Saturday, April 15, 2017

PROGRESS: Orlando Review

March 31st, 2017 | Orlando Live Events Center in Fern Park, Florida

I believe this is the last show from WrestleMania weekend I need to check out. It was the first live PROGRESS show and they brought the big guns and a stacked card to Florida.

The opening video set to “Started From The Bottom” by Drake was tremendous. Jim Smallman opened the show as always and just looked elated at how far the company has come. Lenny Leonard and Excalibur handled commentary with the usual PROGRESS team in England.

Jimmy Havoc vs. Zack Sabre Jr.
Smug Sabre with three titles will never not be fun. Commentary notes they’re 1-1 against each other. They know each other well, so their feeling out process sees neither gain an advantage. Sabre is surprised to see Havoc hang with him on the mat. Even Jimmy seems a bit surprised. A suicide dive by Havoc picks up the pace, so Zack takes things back to the ground as quickly as possible. Sabre’s new aggressive demeanor is touched upon but Havoc is a bad dude himself and hits a forearm. Havoc’s shots are brutal and Sabre gets busted open horribly. It opened back up in later matches that day. Sabre counters the Acid Rainmaker into a submission. They struggle for advantage there until they’re back up. Sabre again counters the Acid Rainmaker, this time into a bridging pin to win at 10:41. Great way to start the show. The crowd was rabid, they didn’t overdo anything and worked a smart, even match. [***½]

James Drake vs. Rockstar Spud
Spud has special PROGRESS themed gear for the evening. His entrance to Bon Jovi gets a great reaction. Drake and his new aggressive style jumps Spud before the bell. Commentary fills in a backstory where Drake started his career as part of Spud’s entourage. Spud can’t get going and Drake kind of has his way with him. The work is fine but the crowd doesn’t seem too interested in it. Spud fires up to awaken the fans. He hits a suicide dive and tornado DDT but Drake proves to be too much. He puts Spud down with a sitout DDT at 9:33. Solid little match that told the right story. Drake was vicious and wanted to punish his former buddy, while Spud played a good fiery babyface. I just wish the crowd was more into it and the heat from Drake was a bit more interesting. [**¾]

After the match, Drake attacked Spud.

Jinny vs. Toni Storm
This was originally set for a three-way involving Dahlia Black, but she broke her leg a week earlier. Both ladies are set for the finals of a tournament to crown PROGRESS’s first Women’s Champion. This starts hot, with both girls getting right into it. Storm uses her ass as a weapon. Who does she think she is, Ryusuke Taguchi? Jinny talks a bunch of smack while wearing Storm down with a submission. Jinny is so offended by Storm’s looks that she puts a trash bag over her. Storm rallying while covered in the bag is a funny sight. She comes close to winning with a fisherman suplex and muscle buster. Storm avoids the Acid Rainmaker and nails a big headbutt. Unfortunately, the finish falls flat. Storm is pulled off the top to no reaction and Jinny pins her with her feet on the ropes at 9:39. I dug the match as the women seemed to hate each other. They played it just right and I thought the finish would’ve been fine if handled slightly differently. [***]

JML (Sami Callihan and Shane Strickland) vs. The South Pacific Power Trip (TK Cooper and Travis Banks) w/ Dahlia Black
Dahlia Black, ever the trooper, is here in a walking boot. Callihan is the only guy in this match I don’t care for. Instantly, this is bonkers as the teams don’t even go to their corners. They just go at it right out of the gate. Each guy gets in a dive, capped by Cooper’s corkscrew moonsault to the outside. After more brawling outside, Strickland hits a spider suplex on Cooper as he hits a superplex on Sami. Banks immediately then lays out Strickland with a coast to coast dropkick. The action stays wild, never slowing down. A ridiculous barrage of kicks sees Cooper and Strickland get their feet stuck together and Sami and Banks taking each other out. JML busts out a powerbomb/diving double stomp combo for a near fall that Sami turned into the stretch muffler. Cooper struggles and finally breaks it up. Strickland gets left alone and falls to an elevated spike DDT at 13:23. What a frantic war. They threw traditional tag team wrestling out the window and had a non-stop action filled tornado match. Sami & Shane worked well together, while the SPPT continued to shine. I’d put them in the top three teams right now along with the Revival and DIY. Their versatility is key, having matches like this and the one with Bate & Seven recently. If you want a sub-fifteen minute thrill ride, this is your match. [****]

After the match, the two teams embraced.

Jim Smallman makes note of Kris Travis’ untimely passing last year.

PROGRESS Atlas Championship: Matt Riddle (c) vs. PROGRESS Tag Team Champion Trent Seven
The fans erupted for this one. Things start calmly enough but quickly progress to slaps and an exploder form Riddle. Though Riddle has an insane UFC knockout in his past, Seven brings his own vicious strikes. Riddle brings a middle rope fisherman buster and it’s barely been five minutes. The big lads just start throwing each other around with various suplexes. Riddle has several answers for lariat attempts, blocking them with kicks and avoiding them like the plague. Seven avoids a springboard knee and comes close to a win with a spinning piledriver. It’s a great near fall if you know that Riddle took similar moves a day prior against Drew Galloway. Riddle turns it around with a jumping tombstone for his own near fall. Seven looks dead before firing up and hitting the Seven Star Lariat for a close call. Riddle nails a piledriver and Seven KICKS OUT AT ONE! Riddle quickly traps him in the Bromission and Seven taps at 10:47. I LOVE BIG LADS WRESTLING! Smallman promised they would kick the shit out of each other and they delivered. It stayed in Riddle’s wheelhouse of 10-15 minutes and was intense throughout. Like the previous match, it felt different from everything else on the show. My kind of wrestling. [****¼]

WWE United Kingdom Championship: Tyler Bate (c) vs. Mark Andrews
Bate interfered in Andrews’ PROGRESS Title match a week earlier. This is the first time a WWE Title is defended outside of the WWE since 1994. It’s interesting that Bate is a heel but was portrayed as a babyface during the UK Tournament. It shows early when Bate gives a handshake following some good back and forth grappling. Andrews matches Bate there, so Bate shows off his athleticism, which is Andrews’ strong suit. Most of the match is played evenly. Andrews gets a highlight with a standing sliced bread #2 on the apron. They eventually start trading blows before Bate hits a Michinoku Driver for two. In a strong closing sequence, Bate busts out a standing shooting star press! Andrews comes back with his own and a Vertebreaker for two. That move should always finish a match. They trade a bit more offense before the Tyler Driver ’97 keeps Andrews down at 17:14. This was strong but failed to make me believe the title would change hands. The chance of it happening was slim but they never made me buy into it, even on the Vertebreaker spot. I wanted more from this, though the finishing stretch was a highlight. [***¼]

PROGRESS Championship: Pete Dunne (c) w/ Trent Seven and Tyler Bate vs. Mark Haskins
British Strong Style do Triple H inspired water spits during their entrance. Haskins was the PROGRESS Champion but had to vacate it due to injury. It was then that Dunne came from out of nowhere to win the title. Haskins gets in early trouble thanks to distractions from BSS. He uses a dive (after a Dunne moonsault accidentally hits BSS) to take them out. It’s temporary though as they distract again when Haskins slaps on a Sharpshooter. The referee tosses them to a mixed reaction. Dunne gets in control and wears down Haskins. When Haskins starts coming back, Dunne dares him to hit harder. Haskins moves to submissions, which he’s great at. Dunne survives and delivers two tombstones, including a jumping one. They both look nasty, especially given Haskins’ injury problems. Dunne gets a bunch of heat for a Pedigree near fall. Mark’s final stand is a great rally. Dunne almost taps to the star armbar but counters. He hits the Bitter End for two and transitions to a crossface. He rears bank enough to make Haskins submit at 19:12. A great capper to a great show. Haskins fighting from behind after the BSS stuff was great and Dunne came off like a legitimate champion after they left. His work on Haskins’ neck was well done and made sense. [****]

Overall: 9/10. Not just arguably the best show over WrestleMania weekend, it has a case for best show I’ve seen in 2017. Everything delivers with only one match getting less than three stars and even that one coming close. There’s great variety up and down the card. Technical back and forth to open the show, a good women’s match, wild tag team wrestling, an awesome hoss fight, a big fight feel main event and more.