British Wrestling Experience on POST Wrestling
Progress Chapter 61: Don’t Touch Me … Don’t … Don’t Touch Me
O2 Academy Birmingham in Birmingham, West Midlands, England, UK
We’re in Birmingham for Progress Chapter 61, the third time the promotion has been to the city and almost one year to the day of their debut visit in 2017. That show ran head to head with the WWE UK Championship Tourney and featured returns to Progress of Aleister Black as Tommy End and of Finn Balor (to play a game of musical chairs no less), as make goods for the missing midlands based British Strong Style trio of Pete Dunne, Trent Seven and Tyler Bate. This year, all three make the card as contracted WWE wrestlers, as part of a show, perhaps not as star-studded – but stacked nonetheless.
Mark Andrews opened the show, announcing he was to pull out of his scheduled match with Chris Ridgeway due to injury, before being interrupted by former tag team partner Eddie Dennis. Dennis was tremendous here, bringing up the history of the two in the promotion, and running down Andrews for leaving him behind to sign contracts with TNA and the WWE. The segment culminated with Dennis spitting on Andrews to goad him into a match, with Andrews still refusing to give Dennis what he had described as “the chance to prove I’m better than you”. Dennis has been a revelation in Progress as a heel and seems destined for big things in the promotion and nationwide as a full-time wrestler in 2018.
Progress Tag Team Title: Grizzled Young Veterans (James Drake & Zack Gibson) (c) defeat Moustache Mountain (Trent Seven & Tyler Bate)
As with the previous meeting of the teams in Manchester at Chapter 57, this was a match as much about the pre-match microphone duel between Trent Seven and Zack Gibson as it was in-ring action. It was Seven this time getting the better of Gibson, even stopping mid promo to take a call from “Trips” at WWE headquarters, to discuss his spot in the Rumble (number 7), share a laugh about James Drake’s 205 Live appearance with Enzo Amore (“Choo Choo”) and apparently explain to the WWE COO just who Gibson was, (“the one from ITV”), before hanging up and telling the boss to “stay cerebral”. There is a stand-up career in Seven’s future if he ever decides to hang up the boots.
The match itself was filed with more comedy, with Dudley Boys “Whats Up” spots, Seven’s failed belly flop dive and a double attempt at an airplane spin by the Moustache Mountain duo being highlights and although there were lulls in the longer heat segments of the match as the crowd attempted to catch its breath between the laughs, this was an excellent way to start the show and set the tone for the night. After a belt shot from Drake, Bate attempted to reverse a roll up from Gibson but was caught in turn with a second roll-up reversal, for the three count and a Gibson/Drake victory.
Drew Parker defeats Chris Ridgeway
Chris Ridgeway, a long kept secret of the North West wrestling scene seems poised to break out in 2018 with higher profile bookings both here and in Rev Pro. His no-nonsense demeanor and MMA influenced stylings to bring comparisons to Davey Richards and he looks an ideal fit for the promotion.
Drew Parker, subbing for an injured Mark Andrews (who in turn was subbing for Chris Brookes due to a reshuffle of the card) is another newcomer to Progress and surprised here with a clean 450 splash victory after a strong match, where he had already been dominating with the offense. This, a booking decision perhaps subscribed to the Vince McMahon philosophy of always putting a replacement opponent over, to ensure the fans do not believe they got an inferior deal – was a big surprise and a signal perhaps the push of Ridgeway will be a slower burn than could have been anticipated. Look for both men to play significant parts in the upcoming Natural Progression Series.
Charli Evans & Millie McKenzie defeat Bea Priestley & Nina Samuels
Progress’ women’s division has been built around Toni Storm and Jinny, long before there was even really a women’s division – or at least a title, and while both are strong characters and as good as they come in British Wrestling, the division has been beginning to look stale and in desperate need of supporting characters. Enter Millie McKenzie, homegrown star of Fight Club Pro and a babyface so likable, she had some of that promotions fans booing opponent and red hot fans favorite, Omari in the Semi-Finals of their Infinity tournament, on a night built around Omari’s rise as the heir apparent of that promotion.
The match itself was largely uneventful, with Charli Evans face in peril for a long heat segment where referee Chris Roberts got far more heat for his inaction, than the heel team of Bea Priestley and Nina Samuels got for their actual cheating – a recurring problem and a self-fulfilling prophecy when Progress does so much to highlight Roberts as ineffective. Mackenzie got the win with a somewhat awkward looking Canadian Destroyer to Nina Samuels, to give her two big wins in a row on Progress main shows.
WWE United Kingdom Title: Pete Dunne (c) defeats Joseph Conners
Joseph Conners has struggled to make an impression in Progress, his addition to the roster met with skepticism, with the question as to whether it was a result of merit, or simply the promotion’s relationship with WWE hanging over the wrestler. His debut in Camden at Chapter 56, attacking Pete Dunne to start this feud was met with groans and laughter and his two singles matches thus far in Progress against Chuck Mambo and Morgan Webster were listless affairs, playing right into the hands of said skeptics.
Here, fully aware of the criticism, Conners arrived with an ironically worn “Everyone Welcome” t-shirt and his working boots on, striking early with a chair shot before the bell, hitting dives and in turn bumping all around the Birmingham Academy, on the apron, on the floor and in that oft-repeated Progress staple being flung into the first three rows of chairs by Pete Dunne. Conners was even afforded mic time during the match to run down the crowd and although the bells and whistles all helped, there was still a gulf in class between him and his opponent, with Conners not looking near as comfortable and confident as he has in other promotions, such as his turn as the ace of the then WCPW.
In contrast, Pete Dunne bossed the room, a loveable, biting, hometown rogue who the Progress faithful are still lapping up finally being allowed to cheer after a long run as a heel champion. After weathering high impact Psycho Driver and top rope Air Raid Crash near falls (the latter almost ending in disaster when Conners struggled to climb to the top rope holding Dunne’s body weight), the finish saw Dunne catch Conners on a suicide dive with a forearm, before hitting a Tombstone on the floor and a Bitter End in the ring, for a decisive win.
Will Ospreay defeats Adam Brooks
After a highly regarded much talked about the encounter in MCW in Australia last year, Progress saw the UK debut of a match likely to continue to tour the world, as Adam Brooks made the first stop on an extended UK tour. The match featured plenty of character work from Brooks, something some may not expect considering his high flying in-ring style, but it works as Brooks exudes a quiet charisma, as a hateable heel who can also fly, with large portions of the match built around him heeling to the crowd and at various points mocking and spitting at Ospreay, bringing out the fiery side of Ospreay.
When the big spots came, they came big, with highlights being a missed Space Flying Tiger Drop from Ospreay being countered with a high jump style Black Flip Tope from Brooks, Ospreay taking a hard front bump from a top rope Hurricanrana and taking an absolutely ridiculous looking Canadian Destroyer on the apron, that started with Brooks in the ring, vaulting out to connect with the move. Ospreay would hit a Reverse 450 and a stiff looking Oscutter that Brooks took on the top of his head, to end a match that was equal parts these big spots as it was traditional wrestling hero versus villain story, a mix that on this night worked and served as good introduction to Brooks, establishing a character that could easily be taken advantage of on a return visit.
While conspiracy theorists may ask what it is specifically about Ospreay being out of Ring Of Honor contract that means he can now work for a UK independent company again, and there are loose ends for Ospreay the character, being back in the promotion as a babyface after losing a “loser leaves” match as a heel less than 6 months prior – the fact remains, Progress have missed Ospreay and spectacle matches such as this, during his exodus from the company, and he is very much a welcome addition to the promotion going into 2018.
Jimmy Havoc & Mark Haskins defeat Aussie Open (Kyle Fletcher & Mark Davis)
This was a somewhat flat match that suffered from its placement, taking place upon the scorched earth Ospreay and Brooks had left behind. There isn’t a more enjoyable tag act on the British Wrestling scene than Aussie Open right now and this was a more muted affair than usual, but the crowd still came alive for the hot tag of Davis, with his incredible looking stiff strikes and creative double teams with Fletcher. After a near fall with their Fidget Spinner finish, Davis would absolutely flatten a member of security on the outside who was left alone to catch his dive, with Havoc and Haskins taking advantage with a kick assisted Acid Rainmaker to Fletcher for the victory.
There will be other days for the Aussie team, but the jury is still out on Havoc and Haskins, who as a unit with Vicky Haskins on good days have shown glimpses of chemistry, but on middling days like this, continue to look like a team thrown together as “something to do”, due to lack of creative ideas for the veteran pair. The group’s act of continuing to refuse to explain why they have banded together just exasperates that problem and appears more a case of the promotion not having an explanation for their turn and subsequent alliance than there really is an interesting mystery of note.
Progress World Title: Travis Banks (c) defeats Chris Brookes
Travis Banks no-nonsense World Title reign has been the highlight of the last few months of Progress, a reign that has in both kayfabe and non-kayfabe terms wiped away the stench of the convoluted end to the reign of Pete Dunne, with overdone WWE tropes and endless interference, making way for the altogether more straightforward defending champion arc of Banks, playing Bret Hart in 1994 and taking on all comers, vanquishing old foes in the progress.
Enter Chris Brookes, who after the reshuffle of the card, continues his singles run in Progress to take on his CCK stablemate. Brookes singles run is an enforced one, due to injury to tag team partner Kid Lykos and he remains an unproven commodity in that role, never looking quite as at home as he does in tag team matches. That, combined with reports suggesting Brookes had been violently ill on the day, meant here we did not get the high-end match of the year calibre of Banks previous defences, but something altogether more story based, with Brookes, due to frustration after multiple nearfalls (one particularly being very believable with his established elsewhere “Death By Rollup”), first teasing and deciding against using the title belt as a weapon, but then later using the signature CCK baking tray for a nearfall, with Banks eventually saved by other his other Progress ally TK Cooper, who would pull the referee out of the ring, leading to a Banks victory with his Lions Clutch submission.
The inclusion of Cooper, and Brookes internal struggle throughout the match, did add drama, but elements like Kid Lykos encouraging Brookes to cheat in a match with his stablemate, blurred the lines further of a stable that already only partially existed in the company, with Banks looking like a fool at the match’s conclusion, forgiving and applauding the efforts of Brookes to cheat him out of his belt.
Still, there were interesting layers of story here and that naivety of Banks could come back into play with both Brookes after the match refusing to shake his hand, and Cooper refusing to let go of his title belt after saving him from the cheating Brookes. Progress has already announced Banks versus Cooper to take place on their next show Chapter 62, and whilst that may seem soon, these are two intertwined stories with potential, that seem worth letting play out.
This was a show that peaked after intermission with an incredible must-see Will Ospreay and Adam Brooks match, but also had some fun comedic stylings in the opener from Moustache Mountain and interesting story development, both in the opening promo with Mark Andrews and Eddie Dennis and at its main event conclusion. Progress showed growing pains in 2017, with it’s strongest financial year and perhaps the strongest in-ring year, also being it’s poorest from a creative point of view. This show and the last few shows of 2017 have shown big reasons to be hopeful, as Progress heads into an ambitious looking schedule for 2018, and ever closer to it’s the biggest show ever, at the 10,000 capacity SSE Arena.