PROGRESS Wrestling held its fourth annual mystery show ‘Unboxing Live’ at Camden’s Electric Ballroom last Monday.
With the three previous years being nothing short of sensational, Unboxing has become PROGRESS’ hottest ticket of the year, with fans looking for tickets left, right and centre. This was especially true this time around as Unboxing would also happen to be a historic 100th chapter show for the London-based promotion, and saw co-founder Jim Smallman’s big farewell. It is easy then to see why this show created such a demand, even enticing lapsed fans to make the trip to Camden.
The atmosphere at the Electric Ballroom was special from the outset. We’ve all seen Jim Smallman’s pre-show ritual before, but this time he was greeted with a thunderous ovation as he stepped through the curtain. PROGRESS isn’t just a wrestling promotion – it’s a community. Many of us who travel to Camden from all over the UK, have made plenty of friends and shared great memories at PROGRESS, and Smallman was an integral part of creating that community what it is. To me, Unboxing isn’t about the crazy matches it often presents. It’s about celebrating that special thing that PROGRESS has created.
The unknown nature of an Unboxing card often sparks speculation. From claimed sightings of the Velveteen Dream kicking a Wetherspoons fruit machine to scouring wrestlers’ Instagram stories to see who is in the country at the time of the show, the week leading up to this show was very exciting. Add that to the unusual sight of the completely deserted merch areas as you walk into the Ballroom, and Unboxing has a totally different feel to any other show.
We had a card shuffle due to illness, meaning that the pre-show match ending up being the first show on the card. It pitted Jerry Bakewell and Mercedez Blaze against Ny-Oh and Cassius. This was a pretty decent match was great showing from Blaze and Cassius. I hope they appear on more chapters going forward.
We go into Roy Johnson’s Wasteman Challenge, answered by Ligero, Scotty Davis, Chris Ridgeway, The Anti-Fun Police, Gene Munny, and Kid Lykos. Lykos can be deadly in these situations – see the 2019 Super Strong Style 16 tournament earlier in the year.
After dominating another Wasteman Challenge, Lykos was allowed to pick a stipulation for a multi-man match, and chose a reverse battle royal!
PROGRESS have often joked about holding a reverse battle royal, and now it’s real. Competitors are eliminated by being thrown into the ring. This was very strange to watch, but equally hilarious. The emergence of Stupid Sexy Trav only amplified that as he led a conga line to the stage for the match to begin.
To me, the sheer weirdness of what we were witnessing sank in when the crowd chanted “are you watching, Vince McMahon?” Travis Banks seemed quite shaken by the chant, but Chief Deputy Dunne didn’t seem to be phased as he eliminated Scotty Davis to win the reverse battle royal.
Next up, we had an excellent match between Ilja Dragunov and Kyle Fletcher. Dragunov has quietly been PROGRESS’ MVP throughout 2019 whilst Fletcher propped up the tag team division, so it comes as a surprise to absolutely no one that this match was incredible. Dragunov’s chops and lariats were as deadly as ever, but Fletcher was resilient and just kept kicking out. In the end, Dragunov hit a Torpedo Moscow running uppercut for the win. Despite coming up on the losing end, Fletcher made a great impression here as a singles competitor. From his revamped aesthetic to his in-ring work, there are so many reasons why Kyle Fletcher could be in for an exciting 2020 in PROGRESS.
Our first-half main event saw Eddie Dennis defend his PROGRESS Unified World Championship against The OJMO. Challenging for the PROGRESS World Title exactly twelve months after being ring crew is an indication of the rapidness of Michael Oku’s rise, and he remains popular as ever.
There is a reason why he has been coined as the next big thing in British wrestling. He never looks out of place against a more experienced opponent and can seemingly hang with the best of them, and this match against Eddie Dennis showed just that. Not only did the match make Oku look great, but it was also Eddie Dennis’ best match in PROGRESS in my opinion.
I was massively disappointed when Dennis won the PROGRESS Unified title back in September, but if he is able to have matches like this on a consistent basis, then I need not worry. I believed that The OJMO was going to win on multiple occasions and was on my toes throughout the match. It is fair to say that Eddie Dennis’ title reign has got off to a great start, and as someone who was critical of him winning the title, it pains me to say it but it looks like I have been proven wrong.
Jinny kicked off the second half of the show with a very passionate promo. After delivering the disappointing but unsurprising news that Toni Storm had pulled out of the show, the PROGRESS Women’s Champion highlighted the importance of the women’s division in the growth of the promotion and promised to become the focal point of PROGRESS in 2020. The crowd seemed quite receptive to this new attitude from Jinny as the promo provided some clarity to Jinny’s character, something that has been missing since her return at Chapter 96.
Next up, we had a four-way match between Proteus Champion Paul Robinson, Connor Mills, Cara Noir, and the returning Mark Haskins. Simply put, this non-title match was fantastic. Every participant looked great, especially Cara Noir who I believe is no longer an up-and-comer. He is arguably the biggest star in PROGRESS at the moment and for good reason. His spectacular entrance backed up by his impeccable in-ring work makes for a once-in-a-lifetime performer and he always steals the show.
Connor Mills also had a great showing in this match. He seems to have really progressed in the last couple of months. He looks more comfortable in the ring and is starting to carry himself like the star he is undoubtedly going to be. He might not quite be at that PROGRESS main event level just yet, but I encourage you to check out some of his main event work in promotions such as London-based Pro Wrestling SOUL. Mills defeated Scotty Davis the night before in an excellent main event, and I cannot wait to see what he can do in PROGRESS in 2020 as he continues to impress.
Just two weeks before NXT UK TakeOver: Blackpool II, Moustache Mountain returned to PROGRESS to face the team of Dan Moloney and Rampage Brown. As someone who started attending PROGRESS shows in early 2018, I never got to experience the Electric Ballroom atmosphere of old. At Unboxing, however, I got to witness the monstrous pop for the returning Rampage Brown as the crowd sang along to I Will Be Heard. I’ll be honest, I’ve never really been a fan of Brown, but he did impress me in this match. He displayed tremendous power by ragdolling Tyler Bate around the ring and impressive resiliency as he went strike-for-strike with Trent Seven.
As good as the match was, however, the main takeaway for me is the fact that Tyler Bate managed to catch a streamer mid-air, adding more weight to the theory that Bate is indeed superhuman.
Our main event saw David Starr face Jimmy Havoc in a gruesome deathmatch. Much like Rampage Brown’s return, we got to experience Havoc’s original entrance music which I think added a lot to the experience. Admittedly, I’m not a fan of deathmatch showcases whatsoever, but getting to stand in the corner of a packed-out Electric Ballroom, singing along to I Hope You Suffer and watching Jimmy Havoc be Jimmy Havoc, was an experience I will likely never relive again.
The match itself was brutal. They used thumb tacks, chopsticks, chairs and things got really dangerous when Havoc hit Starr with a piledriver from the apron through a table and onto the Ballroom floor. Havoc eventually got the win with an Acid Rainmaker and thus ends an era in PROGRESS.
After the deathmatch, David Starr bowed out of PROGRESS and if his recent Tweets are to be believed, Chapter 100 might have been the last time we see Starr in a PROGRESS ring. He has had some great matches for the promotion over the years against the likes of WALTER, Ilja Dragunov, Travis Banks and Jordan Devlin. Starr is currently one of the best wrestlers in the world and he will be missed greatly.
Unboxing 4 ended with Jim Smallman thanking the crowd one more time and hugging PROGRESS co-owners Glen Joseph and Jon Briley. It was hard to not get choked up as Jim said his last goodbyes and had his last photograph in PROGRESS taken by his daughter.
Smallman was an integral part of PROGRESS unique aesthetic and was a key part of creating a community from which many of us have made friendships for life. I think I speak for all of us here at TWM as I thank Jim for all he has done, and I look forward to seeing his tattooed arm appear every now and then on NXT UK.
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You can find the author of this article on @DeiOwen. Thanks for reading!