That Ain’t WWE x PROGRESS

I’ve had a great response to the first ‘That Ain’t WWE’ on New Japan Pro Wrestling. Some have asked for more Japanese promotions. They’ll come. But for now I’m going to look at a promotion a little closer to home. PROGRESS.

Picture the scene. You’re a comedian called Jim Smallman. You’re at the Edinburgh Fringe with your agent Jon Briley. You decide to put watch some PWG and both thought, “Hey why don’t we do this.” And so they did along with Glenn Joseph.

It took them seven months to put the first show together in 2012, Chapter One: In the Beginning, and with a lot of hard work have since become one of the most successful indy’s in the UK and Ireland.

PROGRESS style themselves as Strong Style Punk Rock Pro Wrestling. Their in-ring product is a mix of the Strong Style typical of Japanese wrestling with a punk rock vibe; further emphasised by the fact that their shows are put on music venues as opposed to the more traditional gyms, and halls. The meshing of these two worlds, along with solid, consistent booking, and fan interaction has created a unique fan culture akin to football fans who follow their team home and away. Some even made the trip to see SMASH V PROGRESS in Canada. That’s dedication.

Everyone’s welcome and there’s only one rule : Don’t Be a Dick. It’s not hard to see why they have done so well.

Rosters in indy wrestling are nomadic in their nature. In PROGRESS Imports are used sparingly, and when they are, it’s to progress an angle rather than being there for the sake of it. Instead they use British and European talent above all else, they have the advantage being able to book wrestler’s for multiple shows and build long term storylines; relatively rare in indy wrestling.

The best example of this is Jimmy Havoc. You may have heard of him and his storyline. I won’t spoil it but will say that due to length and scale of it, it could not have been done anywhere else. Some hold it up as some of the best booking in wrestling period, and it would be hard to argue with that.

The use of local talent also means that the PROGRESS roster actually feels like a cohesive whole akin to the big boys like WWE, NJPW & ROH, rather than a band of individuals. And what a roster as well, it reads like a who’s who of British Indy Wrestling with the likes of Marty Scurll, Zack Sabre Jnr, Will Ospreay, Mark Andrews, Mark Haskins and Jimmy Havoc leading the way.

The women’s roster is smaller, but has some excellent wrestlers such as Jinny, Pollyanna, Nixon Newell and Toni Storm. With Natural Progression Series 4 crowning the first PROGRESS Women’s Champion, expect this to grow.

Full Rosters can be found here.

PROGRESS World Championship (Pete Dunne)

Typically belts are, well belts. But initially the PROGRESS Championship was represented by a staff topped by the eagle in their logo. Affectionately referred to as the Nazi Staff, it was replaced by a traditional belt at Chapter 16.

The belt became a World Championship when Marty Scurll defended the title against Will Ospreay at the Wrestlecon Supershow in Dallas, Texas earlier this year. Scurll would later defend it against Zack Gibson in Italy to solidify its status as a world title.

Unfortunately, Mark Haskins vacated the title to take time off to recuperate from a neck injury. Pete Dunne was crowned champion at Chapter 39: Graps of Wrath, which had the winners of each match on the card going through to a 7-man main event to crown a new champion.

PROGRESS Tag Team Championship (Vacant)

Again PROGRESS do things differently. Instead of two identical belts they use a shield with the PROGRESS eagle on the front, which has been split into two. First awarded to FSU (Mark Andrews and Eddie Dennis) after a tournament in Chapter 12. British Strong Style defeated The London Riots at Chapter 36. The title was vacated after Pete Dunne won the main championship and passed his half of the tag belt to Tyler Bate to defend. But the PROGRESS bosses weren’t happy with that so vacated the belts but giving the new British Strong Style a chance to win them back properly.

PROGRESS Atlas Championship (Matt Riddle)

The newest belt. And unlike the previous two, it’s an actual belt (for now). The Atlas Championship is like the reverse Cruiserweight and is for the heavier lads on the roster with a 205 lbs+ weight stipulation as well as 15 minute limit on the matches.

Rampage Brown won the belt by winning a round robin tournament similar to the G1 Climax, with two separate groups, two semi final matches and a final at Chapter 37 against Joe Coffey. He held an Open Challenge which separated it from the other belts. He eventually lost the titles to Matt Riddle at Chapter 42 : Life, The Universe and Wrestling.

PROGRESS Women’s Championship (TBD)

Earlier this year it was announced that the Natural Progression Series IV will crown the first ever Women’s Champion in PROGRESS. The first match took place at Chapter 38 and the winner will crowned in 2017.

Chapters

These are the regular shows that run through the year. Each Chapter has it’s own name chosen by Jim, Jon or Glen. They are often a pun or a reference. For example all Manchester shows have been a reference to Mancunian musicians such as Joy Division, New Order, The Smiths and Mr Scruff. A recent favourite of mine is Chapter 38: When Men Throw Men At Men, and the next show, Chapter 39: The Graps of Wrath.

The majority of Chapters are held in London. Ten of the first eleven shows were held at The Garage in Balham, before moving to The Electric Ballroom in Camden for Chapter 12 onwards. Most recently they held Chapter 37 at the Brixton Academy, and will return there next September as well.

Manchester shows are held at The Ritz, there have been 5 shows there so far, with another two planned for this year and four for next.

New for 2017 will be two shows in Birmingham.

ENDVR

PROGRESS have their own training school called the Projo. ENDVR shows are a mix of trainees, trainers and other professional wrestlers. Think of it as the PROGRESS version of NXT. The storylines aren’t as nuanced as the Chapter shows and promising wrestlers get “called up” to the main show as well.

PTNTL

One tier below ENDVR is PTNTL. The PROGRESS website describes it best, “PTNTL is the show where new wrestlers take their first steps, and established talent get to try out new things. Like an open mic night, but with wrestling.”

ENDVR and PTNTL used to be run on a regular basis but recently they have been more sporadic so watch out on their Twitter and Facebook for future dates.

Super Strong Style 16

A 16 man single elimination tournament held over two days over the Spring Bank Holiday Weekend. Think of it as the British Battle of Los Angeles. There have been two editions so far. For the first time the 2017 edition will take place over three days.

The winner gets a shot at the PROGRESS World Championship.

Natural Progression Series

Starting at Chapter 4, the Natural Progression Series is a showcase for up and coming British talent. As the name implies the matches take place over a series of Chapters. There have been three tournaments so far, with the fourth going to be an all female affair to crown the first PROGRESS Women’s Championship.

The winner receives a title match for the world title at anytime (similar to Money in the Bank), a trophy, and for the first three tournaments got to choose an eliminated wrestler to go through to the following tournament.

If you’re in the UK, join the mailing list to get the password for pre-sales. Shows go on sale the day after a Chapter show. London ones at the Electric Ballroom sell out super fast with regional ones taking a bit longer.

But if you’re not in the UK, PROGRESS have their own on-demand service at demand-progress.com. It has all their shows as well as a few from SMASH Wrestling in Canada who they did joint shows with in September. There’s around 200+ hours of graps in there. All for the low low price of $7.50. (£ Variable, with fluctuations in exchange rate (THANKS BREXIT) and possible foreign transaction fees from your bank).

But with so much content where do you start?

As it says on Demand Progress, watch a few recent shows then go back to Chapter One if you have the time.

Chapter 36: We’re Gonna Need a Bigger Room, Again, is a great place to start. It’s PROGRESS’s biggest show to date and has a WrestleMania vibe to it with many storylines culminating at this point.

If you start back at Chapter One, be warned that the video quality isn’t as good as the recent shows but it does pick up soon enough. It’s an interesting way to watch as you not only get the whole history and growth of PROGRESS as a company, but the wrestler’s as well. Some had a couple of matches and disappeared, others have gone on to WWE, and others have become the faces of not only PROGRESS but British Wrestling as a whole.

There’s a useful guide on the Voices of Wrestling Boards, here, which goes through each Chapter with star ratings for each match as well as the promo videos in between each show.

Or if you just want a small sample, Chapter 13 : Unbelievable Jeff! is available on YouTube. One of the matches is a little Irish lad and a semi finalist of this years Cruiserweight Classic …

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All this just to whet the appetite. Wrestling in the UK + Ireland is going through a boom period at the moment. Across the board there are more shows and the quality of the in-ring product is the highest it has ever been. There has never been a more exciting time to watch wrestling here and PROGRESS is one of the promotions at the forefront.

Let me know what you make of PROGRESS Tweet @woodcockxyx to tell us what you think, or alternatively hit up the Facebook page, or send an email to, hello (at) woodcock.xyz.

Additional Resources -

Demand Progress — for all your PROGRESS Wrestling needs. All shows as well as a couple of SMASH ones for good measure.

Tuesday Night Jaw — podcast hosted by Jim Smallman, co-owner of PROGRESS. Has a roundtable after the WWE PPVs as well as interviews with wrestlers, and two episodes with guides to New Japan’s G1 Climax and PWG’s Battle of Los Angeles.

Progress Wrestling Fans — a Facebook page for fans, a friendly bunch.

and of course PROGRESS — Twitter, Facebook, Website


Originally published at www.woodcock.xyz on November 15, 2016.