A rainy Sunday afternoon in Manchester saw PROGRESS Wrestling’s return to the city for the first time since July, where the fallout from the biggest show of the year took place.
In the past, PROGRESS’ visits up north have typically been seen as B-shows that gave the fans a taste of the Electric Ballroom experience whilst not necessarily being the strongest shows on paper.
In the last year or so, however, it is arguable that Manchester has been the home of some of PROGRESS’ greatest showcases – Chapters 63, 69 and 78 are all great examples of this. With such a good track record, Chapter 96 had a lot to live up to.
The show kicked off with a unique twist as newly-crowned PROGRESS Unified World Champion Eddie Dennis interrupted Jim Smallman’s opening segment, where he belittled David Starr’s INDEPENDENT movement and went on to demonstrate the ease of which he can control the PROGRESS Ultras. This was excellent utilisation of the still-injured Eddie Dennis as it built anticipation for his first title defence whilst also keeping the Super Strong Style 16 winner in the title picture.
Our first match saw two main chapter debuts as The Young Guns (Luke Jacobs and Ethan Allen) took on Pretty Deadly (Sam Stoker and Lewis Howley). This fast-paced match was a tremendous showing for both teams. Naturally, the Manchester-based Young Guns were big fan favourites as the hot tags between Allen and Jacobs garnered very loud reactions from the crowd.
Likewise, Stoker and Howley showed excellent tag team psychology in cutting off the ring and gaining an advantage. As a result, they were victorious and left a very good first impression with the fans. I would certainly hope to see both teams become prominent within PROGRESS.
Next, Paul Robinson defended his Proteus Championship against Travis Banks. Per the champion’s rules, the match could only be won by knockout or submission. What followed was a brutal, hard-hitting affair that one would expect from an encounter between Robinson and Banks. Because of the unique stipulation, the psychology and pacing of the match were completely different to what we are used to which only added towards the big fight feel.
After brawling on the outside, Robinson stomped Banks’ head into an exposed ring surface and was successful in his first defence of the Proteus title as he won via technical knockout. It could be argued that this match did not quite reach that top gear, however the uniqueness of the match style really made the Proteus title feel different to the World title which is very important at this early stage.
After the match, TK Cooper came out and teased helping his former South Pacific Power Trip stablemate before he took advantage of Banks’ vulnerability by attacking him when he was already down. This strengthened Cooper’s character and helped build a stronger reaction for his match against Roy Johnson later in the day.
The third match on the card came from the PROGRESS women’s division as Dani Luna faced off against the most dominant PROGRESS Women’s Champion in history, Toni Storm. Luna has been at the forefront of PROGRESS’ recent emphasis on developing non-NXT UK contracted talent, therefore what better way of solidifying her position as the women’s division’s top babyface than to have her defeat a former PROGRESS and NXT UK Women’s Champion?
As much as this was a star-making performance for Dani Luna, it was Storm’s approval after the match that really put her over, stating that she “has to beat Meiko Satomura”, likely meaning that Luna will be the first to challenge the new Women’s Champion at Chapter 97.
After Storm praised Dani Luna, a cryptic video was played on the screen before ‘Jinny Havoc’ walked down to the ring and stood off with her long-time rival Toni Storm. Dressed as her trainer Jimmy Havoc, Jinny seems to have completely re-imagined her fashionista persona as she reignited her storied rivalry with Storm. The direction of her new character will certainly be interesting and could be exactly what the women’s division needs.
Kicking off the second half, TK Cooper took on ‘Big Wavy’ Roy Johnson in the latter’s first singles match in PROGRESS since March 2018. The crowd were relatively silent during most of this match, however a sickening bump to the outside that cut Cooper wide open was enough to demand the crowd’s attention.
Even referee Joel Allen could not believe that Cooper was still alive after such an impact. Despite the damage sustained, Cooper won the match before being chased off by Travis Banks for his actions earlier in the night. Sure, the match itself was not the strongest however it gave Cooper some heat as a match between him and Travis Banks seemingly comes closer.
Every card has that one match that stands out above the rest on paper. In Chapter 96’s case, that match came in the form of Cara Noir vs. Ilja Dragunov – and boy did it deliver. A hard hitting technical masterpiece that is considered by many to be the match of the night with very good reason. Sure, Noir fell victim to Dragunov’s Torpedo Moscow but much like his high-profile match against Pete Dunne at Chapter 95, Cara Noir looked incredible and was a very real threat throughout the match. I’ll never tire of seeing him lock in a picture-perfect rear naked choke out of nowhere or the force behind his kicks.
As great as Noir’s performance was, we have to talk about Ilja Dragunov. Every single time he enters a PROGRESS ring, he steals the show. We’ve seen it time and time again; good examples of this are his matches against David Starr, Timothy Thatcher, Jordan Devlin and WALTER at Chapters 78, 83, 91 and 92 respectively. Not only does Dragunov consistently deliver in terms of match quality, but the presence he brings creates a big match feel that cannot be matched. I would love to see Ilja tear it up in PROGRESS more often.
The main event of the evening saw Jordan Devlin and Scotty Davis’ first defence of the PROGRESS Tag Team Championship as they took on the Grizzled Young Veterans. Things started off in the best way possible in the form of a Zack Gibson pre-match promo. He emphasised that neither he or Drake needs to be wrestling at independent shows any more, and that they only do it for the money. This logical approach achieved great heat from the Manchester crowd. Gibson went on to say that he does not try to put on a five-star performance, adding that “Dave Meltzer can go f*** himself”.
The match itself was fantastic. The early stages saw the Grizzled Young Vets cutting off Davis as he tried to tag in Devlin which proved to be very effective as the crowd erupted when the tag was finally made. There was an amazing moment where Gibson crawled under the ring to prevent a hot tag, reminiscent of The Revival at NXT TakeOver: Dallas a couple of years ago. The pacing was slow when it needed to be but kicked into gear when the match called for it. Devlin and Davis were successful in their first title defence despite Gibson thinking that he and Drake had won. With the quality of matches that the Irishmen are capable of, I was thrilled to see their reign continue as they continue to develop as a tag team.
All-in-all, I would consider Chapter 96 to be a great success. I am intrigued as to what happens next between TK Cooper, the women’s division now boasts two huge matches in the form of Meiko Satomura vs. Dani Luna and Toni Storm vs. Jinny Havoc, and Jordan Devlin and Scotty Davis continue to show the world just how good they are, not only as singles wrestlers but also as a tag team. It is a shame that PROGRESS only visit the O2 Ritz a couple of times per year, but shows like this definitely make it worth the wait.