PROGRESS returned to the Ballroom for their first show since Wembley – and we had a hell of a main event to mark their return home.

Awful show name aside, we had a slight tweak to the show as Tyler Bate dropped out of his match with Timothy Thatcher through injury. We also had Jim Smallman hosting while wearing a Leicester City shirt, as a mark of respect following the helicopter crash that claimed the life of the football club’s owner Vichai Srivaddhanaprabha (and four others on board) the night before. Included in Jim’s pre-amble was a brief shout-out to referee Chris Roberts, who’s no longer working for PROGRESS due to family commitments. The Ballroom crowd gave him a standing ovation in his absence before we got into the action. Glen Joseph and Matt Richards are on commentary, and look to be the regular team going forward if you believe the Internet…

Timothy Thatcher vs. William Eaver
With no Tyler Bate, Timothy Thatcher’s opponent was a… repackaged Pastor, who’s now the “Present” William Eaver. He’s still preaching the word of the Lord, but this time it’s in the style of the evangelical preachers you see in town centres up and down the land. Complete with a portable speaker that worked a lot better than the preachers I’ve come across.

Eaver had been preaching to the crowd in the queue outside, but needless to say this was a huge drop down from what was advertised. Still, the crowd played along as Eaver walked towards the spot where he came a cropper last time he was in the Ballroom. As he’s want to do, Timothy Thatcher stared at Eaver with the incredulity this repackage kinda deserved?

Thatcher starts on the mat, forcing Eaver to scramble into the ropes as armbars and single leg crabs were all the rage. In football terms, it was “men against boys” stuff in the early going, despite Eaver throwing a few hopeful shots, as Thatcher easily knocked him down to the mat with uppercuts. A lariat gets Eaver some more hope, but Thatcher’s suplexes snuff that out pretty quickly before he got a near-fall from a Fisherman’s suplex. Eaver backdrops out of a butterfly suplex for a near-fall… but Thatcher keeps the grip and hits the butterfly suplex anyway for a two-count of his own. There’s more clubbering blows and a knee into Thatcher in the corner as commentary tried to nudge Eaver’s character into being something of a cult leader, but in the end Thatcher just slaps the former Pastor silly.

Eaver still hits back, using a uranage backbreaker, but he’s quickly pulled down into a Fujiwara armbar for the submission. This was decent enough, but day one for the new look William Eaver didn’t see a change in fortunes in the ring. I just wish there’d been something to build to this, and also a clear signpost as to whether Eaver is a good guy or a bad guy, rather than his repackaging coming as a “how are we meant to respond to this?” replacement for someone. ***

When commentary points out random matches for the future, it may be a sign. Thatcher vs. Trent?

Isla Dawn vs. Millie McKenzie
Last seen in PROGRESS some 40 years ago, Isla Dawn’s back – and by the look of things, seems to be set to be a bit of a regular.

The point about music in PROGRESS is a dead horse, but some of this stuff sounds like what should be getting used for overdubs. Anyway, Millie McKenzie was firmly in the Hallowe’en spirit, but was quickly on the defensive as they switched between headlocks and headscissors.

Millie hits first with a swinging neckbreaker for a near-fall, but Dawn’s right back as she set up Millie for a Gory special that could well turn into a Vertebreaker… somehow Millie gets free and looked to switch for a German suplex, only to switch it up for a Stunner for a near-fall. A spear’s next from Millie, but Dawn’s again up at two, before the Scotswoman returned with a knee and a bridging half-nelson suplex that nearly got the upset.

A modified Dragon sleeper’s next as a submission was attempted, but Millie escapes and uncorks a German suplex, before another spear’s cut-off with a knee to the head. Dawn responds with a Saito suplex, before she ran into the ropes and took a rebound German suplex… and that’s the cue for Jinny and Laura di Matteo to hit the ring as they beat down both women for the no-contest. Eh, at least this didn’t have the feel of “treading water” as these matches tend to do when the end result is a run-in. **¾

Charlie Morgan and Nina Samuels – formerly of the House of Couture (which was broken up VIA TWITTER) – run out to make the save as Laura had Millie in a grounded Octopus, while Jinny’d laid out Isla with a Rainmaker. Charlie took a hell of a bump off the apron as Jinny and Laura fought off, only for Isla and Millie to hit German suplexes as they were left standing tall. So we’re back to “finding a top contender for the women’s division”, but there is Jordynne Grace on the horizon in November…

PROGRESS Atlas Championship: Trent Seven (c) vs. Gino Gambino
Trent’s bringing back the Open Challenge for the Atlas championship – at least, that’s what Jim’s telling us! His first mystery opponent? The former “Mr Juicy”, Gino Gambino!

The two big lads start with a tie-up, but Trent takes Gambino into the corner as we start slowly. Gino does the same, before he warms up with a sit-up, as we play “immovable objects” when Trent tries to shoulder charge through the Aussie. Finally a leaping shoulder tackle works, but Trent quickly slips back as he misses an overhand cricket chop, cornering himself as Gambino squashes him with a series of avalanches in the corner… splashes that get played for comedy in the end.

Gambino needs an inhaler… but he uses it to spray Trent’s eyes with. Hey, that’s a novel spot, and it nearly gets the win, before Trent goes for his title winning crossbody… but Gambino collapses and Trent misses. Forced laughter on commentary kills real laughter, sadly. Trent manages to break the standing ten count when he pulls himself into the ropes, and now it’s chop time. A DDT surprises Gambino, eventually, who’s then shocked as Trent hauls him up… only to fall under the Aussie’s weight. A waistlock’d bear hug keeps Trent down, but he manages to escape, taking Gambino outside for a low-pe, before resuming his offence with a cricket chop and a snap Dragon suplex.

Then Trent decides to go for a suplex… but Gambino counters into a bodyslam, then a back senton for good effect, almost ending the match right there. Gambino hits the ropes, but runs into a lariat as the match kept swinging back-and-forth, with Trent shoving Gambino to the outside… so he could try for a superplex? Hey, it works! Problem was, Gambino had a spike piledriver in his locker… and surprises Trent with it as the champion was forced to kick out late on… but Gambino heads up top and gets caught with a Burning Hammer out of the corner as Trent took home the win. This was surprisingly good, if you can overlook the comedy and the forced laughter (I think muting the audio may be a good path for some). That’s defence number one down, and hopefully this is a long run with serious-ish Trent establishing the title once again. ***¼

PROGRESS World Tag Team Championships: The 198 (Flash Morgan Webster & Wild Boar) vs. Grizzled Young Veterans (Zack Gibson & James Drake) vs. Aussie Open (Mark Davis & Kyle Fletcher) (c)
We’ve got a repeat of the final three teams from the Wembley Thunderbastard, and now the 198 have a flag! To be fair, they had it before Wembley, but most teams’ entrance in that match was a blink-and-you’ll-miss-it affair.

Zack decides not to cut his monthly promo, as we begin with James Drake pointing at his old hardware, while the 198 just stood in the corner looking kinda out of place. Remember when they went all series unbeaten?

Flash and Fletcher start us off, but they barely do anything as Zack Gibson tagged himself in on Webster. Kyle lands a dropkick early onto Zack, but Drake comes in as the GYV quickly found their groove, nowhere near the miscommunicating duo they’d been during the tag series. Webster blind tags himself back in… and turns around into a punch from Dunkzilla, who’s quickly tripped with a log rolling Wild Boar, who was putting the boots to him. Metaphorically. Davis gets cornered as the 198 double-teamed him, swapping frequent tags to keep the big guy at bay. Eventually Davis escapes and tags in Kyle Fletcher, who drills Webster with a tiltawhirl backbreaker, forcing Flash to tag out as the Grizzled Young Vets came back into play, isolating Fletcher with a backbreaker/slingshot knee on the outside. Back in the ring, Gibson and Drake continue to work together well, finding a way to isolate Kyle from literally everyone else.

Gibson slams Drake onto Fletcher to pick up a near-fall, as a chinlock kept the Aussie Arrow grounded. Eventually Mark Davis wanders in to break up the hold, before Fletcher found a way out, dropping Gibson with a suplex. The 198, curiously, refused to tag out, dropping to the apron as instead James Drake got the tag… and ran into a Michinoku driver as Boar gets the tag in. Fletcher’s still let alone, and isolated by another team, before he leapt free and brings in Davis for his customary hot tag. Chops and clotheslines for all in the 198!

Davis pulls off a double bodyslam to Webster and Boar at the same time, before lifting up Webster into an Alphamare Waterslide like he were a pillow. The Aussies’ double-team powerbomb’s stopped as Gibson and Drake tag in, but they’re quickly thrown outside as we got a rare hard camera shot… to catch Davis and Fletcher hitting stereo topes! They’re back inside as Drake eats the spinebuster/powerbomb for a near-fall, but Gibson’s save just earned him some chops.

The assisted cutter’s stopped as Gibson and Drake again found their form, as Fletcher gets caught in the double-team Dominator/neckbreaker combo, dubbed here the Motor City Destroyer. I don’t understand that name either… We got the 198 quickly breaking up that cover, as they took their turn double-teaming Fletcher, who ate a powerbomb onto Webster’s knees for a near-fall. Davis returns to chop Webster on the top rope, following up with a superplex effort… but Boar puts a block on that as we build up to a wacky Tower of Doom. That’s quickly shrugged off though as Gibson’s caught with an assisted cutter from the Aussies… but Webster snuck in a tag and almost stole the pin. Those were the order of the day, as Fletcher brought himself back in, and set up for a dive as a somersault plancha wiped out everyone on the floor.

Gibson and Fletcher remain legal, and they’re quickly back in the ring as Gibson cross-chops a flying Fletcher before they set up for a Doomsday Clothesline onto Kyle. The Shankly Gates are next, but despite Drake clearing away interference he gets suplexed by Davis… who then found himself in the Gates as the former champions had the new champions in trouble. Davis fires up out of it and dumps Gibson onto Drake with a death valley driver to break both holds in one go.

Boar sneaks in to try and capitalise, but he’s cornered with a clothesline and a sliding lariat from the Aussies, before a Fidget Spinner… led to Drake and Gibson pulling out the referee. Can we have a moratorium on that? Fletcher heads outside, but he leaps onto trouble… but it’s trouble for the GVY as Gibson hits his own man with a chair as the pace gets rather too frantic. Let stuff settle, eh? The 198 tried to capitalise, but Fletcher kicks out of something I missed because it got perhaps a little too indy’riffic, but before the 198 tried to set up for a stuff Trapper Keeper.

Fletcher escapes, and plays his part in a double team Go To Sleep on Boar. Webster goes for a Rude Boy moonsault press, but flips into superkicks before the pull-up piledriver and a Fidget Spinner gets the win. Even with that blink-and-miss-it spell at the end, this was a fine showcase of the PROGRESS tag team division – and a homecoming of sorts after their title win at Wembley. ****

As a side note, the live reports from this show were full of praise for the atmosphere and interactions between Gibson and Webster, stemming back from their Natural PROGRESSion Series final a few years ago. Shame next to none of it came off on the VOD or in the commentary. Right, now we’ve had the Thunderbastard and the top three teams in the rematch… can we freshen up the division a little? I’m not saying cast aside everyone, but some fresh faces will be welcomed!

The second half starts with Eddie Dennis in the ring. No entrance? He’s rather quizzical over the “is he a good guy, or is he a bad guy?” definition of his character, so he instead recaps his recent past, quitting a stable, full-time job to eventually grab a WWE contract. The crowd cheered all of this, all the way through to his recap of Wembley and what it took… to break a table. Sorry, I mean earn a title shot. Eddie vows to be the next PROGRESS champion… even though he’s in a long line of contenders, with Zack Sabre Jr. claiming a shot today, while Mark Davis and the winner of a triple-threat match on this show also making their way into the queue.

Paul Robinson vs. Mark Andrews
Both men were on the losing side of things at Wembley, and were in dire need of a win to get back on track… although you’d sense a loss would perhaps to slightly more harm to Andrews.

It’s a rematch from the first Natural PROGRESSion Series finals, all the way back at chapter 10, and we start with Andrews being uncharacteristically aggressive, clubbing Robinson into the corner before unleashing with some armdrags. Andrews hit the Northern Lights suplex, but Robinson scurried outside to avoid the standing moonsault, catching Andrews on the outside by pulling him onto the edge of the apron for an awkward landing.

Robinson’s aggression begins to show from here, twisting a foot into Andrews’ face, before he dug an elbow into the Welshman’s neck as they were forced into the ropes. An attempt at a curb stomp’s countered with a big powerbomb from Andrews, who follows up with a wheelbarrow into the Stomp 182, then a standing corkscrew splash as Robinson rolled outside for respite… which came in the form of a tope that almost ended badly! Andrews springboards back in, and counters a flip-over from Robinson into a DDT as the Welshman pulled out some innovative stuff, including a knee slide under a clothesline only to get caught with a reverse ‘rana.

The Robinson special kick’s next, but Andrews keeps it even with a Stundog Millionaire, only for Robinson to score a nice spinning headscissor takedown off the top. A curb stomp follows… and that’s enough for what you’d have to call the upset! This was a nice little sprint of a match, with Paul Robinson’s win setting up for something bigger… but given this is only his “second match back”, there’s a long way to go. ***½

Mark Haskins vs. Chris Brookes vs. Jimmy Havoc
This was for a shot at the PROGRESS title (joining the queue with Eddie Dennis and Mark Davis), featuring three guys who have perhaps been better known for their tag team exploits in PROGRESS as of late. Yeah, I’m thinking it’ll be a while to find out if/why Havoc and Haskins’ tag team is over now the Thunderbastard is a thing of the past.

Havoc for some reason starts on the apron, but they’re not playing the “lol he so drunk, he thinks it’s a tag match” comedy. Haskins and Brookes start us off trading on the mat, before Havoc came in and took over where his (former?) tag team partner left off. There’s a chop from Brookes, but Haskins is back to help with some double-teaming, as commentary outlined that the inconsistency of Brookes’ booking was his character. Or, as Matt Richards eloquently put it “it’s like he’s doing stuff out of obligation”. As opposed to because it’s what he wants to do?

Once Brookes was sent outside, Havoc and Haskins turned their sights on each other… but only after they bumped fists. Havoc and Haskins arm themselves, but of course they don’t use the baseball bat or axe as Brookes flies in with a missile dropkick to the pair of them, as they instead head outside… and pull Brookes out with them. They’ve a chair set up for him, but Havoc and Haskins put him there as they reprise some of their old double-team stuff, before they split apart as Havoc throws Haskins into the crowd, just because.

Havoc sets up a pair of chairs to powerbomb Brookes into, but he just takes a back body drop into the chairs as Haskins returned with an apron PK to keep things going. Brookes keeps clearing Havoc from the ring as he started to wear down Haskins with chops, scoring a near-fall from a knee drop. Havoc heads back in and scores with a Flatliner/DDT combo to Brookes and Haskins, before he lands a double stomp to Brookes… who then gets Haskins rolled onto him with a death valley driver for a near-fall.

Brookes tries to fight back with a back senton off the middle rope to Haskins – turning it into a dropkick to Havoc too. Havoc stops an Octopus on Haskins, but ends up taking a stacked-up version of it as well, with Brookes pulling them both down to the mat as he made the most of his long limbs. A double Acid Rainmaker stops that as Drew Parker comes through the crowd and starts putting the boots to Jimmy Havoc… of course, this being no DQ because it’s a three-way. Parker throws Havoc into the crowd as he looks to be reigniting the deathmatch feud he had with Havoc earlier in the year. Oh God. There’s a platform that’s just been constructed in the Ballroom – who’s leaping off that first? It’ll not be today though as Havoc and Parker brawl to the back, with what I can only describe as “polite boos” coming for Drew.

In the ring, Brookes tries to roll-up Haskins for the win, before a slingshot cutter drew a near-fall. Haskins escapes a Praying Mantis Bomb and punches back into the match, then rolls up Brookes for a death valley driver for another near-fall. A bridging armbar’s countered with a roll-up as Brookes keeps going for Death By Roll-up, only for Haskins to counter that into a Sharpshooter for the eventual submission. This had some good flashes, but with three good guys, you got the sense the crowd never really knew who to cheer for here… which just hurt the atmosphere. ***¼

Commentary calls Haskins the “new number one contender”, which I guess means he’s leapfrogging everyone else in line. Mark gets the microphone and addresses how he had to drop his PROGRESS title two years ago because of injury. His promo sounded a little like Teddy Hart (just without the Mayor Quimby-like tones, or the stuff that you don’t believe) as Haskins vowed to go after the champion, whomever it was.

PROGRESS World Championship: Zack Sabre Jr. vs. WALTER (c)
We don’t get to see Sabre’s entrance, as instead we’ve a montage of prior entrances and action from his Super Strong Style 16 tournament-winning run. This was aired supposedly because the hard cam suffered a malfunction.

I’ll be the cynical one for everyone to shoot down here: one, that’s incredibly convenient given that PROGRESS planned to use Sabre’s old song by Idles (unless there was a stupidly quick “hey, the cameras stopped recording, let’s switch to the good song”; two… they very rarely use the hard cam for entrances, so… yeah. Did all THREE cameras drop out with no option to fade out/in… or should I just believe this as much as “we had to change the music and when they had it, we just happened to randomly give everyone music WWE had already picked but barely had the chance to use for them”?

If the song they used in the montage becomes ZSJ’s new theme, then you know this was the Rampage treatment. I just don’t see the need to try and hide what’s already an unpopular decision…

Anyway, PROGRESS can use the RINGKAMPF music, so we hear “Symphony No. 9” for the third time tonight as the champion came to the ring ahead of what was promising to be an epic main event – their fifteenth singles meeting… and it’s anything as good as their last one (in Hamburg, back in May), it’s going to be an absolute corker. We start with Sabre circling WALTER, looking for an opening to try and get at the champion – eventually grabbing a front facelock as WALTER was taken into the corner… and caught a kick as Sabre tried to sneak something in. WALTER grabs a butterflied guillotine, but it ends in the corner as he swung and missed with a chop, as he loomed over Sabre as he backed away.

WALTER takes the match to the mat, grabbing a headlock on Sabre, who tries to find a spare body part to negotiate an exit with, but nothing was going as WALTER squeezed the headlock tighter as the split crowd continued to chant between Sabre and WALTER. They stop those chants as Sabre gets free, before he avoids a back senton and misses with a head kick as we weren’t getting a repeat of a crowd from a few weeks earlier. Sabre returns to the ring but he’s straight into a stretch from WALTER, who uses his knee to almost tweak the neck as his power advantage neutralised a reversal attempt. Somehow he manages to counter into an abdominal stretch, but WALTER hiptosses free as Sabre again powders to the outside to put as much distance between himself and the Austrian. Problem was, back in the ring, Sabre walked back into a strait-jacket choke as WALTER continued to wear him down, again nullifying escape attempts.

Again Sabre finds an escape, rolling WALTER in with a crucifix as he quickly turned the match around. From the kick-out, Sabre goes for WALTER’s arm, fighting his way into a cross armbreaker, before he swiveled around him to apply another hold, this time twisting the arm while pinning the ankles down. Zack looks to go for a bow and arrow hold, but WALTER quickly flips out and pins Sabre… who bridges up, and quickly gets stomped on as Zack’s defiance looked to instantly put him at risk, as that stomp compromised the neck.

WALTER instantly goes after it, cranking the neck as Sabre was forced to go for the ropes… only for an elbow to drop him in the corner. More defiance equals more strikes as WALTER swats Sabre back down to the mat, following up with a Boston crab before going for a crossface choke as Sabre clung onto the leg. Zack looked to be in major trouble here, as his offence had ground to a halt after that bridge was kicked away… and it wasn’t helped when WALTER twisted Sabre’s neck between his legs. Sabre tries to kick his way back in, but WALTER quickly kicks him back into the corner… where another strike battle just ends with Sabre being lifted onto the turnbuckles, then chopped to the floor. WALTER tries to boot Zack off the apron, but he’s hung up in the ropes as Sabre targets the leg… then catches a chop as he tried to force his way back in, going after WALTER’s legs and arms with a series of kicks. A leg sweep and a PK left WALTER down, but Sabre can’t go for the cover, and instead has to continue the offence as he went for WALTER’s legs and arms once more.

A heel hook quickly ends in the ropes, as WALTER came back and tried to choke Sabre’s life away… Zack escaped and goes back to the arm, before a leaping back elbow’s caught… and eventually countered as WALTER went back to the neck to try and counter the Euro clutch. The counter wrestling continues, with Sabre again stomping on WALTER’s arm, which led to an instant chop. He dead. Sabre got back up, but he’s knocked into the ropes by WALTER as a strike battle broke out. A slap from Sabre just angered the Austrian, who replies with another elbow, then another palm strike as Sabre was forced to escape a Gojira clutch. He goes back down to the mat as he grabs an ankle lock on WALTER… who just stands up and turns into a Boston crab as it turns out you can fight your way out of an ankle lock. That’s turned into a STF as the crowd started to turn on WALTER, perhaps sensing that the champion was a little too dominant.

Crossface punches in the ropes follow as Sabre’s left lifeless… but he grabs another opportunity as he blocks a punch, wraps WALTER’s arm in the ropes and kicks it. Somehow, WALTER’s right back with a Gojira clutch, but with a damaged arm WALTER can’t lock it in, and he’s quickly caught in a Euro clutch for a near-fall. Sabre tries to follow up with a PK, but WALTER counters with a German suplex, then a butterfly suplex for a near-fall – as it felt that both men had given a lot, but were nowhere near a definitive end.

We’re back to the strikes as Sabre’s palm strikes rang around the Ballroom… but WALTER still had a working leg, and he just booted Zack’s face off. A powerbomb perhaps wasn’t the best follow up as Sabre counters into a guillotine, but he can’t get the Kimura on as WALTER counters into a leaping tombstone instead. From the mat, WALTER got up first as he looked to throw more chops (zoomed in a little too much!) as he grabs hold of Sabre to ensure he didn’t get too far away. Chop. Pull-up. Chop. Pull-up. Chop. A knee keeps Sabre defiantly in the ropes, so WALTER puts another knee through his chest, before a Fire Thunder Driver was countered into a triangle armbar from Sabre. WALTER can’t quite powerbomb free, and it allows Sabre back into an omoplata, switching through submissions a-plenty until WALTER rolled his way into the ropes.

Sabre keeps up with kicks and palm strikes, but one of WALTER’s easily seemed to outdo Zack’s strikes. There’s a murderous lariat to the back of Sabre’s head, which led to a Gojira clutch… but somehow Sabre clings on, only to get met with a folding powerbomb for another near-fall! Zack has to avoid another Fire Thunder Driver, but his counter into a Euro clutch quickly gives way because of the neck damage from earlier… something that was barely referenced in commentary. WALTER goes back with a side headlock, before he clubbed away on Sabre’s neck en route to a cravat.

Sabre got hold of the fingers, but another lariat stops the finger work as WALTER struck his way out and spiked Zack with a Fire Thunder Driver for the win. Exquisite stuff, and we expected no less. Whether you truly believed Sabre “really” had a chance of winning depends on how much you can shut off your brain in terms of “if New Japan pulled Sabre from the original title shot, can he really return regularly as a champion?” While you may pick a bone with how in among the hyperbole, commentary totally whiffed on “Sabre did a needless neck bridge, had it kicked away and compromised himself”, this was another excellent contest between two of the best in the world. No hyperbole. ****¾

In terms of “new direction” after Wembley, we’ve got something at least – even if Mark Haskins’ title shot is going to pay off immediately. Drew Parker vs. Jimmy Havoc is going to need a lot of steam put behind it, given that Drew’s barely been used in PROGRESS, and already holds a win over Jimmy, while we’re no clearer regarding the direction of the women’s division, even if there are some feuds simmering away.

The point regarding the music has been beaten to death, but it still stands true. The biggest reason PROGRESS, when it was founded, chose to run in venues more suited to music was so that they had decent sound systems, rather than the typical rent-a-speaker set-up that most of Britwres were enduring at the time.

Unfortunately, the changes to the music mean that we may as well be in any other venue, because as much as some may like ominous tones of “The Dawning” for Eddie Dennis, or the sorta pop-punk vibes of “Action Figure Crush” (which make me just want to watch this action figure crush instead)… it’s a million miles away from what we used to have. That the response has appeared to be ultra defensive doesn’t help matters, be it on the part of fans who begrudgingly accept the changes, or those who don’t want an alternative (like editing out entrances). Add that in and the video work that slowly but surely seems to be getting too arty for its own good, and it’s just another part of the product that appears to be losing favour with fans

Regardless of those gripes, and the godawful name, chapter 77 managed to avoid the post-big show malaise that a lot of companies tend to fall into. As is the course for PROGRESS, the in-ring was, at its worst, solid, and there are at least directions being hinted at. The only thing I’d change is perhaps a slight refresh of the roster, as we’ve had some names constantly appear on shows without much to do – and we’re quickly getting into the territory of “how can we miss you if you won’t go away?”