After three and a half years of sold out shows in London, PROGRESS promoted their first card outside the capital on Sunday, making the two-hundred mile journey to England’s third city, Manchester, for Hit The North. Headlined by a successful title defence by PROGRESS champion Will Ospreay (over Origin scoundrel Zack Gibson and 2015 Natural Progression Series winner Flash Morgan Webster), the show at the 650-capacity Ritz also featured a match of the year candidate between Zack Sabre Jr and Tomasso Ciampa, who has become a regular visitor to the UK this year. The show sold out, and the promotion has already announced a further half-dozen shows for 2016 at the same venue. England’s north west is one of the most hotly-concentrated areas of the country for wrestling action but PROGRESS just proved there’s always room for more if there’s a great show in the offing.
2) There’s always something different going on.
Also in the north west, a little further north and west in Hindley, on the outskirts of Wigan, is Grand Pro-Wrestling. Starting out in 2003, as Garage Pro-Wrestling, at the grandly-titled Monaco Ballroom in Wigan, the promotion evolved into Grand-Pro by 2010 and has presented its own brand of weirdness ever since, with their latest show – Double Jeopardy – taking place last Friday. Amongst the storylines spinning out of Hindley this year have been the purchase of the promotion by a wealthy Arab Sheikh, and a unique spin on a loser-leaves-town match between Martin Kirby and Ashton Smith, where Kirby had to sell his house if he lost, and Smith would be banned from his local supermarket if Kirby won (Smith got the win and a homeless Kirby was found living under the ring at the next show).
Last week’s show – one of their regular outings at the Rose Club – was headlined by a four-man, double-championship match, with Bubblegum winning the GPW British title from T-Bone in the first fall, and T-Bone returning the favour in the second to win the GPW Heavyweight title. Also on the show, the wealthy Arab Sheikh teamed with Martin Kirby against the Midnight Bin Collection, a tag-team of a garbage man and a party animal, and suspiciously-Caucasian Pacific Islander Tabu was reunited with his estranged brother, and former tag-team partner, Rio. The UK is dotted with promotions that occupy their own little worlds, and is all the stranger (and better) for it.
3) Girls wanted to have fun, and did.
Women’s wrestling can often be little more than an add-on, a titillating sideshow whose competitors are seldom booked for their athletic ability. Thankfully, though, the UK has a strong women’s wrestling scene, with the distaff sections of PROGRESS and Lucha Britannia – to name just two of the promotions who take it very seriously – putting on matches the equal of anything presented by their penis-endowed colleagues. In addition to the matches on male-dominated cards, the UK also has two female-only promotions – Empress Pro-Wrestling and Bellatrix, and the latter ran their latest show last weekend.
An offshoot of WAW, which has been run by WWE-star Paige’s dad, Ricky Knight, since the late 1990s, Bellatrix is obviously centered around Paige’s mum, Saraya, but has built a roster of British girls and European and American imports, with a talent exchange arrangement with both Shimmer and Shine. On their latest show, Bellatrix 16, champion Sammi Baynz was unable to defend her title through injury and Saraya installed Lady Lory in her place, making the main event against Destiny (a thirteen-year veteran trained by Saraya, as was Baynz) a non-title match. Earlier in the show, Saraya lost to Liberty, and Queen Maya retained her RQW European title over Erin Angel.
4) A good hand hung up his boots….somewhat.
Greg Burridge – also known as Darren Burridge and Baxter Burridge – had his last match on Saturday. Kind of. At Future Pro-Wrestling’s Jingle Bell Brawl, in Sutton, south London, Burridge faced Rob Cage in his farewell match, and won. Two hours later, however, at Lucha Britannia’s Season’s Greetings, Season’s Beatings (part 1), Metallico (who very much resembles Burridge) took on Steakley Bakewell (who has never been seen in the same room as Rob Cage), as part of a lucha three-way with Marduk Malik, and thus proved that Terry Funk doesn’t have the monopoly on odd retirements. The RetroFutureVerse aside, though, Burridge is very much retired, and can look back on a career blemished by injuries and poor timing.
With good genetics, height, and great natural ability, if he’d stayed fit – and started five years earlier, or five years later – he’d have had the opportunities that the likes of Sheamus O’Shaugnessy, Drew Galloway, and Stu Sanders got but sometimes things don’t go your way. As it is, Burridge was a big part of 1PW, and has appeared for just about every UK company worth noting in the last decade and a half. With an acting career, which also included stunts for the Harry Potter movies, taking off, and still being very much involved in the London School of Lucha Libre and the Lucha Britannia promotion, he’ll not be short of things to occupy his time.
5) There’s still so much going on!
If Burridge and Cage did make it through to the weird alternate universe occupied by Lucha Britannia, they might have been dragged there by Lucha Britannia champion Fug, who definitely did do double-duty on Saturday night, defending his title against Lagarto de Plata at the Resistance Gallery just hours after competing as part of Team Windsor for Future-Pro in Sutton. Also on that show were PROGRESS regulars Paul Robinson and Pastor William Eaver. North of the border, ICW held a TV taping for their OnDemand channel and British Championship Wrestling pulled a double shot, in Kilmarnock and East Kilbride, and brought in Carlito & MVP, but the real attractions were Will Ospreay and Marty Scurll, making rare visits to Scotland. Scurll put over local guys both nights, while Ospreay beat BT Gunn but lost in a mouth-watering three-way against Noam Dar and BCW Openweight champion Kenny Williams.
Chikara-Pro affiliate, Fight Club: Pro staged their Infinity 2015 tournament, which featured Zack Sabre Jr alongside the regulars. Pete Dunne, who competed in this year’s King of Trios tournament, emerged victorious from a field which also included Tyler Bate and Trent Seven. Dave Mastiff successfully defended his FCP title against MK McKinnan on the same show. As well served as the north west, Scotland, and London are for professional wrestling, so too is Bristol, the UK’s tenth largest city. At least four promotions regularly run shows there, and one of those, Chaos Pro-Wrestling, drew almost 500 to Yate Leisure Centre for Rhynos, Boars, Birds & Beards. Alongside Rhyno, Wild Boar, Mike Bird, and the bearded Big Grizzly were Mark Andrews, Flash Morgan Webster, Mikey Whiplash, and Martin Kirby pretending to be a woman. Well, it is pantomime season.
The long-awaited NXT tour rolls into the UK next week, and most of the bigger promotions are (understandably) laying quiet, but there’s still lots going on. Join me next week for all the happenings!