Orlando, Florida 3/31/17
Lenny Leonard (from EVOLVE/WWN) & Excalibur (from PWG) were on commentary for this show. Of course, we got the usual opening intro from Jim Smallman, who is delighted to see so many people (roughly 1200 in total) in attendance for this special event.
1.) Jimmy Havoc vs. Zack Sabre Jr.: ***1/2
A rubber match kicked off the first PROGRESS show in the United States. Zack Sabre Jr. scored a victory over Jimmy Havoc back at Chapter 7: Every Saint Has A Past, Every Sinner Has A Future in a bout that featured Nigel McGuinness as the Special Guest Referee, while Havoc made his first successful defense of the PROGRESS Title against Zack Sabre Jr. at Chapter 11: To Fight War, You Must Become War in a match that had Marty Scurll as the Special Guest Referee. This third encounter between the two was pretty solid. It was by no means amazing, but it featured some very solid technical wrestling throughout. Obviously, that’s something we would expect from Zack Sabre Jr., but Jimmy Havoc proved here (as he’s done on many occasions) that he’s more than just a deathmatch/hardcore wrestler. Even though this was a more technical bout, we still saw some blood, as Zack Sabre Jr. got busted open just over his right eye. Despite that setback, the “technical wizard” still managed to pick up the victory after catching Havoc in the European Clutch pin. This lasted just under eleven, but as a whole, this was a perfect opener. As for the series between these two, I’d say that their first match is still the best, but this one came pretty close.
2.) James Drake vs. Rockstar Spud: ***
In a weird way, this was actually a WWE vs. TNA match. Even though Spud came from the British Independents, most people know him from his time in TNA/IMPACT Wrestling. Here, he’s sporting special PROGRESS themed wrestling gear as he went up against James Drake, who appeared in WWE’s UK Championship Tournament. This was a solid bout, but it was easily the worst on the card. Drake played his role here as the bully pretty well, but beyond that, I don’t have much to say about him as a wrestler. He’s….average. Meanwhile, Spud was great as the underdog babyface, and this match wouldn’t have been as decent as it was if he wasn’t in it. Drake would get the win in the end, but it was a fun performance from Spud.
Afterwards, Drake attacked Spud, despite the fact that he won.
3.) Jinny vs. Toni Storm: ***1/4
This was a special women’s showcase match. Interesting enough, both women worked some matches at WWE’s WrestleMania Axxess, though only one of them (Toni Storm) ended up being used for the Mae Young Classic later that year (I thought Jinny was a big snub, but that’s a story for another time). These two had a very entertaining match. It clocked in at just under ten minutes, and it featured some solid action from start to finish. Ultimately, Jinny would steal the win from Toni Storm when she had her feet on the ropes during a rollup. I honestly don’t have much else to say about this one. It was perfect for its spot on the card, and it was enjoyable to watch. I’m very excited to see more from both women (and I have since I saw this match for the first time). I’ve heard so many great things about Toni Storm, while Jinny is someone who I hear is constantly improving.
4.) JML (Sami Callihan & Shane Strickland) vs. The South Pacific Power Trip (TK Cooper & Travis Banks with Dahlia Black): ****1/2
I’m not exactly sure what JML is supposed to stand for. Another version of this team actually made a big splash in wXw in 2016 (that version featured David Starr & Shane Strickland), but came to an end prematurely after Strickland mystery vanished from wXw. Meanwhile, 2017 was a breakout year for The South Pacific Power Trip, despite the various issues that plagued the team, from visa issues to injuries (Dahlia Black came out to ring wearing a cast on her leg after breaking it during a match several weeks prior), and matches like this are the reason why. This was an amazing tag team encounter that was easily the best bout on this entire card. It went just over thirteen minutes, and featured nonstop action from start to finish. Both teams worked incredibly well together, and the crowd was on fire throughout. Of course, Callihan & Strickland were a very solid team, but this was a breakout performance for The South Pacific Power Trip, especially for fans in the United States who were seeing them for the first time. This was simply a phenomenal match that was one of the best in Orlando during ‘Mania Weekend. Banks & Cooper would eventually pick up the win.
Before the next match, Jim Smallman briefly talked about Kris Travis, a wrestler from UK independent scene (who appeared for PROGRESS on several occasions) that passed away a year prior after a hard battle with cancer.
5.) PROGRESS Atlas Title - Matt Riddle vs. PROGRESS Tag Team Champion Trent Seven: ****1/4
This was the first of the three title bouts on the card. Matt Riddle put his PROGRESS Atlas Title on the line against Trent Seven, who was one-half of the PROGRESS Tag Team Champions (along with being one-third of British Strong Style). For those of you not aware, the PROGRESS Atlas Title is essentially the opposite of the WWE Cruiserweight Title. You have to be over 205 pounds if you want to challenge for the title. I thought these two had a great match! This went just under eleven minutes, but they packed a lot of action in that time frame. There was a lot of hard-hitting action throughout, along with some great nearfalls in the closing stages. Riddle would ultimately get the win after forcing Seven to tap out to the Bromission. Again, this was an extremely entertaining encounter that was a blast to watch from beginning to end.
6.) WWE UK Title - PROGRESS Tag Team Champion Tyler Bate vs. Mark Andrews: ****1/4
Of course, Tyler Bate became the inaugural WWE UK Champion after winning a tournament a few months prior. In a fun fact, this was (apparently) the first time since that a championship from WWE was defended outside of WWE since 1994. I’m not sure how accurate that is, but either way, it’s been a LONG time since that happened. Anyway, I thought this another awesome match on this card. I noticed that some weren’t as high on it, but for me, it was fantastic. In terms of length, it was on the longer side (clocking in at around eighteen minutes or so), but there was still a ton of awesome back and forth action from start to finish. I’m sure the fact that a title change wasn’t likely hurt the match in the eyes of some, but it didn’t really impact my enjoyment of the bout that much. Mark Andrews is so exciting to watch, and for a guy his age, Tyler Bate is incredible. However, the babyface/heel dynamic was a bit awkward, specifically when it comes to Bate. He was portrayed as this uber babyface during the UK Championship Tournament, yet he (along with the rest of British Strong Style) are heels in PROGRESS. Fortunately, that didn’t have a large effect on the quality of this match. Similar to the previous title bout, the closing stretch was very exciting, but in the end, Bate retaining after hitting the Tyler Driver 97 on Andrews.
7.) PROGRESS Title - Pete Dunne (with Moustache Mountain) vs. Mark Haskins: ****1/2
Dunne came out with his British Strong Style stablemates, and the three of them paid tribute to Triple H by doing the “water spit” thing he does during his entrance. Haskins actually won the PROGRESS Title back in the Fall of 2016, but he was forced to vacate the title a short time later due to an injury, and in an interesting note, it was actually Dunne that won the vacant title. So it was the PROGRESS Champion defending his title against the guy who never actually lost it. I would still have the tag team bout from earlier as the match of the night, but this came pretty close. This was an amazing match! Similar to Andrews/Bate, I think I enjoyed a little bit more than most, but regardless of what your star rating is, this was still incredible. Moustache Mountain did get involved early, but the referee soon ejected them from ringside. From there, things really picked up, and we saw some awesome exchanges between Dunne and Haskins (who are both incredible wrestlers). Much like the earlier title bouts, the closing stretch of this one was excellent, and Haskins put up a great fight, but in the end, it just wasn’t enough. Dunne attacked the neck for most of this match (it was a neck injury that forced Haskins to vacate the title), and eventually, Dunne got Haskins to submit to a crossface. Even with some of the early interference, this was still an awesome main event that featured a ton of exciting action.
I don’t think the debut of PROGRESS in the United States could’ve gone any better. They drew a large crowd (I believe it was the largest crowd out of all the shows that were part of the WWNLive Experience on this big weekend), and there was awesome wrestling up and down the card. The first three matches ranged from solid to pretty good, but it was those last four matches that really lifted this card up. JML vs. The South Pacific Power Trip had an incredible tag team encounter that was easily the match of the night, and all three titles matches delivered. For my money, this was definitely the best show of ‘Mania Weekend in Orlando.