The last stop ahead of Super Strong Style 16 proved to be memorable – with the tag team landscape enjoying a seismic shift thanks to the debut of a certain pair of best boys…

This show’s weighing in at just under two and a half hours, which is a pleasing change from the marathon-esque efforts at the Electric Ballroom, and we start with Jim Smallman already in the ring as the warm-up of Metallica continues to get trimmed. Jim’s brought Baby Claudio to the show (albeit not in the ring), whilst his suit’s in the wardrobe as he’s not doing WWE duty. Part of the pre-show featured Jim calling out some fans who’d come as IRS, Sting, the British Bulldog, Steve Austin and Hulk Hogan as part of a stag do.

Super Strong Style 16 2017 Qualifier: James Drake vs. Flash Morgan Webster
Well, those of you expecting a dreary entrance were quickly put in their place when Webster quickly attacked Drake and knocked him down the steps… Webster’s forced to disrobe during his attack, but not before he connected with a Thesz press into some chairs, before scoring a near-fall with a moonsault press as they entered the ring.

Drake powdered to the floor to escape Webster – but he couldn’t avoid the “arse face” chants as Drake trapped Webster in the ring apron en route to a stomp to the head. The Blackpool-based Drake keeps targeting the jaw and neck of Webster as he looked to add another jaw to his list… but Webster’s defiance helped him mount a comeback with some clotheslines and forearms, before finally connecting with a knee in the corner.

Drake heads outside again, but this time gets wiped out with a tope con hilo, before Webster scored a near-fall out of a Brit Pop Drop (ushigoroshi). A Strangler’s followed, but Drake suplexes his way free, only to turn into a spin-out butterfly facebuster for another two-count, but Drake hit back with another Exploder… and Webster popped straight back up!

The hand’s up headbutt knocks Drake down, and sparks some back and forth in strikes until Drake lands a series of forearms to the jaw. Webster looks to surprise Drake with a wheelbarrow, but it’s sat down on in a move that would have gotten the win, except Chris Roberts spotted Drake grabbing a handful of tights and so held up the count. From there, Webster rushes back in with the knee, before landing a Destino… and Flash makes Super Strong Style! A hell of an opening match, from the hot start carrying all the way through… but I do question if this is the end of the “James Drake story” given that his winning run is, as Callum Leslie on commentary notes, for nought. ***½

Jinny vs. Martina
The venue in Manchester’s got a video screen, which is handy for those who have new music… as it seems that Jinny’s tweaked her music again. As has Martina, who’s had to ditch Sandstorm for another Hot Tag Media track, called “Rave To The Grave”. Honestly, it’s an upgrade!

There’s a shower of glowsticks for Martina’s entrance, as does the offer of a can of Carling… which survives as Martina and Jinny exchanged an indy pinning spree in the opening minute! Jinny gets a spray of beer too, but recovers to boot Martina and lead into a ‘rana for some punches, before Martina reverses a suplex to keep herself in the game.

Martina gets a cigarette from referee Joel and tries to light up… which prompts Jinny to kick it out of her mouth. The offence keeps up with a clothesline for a near-fall, but somehow Martina comes back with a tarantula in the ropes, and gets another mouthful of Carling for another spray job.

Unfortunately, the Irish Tajiri (copyright Callum) gets caught in a seated surfboard a la Jushin Liger, which seems to spark chants of “Jinny is a Tory”. Which she nods to.

From there, Jinny finds Martina’s bag of cans, which came from Tesco, just like her best clothes (la la la la…), because of course it did! She tries to suffocate Martina with it, but a headbutt helps Martina reverse things and deliver a Codebreaker that flips Jinny inside out. Martina takes too long to capitalise though, and gets caught in the middle turnbuckle as the carrier bag’s placed over the head for that middle-rope X-Factor as Jinny gets what was pretty much an entertaining squash win ahead of the Natural PROGRESSion Series tournament finals. **¾

Referee Joel was a knight in shining armour, carrying Martina to the back…

London Riots (Rob Lynch & James Davis) vs. Sweet Jesus (Pastor William Eaver & Chuck Mambo)
Rest in Peace, Personal Jesus, the latest victim of the great music replacement! In its place was a new song, “Cool Ska” by Medicatation. It’s alright, but it’s not the same…

We start with Mambo dancing around a wristlock as James Davis and his bushy beard fell into another wristlock from a high five. Davis gets fed up of the tomfoolery and just decks Mambo with a forearm, before squashing Mambo with a back senton as he’d dropped down in anticipation of something else.

In comes Eaver, who looked for a Thesz press that was turned into a slam and another back senton for just a count of one. Eaver replies with some Pope-ish hammers that barely move Rob Lynch, nor does the Power of Christ, which just saw Lynch reply with another forearm to send the Pastor down again. He rebounded with a backbreaker, before a crossbody/suplex combo finally takes down Lynch, as James Davis’ attempt at interference earns him a hiptoss to the outside… where Mambo’s tope con hilo takes down the Riots!

Lynch flies into Mambo with a tope con hilo himself, before the Pastor completes the set with a tope… and knee slide on the floor! Wait… there’s one more! The Pastor grabs Mambo for a crucifix bomb to the outside, but he’s awkwardly caught by the Riots, who turn it into a District Line powerbomb on the apron!

The crowd noise dies a bit here as I suspect a microphone broke, so we get extra loud commentary (relatively speaking) as the Riots’ double chokeslam get them a near-fall. A clothesline gets Davis a near-fall as commentary notes that the Riots are on something of a losing record, before a combination of strikes, ending with a back senton gets another near-fall over the Pastor. The sound dips again as Eaver’s draped across the middle rope for a back senton from Davis, before Mambo’s quickly kicked back to the floor. We nearly see the Riots kick each other, but Eaver fires back as he teased a German suplex into the crowd, before instead slingshotting into the ring with a clothesline as Mambo finally tagged back in!

Mambo scores with a Blockbuster to Davis as he then superkicked Lynch off the apron… adding to that with a flip senton to Lynch on the floor. Back inside, Mambo’s dumped with a Saito suplex, before he countered a pop-up powerbomb into a Meteora for a near-fall. That powerbomb’s good at the second try for a near-fall, but Sweet Jesus come back with a big crossbody from Eaver, before Lynch and Eaver popped up from back-and-forth German suplexes!

Out of nowhere, a Clothesline from Heaven decks Lynch, only for James Davis’ back senton to stop that. The ring fills for a bit, but in the end Sweet Jesus take the win with a nice looking crucifix/Blockbuster combination, as the Riots pick up yet another loss. A really good outing for all four, but given their run I’d have to expect something to come from the Riots – they can only happily remain the Gatekeepers of PROGRESS for so long! ***¼

Travis Banks vs. Trent Seven
I know it’s just a song, but I’m not too keen on Travis keeping “Keep It 100” for his theme. Maybe it’s something to do with the licensing, but can you imagine the pop if/when TK and Dahlia return and that plays for the first time in months?

Not counting Orlando or multi-way matches, this was Trent’s first “straight” singles match in PROGRESS in almost a year, when he went down to Rampage Brown at chapter 32’s 5000-to-1. He started on the back foot here as well, as Banks flew into him with a tope before the bell even rang, before following up with a PK off the apron as Trent tried to escape an angry Kiwi.

Banks takes Seven around the ring for some chops and kicks around ringside as the tag team champion ended up making a brief comeback… and by brief I mean “a couple of chops before he smacked the ring post”. Travis becomes a little too closely acquainted with a dividing wall, before he forearmed away several chairs that Trent tried to throw his way, making the tag champion a little bit petrified!

Finally the match starts with the two men in the ring, but Trent goes for some chops before taking a big boot in the corner and a dropkick from the Kiwi. Banks revs up into some strikes, before he kicked away Trent into a cannonball in the corner, and of course, Banks was only too happy to throw in one of his own for a near-fall – whilst pulling Trent’s arm and leg away from the ropes to prevent a break!

The hard hits kept coming as Seven took a superkick and a brainbuster for a near-fall, only to get drilled with a Dragon suplex and a piledriver as Trent almost took home the win. From there, Banks Zombies up as Trent threw some more strikes, which led to a vicious exchange of chops between the two, before they switched up into forearms and slaps as those shots just ran around the Ritz.

A lariat from Trent nearly gets him the win as he fell on top of Banks, but the Kiwi Buzzsaw responds by crotching Trent into the ringpost as a set-up for a Coast to Coast dropkick! Somehow Trent kicked out just in time and started to club away with forearms as Travis was on the top rope… but Banks slips free and hits a powerbomb before landing a clothesline to garner another near-fall as the crowd firmly got behind him.

It looked like it wasn’t to be though, as Trent lands the Seven Stars lariat for a near-fall – with Banks popping back up after that, and again after a snap Dragon suplex, but he misses a crossbody and gets rolled-up with a handful of tights for the pin. Cheaty Trent gets the win, as Travis heads into Super Strong Style on the back of a defeat – and a really good outing, as you’d expect from these two! ****

Straight after the interval, we’re back to hear some booing for Chris Roberts as we kick off with a Facebook match to get another Super Strong Style 16 qualifier…

Super Strong Style 16 2017 Qualifier: Nathan Cruz vs. Spud
Bye bye “Turn The Page” – Nathan Cruz has ditched Metallica for another Hot Tag Media theme after the Origin fell apart. Ditto Rockstar Spud, who had to give up “Living On A Prayer” for not-his-Impact theme, but instead a song by a “real band” called the Stone Angels, with “Lines in the Sand”.

We start with Cruz mockingly slapping Spud, perhaps with visions of him as a ring announcer, but Spud leapt into action with a dropkick before clinging onto a headlock as if his life depended on it. After forcing Spud into the ropes, Cruz rebounded with a slingshot back suplex before he went to rake away on Spud’s eyes before wearing Spud’s jacket like a scarf to mock him. Of course, it was way too small, and that just angered Spud into a takedown as he lit up Cruz with more stomps in the corner.

A springboard ‘rana out of the corner takes Cruz to the outside, where he’s met with a tope before an attempt at a splash is blocked with some knees. Another slingshot back suplex is flipped out as Spud lands a Code Red for a near-fall, but that just irritates Cruz into throwing in a powerbomb and a Show Stolen for a near-fall. Just a thought – a few shows back, Cruz apparently had ditched that name for Alex Shane’s old move, since he’d given up the nickname “Showstealer” for “The Professional”. So, what’s that finisher going to be called? Answers on a postcard…

After the kick out, a second Showstealer follows as Spud kicks out yet again, which prompts chants of “TNA” that are quickly shot down and overwhelmed with “This is PROGRESS” chants. Unfortunately that just got Spud some more kicks to the ribs, before an inverted Show Stolen did the job and got Cruz into the Super Strong Style 16 tournament. Not a popular result, but a pretty solid match that drew some good reactions given how low a profile Nathan Cruz has had in PROGRESS lately. ***½

Tyler Bate vs. Matt Riddle
Add yet another victim to the music cleansing, as Regulate – which is apparently fine in the chip-tune world of EVOLVE – bit the dust here in favour of some sweet saxophone music. Both men had a pair of belts with them, but none of them were on the line – neither the tag titles or the WWE UK title (obviously), nor the WWN or Atlas titles. And I’d guess also, not the ATTACK! 24/7 title either…

Tyler immediately powders to the outside at the bell, and teases taking a count-out loss… before trying to hide behind referee Joel Allen, and failing miserably as Riddle pulls him away from the ropes and landed a waistlock takedown that sent Bate scurrying to the outside again. After using his ring jacket to unsight Riddle, Bate launches into a takedown and a leglock, but Riddle easily reverses it as he went to work… again forcing Bate to dive for the ropes to escape another ankle lock.

A series of rolling gutwrenches puts Tyler down on the mat, but he outsmarts Riddle by sneaking back into the ring and flying back out with a tope as the pair traded places. We even got Bate trying an ankle lock of his own, before going for the Billy Goat’s Curse (inverted Boston crab) en route to a pendulum submission attempt. Riddle fires back with forearms and knees, before tossing Bate with an Exploder as he came close to a win with a back senton. Poor Tyler absorbs some kicks before catching one… but that just led to a Bro to Sleep and a vicious bridging German suplex for a near-fall. Bate escapes a second, then nails a standing shooting star press after rebounding off the ropes with his shoulders to launch his own comeback.

Out of nowhere though, Bate gets caught in a triangle armbar, but he powerbombs free… and instantly gets caught in a trapped guillotine, only to power up and suplex his way… into the path of a tombstone slam for a near-fall as Riddle came within millimeters of winning. From there, a small package driver gets Riddle another near-fall, so he comes back with some back sentons… but one gets caught into a grounded sleeper as Tyler looked for a tap-out.

Riddle stood up and made the ropes… but Bate did a WALTER and slapped it away to give a German suplex to the Atlas champ… but Riddle stands straight back up before flipping out of a second German as they launch into some back and forth strikes, ending with a Koppo kick from Bate that left both men laying. More forearms somehow get both men back to their feet, only for Bate to try for a diving uppercut off the middle rope that’s caught and turned into a Bromission, which is the cue for Trent Seven to hit the ring for the DQ. That’s one way to avoid any rumoured political issues, but I’m never a fan of cheap DQs like this, especially when it can be seen to “marr” a good match. ****

For the last few matches, there’s been a rather abrupt silence inbetween matches – where you’d expect edits to be made, were PROGRESS not releasing shows “as live”.

PROGRESS World Championship: Mark Haskins vs. Mark Andrews vs. Pete Dunne (c)
This was set-up after the number one contender’s match at the last chapter ended in a draw… so if you’re counting, this is the third time in two months that Pete’s defended his title against a Mark. Crobot bit the dust too! Mark Haskins’ new song is called “Stitches” by Acid Nymph, but at least we still have Junior.

Dunne started by laying into Andrews with a forearm, before sidestepping a dropkick as the Welshman accidentally knocked Haskins off the apron. So yeah, if you were expecting this to kick off at a fast clip, you wouldn’t be left feeling disappointed! Haskins slides in and catches Dunne in a Sharpshooter briefly, before catching Andrews in a small package and going for the Star Bar… which just continued their sequence as a pair of missed dropkicks led to a rather animated stand-off.

They head outside where Dunne throws Andrews into the crowd before dropping Haskins with an X-Plex on the apron – and it was Haskins who was targeted back in the ring as Dunne stomped on his arm, before swatting away a springboard from Andrews with a forearm. It was pretty much one-way traffic from Peter here, before Haskins finally offered some resistance with some kicks to the legs before connecting with a leg lariat.

Andrews returned to briefly make this a three-way, scoring with a Shiranui to Dunne that ended up DDT’ing Haskins as well, but Haskins recovered to take out a dive to Andrews and take out Dunne. A series of dives leave everyone laying on the outside, before the insanity returned to within the confines of the ring as a bridging suplex from Haskins on Dunne was kicked out of… only for Andrews to land a springboard moonsault to force everyone back down again!

Dunne rebounds as he catches both his opponents in single leg crabs at the same time, but Andrews slipped free and locked in an Octopus that Haskins tried to break up with some superkicks… superkicks that turned the move into a Code Red, before Haskins picked up the pieces by rolling through to collect Dunne for a death valley driver onto Andrews… who got one too!

Dunne broke that up at the count of two, before snapping into Haskins with an enziguiri to resume the series… but some forearms keep Andrews and Haskins back on the mat, only for Dunne to springboard out of the corner into a pair of superkicks. We’re back to the forearms as Haskins rages, but he’s quickly kicked down as Dunne decides to snack on the fingers of his foes, only to take a pair of superkicks in return.

A 619 from Andrews sets him up for a wheelbarrow back into the ring, before he countered a Haskins suplex into a Stundog Millionaire, but a shooting star press misses as Dunne pulled Haskins to the outside, as the champion slid in to catch Andrews in a Regal Stretch. That’s broken up by Haskins’ Star Bar as the sequence of submissions continued with Haskins giving Dunne and Andrews simultaneous Star Bars after a shooting star press failed.

Just like earlier, that was the cue for interference, with Trent Seven and Tyler Bate coming down to remove Chris Roberts from the ring… but a tope from Haskins puts paid to them as he goes back to a death valley driver on Andrews. A low blow from Dunne stops that as Andrews then takes a Bitter End onto Haskins, as Peter secured the win with a Pedigree. Well, I guess that the interference didn’t directly play into the finish, given that a low blow would have been legal anyway, but the run of Dunne having his title “saved” by his team-mates continues in earnest. ***¾

After the match Dunne got the microphone, but before he could speak, Matt Riddle hit the ring… and was quickly swarmed by British Strong Style. Dunne declared that “PROGRESS wrestling… sports entertainment… the Universe… everything is mine” as the crowd chanted for Travis Banks, whom Dunne acknowledged.

“No-one can take on British Strong Style” was the closing remark, as some new music hit… and this was the cue for the Ritz to lose their mind.

#CCK arrived!

Brookes decked Bate with a pump kick whilst a tope con hilo from Lykos got rid of the other two, as their lungblower/back senton combo finished off Bate. The debuting dirty wolf and his lanky best friend stood tall over British Strong Style – and just like that, there’s new blood in PROGRESS’ tag division.

Honestly, I didn’t know what to make of this show. The same complaint I had about the WWE’s Norwich show came into play here, as there were parts of the production that just felt off compared to PROGRESS’ usual output. Now, a lot of that may well be down to an equipment malfunction, but random silences between matches and sound volumes dipping all over the place is really noticeable when the remainder of the product is top notch.

Coming two weeks before Super Strong Style 16, it felt like it was little more than a warm up, filling in some of the remaining tournament spots whilst sewing seeds for later down the line. Whilst Sweet Jesus’ win over the London Riots might elevate them to a tag title shot, it’s worth noting that Eaver’s spot in Super Strong Style means that their place in line is probably going to be cut, especially when the debuting #CCK have now challenged for a title shot by way of a video (which cutely acknowledged some frayed ends with the #CCK vs. CCK universes… at time of writing, the response is still pending). Speaking of the proverbial elephant in the room. #CCK’s debut – I’d hope – was not planned for this show, given that until three days before they were booked for Lucha Forever’s now-cancelled London show. Whilst their debut after months of anticipation and requests from fans was always going to pop the crowd, there will be those who are questioning the thought processes behind them being the only promotion to book an act as good guys… especially when the “best boys” are bad guys elsewhere.

Then again, the default answer will be “let the story play out” – and whilst I welcome the addition of new blood to a company that has started to attract complaints of staleness, there’s a lot riding on the outcomes of Super Strong Style 16 when it comes to replenishing various parts of the roster… including a title picture that has felt repetitive so far in 2017.