It wasn't just the biggest show in company history, it was the biggest show England had seen since Big Daddy and his pals loomed large. It featured some of the best wrestlers in the country across the card and three of the very best in the entire world in the main event. Chapter 36 had a hell of a lot to live up as over 2000 PROGRESS Ultras descended upon the O2 Academy Brixton in the hope of being a part of something special. Now usually at this point, I'd tease that the show could end up being a disappointment, but this is PROGRESS and the real question here was, just how special would this show be? Let's find out, lads and lasses.
Marty Scurll. Tommy End. Mark Haskins. Just looking at those names all in the same line should send a shiver down any die-hard wrestling fan's spine and if it doesn't...go away. These three men put on a real display, fitting of the main event slot and whilst most of the talk will be about the finish, it would be almost irresponsible not to begin by talking about the marvelous work that all three did to build towards it and the clever booking that steadily unfolded across over a half hour. After a tense start, displaying the lengthy history that all three share and an number of early pin attempts, each one of the trio was given ample time to shine. Haskins and End looked great when beating the shit out of The Villain, whilst equally upping their game when coming up against each other in a number of pacy and violent strike and grapple sequences.
Whilst I've always preferred triple threats with two heels, despite some obvious examples on the other side of the coin, they just tend to produce the best opportunities for story-telling. However, I'm just gonna throw that line of thought out of the window, because this contest produced some of the richest narratives that one could hope for, whilst also being incredibly simple at the same time. Everyone wants the belt, everyone that isn't Marty really doesn't like Marty, Marty will do absolutely anything to walk out with the belt. This meant that every move hit on Scurll was extremely satisfying, because he's just so damn good at being a dick and with Haskins and End being some of the hardest hitting wrestlers in Europe you've got yourself a magic combination. The build of near falls for both challengers, the escalation of Scurll's chicanery, every agonising submission, the dramatic sequence on the apron that would lead to End and Scurll suplexing Haskins through a table and a lot more all came together to create a compelling, dynamic, convincing work of art, with an electric Brixton crowd adding a big scoop of whipped cream on the sweet, sweet pie that was this match.
So, I should probably speak about the finish at some point, because if the crowd were electric to begin with things were about to become...ultra electric (yeah)! The narrative of Scurll being a man possessed trying to keep hold of his prize came to a thrilling climax as he took out every referee in the building after being unable to put End away with multiple Gotch-style piledriver attempts. As the crowd poured scorn on Scurll, The Villain ended up face to face with one third of PROGRESS' owners, Jim Smallman, when the familiar stab of former PROGRESS Champion Jimmy Havoc's music hit for the first time in over a year and Havoc nailed Scurll with a precise Acid Rain Maker, with a knowing nod to former arch rival Smallman. It was a marvelous moment that got the reaction it deserved, whilst setting up a now mouth-watering potential clash between The Villain and perhaps the only man in company history who could out Villain the Villain. This being PROGRESS, I'm sure we'll get to hear from Havoc in due course, to fully explain his involvement.
One of my favourite things about this match, was that the fall didn't come directly after Havoc's interference, because it easily could have felt like Havoc handing the belt to someone, which wouldn't have been the best way to start off a new technico champion. Luckily, after Havoc left, there was one last sprint of action with Scurll and Haskins grappling for just enough the right amount of time before Scurll found himself locked deep within the Sharpshooter. It was so very satisfying to see Haskins finally win the belt after coming supremely close on a number of occasions and do so in convincing form, finally getting a man who has terrorised him for months to submit. This match really did have a little bit of everything, transitioning from a strong wrestling three way into a more sports entertainment style with the angle in the final third, before finishing off with a wonderfully cathartic finish. If you like your wrestling to tell a story, then you'll love this match.
I was almost tempted to do a similar opening for this match as I did for the last, as it really does have the same kind of feel. Two of the best, in a match type that when done well encourages great wrestling and story-telling, whilst also having a strong back-story and lead-in...there wasn't really a way this could go wrong. Honestly, having seen the previous two matches between the pair in May and December 2015, this was pretty much exactly what I wanted to see from ZSJ and Ciampa here. The duo have a tonne of chemistry in the ring, working holds as well as anyone, slick and crisp in every move and transition, that almost half an hour of wrestling seemed to pass by in a flash. Their previous matches have presented an interesting twist on the old cliche of technical wrestler vs physical brawler, because both men able to raise their game to meet the other in either category and the 2/3 falls gimmick allowed them to get into this even more than before.
In the first two falls, ZSJ worked Ciampa's arm pretty extensively, with The Psycho Killer doing a stunning sell job, both when in the holds and when later on the offense. This worked nicely as a foundation, whilst also presenting a through thread to follow throughout the match, with the crowd popping anytime ZSJ went near Ciampa's hurt wing. There were also a plethora of pin falls, each made more convincing by the gimmick and the sheer smoothness of the pair's work. I lost track of the number of stunning sequences that the Cruiserweight Classic alumni put on here, but each would culminate with one of the other gaining a near fall, as the crowd got further sucked in. Slotted into this was ZSJ taking the opportunity to lock in a triangle choke with Ciampa fighting out and nailing a make-shift Project Ciampa, threading the two stories together well. This portion of the match would end with some more silky action, climaxing with both men managing to keep each others shoulders pinned to the mat, resulting in the match going to 1-1. I'm still undecided on this as a "finish" here, as part of me feels like it was trying to be a bit too clever, however the result did mean that the final fall would come out as the distinctive victory after both men had proved to be evenly matched.
The final fall was an eight minute sprint that saw both men going all out to outdo his opponent, with a number of strong potential finishes and a riled up audience. The pair showed an impressive ability to switch gears in a match that could have easily have peaked too early, as ZSJ brought a renewed focus on Ciampa's arm following a wonderful back and forth submission sequence, whilst the former ROH World Television Champion dipped into his bag of tricks, including hitting a Pedigree for two and an Avalanche Project Ciampa. With both men becoming increasingly frustrated the match broke down in to a number of nasty slaps and strikes, somehow finding another place to take the contest, before ZSJ was able to get the win with Hurrah!... Octopus Hold. When all was said and done and Ciampa gave his last bow in an independent wrestling ring, Brixton had been treated to an incredibly technical, incredibly physical, strong-style epic!
Topping the undercard was a sprawling encounter, that saw The Origin's Dave Mastiff, El Ligero, Nathan Cruz and Zack Gibson take on some of their biggest rivals in Damon Moser, Jack Gallagher and FSU's Eddie Dennis & Mark Andrews. However, the group's biggest rival of all has always been the fans and this was typified with the reaction that all the foursome and especially Gibson received as they attempted to cut their traditional pre-match promo. This included the crowd throwing so much toilet paper into the ring that I was expected a shit load of Andrex puppies to come flying down the aisle to reclaim it. It was an incredible sight, that made fun of the villainous group, with The Origin absolutely reveling in the reaction they were getting. The babyfaces did a great job of encouraging the crowd to keep going, controlling them well, adding to the brilliant work that Gibson was doing on the microphone, exaggerating ever syllable to get the best reaction, whilst Mastiff was making toilet roll angels.
The match was a lorra lorra fun, as everyone brawled around the large room, featuring some great spots, including Andrews hitting a moonsault off a high barricade. As much as the issues between the teams felt serious, the tone of the match often verged towards the comedic with the performance skills of the likes of Ligero and Mastiff, helping to get the mood of the action spot on. The babyfaces would often get the better of their rivals, with a wonderful spot seeing Gallagher ties all of the opposite team (except Mastiff) in knots, whilst he, Dennis and Andrews basked in the glory. The contest also featured one of the best false finishes of the night, as after Ligero had pushed referee Joel too far, he took a Stunner from the ref, followed up by a beautiful Next Stop Driver from Dennis, assisted by a Shooting Star Press from Andrews, only for Gibson making the save just in time. The finish was a fitting end to Gallagher's time on the independents as he and the man he's faced more than anyone else in his career, Gibson, put together some lovely wrestling, for what was perhaps the final time. Of course, with this being The Origin the finish would have to include shenanigans as Mastiff nailed Gallagher with a car stereo, allowing Gibson to hit a spinning brainbuster for the win and keep The Origin together as a group. As much it would have been perfectly fitting to have broken up the Origin here, with various other feel good moments on the show, it makes sense to continue to build four of the promotions hottest heels, plus giving Gibson the pin on Gallagher on his way out the door gives Liverpool's Number One even more ammunition to fire at the crowd at future shows.
The biggest contest on the first half of the show was the Tag Team title bout, that saw British Strong Style (Pete Dunne & Trent Seven) go over The London Riots (James Davis & Rob Lynch) to pick up their first titles in PROGRESS. This was a very good, action packed tag bout, that rarely took time for a breath, featuring some quality spots and a perhaps surprising sprinkling of comedy. This was a style that suited all four men well, as they used spots like all four sitting on chairs outside the ring and trading brutal forearms and focused on Dunne's obsession with biting opponents, building to a bite-fest between all four. These sorts of sequences could have felt jarring with some of the more serious action, but in the context of the story, that didn't have a whole lot of prior build, made it feel more like both teams were trying to one up the other.
I found it interesting that there was no notable face in peril and hot tag sequence, or at least a very short one, with both teams mostly just trading big moves and near falls. There was one section in particular, that featured biting, forearms, German suplexes and Powerbombs that really highlighted this as the four men rotated the momentum with no one holding it for long. This was arguably the best-booked match of the evening, as after proving they could go toe to toe with the Tag Team Champions, Dunne and Seven took the easy way out as following a ref bump, Seven drove the handle of London Riots' cricket bat straight into the already hurt eye of Lynch and finished things off with a piledriver combined with a running punt kick from Dunne. British Strong Style have risen quickly after only forming as a team at Chapter 33, but they are also one of the most interesting heel teams in recent memory, with plenty of depth to their act. As good a bout as this was, I feel the best is still to come from Pete Dunne and Trent Seven in PROGRESS!
Joe Coffey and Rampage Brown could walk into pretty much any company in the country and end up in the main event, however their clash in the Final of the Atlas Championship tournament opened the show as the pair had a belting heavyweight tussle. I'll be honest and say that I haven't been overly enamoured by the "big lads" division heading into the show, with the tournament having a couple of issues, but this match was exactly what the division should be about. Coffey and Brown went right at it, keeping things fairly open throughout the bout, but giving both men ample time to look their best. The duo traded big blows throughout with the action spilling to the outside early on where Coffey hit a snap scoop powerslam, that really set the tone for how things would pan out.
The match was full of impressive moments and well worked sequences, that got over the idea that Coffey and Brown were evenly matches, whilst also setting up the duos finishes, with a sequence where Coffey would struggle out of a piledriver attempt particularly standing out. After tonnes of tit for tat fighting that included chops and headbutts and a wonderful suplex sequence, it was Brown who weathered the storm, kicking out of a Discus Lariat, before nailing an avalanche samoan drop and a piledriver, which would be followed up by another following Coffey's resilient kick out to become the first Atlas Champion. Just like the tournament itself had been, putting these two at the start of the show was a brave choice by PROGRESS, but it paid off well, with the pace and make up of the contest getting the crowd even hotter for the rest of the show. A re-match is surely a must!
The lone women's match was a relatively low-key trios match, that still provided some strong action in an energetic ten minutes. With a tournament to crown the first Women's Champion supposedly just around the corner, Jinny, Dahlia Black and Alex Windsor went over Nixon Newell, Laura Di Matteo and Pollyanna in a match that was structured perfectly and got the most out of everyone involved. Pollyanna worked well as the face in peril as arguably the most over babyface, whilst TK Cooper's involvement at ringside and some wonderful rudo work by Jinny and Black got great reactions. Things would break down shortly after the hot tag, rolling along at break neck speed as everyone rotated in and out of the ring hitting big moves. The standout here would have to be Jinny's version of the Styles Clash which got a massive pop. The finish tied everything up neatly, as Cooper would end up hitting girlfriend Black in the face after Pollyanna ducked, then get kicked in the dick by Newell, before a busy busy finish saw Jinny able to put long-time rival LDM away with her Face Lift Finish.
The second half would feature a bonus match, after Paul Robinson returned after a four month hiatus and his demand for a match was answered by Chuck Mambo, who was, perhaps surprisingly, having his first one on one match on a Chapter show. This was a simple bout done well, as Robinson had plenty of heat and Mambo is a popular persona. Structure wise this was plain, with a face shine, strong heat sequence, short comeback including a nice blockbuster, a decent near fall for Mambo, before Robinson collected the W with a nasty curb stomp. It was short, sweet, but effective, with both men working hard to maximise the time they were given, whilst also taking time to make sure the crowd were back up to their usual levels after the interval. Part of the enjoyment here was that both hadn't been seen all that often recently, and so their work seemed fresh and exciting, however they definitely both staked a claim to deserving more time on the product with their performances.
Unfortunately, Pastor William Eaver and Sebastian's No Disqualification match ended within seconds after Sebastian was legitimately knocked out by a lariat and had to be taken out of the ring on a stretcher after being seen to by paramedics. This was handled well by everyone involved, including a respectful crowd. Hopefully, we get to see this match sometime soon, but more importantly I'd like to wish Sebastian a swift return to health following the accident.
ATPW Scale Rating - 8.16/10
Man, what a show. Seriously, this was the first event I've given above a "Superb" rating on the ATPW Scale. Top to bottom, each match outdid itself in it's position on the card and there was barely a moment where the crowd wasn't totally into the action and with 2400 in attendance the atmosphere made things extra special. The main event was my match of the night, because I love dramatic narrative wrestling, but you really could have picked any of the top half of the show. I could go on and on here, but if you've read the rest of the review and haven't seen this show yet, you'll know exactly what I'm going to tell you, go now, demandprogress.pivotshare.com.
Words and Images - James Marston
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