PROGRESS returned to the historic Alexandra Palace in London on May 4th for Night 1 of the fifth annual Super Strong Style 16 tournament, one of the biggest independent wrestling tournaments in the world. This show, the first of three consecutive nights, consisted of all eight first round matchups. This was the second year the tournament has been held at Ally Pally, with previous editions being held at PROGRESS’ regular home, the Electric Ballroom in Camden. Only four of the sixteen entrants had entered the tournament on prior occasions, those four men being David Starr, Travis Banks, Jordan Devlin and Chris Brookes. Brookes, having main evented Night 1 last year against Kassius Ohno, was up first.
Chris Brookes vs Ilja Dragunov
On paper, this match was one of the most exciting of the entire first round. Ilja Dragunov made his PROGRESS debut last year at Chapter 76: Hello Wembley against Pete Dunne, and since then has been making quite the name for himself in PROGRESS. No stranger to big tournaments, he won wXw’s 16 Carat Gold tournament in 2017, and was one of those predicted to go the furthest in this one. Brookes, on the other hand, while a decorated tag team wrestler in PROGRESS, is yet to receive a decent singles push, and lost that first round match last year to Kassius Ohno. Here, he was trying to go one better, and reach the quarter-finals at a bare minimum. While the match was a great hard-hitting brawl, Dragunov won a little abruptly with his Torpedo Moskau flying uppercut, cutting off Brookes who was trying to build some momentum of his own. With the recent retirement of his oft-injured longtime tag team partner Kid Lykos, Chris Brookes’ singles career proper in PROGRESS was off to a rocky start. Dragunov, meanwhile, moved on to Night 2 and the quarter finals.
Kyle Fletcher (w/ Mark Davis) vs Daga
This bout looked another exciting affair, with one half of the PROGRESS Tag Team Champions, Kyle Fletcher, taking on the debuting Daga, a Mexican wrestler who’s been making a name for himself all over the world, particularly as a member of PAC’s R.E.D. stable in the Japanese promotion Dragon Gate. He has adopted that Japanese style of puroresu rather well, and is not your typical high-flying luchador. His game is instead a more ground-based, striking and technical one. Fletcher, meanwhile, regained the PROGRESS Tag Team Championships at the last show, Chapter 87, as he and his Aussie Open tag team partner Mark Davis defeated Will Ospreay and Paul Robinson of the Swords of Essex in a crazy TLC match. Davis was in Fletcher’s corner for this first-round affair, and his support helped Kyle come out on top, as he won a good match with a solo version of their tag team finisher, the Fidget Spinner. This result was to be expected, with one of PROGRESS’ current champions defeating the debuting import. Daga impressed, however, and the match left me looking forward to whatever PROGRESS had in store for him on Chapter 88’s following two nights.
Travis Banks vs DJ Z
The newest recruit to the WWE Performance Center, DJ Z, took on former PROGRESS Wrestling World Champion Travis Banks here. Banks came in to the tournament looking to make history as the first man to ever win the Super Strong Style 16 tournament on two separate occasions, having emerged victorious in 2017 en route to defeating Pete Dunne for the World Championship. DJ Z, meanwhile, was making his first appearance in the tournament, having qualified at Chapter 85 in Bournemouth when he defeated Angelico. This match was much better than that encounter, with some fun character work taking place as Travis got suitably irate at Z’s obnoxious air horn. In the end, Banks won comfortably, although it took him both a Slice of Heaven and a Kiwi Crusher to advance to the next round of the tournament. Z will head back to the Performance Center licking his wounds.
Lucky Kid vs Jordan Devlin
This match, which closed out the first half, was one of the picks of Night 1. Many people’s favourite to take the entire tournament, Jordan Devlin, took on this year’s 16 Carat Gold winner, Lucky Kid. Lucky is one of the most unorthodox wrestlers on the scene today, as everything about the oddball character he plays is eccentric and quirky. Devlin, on the other hand, is rather more straight-laced, and gets over simply through his terrific wrestling ability. I thought it interesting that Lucky was tonight wearing his Schadenfreude gear, his Fight Club Pro stable with CCK and Aussie Open, as opposed to the RISE gear he normally wears, his stable in his home promotion of wXw. Schadenfreude have not yet made their way to PROGRESS as a group, but it is an exciting prospect to look forward to in the future, and this choice of ring gear perhaps hinted at things to come. As for the match itself, Devlin won an excellent contest and judging by his hand signals to the camera afterwards, is clearly thinking “three more to go”.
Trevor Lee vs Aerostar
These two were certainly two of the most exciting flyins PROGRESS have ever booked, and it is somewhat ironic that Trevor Lee made his PROGRESS debut AFTER he signed with WWE! Although he is now a WWE Superstar (as he took great liberty to let the crowd know in his pre-match promo), Lee is also one of the most well-travelled wrestlers on the US independent scene. In my opinion, his best work came in the Californian promotion Pro Wrestling Guerrilla, a company whose own big tournament, the Battle Of Los Angeles, Lee is a former finalist in. Formerly signed to TNA, Lee used that status for heel heat in PWG, and he used his WWE status here to the same effect, sporting an NXT track jacket and gloating about how the crowd were only there to see him. His opponent, Aerostar, is a masked Mexican luchador whose gimmick appears to be that of a real-life superhero, but Lee took exception to the fact that he is not a bigger star in lucha libre such as Pentagon Jr or Rey Fenix! Aerostar wasn’t going to tolerate trash talk like that, and sent Lee crashing to the mat. The match was one of my favourites of the night, amazing as it is to see Aerostar, whose gear wouldn’t look out of place in an Avengers movie, fly around the ring. Lee, in the end, won with the classic heel move, the low blow, and moved on to the quarter finals. Aerostar’s efforts did not go unrecognised by the Ally Pally crowd, and he received a cool “Please Come Back” chant.
David Starr vs Artemis Spencer
David Starr was, for my money, the most interesting prospect heading into this tournament. Days before the show, he had uploaded a promo to his Twitter account in which he discussed being the only beacon of hope left for independent British wrestling in the tournament, as PROGRESS have a working relationship with WWE (as evidenced by the Trevor Lee booking) and many of the British participants are also competitors on NXT UK. He also released merchandise to that effect for the show. Even without the existence of this narrative, I would have still found Starr an intriguing case. He is something of an old hand in PROGRESS, but never a guy who has been given a crowning moment. He was incredibly over with the Alexandra Palace crowd here, being showered with streamers after his lengthy ring introduction. This included a new nickname of “The Independent”, a name emblazoned on his aforementioned merch. Fans seemed to have completely bought into his new characterisation. Artemis Spencer, being a debuting fly-in from DEFY Wrestling in Seattle (where he holds the title), didn’t get much of a reaction in comparison, but once the match got going it was clear Spencer was easily capable of holding his own in a match with Starr. The Independent advanced though with a Han Stansen lariat followed by the Kaepernick powerbomb onto his knees. I was certainly intrigued to see how far he could go over the weekend.
Darby Allin vs Paul Robinson
This was the most exciting clash of personalities in the first round of the tournament, as the incredibly hated, terrier-like viciousness of Paul Robinson took on the devil-may-care former skateboarder with no regard for his own safety, American import Darby Allin. As Allin is signed to Cody Rhodes’ new promotion AEW, this was likely the last chance anyone would get to see a match between these two competitors. As it was, a lot of the action between the two men happened as a pre-match brawl around the ringside area, as Robinson attacked Allin before he could get in the ring. The fight went back and forth, with Allin at one point stalking Robinson up the ramp as the former PROGRESS tag champ tried to get away, seemingly regretting his decision to go for Allin before the bell. Allin, with half of his face painted as a skull, cut such a sinister, intimidating figure, despite his diminutive stature. At one point during the match itself, Allin bit through his own lip and rubbed the blood over his face, such was his desire to show Robinson that he does not fear pain. His signature moves include what he macabrely calls the Coffin Drop. He stands on the top turnbuckle and simply falls backwards onto his opponent, more often than not to the outside rather than in the ring where he can win the match, such is his desire to simply hurt his opponent. He is such an interesting character, and I cannot wait to see what Cody does with him in All Elite Wrestling. Robinson won this one, though, hard-fought as it was, with his usual finisher, the Curb Stomp. He was a big dark horse for me prior to the weekend, and I was pleased to see him advance to the quarter finals.
Kyle O’Reilly vs Chris Ridgeway
As earlier stated, PROGRESS have a working relationship with WWE, and it enables them to book full-time WWE talent for their big shows, such as two-time NXT Tag Team Champion and Undisputed Era member, Kyle O’Reilly. O’Reilly is one of the most accomplished technical wrestlers in the world, and this match against Chris Ridgeway was an incredible showcase of strikes and submissions, with both men constantly trying to one up the other, and capitalise on a mistake the other might make and prove it costly. Ridgeway himself is no slouch, as he most recently beat Spike Trivet at Chapter 86 to qualify for the tournament, and at Chapter 84 took WALTER to the limit in a match for the PROGRESS World Championship. But all eyes here were on Kyle O’Reilly making his PROGRESS debut. It was amazing and kind of surreal, as a fan of PROGRESS since its first few years of existence, to hear the theme song of the best stable on any WWE brand herald a Super Strong Style 16 competitor to the ring, to hear Jim Smallman announce O’Reilly as “representing the Undisputed Era”, and to see O’Reilly in Undisputed Era gear making Undisputed Era hand gestures. Such is the landscape in wrestling in 2019 that allows appearances like these to happen! This match was a worthy main event for Night 1 of the tournament, and it was O’Reilly who eventually took advantage of a Ridgeway mistake. Ridgeway left a leg trailing and Kyle pounced on it, locking in a heel hook for an instant submission. This was another expected result, as O’Reilly was sure to make it past the first round, and Ridgeway exits having received the rub of having main evented Night 1, and having gone toe-to-toe with this year’s big WWE name in the tournament.
Overall, this was a great opening night of this year’s Super Strong Style 16 tournament, with eight excellent first-round matches having taken place, and with some interesting narratives set up for Night 2.