PROGRESS’ first show of 2015 played host to Mark Andrews’ farewell, the Natural PROGRESSion Series final and a massive surprise in the opening match…

The show opened with a montage of Jimmy Havoc’s reign as PROGRESS champion – as he reminds us that he’s beaten everyone’s favourites, the biggest and the best the company’s had to throw at him. He’s now got Will Ospreay tonight, and Havoc’s taken exception to Will’s comments… so he’s decided to go all Dexter and tie someone to a table with cling film so he can murder them.

The innocent victim’s face is covered with Havoc’s title belt, and Jimmy asks us “if you think I’m doing this for fun, what do you think I’ll do to someone I hate?”. Cue stabbings… and if you’re worried, of course it wasn’t real. Tom Irvin (who was under the belt) survived.

We start with a tag title match, but it’s not a tag match, as FSU faced each other for “sole ownership” of the tag titles. I’m not too sure what made FSU turn on each other, but there you go… before we can get going, the lights go out, and out come the Faceless through the crowd and attack FSU.

There’s three members of the Faceless out there, and the three-on-two advantage meant that they had little difficulty in keeping Dennis and Andrews down. They grab the PROGRESS tag title shields and head out with them… until they’re stopped by Mark Andrews who demanded a match for them.

PROGRESS Tag Team Championship: FSU (Mark Andrews & Eddie Dennis) (c) vs. The Faceless (Faceless #1 and Faceless #2)
Well, this was one-sided, as the already-worn down FSU were made short work of, as Andrews took an assisted DDT then a release German for a near-fall. Eddie Dennis came in to fight back, but he was low bridged to the outside by the smaller of the two Faceless whilst the third trapped Eddie in a guillotine on the outside. That left Andrews helpless as he ate a stuff Backpack Stunner as new champions were crowned. (Not Rating)

This was the Faceless’ official debut, and they made real short work as they ran amok – to the point where the crowd were in shock at what they’d witnessed. After the match, Andrews said that he didn’t want his UK career to end like this… and then suggested that they have their match anyway later in the show.

Mark Haskins vs. Rampage Brown
Team Screw Indy Wrestling was just about hanging on here, and this was the natural pay-off after Brown left the group earlier in 2014.

Haskins launched into Rampage early on, and quickly experienced the size difference as he was taken down with a shoulder tackle… before utilising his speed to fake out a dive, then take out Rampage with a tope as the match spilled to the floor.

Rampage catches a PK on the apron and instead tries to post Haskins… but the affectionately-named “evil Jesus” slips out and shoves Brown into the post instead. Back in the ring, Rampage shrugs off some attacks and drops Haskins with a uranage, only to be taken into the turnbuckle with a drop toe hold before Haskins landed an outside-in dropkick. Haskins stays on top with a rear naked choke and some kicks, before unwisely slapping Rampage.

As expected, Brown fired back with forearms, before slamming Haskins out of a leapfrog attempt, and then dropping “Evil Jesus” with a middle rope shoulder tackle. Haskins goes for a takedown to avoid a powerbomb, before he managed to roll back up and drop Rampage with a death valley driver. The bridging armbar follows, but Rampage fought free, only to get dropped with a short-arm lariat. Rampage comes back again with a big Samoan drop, but Haskins rolls to the outside and throws a chair at Brown… and that’s an instant DQ. **½

Haskins grabs a second chair and whacks Brown again, putting an exclaimation to a match that had been pretty decent until the storyline’riffic ending.

Marty Scurll vs. El Ligero
Scurll attacks Ligero with his umbrella before the bell as the Villain looked to cement his new persona.

Ligero comes back with a headscissor takedown to send Scurll back outside, but the masked man ended up leaping onto a mini-balcony where he was caught as Scurll tried to superplex him to the floor. Ligero fought free and hit Scurll with a body press off the stairway, before going back to the ring for a Mexican Wave for a near-fall. Scurll hit back with an arm whip before Ligero went outside yet again as he was sent off the apron, then dropped with a superkick off the apron. Marty grabs Ligero in a surfboard, rolling him around the ring with it, before pulling the masked guy all the way back into a pinfall attempt.

An early chicken wing attempt forces Ligero to fight into the ropes, as the pair fought on the apron, ending with Ligero being caught between a torn apron and the ring for a series of repeated clotheslines. They reverse tombstone piledriver attempts, with Ligero turning his into a lungblower variant, before both men teased endless suplexes, eventually ending with another chicken wing attempt.

Ligero lands a superkick and a small package as the Mexican surged ahead, but his second Mexican Wave was blocked by the knees as Scurll hit back with a release suplex. A tornado DDT from Scurll saw the Villain float through into a chicken wing, and that forced the submission. A really good match that saw Marty continue to cement his new act with a win. ***¼

Tommy End vs. Dave Mastiff
End leaps into Mastiff with a kick at the bell, before a double stomp almost gave us our second squash of the day! Mastiff kicked out at two before the pair started laying into each other with forearms – as neither man backed down. End kicks away at Mastiff, who replies with a lariat for a near-fall… but after a brief spell outside, End tries some more kicks, only to get hauled around the ring – first with an overhead belly-to-belly into the corner, then with a German suplex. Another lariat just gets Big Dave a one-count… so he lands a side suplex for a two-count, before End’s finished off with a massive folding powerbomb for the pin.

This felt really short, but really good and hard hitting. Proof that you don’t need to have a long match to be really great! ***¾

After the match, Tommy End mused that “that hadn’t gone to plan” – then promises that next time he’s back, he’ll be bringing someone. The crowd chant “SDS” as a prelude to the arrival of the Sumerian Death Squad – the team End was in for multiple other promotions at the time, including wXw…

Paul Robinson vs. Noam Dar
Robinson attached Dar before he could even enter the ring, and he started by spraying silly string over Dar on the outside. Yeah, that was not something I expected from a man who could literally kill the majority of a wrestling crowd. When they entered the ring, Dar hiptossed Robinson into the turnbuckle before a baseball slide took him to the floor. Robinson gets crotched in the ring post, then ran up the apron to dropkick the kickboxer’s leg into the post for good measure… still with silly string on his hair. Dar, that is…. Robinson’s bald, remember?

A Yakuza kick from Dar gets a two-count as the crowd continued to pepper Robinson with chants such as “Jimmy’s precious” and “Dobbie”. Robinson counters a brain chop and wheels unloads on Dar with the windmilling punches, before going back to that silly string for some reason. Some elbows to a cornered Dar took the Scotsman down, so Robinson grabs a chair… but Dar’s hiding something, and he manages to counter the chairshot with… silly string!

A Fisherman buster gets Dar a near-fall after that, before the Scotsman looked to use the chair… instead, he changes his mind and gets a spin kick to the gut, followed by a hammerlock DDT for a two-count. The pair trade forearms, before Robinson hits a double stomp as Dar tried to scurry between his legs. Robinson goes up top and missed another stomp, before Dar flies in with the “Dar-li chop” that bloodied Robinson’s nose. The floor of the Electric Ballroom pools with blood as Robinson was clearly busted up, so Dar grabs a Jimmy Havoc facemask and looks to end Robinson with an Acid Rainmaker… but as he goes for the move, Havoc’s music hits. That’s just a distraction though as Robinson schoolboys Dar, for a near-fall, before a short-DDT gets another two-count.

Robinson tastes his own blood as he looks for the Acid Rainmaker himself, but Dar catches him in the Champagne Super-Knee-Bar for an instant submission. That was quite special – and extra credit to Robinson for carrying on despite that smashed nose. ***½

Mark Andrews vs. Eddie Dennis
After the original attempt was abandoned and turned into an impromptu tag title match, this was take two! This was sort-of Mark Andrews’ farewell match, but since the TNA gig didn’t work out as well as it perhaps should have done, he ended up appearing in PROGRESS again by the end of 2015… and a little over a year after that, working for WWE in their UK Championship Tournament.

Life can be funny, eh?

This seems to be where the “one fall” rubbish originated, as Jim Smallman messed up the introductions. Cue “we want two falls” chants, which would make for an awkward match…

Andrews tries for an early double stomp after a wheelbarrow takedown, but of course, there was a lot of even-ness to this match between the recently-deposed tag champions. Andrews counters a sidewalk slam with a multiple-rotation satellite ‘rana, before Dennis just walked away from an attempted dive.

Dennis caught a plancha attempt and dumped Andrews on the apron with a swinging side slam for a two-count, then gets another two from a knee drop off the ropes. After a front facelock, Andrews counters a suplex with the Stundog Millionaire, then landed a corner enziguiri before slingshotting himself into a wheelbarrow bulldog from the apron. A standing shooting star press gets Andrews a two-count, but his standing moonsault gets caught as Dennis picks him up into a headlock suplex.

Dennis pops up Andrews into a side-slam for a near-fall, but Andrews flipped out of the Next Stop Driver and scored a wheelbarrow into a double stomp. A uranage-style takedown sees Dennis set-up for a crucifix bucklebomb, but Andrews slips out onto the apron for a springboard cross body, but it’s caught and turned into the Emerald Fusion for another two-count. From there, Dennis picked up Andrews for a crucifix bomb off the top rope, but Andrews flips out and counters with an armdrag to the outside as it’s now time to fly with a springboard elbow into the front row. Cue a “TNA” chant, and a lot of boos… They both return to the ring, but Dennis just rolls into the path of a shooting star press for another two-count.

A corner dropkick rocks Dennis, as Andrews tries to lift him up to the top rope for a superplex, but Dennis counters it into a super Next Stop Driver that was enough to seal the win. Considering the circumstances, this felt a little muted, but this was more about the occasion than the match for me. ***¼

After the match, Eddie took the microphone and declared that that was the most important match that he’ll ever have. Eddie told us that he applied for the job of head of a junior school, knowing full well that’d restrict him to be a “weekend warrior” – but because of his friend’s success, it’s all been worth it. As it happened, today was also Mark’s birthday, so his send-off party ended up being a birthday celebration as well. Andrews and Dennis went into the crowd to celebrate for what they thought was going to be the last time as a team.

Not going to lie, but even knowing how things worked out, there was a little tear in my glass eye here…

Natural PROGRESSion Series – Final – “Flash” Morgan Webster vs. Zack Gibson
Good lord, Gibson still had hair here! His opponent was a much-more fresh-faced Webster, who was struggling to escape the Inbetweeners-based chants thrown his way.

From the opening lock-up, Gibson grabbed Webster’s arm as he tried to soften him up for the Shankly Gates right from the get go. Gibson let himself get riled up by the chants, which just gave Webster a chance to go flying, landing a somersault plancha as Gibson went to the crowd.

Webster rolls through a 450 Splash and instead goes after Gibson with a knee in the corner before landing armdrag and dropkicks… but Gibson ends that resurgence by shoving the referee into the rope as Webster scaled the turnbuckles. Gibson protested his innocence and connected with a dropkick to Webster as he took over, whipping the “Modfather” into the turnbuckles.

Gibson drops Webster the Divorce Court (wristlock drop), but Webster hits back with a wheelbarrow… but Gibson just goes straight back to a hammerlock that gave way to some Pete Dunne-esque torquing of the wrists. The bald spot chants at Gibson just served to rile him up further, which led to him grabbing Webster in a modified chinlock.

Webster finally fights back to his feet before an enziguiri knocked Gibson to the outside, where he was prey for another aerial attack – this time in the form of a senton off of the ringpost! They returned to the ring, but Webster again had to switch away from a 450 splash as he instead landed a crossbody off the ropes, then a ‘rana off the ropes, and finally a moonsault flip into a tornado DDT for a near-fall – a move that brought back memories of Jody Fleisch in his heyday.

From there, Webster takes Gibson to the top rope for a super ‘rana for a near-fall, before an attempt at a Tiger bomb (or similar) was backdropped out of by Gibson. A series of kicks to the head drops the Scouser down though, and Webster goes back to the top… but misses the 450 Splash, and is left open for the Ticket to Ride (middle rope lungblower), only or Gibson to record the near-fall this time.

An attempt at the Shankly Gates follows for Gibson, but it’s switched into a German suplex that Webster flips out of, only for Gibson to hit back with a Tiger bomb and a PK for a two-count. The Shankly Gates follow, but Webster manages to haul himself into the ropes for a break, which only angered Gibson even more.

Webster flicked the V’s at Gibson, which led to a cross-legged brainbuster attempt- but Webster switched into a Stunner – before going up top. He’s caught up there again, but Webster headbutts his way out of a superplex before finally landing a 450 Splash for a near-near-fall! A series of strikes come from Webster, but he’s folded in half with a Gibson lariat, before he counters a Tiger bomb into a ‘rana as Webster snatches the win! A fantastic final, which elevated both men in the process. Great stuff! ***¾

Speaking of great stuff, there was some good videography here as the cameraman showed a disconsolate Gibson in the ropes as Webster lifted the trophy aloft behind him. Webster offered a handshake afterwards, but Gibson ignored him and walked to the back. We even got a post-match promo with “Mean Gene” Smallman, who asked Webster who he wanted to reinstate into the third Natural PROGRESSion Series…

Webster thanked the fans for their support, before facilitating a path into the next tournament for… Pastor William Eaver! Who just happened to be in the crowd, prompting plenty of chants of “Jesus”. Smallman asked Webster when he wanted to cash in his title shot, but that just prompted the second hit of Jimmy Havoc’s theme.

Out came Havoc with Isaac Zercher, who ended up blindsiding Webster as the tournament winner was distracted by Havoc on the outside. Zercher was left to pound away on Webster as the crowd tore into the champion. Havoc told Webster he was never going to cash in on his title shot, before that two-on-one attack was cut-off by the arrival of Will Ospreay!

PROGRESS Championship: Jimmy Havoc (c) vs. Will Ospreay
Havoc sent Zercher to the aisle to cut-off Ospreay… and of course, Havoc’s welcoming committee was more than eager to put the boots to Will.

Smallman ordered Havoc to call off the hounds, otherwise he’d strip him of the title. So Zercher just rolled a beaten down Ospreay into the ring before the “Omega” was ejected… but not before he took a somersault plancha from Ospreay!

The match started with champion and challenger exchanging shots around the ringside area, before Havoc found himself whipped into the ring post. A dropkick sent Havoc into the video screen, before he was dropkicked out of a chair for good measure. Ospreay followed up with a Sami Zayn-esque dive through the corner into a tornado DDT on the floor for a two-count after the pair were returned to the ring.

Ospreay maintained the upper hand with a slingshot curb stomp for a two-count on Havoc, before a sit-out release suplex gets another two. Havoc lands an overhead kick as Ospreay went on the apron, and then followed with a double stomp to a bent-over Ospreay, who was then thrown into the crowd by the champion. More of the same followed as Ospreay fought his way back in, before he was met with a running forearm in the corner as Havoc tried to keep him at bay.

Ospreay dumps Havoc with a front suplex off the top rope as he went up for his 630 Splash – but he was still hesitant after the neck injury he received doing that move months earlier. He finally went back up, but Havoc jumped in and landed that superplex for a near-fall, before he started biting away at the ear of Ospreay.

That bloodied Ospreay’s ear, not helped by Havoc grabbing it for second helpings, causing some pained screams to come from the “Aerial Assassin”. Hannibal Havoc waited in the ring for Ospreay to come back in, and of course, he went back to that ear before tying up Ospreay in a grounded cobra clutch. A running lariat from Havoc gets a near-fall, before he went back to biting yet again, this time trying to rip out Ospreay’s throat with his own teeth.

Another cobra clutch follows from Havoc, but Will fights out… and takes a superkick, a German suplex, then a death valley driver for a two-count. Ospreay ducks an Acid Rainmaker and counters with the OsCutter for a two-count, before a standing shooting star press gets a similar result. Ospreay even goes all Booker T with an axe kick for a two-count, as he looks longingly at that top rope… but yet again, he’s caught up there as Havoc lands an enziguiri then a top rope rana… but Will flips out onto his feet!

A pump kick and a rolling neckbreaker gets Ospreay a two-count, so both men go to trade forearms until a slap from Havoc just earns him some Kobashi-esque boot washing kicks. Havoc goes for another Acid Rainmaker, but this time he counters the counter with a forearm, before Ospreay rolls him up from a third Acid Rainmaker attempt.

Havoc literally kicks Ospreay in the backside, before pulling down his trunks for a threat of sodomy… but Ospreay low blows and lands a superkick as he again tries to psyche himself to go up top. He takes it, but again he takes too long, and Havoc gets back to his feet, knocking Ospreay off the top. They end up outside as Ospreay’s yet again thrown into the crowd, and Havoc starts to dismantle the ring.

As Ospreay recovers, Havoc unwinds the supports and uncouples the top rope, which is a genius way of nullifying top rope attacks that need plenty of room for flips and twists. Of course, that loose ropes used by Havoc to choke away on Ospreay, who’s almost hung off the apron with it as Havoc wants Will to “just die”.

Continued admonishment from Chris Roberts leads to nothing, but Ospreay does surprise Havoc with the Essex Destroyer… but Havoc gets his foot on the remaining ropes to save his title. Will then goes up to the middle (top?) rope, but he crashes and burns from a twisting shooting star press before falling into an Acid Rainmaker – for just a one count!

Ospreay flips off Havoc, so he just gets kicked and stomped on, leading to another Acid Rainmaker for the pin. That was a brutal match with a boat load of shenanigans… but Will Ospreay comes up short once more. ****¼

Wiping out the opening squash, there wasn’t a bad match on the card, which has long been PROGRESS’ hallmark – and with the continued story of Jimmy Havoc hanging onto the title by hook or by crook, it just made the eventual payoff later in the year that much sweeter!