The trend of shoe-horning PROGRESS into chapter names continued as the promotion headed to Manchester for a hell of a show!

We’re in the O2 Ritz in Manchester for this one, the first time PROGRESS have hit up the venue in nine months… and the first time they’ve been in Manchester since May’s visit to the Victoria Warehouse. For those counting the opening 12 minutes is the banter. Glen Joseph and Matt Richards are on commentary – they look to be permanent going forward.

Eddie Dennis vs. Mike Bailey
Huge pops for Eddie Dennis, whose promo at the last Ballroom show seems to have turned him babyface… or at least serve to at least accept the cheers he’d been getting anyway. He’s got a new ring jacket which has teeth on it, and is made of the same kinda textured material that Kris Wolf and Alpha Female’s gear’s made of. Mike Bailey has no ‘tron, and isn’t using the royalty free music he uses in Defiant/DDT…

Eddie attacks Bailey at the bell, and he enjoys the lion’s share of the offence early, sending Speedball into a Rikishi bump from a clothesline before an early bid for a Next Stop Driver was countered with a roll-up for a near-fall. The Speedball kicks send Eddie powdering to the outside, but the Golden Triangle moonsault’s avoided, meaning that Bailey springboards back in with a dropkick for a near-fall. The dive follows… but Eddie catches him and lands a swinging side slam onto the apron instead. Back in the ring, a cravat keeps Bailey at bay, with some knees to the head thrown in for good measure, before we get a sweet cravat suplex that looked like Eddie was gonna pull off Bailey’s head. Some kicks put a stop to that, with Eddie getting taken down ahead of a standing corkscrew press from Bailey.

A uranage in the corner gets Eddie back in, ahead of a Severn Bridge buckle bomb… but Bailey makes a comeback, taking him outside for a Golden Triangle moonsault. Bailey keeps up the pressure as he kicks Eddie in the crowd, making the Welshman beg off and onto the apron as more kicks follow. Eddie catches one of them and returns fire with a forearm, only to get backdropped on the apron ahead of a missed moonsault knee drop. Speedball will pay for that in his older age, I fear.

A crucifix bomb followed back inside… but it’s not enough as Bailey kicks out. Eddie goes for it again, but Bailey slips out and tries for a step-up kick in the corner. He misses, as the pair go back-and-forth with corner charges, with Eddie’s forearms rocking Bailey, clocking him as Speedball went for a discus roundhouse. That looked brutal! Another crucifix bomb’s turned into a ‘rana, as Bailey finally followed up with moonsault knees that had Eddie rocked… as did the discus roundhouse and shooting star knees to a doubled over Dennis.

Somehow Eddie kicks out from that, but he’s put right back down with another head kick as Bailey goes back to the shooting star knees. It’s a trip too many to the well as he crashes and burns… leaving himself prone for a Next Stop Driver for a near-fall?! How’d he kick out of that? Eddie picks him back up in a fireman’s carry, then turns it into another Next Stop Driver… and that’s all folks! A really good opener, even if you’re still left wondering “what the hell is Eddie Dennis’ character”. Much like the new PROGRESS canvas, we’re dealing with shades of grey here folks. ***¾

Not that it’s that big of a pet peeve, but the lighting on this show is very patchy. You’ll be able to tell from some of our screenshots – some of the O2 are well lit, others… damn near darkness.

Isla Dawn vs. Lana Austin
I’d mock at how this is in the predictable second match slot, but both Isla and Lana had bookings elsewhere in the UK later in the day, so it’s understandable. Lana Austin got a huge cheer for her debut here, what with it being in her hometown and all.

There’s an even start as a headlock takedown’s escaped from as Austin tried to take the upper hand, but the two women looked pretty even early on – even if Lana seemed to be a little caught off by the moment. A backside drews an early near-fall for Austin, as does a sunset flip out of the corner, before an uppercut and a hip attack keeps the Mancunian ahead. Lana tries to get the referee to floss, which gets the right reaction from some of the crowd: boos. Dawn capitalises on that distraction by catching Lana in a Gory special… she frees herself though, and manages to begin a comeback with some clotheslines, before a side Russian legsweep picks up a near-fall.

Dawn’s back with some kicks and a snap back suplex, before following that up with a deadlift suplex for another near-fall. Lana’s response is what looked like a tiltawhirl stunner on Dawn, before a clumsy-looking attempt at a crossbody came off badly. Isla’s back with an Ocean Cyclone Suplex of all things… and that’s the win! This perhaps wasn’t as polished as we’ve come to expect from PROGRESS, but it’s a first win on the board for Isla Dawn, whom PROGRESS look to be getting behind after her return to the UK. **¼

Chris Ridgeway vs. Jordan Devlin
It’s a first-time meeting here, as Devlin’s borrowed his NXT UK nickname of the “Irish Ace”. Although I’m sure there’s more chance of the letters “OTT” being said on this show!

There’s a scrappy open as Devlin and Ridgeway looked for a takedown, then a body part as the customary “tie-up, into the ropes” start was binned. Instead, we get ALL THE STRIKES, as Devlin’s taken into the corner and clocked with a head kick, then met with a mid-kick off the ropes as the Manchester crowd broke into duelling chants. Ridgeway edges further ahead with a STF, before he’s caught with a uranage and a standing moonsault as one of Devlin’s trademark combos forced a near-fall. Chops from Devlin keep Ridgeway on the defensive, as does a backbreaker variation, before Devlin starts to throw some kicks of his own. Bet you can’t guess how it’s replied to? Ridgeway absorbs them… then gets met with a Dragon screw before he trapped the Irishman by the ropes with some kicks that almost knocked him through the ropes!

A Capoeira-style kick, then a head kick knocks Devlin down, before a Spanish Fly almost snapped Ridgeway in two. Ridgeway’s back with a barrage of kicks, including some Kawada-like ones before he’s dumped with a massive brainbuster! Devlin tries for a second one, but Ridgeway counters into a Kirifuda clutch as Devlin had no choice but to escape… which he did by rolling back into a pinning attempt for a near-fall. Devlin returns with a slingshot cutter for a near-fall, then a ripcord-like Saito suplex and a moonsault… but Ridgeway catches Devlin on impact, pulling him into a triangle armbar. Somehow Devlin powerbombs his way free, then lands a headbutt as he fell onto Ridgeway for a near-fall. A Batista-like thumbs up/thumbs down seemed to signal for a package piledriver from Devlin, but Ridgeway counters out into an ankle lock, before a German suplex and a Gotch piledriver (?!) picked up a near-fall.

From the kick-out, Ridgeway’s back to the ankle lock, but he’s pushed off into the corner, and the resulting roll through led to a package piledriver from Devlin – which was enough to win the match. What. A. Sprint. This was one of those hard-hitting matches with no let-up – and a rather surprising win for Devlin given recent form, but you’d have no complaints over either man winning to be honest. Carve out some time and watch this one – something really special that I hope they get to repeat down the line. ****½

After Devlin went to the back, the lights went out as Paul Robinson’s music and video hit. Robbo’s got a microphone which he used to call out Ridgeway for being a “pretty boy”, among other things. You see, Robbo’s a bit of a hard nut too, so these two are on a collision course… and that’s going to be something pretty explosive when that pays off… which Robbo wants to do on PROGRESS’ December return to Manchester.

David Starr vs. Ilja Dragunov
David’s got new music, which sounds a bit like the Ting Tings’ “That’s Not My Name”, while Ilja’s back to Generic Soviet Theme… complete with a monster pop. This is only the second time these two have met one-on-one, having had a bunch of tag team outings in the past for wXw.

Ilja looks increasingly disgusted at Starr’s list-o-nicknames, which included a kissy-face for the camera at the “he’s really good at Twitter” line, since the folks who usually boo that don’t go to PROGRESS anymore.

Again, we’ve got duelling chants as Dragunov’s a good guy now… just because he’s not against Pete Dunne, it seems. An even start sees neither man take an advantage, with Starr looking to work over Dragunov’s arm, taking him down for a submission attempt that ends with a snarling Dragunov in the ropes. Starr tries to sneak in some punches, but it just angers Ilja some more, as a backhanded chop took down Starr for a back senton, ahead of a clothesline in the corner… and another twisting lariat! The pair go back and forth with chops and clubbing forearms, before another back senton from Dragunov has Starr winded. He’s able to come back with a Prawn hold out of the corner, then a springboard elbow drop as Dragunov was suddenly on the back foot – with Starr seemingly having the interim wXw champion’s number.

More chops from Starr send Dragunov crashing to the mat for a near-fall, before a kick to the face and a diving splash in the corner led to Ilja doing almost a Flair flop across the ring. A Thesz press catches Dragunov unaware, but he’s right back as he overpowers Starr in a test of strength, which came all the way through to a Saito suplex that left Starr on his head. Starr recovers and tries to send Ilja to the outside… but Dragunov flips back over the ropes and clotheslines Starr! Dragunov tries to pull up Starr for a Chernobyl Bomb, and eventually does so after an O’Connor roll – but it’s still not enough! A spit from Starr angers Dragunov again, but Starr capitalises with a Fire Thunder version of the Blackheart Buster before he rolled Ilja into an inverted Sharpshooter… but they’re too close to the ropes and Dragunov broke free.

Dragunov takes a springboard clothesline as Starr keeps him outside, following up with a tope suicida Starr went head-first into Ilja. A second dive’s aborted as Ilja hits a tope of his own, before squashing Starr with a back senton into a chair that surprisingly didn’t buckle… there’s a top rope back senton that gets a near-fall as Starr still had something in him, which included catching a Torpedo Moscau and turning it into a small package, before the pair battered each other with lariats.

Ilja goozles Starr and throws more lariats, which Starr returns as the pair clatter and flail around with increased frequency until they send each other to the mat. Dragunov and Starr feast on Ilja’s blood, just two weeks after Hallowe’en, before double clotheslines saw both men come off… no different?! Body blows from Ilja have Starr covering up, but he headbutts away a chop and mounts another comeback that ends with back and forth lariats, then a Torpedo Moscau as both men collapsed to the mat! The crowd erupts for that… then we get music. It’s the returning Travis Banks, who’s here to make a statement… which was to throw out the referee, hit Ilja with a Slice of Heaven, then Starr with a Kiwi Krusher. It’s a double DQ thanks to Banks’ run-in – and since he’s now cleared to compete, I guess he’s set himself up for a pair of feuds here. Either that or it’ll be my head canon of him wanting to ruin anything good as revenge for how badly his championship reign turned out to be. ****

After Banks wiped out some trainees, he was carted to the back as Ilja left… to his drumbeat music. So… he’s going for the old school Mankind of different entrance and exit themes? I can dig that.

PROGRESS World Tag Team Championships: Calamari Thatch Kings (Chris Brookes & Timothy Thatcher) vs. Aussie Open (Kyle Fletcher & Mark Davis) (c)
The Aussie Open cavalcade of defences against former Thunderbastard entrants continues as the Calamari Thatch Kings get their shot for… reasons? They didn’t say it during the build, but Brookes and Thatcher beat the Aussie during the Thunderbastard series, so I’m happy to go with the New Japan-like precedent.

We start with Thatcher and Fletcher – and it’s rather tentative stuff as Fletcher tried to avoid the grasp of Thatcher. Brookes and Davis tag in, but Brookes’ chops are as useful as a chocolate teapot, as he’s quickly put down by Davis’ replies… thinking that perhaps Timothy Thatcher will fare better. He doesn’t… at least until he clocked Davis mocking the RINGKAMPF pose, which prompted him to try and boot off the Aussies’ head.

Back-and-forth shots ensue as Davis edged ahead, going after Brookes in the process, with Chris trying for chops… only to run into a slam and a back senton combo. Fletcher comes in, and that’s a turning point as Brookes and Thatcher were able to have their fun with him, including with a vicious STF, before some kicks and knees targeted Fletcher’s hamstrings. Quite literally, the Calamari Thatch Kings were trying to hamstring the Aussie Arrow.

There’s a Muta lock to Fletcher from Brookes, but Kyle gets free and after a Michinoku Driver to Brookes, he’s able to crawl across and make the tag out. Customary Dunkzilla comeback follows, full of chops and clotheslines… but Thatcher catches one of them and turns it into a Fujiwara armbar, while Brookes cleared the ring. Some wacky blurriness later (I fully empathise with auto-focus choosing a thin rope versus a BIG HUMAN BEING), and Davis gets to the ropes as the beating continued.

Fletcher comes in and takes out Thatcher with a tope, before heading back up top with a High Fly Flow for a near-fall. A superkick knocks Brookes off the apron and into a double-team Go To Sleep on the outside, before Thatcher took the assisted cutter from Kyle for a near-fall. An attempt at a flying X-Factor from Fletcher’s caught and turned into a single leg crab as Thatcher nonchalantly held the hold as Brookes caught Davis with a pop-up cutter! After it’s broken up, Davis and Thatcher resume trading shots, with forearms and headbutts seeing the pair try to wear each other down. Davis’ have more ferocity behind them, before a sit-down splash out of the corner gets rid of Thatcher who’d blind tagged out to Brookes. Death By Roll-up nearly gets the upset, before Brookes ate an Alphamare Waterslide for a near-fall. We’re still in the roll-ups as a small package gets another two-count for the last man standing in CCK, before he blocks another double-team Go to Sleep amid a Parade of Moves.

Thatcher goes all Lykos, but he changes tack as things go wild, as superkicks leave everyone laying! Fletcher picks up the pace with a Miz-like clothesline in the corner, but Thatcher catches a charging Davis in the ropes… restraining him as Brookes went for a roll-up that Fletcher eventually reverses through, and Death By Roll-up backfires as Aussie Open retain! This got a little too frantic for its own good at the end, but this was a hell of a tag title defence – with Aussie Open wrapping up what’s been a fantastic in-ring year for them. ****¼

Now, like I said after chapter 77… do we need to run through the remainder of the Thunderbastard, or are we at risk of having new tag teams enter the fray??

After Jim plugs the new PROGRESS app, we’ve got the Atlas division open challenge… it’s answered by Zack Gibson, who has his customary promo. I know, right?! Trent shouts him down with his customary “insider comedy” about how Zack’s “not met Vince McMahon”, which is as much of his shtick as his age and the dad-bod being his physique. Gibson tells Trent that since he’s not even DLC for the new WWE game, the most relevant he’d been was when he lost in six seconds to Matt Riddle. Uh-oh…

PROGRESS Atlas Championship: Trent Seven (c) vs. Zack Gibson
So Zack threatened to beat him with the Shankly Gates. You know how the promo went. The match… didn’t go that way.

Ding ding ding, running crossbody, and would you believe it, Trent’s gotten another victim with that bloody thing. To his credit, the crowd go wild for the squash, so quick that commentary didn’t get a word in. This was timed at five seconds, with Glen running down to ringside to show off his iPhone. Look, you’re not Gadge mate, get back in your lane! Once again, Gibbo’s the fool. Well, now they’ve got to try and avoid stitching that in NXT UK TV, where these two ought to be having a longer match soon.

The “trouble in paradise” between Gibson and Drake rears its head after the match as the two have a brief shoving match. That’ll blow-up soon.

Cue a video package highlighting Mark Haskins PROGRESS title win two years ago… and seven weeks later when he had to forfeit the title because of a neck injury. This is the first one-on-one shot he’s had at the title, having won a three-way in Camden a fortnight earlier… can he get past WALTER?

PROGRESS World Championship: Mark Haskins vs. WALTER (c)
WALTER’s only faced Haskins once before in singles action – all the way back in 2011’s 16 Carat Gold tournament, in a quarter final match, which WALTER won en route to the final.

WALTER squares up to Haskins before the bell, but the challenger showed no fear as he slapped the champion as he looked to pick his spots. Haskins goes for WALTER’s arm, but the Austrian doesn’t go down easy, so Haskins throws a couple of chops… before he’s met with a shoulder charge. Haskins barely avoids an elbow drop as he throws in some more kicks, which end with a single CHOP from WALTER.

WALTER throws some receipts for those earlier kicks, following up with the crossface punches in the ropes as Haskins spills to the outside where he’s met with a kick to the face before he avoids a back suplex on the apron. Haskins goes back in for a dive, but WALTER catches and chops him, before we get the brutal leapfrog/big boot from the Austrian, which can’t have done that neck any good.

WALTER stays in the ring as Haskins had to get up and beat a count-out, but he’s right back under the boot of WALTER, who followed up by scooping Haskins across the top turnbuckle for a chop and a standing boot choke, as he made this look rather too easy. So much so that Haskins has to fight back, and he does with a barrage of kicks that finally chopped down the proverbial tree that was WALTER, taking him into the corner as that flurry seemed to drain Haskins a little. Charging uppercuts keep WALTER in the corner, before Haskins leapt over a shotgun dropkick catching a falling WALTER with a double stomp on the way down! Haskins catches WALTER in the ropes, but a roll-up for a Sharpshooter’s countered with a small package for a near-fall, before Haskins rebounded with a bridging armbar that WALTER escaped with a simple headlock.

A powerbomb from WALTER’s countered out into a DDT, sending the Austrian outside for a misdirection tope, which Haskins followed up with a double stomp that misses. WALTER instantly capitalises with a shotgun dropkick, then a powerbomb for a near-fall, as Haskins was immediately back on the defensive, as WALTER had his number once more. Another kick’s caught and turned into a Boston crab, then a STF, but that just served to have the crowd get even more behind the challenger. Chops from WALTER have Haskins reeling, but a kick to the head and a double stomp saw him eke out a near-fall. More kicks keep WALTER down, as he absorbs PK after PK, before a roll-through for a death valley driver gets stopped in its tracks with a Gojira clutch. Haskins breaks free of it and goes back to the arm, with the bridging armbar forcing WALTER to get a foot to the ropes to keep his title. Perhaps out of desperation, WALTER’s going for more chops, but Haskins ducks them and rolls him up for a Sharpshooter, prompting a huge pop from the Manchester crowd!

WALTER nearly gets free, but he manages to reach back and grab Haskins’ compromised neck as he switches out into a crossface as Haskins suddenly needed the rope for freedom. A big boot takes Haskins back outside as you sensed the crowd knew his chance was gone, even more so when Haskins takes a brainbuster from the floor to the apron as WALTER increased the focus on the neck… returning to the ring for a jumping tombstone that somehow Haskins kicked out of! More paw swipe from WALTER has Haskins in trouble, as does a lariat to the back of the head before a Fire Thunder Driver sealed the deal. There was a moment of doubt, but WALTER retained the title as a game Haskins pushed him a little… but in the end, it was not enough. ****

Well, I was blown away by that entire show. Take a bow Manchester – a hot crowd from start to finish, which is making me ponder… is it the crowds? It’s somewhat reminiscent of TNA back in the day (before they became Impact), when the Orlando crowds were so used to blowaway wrestling that they became complacent – which led to a good few years of crowd reactions being in the doldrums. I’m not saying that’s the case here – but it’s certainly ringing a few bells. Outside of London, PROGRESS crowds are “like the old days”, which helps make the product look like it used to.

In a spell of wrestling shows where I’ve tuned out of the commentary (blame Lanny Poffo), I must give another shout out to Matt Richards. With PROGRESS seemingly giving up on their rotating commentary team, we’re now in a groove of a relatively sedate Glen Joseph giving the company line, and Matt chiming in with knowledge without it feeling overly scripted.