Sunday, 2 September 2012

My Thoughts On PROGRESS Chapter One

It's been a while since I wrote something, mainly because nothing has really happened in the last few weeks that has made me want to write about it, but with the arrival of Summerslam the recently opened British independent promotion PROGRESS Wrestling decided to offer up their debut show as a digital download for the princely sum of £1.97 for 24 hours only. Having already seen the opening match of the show on the excellent Free Pro Wrestling I totally wanted a piece of that, so I thought I'd follow up my review of SHIMMER 44 by doing a review of PROGRESS Chapter One.

Pleasingly for me, this is a much shorter show, clocking in at almost exactly 2 hours, rather than the 3 and a half of SHIMMER 44, and I've already watched it through in full once, so hopefully I won't have to constantly rewind this to rewatch bits I missed due to typing. This will also mean I shouldn't get carried away during the good matches and end up writing what basically amounts to move by move text commentary, which is probably good news for everyone.

Anyway, it's a good show, featuring lots of talented British workers as well as independent superstar, former Scotty Goldman and famous friend of CM Punk, the always entertaining Colt Cabana, so lets get down to business...

The show opens with one of the co-owners of PROGRESS, Jim Smallman, in the ring welcoming everyone to the show and basically encouraging them to get drunk and shout out stupid shit. He then announces the format for the PROGRESS Championship tournament - the opening four matches of the show are singles matches, and the winners of each match go through to a four way dance main event to decide the first ever PROGRESS Champion.

Oh, and they don't have a belt, becase "anyone can have a title belt, fucking Santino Marella's got a title belt". Jim doesn't say what they have instead, but he promises it'll be unveiled before the main event.

With the tournament format established, the title teased and the crowd warned not to die or chant "Let's Go Cena", it's time to get on with the show.

Match 1 - Noam Dar v El Ligero (8/10)

The very first match in PROGRESS Wrestling gets the company off to a strong start, as both Noam Dar and El Ligero impress in an entertaining, back and forth contest that is eventually won when El Ligero hits a springboard tornado DDT on Dar to advance to the tournament finals.

The crowd were in good spirits straight from the off, cheering for El Ligero throughout and taunting Noam Dar for his Scottish roots with chants ranging from the obvious "Scotland Sucks!" to the unexpected "Deep Fried Mars Bars!". Whilst both men looked like good talents, Dar was the better of the two for me - he showed his charisma and ability to entertain during the moments of interaction with the crowd, as well as demonstrating a very good level of in ring ability for someone his age. He's only recently turned 19, and I think he's got a very bright future ahead of him. He's recently wrestled AJ Styles and Davey Richards, and he'll soon be taking on John Morrison, so it's certainly worth remembering the name Noam Dar.

As I mentioned at the start of this post, this whole match is available to watch online here, so check it out.

Match 2 - Nathan Cruz v Colossus Kennedy (6/10)

We're straight into the next match, which sees Nathan Cruz (who the crowd consider to be a "shit Zack Ryder", take on Colossus Kennedy (who gets "Funkasaurus" chants midway through the match"). Oddly, the match is about as good as Zack Ryder v Brodus Clay probably would be, that is to say, not particularly.

Cruz is a solid wrestler, and Colossus is pretty good for someone of his size, displaying Brodus-esque agility and a few impressive moves, but although the match is decent, there's no real spark and Cruz, frankly, annoys the fuck out of me (and not in the right way). He seems to be trying to be a super charismatic arrogant heel, but the only thing he does in the ring is shout 'Showstealer' (his nickname, which sounds suspiciously similar to that of a certain member of the WWE roster) about five times, which suggests he doesn't know how else to get the crowd fired up, and in the end his 'Showstealer' line gets what I'll call 'STFU heat', in the same way that Vickie Guerrero's 'Excuse Me' does. His pre-recorded promo that's run in the corner of the screen at the start of the match isn't great either - he's fantastic at acting like a smug cunt, but the actual promo is fairly generic, then he makes the Dolph Ziggler influence even more obvious by ending with the line "Show, stolen".

Cruz spends a lot of the match working on the leg of Colossus, and eventually takes the win with a relatively unimpressive combo of dropkick to the knee (sending Colossus face first into the middle turnbuckle and triggering shouts of 'Broski Boot!" from a few members of the crowd) and dropkick to the face. Yeah...

Match 3 - Colt Cabana v Mike Mason (7/10)

Time for a bit of light refreshment now, as Colt Cabana takes on 'Loco' Mike Mason, a man who appears to think he's a dog.

Anyway, the trouble starts before the match even begins, with Colt Cabana launching a flurry of (what I assume to be) tennis balls at Mason (and inadvertently the right side of the audience), before taking a good minute or more to carefully fold his jacket, then casually throw it over his shoulder. I'll be honest, I've watched this match twice, and I laughed at that both times. Colt then suggests the referee, who was doing the customary pre-match inspection of ring gear at the time, inspect his junk, thrusting his crotch forward to chants of "Do Your Job" from the crowd.

The opening stage of the match is comedy, with Colt teasing Mason with a tennis ball for most of it, but they eventually transition through some technical wrestling and into the serious stuff as Mike Mason begins to take control thanks to a bit of interference from his 'handler', Becky James, and in the end Mason takes the win because of her, and she distracts the referee when Cabana has him in the Billy Goat's Curse, then throws Mason a chain which he hits Cabana with to get the pinfall.

As much as I'm disappointed that Cabana lost, I have no problem with seeing Becky James again. Oh, and Mike Mason will be there too.

Match 4 - Marty Scurll v Zack Sabre Jr (8.5/10)

This was the headline match of the tournament, as these two guys are actually tag partners as the Leaders of the New School, and two of the best British wrestlers around at the minute. Some of you may know 'Party' Marty Scurll from his appearance on ITV's dating show 'Take Me Out', but I'd wager that most will not have seen him wrestle before. I've seen him once or twice, but I've not seen Zack before, so I'm keen to see what he can do in the ring.

After a few TMO jabs from the crowd the bell ring, and we get to see a pre-recorded promo from both guys. Marty's is solid, although the last ten seconds or so murder it, whereas Zack's is probably the best promo so far, if only because it's so short he doesn't have time to say or do something stupid that ruins it.

Anyway, the match itself kicks off with some excellent technical wrestling, both standing and on the mat, before Marty slaps Zack across the face and it starts to turn more physical. Between this point and the end of the match (which is still a fair fucking way off) we're treated to more excellent technical wrestling and a lot of punishment, including a moment where both man stand and trade short elbows for about thirty seconds, and an armbar-triangle choke-deadlift powerbomb exchange that's reminiscent of the Rampage Jackson powerbomb I referenced in the Knight's match on SHIMMER 44, as well as a lot of hard strikes and a lovely bridging dragon suplex from Zack Sabre Jr.

It's Marty Scurll who comes out on top though, as he reverses a pin attempt by Zack and gets the three count. This is easily the match of the night, and in another nod to my SHIMMER 44 review I can't help but compare it to the Kana/LuFisto match from that show, and I enjoyed this contest just as much as that one.

As much as Marty is the one being tipped to be a breakout star (deservedly so, because he is very good), it was Zack who really impressed me. He spends a lot of time wrestling in Japan, and it really shows in his style of wrestling. He mixes it well with the traditional British, technical style and comes out looking, to carry the SHIMMER comparison on, very much like the male equivalent of Kana. I'd say how much I'd like to see him in WWE, but from what I understand he's always targeted Japan as the place he wanted to wrestle, so I doubt we'll see him there, at least not for a long time. Besides, they'd only waste him now.

BWC Scarlo Scholarship Title Match - Xander Cooper (c) v Darrell Allen v Zack Gibson (6.5/10)

With the PROGRESS title tournament semi finals completed, we move on to a match for an obscure title presumably belonging to an associated promotion. The inclusion of the word 'scholarship' in the name of the title suggests it's for relatively young/inexperienced workers, which is an idea not challenged by looking at the competitors, none of whom are probably much older than me. You're all expecting this to be awful now, aren't you? I was.

We get the promo box again, and all three guys live up to the expectations I had of them when I first saw them:

Zack 'Diamond' Gibson - Scouse, mentions never walking alone. Actually cuts a pretty good promo.
'The Man For All Seasons' Xander Cooper - A bit middle class, uses the word 'panache'.
'Dazzling' Darrell Allen - From London, blabs some crap with a chavvy voice, then kisses his fingers and makes a V sign at a jaunty angle.

Anyway, the match is actually pretty watchable, with a couple of triple spots standing out, although there are moments where their inexperience shows and things don't end up going quite as smoothly as they inteded. Allen is the hometown hero, and he acts the cheeky chappy face, playing up to the crowd and showing off come nice cruiserweight moves including a wheelbarrow armdrag and a lovely rollup that showed some good mat skills. He also does a 450 splash, but unless it's actually a 450 double knee drop he fucked that up a little bit. Defending champion Cooper is decent as well, playing the posh, cocky heel and controlling the most of the middle part of the match whilst also showing a solid allround game. It's Zack Gibson who stands out for me though, following up his good promo with a mix of neat technical work and athletic moves I wasn't expecting from a guy as tall as him, most notably a suicide dive past the turnbuckle that flattened Cooper and got some 'holy shit' chants from the crowd. He also delivers a couple of nice lungblowers.

In the end Cooper retains, breaking up Allen's pin following his '450 kill Zack Gibson', and covering the Scouser for the victory. They mentioned on commentary that there was going to be a BWC match on every PROGRESS show, so hopefully we'll get to see a bit more of these guys in the near future.

Anyway, with the filler match over, it's back to the PROGRESS tournament. But first...

The Reveal of the PROGRESS Championship

As they mentioned at the start of the show, the winner of the championship tournament won't be recieving a title belt, they'll be recieving something else. Now is the time to see what exactly that something else is, and I can tell you now, this is something I'd heard about on Twitter months before I saw the show. It's this:

I know what you're thinking - "that looks a bit Nazi-ish". Don't worry, you're not the only one to have thought that, as within about a minute of the reveal a 'Nazi staff!' chant breaks out, and the name appears to have stuck, as that phrase was in roughly 15% of the tweets I saw about PROGRESS for ages.

After half-heartedly trying to deny the Nazi-ness of the staff, and getting a 'fuck off Hitler' chant going, Jim Smallman brings out the competitors for the main event. It's time for someone to claim the Nazi staff.

PROGRESS Championship Tournament Final - El Ligero v Nathan Cruz v Mike Mason v Marty Scurll (6.5/10)

With all four men in the ring and the introduction out of the way, the tournament final can begin. It's a four way dance rather than a fatal four way, so competitors are eliminated one by one until only the winner is left, rather than the first fall deciding the champion.

With something as historic as the Nazi staff up for grabs, it's no wonder the action spills out of the ring and all over the venue within minutes of the opening bell, as El Ligero somersaults out onto his three rivals before all four men head to the bar for a drink and a fight. Unfortunately, nobody thought to ensure the camera could see that part of the arena, so we end up with a shot of an empty ring accompanied by half the crowd chanting 'we can't see shit!' for a few seconds whilst a couple of blokes with camcorders get into positiona and proceed to make a piss poor attempt to try and cover the action.

It's not very long before people start heading back towards the ring, fortunately, as Marty Scurll drags Nathan Cruz through the crowd to chants of 'it's your round' before sitting him on a chair and kicking him in the face (and slipping on the floor). The action doesn't actually return to the ring, however, as Cruz & Scurll wander up onto the stage where people are sitting and have a little scrap before El Ligero joins in and things go downhill for the Showstealer. First, Ligero holds his arms and Marty chops him, then they swap roles and Ligero gives him a job, before the a couple of the fans hold Cruz and Ligero & Marty deliver a double chop to Nathan Cruz. One of the fans in question is wearing a 'Portia Perez Hates Me' shirt, which instantly makes him the coolest guy in the venue, but I digress.

The action continues at ringside, though Ligero & Cruz take a brief diversion into the ladies toilets for some reason, but then we head back into camcorderland, and I'm subjecting to a flailing camera that mainly picks up the back of some guys Green Bay Packers shirt and lots of legs, but then suddenly homes in on El Ligero with so much zoom his head doesn't fit in the picture. They cut away at that point, and we get a few more seconds on empty ring before the action comes back into a manageable location, at which point Marty & Ligero bang chairs together before Marty takes a shot to the back and chants of 'Ole' ring out. For those who don't know, that's El Generico's thing. Ligero gets thrown into some chairs for the fans' character infringement, and Marty Scurll pulls up a chair in the middle of the ring and watches the action with a beer, which he downs at the behest of the fans. Shortly after this all four men finally remember about the ring, and for some reason the match transforms into a four corners elimination match, with Scurll & Cruz standing on the apron waiting to be tagged in. Unless I heard the introduction wrong, that makes no sense at all.

Anyway, this is going on for a while, so let's cut to the chase. El Ligero is the first person out, as he's kicked in the head by Nathan Cruz after Becky James pulls the referee out of the ring to save Mike Mason from being eliminated. Becky pretty much wasted her time though, as Mason's eliminated about a minute later, getting rolled up by Marty Scurll after Ligero grabs his foot from ringside.

Nathan Cruz & Marty Scurll go head to head for ten minutes or so, with Nathan Cruz eventually triumphing thanks to a kick to the head after a few near falls following a ref bump spot. The fourth rate Zack Ryder/Dolph Ziggler hybrid holds the Nazi staff aloft and PROGRESS Chapter One comes to a somewhat underwhelming end.

The match itself was alright, and it definitely improved once it become a one on one contest, but the first half of the match was ruined by some awful camerawork which made it hard to follow the action. The decision to take the match out among the fans might've worked for the lucky few that happened to be sitting on the right side of the venue, but it spoilt the match for the viewers, as well as the other half of the crowd, so maybe it wasn't the best decision in the long run.

Star Performers

No final thoughts this time, as I've covered most of them already. The venue and commentary are fine and, main event camcorder clusterfuck aside, the production is of a decent indy standard. I just hope they invest in a few better cameras for future shows..

In terms of standout performers, both Marty Scurll and Zack Sabre Jr top the list. Their semi final match was superb, and both guys have more than enough talent to be able to make an impression overseas. Marty is the more charismatic of the two, but Zack is the better wrestler, at least in my book.

Colt Cabana was obviously great, blending comedy and his British influenced wrestling style perfectly to lead Mike Mason (who was shown up somewhat in the main event) to a good match.

Lastly, Noam Dar is, as I said earlier, a name you'll probably want to remember. He's already one of the most talented guys on the card, and he's only going to get better as he gets older. It genuinely wouldn't surprise me if he's signed by TNA or WWE within a couple of years, he's that good.

So yeah, a pretty good debut show, all things considered, and a very good advert for British wrestling. Chapter Two has already been and gone, and Chapter Three is coming at the end of the month (30th September, to be exact), so it seems safe to say that the BritWres revival is gaining some momentum.

Care to hop on the bandwagon?

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