THUNDERBASTARD TAG TEAM SERIES MATCH:
M&M vs. Grizzled Young Veterans - 6.75/10
This was a great opener that not only got you behind M&M but actually made you think they had a real chance of winning, with several key miscues from the Grizzled Young Veterans really helping to reinforce that feeling. Then the Grizzled Young Veterans just won anyway.
#1 CONTENDERSHIP MATCH:
Laura Di Matteo vs. Chakara vs. Candyfloss vs. Charlie Morgan vs. Millie McKenzie - 6/10
A fun, chaotic multi-woman match, with a bit of a story about Millie overcoming the House of Couture ganging up on her.
OBLIGATORY MARK ANDREWS & EDDIE DENNIS TALKING SEGMENT - AWESOME! Let's be honest: Every single person in the building and watching at home knew going in that they would finally have their big match at the Wembley Stadium show with some sort of hardcore stipulation. But these guys came out here and did such a fantastic job- from the barbs they exchanged to Dennis' taunting of the Andrews that he would make him wait even longer than expected to get his hands on Eddie simultaneously taunting the crowd that the match would take place at NXT UK tapings or at an ATTACK! Pro Wrestling show or at a show in Australia in October- that when Andrews' attempts to brawl (always quickly broken up by the crew) finally goaded Eddie into announcing that the match would take place at Wembley and would be a TLC Match, the fans went completely and totally gaga.
THUNDERBASTARD TAG TEAM SERIES MATCH:
Aussie Open vs. Timothy Thatcher & Chris Brookes - 8.75/10
Thatcher stopped Brookes from doing his completely pointless and gross loogie spot. Thank you, Mr. Thatcher. The entire world owes you a debt of gratitude. We also owe you a debt of gratitude for being the MVP of this awesome match. Not that the others didn't do their part- Aussie Open looked better than I've ever seen them look, and Brookes was very good as well- but Thatcher was just completely awesome at everything he did: grappling, striking, being a babyface in peril, kicking out at the last moment, everything. Fletcher also looked excellent tonight; better than I've ever seen him look. I really want to see him face Thatcher in a grappling contest.
DOUG WILLIAMS & WALTER vs. BRITISH STRONG STYLE (Pete Dunne & Trent Seven) - 6.25/10
Too much hitting, not enough grappling or suplexing or whatever, and not in a way that really told too much of a story. It wasn't bad or anything, but it wasn't particularly good, either. Doug Williams got hurt towards the end, but WALTER won anyway.
POST-MATCH SEGMENT - GREAT! Christian Michael Jakobi came out and reminded Dunne that "the last time I was here I smacked you in the face and you did nothing about it" so Dunne ran up the ramp, grabbed CMJ, and dragged him into the ring. Ilja Dragunov then came out to make the save. They had a brawl which Ilja won when CMJ provided a distraction, allowing Ilja to hit a back suplex and then a Torpedo Moscow. CMJ then cut a promo saying that Ilja is the best and will win at Wembley while Ilja booted Dunne down every time he tried to get up. This was great built to Wembley.
TYLER BATE vs. MARK HASKINS (w/Vicky Haskins) - 8/10
It got a little too MOVEZ-heavy towards the end, but for the most part this was quite awesome.
2 OUT OF 3 FALLS NO DISQUALIFICATIONS MATCH WITH PAUL ROBINSON AS SPECIAL GUEST REFEREE IN WHICH IF JIMMY HAVOC WINS HE IS ADDED TO THE PROGRESS WORLD TITLE MATCH AT WEMBLEY STADIUM:
Jimmy Havoc vs. Will Ospreay - 9.5/10
First and foremost, MAJOR props are due to the announcers, Leslie Callum and Glen Joseph, for keeping me- who is mostly unfamiliar with the history of PROGRESS- (and the many viewers like me) informed as to the significance of various things in the match.
I thought the first 98% of this match was not only fantastic, but nearly flawless. The only little bits that bugged me were when Smallman was refereeing, some of his counts were made from positions where he could clearly not see the pinned wrestler's shoulders and, the fact that the 2 out of 3 falls part of the stip wound up feeling completely irrelevant, and the fact that Robinson was down for WAY too along after his bump. He's a wrestler, remember! Not a referee. This was a case of what I like to call someone putting Kryptonite in the referee shirts. I also thought that, in hindsight, the very slow pace of the beginning of the match did not contrast well with the later "the pace is slow because we're so hurt and exhausted" part, and didn't mesh with "I HATE YOU SO MUCH THAT I MUST SHOW THE WORLD THAT I CAN DEFEAT YOU IN THIS ULTRA-VIOLENT MATCH" part of the story. I get what they were going for (that the casualness of this extreme violence was supposed to be off-putting), but I think they would have benefitted from acting with more urgency.
This was one of those matches where I was often legitimately afraid for the wrestlers' lives. It was scary as hell to watch, but was also gripping, and, most importantly, everything they did felt like it was done for a reason, and served a larger part in the story. Even the seemingly gratuitous ref bumps were done to set up something that called back to the history between these two men in PROGRESS.
Also for the first 98% of the match, I absolutely LOVED the idea of having Robinson as the referee. It was built up well beforehand, he made perfect sense as a choice, and they did spots early to establish that he was not going to f*ck anyone over, but rather that he was there to enforce fairness. The connection he has with both wrestlers even made it so I didn't mind him getting in the way and stopping certain things that would have been over the top (like Havoc trying to cut Ospreay's ear off) and I didn't even mind him eventually cutting Ospreay's hands free. Similarly, him not counting the wrestlers out (until one spot when Ospreay ordered him to, which succeeded in getting Ospreay the many boos it was designed to get him), as well as the very slow cadence of his count-out counts made it feel like he saw his job as being to make sure that this ends in a satisfying manner so that the feud will finally be over, and with no one getting maimed. He truly felt like he was there- as crazy as it seems to say in a deathmatch (which is what this really was)- "for the safety of the competitors."
Robinson pulling Smallman out of the ring during a count wound up making sense by the end, as did the very different tone he seemed to take afterwards. While I didn't like it at the time and still don't like the overall idea now, I have a hard time holding that aspect of it against the match. By now you have no doubt both noticed that I have gone out of my way to avoid specifying the big thing here that I didn't like, as well as the fact that I specified that I loved "the first 98%" of this match, so let's now get into the remaining 2%.
Ospreay as going to hit Havoc with a move when Havoc countered hit by hitting Ospreay in the groin with the sharp part of the axe. It has often been suggest in the past that this is a very real and very sharp axe with which you could easily kill someone with a blow to the neck. Given this, you would think that after getting hit in the crotch with it, Ospreay's scrotum would be split open, he'd be bleeding from the taint, and there'd be blood everywhere. You'd be wrong. Not only was there no blood, but Ospreay's pants weren't even split. Havoc was then about to win when Robinson double-stomped his face into thumbtacks and counted a pin for Ospreay. While I said I wouldn't hold Robinson pulling Smallman out of the ring or him suddenly wanting these two to fight over an axe (both being very much against the way he had been acting before getting bumped) against the match because they made sense by the end, I will hold the fact that they gave us a f*ck finish in this blow-off match against this match. WHAT THE F*CK, PROGRESS?! NOT COOL.
POST-MATCH SEGMENT: PART 1 - Good. Robinson cut a promo saying that while both of them put PROGRESS on the map, he was the one who put them on the map. He said they had awakened the beast within him and that he wanted to face Havoc at Wembley. Fine. You'd think he'd also want a match with Ospreay at some point just based on the general tone of this promo, but that was never brought up.
POST-MATCH SEGMENT: PART 2 - Bullsh*t. Havoc and Ospreay showed each other respect. Bullsh*t. I'm not buying it. No f*cking way should these two be okay with each other after having a f*ck finish in their blow-off match where they were not only trying to kill each other, but often didn't even seem to care if they themselves died in the process of killing the other.
Two other things about this all that I have to make note of are the following. I know this might annoy people because both of these things involve the crowd, but I don't care. First, while I understand that European fans sing at sporting events, but to me, happily singing "JIM IS OUR REFEREE" completely kills the drama of the moment. Singing is fine for the beginning of the match, but to me, serenading someone with song is not a reaction indicative of excitement.
Secondly- and this one is a little more general- there was a point when the crowd- which was almost entirely pro-Havoc- started to chant "FIGHT FOREVER" and it really annoyed me. You were all just cheering for Jimmy Havoc's nearfalls and cheering whenever he kicked out of an attempted pin by Ospreay, but now all of a sudden you don't want anyone to win because you want to see these guys just keep on fighting forever?
I don't have a problem with most "neutral" chants. "THIS IS AWESOME" or chanting the name of the promotion or even "BOTH/ALL THESE GUYS/GIRLS" doesn't bother me because that is an expression of appreciation of what we have seen so far. Yes, there is an implicit message that we'd like to see it continue, but there is also a contentment that "if it were to end now (assuming the finish is good), we'd be satisfied with that."
I know that "FIGHT FOREVER" is someone's "look at how clever I am for coming up with this" way of saying the same thing, but, to me, "FIGHT FOREVER" divorces everything from the "this is a kayfabe real sport" aspect of everything. I can reconcile "THIS IS AWESOME" with "LET'S GO X," but I can't do that with "FIGHT FOREVER" because "FIGHT FOREVER" outwardly states "we don't care who wins, or even if anyone wins; we just want to see you continuing to fight for our entertainment." "FIGHT FOREVER" is almost, in a way, selfish. On the one hand I know that I'm thinking too hard about this, but on the other hand, the fact that it rubs me that way every time I hear it when such a thing has never happened about "THIS IS AWESOME" or other such "neutral" chants makes it something that I can't help but think about because I feel the need to explore it.
Anyway, this was a really awesome show from PROGRESS and you should definitely check it out. Everything was at least solid, it had some truly awesome match, some excellent build to Wembley, and a main event that, despite its flaws, will be one that is talked about for a very long time.