For our latest #BACKFILL offering, we go back to the end of 2015, with PROGRESS’ final show of the year, with their debut offerings in Manchester. It’s Chapter 24: Hit The North!

This was the first time that PROGRESS had held a main Chapter show outside of London, and the Ritz in Manchester was sold out for their first major foray outside the M25 – and the atmosphere was suitably raucous.

Bubblegum vs. Mark Haskins
Bubblegum is something of a veteran of the British scene, having appeared for a laundry list of promotions in his ten-plus year career, but has yet to win a match in PROGRESS. In spite of him being from Manchester, he was playing a heel here, flipping off fans whilst wearing a Manchester City football shirt. Mark Haskins, on the other hand, is being geared up for a monster push in PROGRESS, I assume.

Glen Joseph was replaced on commentary by Callum Leslie for this, so for the first time ever (at least for the shows I’ve seen), there was no official Voice of PROGRESS (in the Vince McMahon-as-commentator sense).

The pair traded kicks early on, with Haskins catching a kick and rolling through into a sharpshooter as he flashed an early warning sign to the Mancunian. Haskins then leapt over Bubblegum as he tried a shoulder charge, with Bubblegum going to the floor, as Haskins followed up with a dive of his own. Haskins started working on Bubblegum’s left arm, before seeing an attempt at a roll-through into a death valley driver ending when Bubblegum raked the eyes.

Bubblegum remained on top, but the story was that he needed to cheat to get any kind of advantage, but his attempt to wipe his groin sweat on Haskins saw him pulled off the top rope as Haskins mounted a comeback with a diving dropkick into the corner. A half-nelson suplex earned Haskins a near-fall, before missing a double stomp, as Bubblegum used the referee as a human shield to earn him some time.

Bubblegum scored with a Blockbuster off the second rope for a near-fall after a flurry of kicks, before trying for his version of the Pedigree, known as the Ice Cream Headache, but Haskins backdropped out of it and into a pinning predicament. Haskins fought of an attempt at a comeback, but ended up nailing his roll-through into a sit-out Michinoku driver, before locking on an armbar to score the win by tap-out. A nice opener from these two, with Haskins in particular being made to look good ***½

Natural Progression Series III Quarter Final: Ashton Smith vs. Kyle Ashmore
The PROGRESS debutant Smith has been somewhat of a regular in the UK scene, largely restricting himself to shows in the North West (Manchester, Preston and the like), whilst Kyle Ashmore (and his beard) is a graduate from the ProJo training school, and looks like he could try out to be a member of the Wyatts.

Ashmore started with a waistlock takedown, with Smith switching into a hammerlock, before they traded headlocks. Smith then scored a few near falls by rolling through an armdrag into a pinning attempt, before taking down Ashmore with a nice looking dropkick.

Ashmore just about connected with a dive to the outside, sending Smith into the front row, as he continued the assault in the ring, with a diving uppercut and a clothesline for a near-fall. An impressive standing shooting star press got another two-count for Ashmore, but Smith replied with a leg lariat off the middle rope, but that respite was brief, with Ashmore just about connecting with a pop-up death valley driver for a near-fall.

The pace slowed down again with a rear-chinlock by Ashmore, but Smith powered out and sent the bearded one loopy with a kick to the head, before following up with a knee strike in the corner and a dropkick that got Smith a two-count. Smith drilled Ashmore with a spinning uranage, but Ashmore kicked out at two, before turning a Go To Sleep into an awkward looking hurricanrana into the ropes.

Ashmore scored another two-count with a German suplex, before missing a leaping super hurricanrana off the top, and connecting with knees as Smith jumped off the top. Those knees for Ashmore a two-count, and he then went to follow up with another slingshot into the ring, but he overshot Smith, and the two crumpled to the mat. Smith then popped up and drilled Ashmore with the Go To Sleep for the win, to end a match that was marred by blown spots at the worst possible moments *¾

Jack Gallagher & FSU (Mark Andrews & Eddie Dennis) vs. The Origin (Dave Mastiff, El Ligero & Nathan Cruz)
Plenty of stalling to start with, as Ligero powders out and does a lap around the ring a she tries to neutralise the fans’ chants at him. There was a nice spot involving both members of FSU, as Dennis tagged himself in as Mark Andrews had Ligero in a surfboard, with Ligero being released so he could take a swinging side slam.

Sadly for Dennis, he let himself get distracted by Nathan Cruz, who blind tagged-out to Dave Mastiff, but the big man wasn’t able to get too much of an advantage. They then went for a spell of Origin offence, as they exercised the quick tags in and out, with Ligero withstanding a few forearms from Andrews before whipping him to the mat, before Andrews finally got the hot tag to Jack Gallagher.

Well, I say “hot tag”, it lasted a brief moment before Nathan Cruz came in to cut him off, but he recovered and sent all three members of the Origin to the outside, before hitting a tope as the two FSU members connected with twisting planchas to the outside. Dave Mastiff broke up the count after El Ligero took a Next Stop driver, and we finally got the Dennis/Cruz face-off, with Dennis planting Cruz with a swinging side slam.

Jack Gallagher went all British Bulldog on us with a stalling suplex on El Ligero, but Zack Gibson ran down to try and interfere. Gallagher exited the ring to neutralise him, with the referee in hot pursuit. That let Dave Mastiff hit Dennis with a low blow in the ring allowing Ligero to score a roll-up for the win. Decent match that continued, rather than progressed the Origin vs. the World storyline ***

Tommaso Ciampa vs. Zack Sabre Jr.
Thanks to Tommaso, Talking Heads’ “Psycho Killer” is my latest earworm… and this match has a lot to live up to. At the bell, Ciampa jumps out of the ring to let ZSJ have his chants, and they get going by trying (and failing) at keeping a waistlock, until both guys came close to hitting their finishers in the opening minute.

They continued going for holds, before Ciampa powdered again… and that led to him snapping on ZSJ, sending him outside and then drilling him with a suplex on the floor of the Ritz. Ciampa went back to the ring and dumped ZSJ over the top strand with a release suplex, before going back outside, chopping ZSJ in a chair, and then utilising two fans to hold ZSJ in place for a running knee to the head. That was then followed up with… an armbar in the ring. From one extreme to the other, eh?

ZSJ returned the favour by dragging Ciampa across the front row with a wristlock, but the “Psycho Killer” switched the momentum up with an elevated flatliner, draping ZSJ off the top rope before connecting. Ciampa kept up the pressure by trying to chop ZSJ off the apron, before catching him with an Emerald Fusion for a near-fall in the middle of the ring.

Out of nowhere, ZSJ flipped a Project Ciampa attempt into a triangle-like armbar, but Ciampa then smashed Sabre’s head off the middle turnbuckle to break the hold. ZSJ managed to sneak back in by kicking Ciampa’s leg out of his leg as he went up top, before focusing a barrage of dropkicks onto Ciampa’s left knee. A series of heel holds followed, before ZSJ scored a near-fall from a penalty kick to Ciampa’s chest.

Ciampa knocked ZSJ loopy with a knee to the head, but that only earned him a two-count, then another knee after ZSJ flipped the middle fingers at him. We then segued into a failed Project Ciampa, as ZSJ went for another armbar, which Ciampa got out of by stamping on the head, then going for an armbar of his own, only for ZSJ to make the ropes. Sabre got to his feet twice more, only to be chopped back to the mat both times, before they went into a stiff slap fight.

ZSJ snuck in an armbar on Ciampa, who was able to power out of it by turning it into a Project Ciampa (powerbomb onto the knees), leaving both men laying. After getting back to their feet, they resumed trading forearms and near-falls, with Ciampa popping out of a ZSJ “no arms” bridge and scoring the win with a German suplex-style bridge for the pin. An all out war, which ended a little abruptly, but this was a hell of a match to close out PROGRESS’ year. ****¼

The London Riots (James Davis & Rob Lynch) vs. The Sumerian Death Squad (Michael Dante & Tommy End)
This has the makings of what Jim Ross would call a slobberknocker – the Sumerian Death Squad were well known for their wars during their run as PROGRESS tag team champions, and the London Riots are cut from a similar cloth, you would have to say.

Sure enough, from the off the action spilled outside, with both of the Riots connecting with dives to the floor, ending with Tommy End hitting a somersault plancha. James Davis took a suplex from the floor and onto the apron from Michael Dante, before taking a hiptoss into a kick. Back in the ring, the Dutchmen worked over the Londoners, at least until Davis flipped End inside out with a lariat, whilst Rob Lynch flattened Michael Dante with a cannonball of the apron.

Back in the ring, the Riots combined to take out End with a double-team sit-out powerbomb for a near-fall, but the Dutch replied with Michael Dante countered a superplex attempt, and pulled back Davis off the ropes so End could drill him with flying double knees. Rob Lynch then needed the help of James Davis after being suplexed across a knee by Tommy End, with Davis breaking up the count at two, before End was drilled with an Emerald Fusion and the Riots piled on, before Michael Dante broke up the cover.

The Sumerian Death Squad avoided a pop-up spear, before Tommy End drilled Davis with a spinning knee and then the Black Mass – but End refused to make the cover. Another powerbomb on Davis followed, but no cover was made, as commentator RJ Singh left the announce desk to try and calm things down (??), only to get a pump kick to the head. Dante then powerbombed James Davis onto an open chair, as the referee threw the match out, giving the London Riots the win by disqualification, but they certainly looked like they won a battle having lost a brutal war. ***½

Marty Scurll vs. Rampage Brown
This match was designed to show off the continued evolution of Marty Scurll, but he ended up flat on his backside early on courtesy of a Rampage dropkick, before a “low-pe” saw him caught by Rampage on the outside.

Back in the ring, Scurll caught Rampage with a powerbomb out of the corner, as the self-proclaimed Villain pounced on every misstep, following up with an armbreaker across the top rope on the former PROGRESS champion. Scurll went for a finger snap on Rampage, who responded with a stiff lariat, before a pick-up powerbomb scored Brown a near-fall.

Scurll then sent Brown flying to the floor with an uppercut as he was on the top rope, following up with – not a dive – but a kick the head from the apron, before trying for a chicken wing that Brown easily elbowed his way out of. After trading some shots, Scurll poked Rampage in the eye, only to fall to a pump kick, as Scurll started to run away from Rampage, who caught him by pulling on his man bun. The referee intervened to force the break, and in the mess, Scurll drilled Brown with an umbrella shot and then covered him for the pin.

This match was just there, I guess. Not really befitting a semi-final slot on the card, but it did what it needed to do as far as developing Scurll’s heel character. **½

Post-match, Brown slapped Scurll to the match, before channelling Ric Flair and dropping an elbow on the umbrella.

PROGRESS Championship: Zack Gibson vs. “Flash” Morgan Webster vs. Will Ospreay (c)
We end PROGRESS’ Manchester debut with a three-way, as the original winner of the second Natural Progression Series (“Flash” Morgan Webster) gets his PROGRESS title shot, as does Zack Gibson, who won the trophy in dubious circumstances last time out.

Gibson is pretty much universally hated in this match, and that’s before you even factor in his involvement with the Origin, and it was Gibson who went up against Webster firstly, reviving their battle at Chapter 23, but Gibson quickly found himself grounded by the champion the kip-up headscissors.

After cartwheeling out of the way of a charging Gibson, Ospreay connected with a twisting body press to the floor, and the fight continued out there, with the pair fighting by the bar, before a bloodied Gibson grabbed Webster and sent him flying through several rows of chairs. Webster responded with a knee to the face of Gibson, before going back into the ring to take on Ospreay once more.

Gibson broke up the staredown, then kicked Ospreay’s head out as he went for the kip-up headscissors again. Webster found himself on the receiving end of offence that targetted his arm, with Gibson clearly setting up for the Shankly Gates armlock, which he locked in, before Ospreay broke things up. Ospreay eventually got to work on Gibson with some kicks, but an attempted handspring off the ropes ended badly, feeling the effects of Gibson’s earlier arm attacks.

We finally get Webster and Ospreay against each other, with the duo trading forearm shots, before Ospreay followed up with a springboard forearm and a standing shooting star press for a near-fall. Webster scored a near-fall from a roll-up after he countered the Essex Destroyer, but saw a Special Brew Flip turned into another roll-up from Ospreay. The action continued at a similar pace between these two, until Zack Gibson broke up a ‘rana.

Ospreay connected with a dive to the floor on Gibson, before following up with an attempt to superplex Webster to the floor – Webster countered with a super hurricanrana, only for Ospreay to land on his feet, and connect with a handstand into the ropes and a kick, then a twisting press for another near-fall for the champion.

Webster caught Ospreay, and hopped on his back to lock in a sleeperhold, but was oblivious to Zack Gibson climbing the ropes, allowing the Liverpudlian to drill Ospreay (and by proxy, Webster) with a lungblower, before locking in the Shankly Gates on both of his opponents at once. Ospreay escaped, but his attempts to come off the top rope were thwarted by interference from El Ligero and the rest of the Origin, who kept Ospreay at bay outside the ring. Inside, Gibson caught Webster with a lungblower, then a brainbuster as Ospreay watched on helplessly.

As Gibson went to follow up with a Tiger Bomb, FSU and Jack Gallagher hit the ring to counter the Origin, with Webster and Ospreay clearing house with simultaneous dives to the floor. Webster and Ospreay crawled back into the ring to resume their encounter, as they exchanged slaps, and Ospreay catches a reverse ‘rana before landing the Red Arrow (corkscrew shooting star press). Zack Gibson threw Ospreay out to steal the pin, but Webster kicked out at two; Gibson then went for the Tiger Bomb again, only to get caught with a springboard Ace crusher from Ospreay.

“Flash” Morgan connected with a 450 Splash to the back of Gibson, but was unable to turn the Scouser around, and fell to a 630 Splash from Ospreay as he secured the win to retain the title. An amazing match, with a frenetic finish to it – a great way to close out the show, and indeed, the year for PROGRESS ****

The post-match saw the defeated Gibson exit stage left, whilst “Flash” Morgan received applause for his involvement. Ospreay remained in the ring as the usual copyright notices and sign-off graphics appeared, and much like NXT did with Sami Zayn and Kevin Owens, we had a post-show angle, with Marty Scurll rushing out with a chair, drilling the champion with a powerbomb, and several chair shots, then demanding a title shot – threatening to Pillmanize his arm if he didn’t get it. Of course, being a Villain, Scurll got his title shot, then stamped on the chair anyway. So there’s our main event for next time out!

All in, this was a stellar debut in Manchester for PROGRESS, with only one dud of a match on the entire card. It closed out a year full of action for PROGRESS, and was a sign of things to come as the group solidified bases in Camden and Manchester.