Favourite Five

Ranking The Five Natural Progression Series Winners

Peter Barnes looks at the five past winners of PROGRESS’ Natural Progression Series and ranks them based on their career following their win.

The Natural Progression Series tournament is coming back on Saturday 14th September and with it comes the chance to take a title shot of the winner’s choosing.

The championship isn’t the only prize that being victorious, there’s also an opportunity to pick a competitor from that year’s tournament to enter the following year, as well as the prestige that comes with winning the tournament. 

There’s been five winners of the NPS so far and it seems only fair to grade them on how well they’ve done since their victory. They will be presented in chronological order of their victories, so let me take you on a whistle-stop tour of the NPS winners.

Mark Andrews

Him versus Paul Robinson in the final really was an electric match at Chapter 10. For that to be the first final really set the bar high for everyone to try and exceed in the following years. Not only that, the first round between Mandrews and Will Ospreay showed that they had talent beyond their relative inexperience at the time. 

Having won, Mark re-entered Will to the tournament, ahead of long-time best friend Eddie Dennis – although that would later come back to haunt Mark as part of the back story behind their feud. As a result of his win, Mark called out Rampage Brown and became champion by virtue of a roll-up. Unfortunately, Jimmy Havoc used this as an opportunity to brutalise Mark and claim the Staff that represented PROGRESS’ title. Thus, he became the shortest reigning champion in PROGRESS history.

Since then, he and Eddie were a tag-team, then latterly broke up at Alexandra Palace. They had a match at Wembley – subtitled “I’ll break a table if it ruddy kills me” – and since reformed FSU at Super Strong Style 16 earlier this year. 

While all that was going on, he was wrestling for TNA/IMPACT and working on his music as one of the key components of Junior. 

He has also been part of the NXT UK tournament from Blackpool and has been a key figure in NXT UK’s inception. In fact, as part of South Wales Subculture, he became a tag-team champion in NXT UK at TakeOver Cardiff. His star is on the rise and will continue to rise for a good while longer yet. 

Grade: A

Flash Morgan Webster

Winner of the second tournament beating Zack Gibson in the final, and making his way past a potentially dangerous first round. He then took on the direct antithesis of his first round opponent as Flash came up against someone who is a talented wrestler in Pete Dunne. It was a star-studded tournament for the second coming. That year featured the aforementioned Pete Dunne, Will Ospreay, Zack Gibson and of course Flash himself among many other talented wrestlers. 

Unfortunately he was unable to claim gold from his title shot and repeated shoulder injuries derailed any chance he had at gaining momentum. Instead he channeled his energies into Wrestling Friends, his podcast. This podcast is seemingly having a sabbatical, for reasons best known to Flash, unless he addressed it in his last episode. 

He is another PROGRESS Alumnus who has gone on to be part of the NXT UK roster and is the other half of the South Wales Subculture with Mark Andrews. Not as storied a career as his team-mate but still pretty successful. 

Grade: A-

Pastor William Eaver

Presently the Present William Eaver, the former Pastor was re-entered by Flash. His route to the final wasn’t the easiest, but he got there by beating Tyler Bate first up, then Chief Deputy Dunne in the semi-final before he took on Damon Moser in the final. He used his title shot to defeat Marty Scurll to a raucous reaction although the reign was short-lived (although not quite as short as Mandrews’). 

His career had to wait for a while, as he was affected by a serious knee injury sustained during a PROGRESS match. Around that time he was tagging with Chuck Mambo as the team Sweet Jesus, a team which was very popular with the Ultras. 

Since coming back from injury, he has wrestled largely around the London area and he has re-branded as the Present William Eaver, a grating street preacher type gimmick. This grating nature is featured in him being the figurehead of the group of frustrated ‘forgotten-abouts’ known as Do Not Resuscitate. The group have been doing well, even if they’ve come up short in the big matches such as at Super Strong Style this year.

A good progression since the tournament, but he’s not setting the world alight like the previous two.

Grade – C+

Toni Storm

After three years of having exclusively male tournaments, PROGRESS finally had a women’s NPS to crown their inaugural champion. This served two purposes and as such, no title shot was on offer. Toni’s route to the final saw her get the better of Bea Priestley and Dahlia Black, thus proving she was the best antipodean on PROGRESS’s books. The final was a three-way dance, with Jinny and Laura Di Matteo coming up short.

She followed up her victory with several title defenses, until she was disavowed of the title at Chapter 69 in Manchester. Since the tournament, she has had tours of Japan with Stardom and competed in the Mae Young Classic for WWE. From there, Toni signed with NXT UK and became the Women’s Champion by beating Rhea Ripley at TakeOver: Blackpool. She has since lost the title against Kay Lee Ray in the latest NXT UK TakeOver. She has made good strides since the Natural Progression – although why it took PROGRESS four tournaments to have a women’s one is beyond me. Either way, a good progression from Toni.

Grade: B

Mark Davis

The most recent winner of the tournament and the reason why Danny Duggan is in this year’s iteration, Mark Davis has been a stand-out as part of Aussie Open. They entered PROGRESS as an unknown quantity but him and Kyle Fletcher are firm fan favourites. 

2018 was a bit of a banner year for Dunkzilla, as he claimed tag-team gold at Hello Wembley in the Thunderbastard match. He also picked up the victory in the NPS, as would be really obvious if you read a few lines above this text. He got the better of Chris Ridgeway in the final, Danny Duggan in the semis and even had to do battle with his team-mate in a qualifying match for the tournament. He is the only person who has cashed in the title shot on a title other than the PROGRESS World Championship, but he did it to great effect as Aussie Open were able to get the titles from the Swords of Essex. 

It’s perhaps a little too soon to judge how well Mark has done since the tournament, but he has packed a lot into the year since winning. Multiple reigns as tag-team champions in PROGRESS, wrestling for wXw, being part of Schadenfreude in Fight Club: Pro as well as taking part in an overlooked match for New Japan against the Guerillas of Destiny (Tama Tonga and Tanga Loa). If this is his first year, then he can far outstrip all expectations.

Grade: B (but if his next few years build on 2018-19 then easily A++).

So those are the previous winners of the tournament, this year it takes a different complexion as it will now take place over a single day instead of over a series of weeks. There’s a couple of outstanding favourites, but literally anyone could win it. Whoever does, they must be hoping they have the career boost that it seems to have given everyone else.

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