Ton-up PROGRESS closed out 2019 with their annual Unboxing mystery show – and also said farewell to Jim Smallman as the promotion headed into unfamiliar waters…

We’re straight into a sold out Electric Ballroom, bypassing an entrance Jim got for his farewell… but not a parlour game where Jim has the crowd sit down depending on how many shows they’ve been to. In the end it’s Gadge who’s the last man standing. Glutton for punishment he is! Glen Joseph and Matthew Taylor Richards are on commentary…

Jerry Bakewell & Mercedez Blaze vs. Cassius & Nye-Oh
This would have been the pre-show match, but illness and drop-outs mean it got promoted to the main card. We’re told this despite this being a *mystery show*, but given the names involved, I kinda get why. We don’t get intros, so we cross-fade straight into Jim’s introductions…

Nye-oh (who they tag as Ny-oh here, so toss a coin for the right spelling, I guess) is a Robbie Brookside trainee and out of the four here perhaps had the least experience. Stuff happens while Glen reads chapter and verse, and it’s Cassius and Bakewell whose early exchanges led to Cassius showboating a little too much, as Bakewell gave him a bit of a ticking off.

Bakewell goes to the ropes as he shucks and jives, only to get struck by Cassius, who went for a hip attack… which prompts Bakewell to tag out. Cassius does too, so we get Blaze and Nye-oh, and it’s Blaze who suckers Nye-oh in with headscissors into the corner. A shotgun dropkick blasts Nye-oh back in there, but she recovers and brings in Cassius for the intergender portion of things, as he drops a double sledge onto Blaze’s arm.

Blaze tries to take Cassius into the corner, but he reverses it and takes her in for a hip attack, which ends with a suckerpunch from Bakewell. Presumably enraged at finding Cassius’ body glitter on himself. He tags back in to dump Cassius with a slam, following up with a sharp knee drop for a near-fall, before Blaze came close with a snap suplex. Hair mares fling Cassius around, before his attempt to fight back ended with Bakewell pulling Nye-oh off the apron. A neckbreaker’s good for a near-fall, before Bakewell came in and found himself caught in satellite headscissors. Nye-oh’s back to clothesline Blaze around, following up with a springboard forearm only for the burly Bakewell to shove her down. He tags back in, but so does Cassius after a blind tag, and he quickly gets help as Nye-oh’s dropkick helps a crossbody take him down.

From there, a knee from Nye-oh and a twerking DDT from Cassius spikes Bakewell, only for Blaze to break things up, eventually dispatching of Cassius with a spear. Nye-oh’s legal, as is Bakewell, and a deadlift Fisherman suplex gets a sparkly Jerry the win. Decent for a pre-show contest, although I do wonder how much of the crowd connection was Cassius… **

Before the next match we’re greeted with technical issues… and Joel reprising his character from the 80s. Those issues mean Jim’s gotta stall for time, which included going back to first timers in the crowd. Depending on how you feel about these segments, this was either perfectly fine, or it died a death… and that’s without being there live, clock-watching…

In the end, the stalling was for Roy Johnson, who was out for a Wasteman Challenge to mark the other event today: chapter 100. Since this is going to bleed into a match anyway, Johnson says the winner will pick the stipulation, and then calls for some warm bodies. First up: Ligero… then Scotty Davis… then the Anti-Fun Police… then Gene Munny (who brought his big boy pants, but sadly not the dog house)… and finally, Kid Lykos, complete with a doctor’s note. And a lot of OIs.

Cheapshots include Roy Johnson calling Lykos “the big bad wolf on ketamine”, Santos a “dark Eric Cartman”… and then Johnson doing a Big Wiggle. Scotty Davis calling Big Wavy “unbearably shite… Ligero and Ridgeway had their own doctor’s note to get out of it, as we reached into original Ligero canon. Santos beatboxing La Cucaracha. Gene spitting some positivity… and bringing up some Schaden-canon with Damian Dunne to confuse the heck out of them. Lykos has the easy killshot for Johnson, before he nominated himself as the winner… and picked the hellscape that was a reverbing reverse battle royal. Well, why not tick off all the in jokes in one go?

We’ve got more memes: Stupid Sexy Travis Banks. I mean, he’s saved his original trunks, so why not bust this out? Oh, and a dance-off. Well, we may as well make sure EVERYTHING is done…

Reverse Battle Royal: Ligero vs. Scotty Davis vs. Chris Ridgeway vs. Chief Deputy Dunne vs. Los Federales Santos Jr. vs. Gene Munny vs. Travis Banks
Eliminations occur when you’re thrown into the ring, and Glen’s holding his head in… agony? Anyway, everyone starts on the stage via a conga line, and we have a brawl to start off. Then some twerking from Banks and Ridgeway, with Trav eventually getting booted off the stage.

Ridgeway takes a nasty landing as Scotty Davis Gator rolls him off the stage, while Gene Munny hits a double sledge before a flip tope from Ligero completes the wild stuff. Gene and Trav make it to ringside, as does everyone else, before Santos pulled out the No Fun Gun to chase Ligero around ringside. It ends with Ligero running into a breathless Santos, who rolls him into the ring for the elimination. Munny and Santos climb onto the apron next, but Gene lifts Santos into the ring for the next elimination… before Banks saved Gene from himself as he tried to spear his way in. Unfortunately it meant we saw Gene’s tattoo’d arse, and almost a lot more… before he fell into the ring as he went to do a dive.

Davis had Ridgeway in a heel hook on the floor, which may as well be a life preserver for both men. Roy Johnson’s thrown in next, and gets a patronising “hi” from Gene, before Chris Ridgeway’s thrown in, then hops across the ring on one foot until a lip lock from Travis Banks made him fall in. Scotty Davis does the Moustache Flip to send Travis Banks into the ring. That ‘tache flip… I hope never EVER becomes a thing, because you know how comedy spots have a tendency of getting hammered into the ground. Cue chants of “are you watching, Vince McMahon?” Maybe he’ll think this is a fever dream too? We’re down to Dunne and Davis, trading blows on the apron, before Dunne pushed Davis between the ropes… and the Chief wins. At least they’ve gotten the reverse battle royal gag out of their systems after almost eight years, but this is something I’d hope is literally one and done. I’m sure live, I’d have enjoyed this, and if you get all of the in jokes, you’ll like it, but this died a death on VOD as the whole segment felt never-ending. ¼*

Ilja Dragunov vs. Kyle Fletcher
Chris Roberts was brought back for this one – not counting Super Strong Style 16, this was his first outing in over a year, after having left at Wembley. And hey, after a shaky start, on paper this match could be genuinely ace. Even if the crowd had no idea what to make of Kyle Fletcher’s Hayabusa-ish mask.

It’s a little testy from the off as the pair locked up and went into the corner, but we’re quickly at a stand-off after Ilja missed a back suplex, before he got clotheslined to the outside, with Kyle quickly following out with a tope. Chops follow at ringside, before Kyle kicked Ilja into a chair, before he cannonballed him out of it. Back in the ring, Ilja’s sent into the corner after forearms looked to bloody up the former wXw champion as Fletcher was looking to demonstrate a less happy-go-lucky side of himself. Dragunov fought back with palm strikes and a suplex, before a lariat and a huge knee drop off the top began to get Ilja some two-counts. A trade-off of enziguiri has Kyle on the outside, ducking a 619 from Ilja, who instead followed up with a big body press to the floor.

Throwing Kyle back in, Ilja looks to follow up off the top, but had to make do with taking Kyle to the top rope for some chops, only to get caught with an avalanche Michinoku driver. Somehow, Ilja’s back up trading forearms with Fletcher, then chops as a knee lift and an enziguiri looked to have Fletcher stunned, only for him to counter the Ode to Konstantin lariat with a clothesline. A brainbuster from Fletcher’s good for a two-count, so he followed up by looking for an Aussie Arrow, only to have to make do with a superkick as Fletcher again flew with a crossbody, which Ilja caught and rolled through as he readjusted into a death valley driver in the corner. Nice! Dragunov keeps the pressure up with the back senton off the top, only to get caught with another Michinoku driver as the match remained insanely even.

Kyle looked to go for the hammerlocked tombstone, but instead went up top to get caught as Ilja hits a superplex – again for a two-count. A Coast to Coast from Ilja’s cut off with a superkick as Kyle followed him outside with a step-up senton, but Ilja’s ready back inside for another flurry of shots, leading to the Ode to Konstantin, before a Torpedo Moscau’s turned into a Liger Bomb for a near-fall. Fletcher pushes on with an Aussie Arrow lawn dart, before Ilja’s teardrop German suplex evened things up one more time as the Coast to Coast follows… then a Torpedo Moscau for the win. Going almost 20 minutes, this felt almost like a sprint, and utterly refreshing after the prior match. A loss for Kyle may look bad, but he’ll have gained a lot in defeat as he looks to establish himself as a singles wrestler for the forseeable. ***¾

PROGRESS Unified World Championship: Eddie Dennis (c) vs. The OJMO
There’s a loose link to the past here – the OJMO was David Starr’s “pick” for the Natural Progression Series, and Eddie’s just beaten him… that being said, it is a bit weird OJMO’s gotten a random title shot so soon, although it does encapsulate the story of him going from pre-show to world title shot in a year.

Dennis dominates fairly early on, working over OJMO’s wrist and arm, taking him down to the mat and dictating the pace. Eventually, OJMO hiptosses free, then ducked under a leapfrogging Eddie ahead of some headscissors and a dropkcik as the challenger looked to force an opening. OJMO goes for some headscissors from a floatover, but just gets shoved to the floor as the OJMO was quickly back on the defensive, getting thrown into the corner. A knee drop gets Eddie a two-count, as does a slightly stalling suplex, before OJMO responds with an enziguiri and an eventual missile dropkick for a near-fall.

OJMO tries to follow up off the top rope, but he’s caught by Eddie who looked for an avalanche Severn Bridge… which is countered with a ‘rana as OJMO picked up where he left off. Dropkicks have Eddie in the ropes, while a moonsault off of a mini balcony had Eddie in trouble. Eddie grabs referee Marc Parry to use him as a human shield, following through with a forearm and a massive Severn Bridge that dumps OJMO and nearly wins the match. A battle of forearms has Eddie on the back foot, but he pulls the referee into a superkick as OJMO proceeded to land one of his own… for a long visual pin.

Eddie rolls away as OJMO was looking to leap off the top… and somehow grabs his title belt which he uses to bat away a running OJMO. The OJMO manages to reply with a DDT onto the belt, then a Lo Down frog splash, but the ref’s slow and only gets in a two-count as the crowd thought they’d seen a new champion crowned. A half crab follows, with Eddie looking in trouble… but he rolls out and pushes OJMO into the corner before another ref bump hides a low blow.

OJMO kicks out of a roll-up after that, then traps Eddie in another half crab… holding on despite Eddie pushing him away, before he got pushed to the top rope. He returns with a Destroyer off the middle rope, then looked to land a leaping knee, only to get dumped with a lariat as a Severn Bridge buckle bomb and a Next Stop Driver to finally put OJMO away. Eddie needed a LOT of shortcuts, but this was a quite solid match – one that I think the crowd may have bitten more for had this not been a mid-card title match on a mystery show. The OJMO’ll get to the top of the mountain one day, but this… wasn’t that day. ***½

So, that last “hiya” was a bit underwhelming, eh? The second half starts with Jim getting a carriage clock for his final show, before Jinny came out. We’re told that the plan (for the mystery show, mind you) was for them to do the match vs. Toni Storm that was dropped a month ago when Toni was called up for Survivor Series. Today, Toni’s unwell, so instead we just get camo Jinny to tell us she’s a one of the reasons why women are a big part of PROGRESS… before shouting down the handful of folks who tried to get a “Pollyanna” chant going.

She proceeds to say that women’s wrestling is being run by her, and they’ll be main eventing chapter shows because they involve her… not to score easy likes. Well, they’ve got a LOT of work to build up challengers and the entire division before we get there regularly.

Paul Robinson vs. Connor Mills vs. Mark Haskins vs. Cara Noir
This isn’t for the Proteus title, which draws groans from the crowd given Eddie Dennis literally just defended his title on the random show. Then again, how would a four-way submission or KO-only match work?

This was Haskins’ first show since the 80s throwback… or before that, his first Ballroom shot since he beat DNR in a handicap match in February. Memories.

We start off hot as everyone tries a big move early, before Haskins tried to form an alliance with Mills to take on Paul Robinson. Connor refuses, so they just gang up on him instead. Things are perhaps way too breathless as Robinson dives on Haskins on the outside to scant reaction, before Connor Mills’ diving uppercut gets barely a two-count on Noir. Haskins manages to get the crowd going as he ran around ringside booting everyone, before kicking away a handstand from Noir.

Connor Mills tries to fly in, but Haskins catches him as a camel clutch/Boston crab combo’s broken up by a stomp from Robinson. Cara tries to smooch, but Robinson bites him away before he leapt into a Madame Guillotine brainbuster in a NICE counter from Cara. Mills hits a roundhouse kick to Cara as the pace remained high, with Mills moonsaulting to the floor before returning and leaping into a cross armbar from Haskins.

We get stacked up submissions that Robinson breaks up with Danielson elbows. We keep going as Haskins’ own stomp off the top gets a two-count on Cara, before he ploughed through Robinson with some mid kicks. Randomly Vicki Haskins fishes under the ring for a chair, which Mark tosses at Robinson’s head. Connor Mills tries again, but Robinson headbutts it away and comes up red before he got dropkicked to the outside by Noir… who then caught Haskins with the Blackout sleeper.

Haskins tapped, but Vicki pulled out the ref, so it doesn’t count… Mark goes back in for a Sharpshooter, while Vicki Haskins plays guard in the ring, only for Cara to grab Vicki by the hair as Mill sand Robinson had their own little scrap. Vicki swings her bat at Robinson, then slaps him… which just riles him up some more. Mark hits a low blow, before Robinson recovers to throw Haskins into his other half… cue a Parade of Moves, starting with a nasty stomp onto a chair, before Cara Noir kicks Mills away in mid air as a package piledriver gets the number one contender the win. A good little match, but this felt a little rushed as they perhaps were looking to claw back time from a massively over-running first half… ***

Moustache Mountain (Trent Seven & Tyler Bate) vs. Dan Moloney & Rampage Brown
This was Tyler’s first visit to the Ballrom since last year’s funereal send-off match… luckily, the reaction for him this time around was MUCH brighter. We’ve got overdubs for Rampage Brown’s music (which begs the question, why can’t that be the way always, even if you can sorta hear it?). The music’s right. Through delirium, it will be heard!

If you want to be a cynic, we can ask “is Dan Moloney really the politically neutral Great O-Kharn?”, as some dubbed this a battle of OTT and kinda-Rev Pro’s tag champions. Remember when Trent Seven picked Dan Moloney for the NPS?

Anyway, we get going with Tyler using an armdrag to take down Moloney, before tags brought in Trent and Dan as they went in for shoulder tackles. Trent switches it up with chops, but that don’t impress Rampage, who just hits a DDT… before Moloney came in and got suckered into a DDT as well.

Trent’s retiring crossbody takes Moloney down ahead of a legdrop for a two-count, before Tyler came in to hit a flip senton off of Trent’s shoulders for a near-fall. A Black Hole slam leads to tags as Tyler runs into a slam from Rampage, who proceeds to dropkick Trent right in the mush, before Tyler struggled to lift up Rampage, eventually getting him up for an airplane spin. Moloney tags straight back in as Trent returns to trade chops, before Dan looked to go for a Drilla piledriver, only for Tyler to blind tag in and hit a Tyler Driver for a near-fall. Dan stops a rebound lariat, but it works at the second time as he’s taken into a Dragon suplex, with Trent diving into Rampage with a slide under the bottom rope… only to get DDT’d onto the floor from it.

Trent recovers to go for a Birming-Hammer, but Moloney slips out as Rampage hits a piledriver behind the ref’s back… followed up by a Drilla on Trent as Tyler broke it all up with a stomp. Tyler’s tossed outside, but he’s back as Moloney’s kicked off the top rope and into the clutches of Trent as a stomp-assisted Birming-Hammer gets the win. A lovely sprint of a match, and one I’d have liked to have gone on longer but… y’know. ***

I wonder what the main event is gonna be? The last PROGRESS match under Jim’s stewardship? Well, there’s plunder in the ring randomly, so why not have a death match? For the hell of it…

Death Match: David Starr vs. Jimmy Havoc
Overdubs are ready for Jimmy Havoc, but the ear-piercing screams for his entrance poke through.

Starr runs when Havoc teased going for the staple gun, as Starr switched around by trying to take Havoc into a barbed wire board… then into a bin? The bin lid’s used to bat Starr away as Havoc finally uses the staple gun, stapling Starr’s t-shirt to his back. They spill outside as Starr uses a chair on Havoc’s back, before a table’s pulled out.

Havoc tosses a chair at Starr repeatedly before he threw Starr into the crowd. Davey comes back bleeding, while Havoc goes into the bin to find a fork… before Starr replied by dumping him onto the top of the bin. Ow. By the way, did Havoc “literally bleed to death”? Is he a zombie here? Hyperbole…

Starr keeps using the bin on Havoc, who was on all fours and flipping off the American… so Starr stomps the middle finger before he stopped himself from whacking Havoc on the head, and instead… went to open up some skewers. Havoc’s not a fan of those, instead, going for his canvas bag of drawing pins, pouring them on a chair as Havoc threw Starr’s hand onto the pins. Havoc punches Starr into the chair, but a turn around means Havoc takes the chair face first before he’s slammed onto some open chair legs. Feck. Starr’s back to the skewers, which he drives into Havoc’s head for a wooden mohawk… and they’re quickly returned as Starr’s given some wood… which then gets kneed into the head before a DDT got Havoc a near-fall.

Starr retaliates with a brainbuster onto the drawing pinned chair, but Havoc fought back with a piledriver off the apron and through the table from earlier after having used a Kendo stick to wear down Starr. It’s good for a delayed two-count back in the ring, as Havoc then set up a chair on its side and looked to stomp Starr through it… for another near-fall.

A low blow from Starr gets him back in it, as he powerbombs Havoc onto the edges of the chair, before he went for a jar of something… SALT?! He pours it on Havoc, then himself, before looking under the ring for a second table. It’s eventually set-up, with the barbed wire board put on top of it, which led to Starr going for an avalanche Product Placement through the wired table… but Havoc elbows free and sends Starr into the table, which of course didn’t break.

Nor did it after Havoc stomped on Starr, before an Acid Rainmaker onto the barb wire board got the win. They did some crackers stuff for a mystery show deathmatch (even more so considering Starr hopped straight on a plane and worked for Beyond’s New Year’s Eve show the very next night), but this felt weirdly out of place. Yeah, you got the pop for Jimmy Havoc’s return, and I guess his thing in PROGRESS is death matches, but still… ***

After the match, Havoc thanked Jim Smallman, hugged him and made his exit, while David Starr once again seemed to say his farewells. All that’s left was for Jim Smallman to say his goodbyes, putting the focus on Jon, Glen and Matt, before he off-handedly brought up how he’d probably be a fan at Super Strong Style “or something”. Live, Jim left the ring and waved a final farewell… on the VOD, we fade to black, as PROGRESS prepare to enter unfamiliar waters in the new decade.

With some late changes, Unboxing was a little behind the 8-ball early on – discounting the pre-show match that was bumped onto the main card, there really was only one divisive match on the whole card. It’s just a shame that the first HOUR of the VOD only had nine minutes of wrestling (that being the opener), as it made for a rather disconnected viewing experience. If you’re on the fence when it comes to the inside jokes, skip straight to the third match and you ought to be fine.

PROGRESS have never been a company to focus on the obvious milestones. Anniversary shows aren’t a thing here, and while the timing of Jim Smallman leaving after chapter 100 meant it was an obvious answer to the question of “which do we commemorate more? Jim or 100 chapters?” Combining Jim’s farewell, the century show and Unboxing into one card made for a rather weird feeling – while we didn’t have the solemn mood that plagued the end of last year’s Unboxing, a lot of the memes and in-jokes around PROGRESS getting thrown onto one show did feel jarring at times, even if this was non-canon. Glen on commentary mentioned at the end how there’s a new PROGRESS, a new ethos and all that… that’s much needed, given how 2019’s gone. The end of 2019’s seen PROGRESS build up some new faces on their roster – and with the first show of the “new era” in less than a fortnight, it’ll be interesting to see what else – if anything – changes, other than a new person on ring announcing duties.