Wildest Dreams

The night before CZW’s Tournament of Death was kind of rough for me.

I’ve written extensively on this blog about my feelings regarding blood in wrestling, and how a deathmatch can be the ultimate climax of a storyline. But I’ve also written about my aversion to unprotected head shots, and how it is hard for me to watch an ultraviolent match that has no storyline. To me, that feels like I am consenting to violence simply for the sake of violence – acts that inevitably escalate until people are doing horrific things to themselves that could short their lifespans drastically (or worse, immediately.)

Now, let us not beat around the bush – I went to ToD to see Jimmy Havoc and Clint Margera. I’d never seen Clint wrestle live before, and I was absolutely blown away. He is very different than anyone else I’ve ever seen. Perhaps a good descriptor would be unsuspecting. He is quiet and calm, even when you’re speaking to him one on one. His entrance, his gear, none of it is flashy. But when he climbs in the ring things seem to go very still, like everyone just decided to hold their breath simultaneously. His match with Connor Claxton (Jimmy’s eventual opponent in the final) had a really nice structure to it, considering how much time they spent raging outside of the ring. I was making mental notes to spend more time watching Clint’s matches going forward, to really study his work. I hope I get the opportunity to see him live much more often in the future, and if you, dear reader, are presented with such a chance – take it. Trust me, you will not be disappointed.

I was still nervous, though. Jimmy’s “Pains of Glass” match was fourth on the card, and that was more than enough time for me to work myself up with worry. He has been very kind to me every time we’ve met, and generous with his time. I am very grateful to him for all of the time he has spent, not just speaking with me, but with all of the people I’ve seen him interact with, patiently and with all the charisma in the world. He’s one of those wrestlers who takes their time with fans, no matter how nutty we may get. I’ve seen people in tears with him, and he waits while they get it together. I’ve seen him effortlessly handle big drunk buffoons who can barely sloppily string two works together. But he makes sure everyone got what they came for – a piece of his time and to tell him how much what he does means to them. And I can guarantee everyone goes away feeling incredible having gotten that chance.

When “I Hope You Suffer” hit, I knew everything was going to be fine. The way Jimmy stalks around the ring in his face mask, all pristine in white with his wild eyes watching, I felt at ease. This wasn’t going to be violence for the sake of violence – Jimmy was going to tell a story. And he did. Here I was, someone who had never seen a live deathmatch before, a bundle of nerves in a field in Delaware with hundreds of dedicated, hungry hardcore fans, and I was being given a gift. The writer, the woman who is obsessive about storytelling in wrestling, was going to see her favorite wrestler find a way to snake an actual story through the Tournament of Death.

Matches like these are not for everyone, I understand that. But if you have the stomach for it, take some time to watch Jimmy’s three matches from this event. He effortlessly creates a character – a version of his own, highly recognizable character – who plots, and waits, and seeks out opportunities. He stole a pin, he waited his opponent out. He was crafty, and a bit of a sneak. And if deathmatches ARE your thing, know that Jimmy is a mastermind of the saved spot. If the glass won’t break, Jimmy will break it. Overshot that barbed wire? Jimmy will make sure to plant you in it. And he is not afraid of being on the receiving end of some nasty spots, as well. (If you hop over to Twitter, I’m sure you’ll see a video of a Michinoku Driver through a pane of glass, a piece of fencing, and some barbed wire – I think, I couldn’t keep track of everything in that final match.)

After the show was over, we waited (along with a massive crowd) to see him. People followed him from the entrance way back to his merch table like he was some sort of cult leader – and maybe he sort of is. People in Die Havoc Die shirts, and people who are just CZW diehards alike gushed over his performance. It was really something else to see how much it meant to everyone there, how grateful a lot of the CZW audience is for what these guys do to their body in the name of deathmatch wrestling. There is a sense of reverence among everyone: the wrestlers for the art itself, the fans for what the wrestlers are able to give them. Maybe this place is not MY church, but I can see why people are so dedicated to it.

I’m so proud of Jimmy Havoc. He deserves every success this world could offer him, but I know this one in particular has been a dream of his for a long time. Being a fan of his has given me more than I could ever explain. When Courtney and I began our journey through all of Progress back in January, the first thing I was struck by was Jimmy’s character and his story. I wrote a blog post about it at the end of that month and received such wonderful feedback on it. Watching his approach to wrestling gave me a new perspective and has allowed me to fall in love with the art form in a way I didn’t even know was possible. My writing has been improved for having tried to analyze what he does, and express my thoughts on his work. I gripe often about people tagging me in things he does on Twitter, that I hate being called “the Jimmy Havoc girl” as though I were a fifteen-year-old with a poster over her bed. But I’ll take all the tweets if it means I also get to do things like sit in the audience when my favorite wrestler makes his wildest dreams come true.

If you, dear reader, take anything away from my experience at Tournament of Death, let it be this: allow yourself to fall in love with wrestling. It is not always going to be perfect – it will not even always be good. But it will be there when you need it. Wrestling will give you some of the highest highs you have ever known. You will fall in love with strange characters, be taken for bizarre twists and turns, and you may even discover things about yourself you did not know. You will meet people who will move you, who will make you want to work harder and do better at whatever your thing is. You will be inspired. You will make friends (and maybe enemies) but you will never, ever be bored. Or complacent. If you are feeling those things, you need to find new things to watch – and you can, because wrestling has NEVER been more accessible. You can connect with people on a global level, people doing things you’ve never even heard of before that will blow your mind (like jumping off a truck into a barbed wire-filled trampoline, perhaps.)

Wrestling is the best.

And so is Jimmy Havoc.

The Lady J Says

 

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Progress: Chapters 16-30 Best Matches

 I think it’s time for another list of favorite matches, wouldn’t you say? Let’s break down the best matches (in my humble opinion) from chapters 16-30! Keep an eye out for our favorites from 31-45 in April, and expect an overall best of list in May!

Chapter 17: Zach Gibson vs. Flash Morgan Webster in the 2nd Natural Progression Final

The rivalry that exists between Zach Gibson and Flash Morgan Webster is brilliant. It’s full of tension and aggression, but also showcases both of their talents beautifully. By the time we see them challenging Will Ospreay for the Progress Championship in Chapter 24, they have both become fan favorites, as babyface and heel.

Chapter 19: The London Riots vs. Jimmy Havoc & Paul Robinson

This match included so much great callback stuff from the course of the Havoc title run, that it would be IMPOSSIBLE for me not to love it. Marry it with all of the hard work from the London Riots after their big return at Chapter 18, and naturally it’s going to make my top 3 matches of all of Progress – if not all time.

Chapter 19: Jinny vs. Pollyanna (No DQ)

The first time we EVER get a women’s match on a Chapter show at Progress, it is a No DQ match, and the payoff from an incredible stretch of storytelling from Jinny, Elizabeth, and Pollyanna. Not only do these women prove they BELONG on the main show, they prove that women can steal the show – and hang with even the most sick and twisted of the gentlemen.

Chapter 20: Jimmy Havoc vs. Will Ospreay (Progress Championship)

It would be foolish of me not to include what might be the greatest, most cathartic title change in the history of Progress. Jimmy Havoc as the finally-conquered Big Bad and Will Ospreay as the Boy King are two monumental characters that will never be topped. This is Progress, for sure.

Chapter 21: Jimmy Havoc vs. Paul Robinson (No DQ)

I have a hard time believing there will ever be a match I love more than this one. Not just in Progress, but in all of wrestling. Fair warning – this No DQ match quickly becomes a deathmatch and features the most blood out of all 30 of the chapters I’ve watched so far. But it also features just as much catharsis as the Havoc/Ospreay match from 20, and the Riots/Havoc/Robinson match from 19 – only in a different way. This one is the punctuation on the end of the Havoc storyline, and leaves us waiting to see where it will all go from here.

Chapter 25: Will Ospreay vs. Marty Scurll (Progress Championship)

This was a match that I IMMEDIATELY wanted to watch again as soon as it ended. While it didn’t feature a moment of catharsis the way some of my other favorites do, it DOES feature the crux of the Villain character, as he ascends to his first Progress title win. He also cements himself as a different heel from Jimmy Havoc, and the Reign of the Villain begins.

Chapter 26: South Pacific Power Couple vs. Flash Morgan Webster & Pollyanna

It’s no secret to anyone who reads this blog or follows me on twitter that I am a huge supporter of inter-gender wrestling. This match not only elevates the South Pacific Power Couple by showing they can hang with the likes of Flash Morgan Webster and Pollyanna, but also is a wonderful example of how powerful inter-gender matches can be. There is some beautiful storytelling in this match, and some really stunning tag work from Dahlia Black and TK Cooper, in particular.

Chapter 28: Marty Scurll vs. Tommy End

How do you find an opponent for an unbeatable villain? You separate a very scary man from his tag partner, and then give him a chance to show what he can do without the title on the line. While the story of Tommy vs Marty progresses, we are also reminded of what a strong singles competitor Tommy is, and how close Marty can come to losing everything he worked so hard to steal.

Chapter 30: The Origin vs. The London Riots (Tag Team Championships)

Bet all your money that, should the London Riots be in a tag match of Day 1 at Super Strong Style 16 this year, they’re winning. After a tremendous showing rocking Havoc & Robinson at Chapter 19, they go on to have a tremendous, fun, and exciting match against The Origin that culminates in them winning the tag titles. It is well deserved and the perfect way to end Day 1.

Chapter 30: Chris Hero vs. Tommy End (Round 3)

“J, how could you not pick Chris Hero vs. Mark Andrews?” Chris vs. Mark is a GREAT match, no doubt. But Hero/End is everything I could ever want in a singles match. It’s violent as hell, stiffer than anything else on the card, and has so much emotion behind it because of their friendship that it’s hard not to stand and applaud, even in the comfort of your own home, when it’s all over. Now THAT is great wrestling.

– The Lady J Says

PROGRESS: Watch Me Burn

So, I finally got to “That Part”.

Knowing that I had already expressed an appreciation for the character of Jimmy Havoc, many of the individuals who’d already experienced all of PROGRESS to date were eagerly anticipating my watching Chapters 9 and 10 over the past week. I don’t think they were disappointed by my live Twitter reactions in the moment as the major story that ends PROGRESS’s 2013 year unfolded before me. I was genuinely surprised, even though everyone had clearly provided me with signs that something big was coming.

Once Chapter 10 was closed, and the corresponding episode of Facelock Feministas was recorded, I had some time to digest what I had seen and how I really felt about it. Unpacking your feelings about wrestling never gets easier, no matter how long you’ve been watching it or how much of it you’ve seen. If anything, it gets more complicated as you become more honest with yourself. Perhaps that’s also a sign of age – a willingness to see even the ugly parts of yourself reflected back at you in your favorite art form, and forcing yourself to confront those things head on.

Before I go any further, I have two requests for you, dear reader. First, make sure you’ve actually WATCHED the first 10 chapters of PROGRESS, or I’m about to ruin the whole thing for you. Second, watch this video. It really helped to put some things in perspective for me, and I can tell you right now, it’s going to color the way I watch the rest of this story unfold in a major way.

Going into this experience of watching all of PROGRESS, I promised myself I would make a concerted effort to watch everything – all of the matches, all of the promos, any content PROGRESS provided via their On Demand service, I would consume. That meant seeing where my limit was when it came to Havoc’s hardcore matches. I was always fascinated by this kind of match, but assumed my own usual physical response to the sight of blood (light-headedness and fainting) meant it wouldn’t be possible to watch all the way through. And yet two hardcore matches have occurred so far, and I’ve watched them both completely. Perhaps a debt is owed to Lucha Underground for desensitizing me to blood, or at least for helping me to understand blood is a tool in the wrestling world, and if used properly it can enhance the telling of a story.

The story in question is not hard to follow. Havoc’s character is a weirdo, an outcast at the start. He’s a hardcore wrestler who wants to get involved at PROGRESS, so he has to prove that he can work the style of the promotion. Even though he doesn’t win his matches, each time he steps into the ring the crowd is fully behind him. Each match is a thing of beauty, each opponent elevated for having worked with him. When a real problem threatens PROGRESS, the existence of the London Riots and the mayhem they bring with them, Havoc is put into a hardcore match with one of their members to teach them a lesson. Let them step into the ring with someone who takes great enjoyment in causing them pain. In the end it’s Jimmy who takes a brunt of the force and ends up losing the match – yet again. So when he finally has had enough and unloads on Jim Smallman in Chapter 9, it’s really not that shocking. What is really amazing, though, is the promo he cuts on Smallman, and everyone in charge at PROGRESS. He goes on to make good on his threat of doing what he wants in Chapter 10, cashing in his contract for a match with an opponent and a stipulation of his choosing against then-champion Mark Andrews, and winning both his first match for the promotion and the PROGRESS title in the process.

While watching the YouTube video that summarizes this story and Havoc’s first two years at PROGRESS, it suddenly occurred to me why I don’t hate this heel version of Jimmy Havoc, but rather adore him. It’s so simple, I’m surprised it required any ‘unpacking’ at all, really: you can’t shame someone for being different and then try to capitalize on the thing that sets them apart from you and not expect to be burned for it.

Any marginalized group of people can tell you this story. There’s so many variations on it, the fact that it took this long to figure out what a wrestling version of it would be is the only thing shocking about it. I deal with it within our wrestling community every day, and I’m sure many other writers who are women, people of color, or LGBTQ can tell you the same thing. Day after day we get passed over or considered less-than because we aren’t white males with a specific perspective on wrestling. We’re mocked, we’re trolled, and then when publications find out they need a more diverse writing team, we’re absolutely bombarded with requests for work. Unpaid of course, but it’ll be good for exposure. The same thing happens from the outside looking into the wrestling world, too. Reputable publications never want to be pitched for pieces even in the vicinity of the professional wrestling world, but the second something “newsworthy” happens involving someone with the last name of McMahon, my inbox is full of requests (again, unpaid) because they know my turnover is quick and I know what I’m talking about.

“Fix our problem, but know that we think your art form is still illegitimate.”

Pink chair shots all around, absolutely.

So it turns out that it’s not Jimmy Havoc’s dark eyeliner or his Doc Martens or his love of AFI that makes me his fan. It’s the story. It’s him taking back control not only of his career in PROGRESS, but who validates him as a performer – who gives what he does meaning. He becomes powerful simply by being undeniable and being true to himself. He reclaims his mean streak and, as a result, takes his rightful place at the top of PROGRESS. Sure, in the world of pro wrestling storytelling, Jimmy Havoc is a bad guy – a heel. He beat up one of the promoters, someone who wasn’t prepared (nor should have to be) to defend himself. He poured lighter fluid on a wrestler who’d just wrestled two matches and won his first championship. But he’s also probably one of the most honest characters you’ll see in the wrestling world’s modern age.

“I’m going to do what I want to do,” he says over Smallman’s beaten form, splayed out on the canvas.

I hope you do, Jimmy. I hope we all do.

The Lady J Says

PROGRESS: To Begin With

Last night, I was staring at my computer screen and the words just wouldn’t come. Nothing is more frustrating as a writer than when you have a topic you are passionate about, something you’ve talked a great length about before, but when it comes time to sit down and write about it, the words wouldn’t come. So this morning, I got up and made breakfast, and sat down to think about something else – anything else. What popped into my mind was the movie Almost Famous.

Sometimes I feel like that movie’s protagonist, William Miller. Not because I’m two years younger than my mother told me I was, or because I’ve traveled the country with my favorite band. I just keep finding myself in these wonderful, interesting situations that you don’t realize, until you step back and get a little perspective on them, make up a life. In my case they are not music related (or, I should say, they are not usually music-related) but more often than not have to do with wrestling.

For several months now, people have been telling me to give the UK promotion PROGRESS a shot. The thought of paying for one more wrestling streaming service kept me from listening to them. In November, I wrote a blog post about an incredible promo cut by Pete Dunne, Trent Seven, and Tyler Bate (who are currently the holders of PROGRESS’s Championship and Tag Team titles, respectively.) I enjoyed it so much, I promised myself that when I was in a financial position to do so, the next thing I would do was sit down and watch everything PROGRESS had to offer me. That time came this past Wednesday.

Since then, I have started the process of watching all of PROGRESS in order, starting (as one does) with Chapter 1. Naturally, when I began I had a great deal of questions. Was there a context I was missing? Not only was I concerned about things I might miss because these early shows are five years old and what happens between them might be lost on me (for example, Jimmy Havoc had a twitter campaign to get himself on PROGRESS’s second show that they called #BookHavoc) but I was also concerned about the cultural context of my not being from the UK. Surely there would be jokes made by the audience (and trust me, they LOVE jokes in the audience at PROGRESS) that just went entirely over my head. That’s where Twitter came in:

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Every possible question I had, though, was answered by someone on Twitter. I was even provided with a link to a thread on the Voices of Wrestling forum that provides a breakdown of each chapter and Youtube videos for anyone who might be looking for those aforementioned in-between moments & storylines.

As if having a helpful cacophony of PROGRESS fans answering my questions wasn’t enough, the second thing that happened was the response to my general thoughts on what I was seeing, from the matches to the commentary and everything in between. In wrestling, as with everything, there are often fans who feel they have ownership over their favorite promotions and wrestlers. These are the people who are quick to say things like “well, I’ve loved them since 2003, when they were still running out of a barn” or other such nonsense. That’s not PROGRESS fans, at least none of the ones I’ve encountered. Not only are they helpful, they seem genuinely excited to see a new person (just one! I’m only one person!) get into this promotion that they so adore. They get more excited as I experience moments of foreshadowing, and some of them are taking great joy in messaging me things like “I’m so glad you liked that, but JUST WAIT!” Conversely, they reassure me when there are missteps along the way, as the chapters I’m working through are still the first shows of a fledgling promotion.

In chapters 1 through 4, everyone is making it up as they go along. The promoters, the wrestlers, the audience – all of the players involved are working out what PROGRESS is, and what they want it to be. Having already experienced Chapter 41 (December, 2016) I know they eventually start booking women (noticeably absent from the early chapters) and they generally accept a more welcoming and inclusive attitude. Not that there is anything in the first four chapters that I think is so offensive I would turn it off, but there is definitely some language use that would turn people off. The benefit here is in hindsight, and I know it gets better, in large part because people keep telling me it does.

During Chapter 1, I decided to take notes. This is typical behavior for me when I’m going to podcast about something (i.e. Lucha Underground) and I think at some point my wonderful friend Courtney and I will be doing that. In looking over the eighteen pages of notes I have for the first four chapters, I notice one thing that is new for me: notes of moves and maneuvers. Not that I normally overlook such things, as naturally they are incredibly important, but there is something about PROGRESS that just makes the wrestling itself stand out. There are excellent storylines in PROGRESS, and everyone knows how much I love a good story. I expect as we move into the chapters from 2013, their storytelling abilities will only improve. But the individuals in the ring provide such clear opportunities to experience and appreciate quality wrestling. While I’m sure many people would argue over the exact definition of what British Strong Style wrestling is, I would say that a huge part of it is thoughtful wrestling. This is not to say it is, by any means, slow wrestling, or boring. But there is an intellect to what is done; you can see the thought process of each wrestler demonstrated in what their bodies do. This is an incredible feat, when you really think about it: the motion of your body is an expression of how you think as a human.

PROGRESS is fun, and it’s funny. A great deal of this is owed to the audience, and the wrestler’s relationship with them. If you are a wrestler who shows up at PROGRESS with no intention of interacting with the crowd, be warned: they will MAKE YOU. It appears that the wrestlers who “get over” with the crowd (as either a face or a heel, it doesn’t really matter) are the ones who shout back at them, or give in to their ridiculous chants – Jimmy Havoc spooning his opponents, Noam Dar throwing shortbread at the crowd, Will Ospreay starting his own Hufflepuff chant against Mark Andrews. The PROGRESS crowd loves their performers, even the bad guys, and it seems clear that the wrestlers love them back.

I don’t really know how we get from the storylines of Chapter 4: The Battle of El Ligero to Chapter 41: Unboxing Live. I imagine there will be great moments and missteps along the way, things will certainly morph and change, but I have never in my life been so excited to see all of it. If you’re interested in following along with me, or wish to start your own journey into PROGRESS’s history, check out their On Demand service. I hope to work through the whole thing in the next four months, as I have a trip to the UK planned for the end of May and would love to get to see a PROGRESS show live. In the meantime, you can follow along with me on Twitter, and hopefully there will be more blog posts and a few podcast episodes along the way. PROGRESS chapters are meaty and dense (there is a joke somewhere in there about their wrestlers) and so it will take some time for me to break down every thought I have. I imagine the more of it I’ve seen, the more clear the larger picture will become.

In the meantime, I leave you with the first thought I have on the promotion right now, a paraphrase of the final scene of Almost Famous.

“What do you love about PROGRESS?”

“To begin with? Everything.”

The Lady J Says