Well, since we’re up to date (as best we can be) with PROGRESS events, it’s time to set the time machine back a little further, all the way back to March 2012, for Chapter 1.
It was a simpler time. Jim Smallman had hair (I can’t talk…). Britain wasn’t furiously divided. And there was a new kid on the block. With London somehow lacking a dedicated regular promotion, one came around looking to prove that wrestling could exist within zones 1 and 2 of the London Underground map.
So, on that fateful March afternoon, ten British wrestlers (plus Colt Cabana, because international law surely states that he has to appear for every promotion ever) gathered at Islington venue The Garage for the first ever PROGRESS event, entitled “In The Beginning”. Featuring a six-match card, the focus of the two-hour show (after editing) was a tournament to crown a first-ever champion, featuring four singles matches… and a four-way finale. Edited down, we don’t get any entrances, with matches instead divided by CHIKARA-style splash screens.
PROGRESS Championship Tournament: Semi Final – El Ligero vs. Noam Dar
For the first show, we had the hard camera overlooking the sound booth at the Garage, and our opener was a classic veteran vs. newbie match. We got an inset promo from the 18-year-old Noam Dar as the referee does his pre-match checks, and nothing from Ligero. Decent stuff early on as Dar tried to wrest control of the match, trying to toss Ligero outside, only for the “Mexican” to hook himself in the ropes a la Rocky Romero. The first dive came from a slingshot plancha from Ligero after Dar went to the outside, and it was Ligero who found himself sent to the outside again as Dar dropkicked him off the top rope as he prepared for another dive.
The pair fought outside the ring, trading kicks and chops, before Dar Dragon screwed Ligero’s leg in the rope on the way in. Dar kept Ligero grounded, alternating between the leg and the upper body, but he missed a double stomp to the leg off the top rope, as Ligero started a comeback, taking him down with a couple of lariats and a leg sweep, before nailing a handspring enziguiri kick for a two-count.
Ligero went up top for a senton bomb, but rolled through as Dar moved away, and found himself in the middle of an airplane spin from the 18 year old, who then landed a Northern Light suplex for a near-fall. After absorbing a comeback, Dar took down Ligero with a spinning forearm, before Ligero scored a two-count from a backslide into a roll-up.
Dar took down Ligero with a heel hook, adding in some extra kicks as he tried to score either a pinfall or a submission, but after a couple of two-counts, Ligero finally made the ropes. Ligero found himself taken to the top rope for a Razor Ramon-esque belly to back superplex, but Ligero fought free, before blocking a superplex, and then capitalised by sending Dar into the Tree of Woe and a double stomp as Dar tried to sit up.
As he was left exposed, Ligero kicked Dar in the midsection, then sprung off the ropes with the C4 DDT and that was enough for the “Mexican” Ligero to make it to the final. A good, solid opener for PROGRESS, even if there was little to get invested in outside of “booing Dar because he’s Scottish”. ***½
PROGRESS Championship Tournament: Semi Final – Nathan Cruz vs. Colossus Kennedy
Our second match saw Nathan Cruz – having won Alex Shane’s old nickname of “Showstealer” several years earlier – take on the monstrous Colossus Kennedy. Cruz’s gimmick here is a million miles away from what he’d become, with the look and faux hometown of Beverly Hills making him closer to a current day Tyler Breeze than anything else. Kennedy got an inset promo just before the bell, and all I’ll say is: talking sure wasn’t his strong suit.
Cruz seems to have recycled a pair of Zack Ryder’s old one-legged tights, and he was having to play cat and mouse against a man who had 150lbs on him. Kennedy’s beard was used against him early on as Cruz took him to the corner by the beard, but found himself easily swatted away and then squashed in the corner.
After ducking a lariat, Cruz floated over and dropped Kennedy on his knee, before landing a big boot, only to be caught in a cross body off the middle rope, and dropped with a suplex. That got Kennedy a two-count, as he followed up by booting Cruz into the ropes. The Cruz comeback started when he got out of the way of a kick to the gut as Cruz was draped across the top, leading Cruz to kick away at Kennedy’s left knee.
Cruz ran into the fist of Kennedy, who stumbled to a knee as he tried to charge in, but he still managed to take down Cruz with headbutts from the ground. A Bossman slam got Kennedy a near-fall, but Kennedy again had knee trouble, causing him to get dropkicked into the turnbuckles, before Cruz took the win with a dropkick to the head. Considering the size difference and the styles clash, it wasn’t terrible, but it wasn’t memorable either. **
PROGRESS Championship Tournament: Semi Final – Mike Mason vs. Colt Cabana
As a last-minute replacement for RJ Singh (who’d later become a commentator for the promotion), “Loco” Mike Mason seems to have based himself off of Rick Steiner’s old “Dog Faced Gremlin” character, whilst Colt Cabana… yeah, I don’t think I need to introduce him…
Colt starts off with some comedy, having shoved a tennis ball down his singlet, he distracted Mason with it (since his character is that of a dog), and then slapped him as he tossed the ball in the air. A roll-up gets Colt a two as Mason tried to get the ball from the referee, and the comedy continues as Colt tosses the ball around ringside, with Mason continuing the chase.
Once the match actually got started, Mason got underway with a headlock takedown on Cabana, who reversed out with legscissors, as the match went full-blown comedy as Cabana openly took suggestions for spots from the crowd, including tickling the belly of Mason. Colt busted out the airplane spin (twice so far on the card!), but ended up so dizzy that he fell out of the ring after Mason’s valet, Becky James, held the ropes apart.
Mason got the upper hand on Cabana with some crossface punches, then looks to bite the back of his head as the crowd broke into a “you’ve got rabies” chant. Cabana jumped out of the way of a shoulder charge in the corner, then levelled Mason with a forearm shot, before succeeding with the Dusty Rhodes punches and Bionic Elbow. A big splash gets Colt a couple of two-counts, before landing two Flying Assholes, and then the Billy Goat’s Curse submission. The referee got distracted by Becky James at ringside, as she threw in a dog chain… Mason grabbed it, punched Colt, and that was it. Comedy aside, this was alright, but another throwaway match. **½
PROGRESS Championship Tournament: Semi Final – Zack Sabre Jr. vs. Marty Scurll
This has my interest – these two were (and still are, but not as frequently) part of a tag team on the British scene called the Leaders of the New School – with Sabre already having wrestled in Japan extensively at this point. Scurll was still suffering the side effects of his TV appearance on dating gameshot “Take Me Out”, and was seemingly the de-facto heel here.
We start with some mat wrestling, as nobody gains an advantage initially, as ZSJ takes down Scurll with a suplex. Scurll replies with a series of snapmares, before being forced to scurry away as ZSJ looked to hit back with a stiff kick to the chest. They worked some neat technical stuff, including ZSJ bridging out of a headscissors, and flipping out of a wristlock as the two tag partners went hold for hold against each other.
Scurll found himself in a bow-and-arrow lock, but flipped out of it to try for a pin on ZSJ, then slapped ZSJ after taking a bunch of shoulder tackles. A kick from Zack downed Scurll, who went on to get a two-count from a vertical suplex, before trying for the Figure Four, only to see ZSJ roll it into a small package for a near-fall. Scurll eventually locked in the Figure Four, before a rope break saw the future Villain caught in an armbar as his effort at a suplex went awry. ZSJ went after Scurll with a European uppercut, then a chinlock that saw Scurll contorted almost into a Tequila Sunrise. After fighting free, Scurll sent Zack to the outside and followed up with a tope that was just about caught on camera, and back inside, the offense continued with a lungblower as ZSJ came off the top rope.
ZSJ ran in with a dropkick to the back of Scurll’s knee as he was looking to climb to the top, before repeatedly kicking at Scurll’s arm as he set up for a Dragon suplex for a near-fall. Sabre replied to a tornado DDT with an enziguri before Scurll could make a pinfall attempt, as the two men resorted to trading forearms. Pinfalls were traded as they each got near-falls from a variety of roll-up attempts, including some from an armbar attempt. Another stiff kick earned ZSJ another two-count, but after reversing sunset flips, Scurll squeaked out the win. Best match on the card so far, hands down! ****¼
BWC Scarlo Scholarship: Xander Cooper (c) vs. Darrell Allen vs. Zack Gibson
I know this was four years ago, but by God, it’s freaky how much some guys have changed. Zack Gibson got booed for being from Liverpool, but he bore little resemblance to the skinheaded misery he portrays in 2016.
More inset promos here, with Darrell Allen’s promo seemingly filmed in front of a door at home, whilst Cooper and Gibson used the same brick wall as everyone else. Fast and furious action as Gibson went for a suplex, which Cooper reversed out of. Jim Smallman on commentary made a point of noting that there’d be at least one BWC match on PROGRESS cards – I wonder how long that lasted? (the British Wrestling Council was a group that sought to promote reputable wrestling schools, and provide qualifications to trainers. It seemed a good idea at the time, but their website doesn’t list anyone who’s received a qualification since March 2011, so it doesn’t seem to be too active these days…)
Allen (who coincidentally, is lead trainer at the PROGRESS Pro-Jo these days), found himself squashed in the corner by Cooper, before taking a cross body off the top along with Gibson. Gibson recovered and went for what looked to be a Fisherman’s superplex on Allen, but Cooper popped up and finished a tower of doom spot with a sunset flip on Gibson for a near-fall.
Gibson fired back on Cooper with forearms, but was dropped once more, before Allen was brought back into the ring. Allen worked over Cooper with kicks, but quickly took a dropkick, before another spot saw a sunset flip/German suplex that led to everyone going down to the mat. Darrell Allen delivered a monkey flip on Xander Cooper, sending him flying into Gibson, resulting in a two-count, but Cooper kneed Allen in the back,before trading uppercuts with Gibson. An armdrag from Gibson led to a roll-through on Allen for a two-count, before Cooper ran in for another small package to try and steal it. Zack Gibson pulled off an innovative spot as he rolled up Cooper and Allen as they tried for a backslide, and got a near-fall on both men.
More back and forth led to Gibson drilling Cooper with an enziguiri, then landing the top rope lungblower, and then the wrist clutch exploder for a near-fall as Allen broke up the pin. Allen smashed Gibson with a 450 Splash, but Cooper ran in with a knee to break up the pin and steal the win. Although there was nothing wrong with this match, it just didn’t feel important, perhaps because the BWC title was “just a belt” to the majority of wrestling fans.
To me, it felt like I was watching early 2000s Brit-Wres, as the guys seemed to cling on to the old “new school” of British wrestling style, trying to mix up fast-paced-but-contrived indie spots with the Americanised way of taunting the crowd after every sequence of moves. Pun intended, thank heavens we progressed away from this. ***¼
PROGRESS Championship Tournament: Final – El Ligero vs. Nathan Cruz vs. Mike Mason vs. Marty Scurll
This is for the PROGRESS championship – which is a staff with the PROGRESS eagle on top of it. Unfortunately, Jim Smallman’s request for a chant for the staff led to the crowd chanting “Nazi Staff” and “f*** off Hitler”.
This is a four-way elimination match, which is the way multi-men matches should be done… and after a jump cut to avoid entrances, we’re quickly underway. Cruz went for a death valley driver early, but Ligero avoided it, and took down his future Origin partner with a hurricanrana, before being dragged to the outside by Mike Mason, and then separating in time for Cruz to crash and burn with a plancha. With everyone else outside, Ligero decided to join them with a somersault senton from the top rope to the floor, and that’s where the action remained, although we were in unison with the crowd in being unable to see anything.
The cameraman was able to see Scurll fighting in the bar with Cruz, before going towards the merchandise stand. Cruz took a boot to the face as he slumped into the front row, whilst Ligero and Mason fought elsewhere in the Garage, before we ended up with Cruz, Ligero and Scurll on the stage. Ligero and Scurll took turns chopping Cruz, before some fan were brought in to hold up Cruz for a double chop.
Cruz and Ligero then fought into the women’s toilets, leaving us to focus on Scurll and Mason for a while. Ligero took a couple of chops, but ducked as Scurll ended up chopping the ringpost, as we went to another shot of the ring remaining empty. After more action in the crowd, we were able to see Ligero and Scurll trading chair shots, with Scurll literally offering up his back for a final shot.
Finally back in the ring, Scurll sets up a chair and grabs a fan’s drink, downing the majority of a pint of beer before going back to the floor, where we see Ligero trying to piledrive Cruz on the stage… only to take a back body drop instead. Moments later, everyone’s back in, and Mason takes a dropkick into the corner from Ligero, as we’re back to proper action rather than the fight-through-the-crowd filler we’d just come through.
Nathan Cruz dropped Ligero with a slingshot back suplex for a near-fall, then went to pull off the mask. Mason came in to join the battle, but ended up butting heads with Cruz, as Ligero took down the pair with a bulldog/big boot combo. Mason got low bridged and took the world’s slowest spill to the outside, as Ligero sprung off the middle rope with an uppercut for a two-count on Cruz.
Ligero went for a superkick, which landed at the second time of asking, but Mason ran in to dispatch Cruz, only to get knocked down and fall in place for a big splash off the top for a near-fall as Becky James pulled the referee out. In the middle of that, Cruz kicked Ligero in the head, and that led to our first elimination as the Mexican Sensation took the pin. Seconds later, Mason knocked down Cruz with a suplex, but Mason then got tripped by Ligero and rolled-up for a pin by Scurll for the quick elimination.
That left us with the final two: Marty Scurll and Nathan Cruz. They started out like it was a fresh match, trading strikes from the off, with a bodyslam and a knee off the middle rope getting Scurll a two-count, but Cruz quickly grounded Scurll with a rear chinlock, which was followed up by a Big Bossman-style legdrop as Scurll was draped across the middle rope.
Scurll begged for more shots from a frustrated Cruz, but Scurll ended up picking up his foe in a torture rack before dropping him down for a reverse lungblower that got him a two count after he’d dragged himself up. Scurll stayed on top of Cruz in the corner, following up with an enziguiri and a flying cross body for another two-count. With Cruz still in the corner, he took a jumping double knee and a dropkick as Scurll came closer to winning the “Nazi staff”, before Cruz tried to cynically roll up Scurll with his feet on the ropes, only for the referee to refuse to even count.
A Michinoku driver got Cruz a legitimate two-count, before a small package shifted to get both men a near-fall and a double clothesline sent both men crashing to the mat. Back on their feet, forearm strikes ruled supreme, before Scurll lifted up Cruz for a spinning torture rack, knocking the referee down in the process. Nevertheless, Scurll landed a roaring elbow to the back of Cruz for a visual three-count as the referee remained down, and as Scurll went to check on the ref, Cruz hit a low blow, then an Ace Crusher for the nearest of near falls.
Cruz set up in the corner, but missed a punt kick and was rolled up for a near-fall, before Cruz hit the punt at the second go and won the match – and regal/Nazi staff. As a match, it was pretty solid – I really could have done without the long crowd brawling spots, but when they were in the ring, it was as good as you could expect ***½
For a debut show, this really wasn’t a bad effort. Sure, this was a rough effort that lacked the polish of much later shows – and there were issues with the mobile cameras that sometimes had a different aspect ratio or seemed to be picking up a different match than the hard camera due to the lighting. That being said, if you only had one hard camera and one (?) mobile camera, why the hell book a main event where a third of the match was spent roaming around the building?
Looking back four years on, the show suffered creatively from the same issues that all promotions do for their first shows – with very little in the way of storylines set-up, and progression of characters, you risked having nothing but vanilla face/heel matches. Still, it helped that the crowd were into everything, even if some of the stuff here didn’t hold up four years later.
Comparing the roster from the first chapter to where PROGRESS lands four years later, and a surprisingly high number of guys are still there or thereabouts in the company. Not counting Colt, Noam Dar’s not appeared for PROGRESS since July 2015, whilst Colossus Kennedy never appeared for the company again. Mike Mason lasted only appeared one more time for a match so bad that that-bloke-off-commentary-who-sounds-like-Jim-Smallman refused to provide relevant commentary (we’ll get to that…), whilst Xander Cooper was used sporadically before disappearing from PROGRESS cards in 2014.
Aside from that, it’s amazing how many guys from this show are still with the company – in terms of career longevity, more than anything else – particularly given that ¾ of the debut main event actually went on to become PROGRESS champion. And that, my friends, is the sign of a good promotion – sticking with talent, using fly-ins sparingly, and delivering quality shows every time. I think this PROGRESS group might actually have legs, you know…