Cara Noir returned to the scene of his PROGRESS title win as a former champion came gunning for him…

A not-quite-full Electric Ballroom is the scene here.

Unless Alexandra Palace had a massive remake since September… Matt Richards’ opening spiel is short as he tells us that Charli Evans and Jordan Devlin are off the card due to injury – adding to Travis Banks’ withdrawal earlier in the week. Card changes! We’ve a slightly new set too – all we’re missing is video screens on either side and it’s just like virtually every other notable Britwres group in recent history. Commentary comes from Glen Joseph and Fraser Thomas.

WorkHorsemen (Anthony Henry & JD Drake) vs. Eddie Kingston & Scotty Davis
The WorkHorsemen’s intro was brought to you by Nelly Furtado’s song, “Turn Off The Light” as we got complete darkness. Hey… didn’t that happen to them on their wXw debut too? Filling in for Jordan Devlin here was Eddie Kingston, which was a popular choice to say the least.

Davis and Henry roll around on the mat as they looked to force an opening, but the smooth exchanges led to a stand-off as they both looked for head kicks at the same time. Tags bring in Drake and Kingston, which is a tasty slice of hoss fighting, as they swap shoulder tackles… until Kingston cracked Drake with a chop.

Drake replies, as things worked up towards clotheslines, complete with salty language as Drake looks for an early attempt at the Drill Bit… but it comes to nought. Henry wants in, and starts a scrap with Kingston, who switched it up with a suplex before Henry’s kicks took us back to Davis and Henry. APH gets caught with Gator rolls, but Drake turns it around with a forearm to Davis on the outside as the former EVOLVE tag team champions pushed on. A Henry brainbuster gets Drake a delayed two-count, while Henry’s kick continued to wear down the young Irishman. Upsetting Eddie Kingston on the apron’s not a good idea, but a Vader bomb on from Drake just keeps Davis on the back foot.

A Drill Bit from Drake and a frog splash from Henry gets a near-fall as Kingston breaks up the count… Henry’s legal, but Davis began to fight back, catching Henry with a clothesline before tagging in an amped-up Kingston. Face-washing boots from Kingston lay out both of the WorkHorsemen before a Fisherman suplex dropped Henry for a near-fall. Then a Northern lights, before Henry caught Kingston with an apron PK and a missile dropkick. We get back to Drake and Kingston chopping each other silly, even though the crowd was decidedly lukewarm. Kobashi-esque chops follow before an enziguri from Kingston and a diving boot finally had Drake down. Davis returns to tease a deadlift German suplex… he has to make do for a rebound German before a Kingston clothesline-aided German suplex got a near-fall as we started a Parade of Moves.

Davis keeps going with a barrage of strikes, but a standing moonsault lands on Henry’s knees as an airplane spin TKO and a Shining Wizard has the young ‘un on the defensive, building up to a murderous cannonball from Drake. They keep going as a stomp from Henry lands… but Henry misses a top rope moonsault…. Buying Davis time to hit a head kick to Davis, then a cross-legged brainbuster for the win. I enjoyed that – with no titles on the line, this felt genuinely more open, and having the hosses in there added an extra dimension. ***¾

Gisele Shaw vs. Chakara
Something something second match…

We start with Shaw working a headlock… but after stopping herself in the ropes from the push-off, she went for an early armbar attempt, then back to the headlock. Back-and-forth pinning attempts follow as they rolled on a sunset flip, before duelling head kicks led to a stand-off.

Shaw goes low on Chakara, which turned the crowd on her as Chakara came back with a roll-through knee for nary a one-count. Another low-ish blow comes in the corner as Shaw blocked a floatover, and the aggression continues with a slap as Shaw faked out a PK. Before long, Shaw goes back to the armbar, tweaking the wrist, but a rope break saves Chakara. Stomps from Shaw continue to solidify the “boo me” turn on Shaw, before she got caught with an Exploder from Chakara. They trade forearms, before Chakara’s German suplex and a diving forearm nearly put away Shaw, as headbutts end up taking her to the corner ahead of a pair of hanging neckbreakers.

A half-nelson suplex from Shaw and a springboard cutter turns it around though, before Chakara snuck back in with a roll-up and an attempt at a Widow’s Peak… only for Shaw to roll through to land a knee and a DDT for a near-fall, before the bridging armbar forced Chakara into the ropes. Some stomps and another armbar force the stoppage though…. Perfectly fine stuff to establish both characters and their new alignments, but man, this crowd didn’t want to buy what they were selling. **¼

Post-match, Shaw made the universal belt sign… while Chakara was met on the stage by Candy Floss, who offered a hug. I guess that’s a new tandem as lines are being drawn in the women’s division. It got a passing mention…

More Than Hype (Darren Kearney, LJ Cleary & Nathan Martin) vs. Anti-Fun Police (Chief Deputy Dunne & Los Federales Santos Jr.) & WALTER
This was WALTER’s first appearance in the Ballroom since losing the title last year… and yeah, it’s a random trios match as he replaced another former champion. Still, at least Santos had fun pretending to violin along.

More Than Hype got “please don’t die” chants, and the Ralph Wiggum-inspired “you’re in danger” stuff. While WALTER… no sold stuff out of 2016.

Cleary and Dunne start off, with LJ going for an early roll-up before Dunne staggered into a sunset flip for a near-fall. Darren Kearney’s in next to help double-team Dunne, but he gets free and tags in Santos as Nathan Martin came in to deal with a No Fun Gun. Yep. Straight to it. You can hear WALTER’s eyes rolling. Probably. “Psycho” Nathan dropkicks away Santos as the trio ended up facing their worst nightmare. No, not Justy-Jitsu. WALTER. They go for their Activate Destroyer, but WALTER chops them away before he chewed out Santos for using the gun. A neck twist keeps Martin down as the Anti-Fun Police took over, exchanging frequent tags while WALTER did most of the heavy lifting in terms of offence.

Forearms from Martin earned him a big boot from WALTER, who continued to berate Santos for letting him down. Santos tries to improve with a slam while WALTER tried to, erm, coach. It doesn’t work, so he’s back, and the joke’s run dry. A missile dropkick from Martin’s turned into a Boston crab as LJ Cleary gingerly runs in to try and break it up. He dies by chop. A piggyback splash has WALTER and Santos flatten Martin, before WALTER threw Dunne onto him with a Rocket Launcher. Glen laughs. An enziguiri from Martin buys time as Kearney returned to clear the apron, before a gamengiri in the corner dropped Dunne ahead of a flip senton to the big lads on the floor. There’s a sweet monkey flip into a powerbomb by Cleary and Kearney as Dunne pressed the panic button and brought in WALTER.

WALTER’s stacked-up German suplex got rid of Kearney and Cleary, before Martin gets chopped. He hits a sick kick to drop WALTER in the ropes though, but took time following up… as Santos shields WALTER from a splash. WALTER acts like a one-man wrecking screw until he took a SWEET roll-through Codebreaker as the More Than Hype lads were determined to make me remember this… but the Activate Destroyer’s countered by WALTER as Dunne and Santos come in to hit Fun’s Over on LJ for the win. They had a joke. It was trotted out too much by the end, but at least More Than Hype shone in this. By the way Glen, LJ’s usually the singles guy in More Than Hype, as Kearney and Martin tag together so much they’re in line for an OTT tag title shot this month. ***

PROGRESS Proteus Championship: Kyle Fletcher vs. Paul Robinson (c)
We got some build for this in Cardiff when Robinson pulled out the Aussie Arrow mannerisms. Robinson has ring crew guard the Proteus title belt on a chair, since I guess them just holding it isn’t enough.

Commentary’s gone walkies here as we have Robinson and Fletcher faking each other out, before Kyle just ragdolled the champion from a front facelock. Fletcher catches a kick, and after making Robbo wait, he slaps Robinson down. More feinting followed as commentary finally arrives, and yes, they still have to do their Exposition Minute. At least little happened in the ring while they nattered. Fletcher has Robinson down as he continued to ragdoll Robbo… who looked to be in trouble very early on. So much so, some of the crowd turned on Kyle. On the outside, Fletcher put the boots to him, then set up a chair for a step-up something or other… that ended when Robinson threw the chair at him, then pelted Kyle with chairshots. Chair burials follow, so it’s just as well there were seats left unsold on show day!

Fletcher fought back with a brainbuster onto the chairs, but both men looked wrecked as they traded elbows back in the ring. Kyle’s again on top, throwing knees as Robinson was in the ropes before a tiltawhirl’s turned into a satellite DDT by Robinson. Robbo followed in with a rear naked choke… which Fletcher tries to power out of. He succeeds too as he got to his feet, then climbed the ropes before he fell back from the top rope to force the separation – despite Robinson’s attempts to counter free. Kicks and repeated powerbombs looked to force a stoppage, but Robinson refuses. Then again from a lawn dart as a STF followed from Fletcher, but it ends in the ropes as Fletcher opted to throw elbows instead. Another STF follows, but it’s broken up with some biting… Kyle goes for a Grimstone, but he’s thrown into the ring post as Robinson proceeds to batter Kyle in the corner with body blows… and that led to the stoppage. The crowd HATED that. I mean, the finish was something you see in a lot of matches as a throwaway spot, and it barely forces a separation by the ref, let alone a bloody stoppage. Even commentary seemed bemused, which makes me think this is the design. Shame it just brought down the whole match with it. **½

Referee Marc Parry got heat for it from the crowd, as Robinson chewed out the “fickle fucks” in the crowd. Remember a year ago when these two were having bangers in tag teams? How much things have changed, and I can’t blame Paul or Kyle for it either…

Toni Storm vs. Millie McKenzie
With Charli Evans injured, Toni Storm got the nod to face Millie McKenzie. Interestingly, no Jinny here as Millie attacked Toni from behind to start the match, as Charli distracted Toni from the stage.

Millie’s got the upper hand early on as commentary tagged the pairing of Toni and Jinny as the “originals” of the PROGRESS women’s division. Don’t you dare DNR this lads. Storm manages to force a foothold with some rolling suplexes, before a spinning neckbreaker put Millie back in it.

A side headlock from McKenzie keeps Toni grounded, before an exchange of forearms kept McKenzie ahead. It’s a performance that’s stunned the Ballroom, which wakes up as Toni mounted a comeback with forearms and a German suplex. A sliding lariat takes Millie outside for a low-pe, before another exchange of German suplexes followed. A diving elbow from Millie led to some Angel’s Wings for a near-fall, but Toni’s back with a pop-up powerbomb and a short Storm Zero piledriver for another two-count… before Charli Evans ran down to ringside. The knee brace she was wearing earlier’s no longer needed, and after distracting Toni on the top rope, a spear from Millie gets the win. Solid, but like the earlier women’s match, this crowd simply wasn’t biting. **½

Charli uses the knee brace – and the “injured” knee – to attack Toni afterwards. Boo these people. Eventually Jinny runs out to make the save, as the Medusa Complex leave how they arrived: through the crowd as we get the “big moment” of Jinny offering a handshake to Toni. Which would have been a lot more Mega Powers like had they not been originally booked to be a team here in the first place!

Malik vs. Ilja Dragunov
On paper, this could be quite tasty, with a returning “Heavy Hitter” back in Camden to wrestle for the second time this month. This time: there’s a ring…

Ilja’s sporting some battle scars on his chest from his slog with David Starr in Hamburg two nights earlier, and he tried to end things at the bell, but he’s caught with a diving kick as Malik almost scored the upset. Malik keeps up at Ilja with a dropkick before forearms pinned the Russian into the corners.

Eventually Ilja got free with chops and a dropkick into the corner, before a backdrop driver from Malik looked to stun the former wXw champion. Dragunov’s back with a side headlock, but he’s whipped into the rope and manages to catch his head between the ropes. He shrugged it off and trades forearms, then chops before we reached a stand-off. A scoop slam from Malik gets a near-fall, while some Danielson elbows prompted Ilja back up. Malik misses a dropkick, but Ilja simply uses a boot to put him down before punting the newcomer in the head. Conducting the crowd afterwards… didn’t work, but a back chop did. Malik gets his knees up to block a back senton, as a pop-up knee and a low dropkick took Ilja outside for a tope con giro.

Back inside, Ilja quickly knocks down Malik, following in with headbutts and a teardrop German suplex for a near-fall. A Konstantin-Spezial follows for a near-fall, before knee drops off the top rope and a back senton found its mark. Dragunov tries to go Coast to Coast, but Malik spears him in mid-air, following up with a barrage of palm strikes before Ilja caught a chop and threw shots at Malik’s neck.

Another exchange of strikes led to Ilja getting caught with a German suplex as he seemed to sell Malik short again, allowing Malik to fight back as he almost snatched a win, but after he got caught with a death valley driver into the corner, it was curtains for the chapter debutant as a Torpedo Moscau ends up getting Ilja the win. A cracking, hard-hitting match, but one that was way too cold for too long from the crowd’s end of things. At least Gene Munny’s been around PROGRESS since his Natural PROGRESSion Series outing. Malik… hasn’t, and in terms of crowd responses early, it kinda showed here. Save for the handful of fans who see all the London indies and were familiar with him, Malik’s return didn’t have the buzz they hoped for. That’s what happens when you have a roster that disappears for six months at a time… ***½

Post-match, Ilja and Malik shake hands… but they’re interrupted by Eddie Kingston, who jumped and DDT’s Dragunov. Promo time now: Eddie’s a bad guy now, and he restrains Ilja so he could address him over his dead body. Well, not dead, but you know what I mean. Eddie’s tired of “making stars”, and was tired of “actors” like Ilja. Eddie calls himself better than Adam Cole… better than Matt Riddle… and way better than anything NXT UK has. That got loudly booed, if you needed a measure of how much the PROGRESS crowds have changed in the last couple of years. Eddie gets hot at Glen Joseph’s desire to see “acting”, before calling the crowd a bunch of… Fleshlights. I guess that’s the PG way to say it without swearing. Eddie’s coming for Ilja… then his “boyfriend”. He means Cara Noir, before he left, staying furious at how they did the WWE thing of playing his music on his way out.

Eddie Kingston is a goddamn delight when it comes to promos. Not that that’s news or anything.

Matt Richards – whose attire looked a little inspired by Rupert the Bear – gees up the crowd as it’s main event time…

PROGRESS Unified World Championship: Mark Andrews vs. Cara Noir (c)
They’ve ditched the fake letterbox on Cara’s entrance, which was a shame. That made him stand out a little.

Eddie and Mark try to attack Cara before the bell, which means we get something a little out of the New Jack playbook as Cara Noir was on the defensive as his music played. I guess they couldn’t find the stop button in time. Matt Richards has replaced Glen on commentary, who I guess either had hurt feelings or was still running from Eddie Kingston. Eddie Dennis distracts as Mark Andrews attacked… but Ilja manages to hit back, posting Andrews before he followed up with some kicks. Andrews keeps his distance as the bell rang with both men on the outside… so Cara tries to hit a package piledriver in the aisle, prompting Andrews to get free as he instead got caught with a back suplex on the apron.

Back inside, Andrews gets thrown into the turnbuckles before he stops to listen to Eddie shouting at him. When he gets going again, Cara misses a dropkick in the corner as Andrews looked to take control. A standing moonsault’s good for a two-count, while a grounded cobra clutch ended up being turned into a backbreaker as Cara fought free. Cara tries his luck with a rebound German, but Andrews flips free before a second backflip was stopped with a superkick. A shotgun dropkick’s next, before Andrews low bridged Cara to the apron… but couldn’t follow up as the champion’s back with a rebound German and a Rude Awakening neckbreaker for a near-fall. We have our second rope-incident in as many matches as Cara whiplashed his head off the top rope, while Eddie Dennis got caught red handed removing a turnbuckle pad. He’s thrown out for that.

Cara’s back to his feet and cracks Andrews with a headbutt before a Madame Guillotine’s turned into a ‘rana from the challenger for a near-fall. A reverse ‘rana stacked up Noir, but he’s able to boot away Andrews in the corner before a Madame Guillotine off the middle rope snuffed out Andrews’ momentum. Noir tries to deadlift Andrews into a package piledriver, but he’s forced to abort and come up with a plan B, which looked to be a superplex… but instead Cara teases a piledriver off the top, only for Andrews to fight free. A reverse ‘rana off the top led to nought as Noir landed on his feet, before another Madam Guillotine’s countered with a Stundog Millionaire. From there, Cara surprises the challenger with a Blackout sleeper, before Eddie Dennis came out… and this time he’s in a hoodie!

The distraction gave Andrews time to roll-up Noir, but the referee stops the count because Andrews had so much tight, the Ballroom saw Cara’s arse crack. From there, a shotgun dropkick took Noir into the referee, before another Blackout sleeper counted for nought because the ref’s out. I mean, Cara, you LITERALLY JUST BUMPED INTO HIM. Shenanigans continue as Eddie Dennis slid in the title belt, but much like that drunk guy at the urinals, his aim is off as Cara got the belt. More distractions led to Andrews landing a belt shot for a delayed two-count.

Andrews tries to finish off Noir with a shooting star press, but he’s kicked in mid air before a package piledriver should have won it. Except Eddie pulls out the ref. Gotta keep stacking that deck, eh? Cara chases Eddie away, then leapt off the stage towards Andrews as they make it back to the ring. A clothesline flips Andrews down while referee Paz looked to be prepping for a Hacksaw Jim Duggan three point stance… Another Madame Guillotine’s countered with headscissors as Cara Noir gets taken into the exposed corner, before a shooting star press squashed Noir for… a near-fall! From the kick-out, the Blackout sleeper’s reapplied, and there’s your submission. As a match, this was really good, but my God they went overboard with the whole “stacking the deck” tropes. Cara Noir’s not a promo guy, and I fear this is the direction they’ve taken with him when it comes to telling their stories. ***½

Chapter 103 was a solid show – but one that’s perhaps giving away how much PROGRESS is continuing to evolve. Criticisms of how “soulless” they’ve become lately seems to be a way of expressing how certain quarters are taking to the change of “host” – although the continually-muted crowds are a concern. The other monthly shows in London – EVE, and Rev Pro’s Cockpit affairs – attract about a quarter-to-a-third of the crowd, but somehow have hotter crowds… and I guess that’s where the comparisons with PROGRESS and EVOLVE are coming in. As always, the in-ring with PROGRESS is solid – but the stories that are being told aren’t quite connecting with the crowds just yet. Perhaps more people will latch on to how Paul Robinson’s getting disputed finishes in his Proteus title matches now… or how the PROGRESS women’s division seems to be turning into 1997 WWF with factions being set up… it’s an interesting direction, but the quiet crowds certainly don’t make this feel like the hot PROGRESS of old. Even though there’s clearly attempts to regain that spirit.