Boo That Man

There’s a terribly embarrassing story out there about me screaming at the top of my lungs in a ridiculously hot rec center in Queens, NY last year because of the utterance of a single word:

“Aye!”

That was it. I had gotten everything I’d hoped for in that one moment. That sound meant Zack Gibson was going to come out and wrestle his real-life mate Jack Gallagher, one-on-one for the first time in over a year. The match was a surprise, as Jack was meant to wrestle WWE UK Champion Pete Dunne with the title on the line, but Pete had been injured the night before, so Jack was in need of an opponent. Nothing about this experience disappointed; the match was all I could have asked for. But what truly elated me was the promo beforehand and the reaction from the crowd: over a thousand people in a New York borough were booing Zack Gibson at such a deafening volume, you’d think they all had some sort of personal history with him or Liverpool. But this behavior was something we’d all learned from watching Progress On Demand – Gibson is a heel not just because of how he behaves, but because of where he comes from. If you asked anyone in the Elmcor center that day, I doubt any one of them could tell you what there is to hate about someone from Liverpool (having been there myself twice now, I’m still not sure) but they know that when Zack Gibson opens his mouth, we boo that man.

“Gibbo” as he is more affectionately called (though by whom and with what affection remains to be seen) has been around in Progress since Chapter 1. He’s wrestled 44 matches over 39 chapters (and 2 US shows) for the company. He’s one of only 2 men to appear in all three Super Strong Style 16 tournaments (along with Mark Haskins). He’s won the Natural Progress Series Trophy (sort of), held the Tag Titles twice (sort of), and has remained a major part of Progress’ roster since Chapter 12. And yet all throughout these nearly four years now, Zack Gibson has managed to do something most of the other major players for Progress have not: he’s never turned.

Zack’s been a lot of things over the history of Progress Wrestling. He was Flash Morgan Webster’s original foil. He became affiliated with Nathan Cruz’s return as part of The Origin. He was the measuring stick for Jack Sexsmith proving himself. He effortlessly turned the Progress Ultras’ loathing of James Drake into a powerhouse of a tag team. Zack Gibson has been the constant baddie throughout Progress, no matter what else was going on. Perhaps he’s never been the “Big Bad”, like Jimmy Havoc at the helm of Regression, or Pete Dunne and British Strong Style. Instead, Gibson has presented the Progress faithful with someone they can count on as consistently antagonistic, whatever his storyline may be.

Currently, that storyline involves him and his tag team partner, James Drake, (otherwise known as the Grizzled Young Veterans) vying for a rematch against Mark Haskins and Jimmy Havoc in order to recapture the tag titles they lost at Chapter 63. A promo courtesy of the Grizzled Young Veterans went up on Progress’ Youtube channel today, and it was a fucking doozy.

It starts off like any other promo from Progress’ number one, the weeeeeerld’s number one…but then, something happens. About 29 seconds into the video, while Gibson is looking up at the camera and repeating the name of their tag team, there is suddenly a shift on his face. With JD scowling beside him, it’s as though the word “grizzled” has suddenly struck Zack Gibson as perhaps too on the nose for a descriptor. Suddenly, the past six years and sixty-something chapters seem to be written all over his face. He looks exhausted, as though he no longer has the energy to even muster the quick-witted banter we’ve come to expect from him. He takes a breath to steady himself and then launches into a more pointed version of his usual claims, culminating in an accusation that they were robbed of their titles. There’s another moment here, with Drake looking directly into the camera and Gibson’s focus elsewhere that we see it happen again, his history flashing for a moment all over his face. Zack Gibson has never won a singles title in Progress. He beat Flash Morgan Webster for the Natural Progression Series trophy, but not until after the tournament was over. In fact, the ONLY title he’s ever held in Progress was his 77 day run alongside Mr. Mayhem.

The way he spits out Haskins and Havoc’s names like they were curses, and points to Progress management for allowing such underhanded methods to cause a title change, he appears to be smoldering just below the surface. Haskins and Havoc have had every opportunity – literally every one. Both of them have been Progress Champion, both of them have been loved and hated by the Progress audience over time. They ARE Progress at this point, so synonymous with the company that the thought of at least one of them not being on a show is bizarre, almost absurd. Comparatively, too, Gibson has never been quite as obnoxious or dangerous as Haskins or Havoc were in their earlier days, so it’s not hard to see from where his anger stems. He also points out the injustice of Vicky Haskins being allowed not only to hang out at ringside during the match, but to do so with her propensity for barbed wire wrapped accessories. Surely, if Zack brought his own Missus to Progress, she’d kindly be asked to keep her seat. He then demands a rematch, no matter what they have to do to get it. There’s a moment of brevity as Gibson leans back on the wall behind him and James Drake steps forward, but Zack interrupts him with a rant about Flash before he can speak, a la Brookes and Lykos, and then they wander off to regroup.

There is a staggering amount of vulnerability that Zack Gibson offers up during this promo. The ebb and flow as some of it attempts to reach the surface before he stuffs it back down, the cadence to how he speaks as his words cover up years worth of successes and failures. His record in singles competition in Progress isn’t great. But his matches are consistent. His work ethic is consistent. His level of engagement with the fans – who absolutely LOVE to hate him – is consistent. To be held back AGAIN by the three problem children of Progress, whose transgressions and fuck-ups fans seem to forgive and forget time and again, must be infuriating. To be partnered with someone, as Trent Seven so loves to mention, who’s “other job” is working for WWE must also be infuriating. At this point, the fact that Zack Gibson hasn’t yet become Progress’ Big Bad is completely shocking to me. Surely he’ll crack at any moment under that amount of pressure, with all that rage seething inside him.

Now. Go back and watch the promo just one more time. All the way through, just enjoy it this time, because Gibson is a BRILLIANT promo, arguably the best in the business. He’s good, ain’t he? Hard to hate a man that good at what he does. He’s so good, I bet you didn’t even notice where he was standing, did you? With the light just above him and to his left.

So James Drake is standing in his shadow.

– The Lady J Says

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Dear Nathan,

Let’s start off with the simplest of things: there are heels and there are babyfaces. Good guys and bad guys. You should always be a babyface in your own life. You might be someone else’s heel, someone else’s foil, but in your own story, you are the babyface.

Wrestling is a lot of things to different people, and it will probably take a while to figure out what it means to you. If it’s not as important or all-consuming as it is to another person, that’s okay. Some people say “casual fan” like it’s an insult, but it isn’t. You can be any kind of fan you want, as long as you’re a respectful one.

There is so much wrestling out there for you to experience. If one thing doesn’t suit you, keep trying new things. Taking time to understand why you like other things outside of wrestling will help to steer you toward different styles or promotions. You are a complex being, and wrestling is a complex art form. There is no right or wrong way to experience or fall in love with it.

And you will fall in love with it. When you do, it will be amazing. You will experience such incredible highs and amazing catharsis, it will be sort of like a drug. But like any great love, it can also hurt you. When booking changes, when wrestlers move on, when styles fade, you will feel forgotten and lost. It’s okay to be sad when a thing that brought you such great joy suddenly only makes you sad or angry. But that just means it’s time to find a new kind of wrestling (or a new wrestler, or a new place to see wrestling) to fall in love with. And you will, on repeat, your whole life.

You might love wrestling so much that you want to try doing it yourself. You might want to become a wrestler, or start your own promotion. You might want to write a blog or do a podcast. You should. You should do all of those things, or some other things that no one has tried yet. You should do them, and fuck them up, and try them again. Don’t ever let someone tell you you’re the wrong size or your writing’s too flowery, or you don’t have the right equipment or enough money. Don’t listen to people who tell you wrestling is silly or childish or that you’re getting worked up over something trite. People like that have always existed, and all they are is envious of your passion and drive. You will outlast them, I promise.

Be good to the people you meet through wrestling. We are a community of misfit toys. But we are also loyal and loving. Take care of your wrestling friends, because they accept a side of you that a lot of your school mates or co-workers might not. They understand your excitement, they understand why you yell and scream at shows, they understand why you like one wrestler better than another. Your wrestling friends will take care of you, too. If you drink, they will make sure you get home safely. If you travel, they will make sure you have a place to stay and food to eat. They will become your wrestling family and they might be anywhere in the world. That also means there will always be someone awake at 3am on a Tuesday when you need to talk. Or just know someone is there.

Be good to the people who are not your friends, too, though. Respect that everyone comes to this thing from a different place – a different background, a different path – and maybe you will disagree. But a wrestling show should be a place where you can go and be yourself (whatever yourself might be) and that means you have to allow others to be themselves, too. Stick up for the people who need a voice. Listen to the people who are trying to tell you when they are hurting. Don’t leave anybody out, or anyone behind. But don’t stand for any nonsense, either.

Don’t worry if you fall away from wrestling. Sometimes life gets in the way. But wrestling isn’t going anywhere. When you want to come back, it will still be there, probably with a new coat of paint and a lot of new faces, but it will still want you to be a part of it. When life gets ugly, when days are grey, it’s a good way to escape or have a laugh. When life goes to shit, there’s a really good chance it will make you happy, even for a moment. And you should be happy. Everyone deserves to be happy.

You are in a unique spot in time. You were born in a place where wrestling is having a renaissance, amidst a very welcoming and progressive fanbase. You have parents who will happily guide you as you find your own fandom. You will easily be connected to people all over the world who already love and care about you because of how wonderful, generous, and kind your family is. If there are things in wrestling that interest you that they don’t know about, they will find you someone who does to help you. Those people are going to teach you other cool things, too, about music and food and books and theater and film and all that life has to offer. All because of wrestling.

Before you came into this world, we weren’t sure what you would be. And to be honest, I don’t think anybody is ever sure until their time in this place is through. But because we knew so little about you, we called you Bumpasaurus, because you might be anything – even a dinosaur. (Side note: if you turn out to be, in fact, a dinosaur, I’d avoid Jack Haskins at all cost.) But now you are here and you are a Nathasaurus – still capable of becoming anything and everything. And in the best possible place to achieve whatever that may be.

Wrestling’s the best, kid. Trust me.

– The Lady J