For months, I did everything I could — including deleting social media apps off my phone — to avoid Progress spoilers. But, as the saying goes: “Live long enough to see yourself become the villain.”
Traveling across the Atlantic for wrestling still feels crazy, but back in March, when I could see that Progress’ 100th Chapter would also be its end of the year secret ‘Unboxing’ show, I began to make plans. Then, we found out that this would be co-founder/co-owner Jim Smallman’s last ride with the company, and I felt a bit prescient for making said plans.
Arriving at the Electric Ballroom in the Camden Town borough of London, I’ve realized this was one of the venues that I’d watched the most “episodes” of pro wrestling taking place in (it’s not the most, considering the 105 episodes in the first 3 seasons of Lucha Underground) — but I’d never actually attended until that moment.
Finally being in The Ballroom felt a bit lovely and bizarre. Watching via VOD at http://demandprogress.pivotshare.com, you can’t tell how deep the bar is or how much space there is on the second level. Being in this room, as it was bathed with warm red light, I realized that it all being novel to me would help prevent expectations-based burnout.
Progress kinda had its back against the wall this year for who it could bring in as a surprise. Not only have U.S.-based NXT wrestlers become more unavailable now that they’re doing weekly live TV, but the likes of Will Ospreay and Zack Sabre Jr. are confined to their NJPW contracts. This week, New Japan stars also have a huge 2-day event coming up in Wrestle Kingdom 14. Even Progress Original Jimmy Havoc seemed as unconfirmed as ever — he’s billed as living in Camden Town (and these are the holidays), but would the AEW brass let him fight for a company that’s got affiliations with WWE?
So, it’s spoiler time. You’ve been (repeatedly) warned.
This is what happened at Progress Chapter 100: A New Hope.
Of course, we start out with Smallman in the ring to see who’s never been to a Progress show before — to politely welcome them after making banter about their job and the city they’re from — as is tradition.
For as much as this will have spoilers about who did what and who surprised the crowd, I’m going to leave some things for the VOD. Suffice to say that even one of these 1st timer’s jobs popped the crowd.
Jim then explains that because of a match falling through due to illness, we’re getting a match that was supposed to be on the pre-show on the main card.
Credit for times goes to Twitter’s @gadget80, a nice fellow I met before the show.
1. Jerry Bakewell & Mercedes Blaze beat Cassius & NyeOh in a tag match (time of 9:45). This match would have been on the pre-show because you’re not the only one, dear reader, who might not recognize these names. I did not either — save for Cassius, who’s been doing well in Riptide Wrestling.
While each person in this match got their shit in, Blaze was a major standout, with power and form and excellent gear. Hopefully we see her rise in the ranks of Britwres soon.
2. Well, this one’s a bit complicated and crazy and wild. First, out comes referee Joel Allen as his 1980’s Progress persona William A. Homer. And then, as ‘Big Wavy’ Roy Johnson’s music hits, we realize what’s possibly about to happen. And, yes, Johnson enters the ring and Jim Smallman hands the man of a 1,000 bars the microphone, so it’s a Roy Johnson’s Wasteman Challenge, except Roy declares that the winner gets to pick the stipulation.
Out come: Ligero, Chris Ridgeway, Scotty Davis, The Anti-Fun Police (Los Federales Santos Jr. & Chief Deputy Dunne), Gene Munny and Lykos. A joy to see the recently-retired Lykos in the ring, even if it’s just to spit bars. In fact, Lykos wins the whole thing and declares the 2nd fall to be decided by a ... REVERSE BATTLE ROYAL. The crowd goes ape, and starts chanting “You deserve it!” at Progress co-owner Glen Joseph whose face is a look of astonishment, as this little-known TNA match format is one of his favorites to mention randomly. The rules? Everyone starts outside the ring and is trying to throw each other in. Last man whose two feet haven’t touched the inside of the ring (not the apron), wins.
But since Lykos has a doctor’s note, we’re given a replacement, and Stupid Sexy Travis Banks (think Travis Banks but silly and in mesh club gear, dancing up a storm), replaces him and starts a conga line of all the wrestlers to the stage. It’s as insane as you’d imagine. Chief Deputy Dunne gets the win, pushing Scotty Davis in last, and the no-funnah cop gestures to one half of the Progress tag champs that this earns him a title shot.
This went 12:13, not sure if that’s counting the Wasteman Challenge. This match had a couple of big “surprise” pops, for Ligero, the Reverse Battle Royal and Trav, but nothing like what we saw in half 2.
3. Ilja Dragunov beats Kyle Fletcher via Torpedo Moscow in 20:19. A great match, with some color from both men, got pretty brutal. While Fletcher lost, this is the beginning of his solo-run reboot in Progress, as his Aussie Open tag partner Mark “Dunkzilla” Davis is out with an injury. Fletcher’s added a mask to his gear, which felt a bit ominous at first, as if he’s going to turn baddie.
Chris Roberts, who has been reffing for WWE, returned for this one.
4. Eddie Dennis defended his Progress Unified World Championship against The O.J.M.O. with a Next Stop Driver at 18:10.
One of my favorite stars for the weekend, The O.J.M.O., aka Michael Oku in Rev Pro (where he won the British J Cup) looked outstanding in this match for the Progress championship.
I got bought in on the title possibly changing hands at a point or two, thanks to great submissions and reversals. It appeared that Smallman put Dennis’ championship on the line at the very last second. It’s a bit early in the Eddie Dennis story for him to lose it now, though, so I should have known better.
After the interval, Jim Smallman unwraps a carriage clock, a gift (often given as a retirement present) given to him by Progress co-owner Jon Briley. Smallman then says Jon, Glen and Matt Richards (who’s taking Jim’s roles on when Smallman leaves) told him some of the good stuff they’ve got planned, and that he’s excited to be a fan.
Out comes Jinny to smugly applaud herself for bringing the Progress Women’s Championship home (we miss you Meiko), and then declares the women’s division to be Progress’s future.
It’s said here that Jinny was supposed to face Toni Storm, who is apparently under the weather. While that would have probably been a good match, the two have faced each other so many times that it would have possibly been underwhelming as a match on a surprise-based card.
5. Cara Noir defeats Progress Proteus champion Paul Robinson, Connor Mills and Mark Haskins (with Vicky Haskins) in a non-title match that lasted 12:31. Cara — who you need to see him work live, seriously — pinned Mills after a package piledriver, and this gives him a bit of momentum and added credibility going into Chapter 101 where he challenges Eddie Dennis for the Unified World Championship.
I popped huge for the returning Haskinses. Some said “nah, they’re Ring of Honor now,” to which I said, “like ROH can stop their talent from doing anything, they’re desperate to hold onto the stars they have.” Vicky and Robbo had a neat little confrontation. Robinson bled like he was recreating Carrie’s prom scene. Mills, who is getting better with each time I see him (he did great at Pro Wrestling Soul 8 on the 29th of December), is really developing great offense.
6. Tyler Bate and Trent Seven beat Dan Moloney and Rampage Brown, with Seven pinning Moloney at 9:51. I now know what it’s like to watch myself be surprised by Keith Lee. When “I Will Be Heard,” by Hatebreed, the music for Rampage Brown, another Progress Original hit the sound system, my friend sitting next to me jumped out of her skin in excitement. You can see that here:
Yes, I’m implying that even British Strong Style’s surprise return to the Ballroom got overshadowed. That’s how much the Electric Ballroom cares about Rampage Brown. Fun match. Lots’o piledrivers.
7. Jimmy Fucking Havoc beat David Starr in a death match after an Acid Rainmaker at 16:31. And here we got the big surprise. No, not David Starr returning after saying “I’m going to miss you” to the Chapter 99 audience, but All Elite Wrestling’s Jimmy Havoc returning to the Electric Ballroom. Though, when they brought out deathmatch stuff first, and then Starr came out, Havoc was the only correct opponent for him in Progress’ history.
As AFI’s “I Hope You Suffer” blared on the sound system, and the room was red with light, we all got excited to see Jimmy Havoc do Jimmy Havoc things and make us cringe at the blood. I don’t want to spoil the spots in this thing, but safe to say I actually enjoyed a table-spot. Just some downright shocking stuff in this, and the audience staying behind in full support was either a sign that they really wanted to send Smallman off at the end, or we’re all sick fks, who enjoy deathmatch wrestling.
Sorry if this review is light on particular details. Watch the show on http://demandprogress.pivotshare.com when it goes up.
After the end of the match, Jim shared hugs with both Havoc and Starr before sharing some parting words with the audience. Smallman teased that he’ll be attending Super Strong Style 16 in May as a fan, thanked the audience for their support for the first hundred and spoke to the next hundred. He then walked up to the stage, hugged his fellow co-owners (Briley came out of the back for the second time of the night — I’m not telling you about the first), and walked through the curtain.
As a fan of Progress, this was a pretty satisfying way to close the door on the Smallman era. Lord knows I would have loved a Zack Sabre Jr. appearance, or some of the Atlas Division’s heavy hitters (Matt Riddle, Keith Lee) to return, but we got Jimmy, we got a reverse battle Royal, we got Rampage and we got Stupid Sexy Trav.
All in all, a great night at the Ballroom.