I was looking forward to this wrestling show but also I wasn’t. Let me explain. It was PROGRESS’s biggest ever show, at the Brixton Academy in London, meaning there would be three times the normal amount of fans present. I wasn’t looking forward to the possibility of bad behaviour from people who don’t normally get to a PROGRESS show or how different the atmosphere would be. But I was looking forward to the spectacle, to PROGRESS getting such a brilliant opportunity to shine on a bigger stage, to the stories being told.
We nipped into London at our usual time, despite having assigned seating this time, and made our way to Brixton which meant a completely different route. Neither of us had ever been to the Brixton Academy so we wanted to know where we’d be going. Once we got out at Brixton tube station we heard our names bellowed and there was S, one of our PROGRESS friends, who was full of stories of the wrestlers she’d already seen walking around Brixton. While she went to get lunch, we ate ours on benches by the police station and enjoyed the peace. We went into a CEX DVD shop where I bought a Bret Hart boxset dirt cheap and Anthony bought Borgen series 1, as he was intrigued by it. Then we joined the PROGRESS queue, where we were soon joined by our usual PROGRESS friend C who wouldn’t be sat with us for once due to the assigned seating – we didn’t get to choose our seats.
Getting inside was much quicker than at usual PROGRESS shows as all they had to do was scan our ticket barcodes rather than also find each punters’ name on a list to tick it off. Inside, there was a merchandise section which was very busy. Anthony bought a PROGRESS scarf; a recently-released piece of merchandise which he really liked the look of. Inside the academy is very beautiful, clearly it was once an old theatre or something because there’s ornate balconies and statues and it’s a really big space. Our seats were row 6 which didn’t seem too bad.
The first huge moment of the night was Kris Travis’ entrance theme being played before the usual Drake and Metallica (two tracks played right before the start of every show). The crowd immediately got on their feet and applauded and I shed tears. Because I miss Trav very much and he absolutely would have been part of this show had he lived. A brilliant respectful moment. Jim Smallman, co-owner, had an amazing giddy look on his face as he got in the ring to do his usual wonderfully casual intro and thanked everyone for coming and making the day so special for him and the other co-owners, who started a little wrestling company 4 years ago simply because they love wrestling.
So onto the wrestling. The first PROGRESS Atlas Champion was crowned – a division for competitors at 250lbs and over. Rampage Brown vs Joe Coffey. We’ve seen them face each other before and boy was it hard hitting and tremendous. Neither man disappointed on such a huge stage and getting to sing along to Rampage’s entrance theme – ‘I Will Be Heard’ by Hatebreed – was even more awesome than usual. Both men threw everything at each other and got the crowd going at the start of such a different show. Rampage ended up winning – we assumed he would as he’s been with PROGRESS since the early days and is so loved and so would be the perfect first champ. He absolutely deserved it and Joe showed again why he’s one of the best in the UK right now too; really hope he continues to appear at Progress shows as I love watching him work. Rampage got presented with the beautiful new belt, as you can see below. Can’t wait to see who will challenge him for it, we can’t wait for more big lads wrestling.
Seriously scary moment of the night – someone getting legitimately hurt. Pastor William Eaver vs Sebastian was a real grudge match with an excellent build-up package shown. Then Eaver jumped Sebastian before the bell with his patented Clothesline from Heaven and knocked Sebastian clean out. Sebastian went dead-weight and wasn’t moving so the referee raised his fists, crossed at the wrists, a well-known sign for a legit injury. Now WWE have used this before for fake injuries so some people thought this was part of the show but PROGRESS never use it falsely so we knew it was real, especially when medical staff ran out to help. Sebastian was loaded onto a backboard and was awake by this point and eventually taken to hospital for a full check-up. He’s fine, though very sore. It’s such a shame for him and Eaver, all that build-up and not getting to perform in the end. Hopefully he won’t be out for long and the rivalry can continue but wow, really scary moment.
The ladies were in the full force with Dahlia Black, Alex Windsor, & Jinny taking on Nixon Newell, Laura Di Matteo and Pollyanna. All six were on fire and while it got a bit messy here and there, it was still a very strong match, all the ladies showing how good they are in the ring and the fans treated them like wrestlers, not eye candy (at least in my area, I can’t speak for all the people there). The match featured Dahlia’s other half TK Cooper getting involved, though for once he accidentally knocked out his girlfriend rather than purposefully KOed her opponents and took a kick to the balls from another for his troubles. There’s so many rivalries bubbling away there and I can’t wait to see what happens next with the ladies; they’re all so awesome and I’m super proud of them. They inspire me.
There was an impromptu match as Paul Robinson came out to a huge heated reaction, demanding a match. He’s a legit hard man and a scary little bloke. Chuck Mambo came out to answer the challenge, meaning beachballs were thrown into the crowd as his music hit, always fun. Anthony and I have two of them at home now. It was a strong little match; Chuck showing how he’s improved over the past few years and Paul showing always what an insanely hateable charismatic character he is – the heat he got was fantastic, and yet he hasn’t been seen at a PROGRESS main chapter show since late last year! Hopefully we’ll have more of him as there’s always a place for a nasty little villain like him and he is very good in the ring.
The PROGRESS Tag Team Titles were on the line as the London Riots defended them against British Strong Style. Both Rob Lynch of the Riots and Trent Seven of Strong Style had a black eye each from shows the previous night. This was a richly-entertaining, really hard-hitting match, showing just how good all four guys are, how tough they are and what great story-tellers they are. At one point they were outside the ring, all got chairs, sat down and just started smacking each other! This was definitely my fave match of the night and I can’t wait to watch it back. There’s something so believable about everything they do, which I love. I hate having to boo Trent as I adore him but I can’t cheer him either when he’s so villainous and wants to be booed. I assumed Riots would retain and that Strong Style would win the titles in a few months but no, they ended up attacking Rob’s bad eye and then got the win. I am so pleased for both Trent and Pete; they’re amazing performers and both doing so brilliantly this year but wow, was not expecting that. A friend opinioned that the Riots are getting a bit stale right now so it makes sense for Strong Style to win but the tag division is currently pretty sparse in PROGRESS. Who is gonna challenge the champs? There’s not enough hero teams. So it’ll have to be folk from outside the company, which throws up interesting possibilities admittedly. I am so proud of the Riots though and really hope they don’t turn villain again. I really don’t know what’s next for them; I just know that I love watching them at shows and feel the shows would be less without them.
Ah the eight man tag team match – the Origin vs F.SU, Damon Moser and Jack Gallagher. If the Origin lose, they disband. Now Zack Gibson of course was prepared to do his usual identical speech before the match which gets everyone booing like you wouldn’t believe. But as soon as he started, toilet rolls started getting chucked in the ring! I later found out that PROGRESS themselves bought them and gave them out to fans specifically for this moment. The hero team bailed and watched as the ring filled with toilet paper and the bewildered and angry Origin tried to dodge and weave though inevitably got caught up in it all. And of course we were all booing anyway so Gibson couldn’t be heard. I actually had to stop booing I was laughing so much. Interesting note; after messaging Nathan to wish him good luck at the event, he responded by daring me to wear my Nathan Cruz t-shirt at the show. I told him I wasn’t that brave and later messaged him that it was lucky I hadn’t worn the shirt as I could have ended up pelted with toilet paper!
This match was shorter than others but packed a lot in. For a while they all fought outside the ring, breaking off into different areas of the room, meaning we had to stand and crane our necks to spot any of them. One moment featured Mark Andrews moonsaulting off the lower balcony – insane as always! Eventually everyone was more or less back towards the ring and we got some marvellous moments like Jack Gallagher tying up Gibson, Ligero and Cruz and turning them over and using one of them as a seat, Andrews and Dennis doing the same. Then Mastiff got in the ring to chuck them out and looked totally confused by the state of the rest of his team. Amazing. A great fast-paced fun match, so wonderfully entertaining, and it was great see Moser, who is a PROGRESS trainee graduate, getting a match at such a huge event.
A great moment featured Ligero and referee Joel (who has feuded with another wrestler in another company so we know he can handle the physical stuff). Ligero used Joel as a barrier twice, dragging Joel in and hiding behind him until Joel got sick of him and executed a Stunner on Ligero, only it didn’t quite go right. Whoops. But it was still a fantastic moment that rightly got a huge cheer. This is the third time Joel has interacted like that with Ligero during a match so I hope it’s going to continue, going to keep bubbling under, because it always really makes me happy.
The finish saw Gibson pinning Gallagher after first clocking him with a car stereo (that again!) and then executing a final move, actually a very emotional moment. You see, when wrestlers are going to leave a company, in their last match traditionally they lose – you leave looking at the lights. Gallagher is moving onto WWE and this was his last independent wrestling show. He and Gibson have worked together a great deal over the years; probably more than they’ve worked with anyone else. They’ve become perfect opponents. Anthony also pointed out that Gibson won ultimately after hitting a move he used to use a lot early on in his career; a nice touch. How wonderful that Gallagher could say goodbye with his most infamous opponent, and likely real life friend, in such a way.
So the Origin survive – I honestly wasn’t expecting that. But as Anthony said that there’s still another story to tell and they’ve got to start telling it now before the Origin get stale. Gibson is absolutely ripe to become PROGRESS Champion – I think he’ll be the next one to be honest – and I think he’ll win and somehow the other Origin members will turn on him as I think as hated as he is now, fans are genuinely entertained by him and given a chance would cheer for him. Having watched him as a hero in other companies, he doesn’t change the character that much as a hero – dials down the nasal tone of his voice and plays to the crowd a bit more but that’s it. Nathan Cruz’s character would need way more changes to make him a hero in PROGRESS and they only turned Ligero and Mastiff villainous last year. Also I can’t see Gibson holding the title for long when part of a group that loathes PROGRESS fans – it’d be too much like Jimmy Havoc and Regression.
Two out of Three falls – Zack Sabre Jr vs Tommaso Ciampa. Their third PROGRESS match together, Ciampa’s last independent wrestling match before beginning a more exclusive WWE contract. Signs were given out by an enterprising crowd member – simple black and white printouts stating PSYCHO KILLER (Ciampa’s nickname) with the PROGRESS logo on. I was proud to hold it up with Ciampa entered and to see his reaction to the whole sea of them. Naturally the two wrestlers did not disappoint; both so technically skilled, both so intense. The first fall was a double-pin which wasn’t popular with the crowd but that Anthony and I thought was incredibly smart. In the end of course Zack won and Ciampa got the cheers and thank yous and you deserve it chants. Another fantastic wrestling showcase from both of them. I feel so blessed to have seen them wrestle so many times. What an experience. I’ll treasure their matches the more I think about them.
So the main event. Tommy End vs Mark Haskins vs Marty Scurll for the title. Tommy too was leaving us, presumably for the WWE. He came out in corpse paint looking wonderful. Champion Marty had a special entrance – four gorgeous girls in fur coats and carrying umbrellas; his Scurll Girls apparently, dancing before he made his entrance and then disrobing him. Was it a great match? Absolutely, three of the best in the world right now beating the hell out of each other, all desperate for the title, desperation and determination obvious from Mark and Tommy while Marty was his usual sly wicked self, determined to keep the title by any means. There were moments like Mark putting a Star Armbar on both Tommy and Marty at the same time, Mark being suplexed through a table set up outside the ring. Incredible breathless moments.
Now I assumed Marty was retaining, due to the tag titles changing hands already. Then, after not getting the three count at one point, Marty beat up the referee, causing another to come out. When he didn’t give Marty the win on the next pin, Marty beat him up too. The same thing happened to the third referee. So that was all three PROGRESS referees knocked out. I didn’t like this as it’s a moment Marty has indulged in before it also makes no sense – if there’s no referee, who can award the win? And as Marty’s done it before and the end to his recent PROGRESS matches have almost all involved outside interference, I was very cross. It was disappointing; I feel PROGRESS are usually way more creative than that.
Now Jim Smallman had crawled into the ring to check on the referees and got to his feet once Marty spotted him, pointing his umbrella, indicating that he meant to hurt Jim. I leaned over to Anthony and murmured very quietly, ‘you know now would be the perfect time for Jimmy to-.’ And his music hit, ‘I Hope You Suffer’ by AFI blasting out. The whole venue rose to their feet with a roar, beers were thrown in the air, it was a riot of excitement because JIMMY HAVOC WAS BACK.
I’m getting emotional writing this, can you tell?
A quick primer – Jimmy was once a lovable loser before beating up Jim Smallman in one of the most memorable PROGRESS moments ever, became PROGRESS Champion (still the longest reigning ever by the way) and recruited Isaac Zercher, the Riots and Paul Robinson to form the Regression stable that utterly terrorised PROGRESS. Jimmy was a monster, delivering incredible promo videos, being utterly despicable in the ring (what a storyteller he is) and bringing a lot of attention to PROGRESS, staying champion for almost two years before Will Ospreay won it in an amazing long-term underdog story. Jimmy then lost a No DQ match (my fave ever PROGRESS match) vs Robinson, which saw the crowd give him a standing ovation and Jim Smallman help him to his feet before he acknowledged the crowd for the first time in forever and left.
He is a monster and he is loved. Because he’s so good at what he does and the crowd loves that. So his music hit and out he came in his long leather coat and leather half-face mask. He hasn’t been wrestling most of this year as in March he suffered a very serious leg injury. But Marty has been crowing for months that he’s the greatest PROGRESS Champion ever and clearly Jimmy had had enough. He got in the ring and looked at Jim Smallman – was he going to beat up Jim again? Instead he hit Marty with his Acid Rainmaker finisher and held the PROGRESS title high to rapturous applause. Jim scrambled out of the ring, Jimmy pitched the belt to him, flipped his middle fingers at the fallen Marty and left.
Being part of that moment, looking at Jimmy making his long overdue return, it made my night. I knew he’d be there because it was PROGRESS’ biggest ever show and he’s a huge part of their success so he had to be there and wow, a feud between him and Marty? That’s actually never been done anywhere before. I’m so excited for these two vicious villains wanting to tear each other apart. And cheering Jimmy on will be such a pleasure, what we’ve all been wanting to do for so long. He absolutely deserved that cheer, that heartfelt reaction. Welcome home, Jimmy : )
The match ended when Mark Haskins cinched the Sharpshooter onto Marty Scurll and got the win and the belt – his first ever PROGRESS title win. Completely deserving. Mark has been wrestling at such a high level this year and last year too and will be such a different champion to Marty. I know this meant the world to Mark and to do it in Brixton, at such a big show, that moment is a huge compliment to him from PROGRESS. Well done, Mark. You’re not underrated anymore. Thankfully despite the enormous Jimmy reaction, Mark’s win still got an tremendous ovation. He wasn’t overshadowed. Who will face him for the title? Marty will surely slide into a feud with Jimmy and Tommy is leaving so maybe we’ll get a few guest challenges or top roster members gunning for Mark before it’s the Origin’s time and we’ll get that story rolling.
Jim finished the night by bringing out Gallagher and Ciampa to stand with Tommy to drink in the applause and the love from the crowd. None of them made a speech but they stood there, grinning, sweating, tired, but clearly so moved. I will miss all three of them. I’ll miss Ciampa’s wild-eyed intensity and utter devotion to the job. His kind words about PROGRESS in a WWE.com interview were a real indication of how much he loves PROGRESS. He really did fall for the company and loved performing for it and we appreciated that so much. He was kind and professional when I spoke to him and got a photo and I’m glad I did. I’ll miss Gallagher’s brilliant characterisation and silky-smooth wrestling, how much he entertained – his match vs El Ligero from Manchester is still the funniest match I’ve ever seen - and how fantastically I saw him develop in terms of character. Once he hit on that ‘extraordinary gentleman’ persona, he hit another level. It informed every movement he made and paired with his supreme technical talent, was always a marvel. I always looked forward to his matches. I never got to talk to him – he rarely did merch table stuff – but I hope my cheering indicated how much pleasure his work has brought me.
Tommy End is who I’ll miss the most; how much his character work utterly inspired me and how much I loved every drop of what he did, in the ring and in pre-match videos – for PROGRESS and especially for ICW. Fun fact, it was a video Anthony showed me of Tommy and tag partner Michael Dante slitting a guy’s throat in an ICW video that got me interested in their tag team in the first place. I was fascinated by the characters and the story. Then that 2014 moment when Legion were born in ICW; Tommy and Michael dressed in robes over their wrestling gear, carrying a leather bodybag down to the ring. Once in the ring, they spit alcohol over the body and the body sat up. Tommy undid it and there was Mikey Whiplash reborn, in facepaint and fishnets, visible for the first time in a year, reborn thanks to the blood spilled and collected by Tommy and Michael in slitting a throat. I get goosebumps thinking about.
I loved them first in ICW (Legion vs the NAK is still one of my favourite ever feuds, so well done) and then in PROGRESS. Tommy was always a gentleman whenever we talked in person, even though I was super nervy as he’s so very awesome and completely intimidating. I even once asked for a hug which made him laugh but he obliged. I can’t believe I did that. How he will work in PG-rated WWE, I have no clue. He’s covered in tattoos and a Satanist in real life and he usually plays that in the ring. To fans who don’t know him he looks like a cross between the Wyatt Family and Baron Corbin (current WWE names) It’s going to be incredibly interesting. Oh Tommy, I will miss watching you live in small venues, witnessing your intensity, your matchless storytelling, your amazing striking and submission skills, how you gave absolutely everything to the performance. Go well, sir, and shine.
Any negatives to the show? The sightlines were pretty crappy. The floor was lower than in the Ballroom so it meant that from our seats we didn’t get to see nearly as much. I had to watch the screen almost the whole time which eliminated a lot of the fun. Some people experienced the problem of people near them being incredibly frustrating, nothing brings you down at a show more than someone near you shouting something offensive or unpleasant or acting like a drunk moron. But the atmosphere was lively and generally good-hearted and what a difference a big room made in terms of how things felt and sounded.
I was glad to see my friends. I got to hug Jim Smallman’s wife who is a lovely friend and who hasn’t been at recent shows due to giving birth to baby Claudio so it was so wonderful to see her again. The baby was there too in little ear defenders and a PROGRESS onesie, fast asleep and adorable. It was so lovely to meet him. I got to hug RJ, the commentator, who was so smart in his three piece suit and always so friendly and lovely. Sadly he’ll be wrestling elsewhere on future PROGRESS show dates this year so we won’t see him for a while which sucks. Mark Haskins’ wife was there looking utterly stunning in a glamorous red dress but she was deep in conversation so I couldn’t say hi, so I told her later online that I owe her a hug. Anthony and I briefly said hi to coowner Jon, the one we always buy crisps for, who didn’t look too exhausted for once and was grinning from ear to ear. My friend R in his wheelchair was in good spirits and I was glad to get my hugs from him and chat. I was too shy to say hi to Joe Coffey who was nearby when I was chatting to RJ, and I was also too shy to say hi to Travis Banks who was also there. I really didn’t know how I could say to him ‘hi, I’m Emily, we’ve talked online a bit.’ Eeep. And he never comes out at PROGRESS shows usually as he’s a villain.
Overall, it was another great show from PROGRESS, with a few dips and the surroundings made it special as well as hampering my view sadly. But they are going to do it all over again next September and of course we’ll be there. But I admit, I really can’t wait to be back in the Ballroom again next month : )