An emotionally-charged night at the Ballroom saw PROGRESS welcome back two favourites… just at the right time!

It brought an end to a rather hectic July for the company as their busy summer just kept rolling on… Glen Joseph and RJ Singh are on commentary for the show, which doesn’t include the pre-show match of Spike Trivet vs. Connor Mills. I guess that dark match will be dark.

Extra Talented (Aaron Solow & Ricky Starks) vs. #CCK (Chris Brookes & Kid Lykos)
On the back of the screwy finish at Chapter 52, we’ve got this match to determine a number one contender for the PROGRESS tag titles. Before the match, Starks and Solow cut a promo, with Solow doing a good job of getting heat by telling the crowd that “(the mic) is louder every time.”

Brookes gets the upper hand early as he looks to give Solow a wet willie, complete with some good camera work showing a disgusted Starks in the aftermath, before #CCK started off with their tag moves, with the Reckless Danger Machine getting an early two-count as the Americans then worked over Lykos.

Starks nearly gets the win with a Fisherman’s suplex as the crowd tore into Aaron “Shit Essa Rios” Solow and Starks with chants of “just an alternate” before Brookes comes in to drop the Americans with a double Dragon screw. It’s all Brookes here with German suplexes as it was time to go diving… Brookes’ tope con hilo takes them both out, before another SFTM in the form of a wheelbarrow into a dropkick gets a near-fall.

Starks spears away a back senton as #CCK went for another SFTM, and Extra Talented went for one of their own, with a clothesline powerbomb on the wolf. The comparisons take us back to the crowd comparing Starks with Meat, which angered him so much he tried to clothesline the head off of Brookes.

Lykos goes for the Vertigo DDT, but Starks catches it and hits a spinning tombstone instead before the Dominator/Neckbreaker combo forces a near-fall on the wolf. A wheelbarrow double stomp onto Lykos is stopped by Brookes, who ends up eating the stomp instead as things get a little hectic and high-impact, with a DDT on Brookes knocking him out for a superkick-assisted Angel’s Wings on the apron.

Solow then decides to tie his hair up like his better half, ahead of landing a Belly-to-Bayley on Brookes for a near-fall, then a crossface… which Lykos somehow breaks up with a top rope ‘rana on Starks that sent the pair into Solow. A Full Moon and a twisting tope con hilo gets Lykos back in it, before the wolf hits a step up tope con hilo for good measure!

All that’s left is the Codebreaker/back senton… but Solow kicked out at two as Brooks hits a double underhook piledriver for the win! A fun opener with #CCK keeping their momentum up as they have another date with the PROGRESS tag titles! ***¾

After the match, #CCK and Extra Talented shook hands, bringing their mini-feud that spanned a few promotions to a rather respectful end.

Spud was at the Ballroom doing the ring crew gimmick – towelling the ropes between matches and the like. He even got in a cheeky ring skirt adjustment or two in his comically-oversized shirt!

Chief Deputy Dunne vs. Chuck Mambo
The Anti-Fun Police are still looking to clamp down on any kind of enjoyment in PROGRESS… so Chief Deputy Dunne’s first singles match back at the Ballroom is against perhaps one of the biggest offenders: Chuck Mambo!

Chuck starts by surfing the back of Dunne, before dishing out some armdrags as he set up for the People’s Elbow. Except Mambo had so many elbow pads on, Dunne was able to roll outside by the time Chuck’d gotten ready. Mambo!

Mambo seizes Dunne’s loudhailer and turns it on him ahead of a flip dive to the floor, before bringing him back in for another attempt at that People’s Elbow… which actually connects! After kicking out, Dunne catches Mambo with a false alarm enziguiri, before choking him with his own bandanna. Dunne gets a two-count with a knee drop as Mambo launched a chop-infested comeback, before scoring a Blockbuster off the middle rope and a Reefbreaker springboard double knees for another near-fall. A surfboard follows, because of course it does, but Dunne gets free and gets a Samoan driver for a near-fall, before a springboard Codebreaker is caught and turned into a gutbuster by Mambo.

Problem is, Chuck goes for the never-hit Chuck You from there and gets schoolboyed for a near-fall, before Mambo tried a springboard back into the ring and takes a spear for another two-count. That leaves him prone for a spiking DDT, with his legs draping off the top rope, as Chief Deputy Dunne collects another win. A solid, no-fun re-debut at the Ballroom for Chief Deputy Dunne, as he continues to tear through some of PROGRESS’ more enjoyable characters. **¾

James Drake & Zack Gibson vs. Never Say Die (Alex Cupid & Dillon D’Angelo)
This was a debut of sort for both teams – Gibson and Drake made their first appearance as a pairing (yet Drake STILL doesn’t have any entrance graphics, nine months after making his chapter debut…), whilst Never Say Die were making their main chapter debut after appearing on some Freedom’s Road episodes.

It felt a tiny bit anticlimactic by the end… at least for one of these teams. We had our traditional promo from Zack Gibson, which initially didn’t get a good reaction until he labelled the crowd as a “parody” of their former selves. Once Gibson ended his speech, curiously mentioning that “there’s more than one way to get recognised”, the misery guts made short work of the youngsters.

Drake instantly roughs up Cupid, taking him into the corner before knocking D’Angelo off the apron. Cupid gets some blows in, but he’s instantly taken down with a powerbomb and into a Boston crab/Shankly Gates combo as Drake and Gibson were virtually ragdolling their foes.

Finally referee Marc Parry orders the hold to be broken and tries to enforce some rules, just in time for D’Angelo to tag in as he knocks Gibson off the apron… and enjoys a flurry of offence. Dillion connects with a leaping springboard into an armdrag, but Gibson comes back with a double chop as the momentum shifted back and forth for a bit.

In the end though, some more chained-together offence got rid of D’Angelo as a corner dropkick and a Ticket To Ride wiped him out, before Gibson hiptosses Drake onto the pair outside. It’s aggressive stuff, but there was only ever going to be one winner as an assisted Ticket to Ride gets the win in short order… yeah, I wasn’t expecting Gibson and Drake to lose, but this was almost a glorified squash. Hopefully this isn’t one-and-done (for now) for NSD, but this was all about the un-named Drake/Gibson tandem. **¾

Before the next match, Spud snuck in a selfie with Rob Lynch’s family. I didn’t think camera phones were a thing in 2002…

Rob Lynch vs. James Davis
This came about after the Riots demanded some new competition… so PROGRESS decided to put them against each other. The winner of this also gets an Atlas title shot too, which adds a little something to what on paper could have been just an exhibition.

In short, this was a slow-burning war of attrition between these two, starting with shoulder tackles, then forearms as they weren’t exactly taking it easy. It’s very much tit-for-tat too, with the pair trading a series of German suplexes, ending with Davis rolling to the outside after landing high on his back.

They trade dives too, with Lynch’s tope con hilo getting matched with a moonsault by Davis, before some hardware comes into play, with Davis cannonballing into a seated Lynch. That wrecks one chair, so JD gets another, which he’s knocked into and gets dropkicked out. Yep, another broken chair!

Davis keeps up the pressure with a tope… but it’s caught and turned into an overhead belly-to-belly into the crowd… which JD had thankfully warned to move aside! Lynch actually stopped Chris Roberts from counting as he wanted to win the match properly – rather than via count-out, as he allowed Davis back in as they started chopping.

They go back to swinging and missing as Lynch hits a back suplex… but Davis pops up and lands an overhead belly-to-belly as a double clothesline left both men laying. There’s more back-and-forth shots as Lynch ends up diving into an uppercut ahead of a St. Georges’ Cross for a near-fall as commentary talks up Lynch’s shoulder injuries.

Still, Lynch is able to rebound with a cyclone kick and a death valley driver for a near-fall, only to eventually run into a pop-up powerbomb as JD came closer. A ‘rana and a spear gets Lynch another two-count, before he crashed and burned with a Spiral Tap off the top rope… and that seems to be where the tide turned.

“Lucha” Rob Lynch started grabbing his shoulder after that landing, and it fell apart for him from there somewhat. Rob pushed away the ref as he threatened to wave off the match, but that nearly got him pinned with a schoolboy as Lynch demanded that the match continue… so it did, with forearms a-plenty!

Davis starts targeting the shoulder though, attacking it with a double axehandle before dragging down Lynch with a cobra clutch as the camera randomly showed us Davis’ cricket bat… and just like that, Lynch taps. A really good back-and-forth content, which, despite the action, felt a little too exhibition-y… with no clearly defined good guy or bad guy. That was about to change, with some aplomb… ***¾

So, after the match, Lynch is given the microphone… he then dropped a bombshell as he revealed there was a reason why the Riots were facing each other: this was his last time here. Lynch (and Davis) broke down in tears as he recalled his injuries, and how this was the end of the road. By October, Lynch is stepping away to “refocus his life”… and as he kissed the PROGRESS logo on the canvas, James Davis took his cricket bat and snapped it in half on his back.

Cue shocked family and a hail of boos as Davis reapplied that cobra clutch, before taking the microphone and ventured deep into the personal life of his former partner. “You lose things. You lost your house, all your money, that’s why you live in a shitty flat. You lost your fiancee last year, and you lost your dad when you were nine years old”. One of those things was too far… and makes me think that this isn’t a split-up that’ll go without consequence.

Jack Sexsmith vs. Pete Dunne
Handpicked by Travis Banks for the “beat Peter, get a title shot” tour, Jack Sexsmith was indeed here, with a new shirt, whilst Pete Dunne was making game of shoving around ring crew members.

Dunne jumps Sexsmith and brutally shoved him to the outside – and this was where it got vicious quite quickly as commentary half-laughed over Sexsmith getting thrown into the crowd. It’s convincingly, erm, “snug” as Dunne stomps on Jack and throws him into the crowd some more, before Sexsmith wiped out a chair as he took an X-plex.

Dunne wipes out a crew member with a forearm smash, before Sexsmith saved another by hitting a flip senton onto the pile below. Finally they enter the ring as the bell goes, signalling a flurry of strikes as Jack went into the Crippler Cockface early on, but there would be no flash submission as Dunne hit back some more.

Jack sneaks in an LGBDT for a near-fall, only to get blasted in the corner with an enziguiri before a sit-out X-plex gets Dunne another two-count. Dunne makes a point of going after Sexsmith’s left arm, but Jack pulls a Marty and snaps the champion’s fingers ahead of the Big Double Stomp Move for another two-count.

That seems to be the cue for Mr Cocko, but Dunne quickly removes it and bites the fingers. Jack tried another comeback with some Sliced Bread, but it’s stuffed and turned into a pair of tombstones that got a near-fall, before Jack hits a DDT and the Rainbow Road (Destroyer) as he seemed to have pushed Peter to the limit.

Dunne’s rolled to the outside, but that just tricks Jack into a forearm and a Pedigree on the outside as Dunne looked to get a count-out victory. Jack barely beat the count, and managed to counter a Bitter End into a small package… but Dunne kicks out and brutalises him some more before the Bitter End succeeds for the win. With a cheeky bit of beating with an Ugg boot afterwards… on paper, very few would have picked Jack to have won this, but this was perhaps his best “performance in defeat” yet. Despite getting to Super Strong Style, you feel Jack’s got a big win or two in him… it’s just a matter of when. ***¾

PROGRESS Women’s Championship: Candice LeRae vs. Toni Storm (c)
Candice LeRae was in for her debut-title shot here, and she got an enthusiastic response to begin with as LeRae started with a wristlock as the pair worked on the mat.

LeRae scores with a step-up ‘rana and a dropkick as Candice went flying – connecting with a tope to take Storm down in the aisle. Things turn around when Toni dropped LeRae into a chair, before sending her flying deeper into the crowd with a hip attack. There’s more of those back in the ring, before Candice surprises Storm with an Octopus hold that she switches into a Gargano Escape!

Storm manages to catch a superkick and hits a trapped-leg German suplex as the pair continued to go back and forth… but a missed hip attack in the corner set up Candice for a wild double-stomp to the back that almost won her the title. A bucklebomb from Storm turns things back around though, as a hip attack and the Strong Zero piledriver barely gets a one count?!

LeRae comes back with a small package for a near-fall as the pair traded shots, before Storm went for a superplex… Candice slips out and hits a not-a-Ballsplex out of the middle rope for another near-fall! Storm kicked out though and before too long dumped Candice into the corner with a Northern Lights suplex before hitting a trio of Strong Zeros in succession for the win. Decent enough, but there’s always the issue of being able to fully invest yourself in a title match when the challenger is a travelling star. ***¼

PROGRESS Tag Team Championships: Mark Haskins & Jimmy Havoc vs. British Strong Style (Trent Seven & Tyler Bate) (c)
Part of the crowd had been prepared with the “6” signs that they have out at cricket matches… it did the trick, as the Super Strong Style throwback irked Trent.

The champs open with a Triple H water spit, and immediately get taken to the outside for a pair of topes as we go straight into the car crash! Tyler’s thrown into the crowd as he and Havoc brawl around the bar, whilst Haskins and Seven remain at ringside for a series of kicks… before Havoc returned to just poke him in the eye.

The ring’s left rather lonely as the champs sit on each other on a chair before Trent’s dragged onto the floor for a dropkick/back senton combo. The champs are firmly on the back foot in the early stages, before Trent whips Jimmy Havoc into the video wall, spilling a fan’s pint in the process.

Things finally go into the ring where Tyler lands an exploder out of the corner, before missing a shooting star press as Haskins followed up with a Fujiwara armbar until a rope break was forced. In the meantime, Havoc traps Trent in a chair and slides a second chair into him as the chaos continued.

Bate takes a death valley driver for a near-fall from Haskins, before he’s subject to some double-teaming as Haskins slingshotted him into Havoc for a near-fall. It’s almost like Havoc and Haskins were a well-oiled, long-standing team as they worked exceedingly well as a tandem, nearly winning with a ripcord superkick/Rainmaker combo.

They try it again to Trent, but Haskins gets Havoc instead as Trent got his version for the Rainmaker in… before Havoc lands his Acid Rainmaker. There’s so much going on in this breathless match, it’s almost like someone’s trying to cram a 20 minute match into half the time. Haskins resumes with a load of kicks to the champs, but he runs into the bop/bang punches and an elevated sit-down splash as Trent then nails a piledriver to almost win!

Haskins somehow kicks out, and catches Trent in a Sharpshooter. A Lion Tamer from Havoc to Bate adds to that, but all of a sudden Pete Dunne comes out with Vicki Haskins hostage. Of course, that distracts Dunne, and leaves Havoc exposed for a low-blow and a roll-up for the win. This match felt insanely rushed, with a real “blink and you’ll miss it” finish. Plenty of action, but this existed solely for the storyline to follow… **¾

After the match, Havoc and Haskins got into a shoving match, and we finally saw these two explode, despite Vicki Haskins trying to mediate. Ring crew came in to separate things, as did Alex Cupid, Dillon D’Angelo and Chuck Mambo. Their efforts came to nought, so Flash Morgan Webster ambled in too, as the he tried in vain to calm things down between members of the briefly-named ReHabilitation X.

Keith Lee vs. Travis Banks
The other half of the ongoing “pick your poison” story saw Keith Lee making his PROGRESS debut… where he got serenaded as you’d expect, with a new song too. “It’s got to be, Keith Lee”. Interestingly, Travis Banks has had “Keep it 100” removed from his song for the last show or two. Just saying.

Pete Dunne even made (yet another) appearance with his belts and his pet sledgehammer, as he was slated to do guest commentary… which he forcibly removed RJ Singh in order to do.

Anyway, when the bell rang, this was something special.

The crowd were about 60-40 behind Keith Lee early on, who took a couple of kicks and forearms as he asked Banks to bask in his glory. Of course, Lee’s considerable size difference meant that some of those shots were shrugged off… but it didn’t stop him from flying as he took down Banks with a step-up ‘rana!

Pete Dunne on commentary was positing that Banks would struggle “against a WWE champion”… just before Banks’ tope was caught and turned into an apron powerbomb as Lee overwhelmed the Kiwi. Banks then goes flying towards the bar with a biel throw from ringside, but back in the ring the Kiwi comes back with some forearms before trying that Fisherman’s driver.

It didn’t come off, as Lee instead got off an overhead belly-to-belly throw, before Lee just launches Banks from corner-to-corner repeatedly, whilst throwing in some double-handed chops to make the crowd wince in agony – to the point where the Keith Lee fans were starting to turn, out of sympathy if nothing else!

Banks manages to fire back, taking Lee to the outside for some topes that connect and finally stagger the big guy! Back inside, Banks looked to have hit a cannonball, but Lee absorbed it and picked up Banks… who countered into a Code Red for just a one-count!

A pop-up forearm dumps Banks as Lee looked to reclaim the advantage, but instead he was tripped into the corner as Banks came flying in with a Coast to Coast dropkick for a two-count. On commentary, Dunne ominously keeps mentioning “plan B”, as a big slam gets Lee another near-fall back in the ring before drilling Banks with a Spirit Bomb for yet another two-count.

After getting back to his feet, Banks roared back into life, hitting the Kiwi Crusher (Fisherman driver) after knocking Lee off his feet with a clothesline, only for a Slice of Heaven to get simply charged away with a headbutt. Just like that! Lee tries to capitalise with a moonsault, and connects with it as Banks kicked out before there was even a one-count!

Banks roars back into life with chops and forearms, but Lee offers some resistance… which is shrugged off as the comeback seems to unnerve Pete Dunne, who stormed to the ring with “Plan B”. Of course, it was sledge-y. Banks turns around as Dunne begs off, before a Slice of Heaven was turned into another powerbomb before the Ground Zero death valley driver slam earned Lee the win. Not quite as WWE-y as the distraction finish a week earlier, but this was a rather abrupt way to end what had been a stellar war of attrition. More please? ****¼

After the match, Keith Lee headed to the back as Dunne talked about “Plan B” being the “Game Changer”. At this point this has to be trolling those who criticised the WWE links, eh? Anyway, British Strong Style came through the crowd to beat Banks down – but CCK makes the save… only for Pete Dunne to follow after them with sledgehammer shots.

Things look to go from bad to worse for Banks as Bate and Seven hold him down ahead of what was almost surely going to be attempted murder by way of a sledgehammer. But then…

Keep it 100.

Cue an eruption in the Electric Ballroom as everyone’s necks jerked towards the stage. Three months after their farewell, they were back! TK Cooper and Dahlia Black emerged with chairs for the save as everyone lost their collective shit.

Amid the “welcome back” chants, we were left with one final decision… Travis Banks sat in the middle of the ring with his compatriots on one side, and CCK on the other. In the end, Brookes and his wolf gave their blessings, and just like that, the South Pacific Power Trip were reunited! Cue more celebrations, and a voice that (personally speaking) four days later is still not right. Ah well, it’s what we live for, right?

As we alluded to in our live thoughts piece, we’re now in a weird situation… Travis Banks and TK Cooper’s promised title shot from a few months ago is indeed being granted at PROGRESS’ New York show later this month, which means that they’ve usurped #CCK for a title shot. Imagine if they come back from the States with the belts… with one last Electric Ballroom show left before Alexander Palace.

Chapter 53 was a good show, made all the better by the monstrous surprise at the end. Yeah, you can point fingers at how wise it was to have a debut from the ProJo losing in a competitive, but brief debut, and the usual nagging questions, but on the whole, things are looking bright.

PROGRESS have a few more stops before September’s big show in Alexander Palace… with a landscape that now needs a little bit of redefining!