If you’ve read any of my reviews of PROGRESS shows before, you’ll know that I’ve struggled with quite who I feel about the promotion. I’ve pretty much enjoyed the shows I’ve been to, but there’s an over-thinking feeling of, “is it for me?”
I decided that, for September’s Chapter 21, I would only get tickets if I could get front row or gold (PROGRESS sells tickets in bands, but without a fixed seat), because seeing stuff when it spills out of the ring is tough beyond the first three rows, and I didn’t. When tickets went on sale for October’s Chapter 22, I didn’t even bother trying.
BUT! when I didn’t get tickets for Chapter 21, I bought myself a front row ticket for ENDVR 12, because the previous ENDVR show I’d been to (April’s ENDVR 9) was really, really fun. And, when tickets for ENDVR 13 went on sale, the day after ENDVR 12, I bought front row again.
So maybe I’m an ENDVR guy more than a PROGRESS guy? That could make sense – after all, aren’t we all NXT guys more than WWE guys? Or am I alone in this? ENDVR seems a totally different show to the PROGRESS shows at the Electric Ballroom – smaller, more relaxed, and there’s a feeling that you’re watching a roster rather than a Dream Team. I’ve nothing but good things to say about ENDVR (well, except one thing, but more on that later) and I’m a pretty hardcore nit-picker.
But, anyway, you didn’t come here to read my pointless navel-gazing (if you did, then “hi”, we should have coffee), you came here to read about ENDVR 12. A show that promised a DOUBLE tag-team main event, and another chapter in the presumed-finished WAR between Pollyanna and Jinny. The latter was more of an enticement to me, because these girls lay it in. Judged on the standards of “are they good professional wrestlers?” rather than the oft-applied “are they good professional wrestlers despite the handicap of being women?” (and you know there are people out there who use that), they pass muster. With flying colours. But, again, I’m getting ahead of myself.
I travelled down to Highbury Corner with pals, which is a change from counting Bryan Alvarez and Dave Meltzer as travel companions through the miracle of podcasts. We talked about this show, that show, their show, and how I’d do my show, and the time flew by. We hit the queue and took turns to visit Little Waitrose, and then got all checked off through the great idea of walking down the line and wristbanding/marking ticket holders so they could pretty much just walk in. Definitely something they should try for the main show.
Inside, The Garage was full of people wearing Pastor Bill Eaver’s new t-shirt, which is a brilliant parody of that CM Punk shirt, and conversations and gossiping about Jimmy Havoc joining NXT were rife. You see the same people at all these shows, and there must be a few new people at each one – well, duh, because I was that new fella a few months ago – but there’s still a bit of a family atmosphere to the place. I like that, even allowing for the fact that some families have black sheep, some families are inbred, and if the girl with the blue hair in the front row was in my family I’d probably be in jail.
Noh-masked Shen Woo was out first to start the show, against Super Oktane, who found his tank was a little empty, going down to a quick, almost squash match. Woo is impressive and I’d like to see more of him. I know of another company, a little more to the east of London, where he’d be a good fit, but his path is his to walk.
Seeing a squash match on a British show was unusual. Seeing two, if you’ll allow me to jump ahead, is pretty fucking rare. In the second-half of the show, Damon Moser gave Pantera Negro such short shrift that my natural reaction was to shrug at the “WTF?” of it. Referee Marc “Paz” Parry caught my eye and shrugged back at me, making it a truly surprising – in the best way – moment. Moser was good, and he’s the nearest thing PROGRESS has on its roster to a wolfman, and you know wrestling needs more wolfmen.
Back in the first half of the show, PRO-JO head trainer Darrell Allen came out, accompanied by Earl Black Jr, to take on the magnificently-bearded Kyle Ashmore. Black Jr patrolled the outside, shrugging off chants aimed at his resemblance to a default character in a wrestling computer game, and interfering whenever Paz failed to pay close attention. Which was a lot. Paz is (kayfabe) a terrible referee. Allen took the win after a stuttering contest, but Ashmore again looked great. This batch of trainees – Moser, Ashmore, Eaver, Chuck Mambo, and the GZRs – are fundamentally-sound and finding their way to transmit that through their gimmicks. It’s a pleasure to watch it.
Next up, host Glen Joseph (and can I say how much I like shows having hosts, not ring announcers? Thanks) announced a “Women Of PROGRESS” match, and if you don’t want to read a tiny bit of (albeit well-informed and constructively-argued) ranting, then skip ahead…
Still here? Great. So, women, eh? The fairer sex. The weaker sex. Get in the fucking kitchen, luv. None of which applies to these particular women or, indeed, 95% of the women wrestling in the UK. And, in a company whose very name is PROGRESS, it should and does not have any traction: these girls (and I even feel bad saying that) can go, and they can mix it, and they often do mix it – my first ENDVR show had a mixed-tag match on it, where Pollyanna & Jinny were in no way the lesser partners to their male teammates.
So why ghettoise the women in PROGRESS? Why declare it a “Women of PROGRESS” match, when you don’t declare every other match to be a “Men of PROGRESS” match? Why assume that women should fight women and men should fight men, and never the twain shall meet (except in the occasional mixed tag)? In the 21st century, which is where we’re all living, the huge strides in equality of the sexes can be seen all over. Except in sport, where – for the most part – it’s women versus women, and men versus men. The size-difference between the average man & woman (which you then extrapolate upwards) explains this somewhat, and a team of the best women would probably lose to a team of the best men at pretty much every sport. BUT! a team of the best women would probably beat a lesser men’s team, and this is where true PROGRESS could be made.
In AAA, the top Mexican promotion, they sometimes have women’s singles matches. They sometimes have women’s tag-team matches. More often than not, though, the women wrestle in mixed tag-team matches, and it’s understood that the top women are roughly on a par with the mid-card men, the mid-card women will go on with lower-card men, and that’s just the way of things. In the mixed tag-team match I saw at ENDVR 9, there really wasn’t much difference in size between Paul Robinson and Pollyanna. And neither held back in that contest. But Paul Robinson is fighting Will Ospreay for the PROGRESS title at Chapter 22, and Pollyanna (despite making her main show debut at Chapter 19) is still wrestling other women on ENDVR shows.
Part of the problem is the audience. For wrestling to work, you have to suspend your disbelief, and some people have trouble believing a woman could ever compete with, or even beat, a man. But you show those same people a smaller wrestler like Robinson, without knowing anything about him, and say he’s fighting for a title that someone the size of Rampage Brown has also fought for, and they wouldn’t believe it, either. It’s the work that gets people over, past the initial “wow” of the size of some people. And, in 2015, I’d like to see Pollyanna, Jinny, Nixon Newell, and some of the other top British women break that gender barrier. Where better than PROGRESS?
Anyway, back to the show. So the “Women of PROGRESS” match saw Jinny, possibly the second most-over villain in the PROGRESS universe (and maybe the first now that Jimmy Havoc has crossed his crucible) against Australian import Toni Storm. Well, I say “import”, but she’s pretty much here for keeps now, and – since she doesn’t seem to be racist – I’m okay with that for once. And she’s also pretty fucking good, too. She & Jinny had a FIGHT, which I like, because there’s too much dancing in modern pro-wres. And Jinny won, by cheating when her PA Elizabeth interfered behind Paz’s back. FFS Paaaaaaaz!
Elizabeth & Jinny were back out in the second-half, for another (*shudder*) “Women of PROGRESS” match, when Elizabeth took on Pollyanna. They had another FIGHT, and Elizabeth tried to cheat – or, rather, Jinny tried to cheat on her behalf until Paz (yay Paz!) sent her to the back – and Pollyanna pinned her shoulders to the mat for the 1, 2, 3. Sitting front row, I felt I had to interact and so Pollyanna got a fist bump. I regret nothing.
After the women, more men (kinda) when, in a qualifier for the Natural Progression series, Jack Sexsmith fought Josh Shooter, another Australian. Shooter seems to have modelled his look on Super Saiyan, from Dragonball-Z, but hasn’t quite got it there, leading a wag behind me, when it all gone quiet for a second, to deadpan, “you look ridiculous.” He did. And it didn’t help him, because he fell victim to Sexsmith’s “Mr Cocko”, a used condom employed to the same effect Mick Foley used to use a sock. Sexsmith is very funny and very wrong. He needs to watch more Danshoku Dino tapes but he’s halfway there already.
All that done, that just left the two main events. And one of them happened at the end of the first half, when The London Riots faced Sweet Jesus. Sweet Jesus is the team of Pastor Bill Eaver and Chuck Mambo, who plays a surf bum and is hilarious. The London Riots are quite big on the BritWres scene but this was the first time I’d ever seen them, and they were good fellas. They’d been to Bilbao the night before, for an IPW:UK show, and the ring had broken while they were in it, and much of the early part of the match centered around comedy over whether they’d break the ring again. I liked it. A lot. And then they settled into a good match, back and forth, with Mambo’s trickiness and jokes playing foil for the Riots’ power.
Then, during a routine German Suplex, Rob Lynch of the Riots came down hard on his head and shoulder and things fell apart. Lynch lay still on the mat and Paz checked on him while Davis tagged himself in and half-heartedly continued the match with Eaver. Eddie Dennis, working the merch’ stand, rushed over and made sure Lynch was held stable, and the match was thrown out. Then, while the crowd patiently and nervously waited, Lynch was given first aid while an ambulance was called, and the paramedics arrived and carted him off. Thankfully, he just suffered a big headache and a sore shoulder, and he’s back in action this weekend, but it was worrying for a while. Although things got a bit messy, no-one can be blamed for not knowing what to do with the match, and Dennis and everyone else involved in making sure things didn’t get any worse than they already appeared to be have to be commended for their swift action.
It’s the kind of thing you hope to never see but it’s part of the game, and when you’re throwing fifteen-, twenty-stone men around onto a hard (albeit sprung) surface, it’s occasionally going to happen. Hopefully, Lynch is fine, and Eaver is fine, and both men will continue to wrestle and be wrestled for some time yet.
Lynch’s injury led into an interval, during which – and you already know this because I’ve already talked about two matches that happened after the interval – the rest of the wrestlers decided to continue the show, and that meant we got the other half of the advertised tag-team double main event: the GZRS versus Project Ego. Except we didn’t, because one half of Project Ego is Kris Travis, and he wasn’t feeling well after his comeback from stomach cancer last month. It turned out that something wasn’t quite right, and he’s since had to retire. I never saw Travis wrestle but he seems to have been held in high regard, and – more importantly – people talk about him as being a good bloke. So I hope whatever he does next is fun and fulfilling.
That left Martin Kirby, the Project half of Project Ego, without a partner. No doubt this amused the GZRs, because they’re like that, but they weren’t smiling when Kirby revealed his partner was Rampage Brown. Brown is one of the few men in British wrestling who is truly imposing. I’ve never really taken to him, and that’s more on me than on him, and he certainly popped the crowd here.
Someone else I’ve never really taken to is the GZRs. They’re dicks, and that’s not me being unkind, that’s actually their gimmick. And, for some reason, being dicks has made them babyfaces to the PROGRESS (and, it seems, other companies’) fans. I just don’t get it. But I did really, really enjoy this match, and the GZRs were responsible for their fair share of that. Whether it was the impromptu performance of YMCA (which Kirby joined in with, and Rampage absolutely did not), the introduction of baby oil and a plunger, or Tom Irvin’s mid-match exhibition of beat-boxing to prove he wasn’t a UKIP racist any more (it’s a long story), the official photos of the match show me with a permanent grin on my face. Job done, lads.
The GZRs won, not that it matters, when Brown walked out on his partner after having baby oil spat in his face (accidentally by Kirby, who wrestled the second half of the match with the plunger stuck on his head), and all four got a standing ovation from the crowd.
And that was the show. Eventful, funny, action-packed, and a bargain at £10 (although they put the prices up for the next one, the cheeky blinders). I may not be a PROGRESS guy, although I imagine I’ll still make the odd show here and there, if the line-up intrigues me, but I am DEFINITELY an ENDVR man. As I said, I’ll be front row at ENDVR 13, and with one of those rare newbies in tow, too, and I’ll try and be front row for every show after that. It’s nice when you find your thing. I’ve found it over in east London at Lucha Britannia, and I think I’ve found it in north London at ENDVR. If you haven’t found yours yet, give ENDVR a go. It’s well good.