A long time ago in a galaxy far far away I fell out of love with live wrestling. See, I'd been to a few Preston City Wrestling shows in Preston and sandwiched them with a couple of TNA Impact tapings at the Manchester Arena. I'd pack myself into Evoque Nightclub in Preston and pray real prayers that Tommy Dreamer was still as good as he was in ECW... I'd hope that British independent wrestling was as good as I was hearing it was... and it was fine.
Fine, but not amazing - and the moment it all came crashing down for me was the second time I saw Impact live. We were on the floor, looking up at Ken Anderson vs Bully Ray in a casket match. You might remember it, but if you don't it's here:
I don't know what it was about this particular match but as Mr Anderson Mic Check'd Bully Ray into the casket, I felt an overwhelming sense of "this is a waste of my time/money". Granted, it could've been TNA - it wasn't in the best shape at the time and if we're being honest it was my own fault. I'd been there the year before when Hulk Hogan showed up to tell us all how TNA was the best thing to happen to wrestling since Max Moon, or something to that effect. I didn't have to go back, but I did - I felt it was the right thing to do, and I was terribly incorrect. Rather than a fun night out, I had my childhood obsession ripped away from me. The good times were gone.
Don't get me wrong, I still watched from afar. An absentee father hearing what his son was up to on the grapevine. I'd watch WWE every now and then and, as ever, religiously watch Wrestlemania - but my live wrestling show days were gone... until this Sunday.
What happened on Sunday? Well, our pals at Progress Wrestling put on their biggest ever show (outside of London) in the exciting surroundings of Victoria Warehouse in the centre (not the centre) of Manchester (/Trafford or wherever if you're a pedant). So I decided that my three-year exile from Live Wrestling was over and made the trip across.
It was a fucking nightmare to get there, thanks to a load of mad narcissists dragging their grotesque carcases around the streets of town for some 10k run or something, but once I got there I found something truly shocking awaiting me... a crowd of weirdos - and it was perfect.
I will, always and forever, refer to myself as a weirdo. There are many reasons for it naturally, but one of the big ones is my love of alternative stuff, be it music, comedy, films - if it's a bit odd or dark, chances are I'll be into it. I don't classify myself as "alternative" by any stretch but given the choice between Coldplay/a fruit cider and Avenged Sevenfold/a wee bourbon, I'll take a swing at the latter all day... and it looked like I might've been in similar company.
Wall to wall alternative folks makes sense for a company that styles itself as Punk Rock Pro Wrestling though, so it should have been too shocking. What was more shocking was the sheer scale of the production in the actual building. This wasn't a boom box, some bed sheets and a £30 projector like some indie shows err towards - this was a fucking stage show. This was more impressive than anything I'd seen TNA do in the Manchester Arena. It felt slick, but it still maintained the intimacy of the shows that I'd seen footage of from the Electric Ballroom in Camden.
"So what about the wrestling?" I hear you whisper quietly towards your phone. Well, I've got some good news and some bad news. Bad news first. If you're looking for a roster of ex WWE stars you've very much come to the wrong place. This is Independent wrestling. Granted, there are a few boys from the current WWE/NXT crop in British Strong Style, but for the most part, it's homegrown folks - if you count the Queen's own Commonwealth as homegrown, which you better do otherwise we're going to have a fucking problem here. The good news though? This is an elite level of Strong Style Pro Wrestling.
Shit hits hard in Progress. Very hard. Never in your life, unless you've seen New Japan, have you seen some of the stuff that's going on here. Chops, kicks, slaps and one particularly nasty shotgun dropkick - this is wrestling how its supposed to be. It's interesting, compelling and downright impressive. Coming into this show, I only knew a handful of the characters, and throughout I was introduced to folks that I absolutely will keep an eye out for in future. Jack Sexsmith, Walter and Ilja Dragunov all stood out as being very good at what they did (even though Ilja only arrived to set up a match with Pete Dunne). People I already knew were great too, with Zack Gibson being a particular highlight - a five-minute promo where he was booed for roughly four minutes and fifty seconds.
The best part of the night though came in the Atlas title match where Doug Williams overcame Rampage Brown (still one of the best in the country), Rob Lynch and WWE UK guy Joseph Connors. I have genuinely never been in a wrestling crowd that was so into the finish of a match. Doug was taken out by a piledriver early on, just long enough to forget about him, but every time he showed back up he was met with cries of "Doug Doug Doug". As soon as he won, and I have no idea what the finish was, the people were ecstatic - the roof almost peeled off the Warehouse as every person in the building was jumping up and down - cheering and screaming for one of the best Brits of all time. They were throwing babies in the air, to borrow a Jim Cornette phrase, and it was easily the best pop I've ever been a part of.
Granted, everything wasn't fantastic. There were a lot of shenanigans in the Main Event between Toni Storm and Jinny which I didn't enjoy personally, but the match itself was fine for what it was. Toni is a ferocious wrestler and Jinny was getting some great heel heat from the crowd, so it all worked out pretty great.
With that all being said then... what happens next? What's the point of this long, rambling blog? Well, I'll be going to Wrestlemania next year - just on the strength that Progress made me believe in wrestling again... and hopefully, I'll catch them there.