PROGRESS Wrestling is the creation of three wrestling fans, actor Glen Joseph, comedian Jim Smallman and his former agent Jon Briley. In their first show they packed a couple of hundred into The Garage in Islington and just two years later they filled the Electric Ballroom in Camden with over 700 wrestling fanatics bringing the ruckus. Speaking to Jim Smallman, who is not only co-director but also the ring announcer and overall face of the company, the pride in Jim’s expression was ever present as he described the current prominence of British wrestlers.
The likes of Wade Barrett, Adrian Neville, Magnus and Paige have all won silverware across the pond and unlike the traditional trend of using international stars to attract fans, PROGRESS give the local talent the spotlight. "Why would you not use British wrestlers when they are super talented?” Jim said. “The fans love the British guys so it only makes sense to use them, a lot of them are only kids and they have a big future ahead of them.” This policy was put into practice on the night as headline match saw the revered Jimmy Havoc defeat Mark Andrews in a ladder match for the PROGRESS Championship, to which the fans chanted “This is Progress” to advocate their appreciation for the entertainment on display.
The flagship event is every two months with this night being Chapter 13 and you could say that there were more storyline shifts in one night then the WWE has in a WrestleMania season. Jim explained, “We work on what we’ve got planned for the show months in advance and it’s only now that fans are starting to realise how everything is coming together.” The vibe at the show was unlike any other wrestling event I’ve been to, there was not a child in sight and you could mistake the queue being for a punk rock concert.
PROGRESS promotes itself as “strong style wrestling” and Jim explained the efforts behind this approach. “A lot of the guys get excited working for us because of the atmosphere we create, the atmosphere is mad and the fans are up for I, they are fans of the company and it’s all about them.” He continued, “If we can have 700 people at our shows every two months and they can go away and say that’s the best show I’ve seen since the last one then we’ve done a good job.”
The middle match of the night saw Swords of Essex member Paul Robinson betray his partner Will Ospreay in a fatal four way tag team match to allow The London Riots to win, a move that we would later learn Jimmy Havoc masterminded. Jim proclaimed, “These are all smart fans who know the score about wrestling yet they are all buying into what we do, that side of it now as a promoter is what makes me go wow, they (the wrestlers) are able to make the crowd react like that.” This was highly evident when The London Riots' music hit and all 700 plus fans turned their back and held up explicit gestures during the whole of the tag team's entrance.
Amidst rumours of the fan favourite Prince Devitt signing for WWE this summer there had been an increased buzz surrounding his match against Zack Sabre Jr. “This is a special night for us to have him, I’m such a big fan” Jim said about Devitt, whose opponent was on a flight from Japan especially for the show. Devitt won the match following a series of technical holds and near falls that kept the fans on the edge of their seat. Jim concluded it is this mind-set that gives the company a unique feel. “A lot of people try and focus on putting something on YouTube, TV or DVDs but our focus is always on those 700 people in attendance. The fans have all been amazing without any prompting and the wrestlers have been so naturally talented, which helps. If we didn’t have such talented guys in Britain, then the promotion wouldn’t be doing as well as it is.”
Chapter 14 is on July 27 and PROGRESS will also be featured at the Sonisphere festival, alongside the music powerhouses of Metallica, Slayer and Iron Maiden. The promotion has grown at a remarkable rate since its inauguration and this summer is set to prove significant for the next stage of the company.