We’re in London at Wembley Arena (not Wembley Stadium, home of SummerSlam ’92, as some Americans thought). This PROGRESS’ biggest ever show. The crowd weighing in at 4750, which I’m assured was not a gimmicked number. Fear & Loathing weighed in at over 6000. Jim Smallman opens the show in the ring and he’s a little freaked out at the sheer size of the crowd and points out Wembley came to them with the idea of the show.

PROGRESS Wrestling
Chapter 76: Hello Wembley!
September 30, 2018
Wembley Arena
London, England

Watch: Demand PROGRESS

The pre-show battle royal isn’t on this 4h20m show. Funny battle royal story; David Arquette asked to be in it but didn’t realise it was in England. Commentary comes from Glen Joseph & Dahlia Black.

Mark Haskins def. Matt Riddle

This is Riddle’s last indie gig before officially being a WWE employee full time. They’ve picked a pretty decent opponent as Haskins has a good track record opposite Riddle. It’s weird watching Matt stroll around ringside recognising fans he’s seen over the course of his indie career. He might be the most fan friendly ‘big time’ wrestler in indie history. He didn’t need to do anything for the fans, he was that good but he always went out of his way. Also pleased to hear how damn loud the singing is in the building. Haskins is back face, kinda, so they go out there and have a competitive bout, which is in their best interests as they avoid major storylines and just have a lovely wrestle. Riddle puts Haskins over huge by having the Malvern man tie him in knots. Riddle rarely, if ever, let opponents outdo him on the mat during his indie run.

Dahlia’s commentary is a little off here but the biggest concern is her claim that Riddle was “undefeated” in UFC. A simple Google search or popping over to Sherdog will tell you that’s not true. Dahlia then starts three sentences with “two years ago” consecutively. It’s getting a bit distracting now. Luckily the match is very good, as you’d expect from top very talented men. It doesn’t feel as special as their OTT match but I appreciate them pulling out some sick counters. The timing seems slightly off with Riddle kicking out early, by his high standards, and I can only assume the volume in the building made them antsy about leaving it too late. Haskins pulls out Made in Japan to pick up a win on the departing Riddle, which is as it should be. If you’ve leaving the territory you do so on your back. ***3/4

PROGRESS Women’s Championship
Jinny def. Millie McKenzie & Toni Storm

This was an awkward situation for PROGRESS because Toni got injured and they almost lost another match for Wembley. So they had to rush to create a new number one contender and hence Millie gets a shot too. It feels like a special match when Millie comes after Toni but the crowd don’t respond to it so I guess I’m more attached to Millie than the bulk of the crowd. House of Couture are a big difference maker for Jinny to prevent this turning into a two on one. Laura Di Matteo and Candy Floss stop that and we have virtually the entire women’s division here. Again, the wrestling is really good and this shows the five-way disaster on the last chapter show was very much due to inexperience. When you’ve got the higher quality wrestlers together its all good. Toni takes out Millie with a Strong Zero on the apron and then hits her finish on Jinny too only for House of Couture to pile in there. Laura then turns heel, taking out Floss and hitting the Acid Rainmaker on Toni! Holy shit! Jinny retains and Elizabeth has come home! What the heck? Match was really good and the turn, while I don’t fully understand it, puts Laura into the House of Couture as the #2. It’s notable she hugs Jinny, or rather Jinny hugs her. ***1/2

Post Match Jordynne Grace shows up and both Jinny and Laura bail to let the others get mashed.

Atlas Championship
Trent Seven def. Doug Williams

If Doug loses he retires. Although he doesn’t say when. He’s got other matches lined up. The crowd get what this match is all about though; a chance for Doug to sign off his career on a huge stage rather than fading away in social clubs. Thankfully comms changes to Glen and Matt Richards at this point. Matt bringing a tonne of history and context immediately. This is a slowing of the pace on the show with Doug not able to keep up with modern speeds and instead Trent working a Doug match with old timey counters. It’s tough to know when to go all out and when to make moves mean more. Trent knows that wrestling Doug is a big deal and knows how to balance his approach. He’s playful at times, aggressive at others but he never resorts to his usual shtick because he doesn’t want to offend Doug. He wants to have a Doug match. It would have been easy to come out here and play the hits but he’s smart enough to know when to avoid that. Doug makes a point of putting Trent over on his way out. He lets him kick out of the Chaos Theory (twice) and in general he has a more meaningful match than anything else during this ‘one last run’. It is a bit weird that Trent wins with a crossbody but the match was really well constructed and a good way for Doug to bow out after a strong career of representing British wrestling when no one else could. It might have a dozen or so good ambassadors now but back in the day it was Doug on his one. The massive round of applause that greets Doug at the finish is indicative of what he means to anyone that’s followed British wrestling in the past 20 years. ***3/4

Jimmy Havoc def. Paul Robinson

Well this is certainly a change of pace. Not least of all because Jimmy Havoc looks like a complete berk painted white. The paint comes off on Robbo as well as it quite distracting. This is the designated violent match and Havoc is in a bad position at this stage of his career where he has to bleed for people to get into his matches. He has a presence live but it doesn’t translate to tape. His clumsier moments are too easy to see and he has to rely firmly on no-selling and plunder. Or staples to the dick.

This is an extremely violent match. It works because of Robinson rather than Havoc though. His return and intensity is what drives Havoc to be better. Havoc traditionally works at his best when he’s pushed to do sickening things. I’m not keen on the finish as Havoc hits a blinding Rainmaker ahead of the curb stomp through the light tubes but then hits a weak Rainmaker afterwards. If they’d been able to magically reverse those two spots it would have worked. This would have banged so much better with AFI playing but that boat has sailed. This was certainly violent but I think it suffers from me seeing the same sort of thing done better recently (Death House 2, Simmons/Starr). The state of the two men as they leave is testament to how much they put into this though. They’re wrecked. Both of them. Robbo’s back is a state. ***1/2

Jim starting shilling Super Strong Style 16 and that brings out Travis Banks. He’s throwing his name into the hat for SSS16 2019.

Tag Team Championships Thunderbastard
Aussie Open def. Bandido & Flamita, Calamari Thatch Kings, M&M, Sexy Starr, Grizzled Young Veterans, The 198 & Anti-Fun Police

Flamita & Bandido won the titles in America but weren’t in the tournament so they have to enter first. What horse pucky is that? How hard is it for one of the teams in the tournament to actually be champs come the final? Sexsmith looks very confused at the start, perhaps legitimately by the flippydos. They do better character stuff where Flamita takes a shine to Sexsmith and Starr punches him in the mouth. M&M look very happy to get their chance to work Flamita & Bandido. As Aussie Open come down the atmosphere changes and Dunkzilla is very well supported. Deputy Dunne looks very motivated. Santos brings the entertainment values and seeing him get beaten up by the luchadores is beautiful. The only team eliminated during the entrances is M&M, eating a Ticket to Mayhem. Everyone is left in the ring when the 198 turn up, so they didn’t really get much of an advantage for winning six matches in a row. There are way too many people involved to make this good. People have to congregate on the floor while a few guys work. It suddenly feels like it’s on fast-forward with a bunch of spots one after another and nothing has any time to breath. As a spotfest it really works as there are so many talented dudes out there. I understand wrestling is about pay days and I wouldn’t begrudge some of these guys getting the cash but I would rather see a match with the top teams for the title. Sexy Starr are a prime example. I like them as a team but they only add a little side attraction here before Sexsmith gets knocked out by the Trapper Keeper.

The crowd is good here. Hearing 4000 people yell “shoop” at the same time is something else and the abuse for Gibson is neat. Also Santos has the crowd on their feet multiple times with how great he is. The crowd even bite on “No Fun-naaaaah”. The dives!

They get into the business end with CTK, 198, the champs, GYVs and Aussies. Brookes taking Close Your Eyes and Count to Fuck is genuinely a great spot because of his height. The champs go out thanks to Flash’s evil motorcycle helmet. Luckily Flash eats the Fidget Spinner and we’re down to Aussies vs. Vets. I like them finishing on a strong heel unit against the most popular of babyface teams, fighting from underneath. Superboy Kyle keeps kicking out of everything though! Fidget Spinner puts Drake away and Kyle looks completely shocked that they just did that. Great match, although perhaps the pacing had a few issues. It was weird how little happened at the start and how it became formula at the finish but the spotfest segment in between was excellent. ****

Pete Dunne def. Ilja Dragunov

Despite coming out to the least appropriate music ever (the kind of drum based ditty usually reserved for Islanders), Dragunov has a rare intensity. When he sets up for an insane spot you think he’s going to do it because he has that track record. He demonstrates that here by hitting a suplex off the ring steps to the floor. The crowd response is fairly tepid to Ilja, although PROGRESS brought that on themselves by using him as a heel. Dunne working over the hands shows he’s not familiar with Dragunov as a wrestler (from a storyline perspective) as Ilja doesn’t care about pain, it drives him. Plus he could have two broken hands and he’d just throw himself head first to cause maximum damage. Better is Pete stomping on Ilja’s face to show how much abuse Ilja can take. He doesn’t give a fuck. The crowd still treat him as some evil foreigner. The match structure doesn’t help either with CMJ interfering on Ilja’s behalf. Maybe it’s just me but I wanted to see a head-to-head battle for European supremacy rather than a heel/face storyline. But as soon as Jakobi was introduced to set this in motion it was always leading to Pete getting revenge on him. Credit to Pete and Ilja, the reactions they get when they actually go head to head are far superior and that draws the crowd to respond. Then the finish is not good. Dunne falling into the ropes after Torpedo Moscow then back up and tapping Ilja with a small joint lock, which incidentally is illegal in pro wrestling. I can’t help thinking PROGRESS dropped the ball on a sure thing here. The only real positive is that Ilja comes out of this looking good, although the build created the wrong atmosphere. Maybe it’s my wXw bias but this didn’t work for me. If this is your first look at Ilja and were into the build then you’ll probably like it better. ***1/4

#1 Contendership TLC Match
Eddie Dennis def. Mark Andrews

The build for this match has been quite incredible. Eddie’s reasoning for turning and constant explanations of how he’s been done wrong have made total sense. It’s been feud of the year, definitely in PROGRESS, maybe in all of Europe. The trouble they have here is they’ve had to fast-forward to the blow-off match without ever having wrestled before. Which has added to the intensity of the promos but this concluding bout now feels way too early. A problem with having to work around the biggest show of the year being at a certain time. WWE struggle with it to be fair. It’s really hard to do. The match rapidly falls apart as the table doesn’t break when Eddie falls on it and the crowd chanting “Botchamania” is not what you want in your semi-main event. Especially when it doesn’t break on a powerbomb right afterwards. Now it’s a ‘haha, look at that table’. Any time a match turns into a ‘we can’t break the table’ scenario it’s not good. At least Eddie has the common sense to give up after three attempts but he should give up after one. Another table appears and they can’t break that either. It’s apparent the crowd are miffed about the length of the show at this point and when Eddie refuses to pull down the contract the crowd boo. Not because he’s a heel but because they want the match to end so they can actually see the main event. I feel bad for the wrestlers as they are clearly giving their all and are betrayed by an overlong show and misbehaving furniture. Andrews in particular is covered in bruises and even after coming off the top of a ladder he still can’t break the fucking table. Eddie finally breaks the table with a Next Drop Driver off a ladder. The match built to a table breaking, rather than the match finishing. The loud cheer for Eddie getting the title shot contract is more a pop for the match actually ending. *1/2

PROGRESS World Championship
WALTER def. Tyler Bate

In an entrance music contrast WALTER has two violinists play his music and it’s wonderful. It totally changes the atmosphere in the building and is super cool. They have a natural story based on strength. Tyler is a powerful underdog but WALTER might be the strongest man in European wrestling given his natural size. I like the main event has no bells or whistles, nor smoke or mirrors. It’s just WALTER and WALTER is a main event anywhere in the world.

I love how Tyler matches WALTER for power and survives a lot of the early tests but then gets annihilated with a chop. That’s WALTER bringing out the big guns. I’m a big fan of BSS being ringside here cheering Tyler on. It makes the match feel special, especially as they’re not going to interfere here unlike in the past. I also like Tyler repeating spots when they’re successful, aware that WALTER doesn’t weaken easily and then being caught out going to the well too many times. WALTER just murdering Tyler with big move after big move is pretty great too. It’s the level Tyler hasn’t been up to before. He’s fought competitive matches with all of the big names in Europe but WALTER isn’t just a big name, he’s a huge guy with devastating offence. Tyler does some impressive feats of strength including the airplane spin and standing up out of the Gojira Clutch. I love the way Pete and Trent get Tyler to fire up and escape the Gojira a second time but the Fire Thunder Driver finishes and WALTER retains. ****1/4

Final Thoughts:

PROGRESS’ big September show is often a struggle for them creatively but this was generally well received. There was certainly bad luck involved with New Japan running the same day thus wrecking Ospreay/Havoc and removing Zack Sabre Jr from whatever match was originally planned for him. The show is definitely too long, running 4h20m on VOD without the pre-show battle royal. It certainly felt special but it’s far from the best card to showcase the promotion as a whole. I thought the Thunderbastard overdelivered but creatively Dunne/Dragunov didn’t and that’s the biggest disappointment, although Dennis/Andrews having such major table issues ruined their big match. It was nice to say goodbye to Riddle, the Laura turn caught me by surprise, Doug’s retirement match was special, the main was great and the standard of wrestling was high all night. However, it was too long and not planned well enough in that respect, tables should have been gimmicked and I hated most of the music. I think the pros massively out-weigh the cons here. As with all of PROGRESS’ September shows there are ways in which it could have gone better but the result is a show I’m sure they’ll be very proud of.