PROGRESS debuted in Birmingham with a show that confounded its detractors, and left the promotion with a surprising new Atlas champion.

Going into the show, the WWE’s UK Championship tournament had meant that quite a few of the promotion’s regulars were unavailable. Nothing to worry about, since we opened with the first surprise of the night after Jim Smallman shared his experiences from the first night of the tournament, along with a some Twitter demands for photos of his footwear! So, Jim says “we’ve got loads of mates in WWE”… cue some familiar heartbeats, and the crowd goes mental when they realise it’s Finn Balor!

Balor’s not cleared to wrestle, but he wants to compete… so we’re getting a PROGRESS first: no, not the “shit Jordan Devlin” chants… or a Wasteman Challenge, but instead, it’s musical chairs! Extremely surreal, with four fans selected via “grabbing a streamer”, ending with all five playing musical chairs to a range of classic WWE themes. Well, that was a fun way to eat up twenty minutes!

The Riots (James Davis & Rob Lynch) vs. Ringkampf (WALTER & Axel Dieter Jr)
Dieter starts with Davis, scoring a takedown with a nonchalant arm whip into a hammerlock, but Davis grabs a headlock to free himself, but Dieter just continues to bridge the hammerlock as he keeps the hold.

Dieter’s technical spree ends with a straight forearm shot from Davis, before he scurried out to tag in the big guy WALTER. Rob Lynch comes in, but he’s taken to the corner from a tie-up as a break’s forced, and for some reason WALTER gets chants of Big Daddy. We’ll go with it…

WALTER takes a blind tag from Axel Dieter Jr, but Lynch doesn’t fall for it as the Ringkampf pair are sent to the outside for a pair of dives, but Davis’ tope to WALTER is caught, and after James is taken into the post, Lynch takes down WALTER with a tope con hilo instead! The Riots double-team Dieter with a rope-assisted senton from Davis for a near-fall, but WALTER makes the save as the tables turn again. A big boot decks Lynch for a near-fall, before WALTER held Lynch down for a double-stomp from Dieter, before WALTER flips over Lynch with a back body drop with ease! Lynch issues a receipt as he makes a tag out, and Davis unloads on both members of Ringkampf with forearms before a double dropkick sent both men down.

WALTER’s rocked by a clothesline, but he’s caught in a sleeperhold and a German suplex from the Austrian, who followed up with a butterfly suplex for a near-fall. An armbar keeps Davis down as Ringkampf try to isolate him, just as the crowd realise that their “PETER!” chant can also fit “Dieter” too. Axel grabs a chinlock as WALTER tags in via Dieter’s boot, and the onslaught continues as Lynch needs to make a save after WALTER’s shotgun dropkick to Davis.

The Riots almost scored a tag, but Dieter pulled Lynch off the apron before going up top for a powerbomb/European uppercut combo for another near-fall. Another powerbomb from WALTER’s blocked as Lynch finally gets the tag in to land a overhead belly-to-bellies on Axel, before WALTER avoided a Fireman’s carry. A big lariat almost got Lynch the win, before he caught WALTER up top and sent him flying before a death valley driver gets Rob a two-count.

Dieter comes in and gets caught with the District Line Powerbomb for a near-fall, before Dieter counters a slingshot spear into a DDT. That leaves Lynch open for a dropkick and a Regalplex, then a judo throw from WALTER as a rear naked choke forces the submission. I have to say, a surprising loss here, but a hell of a debut for the Ringkampf team here. Where do the Riots go from here, as their losing run continues… ***¾

Sebastian vs. Jack Sexsmith
It’s funny, but when Sebastian’s match was added to this show, a tonne of tickets quickly went up on Twickets (the secondary sales site PROGRESS uses). Of course, they all went quickly, and those fans who gave up their tickets probably ended up regretting it by the end of the night.

After Unboxing Live, Seb’s Chris Brookes/Toru Yano tribute water spot was a lot more restrained… and Jack Sexsmith has added the LGBT rainbow flag to his entrance, along with some new gear for the new year, which sees him wrestling in Ugg boots.

Jack didn’t wait to get going, as he superkicked Sebastian during the ring announcements, and that just sent Seb into the corner as we had a teased stinkface. Pastor William Eaver pulled Sebastian out of the ring to relative safety, as Jack followed up with a flip dive off the top rope onto the pair. Eaver distracts Sexsmith from returning to the ring, and that just gives Seb a chance to hit a baseball slide dropkick, before he throws Sexsmith into the ringpost. Sebastian looks to be happy to take the count-out, but Jack pulls himself back up and into the ring, before Seb puts a foot on Jack for a two-count.

Kudos to the Birmingham crowd for the “Shit Michael McIntyre” chant, by the way…

A palm strike from Seb sends Jack to the corner, but the follow-up sees Sebastian eat an inverted, and a regular atomic drop, before a neckbreaker takes down the former GZR. Sexsmith blasts Seb with a huge DDT for a two-count, before Mr. Cocko comes out to play from Jack’s Armani boxers.

Sebastian ducks the shot and hits an impressive spin-out Unprettier for a near-fall – see, he can do it when he wants! That’s followed by the “Best Move Ever”, but Jack pops up and puts on Mr Cocko… and Sebastian taps, only for Eaver to provide a distraction. Sebastian hits Eaver as Jack sidesteps a charge, before getting the win with a Cocko-assisted crossface. Yeah, I don’t know how to phrase that move in a safe-for-work way. A fun undercard match, but I wouldn’t expect this to be the last outing between these two. ***

After the match, Sebastian slaps Eaver for his error, which prompts the Pastor to wind up his lariat arm… nothing happens but some more slaps and that’s that.

Jimmy Havoc comes out next for an advertised segment to address what happened at the end of Unboxing Live where Will Ospreay and Paul Robinson jumped him. Havoc expresses his surprise at getting a live mic “since (Smallman) is best mates with WWE now. Jimmy addresses how Pete, Tyler and Trent are off to make more money, but “they’re dead” since they’re not fulfilling obligations. Havoc says that “I didn’t come out here dressed like King of the Goths for no reason”. He wants a match against someone he’s never fought before… and we’ve got a referee. After some fantastic Jurassic Park-esque camera shake, out comes his opponent, and Ohmygod it’s Tommy End!

Jimmy Havoc vs. Tommy End
Tommy (nee Aleister Black) End gets a monstrous pop for his surprise appearance – the first of what’d be two surprise matches for the Dutchman today.

They start with a lock-up as End takes Havoc into the corner as the crowd alternate between chants for the two competitors. Havoc ducks some back fists before End lands a snapmare… then takes a simple right hand from the number-one contender. After being sent to the corner, End leaps over Havoc and gets a big boot before a ‘rana takes Havod down.

A pratfall from End is followed up by a diving dropkick for a near-fall, and it’s End’s turn to unload with forearms and kicks. Havoc replies with a discus forearm and a neckbreaker before End’s met with a tope on the outside. Jimmy continues with a shotgun dropkick and a forearm, before scoring a two-count out of a death valley driver as Havoc grounds End in a modified grounded abdominal stretch.

End hits back with a backfist and a knee to the midsection, before he goes up top for the double stomp… and despite missing, the Dutchman follows up with a roundhouse kick and a bridging German suplex for a near-fall. A knee strike fails as Havoc takes the chance to finish off End with a Go To Sleep and the Acid Rainmaker and that’s that! Short, but really well worked stuff as Havoc picks up a huge scalp as he looks to cash in his title shot! ***½

Natural PROGRESSion Series – First Round: Alex Windsor vs. Livvii Grace
Grace is better known elsewhere on the UK indy scene as Tennessee Honey, most notably in IPW:UK.

Windsor takes Grace into the corner from the opening tie-up, before their second tie-up sees them force the other to the mat before rolling to the outside. Livvi posts Windsor on the outside, and gets a near-fall once she’s rolled back in, before reversing a hiptoss as a dropkicks forced the Norwich native to kick out yet again.

Grace shoves away Windsor before a high kick knocks her down for a near-fall – and this is not how I was expecting this match to go! Windsor fires back with an axehandle blow to Livvii in the ropes, before a cravat keeps the Kent native at bay. A trio of diving dropkicks softens up Livvii for a near-fall, as does a swinging neckbreaker as Windsor piles on the momentum.

Livvii’s caught in an electric chair that she tries to turn into a ‘rana, but instead she gets an armdrag instead, before a charge in the corner misses. Grace hits back with a push-down stomp out of the corner before a running knee strike gets a near-fall with Windsor rolling to the outside for cover. A dive between the ropes sees Grace land on her feet outside the ring, but she’s quickly barged down by a shoulder tackle from Windsor, who then pulls a Marty by shooing away some fans before rolling Grace back inside… but Grace returns quickly with a diving dropkick through the ropes!

Back inside, Windsor scores a near-fall with a bicycle kick, before she traps Grace in a cross-legged surfboard for a moment, then lets go so she can kick her in the head. Grace comes back with a bridging German suplex that almost gets her the upset, before a Northern Lights suplex turned into a Fisherman’s on impact for another two-count. Windsor rolls back after a German suplex as Livvii completes her cavalcade of suplexes with another Northern Lights for a two-count, but Windsor shocks her with a Blue Thunder Bomb as Grace ran her way for a near-fall.

Grace blocks another Blue Thunder Bomb, before a caught kick sees Grace try for a Victory roll, only for them to collapse to the mat again. Windsor takes advantage with a Sharpshooter that almost looked like the old Edgucator hybrid, before Grace rolls her up for a near-fall out of it. That didn’t work… so a headbutt came next, as did a shotgun dropkick that saw Windsor collapse to the mat like a tree falling.

Windsor goes back to the Edgucator/Scorpion Deathlock, and this time she sinks it in deep as Grace is forced to tap. A good match which did threaten to fall apart in places, but they didn’t let that get to them as the favourite progressed! **

South Pacific Power Trip (TK Cooper & Travis Banks) vs. The Origin: Banter Edition (El Ligero & Dave Mastiff)
Fun fact: this was almost an intergender match as Travis Banks’ return from Oberhausen – where he wrestled for wXw the prior night – was delayed. This was the match that PROGRESS posted for free during the show on Facebook, so if you aren’t a Demand-PROGRESS subscriber, take a look…

Ligero’s out on the shoulders of Dave Mastiff, before selling a t-shirt to a fan in the crowd. Someone saw the Rev Pro Cockpit show! Before the match, Mastiff took the microphone and issued an apology for an off-handed comment he made to Dahlia Black on Twitter before the show… the promo builds up to Ligero speaking, but the Kiwis attack before he can utter a word (just in time for one fan’s tasteless remark to make tape).

Banks attacks Ligero in the corner as they go back and forth, ending with the Kiwis going to the floor, where they get into it with the crowd. TK Cooper tags in, as does Mastiff after they Ligero pulls out a present for Dave from his kneepad – a lucha mask! Or to be more precise, El Generico’s mask!

So, El Mastiffico comes in, even if that mask barely fits him, and we get a roll-through and an armdrag takedown into a pinning combination as that mask goes flying! Lucha Dave (not the one from the early ENDVR shows) is over, as Cooper stamps on that mask, before Banks runs in and takes a slam. Ditto Cooper… then Dahlia! Except it’s referee Joel Allen who slams Dahlia and ejects her from the match!

Ligero and Joel get into it as Ligero remembers the punch (and the stunner), but the two don’t “settle it like men” as that distraction just gives the Kiwis a chance to attack them from behind once again. Banks mounts Ligero with punches on the mat for a near-fall, before the Mexican Sensation is kept cornered for some double-teaming.

Cooper’s big boot and a forearm from Banks help as a neckbreaker from TK gets a near-fall, but Ligero comes back with one of those spots where he makes TK piledriver Banks… a fun spot, but it’s becoming the apron spot of tag team matches. Mastiff comes in and lays out Banks with a back senton as he went to dropkick Cooper, before a diving cross body lays out TK.

Dahlia Black comes in again to protect TK from a cannonball, as Banks sends Mastiff into the other corner for a cannonball of his own. Ligero gets a springboard roundhouse in as Banks takes the cannonball in the end, before Cooper almost punches Dahlia as Ligero ducks under. Instead, Ligero grabs Dahlia’s boot and makes her kick Cooper low as Mastiff lands a German suplex for a near-fall.

Banks returns to cut off a rocket launcher spot, which is turned into a Jonah Driver on Lifero, before a pair of Flatliners get the Kiwis a near-fall. They deadlift Mastiff up to the top rope, but he shoves them both off, before Ligero returns to try a Tower of Doom spot, which fails as the Kiwis just jump down, then turn around into a double dropkick from the big guy. Dahlia gets involved again as Mastiff threatens to go after her, but in the end the distraction pays off as a series of kicks ending with a diving knee from Banks prove to be enough for the Kiwis to keep up their unbeaten tag-team run. Good stuff as usual from these guys, with Banks and Cooper quietly continuing their fantastic run as a pairing. ***½

This next match was set up by Paul Robinson’s Christmas wish to “beat up a Brummie”… he certainly got one, in the form of the debuting Spud. Yep, it feels weird in 2017 to say that Spud’s debuting for anyone!

Paul Robinson vs. Spud
Spud came out in gear completely covered with PROGRESS logos, which may or may not be heading to the merchandise tables anytime soon!

Paul Robinson didn’t seem to be a fan of Bon Jovi, nor of Spud wiping his backside with the Essex flag, so he attacked Spud from behind as some streamers flew in. There’s windmill punches from Robinson, who then backs off as Spud climbs up using the ropes, before he’s sent back down with a belt shot from Robinson.

The commentators point out that this is not a no-DQ match, but Joel Allen’s giving Robinson plenty of leeway as he lashes out at Spud, before he’s turfed to the outside. Robinson pulls out a dickie bow tie to mock Spud’s old TNA character whilst the former Rockstar drags himself back into the ring. Finally a bell goes as the match officially starts, and Robinson goes into raking the eyes of Spud as the crowd chants about how much they love Essex. Kicks to the spine follow as Spud’s still looking for his first offensive move… and when Robinson stands on his on the middle rope, that offence looks further away.

Robinson throws Spud into the front row, before he follows him out there with some chops before he bites away at Spud’s ear. Back in the ring, Robinson hooks away at Spud, who’s then knocked into the ropes with elbows and forearms. Spud gets crotched when Robinson kicks the ropes into him as he entered the ring again, and here comes the goopy slobber. That bow tie comes back into play as Spud’s forced to eat it, before Robinson slapping it out seems to fire up the hometown hero!

Spud fires back with a spit, but Robinson lays into him again… and now Spud’s Hulking Up! Chops are no-sold, as Spud fires back with a clothesline, before popping up and issuing an instant receipt from a snapmare and a kick! Spud chops away at the legs of Robinson with some kicks before the kickboxer’s clotheslined to the floor, where a suicide dive almost sees Spud overshoot! A second one sees Spud nearly land on his head, before a third keeps Robinson on the deck.

Spud returns to the ring and gets a jumping knee strike, then a neck breaker, before an elbow drop connects. That belt comes back into play, but this time Joel Allen stops Spud… who just undoes his own belt as he gets some payback… then Robinson just dishes out a blatant low-blow for a DQ. As a match, this made sense. You’ve got to remember that for the last few years, Spud has been in TNA losing to one year olds and being Aron Rex’s bellboy – and whilst this was “a different Spud”, you can’t just flip a proverbial switch and maintain believability in a character… and to their credit, they knew that. *½

Paul Robinson lays into Spud some more after the bell, using a chair on the former TNA X-Division champion, and he’s only stopped when Jimmy Havoc emerges from the back, beer in hand. Robinson scarpers, because of course, that’s what we’re building to!

PROGRESS Atlas Championship: Rampage Brown (c) vs. Matt Riddle
So, Rampage’s open challenge was answered by a returning Matt Riddle – whose appearance certainly awoke the crowd!

They start with a collar-and-elbow tie-up as Riddle sent into the ropes by Rampage, who then tries to mat wrestle the former UFC fighter, holding his own very well. Well, until Rampage is forced to reach for the rope when Riddle grabs an armbar! Rampage rolls to the floor for a breather, but he returns into the path of a takedown from Riddle, whose waistlock attempt is ended by way of a back elbow from the Atlas champion.

Riddle takes some harsh clotheslines in the corner before a short-arm clothesline knocks him down for just a count of one. Rampage blocks a kick and turns it into a spinebuster for a near-fall, so Rampage just drops a leg as Riddle was laying on the apron. The offence continues as Riddle takes a kick on the apron, but he comes back with a leaping forearm into the corner, then an Exploder as Rampage was suddenly forced onto the back foot.

A huge back senton gets Riddle a one count, so he just takes Rampage into the corner for some vicious knees. Rampage hits back with a big boot, but Riddle ends that flurry with a Fisherman’s Buster as both men are left laying. They trade shots as they fight back to their feet, with Riddle getting a flurry in before he’s smashed with a lariat from the champion.

Rampage gets a powerbomb for a near-fall, before another sequence ends with a running knee to the chest. Another clothesline keeps the match going back-and-forth as nobody’s able to keep any momentum, and sure enough, Riddle hits back with the Bro To Sleep, then a jumping tombstone slam for a near-fall. From the kick-out, Riddle strikes away at the side of Rampage’s head for a near-fall, then throws in some kicks to the head for good measure, and that’s shockingly enough for the win! Well, a believable finish – I don’t want to see what it’s like to get kicked and stomped by a former UFC fighter! ****

Riddle is the first American to win any title in PROGRESS – and it’s a popular result for the Birmingham crowd, as the former and new champion hug it out in a sign of respect as the crowd goes home happy after a night of surprises.

What Worked: Musical Chairs! Tommy End! Matt Riddle! Even when they look like they’re down, PROGRESS sure know how to fight back. They’re like the promotional equivalent of an animal when they’re backed into a corner.

What Didn’t: Nothing to do with the match, but the angle-on-Twitter certainly led to an unsavoury moment before the South Pacific Power Trip’s match.

Thumbs: Up. Bet those who sold their tickets after a certain someone was added to the card were left feeling very silly by the end…