205 Live’s Oney Lorcan and Danny Burch came to town as Jordan Devlin and Scotty Davis faced their latest challengers.

The Electric Ballroom’s sold out as PROGRESS had a first-ever head-to-head show in London. It’s pretty cold judging by Jim’s shirt, and we’re at fairly low levels of newbies, with just the three raising their voices. Commentary comes from Glen Joseph and Matt Richards, as ever.

Destination Everywhere (Connor Mills & The OJMO) vs. FSU (Eddie Dennis & Mark Andrews)
This was FSU’s first tag match in PROGRESS in over two years – and their first time as a team since they folded the team on a random Lucha Forever show. Not counting the Alexandra Palace title win, this was Eddie Dennis’ first PROGRESS match since the Bournemouth/Birmingham double header back in MARCH.

So from the piecemeal stuff we’re fed on shows, Destination Everywhere is Mills, OJMO and the NIC. It’s curious how they were introduced on social media as a rival for DNR, but unless you go to the smaller London indies, you’d have no clue about these guys as a unit. We start with Mills taking Eddie to the mat, so he tags out as Mark Andrews also took an armdrag as all four men got some action in the opening minute. They keep it a little pacey too, with Andrews blocking a slingshot, only to get caught in an OJMO single crab that forced Eddie Dennis to pull his partner outside. Mills tries to go in for a dive, but he’s just Severn Bridge’d into the ring post, before Eddie caught OJMO from behind as he faked out a superkick to Andrews. Breathless stuff to start with.

Andrews slows down the pace a little as he and Eddie bounced OJMO around the ring, throwing in strikes for good measure, as FSU looked to dimmen the shining light of FSU. Eddie Dennis mockingly cheers for the OJMO from ringside, which earned him a superkick before Connor Mills got the tag in and began to fight off FSU single-handedly. Yeah, tags aren’t being enforced, so Mills got double-teamed before a Quebrada got him ahead. Mills impressively lawn-darts Andrews into Dennis, before he shocked with a NICE springboard Asai moonsault from the inside out to Eddie. A Millshot follows for Andrews, but it’s not going to get the job done, as things broke down some more. OJMO’s legal and spikes Eddie with a satellite DDT, before low bridging Andrews outside… a moonsault lands onto Eddie for just a one-count, as OJMO lets go to Fosbury flop onto Andrews on the outside, then returns for a frog splash for a near-fall.

A half crab follows, almost forcing Eddie to tap, but Andrews makes a nuisance of himself to break it up. Mills looks for a Burning Cutter on Andrews, who just ends up in a half crab as he’s apparently legal again, but a Severn Bridge from Eddie broke that up. Yet again, the legal man is a vague concept as all four men slug it out, with OJMO and Mills clearing house with superkicks, only for Andrews to hit back with a reverse ‘rana. An accidental tombstone sees OJMO taken out by his own man for a near-fall, before OJMo caused another backfire as he ‘rana’d Eddie into a kick from Andrews.

Mills tags in to hit a 450 splash, but Mark Andrews pulls out the ref. That’s a trope I’m as fed up with as the “hey, not everyone was eliminated” bit that every battle royal has to do. With the ref unsighted, he misses Mills and OJMO getting low blowed, as a Last Stop Driver got FSU the win. A bit more of a slog than it should have been, but this was a solid opener as 3/4s of this match would then instantly hit the road for other shows later in the day. ***¼

Eddie’s facing David Starr on December 15 – so that last match was technically a warm up for his first title defence.

Jim’s between-the-matches banter gets interrupted by DNR. Does that qualify as a babyface turn? (I kid) I think somewhere in here, a fan called Eaver “Josef Kafka”, because it led to chants for him. Spike gave Jim Smallman perhaps the worst farewell he could have had, and then says what some folks seem to think my takes on DNR are. It’s all in the presentation, sadly.

Anyway, Spike recounts how “they” seemed to think their fans weren’t all that bright when it came to politics, before he proceeded to kick someone out of DNR because “they don’t belong”. He teased it being Eaver, but yeah, the crowd didn’t bite on the hints, even when they used Eaver’s nickname… before Eaver walloped Chuck Mambo with a lariat. Spike calls the shots, as they Pillmanized all of Mambo’s limbs. The fact that commentary had to tell you what that was a homage to (early DNR) as the crowd were silent tells you exactly how much this has connected… and that’s not my opinion, that’s the collected takes of 700 people in the Ballroom.

It seems like Mambo being out of DNR is going to remove that weird “we’re booing him, but only because we have to” feeling about that incarnation. If my Spidey senses were telling me anything, it’s that Spike’s audibly irritated at his motley crew. Especially when it comes to the art of holding a flag… That seems to be an issue with this mob. Anyway, that segues into the match we were meant to have had last month…

Pretty Deadly (Lewis Howley & Sam Stoker) vs. The NIC (Charlie Carter & Oisin Delaney)
In the run-up to this, Spike called the NIC “the pre-show Revival”. Oof. He has a point – they virtually had a monopoly on Alexandra Palace pre-show matches. The last time (and the only time) the NIC made the main card was in a loss to two other DNR members… so they’ve a thin thread keeping this going.

We’ve another hot start as the NIC double-leg Pretty Deadly before the bell, before stereo German suplexes cleared the ring. The bell sounds as Carter and Delaney hit the old World’s Greatest Tag Team leapfrog/splash before some quick tags led to a Vader bomb by Carter for a near-fall.

Sam Stoker turns the tide with an up-kick as Delaney’s held outside by the ring post as Stoker ran in with an uppercut. Spike Trivet grabs Carter’s leg in the ropes as the trip keeps Pretty Deadly ahead, but both teams are seemingly so unfamiliar to this crowd that the most we’re getting here are the Pavolivan claps for babyface kick-outs. There’s panto-like boos as Howley put the boots to Carter in the corner, but eventually a neckbreaker gets Carter a breather. Tags bring in Delaney and Stoker, as the Irishman looked to clear house ahead of a dive.

Back in the ring, Howley blind tags himself in as Stoker took a back duplex, only for Delaney to Jackhammer Howley for a near-fall. Stoker’s back in with a DDT, before he lawn-darted Delaney into a superkick for another two-count, before the NIC tried for a double-team.. They screw it up, because despite being tag champions elsewhere (per commentary), they’re not a unit, but recover to hit a spinning cutter for a near-fall. Spike Trivet pops up on the apron to offer a distraction, before an Over/Under spear/diving uppercut combo wiped out the NIC as they criss-crossed, following up with a doomsday uppercut for the win. The Pretty Deadly finishing sequence looked cool, but man, this crowd may as well have been sitting on their hands for the majority of this. **

Jinny vs. Millie McKenzie
“Jinny Havoc” has new music in PROGRESS, as they’re still having her pay homage to her trainer, despite the Toni Storm match here being scuppered by Toni getting booked for Survivor Series. Maybe it’s tired me looking for stuff that isn’t there, but some could take Jim’s announcement that Toni was elsewhere as being a little tinged with annoyance.

Millie McKenzie got a good reaction as the surprise replacement, making her first appearance in a singles match since March. Commentary’s retconning Jinny’s farewell, calling it a farewell to the “old Jinny”, as Millie started work on her, using a wristlock and headscissors, but Jinny was matching her on the deck.

Jinny rolls back to pick the leg, but another trip from Millie has her down for a reverse bow and arrow hold, but Jinny picks up with some running knees into the corner and a ‘rana on top. It looks like one of those knees bloodied up Millie, before Jinny missed a Tyler Bate-ish flip senton.

That opened the door for Millie, who started pounding on Jinny – getting a smattering of boos in the process. A side headlock from Millie folds Jinny in half, but Jinny’s free with some more knees as she ran in with an Octopus stretch, but Millie threw it off. Jinny’s chop has Millie rocked, allowing Jinny to hit that Tyler-senton, but Millie rolls outside straight after and hits a tope for extra effect.

Back inside, a satellite DDT planted Millie for a near-fall, before another crack at the Octopus stretch gets broken up. Millie replies with shotgun dropkicks, then with Angel’s Wings, but Jinny kicks out, before she’s swung around in a choke hold. Jinny’s back with a Koppo kick to buy her time, as the pair began to fight back up to their feet.

Millie catches Jinny with a small package, which gets reversed before an attempted German suplex was changed into a spear that almost won Millie the match. Jinny’s back with a Flatliner though, getting a near-fall before Millie finally hit a German suplex, only for Jinny to hit a couple of shots and an Acid Rainmaker for the win. Decent enough, given the advertised “big match” had to be dropped. I’m glad “Jinny Havoc” isn’t just doing Jimmy Havoc’s moves, but with this being a top contender’s match, I think this tipped off they were always going for Jinny vs. Meiko… **¾

Post-match, Millie refused to shake hands and stormed off.

Travis Banks vs. TK Cooper
This was the first big match since the South Pacific Power Trip imploded at Alexandra Palace… but there was an attempted jump start as NIWA attacked Travis Banks from behind. It doesn’t work as Banks overwhelmed, then went to work on TK Cooper… who just powders and walks out for the count-out.

The bell goes, but Jim Smallman wades in to restart the match as a no count-out, no-DQ affair, having learned from what Travis Banks did as champion.

No-Disqualification: Travis Banks vs. TK Cooper
TK’s given a chair by NIWA, but he can’t use it as Banks unarms him, then sent him outside as lowpes awaited for TK and NIWA, who got taken deep into the crowd. As an aside, those red “CREW” shirts are an accident waiting to happen for whichever poor sod does the washing…

Banks heads under the ring and pulls out a table, before he began to chop through TK. The crowd’s really up for this one, at least until TK threw Banks into a wall, before he too went under the ring for a table. It’s almost like this was planned. TK drags Banks onto a raised area, with poor Joe getting a front row view as TK’s attempted suplex through the table ended with him getting knocked off the raised area and through that same table.

Back in the ring, Banks cannonballs into TK for a near-fall, before NIWA provided a distraction… and got caught by a forearm by TK. A clothesline from Banks puts him through the other table on the floor, as TK responds with a Slice of Heaven and an axe kick for a near-fall.

From there, TK’s back under the ring as he pulls out his kiddie’s Roman Reigns vest, so he can do a spear that nearly pins Banks. Maybe it’d have been a three had all the clips been on? At least Brandon Tolle has the nous to remove that damn thing… then shoved TK into a roll-up before Banks’ Slice of Heaven and a Kiwi Krusher got a near-fall. TK tries for an axe kick onto a chair, but Banks side steps it, then hits a Kiwi Krusher onto the remnants of the chair for a disgusting near-fall.

We’ve got more tables, but Banks gets cracked with a headbutt as he set one up… then hit a flip legdrop as Banks was against the table for a moment that’s sure to make a Botchamania. Insert James Hetfield here. Then insert something else: TK’s old dungarees tied up like a bag, and you know what that means. DRAWING PINS.

Banks tries to make the most of them, teasing a Kiwi Krusher into the pins, but TK cuts him off and hits a GODDAMN SPANISH FLY into the pins. Holy shit, they’re actually all over their bodies. It gets worse for TK as he runs into a powerbomb on the pins, before a Lion’s Clutch from Banks forced the submission after he scooped some pins into TK’s mouth. This got good towards the end, but that first portion of the match felt mightily rushed. I thought they could have stretched a few matches out of this, but this felt like the big blow-off… so is there something else on the cards for Travis Banks? ***½

TK’s left in the ring, plucking drawing pins out of his leg… there’s plenty in his back, so of course he rolls onto it as he left the ring.

Jim Smallman turns on the crowd big time after the interval. Wait until he really starts shooting on his farewell show. Here, he’s slaughtering fans for their sport, music and biscuit choices. Imagine if at Unboxing he peels off his skin a la Eric Bischoff and reveals his true self?

Danny Duggan vs. David Starr
Duggan cuts off Starr’s intro to say a few words, accusing him of not taking the match seriously because of his title shot on the next show. I don’t think laughter was the response Danny was looking for when he said he’d win the title in 2020…

Duggan starts off by scrambling on the mat with Starr, but he ends up on the defensive as Starr worked his way into a strangle hold, using Duggan’s own arm to choke himself with, before they moved onto a knuckle lock. That allowed Duggan to use his strength to force Starr to the mat, before a right hand knocked Starr into the ropes.

Recovering, Starr looked to work over Duggan’s leg with a bridging deathlock, but Duggan’s right back with a quick suplex for a one-count. The cartwheel kick catches Duggan, sending him into the corner for a crossbody, where Starr followed up with a Violence Party of chops and forearms, before a second cartwheel kick was caught as Duggan looked for a Boston crab. Starr tries to fight out and pulls himself up into a hammerlock as he rolled through… only for Duggan to reapply the Boston crab.

A standing X-Plex gets Duggan further ahead as he reapplied the Boston crab after the rope break, but Duggan loses his grip as Starr got free. An enziguiri from Duggan rocks Starr, as does a lariat while Duggan was in the midst of a flurry of offence, only to get caught out with a Blackheart Buster. That was the cue for Pretty Deadly to appear to make a distraction, but the NIC wallop them with chairs (off camera) on the stage to just neutralise them.

Back in the ring, a Dragon suplex from Duggan nearly got the upset, before Starr countered a tombstone piledriver with his version of Kurtis Chapman’s Sega Mega Driver, as a Kaepernick got the win. This was… fine, I guess? It was a win to give David Starr momentum going into his title shot, but a lot of this felt too mechanical. Insert your “robot” meme here if you so wish. **¾

More biscuit banter…

PROGRESS Proteus Championship: Timothy Thatcher vs. Paul Robinson (c)
This has the potential to be a cracker of a match – with the almost-Ambition/Tetsujin rules playing into Thatcher’s wheelhouse. Even if he isn’t a part of RINGKAMPF anymore… cough.

Thatcher starts off by looking to go for a lock-up, but instead had to neutralise the terrier-like Robinson with a front chancery as he grounded the champion and threw a swipe from the guard. Robbo gets free and tries to throw some strikes, but an uppercut downs him, before Robinson tried to bite his way back into things.

When that worked, Robinson unleashed with a flurry of strikes, only to get caught out as Thatcher went for a side armbar that Robbo nearly heeled his way out of. A mounted choke hold forced Thatcher to crawl under the ropes for a break, before Thatcher retaliated with strikes and a bow-and-arrow hold. From there, Robinson flips out, then countered a backbreaker by spinning out into a DDT, following in with forearms to the head as Thatcher was suddenly on the defensive.

Thatcher managed to roll through though, using a quick ankle lock, only for Robinson to get free and land a Robinson special en route to a crucifix… but Thatcher just stands up and breaks it with a Samoan drop. A knee to the midsection propels Robinson away from his challenger, before Thatcher dragged him down into a Fujiwara armbar. Again, Robinson gets free and punts Thatcher low… he gets slapped out for that as I wonder about cars getting driven into your face.

The camera’s gone really dark as Robinson pulls out some nunchucks from under the ring… striking Thatcher with them before choking him out for the submission. Aren’t nunchucks illegal in the UK? Either way, it showed that Robinson needed to dig a little deeper to get the win, but I’m not wild that two of the three defences so far have been gimmicky, with bare ring boards and nunchucks being used to keep the title. ***½

PROGRESS Tag Team Championship: Danny Burch & Oney Lorcan vs. Jordan Devlin & Scotty Davis (c)
Cynics could ponder if Burch and Lorcan were the “advance make goods” for Toni Storm, but then you’ve got to counter that with the other narrative that WWE apparently never plans ahead. Nevertheless, they got a pretty decent reaction as they arrived in the Electric Ballroom for their tag title shot.

Lorcan and Devlin start us off, working wristlocks, takedowns and escapes as Oney forced Devlin into the ropes. A quick double-team sees Scotty hit a low dropkick while Oney was in a Muta lock, as the champions pushed on, before Scotty landed a pair of early Gator rolls. Devlin and Burch come in, as they played off of Devlin busting Burch open at that first WWE UK tournament nearly three years ago… they shake hands, but tease the enziguiri again before Devlin got swarmed by the 205 Live pairing, only to take them down with a dual headlock/headscissor takedown.

Lorcan’s back with a suplex as the pair worked over Devlin, but a boot bought Jordan time as he dove out to tag in Davis, who began to land some suplexes before a clothesline found its mark. Oney’s clothesline drops Scotty too though, as the veterans targeted the relative rookie, with Burch’s back suplex getting a solid two-count out of Scotty. Double-team chops keep Davis down, but he’s able to tag in Devlin, who went straight for Oney on the outside with an Asai moonsault… then Burch in the inside as Jordan flung himself around.  Burch decks Devlin with a headbutt, but his dive’s stopped with an uppercut as Oney hits his pescado… Davis is next with a Sasuke special, as all four men proceeded to brawl on the outside, with Oney getting properly Brookes’d into the crowd. Burch ends up in the wall, but he rebounds with a lariat, before he punched Devlin out of a chair. Oney tries to clear the seating decks, but Scotty Davis flies off of the stage into the challengers before they rushed back to the ring as a superkick-assisted German got a near-fall on Oney. A running Blockbuster from Lorcan turns it around, dropping both Irishmen, before Burch’s missile dropkick found its mark… Davis cuts off their finisher, allowing Davis to hit a Gator Roll for a near-fall as the match kept going.

All four men slug it out afterwards, but Oney’s running uppercut set up Devlin for a powerbomb, then the 1-2 DDT for a near-fall. The challengers follow up with a Doomsday attempt, but Davis cuts it off as Devlin Victory rolls free, before a spike package piledriver got the champions the win. A solid main event as Devlin and Davis picked up a pretty big scalp while retaining the titles… although you could well question how many really believed we’d see a change here. ***¾

Post-match, Burch called out Oney for things not going to plan, before the closing speech saw them drag up “shit Finn Balor”, “shit Stone Cold” (which of course drew the “what?s”), along with something close to child abuse as the old guys felt a little put out over Scotty Davis. Don’t we all…

As a standalone show, Chapter 98 continued PROGRESS’ trend of improvement. Sure, DNR continue to change yet remain little more than a nuisance in the mid card, and for some the creeping return of NXT UK names may not be to their tastes, but I think we’re going to be in some sort of holding pattern for the rest of the year, as PROGRESS begin anew. Let’s clear up a misconception here. I don’t loathe DNR, nor anyone who is or has been a part of it. The problem with them from day one has been the way they’ve been presented. They came in to “clear out the old guard”, and lost… then hung around without seemingly having any purpose. Somehow PROGRESS have made DNR far less than the sum of their parts – and I’d almost say that all of the reboots and reshuffles are making it worse. Spike Trivet is a master on the mic – that much is clear – but if you’re running with a heel group that’s having a hard time getting reactions in their matches, then something is badly wrong. It’s nothing to do with them as a group: I guess you could compare it to Timothy Thatcher in EVOLVE – dull as dishwater there, but a revelation elsewhere. It’s all in the facade.

This month’s Sheffield show sees David Starr challenging for the title, and I’m not expecting a change there… while the hot-ticket that is the Unboxing show is, as ever, a big wildcard of a show that could see anything happen as Jim Smallman steps away from the promotion….