Making PROGRESS: Chapter 1

With the UK independent scene arguably at the brightest it has been for many a year, I decided that my look at the modern world of wrestling needed to celebrate this upward trajectory the sport has been on in this country. With the current proliferation of companies willing to allow you to stream, either for a monthly free or per episode of a promotion, it has never been easier to follow along with the best of British. So, I turned to PROGRESS.

For only around £5, I subscribed and watched Chapter 1: In The Beginning… This promotion was the one that had all the word of mouth, all the interest as I looked for the promotion I wanted to view. I’d seen Revolution Pro live, dabbled in some others, but for months, I’d been hearing that the best was coming out of PROGRESS – and even though I’ve only watched the first show, I can see where this argument comes from. It wasn’t perfect; in fact, far from it in places, but there is the clear potential which has subsequently seemingly been fully realised.

Chapter 1: In The Beginning…

On the first show, PROGRESS set out to crown a new PROGRESS Champion. As well as this, we had a three way for the BCW Scarlo Scholarship Title to enjoy.

Noam Dar vs El Ligero (First Round Match)

I didn’t want this to be a play by play account of every match, but by nature, some matches will be covered in more detail than others. In terms of names on the card, these are two that I was already well aware of. I’d seen Ligero fight Mark Haskins on a RevPro show (a match that was cost him by the dastardly ‘El Ligero’) and saw Noam Dar in a losing effort against Michael Elgin. Both men had impressed even in defeat, and I looked forward to the match.

Unsurprisingly, for a veteran worker (Ligero) and a rising star (Dar), the match was very good. Dar’s interactions with the crowd, including his ‘nut El Ligero in the face’ promo for the fans at home, were golden, and highlighted the adult-orientated theme of the promotion from the off. He also is the wrestler who most effectively deals with the crowds interactions, some that are very funny indeed. Dar gives off an element of a Scottish Nakamura in his mannerisms at times, and is a very good stooge, not being afraid to look stupid to get the match over. Mixed in with the crisp strike combos of Ligero, the match moves along at a cracking pace. Dar’s airplane spin into a Northern Lights Suplex was a brilliantly executed move for a near fall, whilst Ligero came close to grabbing the victory with a pinning combination. A springboard DDT ends up being enough for Ligero to progress. A very good match to kickstart PROGRESS.

Colossus Kennedy vs Nathan Cruz (First Round Match)

I’m always a big fan of a big man and Colossus Kennedy is the biggest guy entered into the tournament. The beard is also pretty impressive. He is drawn to face Nathan Cruz, a wrestler who gets a ‘shit Zack Ryder’ chants upon arrival.

What follows is an OK outing for the two men; one I feel that is weakened by Kennedy. Whilst not outright bad in his ability, he just lacks what I personally enjoy in a big man wrestler. He isn’t quick like a Crusher Blackwell, vicious like Vader or uses his bulk like Yutaka Yoshie or Dave Mastiff – he just is. I enjoyed the initial big man/little man interactions and the bodyslam into a suplex by Kennedy is impressive, if a little wayward in execution. However, as the match progressed, it just lacked a spark for me. I was watching in bed, therefore not making notes, and I’d struggle to remember much that happened…except for the finish. A side kick to the head is somewhat Catch 22 in nature; it would be enough to knock someone out in real life, but just doesn’t look impressive enough in a wrestling ring. Still, Nathan Cruz does enough and heads to the final.

Colt Cabana vs ‘Loco’ Mike Mason (First Round match)

Your mileage on this match comes completely down to what you feel about the two gimmicks. Colt Cabana is the same guy who has been peddling his wares ever since leaving WWE (and basically before then), whilst Mike Mason is a man pretending to be a dog…I’m lukewarm on Cabana; his comedy can be good but a bit too much stalling due to it, and his European style is average at best. Mason, I just don’t get. There isn’t really a redeeming feature in that gimmick, though it does bring out the only Valet of the evening, Becky James.

The match follows the obvious pathway – Cabana makes Mason look stupid, interacts with the crowd and out wrestles him as the match begins to move away from the comedy. When Mason takes control, his moves lack conviction. His punches across the chest lack any real impact and look weak. This carries into the finish, where Becky manages to slip the dog lead to Mason whilst the ref is preoccupied. The punch for the finish barely hits Cabana, and makes an OK match weaker through the poor finish. Mason is through to the final, though I’m not quite sure why.

Zak Sabre Jr. vs Marty Scurll (First Round match)

Two other wrestlers that I have seen live; Scurll more than once and Sabre Jr. in an excellent match vs Nakamura. Both men are part of the same stable, ‘The Leaders of the New School’ and the match begins as tag matches between partners often do, each man matching the other move for move. The matwork at the start in particular is fast, clinical and spectacular. Scurll, compared to his matches I’ve seen before, is fighting a more technical fight, as if to show his partner that he is able to match him move for move.

Scurll works well as a heel, and it is unsurprising when he is the first of the two to go ‘above and beyond’, slapping Sabre Jr. violently around the face – a stiff kick back shows that Sabre is more than willing to go to battle if needs be. The story of the fight then becomes one of strikes, as each man shows a willingness to punish other guy with slaps, kicks, forearms and headbutts to get the job done. Sabre Jr. also slaps on several armbars, a move that is impressively over for something so simple and a fact that he deserves credit for. Sabre Jr. almost takes the win with a beautiful sitout powerbomb, before Scurll begins to use his flashier moves, a dive to the outside the pick of the bunch. A forearm exchange swiftly turns into a clothesline exchange and a headbutt exchange before a pinning combo exchange sees Scurll eek out the victory. Best match of the night so far, and a fitting end to the match, with one guy just marginally better than his tag team partner.

Xander Cooper (champion) vs Darrell Allen vs Zack Gibson (BCW Scarlo Scholarship Title)

I’ll be honest: I’ve never heard of that title before. Still, to have a triple threat match on a PROGRESS show is a big opportunity for all three men. I’d stopped taking notes at this point, choosing instead to try and enjoy the matches without the added difficulty of making notes at the same time – I couldn’t have timed it better, because there was a lot going on in a very good showcase for the three men.

Of the three, Xander Cooper seemed the most polished; his crowd interactions on their clapping of a suplex was a particular highlight. Darrell Allen was the popular fan favourite, and his speed was an asset, making him a potentially exciting prospect. I’d initially though little of Zak Gibson, yet as the match progressed, he grew more and more into it. Indeed, the corner dive by Gibson after several corner to corner moves involving all three men was the best move of the match and a novel spot, as where the subsequent pinning attempts. Gibson’s exploder and a knee to the face off the top (commentator sold as a lungblower, though I’m not quite sure) were also impressive moves which further threw my support behind the Scouser.

The finish was a bit of a shame – Allen’s 450 splash seemed to go awry, Gibson taking knees to the gut and Allen hitting his face hard on the canvas. Cooper booted a clearly-dazed Allen out of the way and grabbed the pinfall to remain champion. All in all, a good showcase for all involved.

Marty Scurll vs Mike Mason vs El Ligero vs Nathan Cruz (For the vacant PROGRESS Championship…a staff)

I have to admire the four men in this match for the excellent decision to head into the crowd for the first half of this title match. When a crowd might have been flagging, the men tired, they choose to bring it into the audience and grab their attention. Cruz’s chop assault by Ligero and Scurll was great, whilst the disappearance into the woman’s toilet harkened back to Kevin Sullivan vs He-who-shall-not-be-named. Scurll even found the opportunity to sit in the ring and down a pint on command. It was only when the match returned to the ring that I even realised that it seemed to be a four corners match that actually required tags.

El Ligero, to my surprise, was the first man to go – whilst I never expected him to win, I thought he would be a good face against a heel gunning for the title in the final fall. Becky James pulled the ref as Ligero covered Mason, allowing Cruz to boot him in the side of the head and pick up the pinfall for the elimination. Luckily for me, Mason went next. Ligero, unhappy with Becky, pulled Mason’s feet as he hit the ropes, allowing Scurll to come up behind him and package him up in a schoolboy.

At this point, I felt sure that Scurll would win. Even though he is easy to hate, he seemed to be playing face to Cruz’s heel, the crowd firmly behind the Take Me Out star. The final stretch saw both men go at it for another ten minutes (considering the amount of time each man had spent in the ring this night, an effort that was phenomenal). With an opponent who could match him, Cruz looked much better as the two men duked it out to become the first champion. A ref bump occurred, signalling the end for Scurll in my eyes. But it was Scurll who had Cruz pinned, only for the ref to not see it. Cruz then pinned Scurll, only for a kick out at 2 and 9/10ths! A dodging Scurll managed to roll up Cruz for another near fall, only to be blasted with the kick to the side of the head – the most legitimate one of the evening – and allow Cruz to become the new PROGRESS Champion! Not who I would have put my money on, but a worthy winner in the end.

A good show to start my PROGRESS viewing. Sure, I didn’t like Mason or Kennedy much, and Cabana is a little tiresome, but it was more than made up for by some of the cream of British Wrestling. The more I watch Scurll, Ligero, Sabre Jr. and Dar, the more impressed I am.

Onwards and upwards – to Chapter 2!

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