Thursday, June 7, 2018
PROGRESS Chapter 69: Be Here Now Review
Following the successful three part Chapter 68 Super Strong Style 16 Tournament, PROGRESS set up one of their biggest shows ever. For their debut at the Victoria Warehouse, a new Atlas Champion would be crowned, Toni Storm’s near year long title reign was in jeopardy, and Jack Sexsmith was getting the biggest opportunity of his career.
Following the usual Jim Smallman opening stuff, the Grizzled Young Vets came out. They weren’t happy with the Tag Team Series announcement. Basically, PROGRESS announced a round robin tournament featuring seven teams, culminating at the big Wembley show. Each team (GYV, Aussie Open, M&M, Anti-Fun Police, #CCK, Sexy Starr, and Webster/Haskins) gets points based on wins, ties, or losses. The final match will be a Tag Team Thunderbastard match, with the entrances determined by block standings. The big caveat is that each match with the champions will see the titles on the line. They complained about not being booked tonight and about the tournament, before joining commentary.
I’m a sucker for round robin tournaments. It was interesting to watch this while listening to Zack Gibson. He continually bashed the styles of both teams and even walked off at one point because he was sick of how they wrestled. It wasn’t anything groundbreaking, but was good character work. The match was worked at the brisk pace you usually want from an opener. M&M performed much better here than when they got squashed at the Alley Palley. They showed a lot of heart. However, the teamwork of Aussie Open and the sheer size of Mark Davis proved to be too much. Mayhew got punched out of the air by Davis, leading to a Fidget Spinner for the finish in 8:32. A good opener and fun way to start the series. Aussie Open continue to impress, while M&M show fire in every outing.
Despite both men being well-traveled, they haven’t faced each other often. Sabre’s fresh off winning Super Strong Style 16, while Andrews is in a feud with former partner Eddie Dennis. This opened as a traditional match between two guys with zero animosity. There was counter wrestling, mat exchanges, and nobody had an advantage. However, Suzuki-Gun Sabre reared his ugly head. He got more aggressive and brutal as the match wore on. Andrews fired up and was game to trade strikes with Sabre. He even managed to win out on some of the strike battles. Sabre trapped him in Hyper Normalization to win via submission in 15:32. I thought this was great. It had some really good in-ring work, while telling two separate, important tales. One, Andrews can get physical when he needs to, which he will against Dennis. Two, Sabre’s time with NJPW has made him into one vicious SOB.
WALTER just relinquished the Atlas Title so he could get another shot at the PROGRESS Title. He came in with the psychological advantage, being 9-0 against Starr across three countries. Starr was more serious than usual during his extravagant introduction because of it. He went after the leg, looking to cut the big man down to size. He was a man who came in with a game plan. There were points where he suckered WALTER in and even when WALTER got something going, it was with the leg so he couldn’t capitalize. It became WALTER being able to strike with great power against Starr’s ability to continue to wear down the leg. For example, when Starr had him in a submission, WALTER would just chop him to break it up. When Starr attempted a Sharpshooter, WALTER pulled him into a small package to go to 10-0 against Starr in 13:43. Great storytelling. A desperate Starr finally did enough and had the right plan to beat WALTER. He had him beat, but WALTER got lucky. If that didn’t work for Starr, what the hell will?
Originally advertised as a six man tag rematch from Chapter 44 (****¼) turned into a handicap match as Seven wasn’t cleared to compete. He did plug the WWE Royal Albert Hall show that he’ll be on in June. It was very to see these guys in opposite roles from last year. BSS are the popular babyfaces, while the other team are heels. BSS had some fun in the opening moments. Things got serious quickly and surprisingly, it was Dunne who took the heat segment. Even commentary was surprised by it. BIG STRONG BOY Bate got the hot tag, which set off a barrage of offense from both teams in the closing minutes. The story of Webster being unsure how to deal with the heel tendencies of his new team continued. He stopped Vicky from using a barbed wire bat, but Havoc still ended up with him. He whacked it over Bate’s back and they hit the Kiss of Death to win in 13:03. I liked the action, character work, and continued story. It just never reached the excitement levels the six man tag did. Still good though.
Before Pete Dunne could leave, “Sabotage” by Beastie Boys hit. That signaled the arrival of Christian Michael Jakobi. At the last chapter, he issued a challenge to Dunne to face Ilja Dragunov. This time, CMJ brought Dragunov with him. The pop for Ilja was insane. People were losing their minds. He and Dunne came face to face, but CMJ prevented a fight, saying this would happen for the big bucks at Wembley. Awesome segment.
Sexsmith was the focal point of an great video package before the match, talking about standing up for the people who are constantly held back or told they can’t do things. There’s more story behind this, as well. Banks came into PROGRESS by beating up Sexsmith and it was a match against Sexsmith that seemed to put the fans behind him in the first place. Sexsmith also came to Banks for help when he wanted to step his game up. Banks was in full heel mode here. He talked trash, taunted, was vicious, and got help from TK at ringside. As usual, Sexsmith fighting from behind worked well. The fans believed in some of his near falls and he brought a lot of fire to everything he did. Even when Banks used an avalanche Kiwi Krusher, Sexsmith found a way to survive. Once put in the Lion Clutch, though, he passed out and lost in 16:12. It was a good effort from Sexsmith and a good match. It just didn’t get to the great level it could have with the story.
Since WALTER vacated the title during Chapter 68, a new champion was needed. PROGRESS wasted no time in doing that, putting the title up for grabs in this four way. To be Atlas Champion, you must be over 205 pounds. Conners it 206, putting him at a big disadvantage here. He certainly came in with a dumb strategy, trying to go toe to toe with the guys who were much bigger than him. Needless to say, it didn’t go well. Williams took an awful landing on an apron piledriver and the crowd kind of fell silent. Even Rampage didn’t want to capitalize because of Williams’ possible injury. Conners was more than happy to, though. Doug got back into the action a while later, only to again fall on his head. Just when it looked like Conners was going to steal the match, Williams hit Chaos Theory from out of nowhere to a huge pop at 11:44. Williams hadn’t won in PROGRESS in four years, but is now champion. Solid match, with the feel good moment you want on a show like this.
The women haven’t main evented since Toni became the inaugural champion about a year ago, beating Jinny and Laura Di Matteo (***¾). This has been brewing for a very long time and Toni’s title reign feels like a huge deal. Commentary noted how this was the queen who built the queendom (Jinny) against the crown jewel who has reigned over it (Toni). Lots of shenanigans right from the start. Nina Samuels and Chakara attacked Toni at every opportunity, including stopping to put lipstick on her, which is a classic Jinny move. As for the action, it came across like Toni was clearly the better wrestler, but Jinny was smart. She had a lot of Toni’s best stuff scouted and was more than willing to take all the shortcuts possible. Toni counted the Acid Rainmaker and nailed a Styles Clash for a visual win, but the House of Couture struck again. Toni still got another visual win following an accidental shot with the title and Strong Zero. Toni dumped Chakara outside, which opened the door for Jinny to roll her up and steal the title in 18:52. It was billed as a big deal, but that may have been the worst Toni title defense. I understood the story they were trying to tell. However, they overdid the interference to the point where the match couldn’t find a flow that worked. Jinny as the smarter wrestler with a plan was a great call, but it got overbooked.
Jinny celebrated and left with the title. Toni Storm stayed behind to hug Jim Smallman and get a standing ovation for her reign, which lasted 357 days and featured 14 successful defenses. She got a microphone and said she wasn’t going anywhere, because the title is hers.
Overall: Not the best outing from PROGRESS, despite being billed as a big show. Jinny/Toni disappointed, as did the potential for Banks/Sexsmith. However, nothing on the show was bad (as usual with PROGRESS). The Thunderbastard series got off to a good start, Doug Williams had a feel good moment, and the BSS tag was fun. Sabre/Andrews ruled and Starr/WALTER was MOTN. A good show, just not a great one.