PROGRESS’ first show of the year in Manchester ended up giving us an early contender for show of the year, with incredible bouts up and down the card. And blood. A lot of blood.

You know the drill with the opening spiel by now – Jim Smallman’s moved onto quasi-interrogating any newbies in the crowd, which included a bloke from Finland and a newbie to wrestling. Oh, and Chris Roberts got a streamer too?!

PROGRESS Tag Team Championship: South Pacific Power Trip (TK Cooper & Travis Banks) vs. British Strong Style (Tyler Bate & Trent Seven) (c)
The Kiwis had matching dungarees, and had a music credit, just like ROH does – which is a bit of a nod for the rest of the show, as the champions didn’t come out to “Love is Blindness”, instead using Pete Dunne’s custom theme from the WWE UK Championship Tournament.

Tyler Bate again came out with his WWE UK title as Trent threw down the PROGRESS tag shields. Plenty of pre-match banter involving the title belt, facial hair and moustache lightened the mood, and we get going with Travis Banks as an overwhelming babyface, whilst Tyler Bate went all Toru Yano at the bell, hiding between the ropes.

Banks was sporting a healing cut above his right eye, after he’d sliced it at a WCPW show in London earlier in the week. Having seen that show, I don’t have any idea how he did it either… TK Cooper comes in and pie-faces Trent during a battle of shoulder blocks, which just earns him a snap piledriver that almost would have led to a quick title defence. Travis Banks gets a straight left hand from Tyler, before coming back with a kick to the head that set the table for a tope to the floor as Banks was left to fend for himself.

TK Cooper popped up and flew to the floor with “twisting thing!” – a corkscrew moonsault to the floor, wiping out the champions, before delivering a Yakuza kick and a leaping reverse neckbreaker to Tyler back inside for a near-fall. An eye rake turns things around, as Trent tagged in to chop TK to the mat, where he hooked away at the Bruno Mars-lookalike’s face… leading to an ultra-rare chant for TK.

Cooper continued to absorb some punishment with an armbar from Bate, before Trent came back with some chops as the champions firmly kept TK far away from Travis Banks. More chops this time threatened to turn TK Cooper’s chest into an Ilja Dragunov tribute… TK managed to get a leg lariat to take down Tyler, and there’s the hot tag to Travis Banks. The Kiwi Buzzsaw went to work over the champions with kicks, before kicking out the leg of Trent, sending him cannonballing into Bate in the corner. A cannonball from Banks, then a brainbuster gets a near-fall over Bate, who then took a Dodon/Ace Crusher for a near-fall as the Kiwis busted out some new double-team stuff.

Trent eventually dishes out a double Dragon suplex to the Kiwis, who pop back up with a pair of superkicks as we move into a WrestleHouse-esque chain of strikes that eventually left all four men laying. Tyler eats a reverse ‘rana from TK, then a German from Banks… but he pops up and comes back with a Koppo kick, only to eat a sit-out Fisherman buster as TK Cooper – bruised chest and all – flew in with a springboard 450 Kneedrop for a near-fall!

Bloody hell, this match is ace!

TK lays into Trent with forearms, but takes a series of palm strikes, before replying with a knee strike. Trent drops him with a facebuster, and he’s left to take some disrespectful kicks on the mat as he’s left defenceless. Dahlia Black then enters the ring to confront the champions… and grabs them in the balls, but an attempted Magic Killer from the challengers is blocked. Travis misses a springboard roundhouse out of the corner, and is left to take a middle rope piledriver from Trent, then a Tyler Driver ‘97 for the win. That finish felt a little outta nowhere, but this was a bloody great open to this show. Two fantastic matches in the first quarter of 2017 from TK and Travis… ****½

As the champions celebrated, Jimmy Havoc rushed out with a chair and laid waste to them, wiping out some potential interferers for Pete Dunne later on tonight. The crowd chanted Happy Birthday to Havoc, which is just a weird visual!

Ahead of the next match, we had a read-out statement from Dave Mastiff, read by Jim Smallman. Jim told us that El Ligero had had a full packet of wine gums, and that he may be “worse for wear”. Drunk Ligero!

Zack Gibson vs. El Ligero
Where to begin… this was the Facebook life match, and this was… insane. So, El Ligero was unmasked at the last show, but he came out holding a new mask… but also wearing what looked to be a hollowed out winking-face emoji cushion. With a St. Patrick’s Day-themed hat on top. Yep, it left Zack Gibson agog… as did Ligero’s introductions of him, amongst others, “soon to be the freshwater community’s number one”.

If you’re keeping track of music, there were no changes here, with Gibson using Metallica’s “Turn The Page”, whilst Ligero’s theme for the day was tagged as a traditional Irish drinking song, “Whiskey in the Jar”. I can’t wait to see what song Ligero and Mastiff use this Sunday that’s also been covered by Metallica!

Ligero falls asleep “drunk” at the start, before he goes all Shane McMahon, dancing around Gibson, who then replies by grabbing an arm. A forward roll, then a backward roll sees Ligero fail to escape a wristlock, before Gibson yanks off the mask and reveals… EL GENERICO!

A Helluva kick follows for Ligero, who then goes for a standing moonsault, only for Chris Roberts to shuffle him aside to make sure he hit his target. Drunk Ligero then heads under the ring and returns with his proper mask, and makes a beeline for a chair to sit Gibson in it. He then heads for Joe Atherton, commandering his wheelchair for a big boot to Gibson! Gibson then chews into Ligero for turning into a joke… he gets a thumbs up, then sent to the outside as Ligero flies with a tope con hilo! Back inside again, Ligero gets caught in the middle turnbuckle and eats a Codebreaker before he’s forced to grab the rope to save himself from a Shankly ates.

Ligero avoids a Helter Skelter, but rolls back into the Shankly Gates, then into some pinning attempts for near-falls. A wheelbarrow facebuster gets Ligero a near-fall… but he takes too long going up top and ends up having to roll through a Mexican Wave, and eventually gives Gibson a bell ringer. Zack catches a superkick, but has no answer for a springboard cutter as he kicked out and fell into the Otter’s Gate!

Ligero releases the hold as Nathan Cruz – in a waistcoat and a Ligero mask – comes onto the stage… the distraction allows Gibson to hit the Helter Skelter (spinning suplex), and that’s another win for the Serious Origin. Before you add the comedy, this was a pretty good match… add the comedy, and it’s a classic. Good stuff from Ligero, who’s finding a new groove for himself here. ***

James Drake vs. Jack Sexsmith
Drake’s got a new theme, also by Hot Tag Media (who made the ring music for Pete Dunne, the Anti-Fun Police and Marty Scurl). They’re gonna be rolling in it soon. Jack Sexsmith got to keep the Divinyls… for now!

Drake launches into Sexsmith with a corner dropkick at the bell, sending Jack rolling to the floor, and this is eerily reminiscent of Drake’s match over Damon Moser, as he drags Jack up the steps by the stage, before rolling Jack back in. A dropkick knocks Drake to the floor, and he just about catches Jack as he hits a cannonball senton off the top to the floor.

They slug it out briefly before a diving clothesline and a superkick gets Sexsmith a near-fall. Some shots on the apron from Jack end badly as he takes a backdrop suplex onto the apron, which allows Drake to rip off some KT tape that Jack;d had on his neck, before slamming him hard in the middle of the ring.

The vicious assault continues with a kick to the back, as Drake was told by the crowd “you’ve got your own face, on your arse”, before Jack covers up to avoid some ground and pound. A back elbow cuts off Drake, as does a missile dropkick, before Sexsmith hits some atomic drops and a Pearl Neckbreaker. That’s followed up with a spiking DDT, then the return of Mr. Cocko! Drake fights out and counters with an enziguiri to take Jack down, but he comes back with an armwhip and the Cocko-assisted crossface, keeping the hold on as Drake tried to roll through. A forearm puts an end to Jack though, as they check his jaw to see if that shot had claimed a second broken jaw, but Sexsmith stands up and takes a sit-out DDT as Drake continues his run in PROGRESS. A fun outing, but another loss for Jack makes me wonder… ***¼

Will Ospreay vs. Mark Andrews
New-ish music for Will – although it’s the same music that they used after his heel turn at the end of last year, so… this one’s called “Goin’ Down” and is apparently his ROH theme. Shows how much I watch ROH!

There’s an incredible shot of Will staring nonchalantly into the crowd as Andrews got streamers, and we start with another dropkick out of the gate as Ospreay takes the fight to Andrews with a series of forearms in the corner, then a running hip attack. Andrews replies with a ‘rana, then a tope con hilo after Ospreay had spilled to the floor. A massive tope from Will sees him take out Andrews, then land in the front row, before a Sliced Bread/Destino onto the apron sees Ospreay and Andrews land with a thud. Andrews continues with a double stomp that spiked Ospreay’s head on impact, but things soon turn around as Ospreay bit away at the Welshman’s ear, before hitting a snapping floatover suplex.

Andrews fights back and dropkicks away an OsCutter attempt, then followed up with his wheelbarrow rolling into a double stomp as neither man was able to maintain an advantage. A massively impressive satellite crucifix bomb nearly did it, but Ospreay snapped back with another dropkick, then a Falcon arrow for a near-fall. Ospreay goes all Shibata with kicks to the chest as the crowd taunt him about his gloves, but Andrews fires back up to his feet and kicks Will in the gut. A Code Red’s blocked, but Andrews just about hits an enziguiri to Will, who broke the top rope for the second time in as many months as he hit it. A satellite DDT is countered into a suplex, but Andrews immediately snaps back with a reverse ‘rana before both men start slugging into each other with forearms from their knees.

If the ropes weren’t bad, Andrews made sure of them with a kick to the back that flipped Ospreay into the corner… but Andrews managed to fly off the top with a Dragonrana that Will BARELY kicked out of it! Mark goes back up top, with referee Joel Allen holding the topes tense, but Ospreay stops him and hits a uranage facebuster to nearly win the match himself. More kicks from Will daze Andrews, who comes back instantly with a Stundog Millionaire… then a Vertebreaker for the win! Bloody hell, this was great – even before you factor in the broken top rope. There’s a surprise – good wrestlers having a great match… well worth going back to watch again, especially since Will’s having to get used to working with breaking rings! ****¼

Mark Andrews headed to the back, just as Jimmy Havoc and his red chair returned to lay waste to Will Ospreay for another birthday present, finishing off with an Acid Rainmaker in a load of birthday streamers.

At the start of the second half, PROGRESS regular Daniel Richardson got a round of applause and a chant from the crowd, as he was forced to miss the show due to having surgery. Jon Briley rang the bell at the start and end of it for a rib… The time: 00:16, and the stars… ********

RINGKAMPF (WALTER & Axel Dieter Jr) vs. The Hunter Brothers (Jim Hunter & Lee Hunter)
Coming barely a week after an outstanding showing in 16 Carat Gold, the RINGKAMPF pairing received loud cheers here. This also marked the return of the Hunters after Jim’s knee injury, and this time they came out to a song that wasn’t T-Rex’s 20th Century Boy.

Axel and Lee start with a tie-up, but it’s Lee who gets the first hold in form of a wristlock, but he found himself quickly caught in a grounded hammerlock, before diving to the corner to bring Jim in. Dieter grabs a toe-hold early, but the favour is quickly returned by Lee, who tries to keep the former wXw isolated away from his giant Austrian partner. Sound strategy.

A double chop to the throat knocks down Jim, as WALTER finally comes in to kill Jim. Massive strikes are replied to with a pair of low dropkicks to WALTER, who just barges past Jim with a shoulder tackle, before scoring a two-count with a sit-down splash. Dieter comes in, but Jim escapes an Air Raid Crash before bringing Lee back in for a top rope moonsault!

WALTER low bridges Lee to the outside, then dumps him onto the apron with a backdrop suplex. Jim takes a big boot because this Austrian’s not in the mood for messing around! WALTER’s still bruised after taking some kicks from Matt Riddle during the 16 Carat tournament, but that doesn’t stop him from hitting a big fallaway slam to Lee Hunter as the RINGKAMPF pair display some efficient tag team strategy.

Axel Dieter Jr stands on Lee’s hair, then hits a diving uppercut for a near-fall, before WALTER catches Lee with a Gojira clutch. The rope break’s snapped as WALTER follows it up with a German suplex, but Lee flips out onto his feet, only to have his superkick caught and turned into an ankle lock… which then segued into a German suplex. A butterfly suplex barely sees Lee kick out in time, but he manages to knock down Dieter with an enziguiri, but he fails to make the tag as WALTER had pulled Jim off the apron.

An Air Raid Crash takes down Lee for a near-fall, but the man from the imaginary place known as Tipton fought back and hit a double dropkick, then a superkick, before rolling through to tag in Jim. A missile dropkick from Jim knocks down Axel, as does a flying back elbow and an imploding senton… that’s new from Jim!

Jim flies to the floor with a tope con hilo to WALTER, as Lee hits a Tully Blanchard-esque slingshot back suplex to Axel, before Jim returns to hit a sunset flip/neckbreaker to force a near fall over Axel. Out of nowhere though, Axel takes down Jim with an uppercut, but WALTER tags in and takes a DDT as he was going for a powerbomb. Another superkick is caught and turned into a sleeperhold, but after rolling out, WALTER just boots Jim to dump him on his head.

Somehow, Jim kicked out at two, but recovered as both Hunters dropkicked WALTER on the top rope, as he then took a top rope ‘rana and a frog splash for a near-fall. Yep, WALTER kicked out with force! Axel Dieter Jr runs into some more superkicks as the Hunters became like the Young Bucks, who then ran into WALTER in the corner…

A shotgun dropkick blasts Lee Hunter into the corner, which leaves him open for a release back suplex from Axel, rolling up into an uppercut-assisted-powerbomb from WALTER for the win. Jesus Christ, another fantastic match, and it’s fair to say that RINGKAMPF are over in PROGRESS, wherever they are. ****¼

Up next for RINGKAMPF are some singles matches – WALTER takes on Matt Riddle on March 26, whilst Axel Dieter Jr’s got Matt Riddle on the same show. Yep, that’s a bloody tasty line-up.

Nathan Cruz vs. Flash Morgan Webster
We already knew Metallica was safe to use tonight… sadly, The Who didn’t give their thumbs up, as Flash Morgan Webster had new music, “In Mod We Trust”, also by Hot Tag Media. Yep, they’ll be busy bees! Sadly, that change hurt Webster’s entrance, but I guess in time the crowd’ll get used to it. Growing pains, as we’ll get for a lot of these new songs, I guess.

The match starts with Cruz teasing going Webster’s’ arm, but he keeps escaping and shoves Cruz onto his arse in the early going, only for Nathan to land a knee to the shoulder to send Morgan down. Webster smashes his head into Cruz after faking out a test of strength, then rolled him up for a near-fall whilst Cruz was still wincing.

A springboard moonsault off the middle turnbuckle gets Webster a near-fall, but he gets caught out, taking a hot shot on the top rope, then a reverse neckbreaker as Cruz started to take over. Cruz follows with a knee strike to the side of a rope-hung Webster, who eventually hit back with a clothesline and a flying ‘rana, before his Special Brew Flip (imploding standing senton) collected a near-fall.

Cruz retaliates by shoving Webster off the top rope to the outside, with Webster spilling onto his shoulder, before ordering the referee back into the ring so he could take a count-out win. “Flash” pulls himself up using some fans, before drilling Cruz with a forearm on the outside… which just earns him a whip into the ringpost as Nathan this time rushed him back in for another slingshot back suplex. Hmm, two moves in back-to-back matches eh?

Webster wouldn’t give up though, despite Cruz dropping an elbow onto the surgically repaired shoulder. Using only one arm, Webster was able to score a backslide for a near-fall, but Cruz came back with an attempt at the Show Stolen off the top… only for Webster to counter it into a top rope ‘rana! A bicycle knee in the corner follows, before a running Destino gets Webster a two-count, which he segues into the Strangler (guillotine). Cruz rolls out of the ring and rams Webster into the post with the hold still on though, before Webster hits a big tope after being rolled into the ring… headbutting a fan’s knee in the process (almost!)

Another dive follows as Webster clears the crowd, and we get a leaping cross body onto Cruz, sending him through the first two rows of seats. Webster returns to escape from another Show Stolen, then delivers an ushigoroshi to Cruz for a near-fall. Cruz finally hits what he used to call the Show Stolen (a Samoan driver that’s yet to be rebranded!), but Webster kicked out at two once more.

Webster flips out of another slingshot back suplex, then headbutts Nathan down to the mat again. Somehow he’s not bloodied himself, but he goes up top, and finally fires himself up… but Cruz pops up and kills Morgan with a Code Breaker off the top rope! That was bloody insanity – the move, and the bump!

That just had more of the crowd behind Flash, who’s picked up like a ragdoll by Cruz for another Show Stolen… but Webster flips into the Strangler, and Nathan taps! A surprise, outta nowhere finish, but yet another bloody good match. Good to see Flash getting some lengthy ring time after his injury, and hopefully this is something he can build off of here. ****¼

After the match a belligerent Cruz beat on Webster, dropping him arm-first across the top rope, before heading to the back to a chorus of boos.

Natural PROGRESSion Series – Semi-Final: Jinny vs. Nixon Newell
The winner of this will go into a three-way final to become the first PROGRESS Women’s champion at some point in the not-too-distant future… Nixon got to keep B*Witched’s C’est La Vie, whilst Jinny had a new sound-a-like theme, of course, done by Hot Tag Media. If you’re not sure of these at a live show, remember at PROGRESS, the heels almost always come out first!

British fans have finally learned how to throw streamers! Unfortunately it means that Nixon gets jumped at the bell by Jinny, who then gives her a springboard armdrag to the outside, then a tope into the aisleway.

They brawl around the ring, as Jinny throws Nixon into the apron, then into the ring post as this was all one-sided in the opening moments. Jinny throws Nixon back in, but she quickly returns with a pair of topes that rocked Jinny. Nixon baseball slides to the outside and headbutts her in the chest, leading to Jinny almost Flair flopping to the arena floor.

Finally both women return to the ring, as Nixon lands a crossbody off the top for a near-fall, before a Shining Wizard is blocked, with Jinny sweeping the leg back, sending Nixon’s head into a knee. That turned the match back in Jinny’s favour, as she choked away on Nixon in the corner, before they went back and forth, ending with a bridging fallaway slam from Nixon for a near-fall.

From there, Nixon looks to finish off Jinny with a Welsh Destroyer, but it’s blocked and met with a leaping knee in the corner, only for Newell to hit a uranage for a near-fall. Nixon goes up top for a moonsault, but Jinny rolled away, slapped her a couple of times, then landed another knee, before hitting a Rainmaker… for a one-count!

Newell’s nowhere near done, and she fires back with some kicks in the corner, but Jinny catches her in the corner with the Facelift (middle-rope X-Factor), spiking Nixon on her head, but somehow Nixon kicked out at two! No problem… Jinny became the latest wrestler to bust out a Destroyer, and that was enough to book her spot in the finals! Decent for the time they had, really intense, and a good way to showcase Jinny since Nixon’s headed off to sunnier climes soon… ***

The crowd chanted “Thank you Nixon” as she headed to the back – so no major farewell here, as a video package seemed to have been edited out ahead of the main event.

No Disqualification for the PROGRESS World Championship: Jimmy Havoc vs. Pete Dunne (c)
AFI said yes, as Jimmy keeps his music… briefly, anyway, as Pete Dunne jumped him in the aisle and whacked him with his own chair on the stage. Dunne flings that chair towards the ring, then comes out with his title belt, as he then clears some of the crowd to throw Havoc into the seats as the stage suddenly became a standing-only area.

Someone’s Everton scarf was used to choke Havoc, who worked free and looked to throw Dunne down the stairs, before leaping down them himself into a tornado DDT! Havoc throws a chair at Dunne, then smashes Dunne’s own title belt into him, before going for more chairs as the no-DQ stipulation was exercised right from the get go.

Havoc gets a chair rammed into his throat, but he comes back with a frying pan to the head… then to the balls of Peter. A staple gun comes out, but Dunne ends up threatening a fan with it as the streamers continued to fly. How?! Where?

Havoc goes to the bar for a birthday beer, which gets thrown over Dunne, who then gets tossed into the crowd as no seat is clearly safe. A pop-up onto the apron only helps Havoc come back with a hurricanrana to the floor on Dunne, and it seems that no-DQ also means falls count anywhere as Havoc gets a near-fall… then a chairshot to the head.

Jimmy ducks a second chairshot as he dishes some back to Peter as the pair fight towards the merch stand, then back to the bar. Someone in the crowd was used to help tweak Jimmy’s fingers, as they briefly return to the ring so Dunne can land a PK, then a double stomp off of the apron. That staple gun gets used on Havoc’s EAR, whose thrown into the ring, only for his tope to get caught and turned into an X-Plex onto the apron. Ouch.

Whilst Jimmy’s down, Dunne sets up some chairs side-by-side, then gives Jimmy a back body drop through them, before he goes to bite away at the bloodied ear of Havoc. Gruesome.

That picks up when Pete pulls out some barbed wire from under the ring, before Havoc eats some more chair shots, including an accidental, self-inflicted one. Dunne bites on some barbed wire, then wraps it around Havoc’s knee for the eventual knee stomp. More staples are used as Dunne staples a streamer to Havoc’s face – to ever-more disgusted screams from Glen Joseph on commentary – as those staples follow to Jimmy’s hand, arm, leg and head. Bloody hell.

Havoc turns things around by throwing Dunne into a chair as he pulled some staples out of himself, then headed off to the merchandise area for… a bottle of booze and a photo. Eddie Dennis is wincing at what happened next: paper cuts between the fingers with booze for extra pain. A staple to the balls follows, and now Jimmy’s noticed some loose barbed wire. Which he wraps around his forearm.

Dunne blasts him with a forearm to stop the pain, then get some more barbed wire to wrap around his fist, so we get some barbed wire forearms. Yeah, this is well past the point of being hard to watch… They then decide to sit down and punch each other with that barbed wire-wrapped arms, and Havoc has at least a couple of punctures on his left arm, with blood dribbling down it.

Up next for Peter: a German suplex through a chair, then some decoration as the barbed wire gets wrapped around the bottom rope. As Peter’s placed in it, but he gets out of the way and drags Havoc into the rope, crotching him in the wire. That frying pan comes back into it, as a bloodied-up Havoc takes the pan to the head, allowing Dunne to set up a table, but he ends up getting caught with a reverse ‘rana instead. Some drawing pins get emptied out onto the canvas, then into Dunne’s mouth… but Peter blocks a punch to them and instead gets stomped mouth-first into the barbed wire.

A Destroyer into the drawing pins gets Havoc a near-fall somehow, but then Will Ospreay saunters down to the ring as he looked for a Rainmaker on Dunne. Will’s found the barbed wire baseball bat, and misses his swing… Dunne misses a Bitter End and takes a Rainmaker for a near-fall, as Jimmy then flies to the outside to take out Ospreay again. Havoc then tries for a superplex through the table, but the table doesn’t break and Havoc ends up going sideways into it… which must have sucked.

From there, Dunne bowls Havoc into the table, then looks to powerbomb him through it… this time the table gives, but somehow Jimmy kicked out at two! Another Acid Rainmaker gets a two-count as Ospreay pulls out the referee, with Chris Roberts apparently landing on the barbed wire bat as he fell. Ospreay takes a forearm as he springboarded into the ring, but the barbed wire bat is still in play… two shots, then a Bitter End, and that’s the title defended. I have no idea how to rate this – absolutely brutal, bloody and gory, to the point that it was tough to watch. By the end it was hard to see as a slew of streamers flooded the ring… ***¾

As Dunne leaves with the belt, Will Ospreay jumps into an extremely cluttered ring and pulls up Havoc for a ripcord forearm. He gets the microphone, and as he chokes Havoc, he tells Jimmy “this has to end”. So it will, on Sunday, with a Fans Bring The Weapons match at the Electric Ballroom…

What Worked: just about everything… four fantastic matches, with the worst (subjectively) being the intense-but-short women’s match or the comedy-based match. That’s not a bad thing.

What Didn’t: For some, the main event could be seen as too gruesome, but they originally built it up as a death match, so what do you expect?

Thumbs: Up. For my money, there was four matches over **** on this show. No way in hell is this anything other than a top recommendation from us. If this show had been in Japan or Reseda, Uncle Dave would be raving about it, rather than giving it the hand-waving treatment. If that…