The fifth annual Super Strong Style 16 tournament saw PROGRESS return to Alexandra Palace as we saw the start of the “us versus them” storyline.

An announced crowd of 1500 were inside Alexandra Palace and we start with Jim Smallman acknowledging technical issues that meant that we had no hard cam on the big screen – which seemed to be running like the No Mercy Nintendo 64 Titantrons for the first half. It’s a very short opening banter segment, as we’re straight into action. Commentary’s handled by a revolving door selection from Glen Joseph, Matt Richards, Frasier Thomas and Callum Leslie.

Super Strong Style 16 – First Round: Chris Brookes vs. Ilja Dragunov
This was a first-time singles match, although Brookes and Dragunov have tangled before in tags and multi-mans before in wXw.

Duelling chants at the bell are trampled over by Glen Doing History on commentary, as the happenings in the ring took a back seat to the pre-amble. Chops from Brookes and Ilja ring around the venue before Brookes got taken down for a crushing back senton.

Ilja keeps up the pressure with a grounded variation of a Cobra clutch, forcing Brookes into the ropes before an elbow drop keeps the former 16 Carat Gold winner ahead. A boot out of the corner from Brookes led to him squashing Ilja with a back senton for a near-fall, as he looked to focus over Ilja’s left leg. Dragunov cuts off Brookes with a DDT, before a dropkick through the ropes sent Ilja crashing to the floor as Ilja went for a 619-like rope swivel. Brookes followed Ilja to the outside, but the tables turn there as Ilja cleared the front row as he went for a back senton there… but Brookes avoids it and instead dropped Ilja with a Praying Mantis Bomb on the floor.

Both men make it back to the ring, as Ilja backflips in with a clothesline, before he went back out after Brookes with a tope that took them both into the second row. In the ring again, lariats keep Brookes down, before the pair traded clubbering shots, which built up to an enziguiri from Ilja. Using the tights, Brookes tries to keep Dragunov at close quarters, succeeding as a pair of kicks left him woozy ahead of the rope-assisted neckbreaker for a near-fall. From there, Brookes tries to eke out a submission with an Octopus stretch, but Dragunov powered out, standing up and taking Brookes into the corner with a death valley driver. Brookes boots away a Torpedo Moscau, then looked for Death By Roll-up… but it wasn’t to be as Ilja kicked out and came right back with Torpedo Moscau for the win. A nice, brisk opener, as Dragunov picked up a pretty comprehensive win to get to the quarter-finals. ***¼

Super Strong Style 16 – First Round: Daga vs. Kyle Fletcher
Kyle was out with Mark Fletcher for this one, as Daga was making his European debut.

Kyle got into Daga’s face early on, showing a little bit of cockiness before he pair burst into a lucha-style series with ‘ranas and leapfrogs before they reached a stalemate. A Quebrada catches Daga for an early near-fall, before Daga replied with a dropkick to take Kyle outside… ahead of a tope con giro that saw Daga come down hard on his head and shoulder. The crowd fell silent for that, but perked back up when Daga got back to his feet, as he began to fight back. Or, as some live suggested, “found a universal language for “catch me next time””. Oof.

Daga continues to take shots on Fletcher, sending him outside with a Dragon screw, before he slowed the pace down with a tight chinlock. Kyle fights out, then catches Daga with a corner clothesline ahead of a big crossbody for a near-fall. Fletcher lifts Daga onto the apron, only to get caught with a teased suplex to the floor, as instead both men fight on the apron, before a death valley driver on the apron led to both men having another nasty spill to the floor. Back inside, Kyle gets his boots up to stop a charging Daga, before a leap into the luchador is caught and eventually turned into a brainbuster for a near-fall. The pair end up on the apron again, fighting over the top turnbuckle, only for Daga to get sent to the outside as Kyle landed a step-up flip senton to the floor. They hit the ring again as a Michinoku driver from Fletcher almost led to the win, but Daga struck back with a double stomp to the back and a Doctor Bomb for a near-fall.

Daga continues to roll Fletcher around the ring, looking to dizzy Fletcher but he still can’t get the three, as the pair proceeded to trade superkicks. A Ligerbomb from Fletcher’s avoided as Daga came back with a ‘rana for a near-fall. A German suplex nearly puts Kyle away, as does a sunset flip, but in the end Kyle’s back with a big boot in the corner before the Aussie Arrow lawn dart and a diving boot led to another near-fall as a one-man Fidget Spinner got Kyle the win… which got underplayed on commentary. Ah well. This was fine, but the early scare from Daga seemed to affect things for a large part of the match. ***

Super Strong Style 16 – First Round: DJ Z vs. Travis Banks
Travis Banks was on his own, as TK Cooper was booked elsewhere and NIWA… who knows.

Banks was the first person to announce himself for this tournament, and was looking to become the first ever two-time winner. He started out here by getting frustrated at DJ Z’s airhorn, which isn’t a euphemism, as the former Impact star used a Koppo kick to escape a clothesline before setting off the horn.

A shotgun dropkick from Banks cuts off another airhorn as he began to put the boots to DJ Z… who recovers with a through-the-buckles tope to Banks, as commentary mentioned how this’d be DJ Z’s final UK indy dates. Hmm… Back inside, a Quebrada from DJ Z lands in Banks’ knees, allowing the Kiwi to come back with a leaping clothesline for a near-fall, before some criss-cross rope running led to DJ Z catching Banks by surprise before a springboard back elbow out of the corner put him back on top. A powerbomb out of the corner stops Banks’ Slice of Heaven attempt, before an attempt at the ZDT was countered into a German suplex by the former PROGRESS champion. Banks eases ahead as he took DJ Z outside with a dropkick, following up with an apron PK and a low-pe into the front row, before a Slice of Heaven attempt back inside is countered into a Codebreaker for a near-fall.

DJ Z tries to trip Banks, but instead propels him into an up-kick as the series finally ends with a ZDT… but he can’t capitalise on it. Instead, he’s taken onto the apron for a double stomp by Banks in the corner, before a Slice of Heaven finally connected for another two-count. An Awful Waffle-like knee to the head looked to put Banks back in trouble, but DJ Z is instantly caught with a Kiwi Krusher for the win. Huh. Very WWE-like in the “back and forth and my finish snaps the win out of nowhere”, ending a match that outside of the airhorn shenanigans never really got much spark. ***

Post-match, Travis Banks gets the mic to mock the airhorn stuff, before vowing to continue his history in Alexandra Palace by winning the tournament.

Super Strong Style 16 – First Round: Jordan Devlin vs. Lucky Kid
When the draw was made, this was the most interesting of ties – in the lack of any kind of storyline being present – if only for this being a high-profile clash between OTT’s champion and the winner of this year’s 16 Carat Gold.

Interestingly, Lucky was in Schadenfreude gear for this, and instantly started out on the defensive as Devlin had him on the mat in a wristlock. When he tries to counter in kind, Devlin just chops his way free, only for a pair of low dropkicks to send the Irishman outside ahead of… BLAAAH. After sending Devlin back outside, Lucky went for a dive, landing a tope con giro into the aisle, as the Berliner continued to push the issue. The Air Jordan uranage/standing moonsault combo switches things around as Devlin landed his first big shots, followed by a forearm in the corner for a near-fall, as Devlin continued to push ahead. Uppercuts and chops in the corner send Lucky flying, as an armbar and grounded abdominal stretch kept Lucky in trouble.

Forearms from Lucky Kid looked to spark a turnaround, but Devlin just knocks him off the top rope with a gamengiri, leading to a nasty landing as Devlin seemed happy to wait and take the count-out. Lucky beats the count, and began to fight back with a baseball pitch-like chop on Devlin… only to get send outside as he’s forced to skin the cat and rebound into an Asai DDT for a near-fall. Devlin switches things back around with a sheer drop brainbuster that almost won the match, before he tried to pull up Lucky into the Devlinside Saito suplex. Instead, he just slaps Lucky some more before he got caught in a crossface in the middle of the ring. An attempt to stand up and power out just sees Devlin caught in another crossface as Lucky clings on.

Devlin escapes, but nearly gets put away with a pop-up powerbomb as Lucky keeps pushing on, only to get caught on the top rope again as Devlin puts on the brakes… only to get sent to the apron. Jordan springboards back up into a nasty cutter off the top rope, spiking Lucky, before the Devlinside lands for the win. A bit of an eyebrow-raising result if you look outside of the PROGRESS bubble, but this was perhaps not unexpected as Devlin largely dominated. ***¾

The second half started, with the shot not quite zoomed in enough as Jim was trying to keep the crowd going “ohhh”. Ah, I remember when that was spontaneous…

Super Strong Style 16 – First Round: Trevor Lee vs. Aero Star
Trevor Lee, wearing an NXT tracksuit top, was reprising his “I’m a TV star” act, but pointing to the fact that he was, indeed, a WWE-contracted talent. That went down like a lead balloon in some sections, as did Lee’s claim that he attracted the crowd of “1300”… nor the shots that PROGRESS had to settle for Aero Star because “they couldn’t get Fenix… or Pentagon”. Meanwhile, Aero Star came bearing a flaming aerosol can…

Aero Star jumps Trevor Lee after he’s trash talked, but the NXT star took over, continuing to wrestle in his NXT jacket. He’s quickly tripped into the ropes as Aero Star confounded him, surprising with a tornillo for an early near-fall. An enziguiri catches Lee before a clothesline in return led to a near-fall as Lee finally got his track jacket off… so he could choke the luchador with it. Lee goes after Aero Star’s mask as he began to wear him down… to varying degrees of indifference. Aero Star wakes up the crowd with a springboard ‘rana, then a springboard lungblower and a springboard rolling thunder cutter as those cables were being put to good use. A tope con giro sees Aero Star crash into the third row (legit)… but once we got back into the ring, Lee used the ropes to try and counter a backslide. The referee breaks it up, but misses a low blow… and Lee gets the win. Aero Star tried, but this crowd just didn’t want to see this Trevor Lee. **

Super Strong Style 16 – First Round: David Starr vs. Artemis Spencer
Live, I was left wondering “why is Artemis’ entrance video starting with a section of his midriff?”

This was the start of the David Starr “independent” movement, which meant that Spencer had a tough time for his European debut – having been brought in after impressing on his appearance in the PROGRESS tour of the US last year. Spencer started out hot with a springboard lucha armdrag before he caught Starr with a dropkick. Starr’s cartwheel kick clocks Spencer for a near-fall as that early fire was put out. Spencer chases after Starr on the outside, but just gets slammed onto the corner of the ring, as Starr looked to end this with a count-out… but Arty isn’t done yet. Nowhere near. Chants of “independent” continue to ring around Alexandra Palace, but Spencer makes a comeback with a big boot in the corner, before a dropkick through the ropes caught Starr when he was on all fours.

A Tiger suplex from Spencer led to a near-fall, but he misses a spinning heel kick before an inside cradle led to a near-fall. Starr’s back with a superkick and a rope-free Product Recall, but Spencer keeps himself in the game with a series of strikes, only to get taken into the corner as Starr worked his way into a cartwheel back elbow. An attempted Han Stansen led to Starr getting charged into the corner as Spencer ended up going up top… and getting caught as Starr teased a superplex to the floor. Instead, Spencer headbutts Starr onto the top rope, before a big back senton bounced Starr off the strand and back into the ring. He quickly follows it up with a Lumbar Check for a near-fall as the crowd started to get further behind Starr, who rolled outside for respite after taking a Spiral Tap from the Canadian.

Starr picks his spots though, catching Spencer with a Cherry Mint DDT on the apron, before rushing in with a Han Stansen and the Kaepernick (powerbomb onto the knee) for the win. Lovely stuff, although that “hit your finishing series and win” out of nowhere may not have done Arty too many favours. If he were sticking around… which this crowd sure wanted him to. ***½

Super Strong Style 16 – First Round: Paul Robinson vs. Darby Allin
We’ve another European debut here as Darby Allin took on the thoroughly unlikeable Paul Robinson, who was in fine form here.

Robinson goes after a fan, but Allin crashes into him with a tope to get us going… sort of. Karma? Allin brawls with Robinson around the ringside area as he grabbed a fan’s crutch, bending it over Robinson’s back with two strikes. Hope that guy didn’t need it! A Beele throw tosses Robinson into the crowd as he may well have needed that crutch, especially after he took a suplex on the entrance ramp, as Allin rolled him in the ring to properly get us going. An Allin springboard armdrag sees Robbo fly, before a Coffin drop sees Allin land in Robinson’s knees… and that’s the cue for Robinson to turn up the aggression. Some nose hooking sets off Allin, who got free and rolled Robbo into a Fujiwara armbar, only to get pulled down by his trunks mid-leapfrog after we had a rope break.

Darby fires back with a shotgun dropkick, then a Code Red for a two-count, before Robinson used the referee as a human shield so he could deck Allin with a right hand. That punch apparently saw Darby bite his own lip, as the blood started to gush… some of it got spat at Robinson, who gleefully wiped it on himself before the two went back at it, with Allin taking a middle rope spear for a two-count. Darby manages to surprise Robinson with a flip stunner, before going back to the Fujiwara armbar… torquing away on the wrist, before they headed outside, with Allin landing another tope in the aisle before he Coffin Dropped onto a pile of ring crew as Robinson baited him in… and there’s not long left for Darby as he returned to the ring for a crushing double stomp, as Robinson booked his spot in the quarter-finals. Nice and brutal stuff this, with Robinson having had an answer for a lot of Darby’s offence – although Allin bloodying himself up undoubtedly played a part for both men. ***¼

Super Strong Style 16 – First Round: Chris Ridgeway vs. Kyle O’Reilly
A huge reaction greeted O’Reilly – which annoyed some in the crowd, particularly on the back of the “independent” Starr. It’d be a theme.

At the bell, O’Reilly drops to the mat and begins to circle Ridgeway – think Ali/Inoki – before thankfully getting to his feet. The pair scramble early on as go to ground, looking for a hold or a body part… but O’Reilly spins out, before he was forced to grab the rope when Ridgeway grabbed a leg. O’Reilly manages to cling on with a headlock, but Ridgeway gets free as the pair went tit-for-tat with kicks, with Ridgeway edging ahead with a double armbar and a Muta lock as O’Reilly ended up biting the rope to get free. We’re back to kicks and checks, before O’Reilly rolled in with a knee-bar… but Ridgeway keeps the momentum going into the ropes as they again broke free.

They keep it on the mat as O’Reilly forced his way into a grounded abdominal stretch, before more kick exchanges see them land and feint spinning kicks, before they both stopped and doubled over… only for Ridgeway to get suckered with an axe kick. Kyle continues the aggression, but gets caught with a Dragon screw before duelling high kicks left both men flat on the mat. Rolling butterfly suplexes from O’Reilly have Ridgeway on the defensive, but Ridgeway gets right back in it as he rolls Kyle down for a Rings of Saturn. Some rolling to escape led to both men ending in the ropes once again, before they exchanged pinning attempts… but it’s O’Reilly who gets on top with some palm strikes from above. Ridgeway counters free with an ankle lock, turning it into a capture German suplex, then an axe kick as he resumed that ankle lock, even scissoring the leg too. O’Reilly impressively counters into a Scorpion deathlock-like hold, but Ridgeway got to the ropes quickly as we again remained even. Worn down, but even.

O’Reilly manages to trap Ridgeway in a head and arm choke before snapping into a triangle armbar… one that Ridgeway cartwheeled out of into a German suplex attempt. He lands it at the second attempt, before O’Reilly rebounded off the ropes into a hook kick, before rebounding again as he eventually turned defence into attack with a PK that send himself sailing to the outside on the follow through. O’Reilly gets caught with a handstand kick as he tried to return to the ring, before he started to trade kicks on the apron… ending with him taking Kyle onto the apron for an ankle lock. They end up on the floor, as Ridgeway’s met with a flying knee off the apron, before a sheer drop brainbuster gets Kyle a near-fall back inside. He keeps up with an ankle lock, which Ridgeway reverses, before some Kawada-style kicks put Ridgeway back on top.

A hook kick and a German suplex nearly gets Ridgeway the win, but O’Reilly kicks out at two as the pair went back to trading strikes… or at least, try to, as O’Reilly swung and missed out of exhaustion. Ridgeway tries to capitalise with a palm strike, only to get caught in a Dragon screw that turned into a knee bar… and there’s the quick submission. Technically this was fine, but it didn’t scream “main event” once you strip away the names involved. If you’re into ground wrestling, this will be your cup of tea, but if not… chances are you’d be bored senseless and be ending this show on a downer. ***¼

Still, everyone air guitared at the end, so going out in the first round wasn’t such a bad thing. Although I bet that Eric Bugenhagen reference went over a LOT of heads…

The big complaint about night one of Super Strong Style 16 live was that the matches, while not short on quality, were absolutely bone dry. None of the matches on this opening night any obvious storylines, nor any stakes beyond “I want to progress in the tournament” – which falls into the bigger picture here. Had David Starr not sparked the whole “independent” movement, what would the story have been? Especially if the rest of the results remained as-is, with anyone vaguely affiliated to WWE getting a win?

While we had some sort of exposition on commentary at the start of the show about prior winners, you weren’t told why this tournament existed, or what they were even fighting for. An introductory video package of sorts would have helped. Long-time fans knew, but this just felt like yet another small detail that’d have helped make this card stand out from the pack, rather than “just be a bunch of guys doing a wrestle”… and for a lot of this field, a lot of guys whom fans had to really reach to find a reason to care, as there were a lot of names parachuted in without a recent “I’m doing to win this tournament to etch my place in history” promo from the likes of your Lucky Kids or Trevor Lees. Luckily, as far as the weekender went, night one was the aberration…