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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Be Happy, Be Happy

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.

The Lady J

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: Chapters 1 – 15 Top Matches

Courtney & I were talking on the podcast this week about our favorite matches so far. I feel like 15 is a point to pause and reflect on what we’ve seen so far. My original list of “top matches” was 27 matches long. The card with the MOST matches I loved was Chapter 11, for anyone curious. Here is my list, in no particular order. What are YOUR favorites?

Progress World Cup: Jimmy Havoc vs. Prince Devitt for the Progress Championship

This match was deliciously brutal. Tons of blood, but it was used in a way that was different from any of Jimmy’s other bloody matches. This was less about him being a hardcore wrestler and more about the gimmick Devitt was rocking this time around. It was an awesome sendoff to Devitt, too, who heads off to NXT the following month.

Chapter 5 – Nathan Cruz vs. Rampage Brown

This was really the first match during my Progress journey that absolutely floored me. I had been enjoying Cruz up to this point, but this match was so intense that afterwards I wanted to start it over and watch again. This was an amazing way to be introduced to Rampage Brown, as well.

Chapter 15: Pete Dunne vs. Flash Morgan Webster

Courtney and I talked at great length about this one on the podcast. It’s slightly easier to see the future Bruiserweight in Dunne here than in his first match, but him and Webster are such a great pairing. I hope they cross paths again in the future, as this match could’ve been an Iron Man and I’d have been thrilled.

Chapter 11: El Ligero vs. Noam Dar

Finally, the crowd loves Noam Dar. This is the third time we see these two face off, and it really is the best of their matches. In 2+ years, they both grew a bit and found their footing with the Progress audience, so this match connects in a way the first two fell short of. A thing of beauty.

Progress World Cup: Grado vs. Noam Dar in a Progress World Cup Tournament Round 1 match

Of all the comedy matches that Progress has done, this was my favorite. I liked that it was a tournament match so it had stakes. But it also had comedic psychology (??) in that they structured it around these WWE-mocking spots. Just beautiful.

Chapter 14: FSU vs. The London Riots for the Progress Tag Team Championship

Honestly, no other tag team match that Progress has done so far can touch this one. There was so much tension between the two teams – so much rage – that it was bound to be an explosion. I was glued to the screen the entire time, and it only enforced my love of both teams even more.

Chapter 7: Jimmy Havoc vs. Zack Sabre Jr. with Nigel McGuinness as a guest referee

Jimmy is endearing, funny, and a little nutty up to this point – this is really where you fall in love with him. You know from Chapter 1 that ZSJ is the real deal, so watching Jimmy really hang with him as the match goes on creates a deeper love for him as a fan. It makes what comes later even more painful.

Chapter 7: Will Ospreay vs. Mark Andrews in a Natural Progression Tournament Round 1 re-match

The first one of these was wonderful, but the rematch has such higher stakes that it’s hard for it NOT to top the original. Watching Andrews and Ospreay push themselves to their limits is overwhelming. Nothing beats Ospreay kicking out from a pinfall and screaming at Andrews “I AIN’T FUCKING LEAVING!”

Chapter 10 – Mark Andrews vs. Paul Robinson in the Natural Progression Tournament Final

Everything that comes after this match is like a baseball bat to the gut – just stunning and excruciating. But don’t let all that juicy storytelling overshadow that this is probably the very best match in a Progress ring up to this point. Andrews and Robinson move with ease together, and are even trying new things out for the Progress audience. With Dennis and Ospreay in the audience, the emotion is turned up even more.

Chapter 9 – Ricochet vs. Mark Haskins vs. Zack Sabre Jr.

This is the only time I’ve felt a strong connection to Haskins, and that’s mostly due to his willingness to bump for Ricochet and ZSJ. I love how different their styles are, too, and yet how well they all blend together in this match. Triple threats can be a clusterfuck if not properly planned and executed – this is how you do a triple threat match well.

– 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

British, Strong, & Stylized: Three Gentlemen of Progress

I’ve recently had an influx in new followers and new readers of the blog asking who I am and where I came from. The story of The Lady J is not a very interesting tale, but it does date back over two years to a few articles and videos I was doing for Cageside Seats. The one that seemed to garner the most response (and helped me to find my voice) was one on the Art of the Promo. That (VERY LONG) article came out of my own training in theatre and creative writing, which is the lens through which I have always viewed professional wrestling. I tend toward promotions that favor a cohesive narrative that intertwine all members of their roster, but also enjoy cards where the storytelling that is happening inside each match is equally compelling. My favorite thing, though, is an exquisitely delivered promo. We don’t see them as much anymore; it’s almost as if the true art of a great promo is being replaced by things that are heavily scripted or under-valued in their contribution to the show as a whole. While I love the acting work on Lucha Underground, arguably the promotion I follow most closely, the vignettes we see there are not quite the same thing as a good, old-fashioned wrestling promo. Need an example? Funny you should ask…

Yesterday, a YouTube clip from the Progress Wrestling promotion out of the UK popped up on my Twitter feed. I think I watched it three or four times. Check it out for yourself:

 This might end up going down as the best out-of-ring promo of 2016, and a lot of people are going to sleep on it because of its simplicity. Even if you are not a fan of these three gentlemen, even if you don’t follow Progress, even if you’re not a UK wrestling fan, there’s something here you need to be looking at.

First of all, make sure you take note of what ISN’T in this promo: there are no fans, there is no giant Progress banner behind them (though Dunne is holding the Progress title), nobody is in their wrestling gear, and no one is yelling. The reason there’s nothing flashy about this promo is simple: it doesn’t have to be. Progress itself as a promotion doesn’t require confetti and glitter to bring in new fans – it already has a massive following the world over. And these three fellows don’t need your attention either; they already have it. They have your attention, your titles, the keys to your car, the deed to your house, and you might not realize it yet, but your wallet is missing, too.

Regardless of what their in-ring personas are like (and we do get clips of Dunne and Trent Seven getting pretty mouthy with the Progress audience), in this promo there is a sense of both calm and confidence. The greatest thing a heel has ever done in a promo is speak softly and slowly. They say you catch more bees with honey – and that’s the key. Not to be sweet, but to lay a trap so easy to fall into it would never occur to us to give it a second look.

A trio of well-dressed British men are standing before a brick wall, coolly explaining that they are not in possession of the Progress titles for the honor of it. It’s about power – those titles are going to get them OUT of Progress, out of the UK to bigger, more lucrative contracts in other parts of the world. You don’t need to like it or even understand it, that’s just how it is. They even TOLD you they were going to do that, you just didn’t want to believe them. They’re smug and cocky and it’s absolutely BRILLIANT heel work.

I could surely write pages and pages of praise for Trent Seven’s ability on a mic. This man can talk, regardless of his affiliations, but his slimy, conniving heel brilliance is unequaled. Meanwhile, Pete Dunne is lousy with brash swagger and attitude, akin to an over-confident 1920’s mob boss on the brink of either domination or termination. The key to this entire interview, though, is in the last 20 seconds when we get exactly six words out of Tyler Bate, who has spent the entire promo looking over his shoulder. The most recent convert to the dark side has plenty of reason to be concerned who or what might be behind him (no spoilers here) and conveniently masks his discomfort with aggressive misdirection before walking off.

Think about all of the stories told here: Trent’s reasoning for abandoning Moustache Mountain for British Strong Style, Pete Dunne’s plans for the Progress title, and Tyler’s inner battle with his own heel behavior. None of it reaches out and slaps you in the face, though. Every second of this video is calculated and smooth, just like the characters steering it.

The icing on this little promo cake of deliciousness? This video is two minutes at fifty-two seconds long. I bet at 2:53, you were figuring out how to get your eyes on the Progress show in question – and probably all of their past and future products, too.

Well done, gents. Lady approved.

The Lady J Says