Arnold Furious: March 26 2017. I almost forgot about this show, because it took place before WrestleMania weekend. My attempt to clear the decks going into ‘Mania didn’t include this show because it hadn’t dropped yet. It’s also the first Progress Camden show I’ve not been to in ages because of a variety of terrible reasons, all related to non-wrestling matters. Like I was on painkillers. It’s probably for the best I didn’t go to the show because it’s really, really long. One of the longest Progress shows, ever. Host in the ring is Jim Smallman in a packed Electric Ballroom. This is basically the five year anniversary show. Jim reflects on the bizarre five years culminating in the next show being in Orlando. There’s a party atmosphere and Jim is in a thankful mood.
Commentary comes from Callum Leslie and RJ Singh. Glen Joseph isn’t here today.
The Origin (Zack Gibson & Nathan Cruz) vs. The Origin, Banter Edition (El Ligero & Dave Mastiff)
Gibson is still getting that nuclear heat. You’d think it’d wear off but it’s still going. The Banter lads do tremendous work with streamers. Cruz gives Ligero a chance to rejoin the Origin while the crowd make fun of his Northern accent. Ligero’s brief tease to return to the heel ranks is a lovely moment but makes Cruz look like an idiot, again. We don’t get to hear from commentary for 24 minutes, which is telling. That long run time is a result of runaway banter! This is a fun opener, as you’d expect. The Banter Boys have gotten over with the comedy stylings and it’s an easy act to tune into. It’s not that they take it easy with Mastiff hitting a god damn tope and Ligero coming off the VIP area with a dive. Mastiff, who has been boring at times as a heel, is the stand-out. He seems so energised. The structure goes off the rails a bit towards the end and the heels win with a double Codebreaker on Ligs. Nathan Cruz actually won! It’s been a while. Fun little tag contest to kick the show off.
Final Rating: ***
Natural Progression Series Semi-Final
Dahlia Black vs. Toni Storm
Dahlia and TK Cooper are heading back to New Zealand thanks to visa issues, which is very upsetting. This is Dahlia’s last match in the UK for a while. Toni Storm has added another layer to her Australian rock chick gimmick. The music and the look have come together a little more. It’s cool to see the progression of a character. Speaking of which; South Pacific Power Trip is going to be a big loss to Progress. They’ve established themselves beautifully and have gone from being an entertaining aside to one of the promotion’s premier acts. Case in point: TK Cooper’s adapting and changing to suit the moment. He’s learning so much from working in front of loud crowds. As they suggest he may have become aroused watching Toni Storm he hides behind the ring apron, from the waist down anyway. Toni has improved since working for Stardom, among the best women’s wrestlers in the world, and Dahlia has improved from the girl who fell on her arse at Femmes Fatales last year. She even nails a moonsault.
You could debate the standard of women’s wrestling outside of WWE and the top tier but Toni is genuinely up there for the in-ring and Dahlia for the character. TK tries to score the win by punching Toni but he gets kicked in the balls and Toni takes it with a piledriver. This was a bittersweet goodbye for Dahlia, leaving a crowd that had learned to appreciate her as a performer but doing so with a broken leg. An injury picked up during the contest.
Final Rating: **3/4
Travis Banks vs. Jack Sexsmith
Travis has been getting a lot of love lately but the crowd adore Jack Sexsmith and what he stands for. Nobody embodies the “everyone welcome” motif of Progress more than Jack. His character almost turns wrestling’s tough guy act on its head. He doesn’t look tough, he doesn’t act tough but everyone loves an underdog.
The crowd repeating the “TK’s got a boner” banter is sensational stuff. The implication being that Jack is as sexy as Toni. Travis mixes it up here, both assaulting the streamer in comedy fashion but also sending TK to the back because he’s going to take Sexsmith on one-on-one. Travis runs from one sequence to another effortlessly and poor Jack looks out of his depth. Where he succeeds is being unorthodox and keeping Travis off guard. When you look at Sexsmith, he looks like he can’t win a fight so he needs to be unpredictable. In a straight up fight he’s going to get killed. Poor Jack gets himself murdered here. Especially with the tope. I’ve never heard Travis get so much heat for just doing his normal moves. It’s somehow harsher because Jack is so small and defenceless. Having Travis as the first normal guy Jack runs into outside of feuds makes perfect sense. He’s not much bigger but his reputation is huge. Plus he feels legitimate and the whole match gives Sexsmith a mountain to climb. It’s a very well done match too, with Jack having to work hard for everything. This means Travis dominates until Jack pops up screaming, suggesting he’s done taking a beating. For his efforts Jack gets a “This Is Sexsmith“ chant and as the match progresses he starts to counter Travis’ trademarks. He’s learning. Jack doesn’t nail everything, making the occasional mistake, but that plays into his character learning and struggling to overcome Travis. The Kiwi Buzzsaw piles abuse onto Sexsmith with Jack refusing to stay down until the springboard Enzuigiri finally puts Jack down for the three. Best match of Sexsmith’s career and it was in no way a carry job from the excellent Travis Banks. Jack still needs a little fine-tuning but Travis Banks acknowledges the improvements he’s made by shaking the man’s hand and TK Cooper offers the same. This is a proper acknowledgement from the locker room that Sexsmith belongs in that ring. It’s a moment so touching that the entire crowd rises to its feet. My word.
Final Rating: ***3/4
Mark Haskins vs. Axel Dieter Jr.
Jesus, this card is stacked. This is one of Axel’s last shows for Progress before going to NXT. While the announcement that he was leaving imminently was perhaps a shock the fact remains that Dieter is pure class and belongs in WWE. I can see him becoming a big star over there. His English is flawless btw.
The show title is about Mark Haskins’ son Jack who “likes to shoot dinosaurs” atop the Malvern Hills. So we get a big elaborate entrance with the Jurassic Park music and a guy dressed like a dinosaur for Jack to shoot.
It’s not only a cool entrance but a tender moment between a fantastic wrestler and his child. Jack getting to run around in the ring is such a nice touch. It reminds us all that Progress is about families and how wrestling transcends what happens in the ring. Dieter plays along with all of this, in character, with stoic German grace. Even when faced with a dinosaur slaying opponent. Naturally these two have a technically proficient match-up with the occasional dive. It perhaps doesn’t have the emotional punch of the last match but the fans in Progress appreciate good work and this is very good work. Haskins does excellent work in finding ways to exploit Axel’s trademark moves. The technical stuff is blinding. Whether it’s gruesome looking submissions or innovative counters. It’s two guys who have built reputations colliding. Eventually Haskins wins out by wrenching back on the Sharpshooter. This was rock solid professional wrestling. It may put off those who aren’t purists but it had enough excitement to cover for that. I was really upset that I missed this live, perhaps more so than any other match on the card. Haskins vs. Dieter is a match I’ve been day-dreaming about for a while. It certainly delivered. Post match an angry looking Dieter charges back out, stumbling on one leg, and offers Haskins a handshake. Lots of respect on this show.
Final Rating: ****
Fans Brings the Weapons Match
Will Ospreay vs. Jimmy Havoc
Ospreay’s frankly bizarre entrance sees him execute a series of men with towels over their heads with a cap gun. It is as weird as it is disturbing. By comparison Havoc is no bullshit at all. He’s not even wearing his mask. He just walks to the ring. This match would have more weight to it if Will’s heel run hadn’t been so damp. He’s not beaten anybody. The fans weapons don’t necessarily define the match, although they allow Havoc some variety to his attacks. Instead of going after the Rainmaker he can throw a potted plant. One of Havoc’s weapons, which gets a huge pop, is the Nazi Staff (I know, I know it’s not Nazi it’s Regal), the original Progress championship. Also under the ring is a Grandfather clock. My word. Will gets his bell rung with an acoustic guitar shot with Havoc perhaps imagining the balsawood explosion of Jarrett’s guitars. Instead he gives Will a hardway cut and a probably a concussion. Not the most responsible of things to do. With the ring covered in crap, including thumbtacks, Haribo and lego, it makes bumps quite difficult. Paz, genius that he is, grabs a bakery tray, to count the pins on.
Paul Robinson gets involved, which is perfectly within the rules. Havoc despatches him and the carnage continues. Both men bleeding, the ring covered in debris. Essex Destroyer, off the top no less, through a table is one of the near falls in this match. Ospreay grabs the microphone and turns this into a “loser leaves Progress” match. With this announcement out there the fun and games are over. Robbo’s involvement in the match is disappointing. Nobody cares to off-set him and his interference is sporadic and convenient. While in the past Ospreay pinned Havoc, for the title no less, with the 630 Splash. Here it’s a near fall. Why? Because Progress is more important to Havoc than Ospreay. Although they both take significant damage from barbwire and other disgusting weaponry. Havoc hits a series of barbwire assisted Acid Rainmaker’s to send Ospreay packing.
I get the feeling this was way more fun to witness live. My issues with it stem from nonsensical interference and the lacklustre booking of Ospreay since his heel turn. This could have been a very, very special match and it just didn’t feel like it was. They certainly went out there and took time off their careers though. You can’t fault the boys for their effort during this match. It had a lot of violence and the escalation mostly worked (apart from the Essex Destroyer through a table not being the finish). However, anyone who suggests this is better than the title change match is probably wrong. That was a genuine work of art that nailed the escalation of violence and had a perfect ending that was built to over time. This was fun and in the moment I can see why people enjoyed it but in the cold light of day it’s not as special as it could have been. Kudos to Havoc though. He’s a better wrestler than when he doing this kind of thing on a regular basis and it shows.
Final Rating: ***1/2
Progress Tag Team Championship
British Strong Style (Trent Seven & Tyler Bate) (c) vs. The Hunter Brothers
We’re already two hours deep into this show, which for Progress is a long first half. Moustache Mountain are sick of the tag shields and they throw them down in favour of brand new Progress tag title belts. They retain the tag shield style, which is nice, although I was quite attached to Progress having unusual titles and felt the Atlas belt could have been something weird and off-the-wall without insulting wrestling.
The Hunters are consistent and probably deserve a better reputation than they have. Trent does a lot of f*ck*ng around, including tagging with his feet, while Tyler does fine work with crotch chops and his freaky strength. It’s getting to the point where it’s tough to boo these guys and there are a fair few cheers out of respect. It’s a very entertaining match with some fun miscues, Trent’s facials being outstanding during them, before trading on superkicks and punches and Pedigrees. I love that Chris Roberts gets all worked up into doing crotch chops.
Tyler even one ups that by hitting a backflip into a deadlift German suplex. My God that’s impressive. Tyler Driver ’97 puts Jim, or Lee, down for the three. This was great fun throughout. Increasingly the Hunter Brothers are having such good matches that it’s not entirely down to their opponents.
Final Rating: ***3/4
Progress Atlas Championship
Matt Riddle (c) vs. WALTER
This is the third time I’ve seen Riddle vs. WALTER and the first two were great. Der Ring General’s coat is so good. If they did replicas I’d seriously consider getting one. Riddle is very popular in Camden but it is telling that his reaction is ever so slightly muted, given the length of the show. The fans nail the streamer throw, hitting it on Riddle’s pose. We got it right!
WALTER continues his great run of looking incredible as he crushes Riddle with strikes. It takes someone pretty sturdy to realistically mash a UFC fighter that looks like Matt. WALTER again goes after Riddle’s leg, a strategy that’s paid off for him before. Riddle does some of his best selling in the process, trying to throw kicks and hurting himself. While the standard of wrestling here is akin to their pair of matches in Germany the crowd is more responsive, which gives it a slight edge over those two encounters. Especially when WALTER switches gears in a striking duel to kick Riddle’s leg away. It’s so dismissive but it’s also great psychology. WALTER catches Riddle by surprise on the mat too, reversing into a heel hook when Riddle takes him too lightly. WALTER is a beast. There’s a strong argument for him taking the belt here, as he’s probably the best super heavyweight in the world and defines what Progress are aiming for with this division. It’s also the best Atlas match to date. Riddle earns his spot by taking all of WALTER’s abuse from the leg holds to the big strikes to the massive power moves. Riddle almost flukes the win by jumping onto WALTER’s back, in an act of defensive wrestling, before switching to the Bromission and getting the tap out. These two have had a great series of matches and are primed for a long-running feud. 2-1 Riddle in the Best of Three. Let’s go Best of Five!
Final Rating: ****1/2
Pete Dunne (c) vs. Mark Andrews
These two have had their careers intertwined from day one. The clips of their matches range from early Attack to BOLA to WWE. It’s quite the storied rivalry. As you’d expect this is a fluid affair with lots of entertaining spots. Due to their history they can do spots like a tope into a rana on the floor. They make this look effortless. It’s a great call to have this as a main event. It allows the Dunne angle to continue without derailing anyone’s momentum. People generally don’t see Andrews as a potential champion but love his matches, especially with Pete.
I’m a big fan of Pete Dunne getting sick of being hit with reverse rana’s, completely no selling one, and getting the Fighting Spirit reverse rana of ultimate revenge. It might be his Kryptonite but he’s learned to fight back. This leads to Mark hitting a reverse super rana. Escalation and taking a feud to the next level are in effect. These two feed off each other and get fired up based on how hard the other guy is working. That’s always a good sign. They work in a decent ref bump to allow Trent to interfere, sporting a WWE shirt in an eye-rolling moment of supreme heeldom. Somehow Andrews counters a Tombstone into a flipping version of one, which I’ve never seen before. Tyler Bate quite literally saves the title for Pete, with him pinned with a Shooting Star Press. They botch the Kudo Driver, with Dunne falling on his head before repeating the spot. That’s unfortunate. It’s the finish, sort of, too. Andrews gets the pin and he’s announced as the new champion!
Pete Dunne’s foot was under the rope and bumped ref Chris Roberts saw it while Paz was making the three-count. Roberts maintaining his spot as Progress’ number one heel there. The match is re-started, with Moustache Mountain sent packing, They still manage to have a couple of thrilling near falls after the re-start with the Bitter End and the SSP not getting the job done. Dunne hits another Bitter End for the pin. This was an epic piece of storytelling, drawing in various different threads of two men’s history and the current climate of Progress with British Strong Style on top.
Final Rating: ****1/4
Summary: The last Progress show, Galvanise, in Manchester was arguably the best Progress card, ever. This one came close to beating it. There was tremendously consistent action up and down the card. The Havoc-Ospreay match will work better in isolation, while the main event will work better if you know the storylines and backgrounds. Based on your viewing experience you may get more/less out of those two matches. However the best pure wrestling on the card; Riddle vs. WALTER and Haskins vs. Dieter are great in anyone’s money. World calibre wrestling from top pros. Another highly recommended Progress show with top notch in-ring.