Monday, 29 February 2016

Live Event Review: PROGRESS Wrestling Chapter 26: Unknown Pleasures (Haskins vs. Scurll *PROGRESS Wrestling Championship*

On Valentine's Day 2016, PROGRESS Wrestling presented their first show in Manchester of the year, with Chapter 26: Unknown Pleasures taking place at O2 Ritz. The show featured Marty Scurll's first PROGRESS Wrestling Championship defense, as he put the belt up against Mark Haskins, a huge Four-Way Tag Team bout featuring The Origin's Dave Mastiff & Zack Gibson, Sweet Jesus, The Dazzler Team and the make-shift pairing of Big Damo & Joe Coffey and an Inter-Gender Tag Team match pitting "Flash" Morgan Webster and Pollyanna against The South Pacific Power Couple...but was it any good? Let's find out.

chapter 26: unknown pleasures match card

Match 1 - Four-Way Tag Team - The Origin (Gibson/Mastiff) vs. Sweet Jesus vs. The Dazzler Team vs. Big Damo & Joe Coffey

Match 2- Singles - Bubblegum vs. Jack Sexsmith

Match 3 - Inter-Gender Tag Team - The South Pacific Power Couple vs. "Flash" Morgan Webster & Pollyanna

Match 4 - Singles - Timothy Thatcher vs. Jack Gallagher

Match 5 - Singles - Mikey Whiplash vs. Rampage Brown

Match 6 - Singles - Tommy End vs. James Davis

Match 7 - PROGRESS Wrestling Championship - Mark Haskins vs. "The Villain" Marty Scurll (C)

jim smallman opens the show

Jim Smallman's introduction's to each Chapter at PROGRESS always end-up being some of my favourite part's of the show. Not just because it means that the long wait between doors opening to the start of the wrestling is almost over, but also because Smallman handles the crowd with ease, speaking in relatable language, telling jokes and making sure that the crowd is nice and loud for the action that is about to follow. This time around there was, of course, plenty of Valentine's Day based banter, as Smallman noted a number of couples in the audience, which the rest of us lonely singletons either saw as a ray of hope or just another reason to be miserable. But hey, wrestling.

the origin defeat sweet jesus, the dazzler team and big damo/joe coffey

Just as you'd expect the action was thick and fast in this one, with eight bodies in there this was always going to be a lot of fun. All the performers seemed very comfortable with their characters, and this lead to a strong character-driven narrative, as not only did the two heel teams take turn to cut off the ring and control the tempo with a babyface counterpart, but we also got to see Dave Mastiff and Zack Gibson rip the piss out of The Dazzler Team, before Earl Black Jr. tagged himself in. As a fan of character development and narrative I got as much of a kick out of this as I did for Joe Coffey's spinning butterfly suplex, the double suplex spot with Dave Mastiff and Big Damo or a Tope Conhilo from Chuck Mambo. 

After mostly slick action, I felt like the finish more than a little messy. After Black Jr. had been hit with a Discus Lariat from Coffey and a Running Senton by Damo, Coffey seemed to tease a dive to the outside then awkwardly climbed out to brawl with Allen. Damo, Mastiff, Eaver, Coffey, and Mambo then all had attempts at pinning Black Jr. with each breaking up the earlier man's pin to throw him to the outside, with the exception of Eaver as Black Jr. actually managed to kick out of that one. With Mambo taking a silly amount of time to go for his pin, he then got school-boyed by Zack Gibson to give The Origin the victory. The idea was okay, but poorly executed on the most part with a pace that didn't quite live up to what it needed to be to make it work. Throwing the need for a legal man out of the window also undid some of the story-telling that I had praised earlier on.

We do however have an interesting situation in the tag division now, as Mastiff and Gibson have managed to defeat a good percentage of the PROGRESS tag division in one match and their stablemates El Ligero and Nathan Cruz are the current PROGRESS Tag Team Championships. Big Damo & Joe Coffey turning heel after the match, destroying both The Dazzler Team and Sweet Jesus seemed to signal that we'd be seeing both men more regularly in PROGRESS which is definitely a good thing. With the stipulation that was added to the Sumerian Death Squad vs. London Riots match at Chapter 27 later in the night, it's pleasing to see a new dominant tag team already positioned to cause havoc in the Electric Ballroom and O2 Ritz very soon.

bubblegum defeats jack sexsmith

How does one even go about reviewing Jack Sexsmith vs. Bubblegum? Well, I think it'd be right to start by saying this contest probably wouldn't be everyone's cup of tea. If you're uncomfortable with male sexuality and bare arses and valets in gimp suits then this might be one for you to steer clear of. I don't know what it says about me as a supposedly straight male, but I found this to be a lot of fun. There was a lot of comedy based around the clashes of the two characters, with a "highlight" including Bubblegum doing his signature "Say Cheese" attack, which for anyone unfamiliar with the sequence, see's the current GPW & JDW Champion put his hand down the front of his trunks before attempting to rub his hand in his opponents face, only for Sexsmith to hold him at arms length before allowing Bubblegum's fingers to enter his mouth. It was one of those cringey, yet laughable moments, with the "You Sick Fuck" chants that followed topping the moment off.

Whilst there was much silliness, Sexsmith seemed more than capable in the ring and whilst the experience of Bubblegum helped, the up and comer more than did his part in a handful of nice wrestling sequences. I'm looking forward to seeing how this particular character can keep evolving in PROGRESS, as it is an act that could get tired out quickly. There is, of course only, so many times you can rely on getting your arse out. Sexsmith using Joel Allen's hand to tap out whilst in a Boston Crab, to make Bubblegum think he had the win, was a sign that there might be more up the sleeve of both the character and the performer. Quite rightly however, it was Bubblegum who picked up the victory after dodging Mr. Cocko (Yes, that's a condom instead of a sock) and after an accidental distraction from referee Joel, it was a superkick and a pedigree that gave Bubblegum his first victory inside a PROGRESS ring. 

"flash" morgan webster and pollyanna defeat the south pacific power couple

Although announced as a Mixed Tag Team Match by Smallman, this contest was actually more of an intergender contest, as all the competitors exchanged blows here. This was used throughout the match as a way of driving the narrative, as Pollyanna quickly found herself in the face in peril role. I adored the earlier part of the bout, as I found The South Pacific Power Couple very easy to hate, as we all know that PDA is disgusting and TK Cooper seemed to revel in beating on Pollyanna, whilst it was perhaps even easier to empathise with Pollyanna as she fought from underneath looking for a hot tag. The moment when Dahlia pulled "Flash" Morgan Webster off the apron, after Pollyanna had managed to create enough space between herself and Cooper to be able to make the hot tag, was superbly crafted and timed to perfection.

After the hot tag to was made to Webster, the match became very different. Moving away from the storytelling of the first portion of the contest, things became much more spot-orientated. This lead to a lot of near falls, that had the crowd buying into pretty much each one, with each kick-out met with loud gasps. Those gasps were testament to the series of great moves that were on display as the likes of Pollyanna's Pollenator (Double Underhook Facebuster) & Finish-Her (Sunset Driver) and Double Stomp/Samoan Driver combination from SPPC had the crowd reaching fever pitch come the end. However, I once again have to mention how the need for tagging in and out and the concept of a legal man was dropped after the hot tag, which again diminishes the good work that was put in during the earlier portion of the contest.

A thrilling home straight saw all four competitors impressing, beginning with Dahlia pulling out a reverse rana on Webster and closing with Webster hitting a 630 splash on Cooper to pick up the victory for his team. In reflection, this was a great bout and one of the best intergender tag matches that I can remember seeing anyway, thanks to the variety of action that was on offer. I do, however, feel that the two distinct portions of the match could have been integrated into each other better. It could be argued that having to work tags would have taken away elements of the pace and crispness of the near falls of the second half of the bout, but in my opinion each near fall could have meant a lot more if the story that had been told earlier, with Pollyanna searching for a hot tag after a sustained beating, had been able to be maintained. A great match, that could have been just that little bit better.

jack gallagher defeats timothy thatcher

I'm going to cheat a little bit with the review of this one, as having watched this contest back on the Demand Progress VOD service, I have a completely different opinion of it to what I did while sitting inside the O2 Ritz. I'm not sure whether I was worn out by the Intergender Tag bout, but I couldn't get into Jack Gallagher and current EVOLVE Champion Timothy Thatcher. I love technical wrestling, you might have noticed I love storytelling as well, but I couldn't get my brain to adjust to the style, as the two exchanged intricate submission holds. By the time Gallagher had managed to dodge a charging Thatcher and roll through into the King Crab submission, I hadn't gotten into the action and therefore was surprised to see the match end this quickly. For whatever reason it may have been, I actually came away disappointed with what I had seen.

I now realise what an idiotic boob I was while watching live and don't feel like it would be fair of me to have written more of the review that you saw above. Quite frankly, this bout was an absolute master-class between two of the best scientific wrestler on the planet today. Watching back I was hooked by Gallagher's dominance as he focused his efforts on Thatcher's leg, with a series of painful looking submission holds that were beautifully transitioned from one to the next. Thatcher's selling of the injury throughout, his flashes of offence attacking Gallagher's arm and hard-hitting strikes sequence also added something to the drama of this old-school British grappling contest. Having not fully appreciated this live, I'm now desperate to see this match booked again and would love to see Thatcher booked to return as the Super Strong Style 16 Tournament in May.

fast-forward...As the second half began, Jim Smallman was back in the ring for a slim-line re-introduction, as we headed straight back into the action after a lengthy interval...

rampage brown defeats mikey whiplash

With Mikey Whiplash returning to a PROGRESS ring for the first time since his victory over then PROGRESS Champion Jimmy Havoc at Download 2015 - Day 4 in June 2015, this was a heavyweight collision that had the crowd split as the majority chose their favourite quickly and created a terrific atmosphere from the outset. Whiplash and Brown didn't mess around, being extremely physical from the outset, as Whiplash attempted to re-establish his position within the company, whilst Brown look to re-build some momentum having suffered defeat to Marty Scurll at Chapter 24: Hit the North in December. The contest was a sprawling brawl that went around the venue in the opening stages with both men using the outside environment to do damage, including Whiplash getting thrown into the ringside chairs and Brown taking a nasty looking back drop onto the hard wooden floor.

When inside the ring the match went back and forth with Whiplash and Brown throwing bombs at each other, in well-crafted slice of strong-style action. A personal highlight saw Whiplash miss a running dropkick in the corner and land almost straight into a tree of woe position, before Brown climbed to the top rope and delivered a huge back superplex. It flowed beautifully and ended with an impressive impact move, exactly what you'd want from two of Europe's most experience heavyweights. The finish was just as satisfying as Brown caught Whiplash coming through the middle rope, transitioning straight into a big piledriver to pick up the pinfall victory. I'm curious to see where both men are heading in 2016 for PROGRESS as Brown hasn't had much of a purpose since last year's Super Strong Style 16 tournament, and as for Whiplash, a competitive loss on his return against a former PROGRESS Champion, will surely mean he'll be cropping up again sooner or later.  

tommy end defeats james davis to decide a stipulation for london riots vs. sumerian death squad at chapter 27

Just like a match between two guys with considerable beef over the last few months should be, Tommy End and James Davis were straight out of the traps, battering each other with hard strikes. With both still popular among the fans, the match went back and forth and didn't seem to drop in pace for the duration. This felt very much like a preview of what to expect come Chapter 27 when the two will be on opposite sides of TLC match. Kept fairly short to allow for the pace of the bout, End picked up the victory with a beautifully timed Octopus Stretch that closed off a terrific sequence of reversals and strikes. A solid piece of storytelling as well, as it could easily be argued that under usual circumstances Davis would have held on, but with the TLC match just around the corner and with Davis' partner Rob Lynch having already chosen that TLC match stipulation after a victory over Michael Dante at Chapter 25, that he decided to fight another day in this one.

Following the bout it was Tommy End's chance to decide a stipulation for the Sumerian Death Squad's bout with the London Riots at Chapter 27: The Lost Art of Suffering. With the Riots already having chosen the Tables, Ladders and Chairs stipulation at Chapter 25, I think there was a feeling among the fans that the second stipulation would have to be something rather different and fitting for a feud between two of the promotions most popular tag teams. Of course, being PROGRESS that is exactly what we got, as End added a Losing Team Must Disband stipulation. I'd predicted the stipulation or something very similar based off the TLC stipulation being in place. It provides the opportunity for added drama to a bout, that mixed with the highspots that a TLC should provide, very well could steal the show come 27th March in the Electric Ballroom.

marty scurll defeats mark haskins to retain the progress wrestling championship

Mark Haskins and Marty Scurll are two of the United Kingdom's top professional wrestlers, and they proved it with this epic encounter that managed to close PROGRESS' 1st Manchester show of 2016 in style. Both men didn't seem to put a foot wrong in 25 minute epic, that had pretty much everything you'd want from a main event championship match. The wrestling was spot on, with the two exchanging holds beautifully, transitioning from perfectly from one to the next. The character work was brilliant, with Scurll in particularly hamming up his Villain character, whilst Haskins underrated no-nonense gimmick really came into it's as well. The narrative played out just as one would have hoped, with the pacing that can only come between two well-travelled veterans, who've wrestled each other all over England over the last eight years.  

As anyone who's read one of my reviews over the past few years will know, I'm a sucker for some storytelling, so I was having a bit of moment for most of this. Haskins' coming out with kinesiology tape on his arm was the target for Scurll, as if The Villain needed a target, with the current PROGRESS Champion went to work, and looked to lock on the Crossface Chicken Wing whenever the opportunity presented itself. On the other side of the coin, Haskins was locking on any submission hold in his repertoire in an attempt to wrestle his way to his first PROGRESS Championship. For a match, that didn't have a whole lot of backstory in the promotion heading in, the two created it all within the ring and managed to make the PROGRESS title look like even more of a prize than it did going into the contest.

Two fiery comeback sequences from Haskins, accompanied by some superb near falls, provided the bout with some real drama, that had the O2 Ritz getting louder and louder as the match built towards it's climax. A particular standout moment saw the Villian begging Haskins to hit him with an umbrella, with referee Chris Roberts confiscating the item, allowing Scurll to hit a low blow and hook Haskins in a small package, in a perfectly executed near fall to got a great reaction out of the crowd. Haskins got a handful of near falls off his own turning a Superplex into a small package and hitting a flurry of offense that finished with Made in Japan for some more big crowd reactions. By the time Scurll finally locked in his Crossface Chickenwing and Haskins' was forced to submit, it had been twenty five minutes of quality wrestling that could have graced pretty much any card around the world. Whilst it was lacking in the emotional investment that was produced by matches like Jimmy Havoc vs. Will Ospreay last year, the duo more than made up for that in the effort they put forward throughout the contest.

Following the match, the feud would become personal. The Villain threatened to stamp on Haskins' arm with a steel chair wrapped around it, in scenes reminiscent of what Scurll did to, then Champion, Will Ospreay at Chapter 24 in December. With that little bit of sports-entertainment style sheen, Haskins' wife appeared at ringside and begged Scurll not to proceed with his plans...but of course, Scurll being the Villian that he is, this only seemed to egg him on and his stamped away. With Scurll being built and built as an absolute bastard, I did find it a little frustrating to hear a few cheers from portions of the crowd. For me, if you think a guy is doing a good job at playing the bad guy, then you reward him by booing and throwing insults his way. But hey, if you want to cheer, that's your right as paying customer, I suppose. Heckling Haskins as he sold his arm injury, with his wife comforting him, does however almost certainly go against the one rule of Progress? 


atpw scale rating - 7.09/10

Whilst missing a number of PROGRESS regulars like Eddie Dennis, El Ligero, Will Ospreay and Paul Robinson, this was a strong outing from the company as they look to establish themselves within the North-West scene. With a main event that could stand up against anything, the show was bolstered by a strong under-card that was the wrestling equivalent of Kellog's multi-pack. Whilst sticking to promotions "Strong-Style", there was a little something for everyone here, from the thrilling mixed tag team bout, to the technical master-class between Timothy Thatcher and Jack Gallagher, Rampage Brown and Mikey Whiplash's heavyweight war and even Jack Sexsmith and Bubblegum's arse-based tomfoolery, if you didn't find something for you here, then wrestling probably isn't your bag. 

With Chapter 27 looking to celebrate the promotions 4th anniversary on 27th March, and a return to Manchester set for Chapter 28 on 10th April, PROGRESS Wrestling continues to move from strength to strength. Long may it continue.

Thanks to PROGRESS Wrestling for allowing for allowing the use of photos from their event to be used in this review. All credit for these brilliant images goes to Rob Brazier Photography.

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