PROGRESS returned to Sheffield for their final regular show of the year, and we’re back to shoehorning their name into titles!

Yikes, this is over three hours long on the VOD. For a seven match card. That sounds like there’s a lot of filler here. We open with Jim’s usual shtick, complete with Twitter videos edited in as they tried to say what happened the prior night in Manchester without giving away too much. Glen Joseph and Matt Richards are back on commentary…

Travis Banks vs. Ilja Dragunov
You know we keep harping on about music? The crowd took a long while to “get” the opening bars of Trav’s music here… which was so loud it peaked and became muffled. Ditto Ilja’s drums.

It’s so very dark in the O2 Academy… but Ilja’s star shone bright here.

This match was initially pencilled in for PROGRESS’ show in Cologne in July 2017, but Ilja had to drop out of the show… so we finally get that match here, and it starts out hot as Dragunov took down Banks and went straight in with some chops in the corners, leaving the former PROGRESS champion reeling.

Banks quickly gets free and catches Ilja with punches from above, before some chops caught him unawares. Dragunov just spits back, prompting Banks to throw more chops, before a kick to the gut looked to have him back on top… but Dragunov backflips over the ropes and lands a clothesline. Banks kicks out Ilja’s legs before he threw him nastily into the ropes, causing a whiplash as Dragunov went outside. A PK on the apron followed as Ilja looked to be on jelly legs, not helped when Banks threw him into the crowd. Still, Ilja got back to his feet and traded kicks before he was thrown back into the crowd.

Back in the ring, Banks gets a near-fall as he went back to those PKs, but Dragunov fired up with more high chops, aiming for the throat, before a suplex got reversed. Banks tries to wear Ilja down some more with a chinlock, clinging on for dear life, before Ilja turned it into a Saito suplex. OOF. Dragunov’s right back in with chops and clotheslines, dumping Banks in the middle of the ring, before a German suplex had Ilja loopy again. He slipped during the 619-like rebound, landing awkwardly on the way to another boot from Banks, before going right back to it as he lands another clothesline. Ilja tees up for a Torpedo Moscau, but a shotgun dropkick cuts him off before a springboard stomp in the corner gets Banks a near-fall.

On the outside, Banks keeps up with topes, before Dragunov hits one of his own, following up by dumping Banks through a chair with a back senton. There’s a back suplex onto the apron too for good effect, as Ilja headed up top and leaps into a superkick before a Kiwi Krusher got a near-fall! Banks didn’t quite know how to respond to that, so we’re back to chops, which Ilja edges ahead on, only for the pair to land simultaneous forearms as they sank to the mat. Some Kawada kicks from Banks looked to keep him ahead, as a diving knee dumped Ilja… and would have ended the match, had Ilja not grabbed the referee’s arm to save the match!

From there, Ilja rises and drills Banks with the Danielson elbows, before Banks escaped a death valley driver and went for a Slice of Heaven. Somehow, Ilja catches him and rolls through before dumping Banks into the corner with a death valley driver, ahead of a back senton off the top rope. Dragunov again calls for a Torpedo Moscau, but Banks uses the referee as a human shield, following up with a low blow and a Slice of Heaven as Banks got the win. A banger of an opener, but something tells me this isn’t the end of the three-act story as Banks, Starr and Dragunov have traded wins over each other. Could we be getting a proper three-way in the new year? ****

Post-match, Banks tried to keep beating on Ilja, only to get a Torpedo Moscau.

Mark Andrews vs. Mark Haskins
The continuation of Mark Andrews bid to prove himself here, and it’s a battle of former PROGRESS champions. Actually, two of the three shortest-reigning champions…

Haskins starts out by taking Andrews down, but the Welshman flipped free as we threatened to have a do-over of yesterday’s sprint against Pete Dunne. Commentary again notes how Mark Andrews’ following seems to be quieter, if not smaller, as Haskins took him outside for a misdirection tope. Repackaging imminent? Haskins eventually takes Andrews back inside, following up with chops in the corner before a snapmare, a kick to the back and a low dropkick drew a near-fall. We’re seeing a more aggressive Haskins here, one who swatted away Andrews with relative ease as he rolled through into a STF, then a Rings of Saturn as Andrews struggled to get to the ropes.

Andrews tries to fight back out of the corner, but he’s rocked with more kicks before another fightback with forearms and chops finally got Haskins on the back foot. A knee slide leads into a leaping enziguiri from Andrews, before a baseball slide took Haskins outside for an Asai moonsault. The offence continues as a tornado DDT from Andrews gets him a near-fall, but Haskins switches it up, landing a roll-through death valley driver for a two-count of his own.

Haskins looked to finish off with a pumphandle driver, but Andrews elbows free, only to get met with a pump kick as he then countered the pumphandle with a Stomp 182. A standing moonsault misses as the pair went tit-for-tat, allowing Haskins to bridge up into an armbar as Andrews had to reach for the ropes again, heading to the apron for safety. A teased death valley driver on the apron’s stopped, as Andrews mustered more of a comeback, but he ends up running into a punch before countering another pumphandle driver into a Stundog Millionaire. From there, Haskins catches him with a roll-through Sharpshooter out of nowhere… and it’s another loss for Mark Andrews. He’s eating Ls for fun these days, and it’s not by accident either. Putting it out there… is Mark’s career quickly hitting life support, with a certain notice on it? ***¼

Speaking of… Do Not Resuscitate head out afterwards and attack Mark Haskins. William Eaver goes after Mark Andrews while Chuck Mambo restrained Vicki Haskins as the diabolical Eaver… put his Panama hat on Haskins. Eddie Dennis came out for the save, laying out everyone with forearms before we had another uneasy staredown between the former FSU team mates. Oh man, I get the “why” in terms of a storyline but they literally had that year-long build finish off at Wembley not even three months prior. Cool it.

Chain Match: Paul Robinson vs. Chris Ridgeway
You’ve got to go back to May 2016 for the last time a chain featured in PROGRESS – with Paul Robinson beating Wild Boar on ENDVR 15. This was set-up from the random appearance of a chain in Manchester on the prior show… which makes sense, except this was all within the space of about 24 hours.

At least it was a “pinfall or submission” rules match, rather than the old school “touch all corners to win” deal.

The bell goes, and we start with Robinson getting in Ridgeway’s face… and it quickly descends into a fight as Robinson tried to swing the chain. Ridgeway responded by using the chain as a ripcord into a kick, before hog-tying Robinson with the chain. A Romero special followed, of course, assisted by the chain, before a kick sent Robinson outside… but still kept on a leash with that chain. Robinson used the chain well though, forcing Ridgeway outside to untangle things, where before he’s pulled into the apron by the chain as things started to get a little more vicious. Some short, chain-assisted punches sent Ridgeway into the corner, before a bunch of elbows left Ridgeway down on the mat.

Kicks from Robinson followed, including some with the chain wrapped around his leg for extra whiplash… but Ridgeway grabs the leg and scores with a chain-assisted Dragon screw, then a chain-assisted STF as they ended up quickly in the ropes. Robinson tries to run, but the chain’s just pulled up between his legs for a low blow, as he’s taken back inside for more kicks to the chest. A punch to the balls sees Robinson equalise things in terms of low blows, but he can’t score with a double stomp as Ridgeway lands a strait-jacket chain-assisted German suplex for a two-count. More kicks are exchanged between both men, with Ridgeway eventually pulling Robinson in as he’s hit with an unexpected knee for a near-fall.

There’s a curb stomp from Robinson for a near-fall as Ridgeway was living up to the nickname… and sure enough, the chain’s back in use moments later as Ridgeway ripcords Robinson into a roundhouse kick, before an axe kick and an ankle lock – complete with some chain choking – led to Robinson passing out as the referee stopped the match. This was much better than Chapter 80’s kick-a-thon; the match was solid, but it sure did feel like they were rushing to get to the chain stipulation. ***¼

British Strong Style (Pete Dunne, Trent Seven & Tyler Bate) vs. CCK (Chris Brookes & Jonathan Gresham) & Timothy Thatcher
It was a mash-up between CCK and the Calamari Thatch Kings (sorry, Lykos wasn’t back… yet) as we got our first BSS trios match since the Germany tour. Yes, that doesn’t spell out CCK, but let’s go with it…

Aw bless, Tyler looked so odd-man-out without any belt to speak of.

Apparently Trent requested this was under lucha tag rules, which means we don’t need to arse about with tags. Yeah, there’s tonnes of shenanigans, as these matches are want to have, and we start with Gresham and Dunne for what I’d expect would be the straightest wrestling we’ll get in this match. Dunne uses a neat monkey flip to try and get the upper hand, but Gresham slips out into a leg grapevine as some disco lights suddenly flashed above the ring.

Dunne grabbed a toe-hold, one that Gresham escaped from before we got tags for Brookes and Bate as Timothy Thatcher looked bemused. You and me both. Tyler gets some help from Pete Dunne for some rope walking that turned into a lucha armdrag, before he escaped from a Brookes headlock as we got shoulder tackles, lucha roll throughs and almost a roll-up from Brookes. Brookes and Bate kiss, so we get a tag… and you know what this is building to. The look on Thatcher’s face was comedy, especially as he got “pucker up” chants once Trent tagged in. He clings onto a side headlock on Trent, then an armbar as they backed up into the ropes. Trent replied with a chop, but it barely fazed Thatcher… so Trent grabs a headlock and comes in with the trunk-heightening shoulder tackles. He didn’t have to go quite full Iron Mike Sharpe to get Thatcher down, but he’s quickly caught in a single leg crab as Thatcher looked for retaliation.

The comedy pay-off to the kissing came when Thatcher grabbed Trent’s throat and slapped him down a la Santos, which sparked a brief melee as we reset back to Dunne and Gresham briefly. Trent and Timothy quickly come back in for chops, but Thatcher’s in with a Hardcore Holly kick to the stomach as the pace started to quicken. A deadlift German suplex with Moustache Mountain nearly put Brookes away, before Trent’s assisted back senton flattens Brookes for a two-count.

Dunne takes over with stomps and kicks, before Trent got a two-count out of a knee drop. Some triple-teaming is next as Brookes is cornered… but he lifts Pete and Tyler onto the apron, then watches as British Strong Style ate themselves before a flying back senton gets Brookes free. In comes Gresham, who whips Bate into a corner for a running series of back elbows, then a high-speed Shibata-ish dropkick, only for Pete Dunne’s enziguiri to stop him in his tracks. A Parade of Moves breaks out next, with Thatcher going hog wild with those belly-to-belly suplexes, at least until Pete Dunne bit and finger snapped his way out of it. An ankle lock from Thatcher on Dunne just brings Trent in with a chop… but Thatcher barely shrugs as they exchange chops for fun, then lariat each other as both men rolled to the outside.

Both trios negotiate on the outside to see who’d restart… but instead Tyler Bate tope’s onto CCK. Brookes continues the dives, before Dunne leaps into a Gojira clutch from Thatcher on the outside… and yeah, we keep diving too as Jonathan Gresham completed the set. Back in the ring, Thatcher heads up as he becomes Kid Thatcher with a slap to Tyler’s face, before a German suplex and a butterfly suplex softened up Tyler some more. Trent’s back with backfists, before he tried to make Gresham tap to a Figure Four, as Pete and Tyler did their best to stop anyone from breaking the hold.

Eventually Thatcher breaks it up with a butterfly suplex onto Trent, before Gresham and Dunne pick up where they left off, trading forearms. Another enziguiri from Gresham finds its mark, but he misses a Quebrada as Dunne comes in with a triangle armbar that Brookes’ stomp quickly broke up. Chops follow from Trent to Brookes, but it’s quickly caught and turned into an Octopus stretch, with Dunne getting one too from Gresham while Thatcher just Gojiras Tyler. Tyler ends up breaking up the hold… but he does so by wandering over to Gresham, picking him up and dumping him with a German suplex. Now THAT is strong! The target remains on Gresham for a while, but he turns the table as he turned a see-saw swing into a reverse ‘rana on Dunne, before he came back through with a wheelbarrow cutter to Bate for a near-fall.

The tables turn as Tyler’s dumped with a kick-assisted Praying Mantis bomb for a near-fall, before Thatcher locks in a sleeper on Bate… but Trent grabs Tyler’s arm to stop the “arm drop gimmick” as Pete Dunne kicks the hold apart. Good to see the officiating stretches to waving off matches here, as the momentum swing wildly… as did Brookes as he ate a piledriver, a Tyler Driver and a Better End from Dunne for a near-fall. Well… good to see the Better End’s the new Bitter End. A Spiral Tap from Tyler Bate gets the win though, as he gets the win back from yesterday.

I’ve said it before, but I’ve got minimal interest in these British Strong Style trios matches. Yeah, they’re almost always good, but they do absolutely nothing for me… and until they actually become something other than a card filler on the indys, they do nothing for anyone in the long term. Your mileage will vary, but for me… this was solely a match to see some of my favourites take on a team that’s damn near bulletproof, for better or worse. ***½

Post match, Jonathan Gresham stapled Marc Parry with Earl Perkins, because why not?

After we were introduced to a new contestant for Bargain Hunt, the second half kicked off…

Jordynne Grace vs. Toni Storm
This is a pretty big match, it has to be said… even if EVE did run the exact same bout the previous night! Politically it’s also very interesting, given the lay of the land.

They start out hot with Grace taking Storm into the corner for a clean break, before a headlock takedown led to some grounded headscissors that Toni backed out of. Toni tries to edge ahead with some forearms, before she pulls Jordynne into an abdominal stretch, then a sunset flip for a near-fall. A standing figure four ends in the ropes, before

Grace hits back by taking Storm into the corner with a POUNCE, turning the match on its head. Some elbows in the corner follow, before a bear hug wore down Storm some more, with Grace picking up a near-fall as she then went back to the bear hug. Jordynne switches it up into a suplex after that, as commentary threw out stories about how Toni’s not exactly at 100%.

A snapmare leads to a knee to the back as Grace targeted the injury Toni’d picked up on NXT UK duty a while back, increasing her aggression while doing so. Another bear hug followed, but Toni countered back with a DDT. The match gets incredibly even as Storm pops up from slams and fires back with forearms, before she catches Jordynne with a snap German suplex and a pump kick, before a headbutt led to a near-fall.

An attempted Storm Zero piledriver’s blocked as Grace fought out and hit back with a way-too-zoomed-in Michinoku Driver for a near-fall… Toni tries to take Grace up top for a superplex, but Grace slips out and ends up countering a missile dropkick into a powerbomb for some near-falls. From there, Toni deadlifts her way into a German suplex for a near-fall, then lands a Strong Zero… prompting Grace to roll to the outside to avoid a pinning attempt. Toni follows her outside with a low-pe, then brought her back inside… only for some clotheslines from Grace to weaken Toni. A lariat from Storm finds its mark though, before a second piledriver’s blocked, as the pumphandle driver gets Grace the win. Commentary clearly played it up as Storm not being 100%, but this was an impressive win as Grace is seemingly earmarked for a title shot. As for this match… they did it better in EVE. ***

PROGRESS World Championship: Shigehiro Irie vs. WALTER (c)
This was the result of a casting call that WALTER had put out in the weeks ahead – and it led to a debut for former DDT star Irie. Whose name is absolutely not pronounced “eye-ree”…

The hoss battle started with a tie-up, with Irie getting taken into the corner… only for him to come out swinging with forearms before a shoulder block barely budged WALTER. More of the same followed, before a chop sent Irie flying… but he’s back on his feet and right back down too as WALTER looked to make the most of the opening.

Some crossface punches in the ropes are next, but Irie grabs one and punches back, before WALTER just boots him through the ropes and to the floor. The pair trade shots on the outside, with WALTER’s chops ringing around Sheffield, before he boots Irie in the face. There’s a back suplex too on the apron, as WALTER showed he wasn’t giving any welcoming gifts to the former KO-D champion.

Back in the ring, Irie responds with forearms before another chop fells him for a near-fall, as WALTER stays on top of him with a double arm surfboard stretch. More clubbing forearms take Irie down as a Gojira clutch quickly ends in the ropes. Irie still fights back, throwing elbows as he had the PROGRESS champion staggering… until a chop takes him down again. Irie has to fight out of a powerbomb before he took WALTER into the corner for some splashes, then a flying cannonball before he ran into a shotgun dropkick. Big lads should not be able to move like they do!

WALTER’s back in with the clunking elbows, but Irie fought fire with fire, until a chop extinguishes him. A Gojira clutch followed, but Irie gets free and comes back with some clotheslines, then a headbutt, before an attempted Fire Thunder Driver is countered into a WALTER tombstone for a near-fall! We get a rare WALTER trip to the top rope, but Irie cuts him off with a sweet superplex!

Irie keeps up the pressure with a cannonball into the corner for a near-fall, before WALTER stung back with a chop. Another Gojira exacerbates the bloody nose of Irie, who manages to escape and hit a backdrop suplex to keep him in the match. He heads up top himself and nails a big splash for a near-fall, before he took a big boot, a German suplex and a lariat as WALTER put himself right back on top. WALTER traps Irie in a STF after that, then wrenches Irie with a cravat… and there’s the submission right there. A different challenge for WALTER, but he’s changing up his movesets – making him perhaps the trickiest champion PROGRESS have had yet. As for the match, it was fine, but the crowd not being widely familiar with Irie (“the wrestling teddy bear”) didn’t help things. ***½

PROGRESS World Tag Team Title Match: Latin American Exchange (Ortiz & Santana) vs. Aussie Open (Kyle Fletcher & Mark Davis) (c)
LAX won their shot on the prior night’s show, beating CCK in an instant classic.

Santana and Fletcher start us off, but Kyle works over the arm early on, only for Santana to flip himself free. A side headlock led to the usual shoulder tackle exchanges, showing off Heavyweight Kyle, who eventually took Santana off his feet! An enziguiri from Santana’s the equaliser as Ortiz comes in, catching Kyle with chops ahead of a Santana uranage. There’s a leaping back senton and a step-up moonsault for a near-fall as I get fed up with hearing “The Funky Monkey”.

Ortiz and Fletcher fight over a suplex, with the Aussie eventually landing the move for a near-fall, before a lucha-inspired series led to Mark Davis landing an armdrag, showing some unexpected agility too. A ‘rana from Ortiz took Davis down next, but the Aussie’s got a flip armdrag in him too, only for Ortiz to get a near-fall with a roll-up.

There’s a thumb to the eye from Ortiz, who gets caught with a high-five before a blinded Davis found his way into the corner for a tag. Kyle’s chops led to him taking a snapmare and a DDT, before Santana comes in and lands a backbreaker. Ortiz returns for a Northern Lights suplex as Fletcher was being worn down, but he’s still able to surprise Ortiz with a Michinoku driver to stem the tide.

Both men tag out as Mark Davis charges Santana into the corner, then hurled him away so he could launch into the chop/clothesline comeback. There’s even some clotheslines too, but Santana’s got a Quebrada in for him before Fletcher’s sent onto the apron as LAX prepared for a dive… a tope con giro lands from Santana, before Ortiz just lands a sunset flip back inside as the two teams exchanged near-falls. LAX combine on Davis, with an assisted headscissor takedown and an overhead belly-to-belly keeping down Dunkzilla before a Kokeshi-like headbutt got Ortiz a near-fall. Davis responds with a sit-down splash out of the corner as Kyle tags back in with a High Fly Flow to both members of LAX at once, before he hurked up Ortiz for a powerbomb.

Santana tried to dive on Davis outside, but he gets himself into trouble by way of a double-team Go To Sleep as all four men ended up trading blows that left them on the floor. They trade rights as referee Joel Allen’s count made them take notice… and resume in the ring as the crowd roared on. The Aussies edge ahead with clotheslines, before Davis got lifted to the outside… leaving Kyle open for a barrage as he took a cutter, a flying lungblower and a double-team hiptoss facebuster for a near-fall.

A cannonball for Fletcher earns LAX a near-fall, before they focused on Davis… who instead shocks them with an Arabian press on the outside. What the hell?! From there, Santana eats a double team Go To Sleep and an assisted cutter for a near-fall, before Ortiz earned himself a uranage backbreaker and a double-team powerbomb. Aussie Open were surging ahead here, with Santana taking a sliding punch into the corner before a Fidget Spinner left him down and… not quite out?! Somehow, Santana kicked out at two, but ends up taking some right hands before he scored with a dropkick! A handspring off the rope proves to be too much though, as he lands on the Aussies’ shoulders as an elevated Fidget Spinner puts him down for the pin. Wonderful stuff, although I do wonder how many bought LAX leaving for Impact with the PROGRESS tag titles? Still, a stellar showing from Aussie Open, who solidify their position at the top of the tag division here. ****

With only Unboxing Live remaining, a rather tumultuous 2018 is coming to an end for PROGRESS… and much like the rest of the UK scene, how their 2019 will pan out will be interesting. As so much remains unknown regarding those pesky NXT UK deals, and indeed, with several within PROGRESS themselves involved with NXT UK, it may well become a case of burning the candle at both ends unless there’s changes made.

Whatever the deal is, it’s going to be an interesting 2019, especially with the company seemingly scaling back on non-chapter dates, looking more at double-header weekends like these when they travel away from London. With any luck, we’ll be able to enjoy quality like this, rather than the trap so many promotions fall into with having one show demonstrably stronger than the other…