PROGRESS wrapped up their 2016 with mystery show – and unlike another recent one, this didn’t cause quite as much controversy!
Going in, absolutely nothing was known about this. The only guarantee was that the Electric Ballroom was, as usual, sold out, and that there’d probably be a ring. Okay, it’d be dumb to have had a WCW Backstage Assault-style show, especially since British wrestling’s already had one of those!
The show opened with a blast from the past: the Imperial March from Star Wars, and then Drake’s “Started From The Bottom”. That last song was “retired” after PROGRESS’ Brixton show, but its return here was cheered like the return of a long-gone hero.
We started the show proper with everyone’s favourite Kiwis – TK Cooper, Travis Banks and Dahlia Black. TK and Dahlia had new gear, which saw them dress up as King and Queen… like a playing card. Still, TK’s nowhere near the stupidest-looking-guy-in-wrestling wearing a cape and a crown, so we’ll let him off! Their opponents turned out to be an all-Welsh trio of FSU (Mark Andrews & Eddie Dennis) and Nixon Newell. This was tonnes of fun, and one of those times where intergender was done right. The Welsh trio went over in about 15 minutes in a match that featured a rather unique twist on “I’ll hit your partner if you hit mine”… except with kisses. Yeah…
Match number two ended up being streamed on Facebook, as Toni Storm beat Kay Lee Ray in about twelve minutes. A really good match, although we did have the whole “who do we cheer and who do we boo for?”… which would only bug Jim Cornette. Kay Lee’s not in the latest Natural PROGRESSion Series tournament, whilst Storm has already qualified for the second round, so this was a logical result.
Our third “match” was actually a Wasteman Challenge with Roy Johnson. The one and only Bodyguy… don’t believe imitation/old Twitter accounts folks. Roy’s “opponent” was a surprise in that we saw Mad Man Manson make a one-time return for a segment that I can only describe as gold. When this drops on Demand-PROGRESS in early 2017, fast forward to this!
The first half of the show ended with a tag team title match, as the “vacant” title shields went up as Trent Seven and Tyler Bate (who was “given” Pete Dunne’s title before they were stripped) faced the London Riots and a third team… and oh my God, we actually had someone come out of a box. Marty Scurll came out first, then went back for an equipment case, which eventually contained Zack Sabre Jr! After Zack lost to Pete Dunne last time out in Sheffield, this was the first time ever that ZSJ has appeared on back-to-back PROGRESS chapter shows, which blew my mind.
This one went over 20 minutes, and it didn’t seem to drag at all. Trent Seven is still a God when it comes to verbal selling, and playing up the heel character that the British Strong Style trio have adopted since the WWE:UK deal came up. “It’s time to play the game!” was a great way of nodding to that, without resorting to the same thing that every indy star going to WWE does… Pedigrees.
Rob Lynch no longer needs his face mask, and Tyler Bate seems to be snapping in and out of being a bad guy… by that I don’t mean “he forgot”, but they had a few spots where Trent had to snap Tyler into things. Whether that’s me reading way too much into this, or whether it’s a sewn seed…
Trent and Tyler – no longer billed as Moustache Mountain here – won to “retain” their titles, before signing off by crotch chopping and mockingly-signing the tag title shields. Which they again dumped/threw at the commentary table on the way out.
We had a longer-than-usual intermission as the wrestlers from the first half of the show sold merch (since this was a mystery show, only PROGRESS stuff was on sale beforehand)… which led to ringside at the Ballroom looking a lot like PWG, with wrestlers t-shirts being draped over the middle ropes as the ring became an impromptu market.
The second half of the show featured the only real “import” of the card, as Pete Dunne defended his PROGRESS title against Fabian Aichner. This was Aichner’s second PROGRESS appearance, and he’s made quite a career on the indy scene from his Cruiserweight Classic defeat to Jack Gallagher… which just shows you how impressive he was there. Aichner pushed Pete, but in the end the Italian’s impressive dives – including a springboard High Fly Flow to the floor – ended up costing him, as a missed double jump moonsault left him prone for Peter’s Drop Dead for the win. Like his stablemates, Pete waved goodbye to the crowd, and told us all we could “see (him) on the Network!”
Our semi-final was a tag team match, which elicited some groans as Sebastian came out twice for a tag team match, as Seb and Pastor William Eaver took on the newly-christened pairing of “Sex on the Beach” – in Jack Sexsmith and Chuck Mambo. Sebastian did his Chris Brookes/Toru Yano tribute by spitting/throwing his water bottle at the crowd… except this time the crowd fought back as a section near me actually threw some water at him. Twice.
This match felt a little odd – we had the expected “Sweet Jesus Explodes” moment, although that only came after Sebastian threatened Eaver following a lot of comedy with Mambo. We got some ga-ga to with Sebastian and Sexsmith – with Seb amping up the slapstick part perfectly by the end with a series that was somewhat gruesome. Sexsmith gave Sebastian a bare-arsed Stinkface… sending Seb scurrying under the ring. He returned with a lot of brown stuff on his face, before throwing up into the crowd. The end came when Sebastian ordered Eaver to dump Mambo with a pair of Clotheslines from Heaven – although a lot of the crowd seemed to not care, as Jack Sexsmith “slipped” on Sebastian’s vomit from earlier and ended up having medical personnel tend to him briefly.
Finally, our main event: Jimmy Havoc vs. Will Ospreay. Let that sink in. Will played the heel – a role he’s slowly switching to throughout the UK – and laid into Havoc big-time in their 15 minute outing. Eighteen months earlier, the roles were reversed as Havoc got some receipts for torturing Ospreay, but in the end, Will’s losing run continued despite his best efforts, as a Rainmaker earned Havoc another win.
Afterwards was the real story though: Havoc proposed a team with Will Ospreay to help fight off a trio in the back – I’m assuming he means British Strong Style, since Havoc is the number one contender to Peter’s title. After a humour-tinted apology, Ospreay seemed to shake Jimmy’s hand… only to kick him low and complete the heel turn, before Paul Robinson made a return with a barbed wire baseball bat. The Swords of Essex reunite in PROGRESS, and left Havoc laying after a beatdown in the ring with said bat, which tore chunks out of Havoc’s vest.
So, PROGRESS ends the year with British Strong Style holding almost all the gold… but now the next challenger is somewhat up in the air. Will Jimmy Havoc cash in his title shot knowing full well that the Swords (or at least, two-thirds of them) will likely ruin his chance?
In 2016, wrestling has been a saving grace. Here’s to a new year that’s as good as, if not even better in-ring!