Since 2015, Progress have put on their showcase, the centrepoint of which is the titular Super Strong Style 16 tournament (so called because there are 16 entrants – although this did cause confusion in 2016 and 17).
This is seen by many as a high point of the first half of the year, setting up for the road to each September’s big show. This year is no different – the show is returning to Alexandra Palace and the tournament will pit 16 of the best names in independent wrestling against one another to see who will come away with the golden opportunity that is a title shot. Read on for a flavour of who to look out for and my prediction for the tournament as well as a look ahead to the other matches the three days have to offer.
Since its inception, there have been four editions, with two of the winners going on to successfully cash-in their opportunity (Will Ospreay and Travis Banks), with Zack Sabre Jr. and Tommy End not having such fortune. Will this year’s winner become champion? Only time will tell that answer. If you break it down, there are two patterns that have been followed so far: in 2015 Will won and became champion off the back of the win. Obviously, with it being the first year, he was a debutante. Next was 2016, where Tommy End picked up the win. He was in the tournament the year before so put that experience to good use to take his glory. The ensuing title shot did not bear fruit and he lost in his title match to Marty Scurll at Chapter 32: 5000 to 1.
The following year, another debutante used their novelty to their advantage, this time with Travis Banks winning the first SSS16 to be held at its current venue. Besting Tyler Bate in the final gave Travis the title shot he craved to enable him to go after Tyler’s stablemate Pete Dunne, and at Chapter 55: Chase the Sun, the Kiwi Buzzsaw got his hands on the gold to choruses of ‘Trav is our champion’ – oh how the passage of time can alter perspective.
After Trav’s win it was the year of Mr Zack “Midas Touch” Sabre Jr., where he won wXw’s 16-Carat, the J-Cup in New Japan and latterly the Super Strong Style tournament. This was his third time attempting to win and that turned out to be the charm, with him topping Kassius Ohno in the final. When he took his title shot against WALTER on Chapter 77: Pumpkin Spice Progress, he won all the plaudits but none of the title.
This means, going off the patterns of previous years, the winner will be a wrestler who is making their Super Strong Style 16 debut, and when they cash-in the form would suggest that they will get the title. The first-round matches have been announced along with the brackets. I will run down the different competitors and weigh up their chances although there are some wrestlers who definitely aren’t smiled upon by the wrestling gods if my patterns are to be believed.
Ilja Dragunov vs Chris Brookes
First up, an SSS16 debutant and someone who divides opinion here at TWM towers – Ilja Dragunov. The Germano-Russian Tsar has been on a mixed run in Progress, picking up some wins but also sustaining losses. That said, he’s a classy wrestler and has plentiful tournament experience. His record in tournaments is participated in ten, semi-finalist or better in seven, finalist in five having won two. With his undoubted class, he’s definitely an outside bet for the win.
His first round opponent is a man who has considerably more experience when it comes to tournaments, having taken part in 34 in his career. Chris Brookes, from the mythical land of Tipton, is a former Infinity champion and has done well previously as a singles competitor on Progress’ roster. If he can beat Ilja in the first round, then he can go far, although there are no easy matches in this tournament as every wrestler is a top class opponent.
Aerostar vs Trevor Lee
Making the mighty trek from Mexico, Aerostar is a largely unknown quantity to this writer. He is sure to bring some Lucha Libre stylings to proceedings and do some death-defying leaps to throw any of his opponents off-guard. In the first round, he comes up against Trevor Lee, one of two wrestlers from NXT. I’m hoping his experience with the bigger company will serve him well and his reputation certainly raises expectations that he could go far.
Travis Banks vs DJZ
Another man who could go far is Travis Banks, the first entrant announced for this year. He has form having won the tournament two years ago. He’s a former Progress world champion and has achieved much success in NXT UK, Fight Club: Pro and Progress. He brings a lot of intensity with his moveset and general demeanour. He will pose difficult opposition to whoever he comes up against. Although there’s a small sample size, there has never been a repeat winner: could Travis be the first?
DJZ is the talent he has against him, a veteran of TNA and IWC. As I’ve said already, there’s no easy matches and this certainly isn’t one. He doesn’t have the height of some other competitors but his stature may play into his advantage against any foe that dare to underestimate him.
David Starr vs Artemis Spencer
In order to qualify, David Starr had to prove his ability by beating Connor Mills in a tough encounter. Your favourite wrestler’s favourite wrestler has as much talent as he does nicknames but will face stiff opposition in Defy’s Artemis Spencer. Artemis is untested in Progress but sometimes the novelty can lead to being underestimated. I think Spencer could go far and potentially ‘do a Devlin’ (win new fans through his exploits at SSS16).
Kyle O’Reilly vs Chris Ridgeway
The second NXT talent in this year’s tournament is the undisputed air-guitarist Kyle O’Reilly, who brings strong strikes and a martial arts background to his offence. He’s one of two members of the Undisputed Era who hasn’t been in Progress before and he may be keen to show he can go further than stablemate Roderick Strong. In order to do so, he has to go through Chris Ridgeway, who brings strong strikes and a martial arts background to his offence (sound familiar?). My pick here is Kyle as he’s simply more Ridgeway than Ridgeway.
Paul Robinson vs Darby Allin
Paul Robinson vs Darby Allin looks to be an interesting contest. It must be a rarity in a match that Darby has the height advantage, but has it he does. Will that be enough to throw him off his game? Potentially. Either way Robbo will push him to his limits and could advance to the quarter finals. Letting my heart rule my head, Robbo could win it, and the logic of tenuous pattern-making seems to support his case.
Jordan Devlin vs Lucky Kid
Last year’s stand-out, primarily for his overhead kicking skills, Jordan Devlin looks to advance further this year against this year’s 16-Carat winner, Lucky Kid. Mr Kid has had some misfortune recently and is returning from injury so may not be at 100% which makes this match-up even harder as Jordan Devlin is the sort of wrestler you can only beat if you bring your A-game. Given that ZSJ won last year, it would be quite a feat if Lucky Kid can make it two 16-Carat/SSS16 combined winners in a row.
Daga vs Kyle Fletcher
“Is this a DAGA I see before me?” is something I hope gets said during the weekend, as the final first-round match sees Aussie Open’s Kyle Fletcher go up against DAGA. I don’t know much about the Mexican debutant to Progress but I predict it will be a heck of match to see with Kyle showing he can mix it with any style of wrestling, especially since he’s hench now. The only concern with Kyle is whether he will be able to give his all to this tournament as a solo-wrestler, knowing he has loyalties to Mark Davis and tag-team commitments down the line.
My overall pick for the tournament through the Progress Prediction website is Kyle Fletcher to win it, but my heart says Robbo and my head says that there’s 16 potential winners, each with a strong case as to why they could win, and that predicting is a fool’s game.
There are also other matches taking place during the weekend. The four announced at time of writing are Jinny vs Session Moth Martina, WALTER vs Trent Seven to unify the male singles belts and a No Disqualification match between Do Not Resuscitate and Jimmy Havoc, Mark Haskins, Ligero and Mark Andrews on Sunday, and on Monday we have a women’s four-way title match – Nina Samuels vs Millie McKenzie vs (the winner of Jinny vs Session Moth Martina) vs Jordynne Grace, the current champion.
I’m looking forward to seeing all of those matches. Jinny vs Session Moth promises to be full of Jinny’s disdain and Session Moth’s hi-jinks. I think Martina could win it as Jinny might see her as a simple irritant and not take her seriously enough. This will lead her to making a mistake and ceding the victory.
Could Trent Seven be the answer to the question – but who could actually beat WALTER now he has the title? The fullness of time will answer that. This match will be almost terrifying to watch at times as I’m sure Trent’s going to get chopped so hard his moustache will start doing cartwheels. If Trent doesn’t win, then it’s tricky to see who could beat WALTER. I do have one suggestion, but I won’t post it here for fear of being seen as Over-The-Top.
The disillusionment that fuels Do Not Resuscitate will meet a mighty challenge in a makeshift group of four Progress veterans, Jimmy Havoc, Mark Haskins, Mark Andrews and Ligero. Normally I don’t like to see makeshift teams win against established teams, but I am willing to make an exception. There will be blood and lots of fury and brutal spots given the personnel involved in this match. I will be sat roughly 6 rows back, but even that feels a little too close for comfort.
As if that wasn’t enough, on Monday there is the small matter of the women’s four-way match featuring Millie McKenzie, Jinny/Session Moth and Nina Samuels all hoping to take title away from Jordynne Grace. The current champ brings a tonne of power but as we often hear, the champion doesn’t need to be involved in the decision to lose their title. It’s hard to pick a winner here but I think it might be Millie’s time.
And finally, the Monday show also marks Jimmy Havoc’s last chapter with Progress. He went from being the subject of an internet campaign to get him booked ahead of Chapter 2 and taking on his former trainer Jon Ryan in a brutal deathmatch in Chapter 3; to attempting to be a non-deathmatch wrestler until his turn and the reign of Havoc as the longest reigning Progress Champion; to then departing and coming back as a good guy having classics with Will Ospreay and Paul Robinson. He has left an indelible mark on the company and I don’t even want to finish this sentence to complete this article as it all feels too final that Jimmy will be gone from Progress, he matters that much to the Ultras and I believe his career and his ability will only be appreciated properly when he does hang up the boots down the line.
You can find me on Twitter @PBWrites92. Thanks for reading.