PROGRESS Orlando on March 31, 2017
Watch: WWN Live
Orlando Live Events Center – Orlando, Florida
Last year, PROGRESS had their main title defended for the first time outside of England when champion Marty Scurll faced the man he beat to earn the championship, Will Ospreay, at WrestleCon in Dallas, Texas. A year later, PROGRESS is running a whole WrestleMania weekend show and are even partnered up with WWE for their Axxess events. Even typing that feels weird, let alone actually watching these things play out with my own eyes. As PROGRESS has gotten bigger and bigger the last 5 years, this seemed like the next logical step for an ever growing company, but I still can’t help but marvel at how fast they’ve reached this point.
Zack Sabre Jr. vs. Jimmy Havoc
This was a match that when it was announced, I wasn’t too excited for. It seemed kind of bland for PROGRESS’ big venture in to the U.S. for the biggest weekend of the year for professional wrestling. But as I started to think about it more, it dawned on me how this was actually one of the better match-ups of the show because of how much they had to play off of here. ZSJ and Havoc are no strangers to each other. They trained together at NWA Hammerlock, have faced each other numerous times (including two previous encounters in PROGRESS at Chapters 7 and 11), and are legitimately best friends outside of the confines of the ring. This was the perfect match to book and served as a great introduction to those maybe not familiar with Jimmy Havoc, but it also felt at home for PROGRESS fans.
Despite being one of the most compelling characters and most creative minds in all of wrestling, I think Havoc gets constantly undersold for how good of a wrestler he is. He does his fair share of the ultra violent/deathmatch style, but it’s easy to forget that he’s a Hammerlock guy. He came from a school known for how technically sound their students were. It’s been used in storyline before where Jimmy wanted to show how good he was on the mat and not just be labelled as the “hardcore” guy. They played with that a little bit in this match. It starts with some fairly basic wrestling exchanges between the two men. ZSJ, being the technical wizard and all that, looked right at home trading holds. Havoc on the other hand, had looks of bewilderment on his face seeing ZSJ do all this grappling. He acted as if he didn’t know how to wrestle. But that feigning of a lack of skill led to Havoc busting out a quick sequence that caught ZSJ off guard. We now see Havoc was just playing dumb.
All that being said, while Havoc can grapple when need be, he’d much rather punch you right in the jaw and this match quickly transitioned from pleasant looking lock ups between two friends, to a gritty, intense fight. ZSJ started bleeding around his right eye and some assume he may have been scraped by Havoc’s knee pad. No one knows for sure, but what I know is that the blood really helped the escalation of this match and gave it more of an edge than one would expect coming in to it. Zack Sabre Jr. would pick up the victory after catching Havoc in a jackknife pin with a bridge. Very strong opener between two guys who are important to PROGRESS’ history.
James Drake vs. Rockstar Spud
On paper this was maybe the least interesting match on the card for some people. Drake is a guy that didn’t really get to show much in the WWE U.K. Tournament and Spud is someone that while I think he’s great, has been in Impact Wrestling the last few years and that will always damage your reputation for some fans. This got a little extra juice added to it when Spud posted an old photo from 2009 of James Drake holding the ropes open for Spud. Now, it’s more personal. This now had the layer of this kid who’s all grown up, wanting to cement his place in the world against someone he had to be subservient to 8 years ago.
Drake attacked Spud before bell and early on we get the vicious streak that’s made Drake one of my favorite guys to watch. He’s not someone that will blow you away, he has a generic look, but he goes in there and does what he needs to do effectively and he’s been doing that since he debuted in PROGRESS at Chapter 37. He gets heat, he works nasty and with a chip on his shoulder and that’s fine. He does his job very well. Spud is a natural babyface and one of the most likable personalities in all of wrestling so this made for a nice, simple dynamic. Spud has shown great fire in the past and we got that out of him when Drake spit in his face. Drake wound up winning with his Mr. Mayhem implant DDT for the biggest win in his PROGRESS career so far and keeping him undefeated in the company as well. Enjoyable as hell and exceeded my expectations.
Jinny vs. Toni Storm
This serves as a taste to what these two women will do when they face each other in the finals of the fourth Natural Progression Series tournament to crown the inaugural PROGRESS Women’s Champion.
Jinny since she first came to PROGRESS had this unteachable quality about her that when she walks to the ring, she commands your attention. Whether it’s in fear of her, to boo her, or to gaze at her outfit, she makes sure all eyes are on her when she goes out. For someone a little over two years in to wrestling, her control over an audience is stunning and it translated well to Orlando where she controlled and berated the crowd just as naturally as she does in Camden.
I haven’t talked about Toni yet and don’t get me wrong, I think Toni is great, has improved at a rapid rate and has a very bright future ahead, but this felt like the Jinny show. From her character work to her offense which included some great looking kicks, vicious stomps, and a silky smooth transition in to a surfboard stretch, Jinny was on fire here.
Jinny won with a pin while her feet were on the ropes. It does a couple of things. 1, keeps her heat since she won in such an underhanded way. 2, will make their clash for the women’s championship a bit more interesting since Jinny had to beat Toni in that fashion. Wishful thinking but I’d love if they main evented whatever Chapter it will be on with the inaugural women’s title match. I believe that if given that kind of trust and that big a spotlight, those two would have an excellent match that would set a high standard for the division.
South Pacific Power Trip (TK Cooper & Travis Banks) vs. JML (Sami Callihan & Shane Strickland)
No more flowery way to put it than this was fucking bonkers. Travis and TK have been gaining momentum and fans are starting to take notice of how brilliant those two are. Strickland and Callihan are established names everywhere but it’s very cool to see them tagging together. Bring these 4 talented men together and you get an absolutely insane tag match and one of my favorite matches of the weekend. Nonstop chaos and little actual tagging, this was wild from start to finish. Words won’t really do this match justice because of just how much happened here. Go out of your way to see this. SPPT won with their double team brainbuster. A show of respect after the match between both teams after that craziness made it clear that SPPT has gotten people’s attention. 3 months in to the year, along with Ringkampf and The Young Bucks, SPPT are right there in tag team of the year contention.
PROGRESS Atlas Championship: Matt Riddle (c) vs. Trent Seven
Probably the most disappointing match on the show for me, Riddle and Seven didn’t leave much of an impression. It was fun for the most part, had some neat strike exchanges, and a 1 count spot that got a great reaction but just didn’t resonate much with me. Maybe it has to do with Riddle the night before taking a piledriver to the floor from Drew Galloway, but it didn’t feel like either guy was going that extra mile, and that’s understandable from Riddle who’s wrestling around 1,000,000 matches this weekend, but I didn’t feel like Trent really stepped it up here either.
Riddle got the win with the Bromission after Seven kicked out on one from a piledriver. Solid match that a lot of people will probably enjoy more than I did.
WWE United Kingdom Championship: Tyler Bate (c) vs. Mark Andrews
This was the second ever defense of Bate’s title and the first time in a long time that a WWE championship has been defended on a non-WWE event. So needless to say this feels like a big deal and it’s worked and paced accordingly. Bate since the U.K. tournament, really hasn’t worked many singles matches so it was very refreshing to see him sans Seven and Dunne and just show off everything that makes him this wrestling prodigy.
This starts off with some beautiful hold exchanging and reversals from both men. Bate is known for his skill in that department. Andrews, not so much. But Andrews was right there with Bate the whole time when it came to the grappling. The pace then quickens and we see some athletic displays from both men. Andrews is known for his high flying and athleticism. Not so much with Bate even though he has a very muscular frame. Bate going flip for flip with Andrews just as Andrews went hold for hold with Bate, established that these two men were more equal than one may think and that led to a great dynamic between them.
This had pretty much everything and in a lot of ways, felt like the actual main event of the show. You have the smooth mat wrestling, the athleticism, great pacing, big match feel, and a wonderful closing stretch to cap it off. Fantastic match. Bate would win with the Tyler Driver ’97.
PROGRESS World Championship: Pete Dunne (c) vs. Mark Haskins
This match is where I’m most conflicted. On paper I should love this. It’s Mark Haskins, a guy who was having a career year before having the last 3 months of 2016 stolen from him due to injury but has come back like he’s never left.. Going against Pete Dunne who pretty much picked up the ball that was dropped when Haskins got hurt and just saw his stock skyrocket. It’s two guys who can go on the mat and bring the heat with their striking.
But for some reason this left me colder than I expected. Maybe it was foolishness with British Strong Style starting early, but granted it was only for a short period of time. It still did enough to take me out of it though. It’s your big show, first time running a show out of England and we start it off with typical heel shenanigans instead of just letting two of the most talented wrestlers go at from the jump? That didn’t sit right with me and probably brings down my view of the match as a whole.
This also really didn’t feel like a main event for me. It felt as if this belonged on the Chapter show from last week and not here. It didn’t have the atmosphere you would hope for from this event. Maybe the crowd was burnt out, who knows, but matches like SPPT vs JML and Bate vs Andrews definitely overshadowed this match. I also didn’t buy in to the possibility of a title change here that much so any drama or tension they tried to generate left me not invested and that shouldn’t be the case here.
I will say it picked up a hell of a lot during the final 6 minutes or so and the finish of Dunne tapping out Haskins with the Regal Stretch is brilliant and plays off the interactions those two have had in Dunne’s appearances in the U.K. Tournament and on NXT. A good match that I wanted to be great given the two men involved, the slot, and the circumstances but ultimately didn’t give me that.
PROGRESS ORLANDO ON MARCH 30, 2017
Very Good - 7.5/10
A very enjoyable show with two matches I would call must see and some matches exceeding expectations. Haskins vs Dunne not resonating with me as much as I would've liked definitely prevents the score from being higher, but it was still a good match. For PROGRESS' first show outside of England this does have to be considered a massive success with two matches I could see being someone's favorite of the weekend and apparently either having a sellout or something very close to it as far as their attendance goes. With how well everything went here, their talent working the WWE Axxess shows and their relationship with WWE getting deeper, this may not be the last time we see a PROGRESS show in the United States and they left a hell of an impression on their first outing.