Injuries forced a change of card as this year’s Super Strong Style 16 led us to a rather unexpected finals, with plenty of surprises!

Ahead of the usual opener, we had a video from Glen Joseph and Tyler Bate, announcing Bate’s withdrawal due to a shoulder injury. From there, it’s back inside Alexandra Palace as Jim Smallman announced that Pete Dunne wasn’t there due to a family emergency, as well as the Tyler Bate injury… which meant he was now red on the tournament brackets. They played footage from the end of the Junior gig the night before, which was interrupted when Eddie Dennis ran onto the stage and choked out a band member. The sheer heat that drew was incredible – just highlighting how good this story’s been… and just a reminder: Eddie and Mark haven’t even touched! Back in the venue, Mark Andrews appeared to call out Eddie Dennis.

Mark thought that whatever was happening with Eddie was just going to be a phase, but since we’ve had eight months and there’s been no change, with Eddie flying himself across the world, interfering in friends’ matches… he finally relented. With one condition: Eddie doesn’t appear near any PROGRESS show that Mark’s on until he’s cleared to perform. Eddie didn’t like that, because it was taking away from his livelihood… the one part of the story that is really getting Eddie cheered. The stipulation was agreed, as was Eddie getting to pick the conditions for their match, and after a shove, Eddie bailed… only to jump Andrews in the entry-way and choke him out in the ring.

So finally, progress!

Wasteman Challenge // Super Strong Style 16 Redemption: Roy Johnson vs. Chuck Mambo vs. Chris Brookes vs. Jordan Devlin vs. Angelico vs. David Starr vs. Kassius Ohno
The now-traditional “Wasteman Challenge Hangover” match was once again a chance for Roy Johnson to get lyrically murdered. It began as an open challenge, featuring all of your favourites who’d already been eliminated from the tournament… including Angelico, who had a GoPro strapped to his chest.

This year’s verbal death of “Big Way” came from Jordan Devlin:

Meanwhile, Kassius Ohno just rapped the lyrics to his old theme song… something that felt massively underappreciated live. Before it could get too out of hand, Jim Smallman, as white as can be, interrupted and announced that this was now a scramble match, with the winner getting Tyler Bate’s vacated semi-final spot!

This instantly entered revolving door territory as Devlin started off with Starr, then against Mambo, with the latter landing a Blockbuster before a Reef Break attempt was superkicked away by Chris Brookes. After a brainbuster to Mambo, Brookes gets a chance to be on Angelico’s GoPro, as a Capoeira-style upkick sent Brookes to the outside, before Johnson comes in with a backbreaker to Angelico.

Kassius Ohno’s in to punch out Johnson, before handstanding to the outside… and into the path of a tope from Starr, who took over with a Pretty Pumped to Brookes and then a series of topes of his own. Jordan Devlin does it too, bypassing the former Bodyguy as Mambo wrapped up the dives with the Mambo Number Dive! Back in the ring, a Parade of Moves broke out, ending as Ohno wiped out Johnson with the Cyclone Kick for a near-fall.

Starr broke that up and gets himself an elbow, before countering with a rude Blackheart Buster onto Ohno, as Jordan Devlin rushed in with a Destroyer as the match began to ender the business end of things, with Angelico teasing the Fall of the Angels, only for Ohno to return with more knockout elbows. Yeah, Johnson isn’t learning. Nor was Devlin, whose moonsault was easily swatted away with an elbow as Ohno’s Death By Elbow got him back into the semi-finals! A fun scramble, but very much by the numbers since whomever won had to wrestle at least once more. ***

Before Jim could announce the next match, he was interrupted by Mark Haskins and a reluctant Flash Morgan Webster. Haskins said that a statement would be made, even if Pete Dunne (that’s Dunne… Pete DUNNE) isn’t here… so he angrily asked for a match. As he’s want to do.

Mark Haskins & Flash Morgan Webster vs. M&M (Connor Mills & Maverick Mayhew)
How do you say… SQUASH?

Mills and Mayhew were jumped by Haskins as Flash tried to calm him down, but they did work well together as a Webster knee and a Haskins German suplex took Mayhew to the outside as the crowd were largely silent for this. A sit-out front suplex from Haskins and the Shadows over Malice senton from Webster gets a near-fall as Mayhew breaks up the cover, as the crowd play along to try and gee-up the youngsters… but this was only ever ending one way.

In spite of a tope con giro from Mayhew to Haskins, and an assisted satellite DDT to Webster, Haskins is back in as he continued to squash his opponents. Literally – with a death valley driver on Mills flattening Mayhew, before he went back into a Sharpshooter to force Mills to tap out. Don’t judge me, but I liked this – it’s always nice to have a dominating, role-defining squash in your graps every now and then!

Super Strong Style 16 – Semi-Final: Zack Sabre Jr. vs. Keith Lee
These two had had four prior singles meetings, all in the prior 18 months – and with an even record… although Sabre has had the edge in prior tournament outings for those who read into those.

It’s a pretty tentative start, with Sabre’s attempt at a wristlock ending when… Keith just picks him up. Standard. Lee teases the double-hand chop as an unclean break, but he backs off… and gets a forearm from Sabre for even thinking about it. Sabre tries to toy away with kicks to Lee’s quads, but Lee shoves him down in a test of strength, which led to the always impressive “Zack Sabre Jr. bridges despite having a big guy on him” moment.

Instead, Lee just slammed Sabre, since you can’t bridge out of that! A chop takes Zack down easily, as does a big forearm… but he’s back with more kicks before taking down Lee in a heel hook-turned-ankle lock, but it quickly ends with a rope break. Lee’s back with his power game, swatting down Zack again before Sabre climbed around him as he goes through his submission game, pulling Lee into a rear naked choke attempt, and eventually, a simple PK.

That kick gets just a one count as Lee powered Zack into the air from the kick-out, and it’s back to business as usual as Lee looked for a Spirit Bomb, only for Sabre to go for an arm triangle as a counter. Lee countered out with a powerbomb though, before bulldozing through Sabre, only to be met with a palm strike… and that just angered Lee some more.

A barrage of palm strikes from Sabre rang around the room, as did Lee’s eventual double-handed chop as Zack collapsed to the mat ahead of a Ground Zero attempt… but it’s countered with a Euro clutch, and that’s the win for Sabre! As good as you’d have expected going in, perhaps tempered a little with the “winner’s got to wrestle again” dynamic that usually afflicts tournament settings. Well worth seeking out! ****¼

Super Strong Style 16 – Semi-Final: Zack Gibson vs. Kassius Ohno
This was a first time meeting between these two, and of course, Sabre had plenty to say about being in-and-around the scene of yet-another-injured-wrestler. All while toilet paper and streamers flew across the ring, one of them actually catching Zack in the face.

After having gotten to the semis with the help of James Drake’s liberal interference, it had to be noted that Joel Allen was again refereeing – keeping up the Easily Distracted Joel motif here. We started with Ohno charging Gibson into the corner, before the Scouser tried to work over his arm, laying the early foundations for an expected Shankly Gates finish. Ohno manages to counter in kind, but they keep it basic as Gibson got free and tried to charge down Ohno with a shoulder charge. Yeah… about that…

Ohno couldn’t knock Gibson down though, at least until he faked out a shoulder charge for a big boot! A flip to the apron from Ohno led to another boot, and some more interference from Drake, which allows Gibson to hang up the arm in the ropes as Ohno went to the outside… where he’s shoved into the post by Drake, who again is given a free pass by the referee. Back inside, Gibson wears down Ohno, with submission attempts and body blows… but he can’t get Ohno off his feet with a suplex, and instead ends up getting rolled up for a near-fall.

Zack tries for a Ticket to Ride off the middle rope, but Ohno sidesteps him and hits a back senton to Gibson instead, as those body blows were returned, ahead of a rolling elbow as Ohno picked up a solid two-count. More elbows took Gibson into the ropes, but a double chop from Zack ends up getting him a dropkick as Ohno used misdirection to stay in front.

Gibson tries to boot Ohno in the gut to avoid a charge into the corner, and it eventually worked out in his favour as a Ticket to Ride took down Ohno… and set up for some interference from Drake, who was finally caught and ejected. Well, there’s your pay-off! With Gibson screaming in disbelief, the finish wasn’t long, as Ohno catches him with the High Tension Elbow to the back of the head, and we’ve got an interesting Ohno/Sabre match to crown the tournament winner. A solid enough match, but I don’t think many bought any other result… ***½

Death Match: Joey Janela vs. Jimmy Havoc
Pop of the night went to Jimmy Havoc – who got AFI back!

Plunder was being loaded into the ring ahead of the match, including some breeze blocks, a barbed wire table, and… a door?! Janela started by giving Jimmy a chair, so we could start with a good, old-fashioned duel, which Janela won out with, before whacking Havoc to the outside with a chairshot to the head. Janela eventually followed him there, where he got a receipt from Havoc with a pair of roasting trays, only to get shoved into the ring post as Janela tried to fight back. In the ring, Havoc stops himself from getting thrown into a door, before bouncing Janela off of it… second time was the charm as a death valley driver snapped the door in two!

A cheese grater is next, and it’s used to try and grind Janela’s forehead, as Havos spills some drawing pins onto a chair… only to get shoved onto it himself. Oops. Havoc keeps getting punched into the chair as his backside was punctured, before a death valley driver onto the drawing pin chair made sure that more of those pins went around his body. Havoc pulls out some of the tacks and throws them into Janela’s face, before wriggling out of an apron death valley driver attempt, and instead dumps Joey onto the ring steps with a death valley driver. Oof.

Janela manages to get back to his feet pretty quickly, using a fan’s crutch on Havoc, before dragging him towards the commentary area. Another table’s dragged out, as Jimmy’s rolled onto it… and this doesn’t look good… Janela splashes off the the stage and puts Jimmy through a table! They dragged each other back to the ring as Janela gets a two-count from it, but Havoc’s back up with forearms and a rolling elbow, before a lariat spun Janela to the mat as the pair ended up laid out in the middle of the ring.

Next up for Janela – breeze blocks and chairs! Joey has a little trouble squeezing them onto the seat, but he takes too long trying to stomp through Havoc, and he’s pulled down into the chair and the block with an Iconoclasm. Good HEAVENS that was a nasty landing. Jimmy’s got a gift bag full of tacks, but Janela avoids them as he takes Jimmy to the outside where that barbed wire table was waiting… but a German suplex was blocked… so they climb the ropes and instead Havoc pulled Janela into the table like in a Russian legsweep… but Joey lands arse first on the table!

Janela’s bleeding from his back, but he’s back to his feet first as he removes Havoc’s shoes and socks… but that doesn’t stomp a bare-foot Havoc from stomping Joey’s face into the tacks. He tries a double stomp off the top, but Joey moves, and Jimmy’s feet get considerably more metallic than previously, as a suplex into the rest of the pins get the win. Good Lord. Genuine insanity on display here, as Havoc rolled back the clock… but a loss was telling, and would play into things pretty soon. As far as a rating… your mileage will vary considerably. They didn’t go hog wild with weapons for the sake of weapons, and that shot of Havoc pulling out drawing pins from his feet after will last for a while. ***¼

After the match, Jim Smallman tried to help up Havoc, who instead took the microphone and bemoaned PROGRESS for not giving him the respect he deserved. It was a raw, gritty promo as Havoc berated the company for turning their back on him because he “doesn’t have three letters tied to his name”. Havoc finally told us why he and Haskins destroyed Jack Sexsmith last year – because PROGRESS didn’t book them the show after they killed each other at Alexandra Palace.

Havoc had a bone to pick with Will Ospreay, since PROGRESS brought him back months after he lost the Loser Leaves Town match… and as he teased stepping away, out comes Will Ospreay?! With an AXE?!

Symbolically putting his head in a chair, Havoc almost begged Ospreay to behead him… but Ospreay threw down the axe, saying it was too easy. Something’s changed about Havoc, since he didn’t use the axe on Ospreay quickly… long story short, Ospreay agreed with Havoc’s criticisms of PROGRESS, before saying that Jimmy had regressed in the last few years, as he’s gone from fighting Jimmy Havoc to “staring at a guy called James.” Ouch.

Ospreay demanded a match against Havoc… but the “real” Jimmy Havoc, the guy who held an axe to him years ago, not the version we have now. September 30. Wembley. There’s your date. There’s your chills, and there’s one of your big matches! Oh, and there’s a madman in Havoc, who Ric Flair’d himself by jumping repeatedly into the remaining thumb tacks. Well then… one of the best promo spots in PROGRESS, and a match that could well draw in some lapsed fans back for the Wembley show, perhaps?

Back from intermission, Jim announced the PROGRESS “Coast to Coast” tour of the States, hitting Boston, Seattle, Detroit, New York and Chicago in August! That’s an interesting hit, Chicago a month or so before All In…

Next up, Jim brought out a guest who was due to speak to Pete Dunne. He’s here with his message anyway… and… what the hell, it’s Christian Jakobi?!

Cue a pretty loud pop from the corner who indulge in mainland European wrestling. CMJ introduces himself as the most powerful man in European wrestling, and as the man to shape, support and polish the next generation of talent, rattling off names like Alexander Wolfe, Axel Dieter Jr and RINGKAMPF… and he’s got an offer for Dunne. To live up to the fan’s belief that Dunne is the best in the world, Jakobi says he has to go through the man CMJ feels is the best in Europe… the man they call “unbesiegbar”… it’s only Ilja bloody Dragunov!

There were literally people leaping out of their chairs when Jakobi dropped Ilja’s name in here… and wherever that match happens, it’s going to be an absolute doozy. Now, for selfish reasons… “please be Wembley”!

PROGRESS Women’s Championship: Charlie Morgan vs. Toni Storm (c)
Fresh from winning another title at York Hall, Charlie Morgan’s here on other business… namely that she has to beat Toni Storm, or else she’d be barred from being in Manchester when Jinny takes her shot in a few weeks’ time.

Jinny joined on commentary as Storm instantly took down Morgan with a German suplex and a tope as the champion shot out of the gates… throwing Charlie into the crowd as well as a follow-up hip attack missed. Morgan followed that miss up by superkicking Toni out of a chair, before an Asai moonsault kept up Charlie’s reputation of leaping off of high-ish things.

Back inside, Morgan pulls Storm into a surfboard/Dragon sleeper combo, but Toni’s back as she trips Charlie into the ropes ahead of a top rope legdrop as things started to go to form. A big boot gets Storm another near-fall. Another hip attack in the corner misses as Morgan turned things around, catching Toni in the corner with a leg lariat… but Storm catches her and brings her out with a Samoan drop for a near-fall.

Morgan superkicks her way free of a Strong Zero, as a springboard cannonball gets a near-fall for the challenger, but Toni’s quickly back with a Northern Lights suplex before going up top… only to get caught and brought down with a superplex that Morgan rolled through, only to get countered out of with a brainbuster from the champion. The back-and-forth continues with Morgan running into a headbutt, before her top rope headbutt was turned into a cutter for a near-fall… only for Morgan’s springboard to get countered into a German suplex, as a Strong Zero gets the win.

Yeah, there’ll be some who aren’t happy with the EVE champion going down fairly quickly, but it is what it is within PROGRESS’ universe. A solid match, but nothing that stood out from the pack on an eventful weekend for women’s wrestling. ***¼

Oh hi there background music that’s not been dipped!

WALTER vs. TK Cooper
This was a chance for WALTER to get revenge after TK Cooper’s interference in the PROGRESS title the prior night. It was pretty much a squash… despite the appearance of “The Big Kiwi” as the South Pacific Power Trip joined forces.

TK went straight after WALTER with forearms and headbutts, but you can guess how this goes. CHOP! Cooper tries to walk away, but Travis Banks stopped him as WALTER drags him back, and squashes him with a sit-down splash ahead of more of those chops as TK looked like a lamb to the slaughter. A Gojira clutch looked to work, but Cooper mule kicked his way free and gets in a spear for a near-fall after Banks provided a distraction. Another spear’s lariat’d away, before a powerbomb led to a two-count as WALTER pulls up TK. He’s got one more gift, a lariat, before rolling TK into a Boston crab, then a STF as TK was made to tap out in front of Travis Banks. SPLAT.

So much for that TK that was flirting with the world title only a few months ago, eh?

Travis Banks gets the mic afterwards and does his best Scott Steiner “Huh?!” yelp, as he tells WALTER to “stay in his own weight division”, as he told WALTER he’ll never get a shot at the world title again. There’s an easy fix – leave the Atlas division, and then there’s nothing stopping him! WALTER hands Jim the Atlas title, and chases Banks to the back.

Yes, the Atlas title has been vacated. No, Jim Smallman isn’t champion (he’s a good few pounds off that!) – but the new champion will be the winner of a four-way in Manchester between Rob Lynch, Rampage Brown, Doug Williams and, erm, Joseph Conners with lead boots.

Super Strong Style 16 – Final: Kassius Ohno vs. Zack Sabre Jr.
Politically, this match is VERY interesting: WWE vs. New Japan, and for the cynics who are thinking that some results on the UK scene were perhaps dictated, then… how in God’s name do you finish this tournament final without “upsetting someone in power”? In the ring, these two have form, to put it mildly. Sabre was Ohno’s last match on the indy scene last year, putting on a match we almost went the whole hog on at EVOLVE 77. From their first match in, erm, Doncaster for 1PW in October 2008, via wXw (the German promotion, albeit on a US tour), IPW, Pro Wrestling NOAH, PWG, Limitless, AAW, EVOLVE (of course) and wXw (in Germany)… they’ve been around a LOT. So yeah, expectations are really high here…

Callum Leslie’s back to give us a three-man main event commentary booth, and we start with Ohno chopping Sabre into the corner early on. Matt Richards called Ohno the “Michael Jordan” because he always went big in the big matches… and not because of the basketball jersey-like attire!

Sabre is able to pepper Ohno with kicks, but he’s met with slaps and chops as Ohno imposed himself on the New Japan Cup winner, but a boot through the ropes is caught and met with a Dragon screw as Sabre dragged Kassius back through those ropes. From there, Sabre stands on Ohno’s knee and uses a heel hook on the edge of the apron, but gravity breaks that up as they ended up resetting with Zack teasing Ohno with kicks.

Ohno’s back with slaps, before stuffing a takedown and squashing Sabre with a back senton, but Zack’s back in with a stomp to the arm, only for Ohno to return fire with elbows in the corner. A cravat from Ohno is rolled through before it’s turned into the Hangman’s Clutch Facebuster (the sit-out cravat) as he kept up on Sabre with chops… which were duly returned, as Ohno slumped to the mat.

A Mafia kick from Ohno looked to get him back in front, but Sabre rolls him down to the mat in a cross armbreaker, before rolling into the Omoplata double armbar that Ohno blocked and turned into a pinning attempt. Ohno catches a PK and switches it into a knee, as those strikes more than snuffed out Zack’s submission game.

Sabre escapes a ripcord rolling elbow and locks in an Octopus stretch, dragging Ohno to the mat as they fell into the ropes. Ohno’s right back with a Cyclone Kick, but Zack’s even quicker to his feet as a PK gets a near-fall… before a right hand from Ohno dumped Zack for a two-count. Going airborne was another drawback for Ohno as he moonsaulted into an arm triangle from Sabre… but yet again he’s able to roll into the ropes as the pair ended up on the floor. On the outside, Sabre tries throwing more kicks, but a headbutt cuts that off as Sabre took his time getting back to the ring as we started again!

A series of boots from Ohno keeps Sabre on the floor, but Zack’s able to make it back in… and into a short piledriver as we keep going. Another forearm dumps Sabre, as do chops, but he charges back in with uppercuts, only for a Mafia kick to lead to a High Tension Elbow… but Sabre charges away and rolls up Ohno into a Euro Clutch… and that’s the win! Zack, after being a losing finalist in the initial tournament, and losing semi-finalist twice since, finally adds Super Strong Style 16 winner to his CV, alongside the New Japan Cup, 16 Carat Gold and Battle of Los Angeles. A fantastic main event, and a fitting conclusion to the tournament – easily the best bout that room had seen all weekend. ****½

Post-match, Sabre and Ohno hugged in the aisle before, in two words, Zack picked his date for his title match. Wembley, innit? Cue confetti, cue celebrations, and that’s Super Strong Style 16!

Going in, a lot of folks had Tyler Bate down as their tournament favourite – so his injury withdrawal messed up a lot of people’s brackets here. With a lot of reshuffling and the like, PROGRESS managed to salvage things and put on a final day that befit the tournament as a whole. Nobody expected Kassius Ohno to make it to the final, let alone by having to wrestle four times to make it there… but here we are.

Away from the headline results, SSS16 made stars out of Chuck Mambo and Jordan Devlin – it just remains to be see if/how PROGRESS capitalise on this. PROGRESS set the table for their next major tentpole show here as well (sorry, Manchester), by naming when Sabre was cashing in his title shot… along with the “PROGRESS of years gone by” match between Ospreay and Havoc; a match that they’d best not give us a stipulation that’ll be welched on again. We also had teases for Andrews/Dennis and Dunne/Dragunov (that one I still cannot believe is a thing) – as PROGRESS managed to do what they do best: capitalise on momentum and give folks something big to look forward to.

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