It’s a new decade, a new era and a new start in PROGRESS… but some things looked strangely familiar!

This was the first show for PROGRESS without Jim Smallman’s involvement, and we have a new anti-piracy ad. We learned that the hard way. There’s new stencil-graffiti graphics too, and a lot of flags in the venue. Yay for changing the look, but there’s something to be said for having it at least feel authentic, and not just “here’s our old shirts, in flag form”. Well, until they release that “drop elbows, not bombs” flag as a tee…

I kinda get they’re going for a Japanese-style “flags in the crowd” look, but the sudden change made it look like they were going for an EVE-in-the-ResGal feel. And missed. Of course, Matt Richards has replaced Jim, and there’s some fun poked his way. Matt doesn’t get to speak for long as he’s interrupted by music, and a new isometric hard cam. Eddie Dennis is out, looking solemn in a WWE hoodie, and he’s got something to say. Once he’s taken words out of my mouth over the flags.

Eddie tells us that at the NXT UK tapings two days earlier he separated his shoulder. There’s an inconsiderate bastard in the crowd, as Eddie tells us he’s been told to give up the title. That is yet more rotten luck for Eddie. He refuses to vacate the belt, and instead tries to give it to somebody deserving. He builds it up, and the crowd laughs it off because they know who the “most significant former champion” was… it’s the man with PROGRESS’ equivalent of the Yokozuna run at Wrestlemania 9… it’s Mark Andrews.

Andrews hands out party poppers as they make this snarky as all hell, while Eddie looked to really underscore how Mark was his “main squeeze”. Ahem. There’s piss taking about the old PROGRESS championship staff, before Eddie tries to choreograph the poppers as he, erm, POPPED the question.

Matt Richards plays “new Jim”, denying the title change and then announces a four-way for the title in today’s main event. Cara Noir already qualified by way of his scheduled match with Eddie Dennis… the other three spots will be up for grabs in the singles matches tonight. Glen Joseph and Fraser Thomas are your new commentary pairing.

PROGRESS Unified World Championship Match Qualifier: Mark Andrews vs. Ilja Dragunov
Torpedo Moscau. 1-2-3. Ilja wins.

More Than Hype (Darren Kearney & Nathan Martin) vs. Pretty Deadly (Lewis Howley & Sam Stoker)
Of course, Pretty Deadly are part of Do Not Resuscitate, but they’re out here on their own, trying to shuck and jive to the music.

Howley and Kearney start us off gently, trading headlocks, headscissors and escapes. A trip from Howley led him into a monkey flip, before a dropkick into the corner gets Kearney an early two-count, before tags brought in Martin and Stoker, with the latter almost losing to a crucifix. Kearney’s quickly back in as the Irish lads double-team Stoker with a bulldog onto a knee, before More Than Hype faked out a dive. Second time was the charm as they hit duelling topes into the front row… but back in the ring, More Than Hype became unstuck as Howley gave Kearney a dead leg en route to a pop-up European uppercut following a blind tag.

Howley and Stoker keep Kearney isolated, not helping him with another dead leg that wound up Nathan Martin on the apron. Basic, but effective. There’s a screw up as Martin shoved Howley into Kearney, which delayed a tag out… but it comes anyway as Nathan Martin came in and tried to clear house, leading to a nice swinging DDT to Stoker on the floor. A crossbody back into the ring puts down Howley for a near-fall, before the pair looked for flash pins on each other. Another blind tag brings Stoker back in to hit a wheelbarrow DDT on Martin, before the double team fireman’s carry gutbuster almost ended things. All four men stay in the ring as Pretty Deadly got some comeuppance in the form of more dead legs, as More Than Hype tried to get past Stoker with superkicks…

A barrage of kicks breaks out, ending with a rebound lariat from Stoker, before a pop-up lungblower out of the corner dumped Kearney for a near-fall. Kearney shoves away a lawn dart then came back in with a Blue Thunder bomb before Nathan Martin landed hard on a pescado to Stoker on the floor… while a long way around into a Falcon arrow almost got the Irish lads the win.

Howley kicks out, then gets clotheslined to the floor as Kearney’s flying senton finds its mark… then returned to the ring, only for Kearney to splash into Howley’s knees before Stoker stepped-up off his partner into a superplex on Martin… and it’s not long before Pretty Deadly got the win, lawn darting Martin into a superkick for the pin. Enjoyable stuff here, with Pretty Deadly looking really solid as a pair. Do they need the associated baggage though? ***¼

Spike Trivet does the belt motion on the stage – is gold in Pretty Deadly’s future after their unbeaten start?

PROGRESS Unified World Championship Match Qualifier: LJ Cleary vs. Kyle Fletcher
Man, LJ’s music was loud. Either that, or the crowd was dubbed over… Kyle Fletcher’s got new music as PROGRESS look to establish him as a singles act. It’s more than just a new mask.

Kyle’s a little aggressive from the off, taking LJ into the ropes before a waistlock takedown. Commentary’s telling us that Kyle’s having to be all dark and mysterious, but it’s going to take a little getting used to here. Cleary tries his luck with a Magistral, then some rolling body scissors, before some misdirection backfires as LJ gets caught… then forced down in a pinning attempt. LJ goes for headscissors, but has more luck with a lucha armdrag before he’s frustrated on the road to a wheelbarrow armdrag. Fletcher avoids a dive, but charges into Cleary with a boot on the floor as a lawndart took LJ into the ring post… and that led to a change in fortunes for the Aussie.

Kicks to the chest led to a near-fall by the ropes, before chops took him to the floor. Kyle’s not exactly rushing in as he takes his time with his strikes… which gave LJ time to recover as he fought back with right hands and a springboard crossbody that almost went awry. A tope con giro gave me echoes of Edge’s debut, before a Shining Wizard gets LJ a near-fall. Cleary keeps pushing, but he’s caught with a Michinoku driver for a delayed near-fall as Kyle couldn’t get the shoulders down.

Another comeback from LJ lead to a springboard dropkick, then an ushigoroshi for a two-count as Cleary looked spent… which meant that he had no answer for a tope suicida from Fletcher, who followed in with a big boot and a nasty brainbuster for a near-fall. Kicks continue to wear through Cleary, who eventually caught one before he was knocked loopy with a forearm… one last flurry only earns LJ a brutal lariat, before a lawndart almost got countered.

Kyle counters the counter with a release German suplex, before LJ snuck in with a Destroyer to take Kyle outside. Another one looked to wait for Kyle back inside, but he rolls through and proceeds to Ligerbomb LJ for a near-fall, before the Aussie Arrow lawndart and a hammerlock tombstone gets the win. They perhaps went a little too long on the back and forth, but that outing won’t have done LJ any harm. It’s gonna take a while for Kyle to establish whatever demeanour his character’s had, since it’s so jarring from the happy-go-lucky “Aussie Arrow” of old, but I’m liking what he’s doing here. ***¼

PROGRESS Unified World Championship Match Qualifier X PROGRESS Proteus Championship: A-Kid vs. Paul Robinson (c)
It’s a double whammy here, as unless Paul Robinson DQ’s himself by using his belt as a weapon, the winner of this match could be leaving with two belts by the end of the night.

We start with a little feinted kickboxing as Robinson tries to catch A-Kid with a strike early, before the Spaniard took him into the ropes. A-Kid flipping him off won’t help Robinson’s demeanour, and he catches A-Kid with a head kick… but luckily it doesn’t end in a flash finish as A-Kid rolled on top and began to throw some right hands from above.

Commentary brings up A-Kid winning the Ambition Wildcard tournament last year… and as much as I joke about the Spanish Fly, I kinda wanna see him try it here. He does go for a cross armbar, which ended in nought as it was the strikes of both men that looked to create some headway. We’re back to more feinted strikes until Robinson rolled A-Kid to the mat, but there’s a switch around as A-Kid ragdolls Robinson with a German suplex… and keeps hold of the waistlock.

Rather than lift him again, A-Kid goes for a keylock on the mat, but Robinson kicks it away as we’re back to the kickboxing. Robinson catches A-Kid, who replies with some of his own as a front chancery looked to squeeze Robinson out, before he let go to go for a punt… which misses. Robinson jumps into the guard from there, then took A-Kid into the corner with a death valley driver as the match started to get a little testy… particularly as Robinson demanded A-Kid throw more shots.

Which A-Kid did. Back-and-forth forearms follow, as it almost sounded like commentary had gone out of sync, but that doesn’t matter as Robinson wheels away and curb stomps A-Kid, before a high-angle half crab forces the submission. The thing with these knock-out-or-tap-out rules is that they can be a little restrictive, and if both men in the match aren’t known for that style, it can be tough to buy into finishes… but Robinson’s making it work, even if this does feel like a conveyor belt of challengers rather than anything amounting to a feud. ***¼

Do Not Resuscitate (Danny Duggan, Spike Trivet & William Eaver) vs. Destination Everywhere (Charlie Carter, Oisin Delaney & The OJMO)
There was absolutely no controversy about this one. None at all. We’ve got the similar music problems as earlier, as they sounded almost overdubbed (or at least, the mix of the crowd and music was too heavy towards the music). It sounded like the OJMO was getting silent applause…

“New Jim” is told to disappear, in no uncertain terms, so Spike could do the intros. William Eaver’s sporting a Chuck Mambo tee, as Spike recaps the DNR vs. OJMO and friends story. There’s a strange vibe of the early day Big Boss Man about Spike’s gear here as he welcomed the OJMO “back to the mid card”. Ouch.

The OJMO dropkicks Trivet to get us going, and this one spills outside instantly. Duggan’s dumped on the apron as the NIC targeted him… but Eaver gets some comeuppance with a uranage on the apron to Delaney, while the OJMO chased down Trivet on the stage. Eaver cannonballs into the crowd as the OJMO’s half crab on Trivet proceeded to be broken up when OJMO decided to hit a crossbody… which gets caught. Spike directed OJMO to “destination: chairs”, as Eaver teases a fallaway slam into the crowd… opting to release the OJMO at point blank range. Well, the ring crew could have cleared them sooner…

More brawling around ringside led to Eaver going for a lap of honour charge… but he ends up breaking a door underneath a stairway, prompting Glen to leave commentary to assess the damages. Well, at least they didn’t dive off the balcony…

After all that, they hit the ring as Delaney hits a spinebuster on Duggan for a two-count, as the NIC double-teamed the man once dubbed a robot. A full nelson backbreaker’s next from Delaney, as the crowd just seemed to fall silent here, stopping to laugh at Spike falling in, which was done to cover Eaver flying in with a clothesline. Duggan’s back with a release German suplex, holding Delaney so Spike can tag in… then Eaver, and somehow the crowd died here.

Duggan’s back, but gets a spinebuster from Delaney as tags bring in Trivet… who spits at the OJMO to stop another tag from being made… and DNR continue to isolate Delaney. Ground and pound from Eaver keeps Delaney down, before a tag finally brings in Carter, who cleared house with belly-to-belly suplexes. A forearm drops Duggan, but Carter charges into the ring post as Duggan steps aside. Somehow, Carter came back with a Diamond Dust, then brought in the OJMO, who went right for Duggan, landing a roundhouse enziguiri, a dropkick and a springboard moonsault for a near-fall. The half crab looks to follow, but Duggan puts up some resistance before Eaver broke up the hold with something… we miss it because the camera zoomed in WAY. TOO. MUCH.

The OJMO shrugs it off and goes back to the half crab though… only for Spike to pull Danny to safety. A Fosbury flop from the OJMO wiped them out ont he floor, before he turned his aim to Trivet… who was cornered and barely in shot, before he ran into the ring, where he ran out of options. Duggan savs Trivet, only to take a suplex/powerbomb before the legal OJMO landed a frog splash to get the win… with Spike Trivet seemingly hestitating to make the save. Interesting…

This felt weird, and not just because of the crowd going silent after the early brawling in the match. PROGRESS announced days later that William Eaver was going to be “suspended” for three shows because of this, and I just can’t help escape the feeling that DNR is totally snakebitten here. The group just doesn’t seem to have recovered after that disastrous first storyline, and they’ve lost the crowd to the point that they’re what some would call “…and then the bell rang” as a group. **½

PROGRESS Women’s Championship: Mercedez Blaze vs. Jinny (c)
This was Blaze’s first singles match in PROGRESS, having impressed as part of the “pre-show, but on the main card” match at Unboxing last month.

There’s no Jinny Havoc match here as the champion came up against her former tag partner in another universe, and we start with a simple Corning hold from Jinny. That transitions to a roll-up as she put Blaze in a deathlock, stretching her on the mat. Blaze retaliates with a side headlock, but Jinny rolls back into a pinning attempt, before she got caught with a crucifix for a near-fall.

Going for an armbar, Jinny takes down Blaze, eventually looking for a Magistral cradle that gets another near-fall. Another side headlock on the mat from Jinny follows, but Mercedes is back with a wristlock that Jinny used headscissors to escape… only to take Blaze down into the ropes as nothing more could follow. Whipping Blaze into the corner backfires as the challenger takes Jinny into the buckles with headscissors, before knees and a butterfly suplex into the corner drew a near-fall.

Jinny blocks another throw into the corner and flies back out with a ‘rana… before a running knee had Blaze down ahead of an Acid Rainmaker for the win. Pretty one-sided, as it should have been given the experience levels, but there’s still a LOT of work to be done to flesh out the women’s roster here. **

Post-match, Jinny vowed to “not swan off to America”, and promised to stay behind as a fighting champion. That gets cheered, as did Jinny entering herself into the women’s match in Cardiff – so it’s now a three-way between Dani Luna, Gisele Shaw and herself for the title. Fiery babyface Jinny’s quickly interrupted by Charli Evans on the stage… who distracted as Millie McKenzie attacked from behind. Yep, the Medusa Complex have been transplanted into PROGRESS, and finally they’re doing something with Charli Evans. Now, please make this a longish-term feud and we’ll be going somewhere!

Elimination Match for PROGRESS Unified World Championship: Cara Noir vs. Kyle Fletcher vs. Ilja Dragunov vs. Paul Robinson
Just like in chapter one, we wrap up a series of qualifiers with a four-way for the PROGRESS title. All we were missing in the undercard was a Scarlo scholarship match. Hey, remember when the BWC was a thing?!

PROGRESS have finally figured out how to shoot Cara Noir’s intro, as the switch to a more cinematic widescreen format, and they’ve also nailed the lighting to boot. It feels a bit Riptide-y, but this more than does him justice!

Robinson was seemingly the slight crowd favourite as we got going, as did commentary, which left a weird dangling thread as Glen stopped mid sentence to let the crowd get their chanting out. Ilja starts by clearing the ring as he seemingly had unfinished business with Cara Noir. Or perhaps he just wants to stroke his stomach again… that’d be a bad idea, given he tapped last time he did that. They have their staredown, but Ilja extends a hand as they burst into action… Only for their stalemate to be broken up as Robinson and Fletcher caught them. The new pairing exchange forearms as Glen tells us that Paul Robinson’s working with a dislocated thumb, throwing a barrage of shots to Kyle in the ropes as we got the throwback to Aussie Open and the Swords of Essex from last year.

Cara’s back to throw some kicks at Kyle, but they crash into each other with clotheslines as this is feeling more than a little choreographed in terms of “hey, two guys go down, let the other two pop up”. Robinson and Dragunov trade chops on the apron, before Ilja got suplexed onto the floor. After taking out Cara Noir in the ring, Robinson has to deal with Dragunov again, but he’s met with a chop and a running crossbody before a stalling suplex had him in trouble. A back senton off the top crushes Robbo, before Kyle cuts off a Torpedo Moscau to hit a brainbuster on Dragunov. That starts a Parade of Moves before I can whinge about this being ELIMINATION RULES, before Ilja hits an Ode to Konstantin to close out that big ol’ Parade.

Fletcher almost succumbs to the Blackout sleeper in the corner, which segues into a new spin on the Tower of Doom,a s Paul Robinson uses the new balcony to start a stacked-up sunset bomb, which almost dropped Ilja square on his head. God that was scary-looking. It clears the ring too, so Robinson hits a corkscrew moonsault to the pile on the floor, before he threw Cara Noir inside…

A headbutt awaits Robbo, but it has no effect as he threw some elbows instead. Ilja’s back to throw some fists before he punted Robinson in the dome, and we’re back to a square-off that gave way to brawling… and a Robinson special! Kyle’s in too, dropping Robinson with a forearm… he’s met with a low-blow, which apparently in elimination matches aren’t a DQ? May as well turn this into Roshambo then…Kyle responds with the spin-out hammerlock tombstone – tagged the Grimstone – and I guess that’s a lesson. Never low blow Kyle, else he’ll kill and pin you. That wasn’t popular, and that puts us one man down.

Dragunov’s waiting for Fletcher, but Kyle hits a dropkick to take Ilja outside. A back body drop has Cara outside too, but he takes too long and has to abort the step-up senton as he nails an Asai moonsault into the crowd. Back inside, Ilja’s Teardrop German suplex nearly puts Fletcher away, before they’re back outside as Kyle lined up Ilja in the front row for some kicks… and a lot of that part of the crowd has cleared, even more so when Cara Noir’s put next to Ilja, as Fletcher prepped for a step-up cannonball into the pair of them. Back in the ring again, Cara Noir tried to fight back, but he’s met with a Ligerbomb from Kyle, then an Aussie Arrow… but Ilja’s waiting for Kyle… only to get dropped with a Michinoku driver. Man, those head drops. Fletcher goes for another Grimstone on Cara, but a Torpedo Moscau knocks him back, and Cara Noir eliminates the Aussie.

So, the final fall goes to the feud we thought was wrapped up last year, and Ilja’s almost in tears. Can he resist the charms of Cara Noirs abs this time? All eight of them?

The crowd’s up for it, as the pair squared up… for a hug. They turn their back to each other for a duel, but it’s a spinning back chop, then a back senton that has Ilja ahead, before Cara’s rebound German suplex and a superkick got him back in it. Ilja counters a Swan Woo with a powerbomb and a death valley driver, before he crashed and burned on a back senton off the top. Swan Woo lands at the second time, before the Madame Guillotine looked to lead to a package piledriver… but a dual clothesline lead to a pair of two-counts as the pair rolled on top of each other. Cara looks for… Sister Abigail but instead locks lips with Ilja ahead of a pumphandle powerbomb as both men were trying to swing for home runs. On the top rope, Ilja’s caught with a gamengiri, as Cara looked for something off the top… but instead he’s caught with an avalanche death valley driver!

Dragunov tees up for a Torpedo Moscau, and lands it… but Cara Noir kicks out at two! A second Torpedo lands… but it’s Cara Noir who hits it before a package piledriver gets the win… and my GOD, the pop for that result. A shade over four months on from his debut, Cara Noir has reached the top of PROGRESS, and their hand may have been forced, but this is what striking while the iron is hot looks like.

The first main event of PROGRESS’ 2020 may not have been what was originally planned, but my God, they managed to deliver. I wasn’t thrilled with some of the multi-man tropes, but they didn’t go too heavy on shtick – particularly the Ilja/Noir stuff – and I was genuinely on tenterhooks for the result. Now, as to what Cara Noir, world champion looks like in PROGRESS, we’ll wait to see… ****¼

It’s just day one of this new era, and while they hopefully cool it as far as dropping in that particular reference, it genuinely felt like a new beginning. Whether Cara Noir was meant to win the title or not here is irrelevant, although my betting would have been on he and Ilja becoming a tag team…

While there are those who have already written off this refresh, for my money things do look brighter already. The changed-up roster helped make things feel fresh, although the big hangover from “olden days” – both live and in terms of the reactions afterwards – was in DNR. The tease of dissension with Spike Trivet could be a sign of things to come there, but we’ll see. Of course, any changes in plans here will likely have ripple effects elsewhere – so we’ll need to see what comes next. Really, it’s only the women’s title that currently has any firm kind of direction – so hopefully the show in Cardiff begins to drop some hints as Super Strong Style 16 begins to appear on the horizon…