PROGRESS’ first show of 2019 would be one with a wacky title… and a rather sour ending.

Hey, there’s new lower thirds for a new year! We’re at the Electric Ballroom for a show that was brought forward by a week. The usual pair of Matt Richards and Glen Joseph are here for commentary, as Jim opens with his “slide into my DMs” material, which is a bit like opening with a main event. Speaking of…

Ilja Dragunov vs. Timothy Thatcher
Ilja’s back to using the drum music for his entrance – as opposed to the Mankind-like “different intro and outro”.

Thatcher simply boots Ilja at the bell, as he neutralised Dragunov’s attempted hot start with a series of uppercuts, only to get caught with some chops as Dragunov fought back. Clotheslines wallop Thatcher, as do chops and clubbing forearms as Dragunov largely relied on his striking game early… but Thatcher struck too, catching Ilja’s swivel in the ropes before catching him with a pair of belly-to-belly suplexes.

Thatcher looks for a cross armbreaker, but Ilja rolls him up for a near-fall before an uppercut restored space between the two. Space that Thatcher quickly closed down as he rained down knees into Ilja as he began to brutalise him again… and that leads us to gunshot like chops from Dragunov. Yup, WALTER may not be on the card, but we’ve got loud chops anyway! Thatcher’s quickly back with a leg trip as he catches Ilja in a single-leg crab, at least until we get a rope break, but Dragunov looked to be in trouble until his desperation strikes led to an enziguiri to Thatcher. Palm strikes are next for the RINGKAMPF member, who then ate a DDT before he caught Dragunov up top… and got slapped back down to the mat.

Undeterred, Thatcher’s back up… and straight back down again as Ilja finally get stopped, when Thatcher just goozles and slaps him to the floor with a thud. Back inside, Ilja again trips doing the 619 as he lands a clothesline for a near-fall, following up off the top rope as he this time connects with a back sentonefore a tope caught Thatcher – and the front row – unawares. A Coast to Coast dropkick looked to follow, but an uppercut sent Dragunov flying back on himself instead for a near-fall. THAT LANDING. OW. Still, Dragunov counters a butterfly suplex into a modified Northern Lights for a two-count, before we’re back to the ol’ chops and uppercuts. My GOD, the percussive noises Thatchers’ chest made were damn near sickening.

Just like the Saito suplex he took… then dished out! Both men show Fighting Spirit and get back up for more, with Ilja again getting goozled and slapped away. Eventually Ilja fires up and hits back with a back-chop, only for another Saito suplex to greet him, as he retaliated out of nowhere with a Torpedo Moscau for the win. A nice, heavy-hitting contest to start us off… and I like how they made Torpedo Moscau look deadly… but given the speculation around his future, I can only be wistful about how this should have been a year ago to build up the Pete Dunne match, not what happens four months later. ****

Joel Allen posing is a thing now… or at least, Joel Allen is the substitute for Tyler Bate, complete with his music, as he airplane spins a trainee. It’s a bit like someone pining for an ex, this bit, isn’t it?

Nina Samuels vs. Laura Di Matteo
We’re in bizarro world… but the women are still on second. Nina Samuels, a heel virtually everywhere else, is now to be cheered, while Laura di Matteo’s a villain since realigning herself with Jinny… who was here with her, so she’s not had the write-out treatment.

Laura attacks Nina at the bell, as Samuels let herself get distracted by Jinny… who got the brunt of the crowd early on. A drop toe hold in the ring takes Laura into the corner, ahead of a snapmare and a Mr. Perfect neck flip for a near-fall, before Laura gets crushed in the ropes with a dropkick for a near-fall. Jinny threatened to get involved as Nina went up top, but an attempted trip doesn’t come off… it does open the door for Laura though, who enjoyed a brief flurry of offence, including a Flatliner into the corner after Nina missed some double knees. That’s enough for a near-fall, as was a suplex from di Matteo, who keeps Samuels down with a double arm stretch.

Laura pulls Nina down for the grounded Octopus, but Samuels gets a foot to the rope, despite Jinny pulling the strand away from her. It causes a distraction for the ref, who misses a visual pin on di Matteo, who’s able to kick out and club away on Nina again. Samuels returns with a tiltawhirl backbreaker, before another dropkick sent Laura through the ropes and to the outside. A baseball slide dropkick dumps Laura into the front row, before they’re quickly back in for a missile dropkick. di Matteo comes back with a side Russian legsweep as she again goes for the submission, but again Nina gets to the ropes as Jinny again tries to get involved. The pair trade superkicks before they drop to the mat briefly.

Back on their feet again, Laura lands a dropkick before she runs into a Fireman’s carry, which Nina has to withstand elbows from as she ends up losing Laura… instead, she gets back into the fireman’s carry as she countered a tornado DDT before dumping Laura with the Prima Donna (ushigoroshi) for the win. A good finish, but my word, that whole match almost got overshadowed by Jinny’s antics at ringside. **½

Apparently Do Not Resuscitate aren’t allowed at ringside to accompany their stablemates… if they come out, then their matches will be thrown out.

Eddie Dennis & Mark Haskins vs. Do Not Resuscitate (Drew Parker & Spike Trivet)
Mark Haskins jump starts the match by diving onto Drew and Spike – the latter of whom carefully put down his bottle of whatever beforehand!

Yeah, we start with a wild brawl on the outside, including Haskins booting Spike Trivet by a wall before he dished out a headbutt on Drew Parker. Eddie makes things worse for Drew with a swinging side slam onto the apron, ahead of a running Severn Bridge into some chairs. That looked like it sucked!

Finally they enter the ring as Drew continues to take a beating, with a Next Stop Driver getting a two-count as Spike Trivet pulled out referee Marc Parry. In the melee, Mark Haskins boots Paz off the apron before dishing out a running kick to Trivet as Eddie took Drew up onto the stage for a Severn Bridge off the stage… but Drew slips out and runs backstage for a chair before he cannonballs off the stage into Eddie and some ring crew.

Trivet and Parker take chairs from the crown and try to surround Haskins – and they quickly overwhelm him in the ring. Chairshots from Trivet and Parker end up hitting each other as Haskins became a one-man wrecking crew, putting Parker in a chair before he got tripped into it himself, ahead of a double-jump tornado DDT from Spike.

Parker gets his spike and uses it on Haskins, before he’s stretched into the ropes… only for Eddie to save Haskins as it was his turn to play the one-man saviour. The fallaway slam/Samoan drop combo sent the Do Not Resuscitate pair flying, only for Eddie to eat a double neckbreaker as Haskins gets sent outside for a sweet tope con giro from Parker. We’re still refless, presumably because Joel’s too busy oiling himself up and flexing in front of a mirror backstage to come out and restore order…

Eddie’s face gets covered in a shirt as he’s held upside down in a Tree of Woe which quickly gives way to… waterboarding?! Save for a few “ohhs”, the crowd didn’t seem too bothered, as Haskins returns with some new vigour, kicking away Parker’s arm before the Made in England pumphandle driver dumps Spike. Haskins goes for a cover, but there’s no ref, so Vicki Haskins comes into assist… only for Parker to intervene as we go back around to a Severn Bridge from Eddie to Trivet.

A Next Stop Driver follows as Paz is rolled back into the ring, but somehow Eddie loses the move before Spike uses Vicki’s barbed wire bat on Eddie… and that’s enough for a two-count as Haskins broke up the cover. He turns it up again with a death valley driver on Drew Parker onto the apron, before Eddie swats away another double jump tornado DDT from Spike. We have a teased ref bump, but this time Paz puts on the brakes as Trivet boots Eddie low and rolls him up for the win. Where do you start with this? In terms of establishing a villainous group, this was “what you should do”, but the crowd just didn’t seem to care. A good plunder effort, but when the bulk of the match is played out to silence or, at best, charitable responses, it just came across as… odd? **½

Angelico vs. Jody Fleisch
Yeah, we didn’t get Bangarang with overdub. Hell, we didn’t even get the soundalike that GWF and Defiant have used, but this does vaguely sound like it. It you believe enough, anyaway.

It’s a point people are sick of, but now they’re using generic music, it does feel weird that they’re doing the “big match introductions” for every match, rather than the style everyone else does. Again, it’s a personal thing, I guess. We start with shoulder tackles as Angelico knocked down Fleisch, who replied with a double leapfrog/dropkick combo, before we worked up into the duelling dropkick standoffs. Yeah, two of them. Fleisch is back with an armdrag before an enziguiri sent a running Angelico to the outside, only for a gamengiri on the apron to stop a Fleisch dive.

Back inside, Angelico takes Fleisch into… a heel hook leglock, or a Tequila Sunrise from back in the day before Jody got a rope break. Angelico heads into the corner to avoid a flip out of the corner, but can’t avoid an enziguiri as the South African was taken outside, with Fleisch eventually hitting a springboard top rope moonsault to the outside! Fleisch tries to hit another dive back inside, but Angelico rolls away and retaliates with a leaping knee before they burst into a striking exchange. A ‘rana from Fleisch is good for a two-count, as he followed up with one off the top rope, only for a springboard missile dropkick from Jody to get caught and turned into a powerbomb for a near-fall from Angelico.

Swings and misses led to a Capoeira-style kick from Angelico, only for Jody to come back with a springboard back elbow before he headed up top once more, and this time jumps for a shooting star press. Angelico moves away, and quickly traps Fleisch in an inverted deathlock for the submission. That felt very flat at times, and not at all fluid as you’d think… again, the dead crowd (at parts) is making this show not feel very PROGRESS-y at all. ***

Aussie Open (Kyle Fletcher & Mark Davis) vs. Do Not Resuscitate (Chuck Mambo & William Eaver)
This outing was to decide the top contenders for the tag titles… which Aussie Open of course lost at Unboxing.

Mambo and Eaver jump Aussie Open in the aisle, so I guess that’s Do Not Resuscitate gimmick here, as the Ballroom got to see Chuck Mambo’s new hairstyle. Mambo tries to clear the crowd as Kyle took an Irish whip that sent him to the bar, while the former Pastor’s seen wearing a Crocodile Dundee-like hat. Finally in the ring, the bell goes as Kyle Fletcher fended away Mambo and Eaver, with the latter taking a double-team Go To Sleep on the outside, before a tiltawhirl backbreaker and a flapjack had Mambo reeling. A back senton from Davis flattened Chuck for a two-count, before a series of chops and kicks kept Do Not Resuscitate at bay.

Mambo slides ot the outside to avoid Davis’ sliding punch as a chop block on the apron helps turn things around, with a double-team sidewalk slam onto Fletcher helping Eaver get a near-fall. Mambo’s back and taking shortcuts as he chokes Fletcher with a t-shirt… Paz stops him, but Mambo still gets involved with a crossbody to assist Eaver’s suplex for a near-fall. Frustrated, Davis comes in and shoves away Eaver, but it just ties up the referee for a little as Fletcher’s kept isolated, with Mambo trying for a Romero special it seemed… but instead he was just content to rock Fletcher to stretch the knees.

After tagging in Eaver, Mambo slides outside to try and neutralise Davis, while Eaver hits a Fisherman’s suplex for a two-count. Much like the earlier DNR match, the crowd seem very flat on the former Sweet Jesus here, not helped when Eaver’s attempt at a clothesline stalled en route to a Michinoku driver from Fletcher. Kyle superkicks away a Blockbuster (I think), before Davis tagged in to land his customary chop/clothesline comeback, before he hits a stacked up slam to both Mambo and Eaver at the same time.

Chop/clotheslines follow to Eaver in the corner, whose braces almost saved him from a powerbomb… before Davis lands it anyway for a near-fall as Mambo’s splash off the top broke it all up. Mambo tries to follow up with a Bad Burrito, but he can’t get Davis up as he instead has to make do with a springboard leap into a rear naked choke on Davis, only for that to get countered into an Alphamare Waterslide for a near-fall.

Davis just shoved Eaver to the outside before turning his attention to Mambo, who’s only saved from Close Your Eyes… by a chop block from Eaver. Double-teaming ensues until Kyle looked to make a save, only for Davis to save himself with a sit-down splash to Mambo out of the corner. Mambo makes things worse as he kicks Eaver off the apron as a sliding punch to Mambo sets up for a Fidget Spinner… and Aussie Open earn their title shot! This was solid and fun, but again, nobody here’s buying Do Not Resuscitate as anything more than an annoyance. At least, on the VOD version it comes over like that… ***½

Shigehiro Irie vs. Chris Ridgeway
Matt Richards on commentary called out how this was Ridgeway’s fourth consecutive appearance in PROGRESS – which may be a tip-off after he’d been used very sporadically as of late.

Ridgeway takes Irie down early, but struggled to roll him into a pinning attempt as Irie got back up with a shoulder tackle, before the pair slugged it out. Another shoulder tackle takes down Ridgeway, who asked Irie for another, but only so he could catch him with a pair of kicks before a deathlock mixed with a STF trapped Irie. Hell, Ridgeway turned it almost into a ZSJ-like Young Boy Killer before Irie scrambled into the ropes for a break.

Irie’s back with a bulldog and a slingshot splash off the ropes for a near-fall, before some elbows keep Ridgeway down. After some kicks, Irie nails a snap suplex before the sit-down splash almost put Ridgeway down… only for Ridgeway to come back with kicks and palm strikes as commentary got a little more “subtlety-hammer”-y about this match.

A snap Saito suplex from Irie’s replied to in kind before a POUNCE sent Ridgeway into the corner. He keeps on top of Ridgeway with a cobra clutch that he had to break up as Ridgeway rolled it into a pinning attempt… but Irie reapplies the hold, then again as he tried to drain his opponent some more. Ridgeway manages to break the hold and roll it into an armbar, before a rear spin kick and a German suplex bridged up for a near-fall.

Staying on it, Ridgeway goes for a double armbar, but Irie gets his mouth to the ropes to get the break, as the pair restarted with another strike battle. Palm strikes and wild swings led to Ridgeway countering a suplex into a rear naked choke, only for Irie to brutally break it up by cannonballing himself and the piggy-backing Ridgeway into the corner. A second cannonball’s next, then a Beast Bomber that clipped Ridgeway for a near-fall, before he caught kicks and strikes before he clobbered Ridgeway with a headbutt. Irie signals for another Beast Bomber, but a roundhouse and a German suplex left Irie a sitting target for a PK. A one-count stuns Ridgeway, who keeps up with an axe kick and a second PK for the win. A solid match, and one that Ridgeway got a lot of as commentary talked about him being at the top of the pile. Hmm. ***½

Post-match, Ridgeway gets the mic for a brief statement: “Give Me WALTER.” That got more of a reaction than the win did…

PROGRESS Tag Team Championship: CCK (Chris Brookes & Kid Lykos) vs. Swords Of Essex (Paul Robinson & Will Ospreay) (c)
Our main event saw CCK try and regain the belts “they never lost”. Well, not that combination anyway…

The crowd’s pretty much split even for this, saving all of their noise for the main event it seemed, as this was Lykos’ first PROGRESS match back since he injured his collarbone on the Coast to Coast tour.

We started with Chris Brookes frustrating Robinson from early submission attempts, as his gangly frame meant it was pretty easy for him to get to the ropes… while stopping Robinson from doing the same. Repeated kip ups don’t break the wristlock, as Brookes just angered Robinson, prompting a bit of a lucha-inspired series before Brookes’ attempt at a brainbuster ended with Robinson slipping out and chopping out Brookes’ leg.

Tags follow as we get Lykos and Ospreay, with the two starting out hot before a monkey flip took Lykos outside… as Will just flips us off instead of doing a dive. Lykos gives us a springboard ‘rana back in before he mocked the Ospreay pose, following up with a low dropkick as Will just stared at him, as Brookes came in to dish out the original sick f’n tag move – the monkey flip splash.

Ospreay busts out his long elastic band, which Robinson stretches and snaps into the back of Lykos’ neck in a spot that isn’t a DQ somehow. They go for it again, this time with Ospreay going into the crowd… but Brookes breaks up the spot and twangs the band into Ospreay’s face. Karma. With Will down, Robinson’s worked over as Lykos tried to roll him up into an upside-down armbar as CCK tried to isolate him. It backfires a little as Robinson hits a beautiful springboard flying ‘rana to Brookes on the outside, before Ospreay followed up with a sunset bomb on Lykos, sending the wolf crashing into Brookes on the floor on his way down…

Back in the ring, the Swords gang-up on Brookes for chops as commentary talked about the difference between Paul Robinson and Kid Lykos during injuries, while playing up the Swords’ comments about Lykos being the “glass man”. Yeah… that won’t age well. The Swords focus on Brookes for a spell, catching him with a double-team hiptoss before a standing shooting star press off of Brookes’ chest got Robinson a near-fall. Brookes fights back in the corner with an elbow before his missile dropkick/back senton combo took out the Swords in one fell swoop. Lykos comes back in with a tornado DDT that spiked Ospreay, before a step-up tope con giro took down Ospreay and Robinson on the outside.

Back inside, Lykos and Ospreay swap chopos before an Octopus stretch from Lykos was broken up by a punch from Robinson. Lykos tried to hit back, but gets caught in a monkey flip with a kick on the way before Robinson leapt off of Ospreay’s shoulders to CCK on the floor – having just saved himself from a move that’d have crashed and burned seconds earlier.

Ospreay looked to finish off Lykos with a Storm Breaker, but the wolf escaped, only to get trapped in the corner for a Cheeky Nandos… which was kicked way before it was then turned into an outrageous doomsday headscissor takedown from Robinson. A standing shooting star press gets a near-fall as both sides exhibited their “sick f’n tag moves”, before some Kawada-style kicks from Ospreay left Lykos down and out.

Lykos countered what looked like a Ricola Bomb into a DDT on Ospreay, before both men tagged out. Chops from Brookes were neutralised by a sharp spear from Robinson for a near-fall, before Robinson escaped a rope-hung neckbreaker before landing a DDT. Brookes gets that neckbreaker off not long afterwards after a hectic spell, before a shooting star press from Robinson misses, allowing Brookes to lock in an inverted Cloverleaf.

Lykos neutralises Ospreay with a satellite spin into a rear naked choke… but he was able to waddle over to Brookes as he tried to chop his friend free, only for Lykos to catch a free arm as both of the tag team champions found themselves on the mat and in danger. Eventually the holds get broken as we’re back to all Brookes and Robinson trading strikes, with a knee strike from Brookes taking Robinson into the corner as we built up to duelling Robinson specials on Brookes. Nice!

The Swords then up the ante as Brookes is taken up top for an avalanche Iconoclasm, with a flying double stomp awaiting him on the impact, as Lykos has to save the cover. Things then go sour for the wolf as Ospreay clotheslines him over the top to the outside, and that’s where the injury is. Something as innocuous as a clothesline… The match stalls for a little as Ospreay then took his sights onto Brookes while ring crew tended to Lykos… which led in turn to Glen Joseph heading down to the scene as they tend to do when things go bad like this. Ospreay does the cut-throat gesture to Brookes as he sized up Brookes for a hook kick, before an OsCutter’s countered with a bicycle knee. Oof.

Brookes is left on his own now, as Robinson was brought back in, but the crowd clearly sensed what was happening again… and despite Brookes’ attempt to fight back with a slingshot cutter, he’s quickly caught with Ospreay’s decapitation elbow as the win was in sight. From there, the Swords land what they call the QE2 Bridge for the win, as a Tower of London assisted by a double stomp proved to be enough to end a match that started out well, but ended with all of the air taken out of the room thanks to circumstances. ****

After the match, the Swords cut a heel promo, with Paul Robinson berating “Mr Collarbone”. Yeah, in hindsight and all that… Ospreay brings up Twitter comments from fans who thought the Swords would be short-term champions, as they end the show on their catchphrase before the fans were hurried out so medics could tend to Lykos.

I’m not going to speculate on Lykos’ future – that’d be crass and totally unwarranted, nor am I going to take shots on the angle commentary was pushing. Given this was Lykos’ first match back in PROGRESS, it was a justified direction to go in – not helped by fate in the end. Naturally, it put a sour mood on a match that was stealing the show, with both sides busting out some impressive stuff before the ending.

The first PROGRESS show since the farewells at Unboxing, you got the feeling too that the crowd were still mourning, as witnessed by “Big Strong Boi” chants that greeted several feats of strength. That’s not going to get old, is it? Aside from that, a LOT of this show felt very “Emperor’s New Clothes”, with live reports hyping up the entire card, while also painting the atmosphere as being along the lines of “the crowd cheer for the hits they know, but don’t really want to see the new stuff.”. Things like new lower thirds help, I can’t help but feel like a lot of PROGRESS could do with a whole new refresh. In the climate where the top tier stars have moved on, the crowd seems to be very tired, and if we’re having to rebuild a new roster (or at least, a new top tier), then why not change how things are done?

The format’s not broken, don’t get me wrong, but it’d be nice to have some change… I mean, one of the cameramen produced the whole Freedom’s Road series. Why not try some of the shooting techniques they used there?

Elsewhere, there’s the issue of stuff flat-out just not clicking, mostly because it didn’t seem like the crowd wanted it to. Do Not Resuscitate are very early into their run, but when even something as villainous as waterboarding doesn’t get a response (even when they follow through on it), what can you do?