PROGRESS’ July weekender culminated in Manchester, as WALTER defended his unified titles against a familiar foe…

We’re at the sold-out O2 Ritz in Manchester as Jim’s opening bit saw him stop himself from breaking his back. Cue the intro spiel that talked about the Cortinas and vague references to a match that happened in Newcastle 24 hours earlier…

Chuck Mambo vs. LJ Cleary
Sadly, it’s not this one, so Manchester got this with no context to the afters from the trios match the night before…

LJ crashes into Mambo with dropkicks at the bell as Glen and Matt on commentary pick up the slack instantly. Mambo heads out, where he’s caught by some chops as they had a brief scrap. Chuck tries to kick the rope into LJ as he got back in, but Cleary’s wise to it… only to jar his ankle after a floatover, giving Mambo a quick way back in. Mambo jams the knee of Cleary into the mat, sending the Irishman rolling outside. Back inside, a missile dropkick to the knee continues the focus, as does a leg grapevine, as the work over LJ’s knees seemed seemed to be the only game plan. Cleary finally makes a comeback with a one-legged crossbody and a diving knee, but Mambo’s easily able to get up.

LJ looks for a Destroyer off the middle rope, only for Mambo to counter with a Chuck You, before a springboard frog splash missed. Cleary’s going back in with a running knee, but Chuck rolls outside, and comes back in with some chairs. He tries to use it on LJ, but it’s caught by the ref… who doesn’t call for a DQ. Instead, he tries to talk LJ out of using the chair, before Chuck rolled him up for a near-fall. From the kick out, a Bad Burrito and a springboard Reefbreaker to the back of the head followed, only for LJ to kick out and come straight back with the Activate Destroyer for the win. This was fine, but if LJ had a bad ankle, why was the bulk of the match spent on his knee?? **¼

Paz nearly kills himself doing a flip over into the ring. That could have gone so much worse…

Holidead vs. Lana Austin
Judging from the crowd, nobody saw the prior weekend’s show in Camden as Holidead got scant reaction. At least Newcastle gave a damn…

Holidead came in on the back of a win over Candy Floss the prior night, so Austin made a point of going after Holidead early on, coming close with a roll through into a low dropkick. Eventually, Lana began to chase after Holidead, but ended up getting caught with an apron powerbomb as the phrase “more haste, less speed” came to mind. Back inside, Holidead keeps up on Austin with clotheslines in the corner, before a series of chops and forearms got Austin a brief opening… that a clothesline closed down. A seated surfboard keeps Austin down, but some clotheslines from Austin got her back in it, along with a headbutt, before she ran into a spinebuster. More headbutts trap Holidead on the apron as Austin tries for a draping DDT, but instead she’s just pulled onto the apron and kicked again.

Austin tries her luck with roll-ups, but Holidead ends up rolling out of a backslide in the hunt for the Angel’s Wings… instead decking Austin with another boot before a Samoan drop and those Angel’s Wings got the win. I’m guessing Holidead’s doing the Toronto show, because having her pick up two wins over your sorta-regular roster and then not wrestle on the next show is a weird bit of booking. **½

Connor Mills vs. Jordan Devlin
After his match against Jurn Simmons on the prior show, I’m starting to get a feeling that Connor Mills is playing the same story Rev Pro’s doing with the OJMO/Michael Oku here… in terms of being a hardy soul who comes up short.

Devlin starts by clinging onto a wristlock early, rolling Mills to the mat as he asserted himself early. Mills tries to monkey flip free, but Devlin’s not letting go, before a seemingly-endless series of switcharounds led to Mills taking down Devlin for a diving uppercut. Another one follows when Connor springboarded in off the apron, before he flung Devlin to the outside… where a tope con giro awaited! Back inside, the Air Jordan uranage/standing moonsault awaited, as Jordan again looked to take control. A forearm to the back drops Mills, as does a back elbow, before Devlin again slowed the pace with an armbar. Mills got free to kick Devlin in the ropes, before a Quebrada nearly puts Devlin away ahead of a Millshot… but it’s not enough, as a roundhouse kick eventually gave way to Devlin’s Spanish fly.

Mills almost picked up the upset with a sunset flip, before he caught Devlin with a Burning Hammer cutter for another two-count… only to crash and burn with a 450 as Devlin quickly puts him away with a Devlinside. This was good, but much like Michael Oku in Manchester a few weeks earlier, there doesn’t seem to be much crowd connection behind the underdog Mills here. ***

Jonathan Gresham vs. Eddie Kingston
On paper, this was called an “un-PROGRESS” match, since the promotion doesn’t tend to book imports against each other on regular chapter shows. Meanwhile, whatever audio mix PROGRESS did didn’t help Eddie Kingston, whose entrance seemed almost silent despite the fact you’d see fans cheering.

Apparently Earl Perkins was held up at customs (that was the storyline), so Gresham had no partners to help him today. Inanimate or otherwise. Commentary tried to tie this into the CCK/LAX feud that’s been rumbling on, with Kingston being loosely linked with LAX. That’d mean CCK need a new third man (Thatcher?, since Kid Lykos retired… and almost instantly we see Eddie going under the ring for the Faceless’ old toolbox. Referee Paz tries to stop Kingston with a screwdriver, and succeeds as Gresham started to go for Kingston’s legs, jacking the knee out. An Irish whip’s stopped by Kingston, but the pair head outside as there’s some more brawling, with Eddie getting thrown into the ring post before a leg lock back in the ring had him back in trouble.

Kingston tries to clobber Gresham with forearms while he was in that leg spreader… and it eventually worked. Chops follow as Gresham’s dropped, before he replied with a chop to the balls and a Figure Four. Kingston rolls into the ropes for respite, and restarted things with some shots… but the bad wheel caught him before he dropped Gresham with a spinebuster. Some rapid-fire chops in the corner keep Gresham down, as does a Sambo suplex, before Kingston took too long to follow up. Gresham kicks him down and lands some sliding forearms before another Figure Four led to Kingston rolling onto the apron… but Gresham follows him there, then rolled the pair to the floor. Gresham tells the referee to start the count-out, as he held the Figure Four in, letting go so he could beat the count, as we’ve got the Breadknife finish. The crowd fell flat for this, as without any context in the CCK/LAX feud, I can easily see why this’d wash over you. **½

After the match, Kingston tells the crowd he’d be back to deal with Gresham, “the one with the weird hair” and “the kid who always gets hurt”. Ohhh. Calling the retired Lykos “Mr. Glass” got some boos…

Jim’s back to reminisce over the start of “hiya” as Manchester continue to boo every place that isn’t Manchester.

Paul Robinson vs. Trent Seven
Well, this is a bit random – Trent’s not had a singles match here since he lost the Atlas title to WALTER at Super Strong Style 16… and with Paul Robinson on a good run, you could see this as a bit of a roadblock.

Robinson plays the big man early, slapping Trent after taking him into the corner. It doesn’t faze Trent, who looked to go for a chop, only for Robinson to duck and hit a series of forearms as he had Trent in the corner again. It’s all Robinson early, as he was catching Trent horribly off-guard, crashing into him with a Shibata-ish dropkick in the corner. Trent finds his groove pretty quickly with some chops, then a DDT that folded Robinson in on himself for a near-fall, before a massive Beele throw brought Robbo down with snow on him. A Figure Four follows, before Trent tried for it again and almost got rolled up… but he kicks out and propelled Robinson with a back body drop, sending him outside where Trent ended up chopping the ring post.

He does it again, as the “Greatest Hits” of Trent Seven backfired… allowing Robinson to start headbutting that bad hand. Back in the ring, Robinson pulls Trent into a triangle armbar as he worked on Trent’s self-inflicted injury, which commentary began to outright tag as if it were inspired by Pete Dunne. Out of nowhere though, Trent hits a Dragon suplex and a spinning Emerald Fusion for a near-fall, before a clothesline takes Robbo outside for a lowpe. It’s like a switch went as these two sprung into life, before Trent missed a Whisper in the Wind. He’s able to catch Robbo with another Dragon suplex, before a Seven Stars lariat was countered… Robinson lands on his feed and hits his own Robinson Special for a near-fall. Trent’s back with a superplex attempt, but Robinson seemed to low blow him as a headbutt put Trent down, before he missed a stomp off the top.

Robinson avoids a Burning Hammer, eventually catching Trent with a reverse ‘rana as the shooting star press almost got the win… Robinson follows up with a slingshot DDT on the apron before throwing Trent into the crowd, before joining him there with a flip senton off the top. Returning to the ring, Robinson’s moonsault’s blocked, but he countered that with a DDT, then a middle rope spear, before a missed curb stomp opened the door for Trent, with a Seven Stars lariat and a Zangief-like piledriver. But it’s still not enough for the pin, so Trent just dumps Robinson with a Burning Hammer for the win. This was good in parts, but man this crowd just didn’t seem to be that into this, save for a spell in the middle. Commentary trying to paint this as a match of the year contender straight afterwards was extremely misguided, going by those GRAPPL ratings from fans there live… ***¼

More Than Hype (Darren Kearney & Nathan Martin) vs. Do Not Resuscitate (Spike Trivet & William Eaver)
Like with the opener, this was just thrown out with no context. If these weekenders are going to be a regular thing, and they look to be, that’s something that needs to be addressed for the live crowds…

Trivet and Eaver come through the crowd as they attacked the Irishmen from behind, catching commentary off guard as they did that thing of not speaking until the bell rang. Things settle down as Martin and Kearney exchanged quick tags to isolate Trivet… at least until Eaver got involved. A suplex from Trivet nearly puts Martin away as DNR began to rough up their opponents, keeping Nathan in there on his lonesome. Eaver’s back in as commentary tries to paint DNR as something of a bunch of loose cannons, which is certainly a way to explain away inconsistencies!

The crowd slowly begin to get behind More Than Hype, as Martin used a wheelbarrow roll through to get away from Trivet and make the tag to Darren Kearney. There’s a nice back body drop from “Psycho” Nathan, only for Trivet to catch him with a forearm as things got a little more even. A Blue Thunder Bomb nearly puts Spike away, as More Than Hype’s flurry nearly got them the win… but Eaver breaks up the cover and tagged in as Kearney needs to break up a pin from a double-team slam. Kearney’s sent outside as Spike’s slingblade and a crucifix bomb dropped Martin, who then had to kick out of Cross Rhodes as DNR piled on the pressure… Kearney’s back in with a standing shooting star press to Trivet as Eaver breaks up another pin, before Martin fell to a draping DDT and the Birthright, which looked absolutely nasty, with Spike picking up the win. This was fine, but there’s a LOT of work needed for DNR, who I honestly thought were done after they lost at Alexandra Palace. **

PROGRESS Unified World Championship: Ilja Dragunov vs. WALTER (c)
In the last little while, Ilja’s had WALTER’s number – beating him to win 16 Carat Gold in 2017, and hasn’t lost to him in singles action since, in a series of classics over the wXw unified title. Of course, in that same universe, he and WALTER are buddies…

There’s LOUD duelling chants before the bell as the crowd were really looking forward to this one. WALTER tries to rough up Ilja early, but when he got shoved back, the Austrian was quick to moan, as Dragunov ended up falling into the path of some heavy strikes from WALTER, before he avoided an elbow drop on the way to a stand-off. An attempt at the leapfrog/boot by WALTER’s thwarted by Ilja’s crossbody as Dragunov knew WALTER better than he knew himself it seemed.

Ilja turns up the tempo by diving on WALTER outside, before a back senton back inside drew a near-fall… but WALTER struck back just as quickly, throwing Ilja into the ropes as Dragunov snapped his head off the mat on the way to the outside. The referee tries to protect Ilja, but WALTER just puts the boots in before he dumped Ilja onto the edge of the ring with a powerbomb. There’s more of that too as WALTER just hurls Ilja into the ring post, as Dragunov was finding it tough to just stay in the match. Still, that gets the crowd behind him as he absorbed more and more punishment, including a chop that almost made Ilja punch-drunk… bringing him back to his feet only to take a hanging DDT off the top rope by WALTER. Eventually Ilja got an opening and caught WALTER with a suplex, which brought the crowd to their feet. Now THAT’S what I call hope!

An enziguiri followed as WALTER’s on the defensive, with an Ode to Konstantin clothesline almost completing a hurried turnaround. Chops from Ilja are quickly stopped by a big boot from WALTER, leaving the challenger on the apron as clubbering crossface forearms followed. One’s caught as Ilja begins to swell up, eventually making a comeback with a big German suplex to leave both men down. Unfortunately Ilja went for a diving clothesline, only to get swatted away as WALTER hit a clothesline of his own, then a Fire Thunder driver for a near-fall… so a STF proceeded to trap Ilja in the middle of the ring. Dragunov’s still got fight left in him though, as a chop made WALTER wince… but not as much as the response did. More chops from Ilja seemed to precede a Torpedo Moscau… but WALTER caught it and turned it into a rear naked choke… only for Ilja to stand him up and come back with a death valley driver in the middle of the ring!

Dragunov couldn’t get the pin though, so he tries for a piledriver… but WALTER sandbags himself, so Ilja just drops him with a lariat instead. A massive Ligerbomb stuns the crowd for another near-fall, before a Torpedo Moscau connected… which seemingly aggravated Ilja’s neck some more, as WALTER endss up rolling onto the apron to avoid getting pinned. Undeterred, Ilja dragged WALTER through the ropes for a flying dropkick, taking the champion back in… only for WALTER to catch him with another clothesline, then a folding powerbomb… but it’s not enough! More clotheslines drop Dragunov, but he kicks out at one. Glen screams™. Another clothesline follows… and that’s it. When you put these two in the ring against each other, you’re guaranteed an absolute classic – and while this didn’t have quite the cache as their wars in wXw, the bell-to-bell was superb. Ilja’s had a cracking weekend, but he leaves without any gold as WALTER walked away with the same three belts he arrived with. ****½

Following on 24 hours after the relatively good Newcastle show, this felt like a massive disappointment. Unstated forces, for want of a better term, have meant that PROGRESS’ non-London shows are coming in the form of these weekenders. Clearly, these have issues, especially for the majority of the crowd that don’t go to both cards.

You can’t even blame it on turnaround, since PROGRESS have at least been sticking to that 5-7 day window (largely speaking). On the other hand, judging from live reports, no effort was made to clue in fans, or at least avoid the impression that “we’re just throwing this card at you”. Unless I’m mistaken, when the likes of TNA did tours over here that saw important plot points happen on earlier shows, they at least explained what happened – even if they couldn’t make a video package to the same effect. Really, what’s stopping PROGRESS? Of course, not every building has a screen, but there’s things called promos, or even at the base level – add it to the pre-amble at the start of the show!

PROGRESS’ latest show, main event aside, felt distinctly “there”. In my view, while there may have been some matches that’ll lead to something down the line, only the main event is really worth going out of your way to see as the big rebuild continues. No, it’s not going to be an overnight job, and nobody ever said it would be. In the next few months, PROGRESS are going international again, with Toronto in early August, then Paris at the end of the month as the road to that next big show at Alexandra Palace is a lot shorter than you probably thought. Of course, it’d be nice to have something wildly obvious to build to, as Starr/WALTER is being assumed to be happening there, but who knows. Not counting the Natural Progression Series show, just five cards remain…