Hi there, Arnold Furious here, this review arrived in my inbox this morning from the lovely @vilinskikonjic so here are my good pal VK’s thoughts on Progress’ ECW Arena show. Enjoy! – AF
The Progress Wrestling schedule has been busier than ever before in 2018. This has been the case since a blockbuster April and May saw visits to America and Australia as well as huge shows in their regular UK haunts, and has continued throughout the summer with their regular Chapter schedule supplemented recently by trips to Germany with wXw, and back to the States with a whole bunch of friends. Last month’s Coast to Coast tour was the company’s biggest international excursion to date, and with all roads pointing to September 30th’s massive Wembley show, hitting the ground running in Philadelphia was of the highest importance.
It’s a landmark show both personally and professionally for Jim, Jon and Glen, and one that wasn’t even part of the tour originally. An opportunity to run the legendary ECW Arena however was just too good to pass up. Jim’s intro touches on this, and the American crowd is almost surprisingly in tune with British chapter show audiences in terms of reception.
Mark Haskins vs. Flash Morgan Webster
Jim gets through his pre-show ramble fairly quickly and it’s as we’re thrown to the first match that a real flaw rears its head, and one that may potentially hamper the entire tour. The hot Philadelphia crowd is suddenly considerably muted as levels are adjusted to prioritise the very clearly added-in-post commentary, and even if you hadn’t kept up with any of the company Twitters after the tour you’d realise instantly that Glen Joseph and Dahlia Black’s back and forth about being thrilled to be in the ECW Arena is very clearly recorded in some office or living room long after landing back in the UK. Progress has done post-commentary in the past without getting it this wrong, and even released shows without commentary at all, so it will be a real shame if such issues have a lasting impact on crowd atmosphere throughout the tour.
The match itself works very well as an intense opener to this US run. The two men have had history, with Vicky Haskins seemingly luring Flash into the unit of herself, Mark and Jimmy Havoc, before Webster revealed his long con of dropping them in favour of Wild Boar. This caused some turmoil in the tag team series Progress have been running on the road to Wembley, due to Haskins and Webster leading the rankings – a spot now switched to Webster and Boar. It’s been a little difficult to keep track of the fallout of these stories colliding, but it’s led to Dickhead Flash in Progress which is in itself a long overdue development.
Flash comes out of the gate during Haskins’ introduction with a knee strike to kick off the match, before the two men trade dives to take matters very quickly outside. The reception for Mark Haskins as a face has undoubtedly dipped in Progress since its peak in 2015/6, but in America he remains enough of a novelty to command a strong support. It’s Webster however who controls things early on, and his work to grind Haskins down is a welcome change of pace from what has become the typical Flash offence.
Mark’s technical prowess affords him a brief reversal of momentum, catching Webster in a couple of armbars before being dropped with a headbutt. From here things are pretty back and forth through men’s signature spots – Flash missing a Rudeboy senton before being dropped with the rollthrough Death Valley Driver. Haskins’ Made in Japan fails to land however, and the sharpshooter is stuffed as well. Flash makes a grab for his helmet in the ensuing struggle, prompting referee Brandon Tolle to remove it. The decision proves unfortunate for Mark, who gets caught with a low blow and rolled up for the three. A solid and heated quickfire bout to get the ball rolling on the tour. ***
Jinny, Solo Darling & Natalia Markova vs. Toni Storm, Ashley Vox & Jordynne Grace
A few of the names here are unfamiliar in Progress but certainly familiar with the crowd. It’s unsurprising, given the years of experience across both teams. All six women get a strong reception, but next to former Women’s Champion Toni Storm it’s Jordynne Grace with by far the loudest response. Dahlia takes offence on commentary to Glen branding the belt “Jinny’s title”, which could be seen as something of a tease for the future. It’s all about Toni though as the match starts off, with Jinny dodging the role of opening proceedings against her and delegating instead to Solo Darling.
Toni’s early upper hand leads to her tagging in Chikara’s Ashley Vox, who also makes a quick first impression before the spotlight shifts onto Jordynne Grace. It’s smart to give all the women a chance to shine early on, but Jordynne is very clearly the favourite here as she powerslams both her partners onto Darling. The opening stages certainly capitalise on this, with Jinny and Markova taking Grace down on the outside to turn the advantage their way. Markova and Darling keep control as the match returns to the ring, and the Russian SHINE regular is in top form leading the attack. With Grace’s momentum suitably curtailed it’s finally Jinny’s turn to tag in, maintaining the dominance with a fierce array of strikes. There have been holes in Jinny’s game here in the past, but in 2018 she’s been better than ever and looks completely at home in wearing down Jordynne Grace. An attempted double suplex flies Jinny and Markova a little too close to the sun, however, and Jordynne’s reversal gives her time to tag Toni in.
Toni’s impact is immediate, and after a powerful-looking pair of German suplexes a pounce from Jordynne leads to Toni and both of her teammates diving to the outside. It’s Storm and Jinny who return to the ring and Toni lands a Strong Zero out of nowhere, but Jinny rolls to the outside and we’re into the one-in, one-out. It ends with a brutal DDT on Grace from the Women’s Champion. Vox is next in the firing line, and it’s a huge forearm followed by a ripcord kick to the head that lands Jinny’s team the win. This was a great way to introduce all the women on the Coast to Coast tour, and all four newcomers made strong cases for future returns. ***¼
Mark Andrews vs. Austin Theory
Another story running across Progress shows right now is the Three and In series for a shot at the Progress Title in the Wembley main event. It’s a spot that had been claimed by Zack Sabre Jr. before NJPW commitments took both him and Ospreay off the card. Now, any wrestler without a Wembley spot who can secure three wins in a row between Chapters 74 and 75 inclusive goes into the biggest Progress Title match in history. Simple, huh?
The intro to Austin Theory’s theme almost sounds an evil House That’s Not Quite Home. He and Mandrews put in some great work in a four-way back at last year’s New York show, so it’s hard not to have high hopes here. It’s Theory who bosses the early stages of the match, with a whole heap of praise from commentary in favour of the just two year pro. The two men do work exceedingly well together but Austin getting a little too flashy allows Andrews to take back control. With this pair though, the match is as fiery as you’d expect, and a superb counter by Theory of a handspring into a sweet powerbomb sequence is only outdone by the wildest Stundog Millionaire sell I think I’ve ever seen in the spot of the match stakes. A sublime reversal DDT from Andrews opens the door for the Shooting Star Press, netting him the win and a valuable first step to Wembley in a very fun back and forth bout. ***¾
PROGRESS Tag Title & Thunderbastard Series match
Grizzled Young Vets (c) vs. CCK
Just a brief aside, but I’m willing to wager that Jim Smallman is absolutely not the first man with an Anchorman tattoo to walk through the ECW arena.
This round robin series, as previously mentioned, takes seven teams on their road to a tag team title Thunderbastard match at Wembley, with the eventual rankings determining the entry order in that contest. It’s a bit of an odd one, given that I’m pretty sure earlier entrants have fared better historically in these matches, but it’s given a bit of fresh air and added importance to a lot of tag matches nonetheless, so it’s hard to take too much issue. An added caveat is that the reigning champions must defend the belts in all of their Series matches, and so the stage is set here for tonight.
The Grizzled Young Vets reign atop the tag team pyramid has not been an uninterrupted one, but it has been dominant, and CCK are the team they’ve butted heads with more than any since their formation. Gibson, as ever, is incendiary on the mic, tearing into CCK as well as the crowd. It’s said so often, but love the guy or hate him he’s an expert in making you want to see him beaten. James Drake is no slouch either, and the time of raising eyebrows at their pairing has long since past; each doing excellent work both individually and together. Only recently returning from injury meanwhile is Kid Lykos of CCK, and one of the most loved tag teams in Europe clearly hasn’t lost a step in the wolf’s nine months on the shelf. The crowd finds an interesting new cadence for their “stand up if you hate Gibson” chants, as the Grizzled Young Vets tear into Lykos. Drake is particularly aggressive, but Brookes is able to respond in kind when the hot tag finally comes. Lykos is one of the best in Britain at working from underneath, but Brookes plays off GYV superbly as well. The chemistry is fantastic, but it’s CCK who have that little bit more in the tank. A massive sequence of tag moves at their sickest culminates in both Gibson and Drake trapped in submissions with nowhere to go. It’s Drake who taps out to Brookes, and CCK who leave with the titles, in a great twist for the Thunderbastard series. ***¾
There’s a great moment after we come back from the interval displaying what wrestling and the communities around it can do for a person, when they find a place they belong. Things in The Wrestling suck sometimes, but there’s other times when they’re precisely what they need to be, and that’s always nice.
Eddie Dennis vs. Pete Dunne
This is a Three and In match for Eddie, but not for Pete who already has Ilja Dragunov waiting at Wembley. Eddie, meanwhile, finally has something to fight for, having previously not wanted to face anyone but former partner Mark Andrews. It’s a feud that has been building for a year now, since Dennis turned on Andrews at Chapter 55, and sustained largely on promo work alone has become one of the best in European wrestling throughout 2018. The two men have selected each other’s opponents throughout the Coast to Coast tour, and Pete is a formidable start for an Eddie only recently cleared from injury.
The Pennsylvania welcome for Pete Dunne is something else. The history between the two men is rifled off well by Glen as Dunne takes an early control, Both men take advantage of openings to lay in some solid strikes, Out of all of the touring Progress roster only Kid Lykos came in with less prior matches in the US than Eddie, and this fight with Pete is definitely geared to ensuring him an instant impact. Dunne is in fine form as well, and some great submission counters do well to neutralise the Welshman’s offence.
A bucklebomb and crucifix powerbomb put Eddie in control, but with both men flagging it’s not long before Dunne turns things back around. Eddie is forced to improvise, and with a diversion causing Dunne to almost target referee Tolle instead of him, the Pride of Wales sneaks in a low blow and roll-up. It’s less successful than it had been for Morgan Webster however, and Dunne is only happy to return the favour at the earliest convenience. Pete barely escapes a Tombstone and Next Stop Driver soon after, but a snap of the fingers is followed with the Bitter End to secure victory for the NXTUK Champion. This was lovely. ****
Moustache Mountain vs. TK Cooper & Shane Strickland
Most of the new copyright-proof themes have been quick growers but TK’s new entrance falls so far short of Keep It 100 that it sticks out like a sore thumb. He was supposed to be joined by Travis Banks here, but the former Progress Champion was sidelined with injury shortly before the tour began, prompting a number of matches to be changed. Here, Shane Strickland is subbed in easily enough, and we have ourselves the sixth match of the show.
Strickland is fresh off winning the EVOLVE Title from Matt Riddle earlier in the day. Tyler Bate, it seems, is fresh off an ill-advised trip to his local Quiksilver. The big strong boi taking his shorts off gets one of the loudest pops of the show and an audible snort of laughter from Dahlia. Sure.
It’s a gradual open as Bate and Strickland both ease into the match, and given Shane’s earlier hardcore war you can kind of forgive them for opting to go the comedy route as things get started. Commentary, as an aside, has been largely okay after initial teething issues, though awkward mixing has stayed an issue throughout, but it gets a little bit iffy again here. Seven, in spite of this, is a damn star in the building and this still makes it through as the lighter portion of the match goes down a storm with the live crowd. A lot of Strickland and Cooper’s initial control, meanwhile, revolves around Trent getting punched in the face and being potentially literally dead, but it’s not long before things begin to get considerably more intense.
All four men play off each other superbly and the huge sequences that make up the bulk of the match are a joy to behold. Strickland in particular lands some nasty looking shots, Progress having struck gold in the last minute pairing TK with him. It’s certainly a duo to consider revisiting in future, should Banks wind up indisposed again. It’s TK who ultimately gets caught short however, and Tyler stuffing a Spanish Fly attempt gives Moustache Mountain the opening to put him away with a knee drop/burning hammer combo. This did exactly what it had to do given the match that was set to follow. ****
ECW Rules match
Jimmy Havoc vs. Rickey Shane Page
Oh, bloody hell.
Rickey Shane Page in Progress is still a lovely sight, as it was when he debuted during Wrestlemania week. Hopefully he shows up on a UK chapter sometime. Here, though, he’s facing Jimmy Havoc. In the main event, celebrating the venue with an ECW Rules match. Probably a good thing the canvas is already red.
Havoc has been left lacking an opponent for Wembley what with Ospreay being pulled for NJPW. As such, this has Three and In ramifications for both men. Jimmy’s recent fortunes under no-disqualification stipulations have not fared him well, with defeats to Joey Janela, Spike Trivet and Drew Parker in recent months. Any efforts to tap into his older, darker self, have not produced results. Both men are Tournament of Death winners though, in the previous two instalments in fact, so naturally this will be a murder and a half whatever happens.
A quick handshake before both men leave the ring for chairs, and a chant of “talk it out” gets an unsurprising reaction. Havoc takes an early advantage, winning the initial strike-off before a tornado DDT to the outside. And before long, the staplers are firing, with Rickey and Jimmy each getting an opening to staple crowd member’s dollars to each other’s shoulders and heads. We get a pizza cutter raked across Jimmy’s arm as well, just as Glen Joseph makes his way down the aisle (going remarkably unnoticed by Future Glen Joseph on commentary).
From here, it’s everything you’d expect. Cheesegraters and papercuts; Rickey Shane Page sends himself through multiple chairs with a missed senton to the outside. Havoc treats Page to a DIY ear-piercing with the thumbtacks he has to hand, before taking pliers and the paper to his tongue. We see a Jimmy Havoc accelerated by the occasion, and rapidly approaching his most sadistic. Both men go into the thumbtacks and we’re greeted by one of the most backyard deathmatch DIY wooden pallets you’ll ever see in a major indie. Havoc is the one who brought it into the ring, so naturally it’s he who gets powerbombed through it in punishing fashion. Jimmy is able to strike back however in utilising carpet-fitting spike pads, and despite RSP landing one final flurry as the King of the Goths takes to the top rope, he takes a little too long in putting together one last construction. A single papercut gives Havoc the opening to pounce and when he does, it’s a brutal finale. A Canadian Destroyer sends RSP through chairs and a table and lands Jimmy a decisive win.
I don’t watch enough hardcore and deathmatch wrestling to be able to give this a valid rating, but I can say that both men killed it here, in a more than worthy main event to Progress’s ECW Arena debut.
Progress needed a strong show to kick off their US tour, and they definitely found it here. Almost everyone on the card seemed to be elevated by their performances, and there really was a bit of everything as the show went on. Definite teething issues with the tour commentary can’t be ignored, but the hot crowd eager to lap up what Progress had on offer shone through nonetheless. An enjoyable watch to keep things rolling through to Wembley.