This is progress – A catchy marketing slogan or genuine ethos of brand-spanking new London-based wrestling group Progress Wrestling? Progress have made quite the impact on the British wrestling scene already in 2012 and it is hard to believe they have, to date, only ran one show. Much like ourselves, Progress have already put heavy emphasis on doing things a little bit differently, in the name of having fun. The company is ran by professional comedian and self confessed “professional idiot” Jim Smallman as well as comedy promoter Jon Briley. The fact that both men have a wealth of experience in their field, and by their own admission very little knowledge of running a wrestling promotion, is a refreshing change to the British wrestling scene, and something that comes across prominently in their product. That’s not to say that progress wrestling feels like a comedy show, as that would be an inaccurate and unfair summary. What Jim and Jon have done is create, in a very short space of time, an atmosphere in which wrestling fans can immerse themselves and just have fun. This comes across even in their DVD, Chapter 1, which we will be reviewing later in this article.
Progress Wrestling resides from “The Garage” venue in Islington, Central London – a venue that absolutely oozes character. Once the lights are dimmed and Jim (who also acts as ring announcer) informs the live crowd to shout and chant “whatever they ‘kin want”, the intimacy of the venue becomes apparent and the atmosphere that the owners have cultivated shines through. The aim for Progress Wrestling is to help develop and, as the name suggests, help to progress the British wrestling scene. To do this they have enlisted the services of some of the hottest young talent in the UK, such as Marty Scurll, Noam Dar, Zack Sabre Jr and El Ligero, and then complimented this by bringing in worldwide indy superstar Colt Cabana. The in ring product lives up to its “strong style” label, but more importantly has a very distinct British feel to it. Their shows are aimed at a more mature audience, with shows restricted to over the age of 14, however unlike other companies this does not mean a ultraviolent product or unnecessarily vulgar promos. In essence they are a thinking man’s wrestling promotion of sorts.
To continue their march towards progressing British wrestling, Progress Wrestling have pledged to showcase one match on each of their shows featuring up-and-coming wrestlers currently training with the British Wrestling Council. The BWC is a recognised way of governing wrestling schools in Britain to ensure that trainee wrestlers receive a certain standard of safety, ethic s, assistance, training and mentoring. For Progress to pledge to support young workers from the BWC is a massive credit to them for providing a high profile platform for less-seasoned wrestlers to learn their trade.
Jim and Jon have utilized the social media phenomenon of twitter to their advantage in putting over Progress Wrestling, but not in a ‘trending worldwide on a Monday night’ way, more to make sure that they make a personal connection with anybody who wants to be a part of the progress. This is where Progress Wrestling really stands head and shoulders above other promotions as they will instigate genuine conversations with their fans on topics such as the pros and cons of British wrestling companies aiming to win a TV deal and how not to get lost in London. The payoff from utilizing this tactic, or for just being 2 genuinely nice blokes who want to talk to fellow wrestling fans, is that there was a real buzz in the days building up to the release of their 1st DVD and all of the feedback I have read has been nothing but positive. Whether this is a masterfully applied strategy or not (some may even say “a work or a shoot”) is somewhat irrelevant when it comes to the success of the company, but from my interaction with Progress Wrestling I am a firm believer that they are 100% genuine and would like to thank them for their personal contribution to this article and my fanzine.
Chapter One – DVD Review
As mentioned, by time the DVD came in the CallingSpots mail box there was a high level of anticipation and, dare I say it, excitement to sit down and review the inaugural show of Progress Wrestling, mainly down to the hype that they had generated prior to the release. The packaging of the DVD epitomises what Progress Wrestling are all about, simple and slightly different. There is no DVD case simply a white slip cover with their logo on the front. A nice touch is the fact that each DVD is individually numbered. Ultimately the packaging is irrelevant, it’s the content of the DVD that is important, so I flip the case over to see what I have in store. Looking through the card there are two stand out matches – Noam Dar vs El Ligero and the mouth watering prospect of seeing the leaders of the new school, Zach Sabre Jr and Marty Scurll, go one-on-one.
Now, let me get this out of my system before we delve into the meat of this review. There are some issues with the DVD that become apparent from the get go. On first glance they could seem off-putting to fans that are more used to WWE’s silky smooth Blu-Ray releases, but write this DVD off at your own peril. I wanted to discuss these issues so that you can get over them, buy the DVD and ENJOY IT. On my Samsung Blu-Ray player, the DVD does not simply play in logical order (Chapter 1, then 2, then 3 etc). I press start and Chapter 3 plays first, then once the match is over returns to the main menu. Pressing play again will take me back to chapter 3 meaning after each match I have to manually restart and skip to the correct scene. A bizarre issue but possibly just a compatibility problem with my player. As soon as the DVD starts you notice that the mixing desk and computer screens are in camera shot, this is something Progress Wrestling have addressed but there was no other location for the hard camera and editing out in post-production would have been detrimental to the quality of the product. There is also around 30 seconds of audio problems during the main event. These issues are nothing more than slight irritants in the opening minutes of the show and quickly become unnoticeable when the show kicks off and the action starts.
The show starts with Progress Wrestling owner Jim standing in as ring announcer (as well as, to the best of my knowledge, play-by-play commentator) and sporting a sweet pair of Nike air max. As a stand up comedian, Jim is very comfortable on the microphone and this comes across as he is able to play with the crowd and get them fired up for the show. That Justin Roberts bloke should take notes. Our first match is a tasty little number between Noam Dar and El Ligero which is the first of four matches to decide who will go into the 4-way elimination match later for the Progress Wrestling title. Two fine young performers here, with Noam especially impressing in almost every outing for the last 12 months. With a strong look, oozing charisma and technically very good, this boy is going to be a big star on day soon. But more on that in our feature on him later in the fanzine. Before the two lock up starts there is a brief promo shown in the bottom corner of the screen in which Noam Dar states he is going to “nut El Ligero in the face and win the title”. Brilliant! The two have a very solid match, keeping it simple for the curtain jerker with Noam working El Ligero’s leg. SPOILER ALERT. A chant of “deep fried mars bars” breaks out to try and put him off his game and encourage en El Ligero comeback. This crowd is absolute quality. No real spoilers, I don’t want to ruin the DVD for you like other publications.
Next up we have Nathan Cruz vs Colossus Kennedy in the second qualifying match of the evening. Anyone who does not follow British wrestling, or is not sure who these guys are, the best crowd in wrestling history provide the following (rather accurate) descriptions. “Shit Zack Ryder/Woo Woo Woo” vs “Funkasaurus”. Cruz is sporting Ryder-esque one-legged-tights. Apparently he had them first. They are still rubbish. The match was fine between two men with different ring styles, although the highlight has to be the Jim, on commentary, with the line “the crowd are pointing out that was most definitely naughty”.
Our third qualifying match sees unquestionably the biggest name on the show – “Classic” Colt Cabana taking on “Loco” Mike Mason. This. Was. Weird. To give you a bit of background on Mason, basically he acts a bit like a dog, with his valet/ owner /missus/bird hanging about to keep him under control. Colt knows how to tame the little doggy though and has brought tennis balls with him. At this point of my DVD home viewing experience I genuinely felt a surge of disappointment running through me at the fact I had not went to this show as the crowd interaction was unreal. Colt ended up throwing the tennis ball into the crowd, who proceeded to throw it around the venue with Mason chasing it around (“this is wrestling” clap clap, clap clap clap). The rest of the match was filled with standard Cabana comedy spots, such as carefully folding his ring jacket only to throw it over the top rope, dancing, and making sure the referee conducts some very thorough pre-match body inspections.
Our final qualifying match looks fantastic on paper, and most certainly the standout match in the build up to the show, with Zach Sabre Jr taking on his tag partner Marty Scurll. The match starts with a kiss, literally, and what proceeds is the finest wrestling match these shores have seen for some time, and that’s saying something. Scurll and ZSJ clearly have excellent chemistry together and this really comes across in this silky smooth match, plastered with stiff shots and some great chain wrestling spots. A brutal sit-down-powerbomb and the sweetest dragon suplex I have ever seen epitomise Progress’ “strong style”. The standing ovation and ring announcer’s words of “what a fucking great match that was” are 137% deserved in this stellar bout. If my random waffling hasn’t convinced you anyway, trust me, buy this DVD for this match alone, if nothing else.
Our final match before the main event was the BWC match showcasing three young wrestlers, Zack ‘Diamond’ Gibson, ‘Dazzling’ Darrell Allen and Xander Cooper. All three put in a good shift and no doubt we will see them again in the future. Next up is our main event, are you ready? Aye man, of course you are. So to avoid spoilers I can’t even tell you who is in the main event (best DVD review ever!!). The match itself is very good, starting as a four way which battles through the venue, with the fans shouting for ‘Party’ Marty to get the round in while he is at the bar. Once order is restored there are some bizarre tag rules implemented until two quick eliminations leave us with a 1-1 match up to crown the new Progress Champion. We have another 7-10 minutes of decent action before the champion is crowned and awarded the Progress Wrestling Championship Staff. Yep, you read that right, the champion does not need a belt (as Jim out it, “even Santino Marella has a belt”) so instead his a huge staff with a Nazi-looking eagle on top. An interesting concept and one that underpins the fact that Progress Wrestling are doing things differently.
For a first show, this is stellar. Yes there are some technical issues but these become obsolete within minutes of the opening match. I think the biggest win for Progress is the fact that they could put this DVD up against any release from companies like PWG or RoH and proudly say that they can match them in all areas. For a first attempt, that is absolutely class. I recommend heading over to www.ProgressWrestling.com and checking out the DVD which would be a fine addition to and collection.
Thanks for reading people. Check out Progress Wrestling – you won’t regret it.
Give me a shout on twitter @CallingSpots and I can now confirm that the WR Sister project, The WrestlingFanzine, will be available on June 1st.