annual knockout style tournament is quickly becoming the UK equivalent of PWG’s Battle of Los Angeles. This is the first year they held the tournament outside of the Electric Ballroom, as they were spending their entire three show weekend at Alexandra Palace. Every match on this first night was a first round match of the tournament.
Pete Dunne def. Doug Williams
This was a great opener with a hot crowd. Pete Dunne did less of his big match tropes and focused a lot more on straight up grappling and mat work. The problem there was he was outclassed in every way. Doug Williams outwrestled and out maneuvered Dunne at every exchange. Pete Dunne, the man who had run through men like Roderick Strong, dominated Adam Cole, and even went toe to toe with the Authors of Pain, was being slowly picked apart by Doug Williams on the mat. The structure of this was brilliant as Dunne is one of the most dominant forces in the tournament; this made Williams look like a million bucks.
Eventually Dunne started working over Williams’ arm and using his more devastating offense to surge ahead. Williams made a comeback and surprisingly nailed Dunne with the Chaos Theory, but Dunne got his foot on the ropes. I love that they didn’t just have Dunne kick out of that. Williams went for another Chaos Theory but Dunne reversed the momentum into a great looking victory roll to secure the victory. Dunne didn’t KO Williams with his big finishing move; he just outwrestled him at the very end. A really well told story and fun opening match. I hope Doug Williams works Wembley. ***1/2
Zack Sabre Jr. def. Chuck Mambo
Ladies and gentlemen, we have our first great match of the tournament and a breakout performance by one Chuck Mambo. If you were going into this thinking, “Chuck Mambo… isn’t he that comedy wrestler geek?” you’re not unlike me but trust me after this contest you will look at this man in a new light. Sabre was absolutely punishing in this match, basically wrestling like his own version of Walter. If you love matches where Sabre works from the top then this is your match. At times it felt like he was treating Mambo like a young boy. He stretched him and kicked him and slapped the taste right out of his mouth.
And Mambo wouldn’t give up. He had such great fire in this contest, and created a real sense of urgency and struggle. Mambo would elude Sabre and string together some offense, and Sabre would punish him for it. Sabre seemed almost insulted that Mambo would even try to beat him in a wrestling contest. One insane spot was when Mambo had Zack in an elevated surfboard, and Sabre seized wrist control and wrestled his way out of it, leading fluidly to him attacking Mambo’s arm. I didn’t even know that was possible, and the crowd popped for this like they had just seen a 450 splash off a balcony. The submission Zack put Mambo away with was absolutely brutal as well, a Dragon Sleeper with Zack grapevining BOTH of Mambo’s arms. There was truly no escaping that. This match was awesome. ****1/4
David Starr def. TK Cooper
I miss Dahlia Black. She wasn’t on commentary, but I also just miss her as part of the South Pacific Power Trip’s act. TK hasn’t been quite the same since his return from injury. He was somebody who was making huge leaps of improvement before he got hurt, and the audience had latched onto him for that reason. Now he comes out and he just feels like a guy.
This match was okay. Starr was over and at times can be one of the best wrestlers in the world, but this match lacked chemistry or story. It very much felt like moves being done in succession. And both of these guys have charisma and defined characters, but here they just didn’t mesh. Had Jack Sexsmith and Travis Banks been there this probably would’ve been more fun as a tag. But since this is a tournament we couldn’t have that. A well worked, yet unfortunately forgettable affair. ***
Angelico def. Mark Andrews
Angelico came out to a Skrillex song and I’m usually not into that kind of thing, but Angelico got me into it with his infectious dancing down to the ring. He got the crowd into it as well, as it wasn’t so much the dance he was doing but how lost in the song he seemed. To quote Kilmonger, “he was just feelin’ it.”
I really loved the first 1/3 of this match. We had fun Lucha style stalemate spots. We had some flips and fast paced action. This seemed on track to be a great high flying affair. Then Eddie Dennis showed up. Now, Eddie Dennis, despite being injured the past several months, has for sure been the most interesting character and best promo in PROGRESS. That said, his presence effectively ruined the rest of this match for me. It’s the WWE effect of “nothing matters until Eddie interferes.” Angelico’s and Andrews’ work continued to be good, but we all knew what was coming.
Then the interference came, and it was so cliché. I hated it. Andrews went up for the Shooting Star, Eddie distracted him, and so Andrews missed. Angelico took Andrews out with his “Fall of the Angels” Crucifix buckle bomb. Sigh. ***
Tyler Bate def. Jordan Devlin
This was my most anticipated match of the first round. I wish it had gone longer. These two threw some great looking offense at each other. If you’d only seen him in the UK tournament you might not know how good Devlin is. The man’s a Finn Balor level worker when he’s on his game. Tyler Bate is one of the best in the world and possibly the most prodigious wrestler of this generation. The show got back on track here for me, this was very good. ***1/2
Zack Gibson def. Joey Janela
Well this was weird. It was more of a segment than a match, really. The Vets kept putting off which one of them was going to actually face Janela officially, and this led to an extended 2 vs. 1 brawl around Ally Pally. The cool spot was when Janela did a cannonball dive onto Drake off the stage, and then in one motion kept going and did one to Gibson off the ring steps. That’s where the highlights seem to end, unfortunately.
Janela wrestled essentially a full singles match with James Drake in the ring, though the bell never rang so it wasn’t official. After Janela had Drake beaten, the Vets made it clear that Gibson would be the one actually entering the tournament. This was good heel work but I wasn’t really a fan of this. Seems like someone (the ref, Smallman) should’ve done something about the heels’ nonsense. Gibson schoolboys Janela seconds into the “official” match. N/R
Keith Lee def. Flash Morgan Webster
This was a rematch from their tremendous clash at Chapter 57. Lee won that first encounter and so I thought this might be where Flash got his win back. I was mistaken. But this was a great match.
Flash came out the gate on fire, keeping Lee off balanced in the early going. Flash’s effective use of his speed was the key to his early success, but Lee eventually grabbed him and hoisted him up for a ridiculously devastating Spirit Bomb. The impact bounced Morgan back to his own feet before he fell lifeless out of the ring.
The two traded tons of blows and strikes down the stretch and there were a ton of great near falls. Flash was emptying the tank against Lee but the Limitless man would not stay down. These two have a terrific David and Goliath dynamic. The action here was some of the best of the day. Eventually Vicky Haskins distracts the ref at ringside, giving Flash an opening to utilize his helmet as a weapon. But he hesitates. And like all who hesitate, he was lost and Keith Lee put him down for good with Ground Zero. Great stuff. ****
Kassius Ohno def. Chris Brookes
They told the story on commentary of how Brookes admired the former Chris Hero. This was a battle of master and student, if not in the literal sense, in the spiritual sense. It started off slow and I could tell the crowd was a bit tired here, the same fatigue that affected the Dunne/Banks main event at last year’s Ally Pally show.
Down the stretch the action picked up and each man started going for their big moves. I’ve been critical of Brookes as a single worker in the past, and my critique remains true here. I don’t get a sense of identity from him in the ring. He’s a guy that does moves. To contrast, I always know what to look for in Ohno’s matches: the big strikes, especially the elbow variants. He’s a knockout artist. I’m sure Brookes will find himself as a singles wrestler in time but he’s not there yet.
Ohno went for his big discus elbows and Brookes intercepted him with roundhouse kicks to the head. That was very cool and where the match peaked, in my opinion. Not long after Ohno wore Brookes out with strikes before putting him away with the leaping elbow to the back of the head. Good, not quite great. ***1/2
Ohno cut a really cool promo afterwards putting Brookes over.
This was a good show with a couple of low points. There was nothing truly bad, though. And a couple of the matches were great. Mambo vs Sabre should be sought out by everyone, it will end up being one of the highlights of the whole weekend.