A truncated card was on hand as PROGRESS hit Manchester – with the Grizzled Young Veterans again looking to regain tag team gold.

We’re at the O2 Ritz in Manchester for this, one, which somehow is two and a half hours long on the VOD. Part of that is Jim’s opening, which mentioned turning off your flash and poking fun at the Courteeners. It’s eventually interrupted by Eddie Dennis, who said before that he’ll be on every show… and he’s opening the show with a promo.

Eddie’s in a suit, so I don’t think we can expect him to wrestle tonight as he rattled off his nicknames. He mentions the “fat Austrian” and the “squeaky Goth” aren’t here, while “blondie with the fit wife” left too. Hide the negatives, eh? Eddie says he’ll be here until PROGRESS burns down, then takes a shot at a fan with a replica belt. That got a great pop. Manchester not fans of “belt mutants”. Dennis proceeds to tell us about his plan, including his fake retirement, which lulled us into a false sense of security. This crowd sure love proving his point about him playing them like a fiddle… then left with what I hope is going to be his new sign-off “class adjourned”. Yep, in that suit, Eddie is proving to be more evil teacher than Matt Striker ever hoped to be.

Glen Joseph and Matt Richards are on commentary, with Glen joking that this show may as well be called “all change”. Yeah…

Young Guns (Ethan Allen & Luke Jacobs) vs. Pretty Deadly (Lewis Howley & Sam Stoker)
We’ve a pair of chapter debuts here (not counting Howley and Stoker on that 80s show), and my God, Manchester’s all over the Young Guns.

Allen and Howley start us off swapping wristlocks and escapes at speed before they reached a stand-off, ending with Howley putting his hands in his pockets like a leather Orange Cassidy. Ethan’s not best pleased with that, as he punches out Howley, then slips out of a suplex before a hiptoss left Lewis down.

Luke Jacobs tags in next, sending Sam Stoker outside as we resist a dive. Instead Jacobs waits for Howley to return so he can kick him in the back as Stoker came in… and missed a blind tag as big boots put the Young Guns ahead. Forearms trap Stoker and Howley in the corners ahead of a pair of Shibata-ish dropkicks, before Allen followed up with a tope as Jacobs held Pretty Deadly on the outside.

Back inside a short-arm clothesline from Stoker drops Allen for a two-count, as Glen brought up the days of Sammy Smooth after hurriedly getting past their brief NXT UK run so far. Stoker and Howley double-team Allen with clotheslines and elbows in the corner, as Luke Jacobs was distracting the referee, before a big POUNCE from Howley knocked Allen away from his partner. The Ogdens mock Howley as a “shithouse”, as Allen again had to fight out of their corner before he finally tagged in Luke Jacobs, who went hell for leather on Stoker with machine gun chops. Jacobs pulls Stoker into a Northern Lights suplex for a near-fall, before a myriad of clotheslines almost saw Stoker snatch a win on Jacobs. Howley’s back with a nice roll-through on Stoker, setting up for headscissors as Pretty Deadly pushed ahead, only for a double-team German suplex/roll-up from Jacobs and Allen to nearly win the match for the local lads.

A double-team DDT from Pretty Deadly spike Allen before Jacobs had to make the save from a double-team suplex… that goes badly wrong for him as Allen ends up eating a lungblower for a near-fall. In the end though, a combo spear and diving back elbow has Pretty Deadly back on top, before a Doomsday Device – with a springboard uppercut – getting the win. A good tag to get us going, with both teams looking solid in their main chapter debuts. Hopefully this isn’t one-and-done for the Young Guns, but you never know with 2019 PROGRESS. ***½

Jim Smallman raises the ire of Allan Cheapshot by taking pot shots at Big Daddy…

PROGRESS Proteus Championship: Travis Banks vs. Paul Robinson (c)
This was the first defence of the Proteus title – with Paul Robinson picking the rules that this was a match that could only be won by knock-out or submission. Hey, it’s the old 5* Tap or Snap title, but it’s purple now!

Robinson’s smiling but still being a bit of a dick to some fans – so he’s the happy/violent cheeky chappy that some people still don’t like, I guess? Banks booted Robbo at the bell, taking him outside for a tope into the sound booth, then another, before the hattrick was stopped as Robinson threw some right hands to take the Kiwi outside… as he wanted to hit the third tope of the match. They brawl around the crowd, where Robinson started to throw chairs at Banks… only to watch the champion headbutt away another chair as they eventually headed back to the ring. But only once Robbo had restored the front row.

Back inside, Robinson’s caught with a shotgun dropkick and a stomp in the corner, before the Air New Zealand coast to coast dropkick just about made contact. Robinson fights out of a Lion’s Clutch, before he scored a low blow as Robinson went all Gazza on us, following up with a German suplex. Banks responds with a cannonball in the corner, before eventually recovering with some rolling brainbusters as he looked to force a stoppage. Robbo’s back with a spear and a curb stomp as he tried to stop things. A Robinson special misses, as Banks hits a Slice of Heaven and a Kiwi Krusher… and I can see these “hit move – wait for ref to never wave it off” knockout attempts will quickly wear thin. Another Kiwi Krusher doesn’t yield a result, nor does a Lion’s Clutch as Banks lets go and throws some more punches.

Running out of ideas, Banks begins to disassemble the ring, removing the apron so he can pull up the canvas, throw aside some padding and expose the boards underneath. It backfires as Banks eats a DDT and a curb stomp onto the boards, forcing the referee to wave off the match. Eh, I’m not a fan of them going into gimmicks in defence number one by exposing the boards… especially when this match was as low down the card as it was. It threatens to start a “can you top this?” game, or make every other challenger look… weak unless they have to get stopped by curb stomps on the boards. **¾

After the match, TK Cooper came in and was all melodramatic towards a fallen Travis Banks. He helped his former tag team partner up, just so he could headbutt him back down. We jump cut past them putting the ring back together…

Dani Luna vs. Toni Storm
I swear this was meant to have happened at ATTACK! not too long ago, but an injury meant Toni dropped out. This was Toni’s first appearance on a UK PROGRESS show this year, having been largely exclusive to NXT UK in 2019.

There’s duelling chants from the off, as Storm proceeded to work over Luna in the early going… but a side headlock’s quickly countered out of, before Toni looked to work over Dani’s wrist. That too is escaped, before Toni just decked Dani with a kick. A low dropkick keeps Dani down for a two-count, as Toni proceeds to follow up with headbutts and uppercuts to keep the newcomer on the mat.

Storm sets up for a STF, but Dani escapes and began a fightback with some kicks ahead of an uppercut that stopped Toni in her tracks. A German suplex from Toni saw her snap back for a near-fall, only for Luna to respond with an Air Raid Crash… but she’s too slow to follow up, and gets caught with a headbutt on the top rope, before she got superplexed. The pair begin to trade forearms from their knees, before they upgraded into stiff lariats until Toni took Luna down. Another clothesline followed for a near-fall, before Toni lost a piledriver, and ended up taking a lariat as Luna’s deadlift suplex followed for another two-count. From there, Luna goes for another Air Raid Crash, but Toni counters out with a Storm Zero piledriver… only to see Luna roll into the ropes to save herself.

On the apron, Toni goes for another piledriver, but Dani escapes with forearms, only to get sent between the ropes… as she suckered Toni in with a Cherry Mint DDT on the apron! Dani heads up again and lands a frog splash for a near-fall, before she ran into a boot and got German suplexed into the corner… before she countered another Storm Zero with a roll-up to snatch the win! Not a decisive win, nor should it have been given the disparity between these two. It’s an interesting result, but I’d hope the PROGRESS crowds continue to catch on with Dani given the wins she’s getting. **¾

Post-match, a shocked Toni told Dani that she stood out the most on the UK scene right now, then told her to “go beat Meiko” for her. I like how Toni’s words painted Meiko as a threat… but Satomura’s not been established as that in PROGRESS yet. Dani exits stage left as Toni talked about her recent losing streak… only to get interrupted by a video.

It’s Jinny! And she’s got a new mask, Smithers! Toni and Jinny have a staredown, and despite Jinny saying her farwells to PROGRESS just five months earlier, it looks like she’s back as these two build up to their 14th singles match in four years.

TK Cooper vs. Roy Johnson
Despite the South Pacific Power Trip splitting up, TK’s still got the old entrance video with Travis’ name on it. It was also a bit of a novelty for Roy Johnson, who got to work his first non-London date for PROGRESS in over two years. You’d have to go back to PROGRESS Cologne for that… or chapter 34 for his last non-London chapter show.

TK jumps Johnson at the bell, but Johnson’s able to respond, resisting shoulder tackles as the crowd suddenly burst into whoops. Another shoulder tackle spins TK to the mat, before a big back body drop took Cooper back to the mat for a delayed two-count. A neckbreaker got TK back in it, but Johnson tries to offer resistance, catching a leg lariat before he leapt into another one. Johnson runs into a big boot in the corner before TK misses a slingshot Quebrada… allowing Johnson another way in with forearms. Another boot stops Johnson though before a pop-up forearm and a uranage facebuster – the So Solid – got a near-fall. TK avoids the Last Set, but gets rolled up for a two-count before a headbutt was turned into a sunset flip for another near-fall.

Johnson looks for the finish with a pumphandle slam, but TK escapes and comes in with an awkward-looking slingshot neckbreaker. That doesn’t put Johnson away, who responds by POUNCEing TK out of the ring… before TK somehow hit back with a springboard corkscrew legdrop and an axe kick for the win. This felt a little flat, but then again when both guys have barely been on shows in London, you can’t really expect Manchester to suddenly care. **

Post-match, TK continued to beat down on Johnson, only for Travis Banks to run out and make the save.

Ilja Dragunov vs. Cara Noir
An interesting clash of characters here, as PROGRESS finally nailed the Cara Noir entrance lighting. Cara got an impressed face out of Ilja, who then looked puzzled as someone hit a button wrong on their laptop. At least it was charged this time.

We’ve plenty of staredowns as commentary got in the closest thing we had yet to their Exposition Minute, but Ilja goes for the feet first, taking down Cara before he twisted the exposed foot, only to get taken down as Cara Noir fought in with a drop toe hold. They fight over a wristlock, with Ilja taking Cara down briefly, only for Cara to respond by going for Ilja’s arm. Ilja hits the ropes as we go from headlock takeovers to escapes in the blink of an eye, before a lot of swinging and missing led to a stand-off. Posturing ensues as they try to get under each other’s skins, but it’s a crossbody from Ilja that was the next blow for a near-fall as commentary tried to pass off that Pete Dunne helped “make” both men in PROGRESS. We’ll agree to disagree on half of that…

Ilja begins to club away on Cara, but he’s still only getting one-counts, so he begins to chop through Cara, who responded with a headbutt that Ilja completely refused to register. Cara had more luck with kicks, before a snap German folded Ilja in half, ahead of a Rude Awakening neckbreaker for a near-fall. Ilja wildly swings, and misses, falling to the mat as Cara Noir continued to measure up with kicks, connecting as Dragunov just couldn’t get off the mat. Dragunov caught one, then hit back with an enziguiri and a deadlift Teardrop suplex for a near-fall. Back-and-forth shots in the ropes end with a Konstantin-Spezial clothesline, before Cara Noir got back up and grabbed Ilja’s hand.

This doesn’t end happily ever after though, as Ilja chops and knees Cara, who responded with a headbutt, that… almost had an effect. Ilja shrugs it off, then takes another, before he pulled up Cara for a Gotch powerbomb. That’s bloody new! More headbutts actually stun Ilja as Cara looked to lock in the Black Out… but Dragunov gets free and lariats him to doom, before the Black Out was locked in.

Dragunov stands up and breaks the hold with a death valley driver into the corner, following up with a back senton off the top. The Swan Woo helps Cara Noir back in, but Ilja’s quickly back with a Torpedo Moscau… and that’s all folks. An absolute banger of a match, with the two characters meshing extremely well, as Cara Noir earned something in defeat… and that’s coming from someone who wasn’t a fan of Cara Noir at all until recently. My only quibble… is they’re rematching just two weeks down the line – hopefully that’s not them accelerating a storyline for the sake of it. Or indeed, acting on Glen’s desire to see them “wrestle on every show”! ****

PROGRESS Tag Team Championship: Grizzled Young Veterans (James Drake & Zack Gibson) vs. Jordan Devlin & Scotty Davis (c)
Apparently this was the former champion’s contracted rematch, going by James Drake’s mannerisms… and at least the challengers came out as a team.

Zack Gibson cuts off the champion’s intro so he can do a promo, putting down Manchester as a crowd that “can’t talk about titles”. Oof. He gets to do a swear again, saying he doesn’t care about PROGRESS… and gets a big roar after giving Dave Meltzer a suggestion. If they don’t care about PROGRESS, why are they here to represent them as tag team champions? Oh, so they can get more money. From a company they don’t care about. Got it. Devlin and Drake start out quickly, before Scotty Davis came in for a brief double-team with a Muta lock/low dropkick combo setting Drake up for some early Gator rolls. Zack Gibson comes in to try the same, but with less success as the Grizzled Young Veterans were more like the Keystone Cops here.

Back in the ring, Devlin and Davis combined well on Gibson, but the challengers turn things around as they finally hit their stride with some double-teams of their own. Commentary tried to call that Devlin had damaged his arm after landing badly from a dropkick, as the challengers proceeded to wipe out Davis with the double-team backbreaker on the floor, before a short clothesline and a pancake got a near-fall on Davis. Drake does the comedy slip before he began to batter Davis with uppercuts in the corner, following up with a chinlock to slow the pace down again. Forearms from Davis give him some hope, as did a blocked suplex as Davis reverses one… but Zack Gibson pulled Devlin of the apron to stop a tag out. Zack keeps Davis on the deck with a front facelock, before a brainbuster from Drake drew Devlin in to break up the cover.

Eventually Davis fought free, low bridging an onrushing Drake before Devlin’s moonsault off the apron finally cleared the hurdles as Jordan came in. A Spanish fly and a stacked-up Air Jordan has the challengers in trouble… a slingshot cutter has Gibson down as Devlin was the virtual house afire, landing a moonsault off the top for a near-fall. Gibson blocks a Devlinside then chopped Jordan’s throat as the challengers looked to fight back, but more Keystone Cops stuff allowed Davis in as a superkick-assisted German suplex almost led to a successful defence.

A running dropkick in the corner from Drake helps neutralise all that momentum before a Helter Skelter and an Organ Crusher 450 splash to Devlin created another near-fall for the challengers. Making Towns looked to follow, but Devlin fought free and ‘ranas Drake into Gibson instead, before using Drake for a roll-through cutter. A roll-through Destroyer on Drake’s next for a near-fall, before the challengers again took a shortcut to get back in it. Davis has had enough and fights back against the double-team, hitting a Quebrada into the pair of the challengers ahead of double superkicks… only for a failed moonsault off the apron to end with an Indytaker on the floor as Devlin was left a man down.

Another dropkick in the corner led to a Ticket to Ride for Gibson on Devlin… but the match ended quickly after that, as the challengers hit Making Towns on Devlin… only for Jordan to rotate a little more than they’d like, as he landed on Drake and snatched the pin! Zack Gibson thought they’d won, perhaps went a little overboard for comedy purposes before Jim corrected him. Shoulda paid attention there, Zack. This was a good main event, although I’d like to see Scotty Davis quickly move away from the guy who takes the beating to set up for Devlin’s hot tag – unless the long-term game is to have Scotty “in Devlin’s shadow”? ***¾

Leave it to Manchester to put on one of the brighter PROGRESS shows in a long while – it’s not going to be an overnight job, but the rebuilding is starting to show. It’s clear that Scotty Davis and Cara Noir are the two names they’ve plucked out of the Natural PROGRESSion Series show as the stars they want to have shine first, and using NXT UK guys to help isn’t necessarily a bad thing – although at some point, you need to have the newbies beat them…

The return of Jinny in the middle of the show kinda highlights some of the issues that’s come with PROGRESS in 2019. Having people leave “for NXT UK” only to return when plans don’t quite work out is leading to a lot of returns, which all feels a bit like the boy that cried wolf. This show definitely felt like there was a more concerted effort to start stepping away from ramming the card full of NXT UK names, and with commentary talking about this almost being a rebranding, it’ll be interesting to see if they stick to it and whether crowds take to it.