LADDER MATCH FOR THE PROGRESS TAG TEAM TITLES:
British Strong Style (Tyler Bate & Trent Seven)(c) vs. CCK (Chris Brookes & Kid Lykos) - 7/10
The hatred the crowd has for British Strong Style during their entrance here is the closest thing I've ever seen to Jimmy Rave in ROH. This match was basically a crapshoot. Most of the spots looked quite sick, but others looked really forced, cartoonish and goofy. Most of those spots were BSS offensive spots, and they themselves come off as a little cartoonish, so this, plus the goofy-looking ladders exacerbated things a bit. An example of what I mean by this can be seen in the spot where Tyler Bate did the dumbest version of the famous Terry Funk ladder spot ever. He picked the ladder up and put it on, then randomly started spinning around in a circle very fast. Only then did the other wrestlers- first Brookes, then Lykos, then his own tag team partner Trent Seven all just take turns walking into the spinning ladder whirlwind. What a bunch of morons. Then Bate just put the ladder back on and started spinning around again, and only then did the Brookes start to walk towards him again so that he and Lykos could do their spot their they take Bate down, which he was an idiot and just stood there and let them do to him instead of trying to trying to escape the ladder. CCK won, and crowd, who had been hot for the whole match, went even more bonkers, and everyone was happy (well... anyone who isn't a member of BSS, anyway).
PROGRESS WOMEN'S TITLE MATCH:
Toni Storm(c) vs. Dahlia Black - 5.75/10
The injured T.K. Cooper was sitting way in the back of the crowd, so after doing her entrance in which she runs down the long aisle to the ring, she ran all the way down a different aisle in the crowd to find him and give him a big kiss (which got a big pop from the crowd). This was one of those odd moments where it wouldn't have been anywhere near as great if she didn't have to go run all the way into the crowd to find him. It just worked better this way.
The backstory here is that six and a half months ago in the semifinals of the tournament to crown the first ever PROGRESS Women's Champion against Toni Storm, Dahlia Black broke her leg and was out for five months. Five months later, on the same PROGRESS show that Dahlia had her very first match back, T.K. Cooper suffered a terrifying leg injury. Now, at the biggest show of the year, Dahlia is facing off against Toni Storm once again with a chance to win the title (whose belt plate she apparently helped design as well).
The story of this match was about Toni Storm working over Dahlia's neck. They told this story quite well, aided by the fact that on one of the very last spots in the match, Toni gave Dahlia a German Suplex off the top turnbuckle and Dahlia looked like she was about half an inch away from breaking her neck on the landing but just barely managed to complete her rotation before she landed on the back of her neck rather than on the front of her entire body. Then Tony hit a bunch of piledrivers in a row and won.
Like I said, they told the story they set out to tell very well, but I think the story they told (and I'm pinning this on the bookers, not the wrestlers)- one where Dahlia was completely overwhelmed and pinned definitively in about nine minutes- runs completely contrary to what people wanted to see due to everything that had happened to lead up to this match. Obviously the storybook ending doesn't always happen in real life and obviously there are a lot of different directions they could use this devastating loss to take Dahlia, but based on the way things would go for everyone in Travis Banks' general circle tonight, there was no reason not to give Dahlia her happy ending as well, even with the post-match Jinny attack coming, and even if she just drops the belt either to Jinny or back to Toni at the next show (or, even better, move the Jinny attack to the next show).
JINNY ATTACKS DAHLIA BLACK - No rating, FANTASTIC segment. Jinny, the worst person in recorded history, and an extremely strong candidate for the best heel of 2017 (it's either her, Pete Dunne, Alexa Bliss!, or Kevin Owens), shows up out of nowhere and just punches Dahlia right in the face. Then she stomps on Jinny's ankle, then Pillmanizers it. Basically we've got the leg story for Dahlia all over again, but this time with a real villainess to hate in addition to a heroine to root for. If you weren't going to put the belt on Dahlia tonight (and I still think they should have), this was the right thing to do. The only thing that was missing from this beat-down was Jinny running into the crowd and grabbing one of T.K. Cooper's crutches and smashing Dahlia in the ankle with it before dropping it just out of her reach. And if you're not going to do that, there is no reason for T.K. not to hobble his ass down to ringside to check on Jinny (actually, offering her his crutches would have been a great little touch).
ZACK SABRE JR. vs. MARTY SCURLL - 7.5/10
Zack's opponent tonight was not announced in advance (officially, Zack had made an open challenge), and Marty Scurll got a HUGE pop when his name appeared on the screen. This was Marty's first match in PROGRESS since back in January... and just when everyone was all happy to see him back, that little motherf*cker jumps Zack during the introductions and just like that everyone is back to booing the sh*tout of him. From there Zack worked the leg, Marty worked the arm, and these guys put on their usual great wrestling match.
MARTY SCURLL PROMO - He gives the big goodbye speech. It was a very good moment.
Jimmy Havoc vs. Mark Haskins- 7/10
We got a wonderful video package to bring us up to speed on what has happened in this feud, which has brought us to this amazing and rather unique place where these two men are angry enough at each other that one challenged the other to a Deathmatch and the other accepted, but I really believe that they don't hate each other and that they will emerge from this as friends once again.
Jimmy Havoc has brought his big, scary murder-axe to the ring. He is a smart man, so he showed up to this deathmatch dressed mostly in white, and the only non-white on his gear is red. His pants appears to already have blood splattered all over them. That's probably a design, but I'm not putting it past him to have special deathmatch pants that he wears for special occasions and doesn't wash the blood off of a la Jimmy Jacobs wearing his jacket from the night the Age of the Fall debuted- unwashed, and thus still covered in Briscoe blood- to major matches throughout the rest of his ROH career.
Haskins charged at Havoc, who swung his axe at him in an attempt to murder him, so maybe they won't be friends after this. After something like that, they kind of can't be. A note to all wrestlers: DON'T BRING A FUCKING AXE TO THE RING. Everyone knows you'll never hit anyone with it and if another wrestler suggests you give them a whack with the axe when you're putting your match together, REPORT THAT PERSON TO THE NEAREST MENTAL HEALTH PROFESSIONAL.
They did a dumb comedy spot that hurt the aura of the match. Also, if you're selling getting shot in the dick by a nerf gun, you're a f*cking wimp. As someone who has, in fact, been shot in the dick by a nerf gun (such things happen when you have a brother), it doesn't f*cking hurt.
Aside from that one spot I was fine with the first twelve minutes or so of this when they did their hardcore stuff and used more deathmatch-y stuff like staple-guns and all worked fine... and they just started to use more and more stuff that was either gross, dangerous or both and I stopped enjoying it and just wanted it to stop. They weren't telling a story (and the set-up to this match left rich opportunities for stories here) for most of it; they were just doing stuff to each other. It stopped being art and started being early 2000s indy ultraviolent "we're ECW but even more hardcore!" bullsh*t. The closest bit we got to story was Haskins' wife coming out to save him from being murdered with Jimmy Havoc's axe, except that I didn't for one second believe that Havoc would ever touch him with the axe so the spot felt hollow. Her punching out the ref didn't really seem necessary, either.
PROGRESS ATLAS TITLE MATCH:
Matt Riddle(c) vs. WALTER vs. Timothy Thatcher - 9/10
If you like hard strikes, impressive suplexes, and general three-way chaos, this was the match for you. RingKampf had a spot early on where they shook hands and then immediately started throwing strikes, showing it was all about competition for them, but the fact that WALTER won the title back by pinning Riddle rather than Thatcher leaves open the possibility of another match being set up because initially these guys were supposed to get individual title matches but WALTER unilaterally said that it would be a three-way instead and management went along with it so Thatcher, who had specifically won "#1 contendership" earlier in the same show that WALTER lost the title could now argue that he would have beaten Riddle one-on-one and he should have gotten his title shot in a singles match before WALTER got this and thus he would be the champion and this could build to another title match, with WALTER again getting annoyed that Thatcher is resorting to talking rather than wrestling to make his case.
POST-MATCH SEGMENT - Fine. Wolfgang makes his PROGRESS debut by coming out to have a stare-down with WALTER, so I guess they're going to be having a title match soon. Doing so at the next show would be a good opportunity to give Thatcher a win over someone else (though I wouldn't have him beat Riddle until after WALTER has beaten Riddle in Riddle's rematch) and then have Thatcher cut the aforementioned promo stating why he should be champion and thus deserves another shot at the title.
(Then you could have management announce that the Atlas Title match at 57 would be Riddle getting his rematch, which would make Thatcher even more angry, and after winning his match at 57 he would cut another promo about how he should be the #1 contender but Smallman would come out and say that they've already decided to award the title shot to someone else who is on a roll, which would lead to Thatcher taking a page out of his EVOLVE playbook and bringing Stokely Hathaway in to negotiate for him and Stokely gets Thatcher vs. Riddle booked for 58 so that Thatcher can prove his point about how he would have beaten Riddle in a singles match and Thatcher does beat him, then Stokely cuts a braggadocious promo about how Thatcher will take the Atlas Title from WALTER which leads to WALTER coming out because he finds Stokely annoying and he's annoyed that Thatcher brought this guy in to help him with politics rather than solving his problems in the ring, and then Thatcher can point out his recent string of wins and then at the next show it's "RingKampf explodes!" and we get our big title match.
And meanwhile, Stokely can use this to get Thatcher to come back to EVOLVE for him, and now I soooo badly want all of this to happen!
PROGRESS WORLD TITLE #1 CONTENDERSHIP SCRAMBLE MATCH:
Eddie Dennis vs. Chief Deputy Dunne vs. Zack Gibson vs. Zack Sexsmith vs. James Drake vs. Strangler Gibson vs. Mark Andrews vs. "Flash" Morgan Webster - 7/10
On the surface this was a really fun little spotfest, but in hindsight, some of the spots were pretty brilliant little bits whose brilliance wouldn't become apparent until afterwards. Mark Andrews won #1 contendership to set him up for another title shot after thinking he had won it back at Chapter 48 in May but having the decision reversed. I really liked the booking here for several reasons. One of those is that giving Andrews the victory works as a nice bit of misdirection to set a bit of doubt in your mind about Travis Banks' seemingly inevitable victory in the main event. And speaking of nice bits of misdirection...
THE POST-MATCH SEGMENT - WONDERFUL! The guy Andrews pinned to get the win was "Flash" Morgan Webster, who was very upset by it and even more upset by Andrews' offer of a handshake. Adding a different layer of oddity to this is the fact that while Andrews did win the match, there was a spot earlier where he dove onto someone on the outside rather than going for a pinfall in the ring in order to let his tag team partner Eddie Dennis go for that pin (think a more subtle version of Sting and AJ Styles from No Surrender 2009... and MAJOR props are due to the announcers for keeping it subtle by mentioning it when it happened but then moving on and not overplaying it like you'd usually hear in wrestling). This way, when Webster, who seemed like he was about to snap and attack Andrews, relented and gave him the handshake and hug and walked off, it perfectly diffused the situation so that no one would expect it when Eddie Dennis slipped into the ring and attacked Andrews from behind and laid him out with his finisher (and the few spots they did during the match that seemed to tease a continuation of a program between F.S.U. and the Grizzled Young Veterans which seemed like it was getting started with their match at the previous show also subtly led your mind away from this possibility).
PROGRESS WORLD TITLE MATCH:
Pete Dunne(c) (w/British Strong Style) vs. Travis Banks - 9/10
Major props are due to the PROGRESS fans for not doing what fans most other places do and turning heels into babyfaces. Pete Dunne is doing some of the same stuff that inexplicably turned Tetsuya Naito into a top babyface in New Japan or the stuff that has inexplicably gotten Cody and Bullet Club babyface reactions in ROH and yet Dunne has remained someone they treat firmly like a heel (and unlike Cody, Dunne actually puts on great matches, too, which makes this all even more baffling).
As the rating should indicate, I loved this match, but first I'm going to deal with the things that I didn't like. One of my big pet peeves in wrestling has become inconsistently applied rules about count-outs, and this match definitely had them. Sometimes there were no count-outs, sometimes they worked like they're supposed to, and sometimes they worked like in New Japan, where the count-out only starts when it's time to tease that he guy who just got beat up in the crowd for three minutes might not make it back to the ring in time.
I also had some problems with the spot where BSS first looked like they were just walking out, but then came back all armed with sledgehammers and the referee stood up to them and ejected Bate and Seven from ringside. Aside from this having been an instance where count-outs just weren't in effect for seemingly no reason, I was a little baffled as to why the other members of CCK didn't come out to stand with Banks here. To solve that second problem, I would have done some sort of vignette earlier in the night of BSS jumping Brookes & Lykos backstage, and with T.K. and Dahlia already injured, Banks would seemingly be left alone.
To solve the second problem, I would have taken advantage of how early in the match they did this to have Smallman announce a rules change as Dunne headed to the back: this match must be won in the ring, but there will be no count-outs (yes, I know that gets rid of the count-out teases, but no one believes those on these major shows anyway). Then, when BSS come back with the sledgehammers, I would have had Smallman announce that if Dunne gets DQed he will be stripped of the title as well. This would explain why Bate and Seven head to the back upon being ejected, and why Dunne didn't just hit the referee to get himself DQed if he wanted out of the match so badly.
The two big criticisms I've seen leveled at this match are that it was overbooked and that there was finisher overkill. The only place where I think this criticism can really be applied is that I could have done without Banks hitting Dunne with the sledgehammer (and certainly could have done without Dunne kicking out after getting hit with it), but I thought that the sledgehammer shot felt more like payback than trying to protect Dunne, and while I do think it makes Banks' win less pure, it doesn't make it feel any less babyface, less deserved, or less valid in my eyes.
As for everything else...
Look: You can call it overbooking and finisher overkill if you really want to, and without the backstory I probably would have done so as well. But the backstory is there and can't be ignored. That backstory is what makes the difference between overbooking/overkill and the epic climax of our hero's journey. Years of cheating and ref bump and weapons shots and phantom pinfalls and DQs and count-outs and other non-finishes in places like WWE, WCW, and TNA (and we can throw in wacky Inokism shooting antics if you want) have left something of a scar of the collective psyche of wrestling fans (and finisher overkill has been a lesser but still significant problem on the indies), but you have to ask remind yourself why all of that was a problem in the first place.
Overbooking is not a synonym for interference, ref bumps, phantom pinfalls and weapon shots. Overbooking is the pointless obscuring of who the better wrestler is. After watching this match, there is no doubt who the better wrestler is. It was Travis Banks, who took everything that Dunne and his cronies could throw at him and overcame it all and when it came down to him and Dunne, one-on-one, he made Pete Dunne tap out in the middle of the ring to become the PROGRESS World Champion. It can't get any more clear than that.
You can criticize this match for all of the stuff that Banks kicked out of, especially in a row, as being just too much to suspend your disbelief for, and while you could argue that the match might have been better with less of that, I don't think you can argue that those spots were a net negative on the match. If you listen to guys like Lance Storm talk about finisher overkill, they refer to it as "WrestleMania nearfalls." This was PROGRESS' WrestleMania this year. this was the big climax of our story, where our hero valiantly fought through every single thing the villains threw at him and defiantly showed the villain that, as the fans told Dunne after one of these spots where Banks kicked out after eating three finishers in a row, "YOU CAN'T BEAT HIM!"
This sort of thing is bad if done poorly, but just because most people have done it poorly to the point where doing it poorly has become a cliché does not mean that every instance of it is bad. Fighting the odds, timely aid from your friends, overcoming an enemy with seemingly superior forces and many less scruples, surviving defiantly no matter what is thrown at you, and overcoming it all to win the greatest prize: when done- like PROGRESS did tonight, this isn't cliché; it's high drama.
A FANTASTIC show from PROGRESS that everyone should go out of their way to see. This has been a HUGE year for PROGRESS, and the action and storytelling on display here are a fine example of why.