The Garage in Highbury Corner was one of my favourite places to watch bands back when I did that kind of thing. It closed down for a while and in that time I became too old for gigs, so I thought I’d never see it again. Little did I realise that, while I’d been away from wrestling, a small start-up called PROGRESS had begun running shows at The Garage, looking to immediately cement their mix of professional wrestling and punk rock by utilising one of London’s finest small venues.
After the main PROGRESS shows became too big for the 300-seater room, moving down the road to Camden’s Electric Ballroom (where they’re also now probably too big for, but that’s another story), the decision was made to move their smaller, trainee-dominated bouts to N5. And that’s how I found myself outside The Garage again, just SEVENTEEN YEARS after my last visit.
ENDVR 10 was, as the name suggests, the tenth edition of the smaller shows, and the twenty-eighth overall. That it’s taken three years to get that far – PROGRESS chapter 1 was held in March 2012, with ENDVR 1 following eighteen months later – is not a result of a half-hearted approach to staging shows. It’s a deliberate build, with the gap between shows shrinking as the demand grows. In that way, the events are still special, and the speed that tickets sell is proof enough that it’s working.
The first ENDVR show featured a handful of more experienced wrestlers alongside the cream of the PRO-JO, a permanent training venue in south London. Some of the trainees from that show are still working ENDVR events today, waiting for their crack at the main PROGRESS cards, while some have already moved onto the bigger shows.
ENDVR 10 also featured some established wrestlers, one out-and-out cult hero, and a former WWE star, and it worked with that mix. The PRO-JO students had something to aim for, something to beat, and the workrate was raised accordingly.
After some genuinely-funny comedy born out of PRO-JO trainee Ali Armstrong imitating PROGRESS promoter (and host for this show) Glen Joseph, the show began. Joseph is a likeable host, accomplished on the mic’ and comfortable in front of an audience. Well, you’d expect it from a man who tours the world performing in big production musical theatre…
The opening bout was a tag-team affair, with the team of Sweet Jesus (Pastor William Eaver & Chuck Mambo) taking on “Body Guy” Roy Johnson & Micky Pearson. Sweet Jesus are the Almost Ready For Primetime Players, and they were a level above their opponents in that regard. The match suffered from going a little long, and from an overbooked finish, but they worked hard and Chuck Mambo has a small portion of “it” – but I hear he lives his gimmick like a champ, so what do you expect?
The hugely-bearded Kyle Ashmore fought Shen Woo in the second match on the card, and this was an altogether more together match. Ashmore made his PROGRESS debut last month as a late replacement, and he looked good here. Woo, too, showed some shine, and the regular fans were behind him and kept the attempt at fat- and Chinese-based crowd “interaction” to a minimum with cries of “Don’t Be A Dick!”, the number one rule at all PROGRESS shows.
And maybe it’s time to put that elephant in the room in a front chancery? I have an issue with some of the fans at PROGRESS shows. For the most part they add to the show, and the regular chants are appreciated by other fans and the wrestlers they are aimed at.
Sometimes someone comes up with something new that is also right on the money, and it’s probable that it will become a regular chant itself. However, there also seems to be a desperation to be the class clown, to be the Face of PROGRESS, identified as the funny man – it’s rarely one of the many women at the shows – who has everyone in stitches. Here’s the thing, though: comedy isn’t easy. It’s certainly not as easy as latching onto a wrestler’s nationality, ethnicity, sexuality, gender, or past jobs, and spewing EVERYTHING YOU CAN THINK OF that might have some loose connection to them.
Wrestling is a unique artform. It’s sport and it’s theatre. Because it’s also theatre, and they’re trying to tell a story, it’s not always easy or desirable to step outside the suspension of disbelief necessary to ignore the fact that we’re watching a pretend fight. If it were stand-up comedy, a skilled comedian would welcome accomplished heckles and dispatch the poorer ones. Professional wrestlers don’t always have that luxury, and it betrays what we’re asking them to do for us to expect it or require it of them.
Aaaaaanyway. Back to the show, and to my favourite match of the afternoon – Elizabeth versus Toni Storm. Yes, a women’s match. I’m not a huge fan of women’s wrestling, especially not women’s wrestling for the sake of women’s wrestling. But these girls really went for it. Everything they did was crisp – not just as women, but as professional wrestlers. Their gender didn’t matter, and it never should. If they can go they can go.
PROGRESS has an admitted issue with putting women’s matches on the main shows because some of the fans probably can’t be trusted not to shit on them for, well, being women. Matches like this – and the tag-team challenge match in the second-half, prove that they belong there, and it’s a MASSIVE positive that the first women’s match on a main PROGRESS show will take place next month. But more on that later.
The last match before the interval was a four-way between Damon Moser, Jack Sexsmith, Mark Hendry, and Earl Black Jr. Sexsmith was a riot, working a sexually frivolous, morally ambiguous gimmick, that a feared the men and a flamed the women. As a result of one of the afternoon’s funniest ad libs, Black Jr found out he resembled a Create-A-Wrestler template in one of those computer games the young kids play, and was subject to chants of “default suplex” every time he hit a move. Clever and funny works.
After the interval, the feud between Jinny and Pollyanna exploded into a Pick Your Partner Challenge, with each girl picking a male wrestler for their partner.
Jinny, hated by the ENDVR regulars because she’s a very good heel, picked one of the few people more despised than her in Paul Robinson, who emerged to nuclear heat. Pollyanna went local for her partner, picking fellow Welshman Wild Boar.
They had a cracking bout, with Pollyanna in particular really stepping up and not backing down to Robinson’s intimidation. Although Jinny’s team won the match you could sense nothing was really settled between the two and Glen Joseph was so incensed by the continued imbroglio that he ordered them to face each other at PROGRESS 19 in a No Disqualification match. That should be something to see.
And talking of things you should go out of your way to see, here’s Grado. PRO-JO trainee Sebastian had demanded a title match at ENDVR 10, safe in the knowledge that PROGRESS only has one singles title – the PROGRESS Championship held by Jimmy Havoc. However, back in the mists of the past, Grado had defended his Bumbag Championship on a PROGRESS show and it was this title that Sebastian got a shot at.
Grado is a big star. There’s no doubting that. He’s charismatic beyond measurement and, while he’s far from the most accomplished technical wrestler, everything he does in the ring means something and hits its target in the audience.
Sebastian has a solid gimmick and a good grasp of the fundamentals. The match was fun, and both men played their part well. Sebastian came up short in the end, but he claimed it wasn’t a real title, anyway. Of course, geeze, of course.
The main event was an all-Welsh affair, with PROGRESS mainstay, and former tag-team champion, Eddie Dennis taking on former WWE star Mason Ryan. Since his release from the WWE in April last year, Ryan has worked sporadically in the UK and the US, but has retained the size and shape that marks him out as a former Vince McMahon man.
Dennis was his equal in the ring, however, and once they’d gotten past some awful attempts at “banter” by the crowd, they settled into a solid bout. Dennis has impressed me every time I’ve seen him. He moves well and has a natural charisma and should be ranked in the top talent in any UK list. He picked up the win and then announced that he was entering the Super Strong Style 16-man tournament at PROGRESS 19.
This was a good show and certainly worth the time and money I paid out on it. My issue with the crowd might mean that PROGRESS shows aren’t for me, and that would be a really sad thing because everything else about them is first class. I won’t give up on them yet, because the cost in potential entertainment lost is HUGE, but it’s an issue I can’t easily let go of.
Ignoring that, ENDVR 10 was super tight and super fun. There are probably better ways to spend a Sunday afternoon but I can’t think of many right now that don’t involve a terrible amount of effort. ENDVR 11 is on June 21st – what else would you be doing?