I had originally intended to write a blog about Progress Wrestling‘s Chapter 55 show from September, then their largest to date, emanating from London’s Alexandra Palace, but time got the better of me.
I have now caught up though, three chapters later, and it’s given me a broader view of their product as they emerge from something of a transitional phase – though as always with pro-wrestling, and certainly independent pro-wrestling, transition and change are the default setting.
That Alexandra Palace show really saw the end of the era of British Strong Style with the team of Pete Dune, Tyler Bate and Trent Seven all losing their respective championships to up and coming challengers in Travis Banks and the team of Chris Brookes and Kid Lykos, aka CCK, respectively.
The two shows since then have seen the British Strong Style trio take a different position, I assume given their commitments to WWE, while Banks has begun establishing himself as a champion of note. CCK meanwhile have been somewhat beset by injuries but have made their first successful championship defence.
Before I get to the show itself a little about the product, coming for the spiritual home of Progress, The Electric Ballroom in Camden Town (better known as a music venue and where I saw Against Me! in December 2016) the production balances something of the grungy lo-fi sensibility of ECW with more current indie wrestling product and a big dose of its own unique sensibility.
Much of this sensibility comes from MC and company co-owner, stand up comedian, Jim Smallman who keeps the crowd warmed up between matches and helps develop the kind of friendly and energetic fan atmosphere great wrestling shows need, all under the Progress mantras of ‘everybody’s welcome’ and, most vocally, ‘don’t be a dick’.
After Smallman’s intro spiel this show didn’t waste anytime in getting going with the Progress World Championship on the line in the opening match.
Progress World Championship
‘The Kiwi Buzzsaw’ Travis Banks (c) vs Matt Riddle
With New Zealander Banks finding his feet as champion in impressive fashion thanks to defences against the gargantuan Keith Lee and high flyer Mark Andrews, this continued his story as he faced all-rounder and former MMA fighter, Las Vegas native, Matt Riddle.
As this suggests this right away gives the Progress championship a real international flavour that I think is only really rivalled in the U.K. by Rev Pro, who’s champions have fought in NJPW in the past.
The match itself was as intense as one would expect from these two from the start, with an impressive sequence of ground grappling giving way to a brutal looking chop battle that was to become the matches go to spot (maybe they repeated it once too often for me, but it kept the live crowd popping and wooing with the sheer noise of the back and forth strikes).
While both men are fan favourites here, Riddle kept the dynamic up with some nice hints at being an intense heel as both men unloaded all their big moves to no avail.
The ending saw the reign of the Kiwi Buzzsaw continue to build as a great closing sequence saw him unleash a trio of potential finishing manoeuvres with his Lion’s Clutch armbar submission forcing Riddle to tap out.
Following the match the other aspect of Progress’ sensibility was well exhibited as the pair of legit looking grapplers shook hands and showed one another respect as the fans chanted ‘This Is Progress’.
Mills and Mayhew vs Jimmy Havoc and Mark Haskins (with Vicki Haskins)
The recently formed duo of previous extreme rivals Havoc and Haskins have instantly become a team to watch in Progress following their brutal death match at Alexandra Palace.
Seeing their opponents here, it’s a shame to say, but it was fairly easy to predict which way this was going to go. To start with though the young, teenage, duo of Mills and Mayhew got in some amazing high-flying spots before the veterans took the upper hand.
From there on this became a showcase for the brutality of the newly formed pair of Progress veterans as a series of tandem and single moves culminated in the newly coined ‘Kiss of Death’ superkick and Acid Rainmaker combo securing the win.
As well continuing to establish the newly heel team of Haskins and Havoc what this match did excellent was show how Progress is helping nurture the next generation of young British wrestlers with Mills and Mayhew both having their moments and clearly exciting the crowd.
Eddie Dennis vs ‘The Pansexual Phenomenon’ Jack Sexsmith
Eddie Dennis has gained something of a reputation both in and out of the ring recently as he quit his job as a head teacher to become a full-time wrestler and has since reinvented himself in nicely intense fashion, turning on former partner, Mark Andrews.
Sexsmith on the other hand embodies Progress’ everybody’s welcome ideal and has also received mainstream attention being interview by BBC Radio 5 Live about being an openly not straight grappler.
I have to admit when I first saw Sexsmith I didn’t quite get his schtick and thought it looked a bit too much like the comedy ‘gay wrestlers’ of old, but, I’m very happy to say, this isn’t the case and he has a lot more strings to his bow than that one-dimensional stereotype and has quickly become a favourite of mine in the Progress mid card balancing great wrestling with some good fun stuff too.
The contrast of the fun-loving Sexsmith and the intense Dennis made for a great match on paper and some great action in the ring that got both men over very well. The story here really began when Sexsmith received a brutal crucifix bomb into the ring post from Dennis that left him all but incapacitated.
Despite some brief flurries against his larger foe, the Ugg Boot wearing grappler was unable to recover leading to the referee having to stop the match really making the point of Dennis’ newly found mean streak.
The plot only thickened after the bell as Travis Banks ran in to make the save, continuing what began at the end of the previous chapter show in Manchester. This highlights well something Progress do that some other indie promotions don’t which is building stories and angles along with great wrestling, something I particularly enjoy.
No Disqualification Match
Jinny vs Dahlia Black
Another match that highlighted Progress’ longterm storytelling was this contest to become number one contender for Toni Storm’s Progress Women’s Championship that seems to be the conclusion of a feud that’s been running since the summer.
Carrying a barbed wire chair and wearing the mask of her former trainer, deathmatch specialist, Jimmy Havoc, Jinny looked every part ready for the battle to come against former friend turned foe Dahlia Black.
The pair spent as much time outside the ring as in and put on an excellent show that summed up how Progress view women’s wrestling as being on a par with their men’s division now.
The straight up intense fight was something that could have come out of the best of old ECW with tables, singapore canes, drawing pins and the barbed wire chair all coming into play before Jinny got the win with a Styles Clash on a chair.
While this left Black defeated, both ladies came away from this looking great and showing how women’s wrestling should really not be viewed as a different product from what the men do in the ring – something the mainstream companies seem to be catching up on.
Following the show’s interval, something you don’t usually see on a taped show, but that helps give Progress that extra difference, MC Jim Smallman was back in the ring and gave some shoutouts to some members of the audience for various reasons.
The highlight of these came when one fan who was getting married the following week got to perform the entrance of the Ring Kampf team during which Timothy Thatcher appeared on the stage behind him – go find the video it does it far more justice – but this continued to sum up the fun and friendly atmosphere that seems to be these show’s hallmark.
Strangler Davis vs Timothy Thatcher
The second half of the show began with what looked set to be another hard-hitting affair but it quickly got cut short when, after Thatcher was thrown from the ring, Davis’ former London Riots partner appeared and a brawl ensued leaving Thatcher alone in the ring and setting up things to come for the former team mates.
This didn’t satisfy the Californian/German grappler though so a challenge was issued and…
Timothy Thatcher vs Chris Ridgeway
While this was a short match, partly due to Ridgeway having appeared in the event’s dark match, both men did their best to make their mark as legitimate fighters.
Starting with some ground based grappling before developing into a strike battle and then Thatcher getting the upper hand with some more American style throws the match was a strong contest throughout.
Thatcher is hugely impressive in a manner similar to WWE star Cesaro and being part of the Ring Kampf stable really gives him an intriguing edge.
Ridgeway on the other hand made an instant impact, this being his long-awaited main show debut, and, while he lost out to an out of nowhere Fujiwara Armbar, it set the scene for great things to come and the pair finishing with a handshake continued the sporting spirit vibe.
Joseph Connors vs Flash Morgan Webster
While having a strong reputation around the UK and having appeared in WWE’s UK Championship Tournament back in January, Connors was making his solo Progress debut here against long time Progress favourite Webster.
This match came with a slower, more WWE style, pace with Connors excelling as the basic but effective heel, similar to how Kevin Owens made his mark in NXT and his early days in WWE.
Webster was his opposite getting in some great high-speed, cruiserweight style, offence.
This made for a great match that featured a move I’d honestly not seen before, a sunset flip powerbomb style move driving Webster’s head into the second turnbuckle.
Ultimately the match became the story of Webster’s past shoulder injury and saw Connors get the win making his mark one Progress while Webster’s ongoing tale of his struggling to find his feet continued nicely.
Progress Women’s Championship
Toni Storm (c) vs Alex Windsor
Storm has more than made her name fighting across the world, not only becoming first (and so far only) Progress Women’s Champion, but also a champion the world over and semi-finalist in WWE’s Mae Young Classic this past summer.
While I’m less familiar with Windsor she has a certain pedigree around the UK and this made for a strong contest.
After a strong start including two big German suplexes, Storm was on the wrong end of a nasty back drop on the ring apron giving Windsor the upper hand.
Toni’s recovery led to a back and forth section but it was she who got the win with her Strong Zero piledriver in a tough looking match.
Much like the earlier women’s match this showed how women’s wrestling is no long considered a separate thing here and Storm is a real star who I could see going all the way in the future if she wants to.
Progress Tag Team Championships
CCK: Chris Brookes and Kid Lykos (c) vs Grizzled Young Veterans: Zack Gibson and James Drake)
Even before the match began it was amazing to see how much of a heat magnet Gibson is on the mic and this didn’t really let up once the bell rang.
Both teams got in some unique tag offence but CCK really stood out in this regard in the early stages with their self-described ‘Sick Fucking Tag Moves’, but, unfortunately, this all got cut a bit short as Lykos took a nasty bump into the ringside steel chairs and seemed to disappear for a lengthy period.
During this Brookes put on a great show as the beaten down underdog before Lykos reappeared with a dive from the ballroom’s lower balcony but it was clear here he’d suffered a genuine shoulder injury and was no longer able to compete.
The other three men continued and did a great job taking the fight to the stage with Gibson being sent from the stage through yet more chairs, but back in the ring it was Brookes who succumbed to the Shankly Gates submission giving the Grizzled Young Vets their first Progress gold.
A lot of credit has to go to all the competitors in this match continuing after Lykos’ injury and still having a very good contest, but of course no one ever likes to see someone hurt and I hope the injury is something the high-flying wolf boy can overcome as I’ve very much liked the little I’ve seen of his work so far.
While this gave the show a bit of a downbeat ending Live Your Best Life was a highly enjoyable show with no weak matches and a good mix of legit style pro-wrestling and story which seems to be a Progress trademark and I can highly recommend checking out this company if you haven’t already as they are going with strength to strength with big things to come in 2018 as part of the ongoing renaissance of British wrestling.