Stretching out to three days of the late May Bank Holiday, PROGRESS’ third Super Strong Style 16 kicked off in style with a Saturday show that set things up nicely for a memorable weekend!

Day one’s matches were all tournament bouts, as all sixteen wrestlers were in action to set up Sunday’s quarter-finals. But first, we have Jim Smallman, whose caption noted that his mood as Day 1: Relaxed. I wonder if Day 3 will be “zombified”? Before his usual spiel welcomed a litany of travelling fans – which took a lot longer than usual because this weekend was insanely popular – there’s a touching moment where the crowd rose as one to applaud for three fans who’d been caught up in the Manchester attack earlier in the week.

Callum Leslie and Matt Richards are on commentary for day one.

Super Strong Style 16 – First Round: Nathan Cruz vs. Jeff Cobb
Nathan Cruz qualified by beating Rockstar Spud in Manchester a few weeks earlier… and his reward is almost-certain death against Jeff Cobb. His new music fits the heel-ish, “professional” character that Cruz has slipped into after the Origin dissolved, whilst Jeff Cobb’s track befits the sense of impending doom that he brings to the ring – and it’s a “real” song too, in the form of the Alder Kings’ 2013 track, “It’s Alive”.

As you’d expect, Cobb manhandled Cruz, lifting him with ease as the former Showstealer was resorting to taking cheapshots and using his quickness to evade Cobb. Sadly, he thought to try going airborne, as a crossbody off the top nearly ended Nathan’s night early. Cruz manages to catch Cobb with a tornado DDT on the outside as he tried to keep the Hawaiian at bay, but Cobb popped up and calmly slid back into the ring as he started throwing around Nathan for fun. A one-handed stalling suplex got the crowd going, as did some chops, before he missed a Stinger splash as Cruz again tried to get into things.

The Bossman leaping knee onto Cobb in the ropes kept the bigger man at bay, but Cruz got pulled off the top rope into a belly-to-back suplex as Cobb snapped back into form. Cruz raked the eyes after shoving away referee Marc Parry, but Cobb shrugged that off and delivered a standing moonsault, then a standing shooting star headbutt as the Electric Ballroom saw a big man flying in ways that are surely unnatural.

Again, Cruz came back, launching Cobb with a slingshot back suplex a la Tully Blanchard, before he tried for a sunset flip that led to his doom… by way of rolling German suplexes! Cruz threw in a mule kick and a Codebreaker after grabbing hold of the ref, but Cobb quickly reverted to type with his throws, ending things with the Tour of the Islands as the first PROGRESS champ fell at the first hurdle. A nice little match to get the crowd familiar with Cobb, who’ll face either Trent Seven or Matt Riddle in the quarters! ***¼

Super Strong Style 16 – First Round: Flash Morgan Webster vs. Mark Haskins
Well, Mark Haskins losing Crobot – and replacing it with the Acid Nymph’s “Stitches” – is going to take a little getting used to. Certainly, it didn’t generate the same reaction as he stormed to the ring.

These two returned from injury at the same time at the end of Tropic Thunderbastard, and fate drew them together against each other in the first round. Haskins makes a point of going after Webster’s legs early, whilst he flips for what could have been a phantom armdrag as Webster’s Special Brew Flip earned him an early near-fall.

Haskins kicks away Webster’s leg as he looked to springboard out of the corner, and the focus shifted back onto that left leg and ankle as he tried to force a submission out of the Modfather. Webster leapt over a non-existent charge from Haskins, who just went back to torquing away at that ankle. A diving clothesline gets Webster back in it, but he was virtually on one leg as he followed up with a bicycle knee strike and a missile dropkick, before eventually heading outside and into the path of a tope from Haskins.

Webster responded with a tope con hilo, before his moonsault back in the ring missed and left him in place for a Star Armbar from Haskins. After evading a Brit Pop Drop, Haskins kicks away Webster’s leg once more, only to get caught in the Strangler guillotine for a brief moment as Webster took him too close to the ropes.

Webster thought he’d gotten ahead with the “hand’s up” headbutt, but he collapsed to the mat after delivering it, putting himself in perfect place for Haskins’ roll-up death valley driver. That gets a near-fall, before Webster elbows free of a Made in Japan (pumphandle driver) and almost got the win with a crucifix… only for Haskins to roll through into the Sharpshooter and quickly sink back in as all that work on Webster’s ankle forced the submission. A fine, but bizarrely flat babyface match, but I liked the hints of Haskins being more vicious bell-to-bell, and the response of the non-plussed Webster after the match. ***

Super Strong Style 16 – First Round: Jimmy Havoc vs. Travis Banks
Two new songs here for those who are counting, and they’re both “real” tracks – Jimmy Havoc lost AFI for a song by Silent Descent called “Psychotic Euphoric”. It’s the song he’s used in ICW… meanwhile, Travis has kept one line from “Keep It 100” before seguing to a song from Massive Wagons called “Nails”.

The atmosphere for this one was electric, with two crowd favourites producing an entirely different reaction to what we saw in the prior outing. Dueling chants gave way to Banks trying to outwrestle Havoc, before a kick took Havoc to the outside as the longest-reigning champ tried to bait the Kiwi to the outside. That didn’t work, as Havoc had to return to the ring to beat the count, only to get thrown out for a tope as they brawled around the front row… and into the crowd too, as Banks threw Havoc into the third row.

Jimmy grabs some of those vacated chairs and throws them at Banks… who nonchalantly swatted them away with his forearm. A third one’s caught and thrown back… but Havoc just headbutts that away and throws Banks into the crowd again as they finally decided to make use of the ring. A diving ‘rana gives us a glimpse of Lucha Havoc, as did a Panama Sunrise (front-flip Destroyer), but Banks kept fighting back and nearly won it with a cannonball into the corner.

Another ‘rana off the top rope gets Havoc a near-fall as we continued to see another side of Jimmy, but Banks seemed to hit a little bit harder, knocking down Havoc with a diving knee. A Slice of Heaven misses as Havoc countered with a pumphandle into a Blue Thunder Bomb, then a half-nelson suplex and a death valley driver, but Travis just wouldn’t stay down!

Banks’ Blue Thunder Bomb’s good for a two-count, before he decided to counter some Rainmakers with repeated kicks to the head as a Kiwi Krusher (spinning Fisherman driver) booked Travis’ place in the quarters. That was quite the outing, all hard-hitting with very little downtime… a really satisfying match to watch, as commentary really pushed that Banks had beaten the longest reigning PROGRESS champion. Spoilers? ***½

Super Strong Style 16 – First Round: David Starr vs. Zack Sabre Jr.
We’re back to new song territory, but the debut David Starr probably shouldn’t count – unless you were expecting him to come out to Joan Jett! The Wood Burning Savages’ “We Love You” was the Product’s song today, and yes, we’re doing fairly well for “stuff that’s on Spotify”. Meanwhile, Zack Sabre Jr. came out with a massive statement in the form of the Jeremy Corbyn t-shirt… and a song that was vaguely in the same universe as his Rev Pro song. Without the cringey lyrics.

It’s worth noting that David Starr got a new nickname for this weekend – although I doubt “circumcised saviour” would fly in some markets!

Sabre was the massive babyface here, although just about anyone wearing a Jeremy Corbyn t-shirt and wearing Labour red this close to the election would have gotten the same reaction. That it was someone as good at wrestling as Zack just helped! After trying to out-grapple Sabre, Starr tried his hand with chops, after having some politics explained to him by ref Joel Allen. References!

Starr comes close with the reverse gutwrench suplex as the crowd started to warm to him… just as he made Sabre “look at it”. After coming too close to David’s Starr, Zack snapped in with an armbar as he stomped away at Starr’s left arm, viciously taking the “Jewish Cannon” into the ropes. I love it when Zack snaps like that!

Heavily-torqued wristlocks draw chants of “fuck the Tory party” as the crowd were seemingly content on letting the wrestling match become window dressing to the party political stuff. The pair exchange forearms for a spell as Starr tried to escape another armbar, before snapping in with the “Product Recall” – a clothesline into the ropes with a Flatliner coming out of it. That gets a near-fall as Sabre clamped in a guillotine out of nowhere, before pulling down Starr by the ankle so he could try and kick his head off.

Another PK almost wins it, before Sabre runs into a knee strike from Starr as the pair were trying to decapitate each other. Starr countered a triangle armbar into a backbreaker for a two-count, before his attempt at a Product Placement ended in a bridge for a near-fall. An apron DDT nearly ends it, as does a discus forearm to the back of Zack, then a Blackheart Buster, but Sabre keeps on kicking!

In the end though, Sabre countered out of a Product Placement and just slapped the hell out of Starr, but Starr finally landed it… only for Sabre to kick out and transition into a double armbar with kicks to the head for the eventual submission. Holy hell that was awesome! Heated from start to finish, with both men looking like they were a good shout to make it through. Can we have this match again?! ****

Sabre made a beeline for the back afterwards, but not before throwing his t-shirt at Starr to solidify him as a good guy.

Super Strong Style 16 – First Round: Zack Gibson vs. Jack Sexsmith
New music time again! Zack Gibson got a rather generic song called “Dead To Some”, whilst Jack couldn’t touch himself anymore, with the Divinyls giving way to a catchy new song that brought back memories of some Rosebuds.

During the interval, the front row was handed out with a plethora of rainbow pride flags for Jack – who was visibly moved by the unifying sight of those flags. At February’s “Old Man Yells At Cloud”, Sexsmith lost to Gibson via count-out, and he’d need to get that proverbial monkey off his back if he were to make it to the quarter-finals. Speaking of Zack, his pre-match promo had him swearing like a sailor, which would make you wonder if his no-cursing ITV contract is still valid.

Gibson laid into Sexsmith for “not belonging”, but before he could say he had “no talent”, Jack flew into him with a dropkick as he tore into the Scouser. Once the bell rang, Gibson took Jack into the corner for the Ticket to Ride as he looked to snuff out any chance that Jack had, throwing him to the outside with a loud thud. Gibson threw Sexsmith arm-first into the ringpost – which perhaps caused the bicep injury that’d derail things later – before continuing the beatdown in the ring, eventually prompting Jack to hulk up and throw him into the corner with a release Exploder suplex! A series of forearms gave Jack some hope, as did a Sliced Bread #2, but Gibson quickly dropped him for the Shankly Gates after escaping the LGBDT.

Again, Jack hit back with a flying tornado DDT for a near-fall, but Zack went back to the arm as he torqued it in preparation for another trip to the Shankly Gates. A Ticket to Ride variation gets another near-fall as the heart of Jack started to show through, refusing to go down as the Scouser laid into him some more, sparking some windmilling punches like he were Paul Robinson of all people!

Out of nowhere, Zack cuts off Jack with another Ticket to Ride, but yet again Jack kicked out at two as the crowd roared behind him, singing his old theme song as he replied with his own Ticket to Ride! Mr Cocko makes an appearance, and after Jack escaped a Helter Skelter, the Crippler Cockface was applied… until Zack’s foot made the ropes.

With Gibson on the outside, Zack tied up Dillon D’Angelo – who was working as a member of the ring crew… and just happened to be there to take a flip dive off the top rope. From there, Jack rolled Zack in, and went up top once more for a push-down double stomp onto the shoulders for yet another near-fall! I’ve never seen a stomp that high up on a man! Jack threw away Cocko, then went for another dive, but his tope was caught and turned into a Helter Skelter on the floor, as we had echoes of Gibson’s count-out win back in February.

This time though, the crowd rallied behind Sexsmith. Literally! A section of the crowd pulled Jack up to his feet and rolled him back in, despite Gibson’s protests. So Zack kicks the arm again, then goes for the Shankly Gates, but it’s turned into a roll-up for a near-fall, before Jack countered a Helter Skelter into a small package for the win! This was PROGRESS’ story-telling at its best: they told a fine story with Jack in this match alone – getting a win over someone he’d lost to recently (echoing a similar story from Fight Club: Pro), through to ditching the “comedy” aspect of the character with Jack symbolically binning off “Mr Cocko”… the only part I couldn’t get on with was the crowd pulling Jack back into it, but that’s just my take. I’m sure we won’t see en masse repeats like we did back in the day when “random fans hit the ring”! ***½

Before the next match, Tyler Bate’s entrance video flashed up on the projection wall in the Electric Ballroom. Cue chants of “Spoiler Bate”. At least Jon took it in good spirit!

Super Strong Style 16 – First Round: Tyler Bate vs. Pastor William Eaver
The Pastor’s new music has more than a passing resemblance to “Personal Jesus”… enough so that the crowd could sing the first two lines of it ad nauseum. Speaking of ad nauseum, “where’s your title gone?” was repeatedly thrown at Bate, and the crowd weren’t on about his tag title belt!

Out of all the first-round matches, this was second to Cobb/Cruz in terms of having a result that was nailed on. Here, the sentiment seemed to be that Tyler was either going to the final, or falling early on…

A lot of this felt so simple for Tyler, who took down the Pastor with a drop toe hold as the pair just seemed to be “there” as the crowd’s chants overwhelmed things. Bate offered a handshake, but instead forced the Pastor to pray at his altar, before he took a uranage backbreaker, then a Fisherman’s suplex as Eaver pushed back.

A Pastor plancha sees him actually go airborne, but Bate smashed back into him with a corner uppercut, then with a diving uppercut out of the corner as he put the Pastor back in his place. Eaver countered a Tyler Driver with a roll-up, but he fell to a Koppo Kick then a Tyler Driver ‘97 for the win. Take away the crowd chants, and this was the closest we’ll get to an extended TV squash match in PROGRESS… not bad, but not memorable outside of the result. **¼

Super Strong Style 16 – First Round: Mark Andrews vs. Flamita
“Original themes” rule here, as Andrews came out to his usual beloved Junior song, whilst Flamita’s “Flam Fly” song from Mexico also made the cut. It’s not exactly a secret, but Flamita’s booking came on the back of a recommendation made by Arnold Furious in one of his “Big Arn’s Puroresu Adventure” books… and no doubt the words “please don’t fuck up” were never far from his mind throughout the weekend!

I’m not sure how much Spanish Mark Andrews knows, but these two had a pretty good match in spite of the language and chemistry barriers that many expected. As is the usual way with matches that people expect to start out a million miles an hour, both men started with some grappling, with multiple leg sweeps for pinning attempts before the dual kips-ups led to a standing ovation. Heck, it even had the crowd chanting for Chris Roberts to do a flip… and he obliged after being bullied into a forward roll! Ebbw Vale Lucha!

Determined not to be outshone by a ref, Flamita kicked it into gear with some flying lucha armdrags, before Andrews swerved away from a diving dropkick and caught Flamita with the Stomp 182 for a near-fall. Flamita rolled to the outside only to get chopped as Andrews tried to take over with an Octopus stretch back in the ring. Not the usual kind of stuff from Andrews, but it sort-of worked, as he slipped out of that into a belly-to-back suplex for a near-fall.

Flamita came back with a missile shotgun dropkick, then a tope con hilo into the aisle, before taking a ‘rana off the top as Andrews tried to go flip-for flip, finishing with a standing moonsault for a near-fall. An attempted headscissors takedown out of the corner’s thwarted as Flamita knees Andrews and hits an Angel’s Wings into a backbreaker for a near-fall, only for his handspring to get caught into a neckbreaker by Andrews, who followed with a moonsault to the floor.

Andrews returns with a standing shooting star press, but he takes too long going up top as Flamita catches him with a top rope ‘rana… that Andrews flipped out of! Mark couldn’t avoid a muscle buster jawbreaker though, as Flamita smashed him with a frog splash and a 450 Splash for another near-fall!

An attempt at the Flam Fly (standing Spanish Fly) is blocked by Andrews, who countered with a uranage before heading up top for a shooting star press into the knees. A Stundog Millionaire keeps Mark in it, but only for a few more seconds as the Flam Fly gets Flamita the win! If you came into this expecting Flamita to do a million different insane flips, then I can see why you’d have left disappointed. A solid performance, but given that he’d be wrestling in at least one more tournament match, against someone else he’s not familiar with, I can see why he didn’t go balls to the wall. ***½

Ahead of the main event, Trent Seven came out with his tag title belt – the polar opposite of what Tyler had done earlier in the night. He then insisted on taking the microphone to credit Riddle for his “fluke” win in Orlando, before berating Matt for having the audacity to “want to retire Brock Lesnar”. Inspired by his “colleague”, Trent brought along a mouthpiece…

Super Strong Style 16 – First Round: Trent Seven vs. Matt Riddle
…which was promptly knocked out! A running knee strike wiped out Trent, who was pinned after SIX SECONDS! SPLAT!

Well, the crowd popped huge for that as Matt Riddle’s shortest match yet kept everyone extremely happy… except for British Strong Style, as Pete Dunne and Tyler Bate emerged to drag the fallen Trent to the back, as his weekend of six-y fun looked to continue tomorrow.

All told, this was a strong show to kick off the tournament – eight matches, all of them good in their own ways, setting up for an intriguing set of quarter-finals… even if plans had to be changed…

Going into day two, the quarter-finals set were Tyler Bate vs. Mark Haskins; Jack Sexsmith vs. Zack Sabre Jr., Travis Banks vs. Flamita, and Matt Riddle vs. Jeff Cobb. On paper, there’s not a bad match there, and it more than delivered, as we’ll see!