Progress NYC 8/7/18 Live Review

August 12, 2017 in Queens, NY

Progress’ NYC debut last year was a great show somewhat marred by a horrible venue. I was extremely pleased to hear they’d be running La Boom this time around, which one of my favorite places to watch wrestling.

Jim Smallman came out to open to thank NYC for a Tuesday night sellout, reminisce about how special it was to get a “please come back” chant for the promotion the previous year BEFORE THE SHOW STARTED, and generally soak in the excitement of the crowd. He comes across as genuinely appreciative and set the stage for a great night.

 

 

TK Cooper received a warm welcome for his return to New York from a crowd happy to see him competing again after his unfortunate injury at last year’s NYC show that left him out for 9 months. His opponent Eddie Dennis jumped all over this in some of the best heel promo work I’ve ever seen simply saying the injury is the only reason the crowd cares about Cooper at all and then throwing in that the only reason Cooper was booked is because it was too late for Progress to cancel his plane ticket once his tag team partner was injured. Dennis cut straight to the bone but, perhaps more importantly, expertly delivered everything with the needed pitch perfect tone that ensured the audience would take offense on Cooper’s behalf (instead of perhaps chuckling at the level of burn delivered). The sold out NYC crowd packing La Boom arrived ready to be loud and involved, and the show started right out with a story they could latch onto, fostering and elevating the electric atmosphere.

 

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Furthermore, the match itself was extremely well worked with Cooper trying weather Dennis’ calculated yet driven assault while the latter did everything he could to stay a step ahead. Cooper looked a little hesitant at points, which may have been an intentional attempt to sell trepidation after what happened during his last appearance here. If so I don’t think it came across quite the way it was intended. Otherwise though he looked good and it was great to see him back. Dennis was incredible, with his ringwork the equal of his character work, and made one of the strongest impressions of the night in my first time seeing him. His victory put him at 2 in the 3 and in challenge, meaning he’s one more consecutive victory away from being one of the challengers for the Progress title at their biggest event ever. I’d love to see it. Excellent way to start the show.

 

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Speaking of matches with title implications, Natalia Markova and Ashley Vox faced to earn a spot in an upcoming Progress Women’s Championship match. They each appropriately fought like they desperately needed to win and never let up. Highlights included them dropping everyone’s jaws with high impact dives to the floor (side note: for the love of god Progress PLEASE get real mats on the outside next time). I’d seen Vox once before in a good tag match on a Marvelous USA show a couple of years ago. She’s continue to grow as a performer since then and was fantastic here. After the only women’s match on the card Vox received one of the very few “please come back” chants targeted at an individual of the night. Great effort and performances from both in an excellent match that saw Markova prevail to move on to the tile match.

 

 

Something that’s so important but sometimes overlooked is making sure the live crowd knows what the rules and stakes of matches are. With the last match clarifying it was for a future title shot gave important context, and likewise here Smallman explaining before the match began that it was submissions only but rope breaks were still in force was a much appreciated little touch that allows the audience to understand the parameters from the get go and become immediately engaged in the match.

I’ve heard Flash Morgan Webster’s name often, but this was my first look at him. He has a striking look / gimmick, and had an intense match with Mark Haskins that had a strong, wonderfully told underlying story and made great use of the submission only stipulation.

 

 

Haskins kept at Morgan full bore while the latter took every shortcut he could and targeted a foot Haskins injured when he went for a kick and Morgan blocked it with a chair. Late match Morgan got the advantage using Haskins’ own helmet as a weapon, but when he tried to continue and use it to attack Mark’s wife Vicky things backfired, Vicky beat on Morgan a bit in what felt like retribution without me knowing anything at all about the story building up to this match, and Mark put Morgan away. Afterwards the couple towered over a prone Morgan, and in a wonderful bit of chickenshit heel character work he kept looking back and forth between them as if unsure who he needed to be more afraid of. Also of note: Haskins was giving a MASTERCLASS on selling if one paid attention, grimacing any time he had to put weight on the foot, letting it affect his actions in the ring, and selling it all the way to the back. This was fantastic.

 

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With Kid Lykos unfortunately injured on a previous show, John Gresham subbed in as part of CCK to team with Chris Brookes to defend the Progress Tag Team Titles against LAX ( Santana & Ortiz). Easily the match of the night against a strong field, this was tag team wrestling at its finest. I was unfamiliar with everyone in the match except Gresham, who I’d seen every little of and nothing in years, and all four tore it up. Gresham in particular is an absolute gem, being super smooth and perfectly paced and precise in everything he did. They blew the roof off the place so much other wrestlers were constantly peeking out through the curtain to watch. Smallman came out after to call it one of the best matches in Progress’ history and commend all involved, and it was well deserved. Really hope to see more of these four in the future.

 

 

After an intermission to let everyone catch their breath, we had an entry in an ongoing tag team series that saw Sexy Starr (David Starr & Jack Sexsmith) vs Grizzled Young Veterans (Zack Gibson & James Drake).  Gibson didn’t get quite the immediate nuclear heat he had last year, but he was still nearly booed out of the building when he tried to speak. The positive portrayal of and interactions between Starr and Sexsmith are something wrestling needs more of.

I will admit the immersion was broken for me by the presence of one of my personal pets peeves with the referee treating similar actions by the faces and heels completely differently. The ref’s supposed to be impartial, with the heels working around him and cheating behind his back for the advantage. Having a ref manhandle a face back to his corner then lamely shake his finger at a heel while watching him do the exact same thing the face just did really takes me out of matches. Fine match to restart the show with decent action otherwise leading to an eventual feel good win for Sexy Starr.

 

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If this was in fact Matt Riddle’s final La Boom appearance, he went out on an extremely high note against Mark Andrews. The two put on a hard hitting, glorious match in the semi-main spot that went shorter than I expected but made the most of every second in a way made it feel the perfect length. One INSANE spot saw Andrews counter the Bro-to-Sleep into a Canadian Destroyer. Riddle received a huge “thank you Riddle” chant after his victory.

 

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Given Pete Dunne was pulled from last year’s show due to getting busted open the night before and Mustache Mountain’s (Trent Seven & Tyler Bate) match was cut short due to Cooper’s injury, it was a particular treat to see the three wrestle live in the main event as British Strong Style took on “The 3 Kings” in the debuting Eddie Kingston & Brody King with Progress star the King of the Goths Jimmy Havoc.

BSS were pretty much conquering heroes here, no matter what they did. And they reveled in it. The six brawled all over, and generally just fought and fought until someone didn’t get up. In this case it was Eddie Kingston falling victim to a Tyler Driver to end it.

 

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Amusing crowd interactions were also plentiful. King tried to throw Dunne’s cloak into the crowd a couple times then got pissed at the fan who just kept handing it back to Dunne. When he went out to stare down the fan, a “kiss!” chant rose, to which Havoc responded by going out and kissing the fan. A “one more time” chant was then met with “if he pays me.” After a series of crazy dives left everyone on the floor, Dunne solicited shoes from the audience to use as weapons, and after the resulting brawl Tyler Bate wrestled the rest of the match with one bare foot.

 

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Trent Seven’s performance particularly stood out to me in numerous little details and mannerisms. After an extended sequence where he played deadweight as various combinations of his partners and opponents tried to get him back to his feet, he fired off rapid strikes on all three of his opponents as Dunne and Bate mocked brawled with each other in the corner. BSS have this incredible ability to seem simultaneously ridiculous and dangerous in the best possible way, and it makes their matches something special. Everyone was spot on here. Just great fun all around.

 

 

Progress knocked it right out of the park with this truly amazing show featuring jaw dropping action, accessible stories even for non-regular viewers, and effort and passion up and down the card. I can’t wait until they come back this way someday.

Evolve 100 Live Review

February 17, 2018 in Queens, NY

Big milestone for Evolve as they had their 100th show last month in their recent home base of La Boom. Here’s a rundown of my impressions from seeing it live.

 

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The stipulation of the opening 3-way specifying Darby Allin would lose his spot in the next day’s major 4-way if he lost to either Jarek 120 or Jason Kincaid was likely meant to add intrigue, but instead it made it made Allin’s win feel like a forgone conclusion. The whole “prelim” (pre-show) concept with wrestlers who don’t win enough having to earn their way back to the “main card” also isn’t really working because it’s regulars stuck there and with it also being broadcast as part of the ippv it’s actually just the opener. Also, by calling it preliminary a lot of people were still filing in during the match instead of being in their seats paying attention. Action was decent. I really like Kincaid and have been impressed with Jarek the couple times I’ve seen him, and both deserve better opportunities. Allin’s not a favorite of mine, so him being a centerpiece always seems to end up with the match capping out at decent for me. He’s over in general though, so I certainly can’t blame Evolve for pushing him.

 

Fred Yehi reigned in his normal mannerisms and “unusual” offense a bit against Dominic Garrini, which was a big plus for me. But unfortunately I thought these two didn’t mesh well and this was my least favorite match of the night. Making matters worse, Yehi’s after match promo was honestly awful, with him rambling about being better than a second match wrestler (which is a direct rehash of ACH’s angle last year, who did it better) before somehow spinning that into calling himself a “savage-weight.” I have no idea what that was supposed to accomplish, but Yehi apparently leaving Evolve shortly after this due to stalled contract negotiations I suppose I don’t need to.

 

Things picked up with Anthony Henry vs Tracy Williams, who put on a solid match that really played to the strengths of each to good effect. The angle of Williams struggling as Catch Point’s leader continues to build here too with Henry’s upset victory.

 

The End (Odinson & Parrow w/ Drennen) then came out to brawl with Williams’ stablemates Chris Dickinson & Jaka, and the tag title match was on. This went about five minutes before being thrown out and was an absolutely crazy brawl. Live this was totally satisfying, with neither the short length nor inconclusive finish mattering because of the intensity and atmosphere. But I imagine watching through a screen it could have been disappointing for such an anticipated title match. Still, no complaints from me and was one of the highlights of the night.

 

Amazingly though, the match that had to follow all that chaos was actually the best of the show, as Matt Riddle and James Drake beat the HELL out of each other in a star making performance for Drake. His chops drew blood from Riddle’s chest early, and Riddle turned Drake’s bright red in turn, and they just kept upping the ante as things went. Also, most importantly, there was a logical, well executed structure underlying the match and all the impressive violence. Riddle also continued his angle of asking for no rope break matches (which Drake agreed to), and they used it well without belaboring the point. Just fantastic stuff all around.

 

Two huge singles title matches ended the show in a double main event, starting with Keith Lee defending his WWN LIve title against the first Evolve champion AR Fox. The latter had his “crew” with him who ran interference several times to give the larger champion some additional problems to solve and also added a fair amount of energy to things with their vocal support of Fox. Impressive size vs speed battle that escalated nicely and provided opportunities for Lee to show his own agility as well. Although while I understand how impressive it is for someone Lee’s size to take a Canadian Destroyer, really he shouldn’t unless it’s going to be the finish. Or at the very least do the leg on the rope thing to break it instead of a full kickout. That minor gripe aside, this was great.

 

Finally the Evolve title was on the line as Austin Theory challenged Zack Sabre Jr. Theory’s fully embraced heel character, and was a credible threat to Sabre in another great match until the champion just tied him up one time too many and forced him to tap.

The after match stuff got kind of odd. Riddle came out during Sabre’s post show speech to challenge him, and was essentially told “sure if you become the #1 contender.” The lack of logic behind when Sabre just accepts random challenges and when he tells the hottest star of the promotion “not yet” is lazy booking. Riddle’s happy response of “so you’re saying there’s a chance” was awesome though.

After Sabre leaves Theory jumps Riddle (after a distraction from Priscilla Kelly) and leaves him lying. He then calls himself the future of Evolve, and was really left out to dry by the progression because the crowd just drowns him out with a “you just lost” chant. Theory wasn’t able to react well to crowd’s heckling, leaving him in awkward spot as he tried to continue with the script and the crowd was having none of it. Not his fault. They really should have switched him and Fox or something if they needed him to give this kind of promo after jumping Riddle, instead of having him act confident and like a killer and calling himself a legend literal seconds after tapping out in a title match.

As Theory leaves Riddle picks himself up really none the worse for wear and gives the usual thanks for coming speech. I appreciate the thought and adore Riddle but could have done without this if it meant actually selling the effects of Theory’s beating.

 

Although I did have some issues with the logic and booking, overall this was an extremely enjoyable show with strong action and an incredible atmosphere.

Evolve 91 and Progress NYC Live Review

August 12, 2017 in Queens, NY

Evolve returned Queens yesterday, but in a new venue at Elmcor Youth and Adult Activities Center, presumably to better handle the large crowd expected for Progress wrestling’s NY debut in the second half of the double header.

 

I want to spend the majority of this talking about the wrestling, so let me address this upfront: the venue turned out to be a horrible choice for the Progress event. During the Evolve event it was largely fine (although the floor seats and ring being down a giant set of bleachers was not at all disability friendly). But there were plenty of seats open for that event and no standing room fans. For Progress every seat was taken, both reserved and GA bleachers, and there were tons of standing room tickets sold. The arena became a suana, with no air flow at all and an unbearable level of heat. Cramming 1,500+ people into that space was irresponsible and dangerous. Two fans needed help from fainting.

Most disappointing has been the reactions I’ve seen, both from fans not at the venue and people involved with WWNLive. There’re undercurrents that it’s somehow wrong to “complain” about this situation because it could damage the company/business and that this type of things should be expected and just has to be accepted when attending indie events. Both are utter nonsense. People should not have to fear heat exhaustion nor fainting when going to an event they paid money for, nor should everyone have to rush to concessions to literally buy bottles of water in handfuls (which was only available on and off) to try and prevent such things. The venue was improperly ventilated and cooled, and way oversold. As fans we have to stop accepting this as normal, and call out those who dismiss valid concerns as “moaning and complaining.”

I would like to note that Progress has not yet made a statement about this (due to being busy with something else I’ll discuss later), and was extremely apologetic about the heat during the show. Also, the wrestlers (who were clearly suffering from the sweltering conditions themselves) ran to get water for a fainting fan in the front row and stood in front of him fanning him. It seemed they were doing everything they could to deal with the unfortunate circumstances. If they arranged the venue (which is unlikely considering it was a double header with an established company in this country), I hope they accept responsibility and do better in the future. If WWNLive did (which is probable), I hope Progress holds them accountable and takes steps to ensure a safer environment for their fans next time.

 

Alright, on to the shows themselves.

 

Evolve 91

The “Troll Boys” of Ethan Page and ACH came out together for the opening contest against each other, which was meant as punishment for not taking their last match seriously and goofing around. So they didn’t take this one seriously and goofed around, putting on a parody match poking fun at a lot of the current conventions in well regarded matches. Page is better at the comedy stuff than ACH, so this was uneven. The angle also appears to be backfiring a bit, as most of the crowd is highly amused by the petulant, selfish antics of these two and thus they’re getting over as FACES by being assholes. That’s not really good for any of the stories Evolve’s trying to tell. Hard to rate this. I didn’t like it and again if they’re supposed to be heels it was a failure, but in straight up terms of getting a crowd reaction it definitely succeeded.

 

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As expected, Darby Allin defeated Timothy Thatcher in their rematch by surprising the veteran with some nice grapple based wrestling to further Darby’s quest to be seen as more than a stuntman. Him pulling out the coffin drop to the floor again undercuts that sentiment, but overall the story was solid and Darby is improving in the ring (although I personally don’t care for his style). Thatcher of course played his part to perfection in putting the rookie over on what seemed like his way out of Evolve for a while. Shame, as he’s one of my favorite parts of the promotion.

 

EVOLVE Tag Team Champions James Drake & Anthony Henry are making quite a strong impression so far and looked very good against a surprisingly fun makeshift team of Fred Yehi & Jason Kincaid. Kincaid continues to really make the most of his gimmick and the slow burn angle of the zen master having trouble controlling his temper is progressing nicely.

 

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The Progress involvement in the latter half of the show was excellent, with a strong match between Mark Haskins and Austin Theory and a hell of a tag match between Chris Dickinson & Jaka and The South Pacific Power Trip (Travis Banks & TK Cooper). All six men involved in those two matches looked quite good.

The main event fatal four way for the WWN Title was as great as expected. There were nice threads running underneath the hard hitting action, such as bitter rivals Matt Riddle and Tracy Williams breifly working together to try to control their much larger opponents (Keith Lee and WALTER) to retain, Williams acting like a vulture constantly trying to take advantage of everyone else’s work to steal a win, and the two behemoths getting interrupted a few times before finally laying into each other. The strikes Riddle, Lee, and Walter hit each other with were unreal. One incredible spot saw Lee German suplex Walter while Walter was trying to do so to Riddle, sending the champ FLYING across the ring. In a somewhat surprising finish Riddle made Williams tap in the center of the ring with the Bromission, seemingly definitively dealing with his former stablemate without a singles match. Excellent stuff overall. Lee and Riddle have another tentative fist bump after the match, and it’s clear at some point Lee’s going to lose patience with coming up short to his friend and snap in spectacular fashion.

Good show from Evolve with a lot of strong action and a good look at some of the Progress talent which got me even more excited for the second show to come.

 

Progress

This was my first experience with Progress, and it certainly lived up to the hype. The atmosphere was INCREDIBLE, with the crowd going nuts right off the bat and launching into a “please come back” chant as soon as the show started. Jimmy Smallman was overwhelmed and extremely gracious and grateful. He addressed the topic on everybody’s mind right away, bringing out Pete Dunne who was scheduled to defend the WWE European Title against Jack Gallagher but was injured the night before and not cleared to wrestle. Dunne, who the crowd was thrilled to see at all, was masterful in getting them to boo him regardless and eventually stomped off when Jack came out to issue a challenge for a later date. Zack Gibson then came out to run down Jack to boos so loud he could barely cut his promo, and we had our replacement match. It was a treat to see Jack live and they held nothing back, putting on a strong opener with absolutely incredible heat.

The other bonus appearance of WWE contracted talent was next as Dakota Kai (the former Evie) teamed with Dahlia Black (who had seconded the South Pacific Power Trip during the Evolve show) against Jinny & Deonna Purazzo. A little rough in parts and Jinny seemed rather limited in the ring, but this was a very good tag match overall that got the crowd involved after energy dropped a little following Jack’s match. Kai’s past was acknowledged with healthy “Team Kick” chants. Good job and excellent effort from all four. Nice Progress debut’s for Kai and Purazzo.

In a contest featuring two of my personal favorites, Timothy Thatcher defeated Donovan Dijak in a number one contendership match for Progress’ Atlas Championship. Dijak is so smooth and fluid (especially for his size) he’s always a pleasure to watch. Really enjoyed this battle of Dijak’s agility against Thatcher’s ground game.

 

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The next match was said to be ending the first half because “there will probably be a lot of clean up needed” following it, and everyone knew it was tim for Jimmy Havoc’s no-DQ match against the debuting Joey Janela. In a crazy match featuring cinder blocks, tables, and Janela being dropped barefoot first onto thumbtacks, the most impressive spot was amusingly Janela being monkey-flipped out of a chair by Havoc, holding onto it, and landing STILL SEATED in the chair. This was great, and Havoc’s everything I’d heard and more.

After intermission, Smallman pointed out a fan in the front row that had travelled to see the show, and it turned into a marriage proposal to his girlfriend next to him. The crowd got into the happy moment and it was a wonderful thing to share in. 🙂 Really awesome of Progress to make time during their show for a special moment for a fan.

Then Mark Haskins and Mark Andrews came out for their previously advertised three-way with Zack Gibson. Smallman said it was advertised as a multi-man match, so that’s what we were getting, and called out a third man in the form of Austin Theory. Great choice, as not only is Theory an extremely capable rising star with good heat behind his current heel gimmick, he had some built in backstory from losing to Haskins on the Evolve show earlier in the day. But before they can start Smallman says it’s an important night so let’s go big and make it a four-way, and out comes Keith Lee (!!!) to a thunderous reaction. Excellent match, with everyone firing on all cylinders and the monstrous Lee once again demonstrating why he’s both incredible and crazy by throwing people around, attempting moonsaults, and taking Canadian Destroyers and reverse ranas. One jaw dropping spot saw a normal looking tower of doom arrangement turned on its head when Lee walked out of the corner carrying Theory in powerbomb position, who was STILL HOLDING Andrews straight up in superplex position. The strength and balance of all three men there is amazing. By a slim margin this may have been my favorite of the night.

 

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The big Progress’ Tag Title match seeing British Strong Style (Trent Seven & Tyler Bate) defend against The South Pacific Power Trip (TK Cooper & Travis Banks) was cut short early when Cooper injured his ankle on a corkscrew dive to the floor. Once the ref threw up the “x” and had people coming out to help Smallman explained that TK was injured and asked everyone to please be patient while they figured out what was going on. While this was happening a fan in the front row opposite had medical issues (apparently due to dehydration) and British Strong Style got him water and fanned him while Tk was being checked across the ring. The fan was helped out and TK eventually carried out by wrestlers. It’s been reported that TK dislocated his ankle, and the Progress crew was in the hospital with him last night after the show before heading to Boston for today’s. Smallman thanked the crowd for their patience and respect afterwards during the unexpected, unfortunate situation.

He then said that Banks was insisting on fighting, and while it’d have to be non-title, if we wanted to see it there could be a handicap match between him and the champs. Banks said now it’s “not about titles anymore, it’s about family.” They did a good job adjusting and putting on a decent little underdog match that saw Banks eventually use the champs’ numbers against them and neutralize the interfering Dunne to isolate one member and get a quick three count for the feel good win.

 

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Last up was Progress’ Atlas Champion WALTER defending the title against the man he won it from, Matt Riddle. After seeing the two of them interact during the WWN four-way title match I was hyped up for this, and it was fantastic. They hit the hell out of each other, Riddle bounced around as Walter showed his strength, and Riddle showed his own astounding strength tossing Walter and hitting THREE Bro-to-Sleeps throughout the match. Eventually The King of Bros locked in the Bromission to win the title back and send the crowd into a frenzy.

 

From the action to the atmosphere to the way they operated in difficult circumstances Progress’ NYC debut was a huge success. The hellish venue was unfortunate, but the show itself was incredible and a wonderful introduction for me to a promotion I’ve heard a ton about.