PROGRESS – Chapter 34: Keep it Unreal, O2 Ritz, Manchester, 14/08/2016.

This is the fourth PROGRESS show north of Watford Gap in less than a calendar year and the first time that the venue has completely sold out, with around 700 fans crowding into the O2 Ritz for an equally crowded card of no less than eight matches.

Atlas Championship Tournament Match (Group B): “The Bastard” Dave Mastiff vs Iestyn Rees

Unusually for Mastiff, he begins this match with some light relief, when after the action quickly spills out of the ring, “The Bastard” responds to being rolled back inside by continuing to roll across the canvas and back out of the other side. They repeat the process another two times before the joke gets tired, Mastiff blasts Rees and normal service is resumed. The power moves and feats of strength here are to be expected, but what stands out is that while Rees may look like a poor man’s Chris Masters, he matches Mastiff for athleticism and ability as well as working the crowd very well. Despite Mastiff taking the win to advance to the tournament semi-finals, Rees impresses greatly here.

Handicap Match: “The Anti Hero” Tommy End vs “Liverpool’s No.1” Zack Gibson & Mikey Whiplash

PROGRESS Champion “The Villain” Marty Scurll emerges soon after Tommy End reaches the ring as this match sees him choose the Dutchman’s opponent, with the chance to face Scurll himself at stake. Scurll names Gibson as his choice and the match gets underway, until “The Villain” re-appears and adds Mikey Whiplash to make it a handicap for End. This is stymied however, when End’s Sumerian Death Squad partner, Michael Dante, emerges and flattens Whiplash with a steel chair, effectively removing him from the match. Meanwhile End and Gibson have the kind of match that explains why the former is so red-hot right now and the latter is massively underrated, as Gibson keeps up, move for move, until End finally puts him away for the victory. In the aftermath, Scurll reappears to claim that his match with End will not be for the PROGRESS title, but co-owner Glen Joseph (attacked previously by Scurll at a previous show) overrules the champion and announces the main event for Chapter 36 as a three-way for the belt between Scurll, End and Mark Haskins.

South Pacific Power Trio (Dahlia Black, T K Cooper & Travis Banks) vs Pollyanna, Jack Sexsmith & “Bodyguard” Roy Johnson

No introductions here as both teams pile into the ring and indulge in what amounts to a lengthy series of double and triple-team spots with little space to tell a story. What’s done is mostly smooth and impressive, but gives the impression that a very strict time limit has been imposed beforehand. In the end SPPT work better as a unit and counter whatever Pollyanna, Sexsmith and Johnson throw at them to take to the win via pinfall.

Atlas Championship Tournament Match (Group B): “Iron Man” Joe Coffey vs Michael Dante

Perhaps saving his tag partner earlier on sapped his reserves, as Dante is present in the ring for this encounter and pulls of some pretty nice moves along the way, but he never seems to engage with goings on in the same way that Coffey does. The Scotsman flies around with an ease which belies his frame and powers his opponent into suplexes that certainly don’t, and takes the well-deserved pinfall to win.

PROGRESS Tag Championship Match (Tornado Rules): The London Riots (Rob Lynch & James Davies) (C) vs War Machine (Hanson & Raymond Rowe)

Tornado rules and thus no tags needing to be made favours the brawling styles of both these teams and their affection for elaborate and extremely dangerous double-team spots. Neither the defending Londoners nor the visiting Americans are holding back as they seem to be taking turns to try and outdo each other in terms of masochistic moves that would have signalled the end of countless lesser matches and lesser opponents. This works well until one of the Riots takes a dodgy tilt-a-whirl slam on the apron and is put out of action for a good few minutes, leaving War Machine to almost visibly scratch their heads as to how long they can believably beat up on his partner without getting the pin. To his credit, the downed Riot recovers in time for one last frenetic burst of suicidal double-teaming, which ultimately sees the champions secure the pinfall victory.

“The Extraordinary Gentleman” Jack Gallagher vs “The Mexican Sensation” El Ligero

The WWE’s Cruiserweight Classic seems to have agreed with Gallagher, as he’s on exceptional form here, mixing his always excellent brand of old-school technical knowhow with effortless comedy, which is what El Ligero resorts to when deprived of his Origin teammates. Fortunately, Ligero is also quite excellent at the funny stuff, but it’s also refreshing to be reminded of how technically sound he is too as he duels with Gallagher. The match ends with Gallagher gaining the pinfall after an epic dropkick, but Ligero’s ally Dave Mastiff arrives post-match and with scissors intending to deprive the winner of his moustache. His efforts are thwarted, but the incident sets up a “moustache vs mask” match between Gallagher and Ligero at Chapter 36.

Mixed Tag Match: “The Villain” Marty Scurll & Jinny vs “The Star Attraction” Mark Haskins & Laura Di Matteo

Traditional heel and face roles are played out here, as Scurll and Jinny distract the referee to double-team DiMatteo whilst Haskins looks on in impotent frustration. When he finally does make it into the ring, Haskin’s exchanges with Scurll make their match at Chapter 36 make so much sense. But in comparison the same cannot be said for Jinny and DiMatteo, who appear to lack the intensity and fighting spirit of the female competitors elsewhere on the same show. The end comes when Haskins is gulled into making the age-old mistake of accidentally striking his partner, and the heels snap up the pinfall in short order.

“The Aerial Assassin” Will Ospreay vs Zack Sabre Jnr

Draped in more Union Flags than the last night of the Proms and wrapped in streamers thrown by the adoring crowd (save for the one roll which fails to unfurl and amusingly also hits Ospreay in the side of the head), this begins as a battle of super-over babyfaces duelling with their contrasting styles. Handshakes and mutual respect begins to wear thin, however, when the early stages see Sabre’s technical wizardry gain an edge and him target Ospreay’s arm for his signature armbar submission. Showing frustration and ever growing aggression, Ospreay counters with strikes and aerial attacks that overwhelm Sabre’s more calculated offence, wowing the fans, but perhaps teasing a change of character towards heeldom. In the end it comes as a genuine surprise when Ospreay submits to a variant of Sabre’s armbar, but an unforgettable end to a classic and surely a contender for PROGRESS match of the year.