It’s that time of year again – for the third September in a row, PROGRESS are heading to a bigger room, and it’s their biggest one yet. Wembley.
The Garage. Tufnell Park Dome. The Electric Ballroom. Brixton Academy. Alexandra Palace. The graduation to a truly “big room” completes this weekend in front of the biggest crowd an indy show has seen in England in decades.
Pre-Show Battle Royal
Borrowing a line from WrestleMania, the graphic for this shows TK Cooper, Chuck Mambo, Pastor William Eaver, Spike Trivet, Damon Moser (remember him??), Chris Ridgeway, Roy Johnson, Drew Parker, The OJMO, Big T, Darrell Allen, Danny Duggan, David Francisco, Sid Scala and Danny Jones. Names that haven’t necessarily been fixtures as of late, and in the case of a few, haven’t even made their chapter debuts! Rob Lynch (I guess) was going to be a surprise addition, but he’s announced he’s off the card due to a fractured elbow. There’s the tantalising mention of “and more” as surprise entrants could appear… I’d not be too shocked if we saw the likes of RJ Singh here, but bear in mind that Rampage Brown is still on the injured list, while other names from the early days of PROGRESS such as Martin Kirby and Nathan Cruz are booked for a 3CW show on the same day.
Tag Team Thunderbastard
Throughout the whole of the summer, we’ve had a tag team Thunderbastard series that originally involved seven teams… however, injuries, storyline changes and other factors have now made this an eight-team match with the order of entry being determined by the results of the 21 (scheduled) series matches. For some, the story of this series has been those changes: Flash Morgan Webster’s team completed their six matches without picking up a single loss – even though he swapped partners halfway through, when the “Webster and Haskins” pairing was dropped. Wild Boar made his PROGRESS return in July, when Webster kicked out Haskins from the team, instead forming the 198. Storyline-wise, the explanation behind this was a little hokey, with claims that a “contract wasn’t signed” properly, which didn’t exactly do wonders for the company’s kayfabe organisation skills.
Away from that, we had changes when the oft-changed CCK started the series late when Kid Lykos returned from injury. Lykos’ second tournament match would see CCK win the tag team titles from the Grizzled Young Veterans (whose entire tournament has been characterised by miscommunication and internal strife). The next night, also on the US tour, Lykos would injure his shoulder again, which meant that Chris Brookes’ had to dip into his contact book for some new partners: first Jonathan Gresham (in a title defence vs. Sexy Starr in Seattle), before losing the titles to Bandido & Flamita in a non-series match tagging with AR Fox. Brookes’ last three matches – and the Thunderbastard itself – saw him tagging with Timothy Thatcher for the wacky odd couple team.
Unlike the random order that the Thunderbastard usually has, we’ve got an ordered system based on how many points teams finished with. Luckily there’s been no more switches, but Brookes’ title loss to Bandido and Flamita means that we’ve gotten another team in this… and because they didn’t have any series matches, the champions will be starting the Thunderbastard first, alongside Sexy Starr (who finished bottom on tie-breakers, with just the one win).
Order of entry: 1 – Bandido & Flamita (c); 2 – Sexy Starr (Jack Sexsmith & David Starr); 3 – M&M (Connor Mills & Maverick Mayhew); 4 – Aussie Open (Mark Davis & Kyle Fletcher); 5 – Anti Fun Police (Chief Deputy Dunne & Los Federales Santos Jr.); 6 – Grizzled Young Veterans (Zack Gibson & James Drake); 7 – Calamari Thatch Kings (Chris Brookes & Timothy Thatcher); 8 – The 198 (Flash Morgan Webster & Wild Boar)
Mark Haskins vs. Matt Riddle
Left out in the cold after being booted out of the Thunderbastard, Mark Haskins came so close to getting into the main event at Wembley… but a loss to Tyler Bate on the last chapter show meant that he was left off the card, potentially facing the relative ignominy of the pre-show battle royal.
Fortunately for him though, he was given a spot on the card when Matt Riddle was allowed to have his “final independent appearance”. That’s a bit of a misnomer though, since he’s already debuted for NXT, but let’s just go with the marketing line, eh? Riddle and Haskins haven’t had any singles matches in PROGRESS, having only faced off in OTT, FIGHT! Nation, Lucha Forever and, err… Five Star. Yes, Riddle has a win over Haskins from 5*’s penultimate show, where he won the promotion’s Tap or Snap submission title… which was never seen from again.
As for this match: well, it’s a dream match for some, but with no story behind it, it’s more of a chance for the indy scene to say goodbye to Matt Riddle before he becomes a regular at Full Sail University. Perhaps he’ll be allowed to wear his own trunks again, rather than his wife’s shorts…
No DQ: Paul Robinson vs. Jimmy Havoc
Originally this was meant to have been Havoc vs. Will Ospreay, but Will being pulled for the New Japan show that was scheduled for the same day meant that that match was moved to their “go home” chapter in Camden. That match lived up to expectations in terms of storyline, but went a little on the long side… and ended up being a bridge to this match as we get a replay of the brutal no-DQ match that they had three years ago.
At least, I hope that’s the one they’re replaying, and not the one-second con job from the 2014 PROGRESS World Cup show!
While the feud between Havoc and Robinson was strong, it was by far and away below anything as strong as the Ospreay feud. I’m not exactly sure how the death match vibe will play out inside Wembley Arena, with anything taking place outside of the ring needing to be captured well on the big screens in order for the crowd to be able to see and react to it accordingly. I’ve no doubt this’ll be a bloody spectacle beyond the level we saw at Chapter 75 – but as this is reigniting a feud from years past, this feels a little hollow. That being said, with Paul Robinson recently saying he’ll be able to go full time again, this could well be an outing to announce his return to the main roster, rather than it be a one-off before he returns to being an agent in a suit.
Tables, Ladders & Chairs: Eddie Dennis vs. Mark Andrews
A year in the making, the feud between the former Friends Stand United is perhaps the hottest story that PROGRESS has going. Starting at chapter 55 a year ago, Eddie Dennis’ turn led to months of him demanding that he fight Mark Andrews… only for things to be derailed a little at the start of the year when he suffered a torn pectoral. Impressively, Eddie was able to keep up the “no touch” storyline by following Andrews to pretty much everywhere and any how. Antagonising his trainees, effectively costing Danny Jones in this year’s Natural PROGRESSion Series, flying to the States… you name it, Eddie did it – and somehow had a sizeable part of the crowd’s backing, despite being “the bad guy”.
Eventually the pair came to blows in recent weeks, which led to the “destiny” of this match: which Eddie Dennis was able to pick the stipulations on. A Tables, Ladders and Chairs match, with PROGRESS throwing a title shot into the mix for the hell of it. Emotionally, this is perhaps the highest-charged match on the card, and with these two having had limited interactions in the past (their last one-on-one encounter came way back at Chapter 17, in January 2015 for Mark Andrews’ farewell as he was leaving for TNA… now doesn’t THAT feel like aeons ago?!), there’s a lot of uncovered ground here. Expect the spectacular, and this will deliver.
Pete Dunne vs. Ilja Dragunov
If you only watch PROGRESS shows, this battle to be the “Best in Europe” has mainly been built up by Christian Michael Jakobi appearing on PROGRESS shows, running his mouth. Oh, and Pete Dunne making a sexual hand gesture a lot.
Save for an appearance in Manchester, and a run-in in Camden last month, Ilja Dragunov has barely been seen in PROGRESS. Heck, for reasons unknown, they even edited out a brawl between the two from the VOD of PROGRESS Oberhausen, instead choosing to use clips for the hype package instead. Those who watch wXw programming will have seen another, brief tease for this, back on Shotgun 365, when Pete Dunne took on WALTER… and specifically, the post-match, when Dunne beat down WALTER, only to be interrupted by Dragunov.
A first-time match, this a hotly-anticipated bout purely on the standing of both men involved. When he’s “on”, Pete Dunne is legitimately one of the best in the world – it’s just that outside of the auspices of WWE, “Comedy Pete” perhaps appears a little too often for my liking. Ilja Dragunov, who recently appeared in the Battle of Los Angeles, is wXw’s hottest act who hasn’t quite broken out on a worldwide scale… and with his own intense style, this should be a match that will be hard-hitting and at worst, will signal the arrival of Ilja outside of Germany for the first time.
PROGRESS Women’s Championship: Toni Storm vs. Millie McKenzie vs. Jinny (c)
On paper, this match reads a little weird. Jinny finally unseated Toni Storm as champion back in May, when her House of Couture helped her to the title in Manchester… and since then, Toni Storm has been focused on getting her belt back.
Original advertising for this pegged the match as Toni vs. Jinny, with Storm having the quartet of Laura di Matteo, Millie McKenzie and Candy Floss in her corner (to neuter the trio of Nina Samuels, Chakara and Charlie Morgan). However, an injury to Toni in late August prompted a reshuffle, and the creation of a “secondary” number one contender in that five-way scramble match that we’re all better off not re-watching. Particularly THAT bump.
Millie, despite having been emphatically dispatched by Jinny the month prior, won out and ended up being added to this three-way, with Laura and Candy nowhere to be seen. While understandable, given how shook up the rest of the card had been, the addition of Millie has watered the match down somewhat. Saying that, the Jinny/Toni feud hadn’t exactly been going gangbusters during the “Toni wants her title back” stage, as the more intriguing part of this had been surrounding Laura di Matteo’s interactions with the rest of the “good guys”. As a match, this should be fine, but I’d expect something to come out of this storyline wise to try and spark a division that’s not exactly been firing on all cylinders in recent months.
PROGRESS Atlas Championship: Trent Seven vs. Doug Williams (c)
Read: Ric Flair vs. Shawn Michaels from WrestleMania 24. With a title on the line.
Since winning the Atlas title in a four-way in Manchester, Doug Williams has vowed that if he loses the belt, he’s calling it a day… and with PROGRESS’ own documentary building this up (along with Doug seemingly doing retirement speeches after recent appearances in the likes of Defiant and wXw), the result to this seems rather academic. Meanwhile, for Trent Seven, this is only his second shot at the Atlas title, since he’d been tied up in other stories. He and Tyler’s loss back at Chapter 66 ruled Moustache Mountain out of the tag title scene for several months, and with Tyler and Pete already involved on the card, Trent was at a loose end. Until he spotted an opportunity to face off with someone whom he idolised… even if it did mean potentially being the one to end the storied career of one of the pillars of British wrestling.
Much like the rest of British Strong Style, I doubt we’ll see much (if any) of Comedy Trent here, and while there are question marks over Doug after the neck injury he got last time out in Camden, you’d have to think that if this is a farewell, both men will be doing whatever it takes to send him out on a high.
PROGRESS World Championship: Tyler Bate vs. WALTER (c)
Perhaps the most-affected match at Wembley is our main event. Originally slated for the winner of Super Strong Style 16 to get his title shot, what some thought were the plans for that tournament were thrown out of the window when Tyler Bate had to drop out at the semi-final stage through injury.
That tournament would eventually be won by Zack Sabre Jr… who’d be forced to drop out of this show “because New Japan”, so the promotion borrowed a page from the CHIKARA playbook and embarked on the Three and In series. Using a spreadsheet and no doubt a lot of caffeine, the rules were actually simple: if you weren’t already on the Wembley card, you had to win three matches in a row to punch your ticket for the main event. After the US tour wound down, we were left with three men who had a shot: Jimmy Havoc, Mark Haskins and Tyler Bate. Havoc’s loss in the Chapter 75 main event rules him out, while Haskins and Bate faced each other… with Tyler taking the win.
If you believe the rumours, Tyler Bate was the original pick for Super Strong Style 16, so this has been an enforced but extremely long detour to get to the Wembley main event. Problem is, with the Three and In series winding up on the last Chapter show, there’s not been a chance to have much build for this main event. As such, I’d be astounded if we had a title change, particularly since there’s not really been an issue between Bate and WALTER… Nevertheless, the main event should be technically sound, and a Very Good Match (someone ought to trademark that)… but would lack any real emotion that you could have had built up had Tyler won SSS and spent the entire summer chasing the championship.
You could argue that PROGRESS are reaching a pivotal moment in their history.
When the company was founded in 2012, wrestling was far from popular in London, and in the six and a half years that followed, they have played a major role in the scene’s resurgence. Not only in London, but in the rest of the UK. In that time we’ve had a bunch of promotions seek out TV, with some of them succeeding… which has led us to today, where NXT has a UK branch ready to make air, with several PROGRESS folks involved (if you believe what the Internet has to say), while Rev Pro awaits a start date as World of Sport wraps up their TV run.
Add in the growth of other promotions, and all of a sudden the monthly pilgrimage to London for big name wrestling, unless you’re invested in the PROGRESS product, isn’t necessary. From their initial move to the Electric Ballroom, the story of PROGRESS has become perpetual growth – but with the show at Wembley, it feels like it may be coming to an end. After all, where’s bigger than Wembley? The O2? Wembley Stadium?
With the Ospreay/Havoc storyline finally coming to an end, the remaining long-term story of PROGRESS has been their continuous growth. When your calling card is moving to bigger rooms, that growth needs to be continuous, otherwise the perception of staleness threatens to appear… Hello Wembley is being billed (truthfully) as the biggest independent show in England in decades, surpassing the Alex Shane “super shows” from the mid 00s in terms of tickets sold. In truth, this Sunday could well be historic for reasons other than the rumoured 5,000 tickets sold thus far.