An emotional night in Camden saw PROGRESS bid farewell (for now) to several long-standing members of their roster – and continue the slow-burn towards the Super Strong Style 16 tournament.

We open with Jim in the ring for his usual pre-show spiel, which featured a first-time fan who seemed to have been tricked into thinking that this was a pantomime. Almost! By the way, if you’re reading this and don’t want spoilers… aside from “there were seven matches and a bunch of tears”, click away now!

Before the opener, Jim Smallman gave us a head’s up regarding someone’s music change. Unfortunately, despite some fans successfully campaigning for Andrew WK to let Eddie Dennis keep “Party Hard” as his ring music, Universal said no. So whilst the live crowd got one final Ballroom entrance to that song, the on-demand version only had the “second” entrance with the South Wales Kings’ song for Eddie, entitled “We Came To Party”.

James Drake vs. Eddie Dennis
James Drake got some stick for his performance here, with a section of fans labelling him as dull. To be fair, he’s largely been thrown out to the wolves, with little other to him than “he wrestled on the WWE UK shows” and “he’s got 93 on his head”. I know it’s the year he was born, but without that knowledge, it’s like we’ve got special limited edition James Drakes out there, each individually numbered.

Heck, Drake doesn’t even have his own entrance video gimmick – something which just adds to the blandness that some perceive.

After a jump start, where Eddie’s new song played to the point where I thought he was going to have it throughout his match a la New Jack, Drake suplexes the Welshman on the floor, and gets a near-fall when he rolls him back in. Eddie launches into a violence party, then boots Drake off the top rope to the floor in preparation for his tope con hilo!

Dennis rushes into things with a crucifix buckle bomb as a set-up for the Next Stop Driver, but Drake escapes as the pair headed around the front row for a spot of brawling. Just in time for the crowd to remember what’s on Drake’s trunks. When they return to the ring, Drake’s firmly on top of Dennis, at least until he’s caught on the top rope and brought down with a superplex. A swinging side slam gets Eddie a two-count, but Drake returns fire with an enziguiri and a suplex, before a missed dropkick gives Eddie a chance for a Next Stop Driver.

Drake counters into a roll-up for a near-fall though, only to get caught with a deadlift, stalling Fisherman’s suplex as Eddie came close again. The pair absolutely leather each other with forearms, forcing referee Marc Parry to intervene, and that gives Drake enough of an opening to land the Mr Mayhem sit-out DDT to secure the win. There was nothing wrong with this match, but I can easily see why there’s sections of the audience that deem Drake to be colourless. Perhaps version 94 will fix it? ***¼

Natural PROGRESSion Series – Semi-Final: Alex Windsor vs. Laura di Matteo
The winner of this match joins Jinny and Toni Storm in the finals to crown a new women’s champion over Super Strong Style 16 weekend… and no, Alex Windsor looked nothing like her pre-match photo. Yes, it’s a bugbear of mine, but I apparently annoy easily.

Laura Di Matteo went back to her “old” music of Alyssa Reid’s “The Game”, whereas Alex Windsor couldn’t keep Katy Perry, so we had another Hot Tag Media track. We open with some mounted punches as Laura’s MMA-inspired offence switched into a RVD-esque body scissors to firmly put Windsor on the back foot.

A blocked dive turns things around as Windsor takes Laura outside for a backdrop apron suplex and a BUSHI-esque spot of t-shirt choking, but Alex took her eye off the ball and left herself open for that trademark Di Matteo tope. Back inside though, things turned again with Windsor working over the back, before pulling on Laura’s braided-hair for added cheatiness. Windsor uses a one-legged surfboard stretch on Laura, turning it into a curb stomp with the other leg for a near-fall as Alex kept kicking away… but it only served to inspire the Italian into a comeback.

Laura’s enziguiri sets up for a tiltawhirl headscissors and some clotheslines, before flying off the top rope with a missile dropkick! Windsor pushed away a Codebreaker attempt and retaliated with a Blue Thunder bomb, before Laura finally landed her Codebreaker to get some separation. An Electric Chair drop rocks Di Matteo, but Windsor took her time in making a cover, before going for a modified Sharpshooter – kind of like the Edgucator (for the one person who remembers that!)

Somehow Laura rolls out of it and catches Alex with the grounded Octopus hold, eventually forcing the submission. That was a good, albeit out-of-nowhere finish, but it played true with Laura’s MMA-inspired offence to bring an enjoyable outing to an end. **¾

Mike Bird vs. Flash Morgan Webster
This was Bird’s first PROGRESS appearance in over a year – last seen on their ENDVR shows losing to Paul Robinson. A lot’s changed since then, but here Bird was brought in against fellow Welshman Morgan Webster.

Bird makes a beeline for Webster’s repaired shoulder, frustrating the “Modfather” in the early going as the teacher outwitted his student… which eventually forced Webster to fire up into action, scoring a satellite armdrag to help send Bird to the outside. Instead of some flying, Bird pulled Webster outside and flung him into the apron, before a sit-out pumphandle driver almost gave us a shock result for the “Ginger Jesus”.

In the middle of this, the crowd started singing the theme tune to Eastenders – as someone compared Bird to a character from the soap – and that seemed to be the cue for a Webster comeback, featuring a headbutt that made Bird fall to the outside once again, where Webster threw him into the ringpost before following up with a 619 around the ringpost into a ‘rana!

Up next… a crossbody that took Bird into several rows of chairs, before snapping into a pair of powerbombs back inside that probably could have won the match. A missed moonsault sets up Bird for a release German, but Webster lands on his feet before retaliating with a reverse ‘rana and an ushigoroshi that almost got the Mod the win. In the end though, it was Webster who got the win, after a bicycle knee caught Bird flying… then a Destino, before the Strangler forced the stoppage as Bird refused to tap, instead flipping off Marc Parry who then waved it all off. Unsurprisingly, Bird did a LOT here to make Webster look good, and I really hope that this isn’t a one-and-done outing as Bird has done a lot on the indies and deserves a shot like this. ***½

Yes, I know Bird’s an ICW regular with “Wild Boar” Mike Hitchman… anyway, after the match, Webster gets spat at, before he cuts a promo about how he’ll “tear it apart” from now on. The only tearing apart we got from there though was from James Drake, as version 93 hit the stage and beat down Webster on his departure.

London Riots (James Davis & Rob Lynch) vs. South Pacific Power Trip (TK Cooper & Travis Banks)
I’m not afraid to say this, but live I was doing a LOT of the ol’ British stiff upper lip. We know the story – TK and Dahlia’s visas were expiring, and this was their final appearance for PROGRESS. Or indeed, any wrestling company in the UK. This was an emotional scene for all involved, as the past few months had seen TK and Dahlia go from the act we loved to hate, to one that had won everyone over – and opened a lot of eyeballs around the world to them.

So with that in mind, the standing ovation they got for their entrance shouldn’t have been too much of a shock.

We start off with Rob Lynch having a hard time doing a kip up… but it was just a ruse to whack Travis Banks with an enziguiri! Yeah, this wasn’t going to be a serious match, especially when chants of “TK and Dahlia” got Cooper misty-eyed… and earned him a hug, and a feel, from Chris Roberts.

An axe kick from TK cuts off a tope from Rob Lynch, but we get the crazy dives anyway, culminating in Cooper almost going out on his back, when an Exploder off the top to the floor almost go awry. That led to Dahlia Black coming in and whacking James Davis with her moon boot… which took her out of action for a bit as she had to put it back on. My better half was glad to be of assistance there!

In the meantime the other four brawl through the crowd and towards the bar, returning to the ring only so Banks could try and choke Lynch with a streamer. Yeah… I had to move out of my seat to avoid a flying Travis, as he was taken towards the stage, and finally all four head back into the ring, this time so TK could take an Exploder into the corner. Insert Rick Martel line here!

Travis resumes with a series of his buzzsaw kicks, eventually kicking James Davis into a cannonball into his partner, before the Kiwis flew in with dives of their own. TK absorbs a headbutt, because he’s Samoan, before he and Travis popped up from a double back suplex as the hard-hitting stuff never stopped. Somehow Rob Lynch pulled off a Destroyer, before TK takes a St George’s Cross… and returns the favour with a Spanish Fly to JD! Throw in a senton bomb and a Coast to Coast, and you can understand why Glen Joseph threw in a “my fucking God” here!

The Riots steal the Kiwi’s assisted DDT finisher, the Sky Tower, but then the favour’s returned as the Riots take their own slingshot spear for a near-fall. A Slice of Heaven and a Fisherman’s driver from Banks, and a springboard 450 Splash from TK gets just a one-count, before the Sky Tower ensures that the Power Trip went out with a crowd-pleasing win. ****¼ (for you, TK!)

After the match, we had the farewell speeches with TK, Dahlia, and a lot of the Ballroom fighting back tears. TK told us all he had had a whale of a time “punching out girls and wearing dungarees”, which without all that context, makes the fans’ cheers really weird, before saying that the Power Couple may have been born in New Zealand… but they were made in PROGRESS. Cue chants, as Glen Joseph entered the ring and announced that he had two bits of business…

No, it wasn’t that he’d fixed the visa. One bit of business was that PROGRESS were giving an open tag title shot to TK and Travis – to be used anywhere in the world whenever they want. The other bit of business wasn’t revealed, as British Strong Style crashed the party, along with Trent Seven’s rendition of an old Triple H theme. The end game was that after baiting PROGRESS for not sorting their visas, Trent teased giving them their belt shot now.

By that, he meant hitting them with their tag title belts. Which started an uncomfortable assault as Tyler Bate held Dahlia so Trent could beat down TK, and eventually Pillmanize his ankle with a chair. Eventually RINGKAMPF – BSS’ opponents in the main event later on – hit the ring as WALTER, Timothy Thatcher and Axel Dieter Jr made sure no more damage could be done, as the departing heroes ended up hobbling away under their own steam.

This was wrestling at it’s finest – but unfortunately, at it’s most real. We’ve gotten used to having to say farewell to folks leaving for WWE – in a sense, the comfort that we’ll still be able to see them in some form. Although the wrestling world is as small as it’s ever been thanks to technology, the strange sense of loss was still there – regardless of how much the promise of a future tag title shot may have been thrown in to soften the blow. Yeah, the British Strong Style run-in is something that I would have preferred to have not happened, but as this is surely going to culminate in something down the line, it’ll be a “wait and see” deal.

The second half kicked off with a rather sweaty Pastor William Eaver – who’d made it to the Ballroom after completing the London Marathon earlier that day. His reward… a place in this year’s Super Strong Style 16 tournament.

Number One Contender’s: Mark Andrews vs. Mark Haskins
This took its’ time to get going, with the crowd perhaps a little unsure on a match where one of these guys would quickly get another title shot. These two had a hell of a match for OTT back in February – in Haskins’ first match back from injury, no less – but this… wasn’t the same.

We start with some ground-based offence, before Haskins flipped out of a ‘rana as we went to our first stand-off, cueing some chants of “both these marks”. Which sounds like a really badly attended show…

The stuff they did, as you’d expect, flowed well and was crisp as ever, but something about this really didn’t click with the crowd. After taking a double stomp, Haskins landed a low dropkick to wipe out Andrews, before rolling him up out of the corner into a Stretch Muffler, as Haskins really targeted the legs of the Welshman. Andrews breaks a figure four in the ropes, then vaulted back into a bulldog as he followed up with the Northern Lights… but he took too long to follow up and got thrown to the outside, as the front row were forced to move sharpish!

Those few chairs were used again as Haskins took a ‘rana into the front row, before Haskins ended a series of kicks on the apron with a death valley driver onto the apron. Back inside, we get the roll-up into another death valley driver for a near-fall, only for Andrews to return with another double stomp.

Just like that, Andrews snapped into a leaping rana for a near-fall, before yet another vault over from the apron is stuffed by Haskins. The Stundog Millionaire takes Haskins down though for a shooting star press – with Andrews clipping the rope on the way down – before he leaps into a triangle choke. Andrews rolls forward, which leads us to our confusing finish as Andrews tapped as Chris Roberts counted a pin – and this is ruled as a rather unsatisfying draw. ***½

The upshot of that – both men get the number one contendership, so chapter 48 in Manchester’s become a triple threat.

Super Strong Style 16 Qualifier: Paul Robinson vs. Jack Sexsmith
There was an added wrinkle on this particular match, with Robinson promising to leave PROGRESS if he lost… and things didn’t go to plan from the off as he was attacked on the stage by Sexsmith.

Jack threw Robinson down the stairs and finally into the ring, where the aggression continued with a bicycle knee to Robinson on the top rope. Robbo slips out and looked to try for a Cheeky Nando’s, but instead he took a bite out of Sexsmith’s calf as the boos hailed down on him. Yep, Robinson looked to continue his off-and-on reign of terror through PROGRESS trainees, showering Jack with forearms, until the LGBDT dumped Robinson on his head.

Another flurry of offence ended with Robinson getting planted with a kiss as Sexsmith fired back into a Pearl Neckbreaker, before Robinson evades Mr Cocko with some knees. It only delays things though as he’s rolled up into a Cocko Crossface, but Robinson bites his way free and followed up with an Essex Destroyer. That’s no-sold as Sexsmith follows up with a Destroyer of his own (tagged as the Rainbow Ride… but it still doesn’t win the match!)

Robinson pushes away another LGBDT attempt, then lands a double stomp for a near-fall. An OsCutter gets another two-count, before we see a rare shooting star press out of Robbo… but Jack still kicks out! Enraged, Robinson punches away on Sexsmith, but he misses another curb stomp and gets caught in a crossface as Jack sealed his Super Strong Style 16 place! This was fine, and in my mind, completed the genesis of Sexsmith as a character that tried so far, but in the end always came up short… although SSS16 may well continue that against tougher opponents. ***½

With Jack gone, Paul Robinson got the goodbye song, and we faded to black… for now!

Everything On The Line: RINGKAMPF (WALTER, Axel Dieter Jr. & Timothy Thatcher) vs. British Strong Style (Pete Dunne, Trent Seven & Tyler Bate)
The stipulation going in was that whomever got pinned or submitted from British Strong Style would lose their PROGRESS title… so if Peter got pinned, he lost his PROGRESS title. If Trent or Tyler lost, they’d both lose their PROGRESS tag titles, with whomever getting the pin getting the belts (and the right to pick a partner).

We quickly went to the shenanigans as Axel Dieter Jr. chased the champions out of the ring, before returning to try and twist off Tyler’s head with a cravat. Timothy Thatcher gets a massive roar when he’s tagged in, and he only has eyes for Pete Dunne, grappling with the PROGRESS champion so much that Trent Seven comes in to pull him to safety… and get an uppercut from the former EVOLVE champ. Yet more cheers for Timmy follow when Pete Dunne throws a chair in the ring… so he just sits on it and flicks the V’s at Dunne.

Why was Thatcher not this charismatic when he was boring a section of the crowd during his EVOLVE reign?!

Thatcher kept shoving Dunne towards defeat, prompting his partners to make the save and scurry for cover… even more so when WALTER came in. Yeah, they messed up, as WALTER dove in with a dropkick to knock down all three men after they’d tried and failed with shoulder tackles. A trio of Triple H knees follow though, and now we get the aping of Hunter… only for the WWE UK guys to get booted off the apron by the resurging RINGKAMPF.

Poor Tyler Bate was 20 when WALTER killed him with chops. Trent took some too, before WALTER ambled over to Pete Dunne to complete the set. Dunne still got back to kick Axel in the hamstring, taking him out of action for a spell. Meanwhile, WALTER does his sleeper/German suplex tandem, then a butterfly suplex to Trent for a near-fall, before the big Austrian decided to chop down Trent with some chops.

Tyler lost another life to a WALTER chop, and a third when Pete Dunne threw him in front of another chop – prompting an argument between the champions.

When things calmed down, Timothy Thatcher found himself isolated, but he eventually freed himself with a backdrop driver – only to be left without anyone to tag as WALTER and Dieter were pulled off the apron seconds earlier. Axel gets the tag in and clears house, diving into Tyler with a European uppercut, then dishing another European uppercut to Dunne as Trent eats a Hamburgerkreuz onto Tyler.

The madness continues with a rope hung DDT onto Dunne for a near-fall, before Dunne bites out of a WALTER sleeperhold. That wasn’t smart, as the Austrian clotheslines him halfway to death, before RINGKAMPF locked in a sleeperhold, armbar and the Axel Dieter Special to tease a complete title change. Yet more insanity leads to Tyler Bate giving a deadlift German to WALTER – a sight that I’ve seen twice and still can’t believe happened – before a double spike tombstone to Axel almost won things as Dieter barely kicked out.

In the end though, it was some underhandedness that sealed the win, as Pete Dunne snuck in with the PROGRESS title belt to break up WALTER’s rear naked choke to Trent… and with one arm on top of the Austrian, Trent was able to get the pin to ensure everyone kept their belts. A fantastic main event – yes, Dunne’s belt shot was cheap as all hell, but everything before it was damn near flawless… exactly what you’d expect from such an “everything-on-the-line” match. ****½

After British Strong Style left, RINGKAMPF received a standing ovation as Axel Dieter Jr. bade farewell to England… and after the closing titles, we then go to the “something extra” that was edited out earlier, as we fade back to Paul Robinson’s farewell.

The crowd’s still singing “goodbye” to Robbo. He interrupts, almost in tears, telling the crowd he’s got a hereditary blood condition that’d forced him to retire from “this standard”. Hearing Robinson tell the crowd that he “can’t compete at this standard without dying” was sobering to say the least, as he then made his exit… getting one last “wrestling!” out of the crowd. Just like old times!

As usual, this was another great show from PROGRESS – and despite the takeaways being rather emotional with the departures, there was a lot of good wrestling on here. Like that should be any surprise!