Just three weeks after the companies biggest show of the year, Chapter 36: We're Gonna Need A Bigger Room...Again in Brixton, London, PROGRESS Wrestling returned to Manchester, with the landscape almost completely changed since their last trip north in August for Chapter 34: Keep It Unreal.
Following pinned Jack Gallagher in his final independent match, The Origin's Zack Gibson got the first show at Mark Haskins' World Championship in the main event, new Tag Team Champions British Strong Style (Pete Dunne and Trent Seven) were involved in a Four Way Match with Atlas Championship tournament runner-up, Joe Coffey and deposed World Champion Marty Scurll and The Origin's Dave Mastiff and El Ligero took on The South Pacific Power Trip (TK Cooper and Travis Banks) and FSU (Eddie Dennis & Mark Andrews) in a Three Way that whilst not a #1 Contender to match to BSS's Tag Team titles would have major repercussions in the division. Talent like Kay Lee Ray, Fabian Aichner (Adrian Severe), Kimber Lee, Atlas Champion Rampage Brown and Mikey Whiplash featured on the under the card.
Could PROGRESS continue to expand on the momentum that Chapter 36 and it's build up created or would there be a big show "hangover" effect?
"The Star Attraction" Mark Haskins' first World title defense was a successful one as he tapped out "Liverpool's Number One" Zack Gibson in a superb main event. From before the opening bell, the O2 Ritz Manchester were captivated by the story of the brilliant wrestler from a despised local rival attempting to play spoiler to brilliant wrestler who probably still had a buzz from when Marty Scurll tapped out three weeks earlier. Whilst it may sound curious, if you're familiar with the recent PROGRESS product then you'll know exactly why I wrote "before the opening bell" for this clash, of course, I'm referring to Gibson's now infamous pre-match promo. It's become something of a game to boo as you physically can whilst Gibson is trying to talk, because of his exaggerated Merseyside accent and general cuntish behaviour with the recent addition of people lobbing loo roll at the ring, a la "the streamers thing" as Cody put it, giving the occasion a terrific visual to match. I couldn't tell you what Gibson said though, but it was probably something about how he'd seen be the #1 wrestler in werld.
Let's not be mistaken here, these are two of the best wrestlers in the country (and perhaps beyond), both of which have improved tremendously over the last two or three years, and that was made even more evident by the quality of this match in almost every department. The opening cleverly settled the crowd down from the Gibson promo, but also planted seeds later in the match. Around some crisp "feeling out process" action, Haskins attempted to lock in his title-winning Sharpshooter, whilst Gibson would wrench the Smash Champion's arm across the top rope to give the match the bulk of it's narrative going forward. Gibson worked extremely well as a methodical heel, focusing the majority of his offence on the arm going forward, which included a piledriver-style shoulderbreaker. Haskins continued to impress with his sympathetic babyface selling, not just with the arm but all over his face (which could be clearly seen even from the balcony). Haskins offence, which featured a vast variety of submissions, was often impacted by the injury, included an attempt at one of his signature holds, the Stretch Muffler. I love this kind of stuff, more than I love pie...and I love pie.
The second half of the match was even better, with some world class grappling and a pacing which showed a real intelligence. Gibson hitting a pair of Ticket to Rides (Double knee facebuster) including one that came off the middle rope and whilst it would be easy to write that this was a strong near fall, there was much more behind it as it would drive the action for the finishing stretch. The frustration was painted on Gibson's face as he fired up hitting an arm trap DDT, before through Haskins between the ropes and into the ringpost and then nailed a spinning piledriver, which had a similar effect to the previous near fall, exaggerating the frustration further and putting Haskins over as a gutsy motherfucker. It was then time for the Shankly Gates (Grounded Wristlock) which got a huge pop from the crowd, in an anticipation that they could see a new champion, thanks to the work done across the previous fifteen minutes. The conclusion to the story was a satisfying one as The Star Attraction escaped the hold and moments later had the Sharpshooter locked on and wrenched back in a way that I have never seen. It married the stories together and when Gibson tapped it felt like a logical conclusion. Haskins credentials as champion have been bolstered, with his blood and guts, fight til fall down character came across in a way that will only aid any future defenses, whilst Gibson looked capable and comfortable in the main event slots.
The show's semi-main came in the form of Marty Scurll tapping out Joe Coffey in a Four Way that also involved Tag Team Champions Pete Dunne and Trent Seven, with Seven substituting for CZW star Shane Strickland (who had travel issues getting from Germany after a wXw show the prior evening). I would be lying if I said Seven replacing Strickland didn't hurt the contest as it certainly changed the dynamic. I'm a huge fan of Seven, but the announced bout appeared to be a mixture of four different styles, with Strickland down as the representative for the high-flying US Indy variant. Seven is a hard-hitting British strong style competitor, he's also Dunne's tag team partner and was initially down to second The Bruiserweight for the bout, which in itself would have offered more storytelling options. Having just one babyface in match, meant that things were left feeling a little uneven and whilst things could have worked, Coffey isn't over enough to play that role. When Seven asked owner and announcer Jim Smallman to be included in the contest, I was expected Smallman to swerve and introduce a different competitor.
Whilst the bout had it's problems, don't for a second think was dull. All four were game for an exciting and pacy contest that was full of fun spots that would involve multiple competitors at a time. Whilst the crowd mimicking Seven shouting "Peter" to help escape a signature move threatened to overpower what was trying to be done in the ring, the four were more than capable of bringing the audience back in to what they were doing. A sequence that combined Dunne's penchant for biting and Scurll's desire to snap people's fingers was put together superbly and got great reactions from simple low impact moments. A Dunne v Scurll singles match, whether it be in PROGRESS or somewhere else is surely a must within the next 12 months, too my knowledge it'd be a first time clash. The finish was a pacey as all four began to shine, including a lariat from Coffey that appeared to murder Dunne, a nice sequence between Coffey and Dunne, before Scurll picked up the win with his Cross-faced Chicken Wing with a leg scissors. As good as the match turned out to be, the biggest pop came milli-seconds after a rising promo saw Scurll proclaim himself the greatest World Champion in company history and AFI's I Hope You Suffer blared through the venue and former champ Jimmy Havoc blindsided The Villain, attacking him for the second show in a row. I'm extremely excited to see where this is heading.
Rounding off the top of the card was The South Pacific Power Trip (TK Cooper and Travis Banks, accompanied by Dahlia Black) winning a three way tag bout over The Origin (Dave Mastiff & El Ligero) and FSU (Eddie Dennis & Mark Andrews) in a bout that mostly mixed comedy with stimulating action well. I say mostly because some of the humorous hijinx didn't sit as well with the rest of the bout as they could have. The one thing in particular that hurt things for me was Mastiff and Ligero revealing a pair of foam hands and using them as weapons. Now, it was funny and it worked with Ligero's gimmick, whilst Mastiff hamming it up on the apron was also great, even the repeated foam hand chest strikes to Andrews in the corner was fine by me...but Andrews selling the strikes? Not so much. For the majority of the crowd this didn't seem to be a problem, but it took me a little out of the moment, especially considering how there's been a strong feud between FSU and the Origin for months.
With six (or seven) talented wrestlers the three way was predictably strong, as everyone pulled their weight within their roles. Andrews worked effectively as the face in peril, whilst the tension between the two heel teams was played perfectly and Dennis offered a sweet hot tag sequence before the match would break out into a pacier sprint. The break down included a beautiful German suplex from Mastiff to Andrews, that my mind has somehow saved almost photographically. The fact that it was surrounded by a series of strikes and big moves as the talent rotated in and out of the ring made it feel even more special. The last few minutes included a number of strong near falls, including SPPT using their Elevated DDT style finish, Cooper moonsaulting into a Dennis superkick and FSU using their Go Home Driver/Double Stomp combination. Black would get involved as well, trying to distract Dennis for a bicycle kick from Cooper and ended up taking the move herself as she went flying off the apron. When the dust began to settle it was Banks who got the win for his team, managing to pin former World Champion Andrews with a reverse fireman's carry airplane spin! The SCCP are undefeated since forming in June and with a match with The Shirtlifters (Jack Sexsmith & Roy Johnson) in Camden on 30th October, they seem to be on the road to lifting the Tag Team shields.
The undercard was highlighted by Mikey Whiplash answering Rampage Brown's open challenge and unsuccessfully challenging for the Atlas Championship in the belts first defense. In a nice piece of storytelling, in June Whiplash cost Brown a tag match in the Atlas Tournament, subbing for Michael Dante, but leaving Brown high and dry against Damian O'Connor & Joe Coffey. This was a stellar heavyweight scrap, in a style that has become synonymous with the Atlas Division in PROGRESS. Big hard strikes, brawling on the outside and general big lads stuff fitted well just before the main event. The duo added some touches in final stages that saw the match really come into it's own. Whiplash's frustration and Rampage's fiery comeback, lead to Whiplash pulling out a tope conhilo that I'm not sure anyone saw coming! The finish was well-worked, increasing in pace, until Whiplash attempted a pendulum lariat, only to be caught mid-way through and dragged leg first in a piledriver. After Brown's title win over Coffey and subsequent defense here, the Atlas division seems to have found it's sea legs, there's a lot of potential for the division and things are heading in the right direction for sure.
Fabian Aichner (Adrian Severe) was on the losing end of his PROGRESS debut, as James Drake picked up the win, in a match where Aichner shined. Drake initially seemed to get over as a heel because he has his own face on his trunks, in a terrific example of how PROGRESS fans will attempt to find absolutely anything to chant. However, it was Aichner's performance that was the standout moment of the contest. Whilst Drake dominated, his offence was anything but flashy, which seemed to be a decision to allow Aichner's attacks to stand out even more than they would have otherwise. Whilst the two time NEw World Heavyweight Champion had appeared in WWE's Cruiserweight Classic, he looked like a big guy and much closer to 230lbs than 205, so seeing him pull out a huge dive over the top at the beginning and a superb double jump moonsault was ridiculous impressive. As Drake dodged a Frog Splash and won with the Head and Shoulders DDT, he got a strong amount of heat, which is something he can use on future appearances and at just 23 years old, he's got buckets of potential. I'd like to see a lot more for Aichner in the future, as I feel like there's a lot more to come from the Italian.
Former CHIKARA Grand Champion Kimber Lee suffered a loss on her debut, against fellow debutante Kay Lee Ray after a potentially controversial angle. The pair have worked together across the US for SHIMMER & AIW, as well a bout in Nottingham for SWE and their previous meetings were clear throughout as the action was crisp and flowed wonderfully. The wrestling was mostly even, with the pair often mimicking each other, with repeated suicide dives and German suplexes among the back and forth strikes and pinfall attempts. Two seeds were planted and grew throughout, both circling around KLR's offence. The first was an early Gory Bomb attempt that Lee turned into a version of the sunset flip and the second was KLR trying to grab a guillotine choke at each and every opportunity. The Gory Bomb was used for an effective false finish, that protected Lee slightly, before KLR got the win the choke in a closing angle. It was the old injury angle, that saw Lee down and holding her neck, after being tripped on the top rope, before KLR would lock the hold on for an instant tap. I know some people found this distasteful after Sebastian's injury at the previous Chapter and there's a case for overuse to be made seeing as Will Ospreay had a similar angle on the Chapter before that. I didn't mind it particularly and thought it got some good heat for KLR while leaving the door open for a future Lee return.
The opening match saw Bubblegum make a successful return after an eight month absence to pin Chuck Mambo in a funny and athletic opener, that was supremely entertaining and warm the audience up well for the rest of the show. The two characters slotted together well, with the opening setting the tone as Bubblegum joked with the crowd and the wrestling had a nice pace to it. The build to a big tope from Mambo was done well, in another character based sequence. There was a lot of sophomoric humour from Bubblegum involving his groin, including a prolonged superplex attempt, that I'll leave you to discover on demand rather than even attempt to describe or critique. The finish was stunning version of the Pedigree, a move that Mambo had earlier reversed, with Mambo's legs elevated on the middle ropes. It was good to see both these men getting used by the promotion once again and both could excel in more prominent roles if given the opportunity.
ATPW Scale Rating - 7.27/10
Show in a Sentence - A strong card across the board, taken up a notch or two because of the quality of the main event.
Match of the Night - Zack Gibson v Mark Haskins
Words & Images - James Marston
All images belong to PROGRESS Wrestling.