We’re in Camden at the Electric Ballroom for Chapter 77 Pumpkin Spice PROGRESS. This is their first show since Wembley and the boys have had a well deserved rest after a busy summer. It’ll be interesting to see what angles come out of this ‘RAW after ‘Mania’ show. The first major change is that Chris Roberts isn’t here anymore. This is quite the shock but Wembley was his last PROGRESS show. He’s got family commitments and is stepping away. This makes me sad. Also Tyler Bate is injured and misses today’s match with Tim Thatcher.
Chapter 77: Pumpkin Spice
October 28, 2018
Watch: Demand PROGRESS
Commentary comes from Glen Joseph and Matt Richards.
Timothy Thatcher def. William Eaver
Eaver has ditched his Jesus gimmick and now a travelling preacher of sorts with a “Today is the Day” catchphrase. I can’t tell if it’s meant to be funny or not. It is certainly a brave change in direction for someone who had a relatively successful gimmick. Based on his attire I can only assume it’s a heel turn but honestly, it’s hard to tell. At least things are happening! Laughter isn’t an ideal response to a gimmick change but any reaction is better than none.
In terms of booking I’m sad I don’t get Thatcher/Bate but at the same time I feel Tim is at his best when he’s mangling character-based guys. Eaver struggles to modify his existing offence to match the new character and while it’s a decent bout it doesn’t do anything to establish Eaver and Thatcher wins clean with an armbar. **1/2
Isla Dawn vs. Millie McKenzie
Millie just finished her first Japan tour wrestling for Sendai Girls and Marvellous. Isla Dawn is a WWE prospect from Scotland. She’s been all over the world in the last five years and actually wrestled in PROGRESS just seven chapters ago in a losing effort to Nina Samuels. Millie looks very sharp here; she’s improved again in 2018. She is still only 18 years old. This is probably the most interesting performance I’ve seen from Isla Dawn; she shows a lot of promise, bringing a variety of offence to counter Millie’s smashmouth suplex heavy attacks. Jinny and Laura run in for the double DQ just as the match is peaking. **3/4
Charlie Morgan and Nina Samuels run in to attack Jinny and Laura and the dynamic of the women’s division has dramatically changed. The House of Couture experiment having ended. Morgan in particular will benefit from not being in a big heel stable.
Trent Seven def. Gino Gambino
This was an open challenge for the Atlas title and Mr Juicy appears from Down Under to step up. He looks happy to be here. This is pure comedy with both guys struggling with their cardio somewhat. Trent is good at planning out matches but when left to his own devices will produce daftness. There are bits of Trent’s better shtick in here but it’s nice to see it combining with someone different in Gambino. They switch gears into some full on Big Lads wrestling before Trent hauls Gino off the top with a Burning Hammer to retain. This was a mesh of comedy stuff and serious hard-hitting action, although I’m not convinced that they switched gears at the right point in the match or had a spot that caused the switch in gears, which left it feeling a bit disjointed. **1/2
Tag Team Championship
Aussie Open def. Grizzled Young Veterans & The 198
The show hits a higher gear here as everyone comes in super energised. Gibson doesn’t even cut a promo because everyone is about the belts here. The match does suffer from formula somewhat with Kyle being worked over for heat. Luckily Dunky is one of the best hot tags in the business right now so his rampage upon being tagged in is quite joyous. The match breaks down though and we go through the standard stuff. The Tower of Doom is a spot that’s way overused and it never looks good. Here Wild Boar takes a back bump off the ropes for no reason. Kyle Fletcher is probably the stand out wrestler in this, making the heat believable with his selling and flying into the action when required. I also like the logic of Drake stopping people from breaking up the Shankly Gates before Kyle gets Davis all fired up by slapping him in the face in the duelling Shankly Gates. Again Kyle Fletcher is the star; he’s grown up so much since moving to the UK. He has another run near the end where he’s isolated a second time and his last gasp kick-outs fire up the crowd. Fidget Spinner puts Flash away and Aussie Open are doing a great job of carrying those belts forward after the uncertainty surrounding them with Kid Lykos getting hurt. ***3/4
Paul Robinson def. Mark Andrews
Robbo is a strange case. He’s a great character and a genuinely terrifying individual despite being so small. He announced his retirement in April 2017 but his congenital blood clots issue has apparently cleared up so he’s back. Both these guys had wars at Wembley. Andrews being destroyed in a TLC match, Robbo in a death match with Havoc. Given their violent bouts at Wembley they take it easier here doing an indie spot match with flippy kicks and poison ranas. It’s very fluid and fun but lacking in substance. It’s a great little reminder that Robinson is a terrific flier, vastly underrated in that department due to his dickhead performances as a heel. He out-does Mandrews and catches him with the Curb Stomp for the win. Tidy! ***1/4
Mark Haskins def. Chris Brookes & Jimmy Havoc
Haskins and Havoc have been allied for a while but their tag team seems to be finished so now they’re back in competition for singles glory. They’re both drifted back babyface too, despite Haskins having changed nothing from when he was a heel. Brookes finds himself at a disadvantage due to the H&H team. Shame we couldn’t get Jon Gresham out here in a four-way. The dynamic between Haskins and Havoc makes the match very weird. Any time you have a three-way dance there should be a definite issue between all three guys or a big prize on the line. Is a title shot a big enough prize? How many people have title shots in PROGRESS at the moment? Bloody loads of them. There’s Eddie Dennis, Mark Davis, Zack Sabre Jr just off the top of my head.
Havoc hasn’t done a lot for me this year and it’s been largely because of the rising standard in European wrestling which he’s not moved with. The match takes a sudden change when Drew Parker runs in to attack Havoc, setting up them for a violent match of some description down the line. With Havoc removed Brookes and Haskins can run through a much more coherent bout, albeit extremely rushed and Haskins wins with a Sharpshooter. After seeing Brookes versus WALTER in Rev Pro I wanted to see that again but Haskins essentially joins the queue for the title. Surely Eddie Dennis gets his shot first? **3/4
Haskins post match promo is a beautiful thing. Pointing out he was seen as “damaged goods” after the serious neck injury and now he’s back to his best.
PROGRESS World Championship
WALTER def. Zack Sabre Jr.
Nothing says main event talent like having instantly recognisable music and that sheer presence that WALTER has when he walks into the building. These two have a history of having exceptional professional wrestling matches. WALTER’s massive strikes and power offence against Sabre’s technical prowess. They have so many matches in their catalogue that it starts out logically tentative with a heated crowd. It’s not quite Gunns and Ilja but the atmosphere is there. Sabre is a master of telling mat stories. Always thinking one step ahead so while his opponent is kicking out of a pin Sabre is already halfway into a hold. Sabre also adopts an antagonist approach; doing a neck bridge with the sole purpose of flipping WALTER off. He pays for it but the idea is to get WALTER out of his calm zone so he makes mistakes. WALTER is like a terminator though; he’s laser focused and Zack pays for his tactical approach. I love WALTER turning that cockiness back on Sabre by doing his neck snap. Sabre’s tactics don’t change and he targets an assortment of limbs, in particular baiting WALTER into a chop so he can take that chopping arm away from WALTER. The complexities after this are beautiful, like WALTER blocking Sabre going for a bridge by just grabbing his head like a grocer putting a melon on display. I love that WALTER tempers his use of chops and sells the arm to put over Sabre’s work on it. It makes the spot effective and nullifies it all at the same time. The whole match is just great pro wrestling. Subtle intricacies telling an overarching story and yet a hundred little mini-battles within it. I love that at no point does WALTER’s power overwhelm Sabre nor Zack’s technical work get WALTER into too much trouble. Too often nowadays you see a match with 20 kill shots and last gasp kickouts. This is all about building two contrasting styles and telling a story that has one kill shot. This is particularly evident when WALTER goes for a powerbomb, which should logically finish and Sabre counters it into a front choke. It would be easy to do the spot and kick-out but not here. They’re not going for cheap pops but a logical coherent overall narrative. The series of transitions where Sabre is looking for a submission and just cannot get WALTER’s arm into position for a tap out because he’s just too big tells a terrific mini-story as part of the bigger match. The whole match is full of stuff like this. It’s so well done. WALTER’s strikes play an increasingly large part in the match as it progresses not just as an offensive weapon but as a defence against Sabre’s manoeuvring. For WALTER a slap or clothesline is a potential game-changer. Sabre picks up an injury that adds in an extra level where WALTER mercilessly comes after him, first trying to get a submission and then pounding Sabre with hammerfist blows until he’s done. Fire Thunder Driver finishes and WALTER retains in an absolute fucking masterpiece of professional wrestling. Watch this god damn it. You’ll not see a better match in BritWres this year. *****
The undercard for Pumpkin Spice PROGRESS is undoubtedly patchy and forgettable but the main event? Absolute must-see stuff. An outstanding display of professional wrestling from two of the best exponents of it in the world, done in an intimate environment in front of 700 lucky people. Go and watch it.