TYLER BATE ANNOUNCES HE IS INJURED AND MUST PULL OUT OF THE TOURNAMENT - They found the most awkward way possible to announce this. The way Bate was talking (he has a "slight twinge" in his shoulder) gave me the feeling that he probably could have wrestled but didn't to risk in such a small promotion when he has a WWE contract, and Glenn Joseph was trying to cover for him and basically saying "dude... just say you're injured too badly to wrestle!" They should have just totally kayfabed it and said that he was injured too badly to wrestle even if he probably could have.
EDDIE DENNIS & MARK ANDREWS SEGMENT - Good. Dennis seems to finally be healthy so things can move forward now. Hooray!
Well... it turns out that while his cast is off, he isn't cleared yet... but that doesn't mean we can't still move forward! Very good promos were exchanged (Andrews' was actually pretty darn great) resulting in Andrews saying he will fight Eddie when Eddie is cleared to wrestle again... but only if Eddie agrees to stop coming to PROGRESS shows and causing trouble until the match takes place. Eddie agrees to this condition, but only if he gets to pick the terms of the match. Andrews says that's fine with him. They shoved each other a bit and Eddie ran off.
SUPER STRONG STYLE 16 SEMIFINAL SPOT QUALIFYING WASTEMAN CHALLENGE MATCH:
Kassius Ohno vs. Angelico vs. David Starr vs. Roy Johnson vs. Chuck Mambo vs. Jordan Devlin vs. Chris Brookes - 4.5/10
Lots of pointless pre-match shenanigans happened. We are now over half an hour into the show and there has been zero wrestling. It's like I'm watching one of those 2006 CZW DVDs with forty minutes of promos at the beginning.
The match was mostly a flurry of moves, but at least they established that the guy who won truly deserved to win by having him knock out just about everyone else with elbows at the end rather than stealing a pin or just being the last guy to hit his finisher in a train of guys hitting their finishers on each other.
CONNOR MILLS & MAVERICK MAYHEW vs. "FLASH" MORGAN WEBSTER & MARK HASKINS (w/Vicky Haskins)- meh squash
This was clearly supposed to be one of those old ROH squashes where the squashee was at least allowed to get something in because the booker wanted him to retain some sort of credibility because he wouldn't have been brought in in the first place if he didn't at least have potential. The problem was that this match was so short that it didn't really feel like Webster & Haskins did too much more to Mills & Mayhew than Mills & Mayhew did to them. Going another minute of squashing would have helped this.
The interesting bit was that when Haskins kept the Sharpshooter locked in after the opponent had submitted, Webster got in his face about it and got yelled that. The dynamic going on between Webster and the rest of this faction is quite interesting, though it's difficult to put my finger on exactly what it is. It's like he wants to be a part of the group because he sees the obvious benefits of it, but is also uncomfortable with them... and yet said benefits (having people to interfere on your behalf) are why he joined the group in the first place, so he feels like someone who is doing something that he knows is wrong for the sake of furthering his own career but is bothered by his own choices. Also, I could be reading this wrong, but I think he's kind of enthralled by Vicky.
SUPER STRONG STYLE 16 SEMIFINAL MATCH:
Zack Sabre Jr. vs. Keith Lee- 7.75/10
This was a GREAT and rather unique match that did a wonderful job of mixing the two wrestlers skillsets and personalities to tell a common story (size vs. technique) using a spots that felt very creative and yet also familiar. They didn't innovative by coming up with new things do; they innovated by exploring the space around the moves to find new ways to do them. I'm sure that sounds horribly pretentious, but that's really the best way I can put it without giving you a blow-by-blow recap.
SUPER STRONG STYLE 16 SEMIFINAL MATCH:
Kassius Ohno vs. Zack Gibson (w/James Drake)- 6.25/10
This was a perfectly fine wrestling match until it was damaged by the terrible finish. Said finish saw Drake- who had already been given a warning by the referee for suspected interference- was caught putting Ohno in a front facelock. The result of this obvious interference was not a DQ like it should have been, but rater was Drake merely being ejected from ringside. Drake's ejection resulted in Gibson being distracted. Not by arguing with the referee like you might think, but just watching his teammate being dragged off by security (and seriously, what kind of wrestler- never mind one half of the tag team champions- gets overpowered by just two security guards?) Ohno took advantage of this distraction to hit Gibson with his elbow to the back of the head and get the pin. Why couldn't Ohno just win clean, with no interference, distractions, or other bullsht*t?
Joey Janela vs. Jimmy Havoc (w/Vicky Haskins)- 6.5/10
This was a mostly disjointed series of spots that involved deathmatch stuff. If these two guys want to kill themselves bumping onto cinderblocks for entertainment then that's up to them, but I don't need to see someone doing a barefoot double stomp into thumbtacks, ever. That's grosses me out and makes me not want to see another deathmatch between these two for fear of what they will do to try to one-up this.
POST-MATCH SEGMENT - Very odd. Jimmy Havoc starts to cut a worked shoot promo on Jim Smallman. I don't know PROGRESS' history very fell but I'll assume that the fans do, and they all seemed to have the exact same reaction that I did, which was "This stuff Jimmy Havoc is saying is making a lot of sense, and Smallman really has been f*cking over him and Haskins for a long time. And he does seem to be favoring big international superstars like Will Ospreay or guys coming in from Australasia over homegrown Brits."
Then Will Ospreay showed up, holding Jimmy Havoc's old axe, and Havoc put his face down onto an unfolded chair, basically inviting Ospreay to cut his head off. Ospreay grabs a mic and tells Havoc that he has waited so long for the chance to get revenge for everything Jimmy Havoc has done to him, but now that Havoc is in such a weak and vulnerable state, he won't do it because "it's just too easy." Ospreay throws the axe down and turns around to face away from Havoc while he kept talking. Havoc picked the axe up, but Ospreay anticipated this, saying that something about Havoc as clearly changed because "the hold Jimmy Havoc would have put that axe in my head by now."
Havoc eventually tossed the axe away. Ospreay says that he agrees with Havoc that the two of them built PROGRESS... but since then Ospreay has become an international superstar in New Japan while Havoc has gone nowhere. Or, as he artfully put it, "I've progressed; you've regressed."
Havoc went to get the axe but Ospreay simply said "don't go anywhere. I'm not done talking to you," and Havoc actually listened to him... and he just stood there while Ospreay continued to bury him. "I used to look at you and think 'JIMMY F*CKING HAVOC!" Now... I'm just staring at some guy called 'James.'"
Ospreay insists that they must finish their feud, and on his terms. Sorry, buddy, but the feud did end. Jimmy beat you in a Loser Leaves PROGRESS match last year. As far as I'm concerned you should sit down, shut up, and consider yourself very lucky that Smallman let you back in.
Anyway, Ospreay says he wants a match at Wembley Arena this September, but he wants it against the real Jimmy Havoc, who once attempted to murder him with an axe. Ospreay walked off. Havoc then started jumping into the pile of thumbtacks left over from his deathmatch to Ospreay that he was willing to be psycho again and accepted his challenge. I get that they're trying to sell out the big arena, but Ospreay suddenly deciding that he's not over loss his to Havoc anymore even to the point of trying to bring out Havoc's inner psychopath which almost murdered him is just too much for me. PROGRESS is usually a lot better at setting these things up naturally than this.
CHRISTIAN MICHAEL JAKOBI PROMO - Good. He notes that he has a reputation for identifying and grooming the best European talents in wrestling, listing off RingKampf, Tommy End, Axel Dieter Jr., Axel Tischer, and others as examples of this. He says that the only guy top name in European indy wrestling that hasn't been one of his guys is Pete Dunne... and the reason for this is simply that Pete Dunne isn't actually that good. If Dunne wants to prove that he is that good, he will answer the challenge that CMJ is here to lay out today on behalf of Ilja Dragunov. The crowd popped big for that, as they should because that match should be BRUTAL. They didn't say anything officially, but an opportune time for that match would probably be during PROGRESS' tour of Germany this year.
PROGRESS WOMEN'S TITLE MATCH:
Toni Storm(c) vs. Charlie Morgan- 5/10
WALTER vs. T.K. COOPER (w/Travis Banks)- no rating, GREAT squash.
In a very un-WALTER-like move, WALTER had Banks pinned but pulled him up at two, just to punish him with some submissions before getting the win.
POST-MATCH SEGMENT - Good. Banks tells WALTER, the current PROGRESS Atlas Champion, to "go back to your own weight class," and says that as long as WALTER is the Atlas Champion, he shouldn't have a shot at the regular PROGRESS World Championship... so WALTER thinks for a moment, then hands the belt to Smallman and goes after Banks, who runs away.
Obviously WALTER vacating the Atlas Title to go after the PROGRESS World Title reflects badly on the value of the Atlas Title, but I'm actually fine with this because I think it's time for the Atlas Title to go away. It was a cute gimmick playing off of WWE's Cruiserweight weight limit that served as an effective secondary title while it was around, but it ultimately failed to feel particularly different than the world title, and while that wouldn't necessary be an issue in most cases, in this case I think it is because the Atlas Title has failed to live up to its name. The belt was supposed to be for the "big lads," but aside from WALTER no one who held the belt was particularly large. If I were PROGRESS I'd put the belt on ice for a bit and then bring it back with a weight limit that is set at 255 and truly make it the hoss fight belt that its name promises.
SUPER STRONG STYLE 16 FINALS:
Zack Sabre Jr. vs. Kassius Ohno- 7.25/10
They've had much better matches in the past. You can only watch two guys hit each other very hard so many times, and while Ohno often tries to differentiate his matches with his slower pacing, I don't think it helped too much this time. Don't get me wrong: this was a great match. But it also wasn't the classic you'd expect when you hear "Zack Sabre Jr. vs. Chris Hero in the finals of PROGRESS' Super Strong Style 16 tournament."
A fine show from PROGRESS. While it was a bit of a let-down in the ring, it made up for it with the key storyline moments you'd expect from a major show. PROGRESS has some excellent matches on the horizon, whether it's the inevitable Banks vs. WALTER rematch, ZSJ taking on the winner of that at Wembley Arena, Pete Dunne vs. Ilja Dragunov, the also inevitable Jinny vs. Toni Storm match for the PROGRESS Women's Title, or the long-awaited Mark Andrews vs. Eddie Dennis match, these should be a very fun next few months.