Making PROGRESS: UK promotion shines in Chicago
By Mike Pankow
August 13, 2018
America’s fascination with the British Royals isn’t the only thing the United States loves about the United Kingdom.
Chicago wrestling fans rabidly chanting “UK, UK, UK” filled Cicero Stadium on Saturday night, the penultimate stop of UK-based PROGRESS Wrestling’s “Coast to Coast” U.S. tour.
Sure, there were a few faces familiar to American wrestling fans like WWE United Kingdom Champion Pete Dunne, Tyler Bate, Trent Seven and Mark Andrews. But there were names like Jimmy Havoc, Flash Morgan Webster, Eddie Dennis, Toni Storm and PROGRESS World Champion Walter as well. Here’s the kicker: the Chicago crowd knew who they all were, reciting chants you would normally hear at PROGRESS shows in the UK.
Throw in independent standouts like AR Fox and Brody King, along with new PROGRESS Tag Team champions Flamita and Bandido, and you have all the ingredients for a terrific show.
“I did a tour of the U.S. about four years ago, over 4,000 miles over 4 ½ weeks, it was incredible,” said Glen Joseph, one of a triumvirate of owners for PROGRESS. “The only place I regret that I never went was Chicago. To be here with PROGRESS for the first time was a pretty incredible experience.”
PROGRESS’ tour started a week earlier in Philadelphia at the old ECW Arena with stops in Boston, New York, Seattle before hitting Chicago. The tour concluded Sunday after a bus ride to Detroit.
The night started with charismatic ring announcer Jim Smallman, part of the PROGRESS ownership group along with Joseph and Jon Briley, in the ring to fire up the crowd. With a baseball cap on and tattoos running up and down his arms, Smallman recited a list of his three favorite Chicago wrestling matches: Steve Austin-Bret Hart at WrestleMania 13, CM Punk-John Cena at WWE Money in the Bank 2011 and Dunne-Bate at NXT TakeOver Chicago I.
The opening match was an entertaining affair between Andrews, who has wrestled for both WWE and Impact Wrestling, and Jimmy Havoc, who appeared briefly for Impact. Andrews hit all of his signature high-flying moves including Stundog Millionaire, but it was Havoc, who has wrestled with PROGRESS since the promotion was founded in 2012, that pulled out the victory.
Up next was Bate, the inaugural WWE United Kingdom Champion, going up against TK Cooper. After Cooper stole Bate’s towel and did a Ric Flair-esque knee drop to the towel, the competitors put on a fun match, which Bate won with the Tyler Driver 97. Cooper played up to the crowd’s jeering, which included getting ripped for his ring gear.
Then it was a six-person intergender tag team which pitted the Grizzled Young Veterans and PROGRESS Women’s Champion Jinny against Jack Sexsmith, Darby Allin and the beloved Toni Storm, a semifinalist in last year’s inaugural Mae Young Classic. The Grizzled Young Veterans are Zack Gibson, who won this year’s WWE UK Tournament, and James Drake. Gibson took the mic before the match and probably had the most heel heat on the night as he ran down Chicago among other things. The match was hard hitting and ended when Drake pinned Sexsmith by pulling the trunks for leverage.
The first-half main event was Dunne (aka The Bruiserweight) defending the WWE UK Championship against Flash Morgan Webster. Webster came to the ring in his usual garb, modeled after the Mod subculture from Great Britain in the 1960s, complete with a scooter helmet. Dunne was his usual Bruiserweight self, coming out with the UK Championship hanging down from his mouth.
The contest featured Dunne’s gritty style of joint manipulation and hard-hitting blows and Webster’s mix of high flying and technical wrestling. After each wrestler scored near falls, Dunne hit the Bitter End (a pump-handle flatliner) to finally score the three count. As Dunne celebrated the victory, the fans serenaded him with thank you chants and the Bruiserweight showed a rare glimpse of his gentler side by saluting the fans and interacted with a little girl outside the ring.
Dunne, who is approaching 15 months as WWE UK Champion, is PROGRESS’ best-known performer due to his style and WWE/NXT exposure.
“He’s a lovable dickhead,” Joseph said. “He’s never changed himself. He’s always been the same Bruiserweight.
“I wouldn’t put the Bruiserweight down as one of my best friends,” joked Joseph, who added, “He’s such an incredible performer.”
After a 20-minute intermission, the show returned with an entertaining four-way match between Seven, King, Elliot Sexton and Matt Riddle. If reports are true, Riddle will be on his to WWE to work for NXT soon. Don’t be surprised to see Riddle, a former UFC and Bellator mixed martial arts fighter, in the crowd at NXT TakeOver Brooklyn IV this weekend.
The bout began with a comedic interchange between the four men with Sexton initially taking the mic amidst jeers from the crowd, some of which called him Chris Masters. At one point, all four men were hitting each other with chops. The athletic and versatile 6-foot-5, 285-pound King, who has recently wrestled for MLW and PWG, ended up winning the affair by pinning Sexton.
Next up was a sleeper match of the night for the PROGRESS Tag Team Championship with Chris Brookes and AR Fox defending the title against Mexican luchadors Flamita and Bandido. Fox was subbing for the injured Kid Lykos, who is Brookes’ usual partner, but there was no noticeable disruption in chemistry among the four competitors. The charismatic Fox came out with his posse, The Skulk, and his wife, Ayla.
Fox fit in seamlessly with the luchadors as he took and dished out offense with the high flyers. In the end, Fox took the pin from Bandido as the fans popped huge for the title change.
The main event was Walter defending the PROGRESS World Championship against Dennis, who is quickly moving up in the wrestling world as he recently joined the NXT UK roster. Walter, who also is the current PWG Champion, is a burly Austrian who looks like a cross between Brock Lesnar and Vladimir Kozlov. Both guys had their working shoes on with Dennis playing the heel role here. After a brief brawl on the outside late in the match, the brutish Walter hit a powerbomb and scored the pin to retain the title.
Word of PROGRESS has spread like wildfire, thanks in part to their working relationship with WWE and NXT.
“We’ve always had a good relationship with WWE,” Joseph said. “A lot of the roster of PROGRESS has gone on to WWE. We’ve been very lucky. We’ve been to the Performance Center (in Orlando) and obviously Mr. (William) Regal is quite close to us, particularly for spending most of his time online, crucifying Jim (Smallman) on Twitter. We knew like 80 percent of the (NXT) roster. Half of them had wrestled for us before. It’s been a great relationship. NXT UK is a great brand. It’s a great thing for British wrestling as well.”
However, PROGRESS is doing an excellent job at cultivating new, young talent on its own and combining them with hot names from the independent scene all over the world.
“What used to be the case with British Independent wrestling is we would always have a WWE guy from 10 years ago to try and sell tickets and it was OK,” Joseph said. “Now it seems like the British promotions have the talent and is the place to be in the world of wrestling.”
The PROGRESS experience didn’t stop in the ring. All of the performers were available for meet and greets before and after the show with the longest lines for Dunne, Bate and Seven, known collectively as British Strong Style. Even Joseph and Smallman talked with fans and posed for pictures with them.
Saturday’s show truly was an entertaining spectacle and offered top-notch wrestling for an affordable price. It was PROGRESS’ first-ever stop in Chicago and from the sound of things, it won’t be the last.
“We’re certainly planning on it,” Joseph said. “I’m going to say, ‘you never say never,’ especially in the world of wrestling. Because God knows, I could say no, but then Terry Funk ‘retired’ about 20 years ago.”
For many more photos from the event, go to https://www.windycityslam.com/photos/