Every year since their inception PROGRESS Wrestling have staged their Natural Progression Series tournament as a way of highlighting new and upcoming talent and introducing new wrestlers to the company.
In the past this has seen winners include now WWE signed performers like Mark Andrews, Flash Morgan Webster and Toni Storm as well as Aussie Open’s Mark Davis and more.
In a bit of a change, for the sixth edition of the tournament in 2019, they held the whole thing on one day rather than spreading it over a number of shows, with a special show at the Electric Ballroom as part of their Still Chasing weekend.
This focussed the minds of the ‘PROGRESS Ultras’ somewhat and seemed to add even more weight to the tournament than usual while also allowing it to really act as a dedicated showcase of the newer faces in the field.
David Francisco & Josef Kafka vs Billy Haze & Talia Martins
Before the main show began we were treated to a warm up tag team match featuring four even newer competitors than those in the tournament.
Entering to Kate Bush’s Wuthering Heights, Kafka instantly made an impression while his arrogant partner Francisco I have seen before and they were both nicely boo-able.
Their opponents meanwhile embodied the punk rock pro-wrestling that is (debatably) PROGRESS’s stock in trade so were instantly onside with the faithful.
The match itself was notable for me as being the first truly inter-gender contest I’ve seen with Martins treated as just another wrestler with the three men and, thankfully, it was never played up that it put her as a disadvantage as the four put on a fine fast paced contest with enough high flying action mixed with telling a nice little story to get the energy in the room up even though the bad guys came away with the win and I hope we get to see all four again soon.
The OJMO vs Veit Müller
After MC Jim Smallman’s usual introducing things started off strong with two of the tournament favourites clashing, while also echoing something of the following day’s main event with The OJMO (aka Michael Oku) representing David Starr’s Independent movement and Müller being a protege of PROGRESS World Champion, WALTER, in RingKampf.
With The OJMO already nursing a neck injury that quickly become the story of the match as the bigger German out powered the young Londoner at every turn.
It was OJMO’s speed that became his advantage though as he managed to attack and evade leading to him delivering not just his huge frog splash but eventually being able to lock in his half-crab submission hold to advance to the semi-finals.
Danny Duggan vs Malik
Given that he was a semi-finalist in the last NPS tournament, and had been hand picked to appear in this one by previous winner ‘Dunkzilla’ Mark Davis, Duggan entered the tournament something of a known quantity to PROGRESS.
His opponent meanwhile is a newcomer here but it was clear he had his share of fans in attendance and, over the course of this match won plenty more against the less than popular Duggan.
Nicknamed Heavy Hitter, Malik more than lived up to this with brutal forearms up there with those of Minoru Suzuki but as the match went on he showed other sides of his offence taking to the air on more than occasion too.
Duggan meanwhile was undeniably solid but, to my mind and seemingly that of many, somewhat unspectacular, but this turned out to be more than enough to get him the win in a match that, while it didn’t dazzle like the rest, was still enjoyable and certainly showed off the talents of Malik.
Gene Munny vs Scotty Davis
Two of the most hotly tipped performers went at it next with Munny almost stealing the show thanks to his entrance, antics and general demeanour as ‘sexual gammon’ captivated the assembled throng.
Davis meanwhile, an 18 year old protege of ‘Irish Ace’ Jordan Devlin, may have been less flashy and exuberant but had plenty of his own fans and won over many more with his suplexes and general technical work, including some great submission holds and a brutal ‘gator roll’ style take down.
As the match went on both men were so popular it became hard to know not just who I wanted to win but who even could, but ultimately it was the technician Davis who came out on top.
While it seems everyone appreciated his skills there were many in the ballroom who wanted to see Munny take not just this match but the whole tournament, leading to some good natured but heartfelt chants of ‘we want our money back’ (pun no doubt intended) when Smallman re-entered the ring to announce the next match.
Dan Moloney vs Cara Noir
While Dan Moloney has spent the last few months establishing himself as a force to be reckoned with around the UK, including strong outings for RevPro at Summer Sizzler and their Cockpit shows, and he had many followers here, there’s no denying that Cara Noir brought with him a strong sense of expectation and anticipation that began to pay off the moment he walked through the curtain onto the stage.
Given the spectacular, theatrical entrance he made it would be easy to suggest that Cara Noir might be all a great look but not much more, but as soon as the match got going it was clear he more than lived up to the hype.
With elements of his character reminiscent of Goldust (but a little less crass) and Moloney playing off them brilliantly, the match was a great clash of styles and, as it went on, the ‘enigmatic’ Noir showed he could give as good as he got against the more straightforward and hard hitting Drilla.
It was ultimately a spectacular flying tackle into a sleeper that put paid to Moloney’s chances and closed the first half of the show on a high.
The OJMO vs Danny Duggan
With fan allegiances firmly established, and OJMO still nursing that neck injury, the semi-finals kicked off strong and once again the young man from Old Street used his speed to outmatch his stronger foe (in fact he almost got the win in seconds with a surprise start).
Both men had their moments though but it was as OJMO locked in the half crab that William Eaver and Chuck Mambo made their presence known distracting both the referee and OJMO following his put down of Do Not Resuscitate at the last PROGRESS show.
Despite this OJMO survived a tombstone piledriver but interference once more caused distraction allowing Duggan to use a two-by-four (what else?) to knock out his opponent and lock him in his own half crab controversially advancing to the final and garnering a genuine sense of animosity from the crowd heightened by the fact that pretty much everyone was expecting OJMO to go all the way.
Cara Noir vs Scotty Davis
With the controversy of the last match still hanging in the air Cara Noir stalked to the ring without the earlier theatrics but a notable change in his face paint now highlighted in red while Davis entered the same focussed fan favourite as before.
This different and intense side of Noir started the match without a second thought and it was all action from then on.
More than a few times it looked like Noir had the match won as Davis seemed to be nursing a neck injury suffered earlier in the night but despite several close class it was the young Irishman who came out on top setting up a final that it’s fairly safe to say no one was predicting at the start of the day.
Six Man Tag Team Street Fight
LAX (Ortiz and Santana) & Eddie Kingston vs CCK (Chris Brookes and Jonathan Gresham) & ???
While the finalists of the Natural Progression Series prepared for the main event the one non-tournament match of the day was set to finally close off an old feud between CCK and LAX that has raged in PROGRESS rings all over the world.
Unfortunately last minute travel issues meant Brookes and Gresham were a man down as Lucky Kid was unable to make the show, so things began as a handicap two on three match (though staple gun Earl Perkins was announced as the third member of CCK and took a spectacular assisted moonsault from LAX at one point).
Wasting no time, the match was chaos from the off with all five men soon on the floor and it wasn’t long before the section of seats I was in was levelled by flying members of both teams as the battled raged all around the Ballroom.
As the match went on and LAX threatened some particularly nasty amateur surgery to Gresham his fiancé, and Progress women’s champion, Jordynne Grace made the save, taking the empty space in the match.
From there the chaos didn’t let up as tables, chairs, trash cans, thumbtacks and something approaching kendo sticks came into play and both teams had their share of close calls.
In the end though LAX regained the upper hand and finished things off with a diving tandem blockbuster to Brookes through three chairs.
After the match Kingston took the mic to show respect to his opponents in his own inimitable manner, once again showing that he’s not just great in the ring but when it comes to talking as well.
Possibly most notably given PROGRESS’ recent adoption of inter-gender wrestling, he made a statement that in 2019 we shouldn’t be talking about women’s wrestling and women wrestlers as anything different to male wrestlers saying, ‘we’re all just wrestlers’, a sentiment which went down very well in the Ballroom.
Natural Progression Series Tournament Final
Danny Duggan w/Chuck Mambo and William Eaver vs Scotty Davis
With Duggan’s new allegiances confirmed it felt from the opening bell (which came after a sneak attack from the latest member of DNR) that there was even more resting on this match than we had expected at the start of the day.
As expected despite the best efforts of Davis (and they were some great efforts, including what looked like an injury sustained in delivering a German suplex) Mambo and Eaver were constantly on hand to distract.
As their interference reached a peak and seemed to be about to cost Davis the match, The OJMO appeared, folded chair in hand, and proceeded to force the DNR members backstage, evening the odds for the young Irishman.
Even then nothing was certain as bigger man Duggan continued his offence but, ultimately, after a range of spectacular suplexes and locking in a version of Daniel Bryan’s LeBell Lock, it was Davis who came out on top to win the tournament trophy and a championship match of his choosing whenever he wants.
To put the icing on the cake his mentor and the man who selected Davis for the tournament, Jordan Devlin presented the cup seemingly cementing not just the next stage in Irish superstars in PROGRESS but continuing the lineage begun with WWE’s Finn Balor in establishing the further growth of Irish pro-wrestling on an international stage.
This rounded off the day on a high while leaving some very interesting avenues open either for the following days Still Chasing show at Alexandra Palace or beyond, while making for a show many are already hailing as a return to form for PROGRESS after some arguably shaky moments and changes in the company’s roster but, if even a few of those showcased today become regulars, PROGRESS will soon be in rude health again while proving on a slightly more high profile scale that Britwres is far from as dead as some would have you believe.