PROGRESS ended their 2016 with a surprise show – and by the end of it, we were left with new champions and new returns.

#TLDR: PROGRESS’s end-of-year mystery show was a huge success – with surprises good and bad across the show.

The Full Review: Going into the show with nothing announced in advance, Unboxing Live created a unique vibe for 700 fans between Christmas and New Year.

Just a thought from the pre-show “don’t pirate this” warning… if Glen doesn’t notice if we’ve nicked his glasses, as the video shows, does that make it a challenge? I guess by this point, enough of his soul has died after another drunken rendition of Weezer’s “Buddy Holly”, he may not even care…

The pre-show ceremonies somehow got a “teething baby” chant going, as Jim Smallman teased recreating a scene from the Lion King… except Baby Claudio was ill. So not this time! Since it was a mystery show, everyone got a “whoooooooooooooooah” before their music hit, which didn’t get old at all. Mystery! Alcohol! Fun!

South Pacific Power Trip (TK Cooper, Travis Banks & Dahlia Black) vs. FSU (Mark Andrews & Eddie Dennis) & Nixon Newell
Cooper and Black were dressed like a king and a queen – the playing cards, that is. Still, he’s not the most ridiculous guy in a cape and a crown involved in wrestling. Not by a long shot…

Travis Banks and Nixon Newell start with a bunch of armdrags and headscissors, as Banks is on the defensive early on. Dennis jumped off the top rope to stomp on Banks’ foot, before delivering a forearm smash, as TK Cooper interrupted things with a cheap kick to Andrews’ back as he ran the ropes.

Andrews backflips away from a sunset flip by Cooper, before tagging in Eddie Dennis for a sequence that ended with a diving clothesline. Dennis knocks Dahlia and Travis off the apron with errant forearms, leaving Cooper in the corner to take a pair of step-up forearms from Andrews and Newell.

Dennis went for a buckle bomb, but was stopped by Dahlia… who he went to kiss. So TK Cooper threatened to kiss Nixon if that happened. We had two people left, so Mark Andrews threatened to smooch Travis Banks, which made this all a little awkward… as everyone backed way, until Cooper dropkicked Andrews into Banks for the money shot. They then shook hands and walked away to the loudest cheer of the night. Comedy!

The Kiwis then found themselves piled up in the corner as Eddie Dennis avalanched into them, leading to an awkward situation as Banks fell head-first onto Dahlia, before Cooper fell into the backside of Banks. Again, comedy!

Cooper catches Nixon Newell’s attempted crossbody and dumps her into a back-cracker by Black, who then tags in and puts the boots to Newell. Some double knees drop Newell in the corner, before she hit back with a jawbreaker to Banks, and then make a tag out to Eddie Dennis, who chopped away at the other two Kiwis.

“That thing that always happens”, well, happened, as Banks and Cooper took the fallaway slam/Samoan drop combo, before Mark Andrews somersaulted and wheelbarrowed into a ‘rana on Banks. Travis ate a 619 from Andrews, then Eddie’s 61-knee, before a double stomp from Newell collected a near-fall.

Dahlia tags herself in and drops Newell with a uranage, before missing a top rope moonsault as we got Cooper and Andrews back in. A Samoan drop from Cooper takes Andrews into the corner, where he’s met with a Yakuza kick, double knees, and a leaping forearm as the Kiwis collected a near-fall from a diving neckbreaker from Cooper to end a good run. Andrews flips out of the assisted DDT, before hitting the Stundog Millionaire on Banks as the ring filled up once more.

Dennis caught Black in a crucifix bomb, and threw her into a cornered Cooper, before running into a diving lariat from Banks. Newell and Black come back in to trade yay/boo forearms, before the Kiwis dump the Welsh to the outside… only for their dives to get cut-off. The tables turn as the Welsh trio go for a hattrick of dives – a tope from Nixon and a pair of tope con hilos – to take out the New Zealanders, before they look for a spike Next Stop Driver… but Dahlia makes the save and punts Eddie low. There’s another low kick for Andrews, and of course, it doesn’t work for Nixon, who just headbutts her.

Nixon’s Welsh head drops Banks, then Cooper’s fist, before a Welsh Destroyer lays him out, as the Shining Wizard knocks down Dahlia for the pin. A great intergender opener with a hot crowd to match! ***

Somehow, somebody in the front row was asleep for all of that… HOW?! Jim makes a reference to a charity effort that PROGRESS was involved in, as fans attending the show were asked to donate something to the Camden Food Bank… they’d end up donating over 300kg of food, which isn’t bad for 700 folks.

Toni Storm vs. Kay Lee Ray
A welcome surprise here, as Storm makes her first appearance at the Ballroom in almost a year, whilst this was Kay Lee’s debut in the building.

The pair start by exchanging wristlocks, before a waistlock sees Storm take down the Scotswoman en route to a battle of front facelocks. Kay Lee grabs a headlock takedown for a near-fall, but Storm works it into some headscissors that Kay Lee escapes. More headscissors, this time from Kay Lee, see her slap Storm’s arse to block an escape, but when the Aussie did get out… she just slapped Ray in the face.

Some pin attempts see Storm and Ray exchange near-falls, with a bridge out of a pin leading to a backslide that Kay Lee turned into a Gory Bomb, but Storm flipped it into a Code Red for another near-fall. An enziguiri from Kay Lee drops Storm, who fires back with a series of chops as Ray’s taken to the corner.

Toni goes all Taguchi on us with hip attacks a-go-go, before she’s rolled-up for a near-fall, only to return with a running hip attack. Kay Lee hits a tornado DDT, but keeps rolling through into a guillotine as Storm goes into the ropes to force a break. We get a tope from Storm after she sidestepped a charge from Kay Lee to the floor… but Storm gets a quick receipt after rolling Ray back in.

They go back to the overhand chops, before a blocked clothesline heads to a leg-hooked German suplex onto Ray, who takes another hip attack in the corner before a Fisherman’s suplex gets a near-fall. Kay Lee headbutts her way free, before surprising Storm with a Gory Bomb, only getting a two-count out of it.

Storm catches Kay Lee up top and picks her up for a Muscle Buster, and bridges her on impact for another near-fall. Kay Lee replied with a superkick, and enziguiri and another Gory Bomb, before looking to add a senton bomb for the win… but despite hitting the bomb, she only gets a two from her eventual cover. Ray follows up on that with another guillotine, but Storm rolls over to try and get a pin, before she powered out of the hold and hit a suplex to free herself.

Another superkick rocks Storm, but she was playing possum as the Aussie cames back with a German suplex then a piledriver for the win. This was a hidden gem that got much better watching on tape – but then again, this shouldn’t have been a surprise given who was involved! ***½

Wasteman Challenge Time!
Roy Johnson was the next man out, and despite having a referee, we ended up with a Wasteman Challenge instead. The Camden crowd were more than happy to see the one-and-only Bodyguy… and even more so when the theme to the Littlest Hobo hit, as Mad Man Manson made his return!

What followed was a fantastic comedy segment that nearly sparked a race war had Manson gotten his way! The “really shit version of Grado” (his words, not mine) ended up getting an acapella CV from the Bodyguy and a version of the Titanic theme, complete with arm-swaying from the crowd.

In return, Manson offered his own response… a lip-sync and a twerk to WHAM!’s “Wake Me Up Before You Go Go” in tribute to George Michael… and now we can add that to the list of unlikely songs sung by wrestling fans!

PROGRESS Tag Team Championship: British Strong Style (Trent Seven & Tyler Bate) vs. The Riots (James Davis & Rob Lynch) vs. The Leaders of the New School (Marty Scurll & Zack Sabre Jr)
This was for the vacated PROGRESS titles -which had been held up after Pete Dunne tried to gift Tyler “his” part of the titles. Marty Scurll came out as one half of the mystery third team, as Trent Seven motioned that “they’re trying to **** us!”. It ended with Zack Sabre Jr getting the obligatory “man in the box” pop after emerging from an equipment case.

The other big reveal at the start was that Rob Lynch no longer needed his facemask, right before he laid into Tyler Bate… who was wiped out with a massive shoulder tackle off the ropes. Tags bring in Marty Scurll and Trent Seven who trade chops with each other, and those Trent chops came with nods to Trent’s WWE deal by way of crotch chops.

James Davis and Zack Sabre Jr come in and eschew any technical wrestling in favour of uppercuts, as their striking battle ends when Sabre takes a shoulder tackle. A back senton has Sabre reeling, but he hits back with an overhead kick before bringing in Scurll, who starts going to work on Davis’ left arm. The Leaders both came in to wring Davis’ arms, then held him in place for a camel clutch and a dropkick… before the second one went awry as Davis made the ropes before Scurll hit the dropkick. Comedy!

Eventually a double clothesline from Davis knocks down the Leaders, before the Riots double-team Scurll, dumping him with an assisted senton as Lynch held Scurll from the middle rope. The match ticks up a little as Sabre and Scurll drop Davis and Seven with PKs off the apron, before Davis hit back with a nasty tope that saw him almost land head-first into the front row.

Tyler Bate hits a hands-free plancha to the pile, before Rob Lynch throws himself into the mix with a tope con hilo. Unfortunately, after Lynch throws Bate back into the ring, Tyler goes straight for the eye, as he sets up for a knee stomp, which then turns into a series of submissions as Bate has Lynch’s knees, whilst Scurll has a camel clutch. Enter James “I don’t know any submissions” Davis, who puts a headlock on Scurll, before Zack Sabre Jr catches Bate and Davis in a double Octopus… then Trent, after surveying the scene, just punches everyone free.

The former Moustache Mountain target Scurll, but the Villain backdrops Bate to the floor, then snaps Seven’s fingers – despite Trent’s protestations – and then takes him down with a Just Kidding superkick. They do it again, this time with Zack and Marty taking down Trent, but the Leaders’ advantage quickly came to an end at the hands of Rob Lynch, who wiped out just about everyone with overhead belly-to-belly suplexes.

Bate takes a District Line powerbomb for a near-fall, before this turns into another striking contest as Seven takes a superkick, and Bate gets folded in half with a lariat from Lynch. Another attempt at the District Line sees Sabre reverse it, then fold up Davis for a near-fall, before the See Ya Later Driver from the Leaders collects another near-fall as Bate and Seven break up the cover.

Seven holds up Bate for a series of jabs to the head and body, but a final shot is ducked as Seven’s knocked down. A chicken wing succeeds, but Bate can’t break it up… as instead Davis lands the St Georges’ Cross (Air Raid Crash) onto Seven to break up the hold. Nevermind, Marty gets the chicken wing back on, just as Sabre catches Rob Lynch in an armbar to prevent him from breaking it up… but Lynch powers out and drops Sabre onto Seven to end that second chicken wing to bring a cool sequence to a head.

Another slugfest breaks out between the Riots and the Leaders, ending with Scurll taking a pop-up spear. Sabre gets one too for a near-fall, with Trent and Tyler again breaking things up, leading to a Seven piledriver and a Bate tombstone for the win. Trent and Tyler win the tag titles! This was all sorts of fun live, and that translated onto video… and yet again, British Strong Style want some proper title belts instead of wooden, silver-painted shields! ***¾

Trent and Tyler closed out the first half of the show by “signing” imaginary contracts on their newly-won shields, before giving each other the Kliq symbol. Hey, it’s a million times better than “wins with a Pedigree because we’re going to WWE”…

The second half opens with a weird bit as a fan in the front row leads Jim Smallman to ask the crowd if they’d rather be Nickelback’s Chad Kroeger or Simply Red’s Mick Hucknall… okay!

Ahead of the next match, Pete Dunne berated Jim Smallman for not being able to get onto a PROGRESS show a year ago – but now, he has the world at his feet. Apparently 2017 is the year that Peter leaves for good, taking the stepping stone that is the PROGRESS title with him.

PROGRESS World Championship: Pete Dunne (c) vs. Fabian Aichner
Our one and only import on this show came in the form of the Italian Aichner, providing the opposition for an impromptu title match for a less-than-happy Pete Dunne.

Aichner starts with a headlock takedown on Dunne, who frees himself and works into a hammerlock, then an armbar, before rolling the Italian down into a one-count. Dunne works over Aichner’s foot and after some biting, he ties up Aichner in a modified Indian deathlock. A spit from Aichner riles up the champion, who grabs a wristlock, only for Aichner to utilise some see-saw kip-ups to free himself… then get dragged back down by a nose grab from the champion.

Dunne gets an instant receipt, then a spinning heel kick, before Aichner springboards back into the ring with a lariat for a near-fall. A legdrop gets Fabian another two-count, as he then takes Dunne into the corner for some severe chops… but Dunne flies back with a big boot and a release suplex as the tables turn in the champion’s favour.

Peter goes back to the nose as he sets up for a short-DDT, again getting a two-count, as Dunne tries to have a nibble of some Italian fingers… but instead, he just stomps the knee. More chops follow in the corner for Aichner, who returns the favours, before Dunne moonsaults into Aichner, then gets dropkicked to the floor.

The giant Italian goes flying with a springboard High Fly Flow to the floor, then he hits a springboard tornado DDT into the ring that almost wins the match – and the title! Dunne hits back with a snap German off the ropes, but Aichner popped back up, and countered a wheelbarrow roll-up into a wheelbarrow suplex, before getting a lariat for a two count.

Dunne whips Aichner into the corner, as he steps-up into a moonsault… but Aichner’s met with a forearm on the way down as Dunne follows up with a double stomp. Pete still can’t keep any momentum as Aichner reversed a powerbomb, leaving both men laying. They trade forearms from their knees as the pair fight back to their feet, but Dunne finally gets a taste of Aichner’s fingers… and that earns him a Finlay roll.

Aichner finally gets that moonsault in, before dumping Dunne with a pumphandle driver for yet another near-fall. Unfortunately, Aichner crashed and burned when he went for a double jump moonsault, which left him open for the Drop Dead (or perhaps “The Bitter End” as Glen Joseph labelled it here) as Dunne took the win. A great match – and how Fabian Aichner’s not being used as a regular in a major promotion is beyond me. ***¾

After the match, Dunne mockingly waved goodbye to the crowd, then told the crowd… “see you on the Network!”

Indeed we will Peter. Indeed we will…

During the entrances for the next match, Sebastian met his match during his Toru Yano/Chris Brookes-esque water throwing spot. They managed to hide a lot of this, but it’s walking a thin line between heat and riot-inducing I fear.

Sebastian & Pastor William Eaver vs. Sex on the Beach (Jack Sexsmith & Chuck Mambo)
Feast yourself on that team name… Jack Sexsmith got a monster reaction as the darling of the Electric Ballroom. Sebastian seemed more concerned with Eaver’s reaction to his Sweet Jesus tag team partner (and future Ninja Warrior UK contestant) Chuck Mambo coming out… jesus, this match is getting a bit Jeremy Kyle with the former partners/friends on display here!

Sebastian and Sexsmith technically start the match, but instead Seb wants Mambo… just so he can tag in the Pastor and force the two of them to wrestle. Instead, the former Sweet Jesus pairing just mock Sebastian in the early going, usually in the middle of a move. From the start, Sebastian demands that Eaver “takes off” Mambo’s head, but this is just one big wind-up of the former GZR.

Mambo gets caught with the knee of Sebastian as he’s sent into the ropes, before he forcibly tags himself in. Sexsmith comes in too to drop Seb with some atomic drops and a neckbreaker, and already Jack’s going for Mr Cocko, but he’s met with a straight punch as Sebastian stamps on Mr Cocko before he can do any damage.

A knee stomp wears down Sexsmith’s lower body, as Eaver’s tagged back in to choke away on Sexsmith as Mambo watches on in disgust. Eaver gets a near-fall after a lackadaisical cover from a backbreaker, before sending Jack into the corner… but Sebastian picks his shots carefully. Sort-of. He tagged in and got taken down with a spike DDT along with Eaver, before Mambo flew in with a Blockbuster neckbreaker for good measure.

Mambo comes in with a Meteora off the top for another two-count on Sebastian, before a bicycle kick knocks Eaver to the outside – and Seb takes over from here. A bodyslam gives way to the “Best Move Ever” – a back heel after the People’s Elbow theatrics. Sebastian then spends too much time taunting the crowd as he turned around into a superkick… and then things got really weird.

Jack Sexsmith channelled Rikishi by pulling down his trunks and giving Seb a stinkface. Sebastian quickly exited the ring as Jack celebrated, nearly showing way too much, before Sebastian returned with… a lot of brown stuff on his face. After his poop-covered face emerged, he threw up onto the floor then slipped on it for maximum slapstick effect.

Cue some inventive chants, but Sexsmith was thrown into the ring post that spelled the end of his match. Another bicycle kick from Mambo keeps Sebastian on the outside, with Chuck following in with his springboard somersault dive into the crowd. An increasing number of ring crew members flock around Sexsmith as Mambo looks for an Air Raid Crash… but Sebastian rakes the face to free himself, then lands a Go To Sleep to get a near-fall.

Nope – Sebastian pulled up Mambo, and instead tagged in Eaver to finish the job… by way of a Clothesline from Heaven. Conflicted, Eaver hits one, but Sebastian breaks up the count yet again, ordering Eaver to hit it again, and that’s enough for the win. This came across a little muted on video, but a lot of the crowd (at least where I was) were distracted by the ring crew (and eventually, St John’s Ambulance) attending to Jack Sexsmith. Aside from that, this was a fine match with some memorable stuff thrown in for the live crowd. ***¼

After the match, Eaver laid over Mambo, before Jack Sexsmith returned to shoo him away n anger. In a nice little detail, the Pastor grabbed one of Chuck’s beach balls on his way out, before bursting it with his own hands just before he made it to the stage. Am I reading way too much into that, or is it a seed for the future? We’ll see…

Jimmy Havoc vs. Will Ospreay
This is quite the main event – a rematch from Chapter 20: Thunderbastard – Beyond Thunderbastard, where Will beat Havoc for the title (all the way back in July 2015). Ospreay stares down Jim Smallman before the introductions, continuing Will’s slow heel turn that’s evolved across the UK.

Will even had his Trent Seven moment, catching a streamer in mid-air (it’s not quite catching a towel thrown in your vague direction, but it’s up there!)

The pair go head-to-head to start off with, but the crowd are almost universally behind Havoc as they open with a slugfest. Havoc then pulls something out of Will’s book with some headscssors to help Will to the outside, before the “have a drink and spray it” spot goes awry as Havoc got the one empty beer can in the building.

Ospreay’s thrown into the video wall, but replies with a spear-like dive as he charges Havoc well into the crowd. They return to the ring where Ospreay aggressively goe at Havoc, but is met with a shotgun dropkick, as Havoc lands the “teabag driver” (Jig-n-Tonic, Finish Her, whatever else you wanna call it) for an early two-count. After the kickout, Ospreay hits a dropkick to the repaired knee of Havoc – and that sets the tone for much of Will’s offence. Spinning toe holds, kicks to the knee and Dragon screws – everything went towards the right knee of the current number one contender.

Havoc bounces back with an Acid Rainmaker, but Will instantly rolls to the outside for cover. They go back and forth, with Havoc catching Ospreay on the top rope, but it’s a ruse as Will aims a Cheeky Nando’s kick to the knee. A missed top rope move from Ospreay looked to open things up as Havoc went back with a death valley driver, before a leg sweep and a double-stomp gets him a near-fall.

Another Acid Rainmaker is blocked by Will, who downs Havoc and gets a Dragon screw as he goes back to that repaired leg, then spikes Havoc with a DDT from the apron. Ospreay flies with a tope into the aisle, then comes back in with a Ricola-bomb setup into a Michinokiu driver-esque move. Unique, but a very cool looking thing.

Ospreay keeps up with his triple moonsault series for a near-fall… but the crowd only get more and more behind Havoc. So Will rushes in with a knee to the ribs of a downed Havoc, but doesn’t make a cover as he instead relishes the idea of a suffering Havoc. Will hits Havoc with his own move, as a Rainmaker gets just a one-count – popping the crowd. An Oscutter gets Ospreay another near-fall, before Ospreay’s handspring into the ropes is caught and turned into a Burning Hammer!

Havoc keeps up with a GTS, before his Rainmaker’s met with a knee strike. Eventually, a second Rainmaker succeeds, and Havoc gets the win! A fine main event, but if you thought it felt short… this wasn’t the real story… ***¾

So, with Will Ospreay endured a no-win 2016 in PROGRESS, Havoc gets the microphone and thanks Will for breaking one of his ribs. He calls back to their prior feud where he tried to murder him (ah, that segment where he tried to cut off Will’s ear…), before asking Ospreay for some help with a certain trio. I’m guessing it’s British Strong Style… Havoc apologises for everything he did, then extends a hand… but Ospreay punts him low!

Ospreay completes his heel turn, and snapped into a series of punches on a helpless Havoc. Will sends Havoc up the aisle, and onto the stage, where he’s joined by a returning Paul Robinson… who has a barbed-wire baseball bat! Robinson’s not here to help his former Regression stable mate, but instead, he’s reforming the Swords of Essex, and does so by kicking Havoc down the stairs.

Will gets a pair of black gloves and goes to work with that baseball bat, ripping open Havoc’s shirt. Ospreay tells us he’s going to torture Havoc and “really enjoy it” as he leaves him laying, bloodied in the ring as the newly-reformed Swords headed to the back.

You know what? This made sense. Robinson was once a part of Regression – but that ended badly, as we saw in Havoc’s last match before his injury, way back at Chapter 21. The Swords have been reforming all over the UK, so yeah, this isn’t one of those heel turns/partnerships for the sake of it. I *was* half expecting Scott Wainwright to come out, but perhaps that’ll come in 2017 if the Swords are be a major player in the group whilst Will’s away travelling…

What Worked: The whole concept. Live, it was a double-edged sword, but fortunately most every match played into ongoing storylines, so there wasn’t too much in the realm of “who do we cheer for/why should we care?”

What Didn’t: Live, I’d have said the Sebastian tag-match, but it was really only the final moments that were hurt because of what was going on with Jack Sexsmith. With that in mind… pretty much everything worked well here, even if you’re not a fan of the whole Sebastian angle.

Thumbs: Up! Here’s to Unboxing Live being a regular part of the PROGRESS calendar!