Technically, it’s Monday, May 29th, 2017. Today is the final day of Progress Wrestling’s Super Strong Style 16 tournament weekender. I fly back to America in 36 hours, and, to be honest, I really don’t want to go.
The past five months of my life have revolved almost entirely around Progress. Every day has involved watching Progress’s shows, working on this blog or the podcast, and talking to the British wrestling community on Twitter. Now I am finally here in the middle of it all, meeting people who were only a handle and an avatar for a long time, getting to watch wrestlers I’ve fallen in love with since January finally wrestle right before my very eyes. It’s overwhelming. It’s everything I wanted it to be and more. And it’s going to be over very soon.
Even though Courtney and I got to see Progress in Orlando back in March, nothing can compare to the feeling of the Electric Ballroom in Camden. I don’t know that any space will ever feel as this place does. It has its own pulse. It truly is a living part of Progress itself – another character in the promotion’s storyline. To attend Progress in the Ballroom is to see Shakespeare done as it was meant to be done. To queue for hours and wander up and down the line talking to friends is Progress. The sticky floors and the spilled beer are Progress. The vibrations of the music and the dim lights are Progress.
The way the wrestlers interact with the fans in the Ballroom is unique as well. Even when they’re behind merch tables, they never feel unapproachable. Everyone is happy to spend time chatting and catching up, even if you can’t afford to buy anything. The wrestlers recognize people that come back show after show and remember details about their lives. It feels like family in the Ballroom; the fans, the wrestlers, the crew – all of them are Progress.
You think you know what something’s going to be like when you watch the videos of it. Even if you watch every last second of Progress On Demand, none of it quite measures up to the Ballroom experience. You don’t know what it’s like to point up to one of your dearest friends on the balcony and sing Mark Andrews’ music at the top of your fucking lungs. You don’t know what it’s like to see Matt Riddle kick out of what you (and all 699 other people) were SURE was the finish to the match. Jimmy Havoc is more intimidating in the Ballroom. Flash Morgan Webster flies higher in the ballroom. Mark Haskins kicks harder in the Ballroom.
In the first two days of Super Strong Style 16, I have seen amazing things. I saw someone who would have been on the periphery of the industry five or ten years ago stand in the middle of a sea of pride flags. I saw that man’s opponent find a way to tell a deeply compelling story that didn’t involve resorting to homophobia to get them both there. I saw someone with powerful convictions wear his political affiliations on his chest like armor. I saw religion interwoven between characters without disrespecting people’s personal faith.
I saw three incredible women in the main event and a new champion crowned.
Progress is all of my favorite things about wrestling: storytelling, catharsis, competition, aggression, compassion, inclusion, and love. There is so much love in Progress, and not just from the people in the folding chairs, though they are all incredible. The fans have embraced us – embraced me – and made me feel as though I’d always been a part of this thing that they helped to create. The people who run Progress love it and love their fans, and the fans love them back and love one another. I heard people talking about mental health in the queue. I heard people talking about substance abuse and poverty in the ladies room. I talked about American and British politics while standing beside the ring. This is an actual community that they’ve built, a safe haven where nothing is off the table or too taboo to mention. No one is unwelcome.
I have to go home on Tuesday. Tomorrow. I have to go back to America and my day job. But I am going back with something I didn’t have when I came here. I don’t know what I was looking for when I booked a flight and bought a Progress ticket back in February. I’d only watched about 20 Chapters – I still didn’t have the whole picture. But I’ve been in the Ballroom. I cried tears of joy and pride. I hugged my friends. I laughed harder than I ever have before. I got caught up in the chants and the people and the feeling.
I don’t live in the UK and I probably never will. But this place is the perfect intersection of my ethics, my artform, my people. This is where I will always be happy.
This is home. This is Progress.