We’re back to Manchester for our latest instalment of #BACKFILL, with PROGRESS’ first show “up north” in 2016. It’s perhaps the weirdest way for a non-wrestling fan to spend a Valentine’s Day – it’s Chapter 26: Unknown Pleasures.

Well, I say “weirdest way”, there were quite a few couples who came to the Ritz in Manchester – and were quickly identified by host Jim Smallman – with the rest of the crowd chanting “we’re all lonely” to get sympathy.

The Origin (Dave Mastiff & Zack Gibson) vs. Sweet Jesus (Chuck Mambo & “Pastor” William Eaver) vs. Dazzler Team (Darrell Allen & Earl Black Jr.) vs. Damian O’Connor & Joe Coffey
We start with four-way tag team action featuring two teams usually suited to the “secondary” ENDVR shows – including the team of Sweet Jesus, and all of their beach balls! There’s also the team of “Big Damo” O’Connor and “Iron Man” Joe Coffey, straight out of Scotland’s ICW group.

Earl Black Jr. attacks Eaver from behind after some antics with Darrell Allen, before the Pastor took down the pair with a double clothesline to get us going, before Mambo pulls off a Mexican surfboard on Allen in the corner, releasing him into the hands of Eaver with a deadlift Fisherman’s suplex for the match’s first near-fall.

The Dazzler Team works over Mambo with some double-teams, with Allen scoring a near-fall from a slingshot into the ring, before Dave Mastiff came in and started firing away with punches to the gut of Mambo. Eventually, Mambo makes the tag in to Joe Coffey, and the Iron Man cleans house on Zack GIbson, with a butterfly airplane spin turned into a suplex, before giving a piggyback/Giant swing to both members of the Dazzler Team. That was impressive!

The Origin started to get the better of Coffey, utilising quick tags, but when the Dazzlers came in, they started to lose control… literally, as a back flip by Joe Coffey saw him land awkwardly on his head, before tagging in Big Damo, who cleared out the Dazzlers with clotheslines, before doing the Michael Elgin fallaway slam/Samoan drop spot.

We then saw Mastiff and Damo go face to face, with the Dazzler team trying to interject themselves and connect with suplexes on the big guys… that then turned into a comedy spot with everyone else adding themselves in to try and do the suplex spot, only for Mastiff and Damo to reverse and suplex two guys each. The big guys go toe to toe again, with Mastiff hitting Damo below the belt, and things break down with Mambo landing on everyone with a twisting plancha to the floor.

Darrell Allen hits an enziguiri on Eaver, before missing the same move on Gibson, who rolls him up into a guillotine with a grapevined leg, only for Mambo to hit a springboard double knee to the head. Thing break down again as it gets a little spotty, with Coffey hitting a discus clothesline and Damo a back senton on Earl Black Jr, as Eaver finally gets a cover for a count of two. Cue repeated two-counts on Black, with Chuck Mambo ending up losing as he found his cover on Black ended early, with Gibson scoring a roll-up with a handful of tights for the win.

Decent match with good action, and plenty of “ooh, I’d like to see more of that” featuring the bigger guys. Perhaps they’ll have a tournament featuring them? (I know…) ***¾

Post-match, Damo and Coffey unload on the Pastor and Mambo, taking down Eaver with a clothesline, before dropping Earl Black Jr with a European uppercut. They ended their mayhem by piling up Black, Mambo and Eaver and squashing them all with a back senton. Ouch.

Bubblegum vs. Jack Sexsmith
It’s Valentines’ Day, it’s Bubblegum (he of the “he’s just a rent boy” chants), and it’s Jack Sexsmith. Can you guess what sort of comedy we’re in for here? Particularly when Sexsmith comes out with a can of whipped cream, spraying it in fans’ mouths as he makes his way to the ring. Bubblegum is not too pleased with the gimp being there, but realises it’s not who he thinks it is after he remembers that PROGRESS is for over-18s. I’ll just let you all Google the now-jailed former England and Sunderland footballer Adam Johnson and we’ll leave it at that…

Lots of shenanigans to start us off with, before Bubblegum slaps the living hell out of Sexsmith, as both guys quickly end up having their arses on display. Sexsmith slaps Bubblegum’s behind, and it’s time for “Adam Johnson” to join the fun. Bubblegum returns after having pulled up his trunks as Sexsmith’s full moon is still on show, but that doesn’t stop him from getting grounded in a rear chinlock.

Sexsmith blocks two sweaty fingers from Bubblegum with a wristlock, but then decides to take them in his mouth anyway, before Bubblegum low blows his way out of a stinkface and then a roll-up for a near-fall. A release suplex scores another two-count, before Bubblegum locked in a Boston Crab – and although Sexsmith tapped, he technically had grabbed the referee’s hand to do the tapping, so it didn’t count. In amongst the confusion, Sexsmith went for Mr Cocko, and almost delivered it to the referee as Bubblegum got out of the way, before Bubblegum caught Sexsmith with a superkick and the Ice Cream Headache (pedigree) for the win.

Decent enough comedy match, with two guys who can thankfully go in the ring and don’t need to wholly rely on comedy. **½

South Pacific Power Couple (TK Cooper & Dahlia Black) vs. “Flash” Morgan Webster & Pollyanna
This match came from PROGRESS’ last chapter – “Chat Shit Get Banged” – where TK Cooper punched Pollyanna in the women’s four-way match… even though it didn’t help Dahlia Black get the win in the end. So we’re left with a mixed-tag, as real-life partners Cooper and Black take on Pollyanna and her partner for the evening, “Flash” Morgan Webster.

Cooper grounded Webster early on with a wristlock, with Webster keeping things even on the ground. Pollyanna gets tagged in, and unlike WWE mixed-tags, the men and women can face off against each other. Pollyanna goes to work on Black with hair-assisted snapmares, before Black “kiss-tags” in Cooper, as that pairing continues to draw the ire of the Manchester crowd. We end up with TK working over Pollyanna in the corner, before whipping her face-first into the middle buckle. Cooper works several nice spots where he threatens to hit a high impact move onto Pollyanna, only to work it into kissing Dahlia – eh, I’ll take that over the borderline misogynistic intergender stuff that Lucha Underground puts out.

Pollyanna takes advantage of a miscommunication between the New Zealanders, but Dahlia Black pulls Webster off the apron just as he was about to get tagged. Cooper and Black then go up to the top rope, and miss with a double senton that was aimed at Pollyanna, who manages to DDT Cooper and then finally make the tag back out to Webster, who drills Cooper with a tope to the outside.

A moonsault press and a standing shooting star press follows as Webster gets a two-count on Cooper, before Webster uses Cooper as a human weapon, hurling him into Dahlia with an armdrag. Pollyanna then goes to work on Dahlia, scoring a near-fall with a TKO as TK breaks it up, only to drill Pollyanna with a punch to the gut, before Webster hits a high knee as TK went to punch Pollyanna.

Dahlia managed to kick out of a Pollinater (Angel’s Wings), before an attempt at a second one was thwarted with Cooper and Dahlia combining to hit a double stomp into a TKO on Pollyanna for another near-fall. They then hit a bodyslam/lungblower combo on Pollyanna for another two-count, as the South Pacific Power Couple displayed some good double-team offence. Webster then showed innovation himself, forcing the New Zealanders into an error and then an “accidental Stunner” on Dahlia by Cooper.

Webster turned a tiltawhirl into a tornado DDT, but couldn’t capitalise, as he focussed on Dahlia, who countered an Electric Chair drop into a reverse ‘rana, before turning into a “Finish Her” (back-to-belly piledriver), which needed Cooper to break up the pin for. Cooper then missed a chain-assisted punch on Pollyanna, but again Dahlia broke up the action, as Webster drilled Cooper with a running high knee and then the 630 Splash for the win. That match was a whole lot better than I expected going in, with the innovative ways to avoid over-the-top intergender action. Not sure why Webster – who wasn’t in the storyline before this match – took the win, but I’ll take it! ***½

Timothy Thatcher vs. Jack Gallagher
Coming into this match as the EVOLVE champion, this was Thatcher debut in PROGRESS… and unlike certain other Thatchers I could have thought of, he got a good reaction.

This one was all about technical wrestling, with Thatcher starting off with a wristlock on Gallagher, before Gallagher returns fire with a heel-hook that morphs into an STF. That wristlock battle continued, with Gallagher finding new ways to escape the hold, before grounding Thatcher with a leg-lock. The crowd fell silent as they continued their grapple-fest, with the odd cheers as Gallagher ratcheted up the pressure by adding a neck bridge to the leg-lock. Thatcher took the match to the outside briefly, but got caught coming back inside when Gallagher hit a Dragon screw whilst Thatcher was in the ropes.

Thatcher tried to get into the match with strikes, but Gallagher took him down with an ankle lock that resembled a single-leg Boston crab that forced Thatcher to make the ropes. Thatcher used a knee strike to stun Gallagher, then picked him up with a series of rolling gutwrench suplexes. A butterfly suplex scored Thatcher a two-count, as he then turned it into an armbar that forced Gallagher into the ropes for the break.

Gallagher blocked a kimura attempt with a release German suplex, but Thatcher returned fire with a headbutt, before rushing into a rolling Boston crab, forcing Thatcher to tap out of nowhere. That felt a little short, and largely got no response as the crowd watched on, but technically this was pretty good – I’d put the lack of crowd reactions down to Thatcher, since Gallagher’s been able to work the crowd in the past (and Thatcher bored me senseless on the EVOLVE shows over WrestleMania weekend). ***½

Mikey Whiplash vs. Rampage Brown
This could easily have been tossed out as a throwaway match, but after a standard collar-and-elbow tie-up, the fishnet-wearing Whiplash found himself on the receiving end of some chops and forearms, before they end up outside the ring.

Rampage takes a hard bodyslam on the floor of the Ritz, with Whiplash dropping an elbow off the apron onto the floor, a la Cactus Jack. The action continues around ringside, with Whiplash being whipped through rows of chairs, almost taking a short-cut to the bar! Whiplash blocks a piledriver and backdrops Rampage, clipping some chairs on his way to the floor, before working on Rampage’s left knee. Brown gets caught in a ringpost-assisted figure four by Whiplash, but Rampage wins a battle of forearms and eventually drops him with a Samoan drop.

Whiplash fights out of a piledriver, and responds with a rebound lariat off the ropes, but takes his time in making the cover and gets only a two-count. A crossface follows next for Whiplash, but Rampage easily makes the ropes, and after Whiplash misses a dropkick in the corner, follows up with a belly-to-back superplex off the top, dumping Whiplash on his neck.

Moments later, Rampage scored the win with a piledriver, catching Whiplash as he re-entered the ring, and then hoisting him up for the move, scoring the winning three-count in the process. A good hard hitting match, if nothing special. ***

Tommy End vs. James Davis
Following up on the last chapter, where Rob Lynch beat Michael Dante, we now have the other halves of the London Riots and the Sumerian Death Squad facing off. The teams face off properly at Chapter 27, in a tag match which will be a tables, ladders and chairs match, with one other stipulation – with the winner of this match deciding what it is.

They start off exchanging blows, with End holding onto Davis’ arm and repeatedly kicking him in the head. Davis dropkicks End to the outside, and then drills him with a trio of topes into a low-wall behind the front row, before suplexing End into the turnbuckles in what was a frenetic opening.

A double stomp scored End a near-fall, as he ground down Davis with a seated abdominal stretch, before stunning Davis with a ripcord elbow, following up with a high knee and a German suplex for a near-fall. A small package after a roundhouse kick and another jumping knee scores another two-count for End, before a bloodied Davis almost steals it with an Emerald Fusion.

Davis catches a high knee and follows through with a rolling Fireman’s carry and a moonsault for a two-count, then a sit-out powerbomb for another near-fall. Out of nowhere, End catches Davis in an octopus-like hold, forcing him to tap, and giving the Dutchman the win. That match felt a little on the short side, but was enjoyable while it lasted. ***¼

After the match, End announces his stipulation for the tag team match at the next chapter – and it means that the TLC match will spell the end of the Sumerian Death Squad/London Riots feud, as the losing team will be forced to disband!

PROGRESS Championship: Mark Haskins vs. Marty Scurll (c)
This is Scurll’s first defence after winning the title from Will Ospreay last time out, and the two started early on for their submission holds, with Haskins’ seemingly perma-injured shoulder being targetted by Scurll.

Scurll blocks a tornado DDT to the floor, but ends up taking a tope from Haskins – only to reply with a thumb to the eye and a powerbomb into the ringpost. The action continued on the floor, with Haskins taking a back suplex onto the apron as they returned to the confines of the squared circle.

A grounded Haskins found himself take several chops from Scurll, as he fired back to his feet, responding with forearms and chops of his own as Scurll scurried for cover. Haskins wheelbarrowed Scurll out of the corner and transitioned neatly into the Sharpshooter, but Scurll was able to make the ropes.

Scurll grabbed Haskins by the hand, but couldn’t pull of the finger snap, instead taking a knee to the face and a superkick. Haskins flipped out of a release suplex, and rolled through into an armbar as Scurll reached the ropes, before countering a second armbar attempt with a reversed suplex. An attempted crossface was easily escaped by Scurll, who then hit a roaring elbow before being caught in a triangle choke by the challenger.

An attempt at the Rings of Saturn ended up with Haskins taking a buckle bomb, and another reverse suplex, before a Shining Wizard earned the champion a near fall. Scurll started to signal for the chicken wing, but Haskins elbowed his way out, and rolled Scurll into a stretch muffler, which he was able to kick out of.

Haskins landed on the apron, but rolling to the floor ended up being a bad call as he took a superkick to the back of the head, but a superplex from Scurll ended up with Haskins scoring a near-fall from a roll-up after the impact. Scurll followed up by locking in Bryan Danielson’s old Cattle Mutiliation double chickenwing, transitioning it into a normal chickenwing, but Haskins somehow managed to counter that into another armbar.

On their knees, the two combatants started trading forearms as they worked their way up, but Scurll raked the eyes to regain an advantage, before using the finger snap to counter a German suplex attempt. Haskins caught Scurll in a fireman’s carry, and drills him with the “Welcome to Japan” (TKO) for a near fall, then the “Made in Japan” (pumphandle half nelson driver; sort-of like Kenny Omega’s one winged angel) for another two-count.

After absorbing those two moves though, Scurll picked up an umbrella and invited Haskins to hit him with it – and get disqualified to boot. In the end, Haskins gave the umbrella to the referee, giving Scurll a window to kick Haskins low and roll him up with a small package for the nearest of near-falls. A shocked Scurll then grabbed Haskins and drilled him with Danielson-like repeat elbows to the head, before stomping on the chin of Haskins to knock him out, and then lock in the chicken wing one last time as the referee stopped the match.

That was a hell of a brutal match, and I’m happy to see Scurll continue to grow into his role as champion. The finishing sequence was extremely violent (without adding weapons or anything like that), and added to the match. ****

Post-match, Scurll Pillmanised Haskins’ arm – like he did to Will Ospreay a few shows earlier – as we ended up with Haskins’ wife coming in to calm him down as the show faded to black.

Overall, this was a fun show that started out with a hell of a four-way tag match, with a surprisingly-good mixed tag as well. Good to see that PROGRESS kept up their run of good shows in Manchester, rather than putting on an unsatisfying softball of a show ahead of their 4th anniversary card in March.