When 2018 started I had the intention of maybe attending one or two PROGRESS Wrestling shows with tickets for Hello Wembley booked and thoughts of Super Strong Style 16 too. In the end I made it five shows (including Have Some Faith In The Sound and Mid Week Matters, as well as one from wXw) rounded off with their now annual end of year mystery show Unboxing Live: A Dukla Prague Away Kit (referencing a song by Half Man Half Biscuit, I had to look it up too).
As ever the conceit of the show is that it doesn’t stick strictly to the ongoing storylines of PROGRESS, though of course events could have an impact on them, and that no matches or wrestlers are announced before the show so the audience only find out what matches are happening literally as they happen.
This gives it a slightly odd feeling as, unlike other shows, no wrestlers are around selling merch and meeting fans prior to the show, instead this is replaced by much conversation about what and who we might see.
Given some of the special appearances at last year’s version of the show speculation was hot, but everyone seemed to agree we wanted to see WWE legend ‘Hacksaw’ Jim Duggan (like the PROGRESS owners I’m not sure where that running joke began either but it’s become a part of the show).
Team Play (The O.J.M.O, Solomon Lamb and The NIC, Oisin Delaney & Charlie Carter) vs Team Fantastic (David Francisco, Slick Lombardo, Josef Kafka and Rex Armstrong)
Before the main show began we got a nice warm up with an eight-man tag team match featuring some up and coming new performers, who were also the ring crew for the night.
I can’t claim to be familiar with most of them though I have seen The O.J.M.O wrestle in the past and at The Wembley weekend Never Mind The Wristlocks show.
The match itself was fun and fast paced with the two teams quickly making it clear who was face and heel and the crowd going along with it nicely everyone had a moment to shine.
A highlight moment came when The O.J.M.O hit a Fosbury Flop style dive over the top rope to the floor before his team got the win for a feel good moment to start proceedings, and its safe to say a few of these guys have the look of potential future stars down the line.
PROGRESS Atlas Championship
Trent Seven (c) vs Los Federales Super Santos Jr
After Jim Smallman’s traditional opening, one-third of British Strong Style, the PROGRESS Atlas Champion Trent Seven, made his way to the ring to issue his latest open challenge.
Ever since he won the belt back at Wembley there has been one challenger many have wanted to see and as the first of several Christmas present like moments, that’s exactly what we got with South Wales’ favourite luchadore, a member of the Anti-Fun Police, Los Federales Super Santos Jr, who got the first of several huge reactions as he made his way to the ring.
Despite Santos’ promises of ‘No Fun… NADA!’ the match began, as we all expected, with some of the funniest things I’ve seen in a wrestling with both men known for their comedy and playing it to the full. This culminated with Santos’ ‘no fun gun’ (make your fingers into the shape of a gun and you might have your own) in the hands of all three men in the ring and the 700 strong crowd in the Electric Ballroom ducking out of its way.
After this things got a bit more serious and showed off the wrestling talents of both men from the surprising agility of big man Santos to the strength of Seven highlighted by a ring shaking superplex form Seven to Santos.
While it wasn’t much of a surprise that Trent kept hold of his championship, following a pair of his trademark piledrivers, the match showed Santos certainly has more to offer than comic relief and was a great way of fully energising the crowd to start the show.
Spike Trivet vs ‘Kiwi Buzzsaw’ Travis Banks vs Mark Haskins vs ‘Smash Mouth’ Chris Ridgeway vs Shigehiro Irie vs ‘The Phoenix’ Jody Fleisch
A big multi man match is always a good way to get some surprises on a show and, in many ways, PROGRESS outdid themselves here.
With Trivet now a member of the Do Not Resuscitate faction he got a brilliantly hateful reaction from the audience which made things a bit awkward for Banks before we realised this was more than a simple one on one contest and once again firmly established hero Haskins got a suitable welcome (notable given the speculation about his future).
This continued for Ridgeway who’s firmly become a PROGRESS favourite and then surprise at the arrival of Japanese standout Irie making only his second appearance for the promotion. This was topped off by British veteran Fleisch making his PROGRESS debut.
The match itself was fast paced and chaotic with each man getting their share of moves in from an intense striking contest between Ridgeway and Banks, strong style technicality from Haskins, ridiculous speed from big man Irie and highflying from Fleisch.
Trivet meanwhile somewhat stole the show at one point as he offered the ring crew cash to dive onto Irie to largely no avail (and a very nasty sounding landing from The O.J.M.O).
Unfortunately a chunk of action took place outside the ring on the far side from where I was sat which I couldn’t see (so I’m looking forwarding to watching again on Demand Progress) but the climax came with Ridgeway getting the win setting him up even more as the next big thing to watch as we head into 2019.
PROGRESS Women’s Championship
Jinny (c) w/ Laura Di Matteo vs Jordynne Grace
Since she won the title from Toni Storm in May Jinny’s reign has been somewhat controversial with the involvement of her House of Couture stable until that collapsed at Wembley, where Grace also made her first appearance.
Grace has subsequently made a mark on the PROGRESS women’s division, including a victory over former champ Toni Storm, but it was still something of a surprise (albeit a pleasant one) to see her get a title shot here.
The match saw Jinny and Di Matteo try to use the numbers game to get the advantage before Nina Samuels evened the odds.
This allowed Grace to show off what has made her name as she used power to overcome the champion, though Jinny looked set to win as she hit not one but two ‘Acid Rainmaker’ rip-chord lariats.
In the end though it was the power of Grace that won out and a new champion was crowned.
While it’s already been seen by many as being a controversial move for Grace to be champion, based on what I’ve seen of her work she could do for the PROGRESS Women’s title what Matt Riddle did for the Atlas belt a couple of years ago and I’m looking forward to her reign.
Chris Brookes vs ‘The Urchin Prince’ Drew Parker
Given Parkers’ reputation in the hardcore side of wrestling and the fact Brookes has shown in the past he isn’t afraid to get brutal when necessary this match was carnage and chaos from the start.
As with the six-man match earlier a lot took place out of the ring making it harder to see but there was no escaping the feeling brought in from the noise of the two men crashing through tables and assaulting one another with chairs.
As has become something of a trademark, Brookes used a claw hammer for some DIY dentistry on Parker before hitting him with a particularly nasty looking chair shot as the Urchin Prince was tangled in the ring skirt.
Parker got his revenge with a staple gun and by hitting a superplex to Brookes onto a mix of drawing pins and Christmas decorations.
The two also traded some particularly nasty looking moves onto some chairs set up in the ring which looked like Brookes was set to get the win before the remainder of Parker’s teammates in Do Not Resuscitate got involved giving the win to their partner.
After the match as ‘DNR’ continued their assault on Brookes before his CCK teammate Lykos made his ‘surprise’ (I’ll be honest I think everyone was expecting it) return from injury making the save for his tag team partner.
This ended the first half of the show on a high point and, despite the ‘not part of ongoing stories’ idea of the show I hope is setting up a feud between CCK and DNR heading into the new year as both feature some of the best talent making their mark right now.
PROGRESS Tag Team Championship
Aussie Open: Kyle Fletcher and Mark Davis (c) vs The Swords Of Essex: Paul Robinson and Will Ospreay
The second half of the show started on a real high point (well after a referee pose down) as the last year has seen the duo of Aussie Open become some of my favourites both as a team and as singles wrestlers so as they headed to the ring I knew I was going to enjoy what was to come.
What I didn’t realise is that this was only going to be amplified as Paul Robinson made his way out onto the stage only to be joined by his tag team partner of old, ‘The Aerial Assassin’ and number one contender (at time of writing) for New Japan’s NEVER Openweight Championship, Will Ospreay to reform The Swords Of Essex.
After the initial shock at the presence of Ospreay, let alone the fact I was getting to see him wrestle in person for the first time, the match began at the kind of pace and intensity you’d expect from these four and it was great seeing the wrestler side of Robinson after his death match with Jimmy Havoc at Wembley.
As all seemed to be going well it became obvious that Robinson had picked up a cut to the back of his head (it turned out to be from an accidental impact with Ospreay that also cost the Sky King a tooth) and seemed a little more out of it than the story of the match really suggested and I hope he’s not been too badly hurt.
Despite that things built and built to become probably the best tag team match, if not the best match, I’ve ever seen in person as both teams hit everything in their playbook and more, including Fletcher driving Ospreay to the mat with a version Kota Ibushi’s sit out ‘Last Ride’ powerbomb.
In the end though, against all expectation, it was The Swords who got the win to become new PROGRESS Tag Team Champions, in a moment that felt like it was real – something to the credit of all involved, wrestlers, referee and those planning the matches backstage, and I’m hoping this means we see more of Ospreay & Robinson, and more of Aussie Open, going forward.
Eddie Dennis vs Marcel Barthel
If the reaction for Ospreay was mixed due to his re-teaming with notorious heel Robinson the next surprise guest was greeted with pure positivity.
Following Dennis’ now usual mixed reaction (the last year has seen him step up amazingly despite being out with an injury for a chunk of it, to create a genuinely divisive character through his feud with Mark Andrews), when the Ringkampf entrance music began playing most, I think, my self included, expected to see either PROGRESS champion WALTER or his teammate Timothy Thatcher come through the curtain.
When it was WWE NXT Superstar Marcel Barthel (formerly known as Axel Dieter Jr) who appeared though the Ballroom exploded with one of the biggest pops I’ve heard short of WALTER’s title win back in July.
This response to Barthel continued throughout the match as the pair went hold for hold with the German grappler getting the upper hand time and again and playing on his signature ‘Nein!’ call after each successful counter which was very fun to join in with.
The second part of the match saw more striking and big moves with Barthel laying in chops that would make his Ringkampf partners proud but also saw Dennis get more on an even footing.
After much enjoyable back and forth it was Dennis who was able to hit his ‘Seven Bridge’ crucifix buckle bomb and Next Stop Driver to get a big win in a match that could easily have been the nights highlight if it wasn’t for the contests either side of it.
What made this win all the more interesting was a gesture from Eddie after the match where he indicated he had defeated one member of Ringkampf and there were two more to go. As he has a title match sometime in the future, it looks as if the path of his ongoing quest is now a little more clear.
‘Big Strong Boi’ Tyler Bate vs WWE United Kingdom Champion, ‘Bruiserweight’, Pete Dunne
With a lot of news (and equal amounts of gossip and rumour) flying around about the contractual state and obligations of many British independent wrestlers over the last few weeks the main event here came with at least some confirmation of things.
In a rematch from their classic at NXT Takeover: Chicago in 2017 Dunne and Bate, two members of the British Strong Style stable, faced off in what was their last independent match before their new WWE deals begin.
The match, as is fairly standard, began with mat work that was fair and even showing off Dunne’s technical prowess and Bate’s apparently super human strength – highlighted by him transitioning from a neck bridge holding not just his but his opponents weight to standing hold.
Then Dunne unleashed a slap and all bets were off as the two went all in (no pun intended) with each hitting all their signature moves to no avail.
As the two escalated the drama higher and higher it looked like the match would go all night but it was Bate who allowed an opening to appear after hitting a ‘Spiral Tap’ allowing Dunne to lock in his modified triangle submission for the win.
While the match was undeniably an emotional affair what came next heightened this even further as the third member of British Strong Style, Trent Seven, joined them in the ring to celebrate and congratulate his teammates as they received a standing ovation in what was a bittersweet conclusion to an already top-notch show.
With every match featuring talent capable of being main event level in some way, Unboxing Live was a great way for PROGRESS to round off a huge 2018, leaving the door open for a number of developments going forward in a climate that could see the landscape of not just this promotion, but BritWres as a whole change significantly in 2019 (though I’m hoping some reasonable balance in things is found).
On top of all of this though I once again had a great time at the show with new friends made through wrestling over the past twelve months and, while the dynamic might be shifting with the more mainstream recognition, it showed wrestling is still capable of bringing people together unlike almost anything else I’ve ever experienced.
And to make sense of that title, here’s Half Man Half Biscuit…