PROGRESS finally hit the north east after seven years, as Newcastle became their latest home.

We’ll ignore how they had to use the American pronunciation to shoehorn in the reference to the Lindisfarne song. The start of their Northern Excursion came from the O2 Academy in Newcastle, one of Defiant/WCPW’s former homes, with commentary from Glen Joseph (or Glen Jospeh, according to the lower third, as his return home came with a slightly different name) and Matt Richards. Well, after Jim got through the show open with a few Mick Foley-like spots to appeal to the new city… and an apparent reference to them being banned in Bournemouth. Balcony dives will do that for you.

Even in the opening spiel we’ve got a hot crowd. It’s almost like the Ballroom of old…

Do Not Resuscitate (Chuck Mambo, Spike Trivet & William Eaver) vs. More Than Hype (Darren Kearney, LJ Cleary & Nathan Martin)
I genuinely thought that DNR had disbanded after they’d been comprehensively beaten by the “PROGRESS dinosaurs” over Super Strong Style 16 weekend. But here we go for round two I guess, as they took on the debuting More Than Hype in the opener.

Sadly, it wasn’t a Beautiful Life in terms of music… but the Ogdens did get the crowd going from the off. We’ve a measured start as LJ Cleary scored with a dropkick to Spike as More Than Hype all got a look in in the early going. More Than Hype transformed… and were quickly dismantled by DNR, who started to wear down Darren Kearney. Mambo’s in to try and pull out Kearney’s hair en route to a Romero special, as the Irishmen were beginning to have trouble getting a foothold in things.

Eventually Nathan Martin gets the tag in, catching Eaver with a stronger, Judas Effect-like elbow and a Shibata-ish dropkick in the corner. LJ Cleary blind-tags in next as some triple-teaming led to a near-fall on Trivet. Eaver and Trivet turn it around, pulling Kearney and Cleary off the apron as Martin was left in there as more triple-teaming led to Martin eating a superplex and a headbutt off the top from Eaver for a near-fall.

A double-team gutbuster continued the onslaught as Cleary and Kearney made a save, eventually dropping Mambo before the MTH Destroyer spiked Mambo for a near-fall. A Disaster-kick inspired German suplex has Spike back in trouble, but then Eaver uses his portable speaker to deafen everyone with feedback as Mambo throws a chair at LJ on the top rope for the DQ. Well, the cameras didn’t pick much of that up, which made the finish real flat on the VOD – and the fact that DNR continue to beat down the Irish lads afterwards kinda tells you this isn’t a one-and-done outing. **½

Connor Mills vs. Jurn Simmons
It’d been nearly two and a half years since Jurn’s wrestled in England for PROGRESS – with his prior appearance being in January 2017 against Roy Johnson. A lot’s changed since then…

Jurn overpowered Mills early on, as he threw the youngster around, before catching one of Mills’ kicks to fling him back to the mat with. Second time wasn’t the charm as Mills made a comeback with dropkicks, only to get caught with a suplex/throw and a massive lariat. Yep, Connor’s a virtual tackling dummy here…

Simmons continued to toy with Mills with more suplex throws, then with a spinebuster as they went outside, so Jurn could try and cave in Connor’s chest with forearms. Back inside, Mills tried to fight back, but he got caught in a torture rack before getting thrown into the ropes as this was just way too easy for the former wXw champ.

Connor somehow kicks out from a spear as commentary were highlighting his never say die attitude. A flurry of strikes from Mills took him to the Millshot, but Jurn smartly rolls outside to avoid getting pinned, but he couldn’t avoid a low-pe nor a tope con giro as Simmons was left down and out on the ramp. Problem was, Jurn was too big for Mills to get back in quickly, and there’s a quick turnaround as a Massive Boot and a piledriver ended the domination for Jurn. A really good performance, even if this was a backdrop to “see how much of a kicking Connor can take and still live on”. **¾

Candy Floss vs. Holidead
We actually had a storyline going into this, after Holidead had attacked Candy Floss at the Ballroom the prior weekend.

Holidead jumped Candy before the bell, as she tried to dominate proceedings in this one. As she’s want to do, Candy Floss goes after the arm, pulling her opponent down to the mat as she tried to pull it out of joint. Rolling Holidead to the mat with the armbar forced the American to head to the ropes… but on the outside Candy just kicks the arm away, only for a crossbody off the apron to get caught as Holidead charged her into the ring post.

A legdrop on the apron keeps Candy Floss down, before a suplex back inside kept the crowd quiet. An abdominal stretch with some clubbing shots keep Candy in trouble ahead of a pumphandle slam. Holidead kept it up with a Billy Goat’s Curse, but Candy is able to sidestep a shoulder charge as she began another comeback, rolling Holidead down for a stomp.

A Shibata-ish dropkick catches Holidead in the corner, but Candy Floss couldn’t get her back cracker off at the first attempt. Second time was the charm, as Candy again goes back to the arm, only for Holidead to get free and reply with a spinebuster for a near-fall. Candy escapes the Darkness Falls (Angel Wings), and is right back on that arm, clinging on as Holidead tries to powerbomb her way free… but Holidead gets to the rope to stay alive. From there, Holidead quickly sweeps the leg and puts Candy Floss away with Darkness Falls as she marked her debut with a win. This was fine, but you got the sense the crowd barely knew who Holidead was, which made buying into the match pretty tricky. **¼

Ilja Dragunov vs. Jordan Devlin
Announced as a top contender’s match, this was a first-time meeting… and from all accounts, it was pretty special between the SSS16 runner up and semi-finalist.

The pair started by keeping it slow, looking to force the other down to the mat from a Test of Strength, as we got duelling “Unbesiegbar/Jordan Devlin” chants. Shades of Oberhausen. Dragunov went to work on Devlin’s arm as he tried to pin down the Irishman, but it led to nought as the pair stayed on the mat. Ilja tries to catch Devlin with a backfist in the corner, but it’s duck and met with a chop that Ilja just brushes off, as he blocked a second chop before taking Devlin back to the mat.

After getting to his feet, Devlin lands a flying shoulder tackle, before Ilja launches in with a standing crossbody for a one-count as the Russian began to wear down Devlin with a clubbering forearms and more wrist work. Yet still, Devlin got free, before a back chop and a back senton took the Irishman down, as Ilja finally managed to control the match for an extended spell. Focusing on Devlin’s arm to neutralise the Devlinside, the crowd began to raise their voices again in support of both men. Devlin manages to get free, and used his good arm for the Air Jordan combo… but that left arm was beginning to take its toll on the OTT champion. The good arm’s used for a back elbow, which helped to have Ilja back off into the corner as he took a chop… and was left looking punch-drunk as he staggered to the mat.

Still, Ilja had plenty in him to sting Devlin with chops, which led to instant receipts ahead of a Gotch-style lift into a powerbomb from the Russian. Ilja keeps going, catching Devlin with a Konstantin-Special… but Devlin countered it into a Spanish Fly out of nowhere as the pair flowed back and forth. The Ode to Konstantin connects, without any surprise flips afterwards, leaving both men down in the middle of the ring. Christ on a bike, that was beautiful.

Both men get up, but Ilja uses some running forearms… then went back to the arm as he pulled Devlin down with an arm whip. A big knee’s next, but Jordan cracks back with a big headbutt as Ilja got too close to him. Dragunov comes back, lifting Devlin to the outside for a tope, taking him into the front row for a big back senton as Ilja was clearing seats for fun. Back inside, a Coast to Coast nearly puts away Devlin as the crowd were heating up nicely. Just like this match, as Devlin catches Ilja on top and brings him down with a Spanish Fly for a near-fall, before a brainbuster led to another agonising near-fall as this crowd were biting for everything these two were doing. Ah, this really is like the Ballroom crowd of old – especially when the Pro-Ilja section of the crowd began to bait Jordan.

Devlin tries for the Devlinside, but the bad arm finally told as he couldn’t pull up Ilja… so instead he goes for some stomps to the head as another crack at the Devlinside’s countered into a Death Valley Driver… before Devlin countered a Torpedo Moscau into a Destroyer! Not content with that, he’s able to hurk up Ilja for a Devlinside, but that finally lands for a near-fall as Ilja rolls outside to avoid any immediate punishment. It doesn’t quite work as an apron PK and an Orihara moonsault saw Devlin keep the pressure on… but a moonsault back into the ring misses, and before Jordan could do anything else, Ilja crashes in with a Torpedo Moscau for the win. This was absolutely amazing from start to finish – everything I expected and then some. Coming in at just over 20 minutes, this was a banner match for PROGRESS and I’d dare say the best singles match that the promotion’s seen this year. ****½

Paul Robinson vs. Primate
It’s been a long auld while since Primate’s been on a chapter show – over 18 months, in fact, since he appeared on the “SNOWgress” show in Sheffield. If you were cynical, you could link the return with him being part of NXT UK, but let’s be honest… Newcastle, innit?

Of course, the Geordie crowd were solidly behind Primate, who had a chair thrown at him as soon as the bell went for the insta-DQ. Primate stays on his feet though as the crowd chanted for a no-DQ match. Of course that was happening, as Primate told us he’d gotten on a red eye flight from Dallas to get here for this show… and he wasn’t about to see all that effort go to waste for this one-second match. He uses all the swear words, too. ALL OF THEM…

Geordie Street Fight: Paul Robinson vs. Primate
So, this was a nice casual match. Nah, they brawled from the off as Glen was looking forward to seeing something like this on the Bigg Market later on.

Primate tosses Robinson to the outside early on, but he’s met on the outside with some chair shots as Robbo went to his usual crowd-pleasing self. Sarcasm. He ducks a chop as Primate hit the ring post, but Primate hit back, tossing Robinson into the crowd… and oh no. This is the venue where Primate leapt off of a fire door, isn’t it? Back in the old WCPW days… He spots that doorway too, and does the thing. At least the O2 Academy’s used to him diving off of it!

The pair head back to the ring, before Robinson took a detour onto the raised balcony… but of course he’s not going to dive off it. Not willingly, anyway, as Primate took him down and press slammed him into the handy ring crew underneath. On the apron, we’ve got chops before Primate slammed him onto the edge of the ring, as Robinson had little answer to Primate’s size advantage.

A suplex on the floor doesn’t help matters either, but it seemed to wake him up as the terrier-like Robinson got into it with the crowd once more. Back inside, Robinson blocks a powerbomb, but misses a spear off the middle rope, which allowed Primate to land his powerbomb… which wasn’t enough, as Robbo’s quickly able to come back with his spear and a leaping double stomp, as he stomped Primate’s head like a Goomba for the win. A fun brawl, but another win for Robinson keeps him on path for… whatever they’re doing. **¾

Brent Banks vs. David Starr
After coming up short against Jordan Devlin last week, it’s a PROGRESS return for Brent Banks against a David Starr whose PROGRESS course has been a little weird post-SSS16.

Starr conducts the crowd from the opening bell, and they go along with him in time as Brent Banks just sat and watched. Yep, Starr’s got this crowd eating out of the palm of his hand…

In the ring, Banks enjoyed the early going, but turned the crowd against him as he mocked Starr’s twirly pose. Some headscissors take Starr down again, but he’s quickly back in, scoring with a crossbody into the corner as he then proceeded to stretch the Canadian. Banks elbowed his way free, only to get chopped back to the mat… but he’s able to launch a flurry of offence to catch Starr unawares.

A basement uppercut a la Goldust took Starr into the corner, before a springboard cutter dropped the Super Strong Style 16 winner down for a near-fall. Starr tries to get back in with some chops, but he’s taken outside as Banks crashed into him… and the front row with a tope con giro. That landing sounded nasty! Banks is okay though, but Starr’s back in the ring first as he tries for a Product Recall… it’s blocked as Banks came back in with a frog splash for a near-fall. Starr tries again, this time landing a superkick and a Pretty Pumped on the way to a near-fall. Han Stansens follow as Starr tried to chip Banks to the mat, but a superkick cuts him off before Banks charged him into the corner.

A Michinoku driver’s next, but Starr’s able to avoid the upset, rebounding quickly with a big Han Stansen and a Blackheart Buster as he bounced Banks off his knee for the win. An enjoyable back-and-forth outing, but the win keeps Starr hot until we find out just when he’s cashing in his chips… ***¼

PROGRESS Unified World Championship: Eddie Kingston vs. WALTER (c)
Surprisingly this wasn’t a first-time meeting – the pair had one prior singles match almost a decade ago, back when wXw did a tour of the US. Back then, they were the second match on the card in the old ECW Arena…

By the way, don’t follow the Twitter account they listed for Eddie. That’s the old one… @MadKing1981 is where it’s at (at least, at time of writing!)

Interestingly, the crowd booed WALTER being announced as the WWE UK champion, but at least today he didn’t toss the PROGRESS belts on the mat. Newcastle tried to make Joel Allen the UK version of Earl Hebner with chants of “You Screwed Trent”, but given that whole deal’s not even been referred to since SSS16, you can probably guess that’s dead and buried. Kingston shoved WALTER early on, which got the reaction you’d expect as this one started out with a lot of clubbering, and a lot of booting. Oh and chops. Lots of chops. Technical, this ain’t, at least at first, as WALTER forced Kingston to the mat for an elbow to the top of the head. Back-and-forth shoulder tackles helped Eddie knock WALTER outside, but it’s the champion who’s back on top after he beat Eddie back to the ring and welcomed him back with some stomps.

Some big boots leave Kingston reeling on the mat, but he’s back in with a chop… which is a fight that most people wouldn’t want to start. Not Kingston. He relished it… even if he did get knocked down time and time again. The Earthquake sitdown splash led to a near-fall for the champion, as we’re back to the chops, which had an almost punch-drunk Kingdton down on his knees. Eventually Kingston’s able to string some shots together, taking WALTER outsider with an enziguiri as a tope followed. Back inside, a chop nearly nicked Eddie the win, before WALTER countered out of a Saito suplex and slotted back into his usual game with ease. Big boots and German suplexes put the Austrian back on top, as he looked to finish things. Kingston popped up from a German suplex and ran in with a lariat as both men crashed to the mat again.

A second wind saw Kingston score with some backfists a la Trent, before the back suplex led to another near-fall. WALTER still had too much left in his tank though, and with the veteran Kingston visibly tiring, WALTER dumps him with a powerbomb for a two-count, then dropped him on his head with a release German suplex. WALTER goes right back to the rear naked choke, forcing the stoppage as Kingston looked to be out from that suplex. In terms of a match, this was fine, but it didn’t feel like a main event at all. For all of the history Kingston had behind him, I doubt many people bought him as a genuine title challenger, and outside of a few strike exchanges, this felt like an outing that’d have been better off swapping places in the card with the Devlin/Dragunov match. ***

Since Super Strong Style 16, PROGRESS have made a point of “restocking” their undercards, with new faces slowly being added and given prominence. Truth be told, this is something that they probably should have started doing about a year ago – even if it was in opening match slots. Still, better late than never…

Problem is, in the intervening period, it really does feel like the top line stories are all on loan from other promotions. The possibility of WALTER vs. Devlin? OTT already did it. WALTER vs. Ilja (which was to happen on Chapter 92)? Try their long feud in wXw a year ago… and we don’t need to point out that Starr vs. WALTER has been and is currently playing to a higher level in OTT and wXw. Regardless of the “source”, the shows are starting to get better – whether they can start to attract fans who left them behind during the leaner period remains to be seen.