Who comes to mind when you think of PROGRESS’ punk rock wrestling? Jimmy Havoc, Marty Scurll, Tommy End and Will Ospreay immediately spring to the forefront, but what if I were to tell you that the monumental success of the small London promotion wasn’t just build off the backs of those global superstars?
PROGRESS has seen many different faces come and go throughout their eight-year history, some moving onto mainstream glory in America as part of WWE and AEW and others moving halfway across the world to redefine their careers in New Japan and Australia. In amongst these stars have been some unsung heroes that have yet to receive the same recognition as those aforementioned headliners. Performers such as Pastor William Eaver, Nathan Cruz and Paul Robinson have all seemingly fallen through the cracks of the independent scene and have yet to see their respective tenures amount to million-dollar contracts.
Having binged through the majority of PROGRESS’ early years, watching the future stars of NXT UK and co build their resumes with some of the hardest-hitting affairs on the British scene, there have been so many unsung heroes that helped perpetuate this renaissance period that allowed the likes of ‘The Bruiserweight’ Pete Dunne, Tyler Bate and WALTER to become some of the biggest marketable stars ever to set sail from the UK.
Of course, the work put in by every single professional wrestler around the time of PROGRESS’ rise to prominence went a long way in establishing our scene as one of the most exciting to be a part of. With the majority of those performers having experienced the lull of poorly-produced camp shows and shoddy wrestling exhibitions that mimicked WWF in their heyday, it’s fair to say that everyone had paid their dues with the one goal of making the UK indie scene what it is today.
The wealth of talent available at that time was astonishing, so there’s no surprise that the world started paying attention when promotions like PROGRESS started taking off. In this piece, we’re going to take a look at some of the stars that helped build the brand, some you may know, some perhaps not. Either way, we want to shed light on the incredible work put in by these guys and girls that truly went above and beyond for their country’s scene and the industry as a whole.
It’s a massive surprise to me that Nathan Cruz hasn’t been snapped up by a major wrestling promotion. Having had several WWE tryouts and occasional appearances for IMPACT and World of Sport Wrestling, Cruz is a star waiting to be made. ‘The Show Stealer’ first emerged in PROGRESS as part of their very first Chapter, capturing the inaugural PROGRESS Championship which happened to resemble that of a Third Reich power staff.
Cruz entered a long-term rivalry with then-‘Party’ Marty Scurll and eventually dropped the staff/title to El Ligero, a man he would later team with as part of The Origin. Cruz disappeared for a while before revealing himself to be the leader of an Anonymous inspired hacker group known as The Faceless, later evolving into the faction known as The Origin.
Cruz would lead a band of underappreciated talent that extended to the aforementioned Ligero, Dave Mastiff and Zack Gibson, claiming the PROGRESS Tag Team Championships (a pair of yin/yang shields) and becoming one of the most featured acts on the cards.
Cruz would eventually ‘walk away’ from the company after failing to be given the opportunities he believed he rightfully deserved, and he’s yet to compete for the promotion since. Whether you were a fan of Nathan Cruz or not, you can’t deny that he was a huge part of PROGRESS’ early days, not only as their first champion but also as one of the top heels on any card, turning up to 700 rabid fans against him in a matter of minutes.
Cruz was able to hold down the singles as well as tag divisions while establishing future stars like Zack Gibson and putting the spotlight on respected veterans like Ligero and Dave Mastiff.
A true solider through and through.
Pastor William Eaver
Pastor William Eaver had a pretty amazing break upon debuting for PROGRESS Wrestling. Fortunately for him, he looked the spitting image of the Son of our Lord and Savior. PROGRESS fans jumped on this like only they could and turned him into the third coming, literally a wrestling Jesus. It was pretty special to see the sort of gimmick that would usually be used for comedy matches start picking up some steam and leading to a great deal of success as part of the roster.
The Pastor quickly turned into one of the top babyfaces, performing in a variety of singles and tag matches against leading names like Noam Dar, Flash Morgan Webster and eventually, Marty Scurll. Eaver would go on to win the third Natural Progression Series, defeating former Faceless member Damon Moser in the finals and eventually challenging ‘The Villain’ for the PROGRESS Championship, which he would go on to win in front of the elated PROGRESS Ultras.
His PROGRESS run was a modern-day miracle to say the least. I’d personally say this was the very first fully home-grown talent, having trained in PROGRESS’ training school and developed into a nationwide attraction. It was a glorious sight seeing Eaver turn heads and pick up a huge following as part of his initial PROGRESS run.
To this day, Eaver continues to regularly perform for PROGRESS as part of the Do Not Resuscitate faction, somewhat drifting away from the Jesus gimmick and becoming more of an outspoken preacher. Eaver’s success has been halted by a few controversies along the way, but it’s hard to deny him of his status on the roster and that one day he’ll hopefully find himself featured on NXT UK to add that sweet cherry on top of his stellar career.
Similarly to Pastor William Eaver, Mark Haskins was another performer that just happened to get so incredibly over with the PROGRESS fans that there was no denying his place at the top of the roster. Haskins started as one of the most vile heels on the card, teaming with the likes of Nathan Cruz and Rampage Brown as part of Screw Indie Wrestling and seemingly winning over the fans overnight when he returned with the blonde highlights.
Haskins let his wrestling do the talking, putting together some gritty, MMA-inspired matches with pretty much every wrestler going. Haskins developed a reputation for being one of the most underrated performers on the scene after his matches with Marty Scurll and Will Ospreay developed a tendency for being show-stealers. Haskins would go through several different chapters throughout his PROGRESS career, turning heel and babyface many times over and facing a who’s who of the indie scene throughout his tenure.
Recently, Haskins has been picked up by Ring of Honor and has taken his services overseas once again. He’s developed somewhat of a cult following from his occasional bookings with PWG and his brief stint in TNA many moons ago. Now he’s truly making a name for himself, but I’m sure it’s safe to say that we’ll see ‘Overkill’ Mark Haskins return to the Electric Ballroom sometime in the future.
Haskins was PROGRESS and it’s about time he’s given the chance to hold the championship high for the first time upon his return.
The diminutive geezer from Essex has been a mainstay in PROGRESS Wrestling since the first few chapters. First appearing with a head of hair, believe it or not, Paul Robinson displayed a unique style of pro wrestling, blending high-flying antics with a legit brutality that would make his matches something special. His original run with Will Ospreay as the Swords of Essex started turning heads and made him one to watch.
I’d go as far as saying that without Paul Robinson, Jimmy Havoc’s definitive championship reign wouldn’t have been as successful as it was. After turning on his former partner, Robbo would side with Havoc and aide him with his most dastardly of deeds. The stable of Regression were a huge reason behind PROGRESS’ rise through the ranks of British wrestling, and fans from across the country came to turn their backs on Robbo and co as they made their entrance to the sound of Scroobius Pip.
Paul Robinson’s career was unfortunately put on hold due to some serious health issues, but he would eventually make his triumphant return to feud with his former mentor to put together some of the bloodiest battles known to British soil. Robinson and Havoc spilled blood across some of Britain’s most iconic venues, including Wembley Arena and Alexandra Palace, all while Robinson kept up his disgustingly detestable persona.
Robinson has since made history by becoming the first-ever and longest-reigning Proteus Champion, winning a Rumble match at Chapter 95, outlasting 29 other wrestlers from the number 1 spot. Without a doubt, Robinson will go down as a Mount Rushmore worthy star for PROGRESS Wrestling, whether that be as part of his OG days in Regression or his recent success’.
‘The Primark Princess’ herself was an integral part in making Women’s wrestling a well-respected art on the British independent scene. As the eras began to shift from the age of the Diva to the Women’s Evolution, the likes of Jinny, Toni Storm, Pollyanna and Dahlia Black were making waves in PROGRESS, a company well and truly on the pulse of the changing status-quo.
Out of those four names, Jinny went on to become one of the most decorated female stars in BritWres history, capturing the PROGRESS Women’s Championship twice throughout her career and taking the division to new heights with her headlining feuds against Storm, Millie McKenzie, Kay Lee Ray and, most recently, Meiko Satomura.
Jinny made it clear that a woman could be just as big of a star as the dudes and that was a huge credit to her in-ring presence and ability to work a crowd to perfection. Having been trained by PROGRESS head-trainee Jimmy Havoc, there’s no shock that she went on to be as successful as she was, imitating her mentor’s iconic run with the main championship a few years prior.
Jinny has of course gone on to be heavily featured on NXT UK but has yet to pick up much in the way of success. Luckily for her, PROGRESS has been waiting with open arms for her to return to once again put the Women’s division on the map, with a goal of ensuring that it will one day headline a Chapter in the next year. A huge statement for Jinny to live up to, but if anyone could do it, it’s her.
The London Riots (Rob Lynch & James Davis)
As far as PROGRESS’ tag team division goes, the most popular tandems throughout history would easily boil down to Moustache Mountain, The Anti-Fun Police and The London Riots. Rob Lynch and James Davis had a career that could be broken down into two very distinct parts, one where they ran the scene as the top heels in the country and the second where they were quite the polar opposite after turning on Jimmy Havoc and Paul Robinson.
The London Riots rallied for tag titles in PROGRESS and when the two shields did become a thing a year or so after their debut, the Riots made it their mission to eventually take them home. Lynch and Davis put together some incredible tag rivalries with the likes of Tommy End & Michael Dante of the Sumerian Death Squad and later, teams like War Machine, FSU and The Origin were all lining up to have a crack at the hoss lads.
If you want a masterclass in tag wrestling, then you need to be taking notes from Rob Lynch and James Davis — their matches were way ahead of their time during the early days. Whether wrestling as heels or babyfaces, their matches were an absolute riot.
Another easy name to be featured on the Mount Rushmore of PROGRESS, a man responsible for a lot of success across the BritWres scene is none other than Rampage Brown himself. As his headbanger of an entrance theme screamed, his mantra was to be heard across the world and that’s exactly what he achieved throughout his run in PROGRESS.
Having captured both the PROGRESS World Championship in his early days from El Ligero and later becoming the inaugural Atlas Champion, Rampage was the quintessential babyface for PROGRESS to feature on each of their cards. Name any BritWres star and chances are Brown put on a fantastic match against them, even at one time bringing the entire ring crashing down on itself in a match with WALTER.
Rampage was a huge part in establishing a new era for big men in wrestling, something that the likes of Keith Lee, Jeff Cobb and WALTER have been able to enjoy since. Rampage proved that you could not only be a dominant force in the ring, but also someone that could string together an entertaining match that was more than just a few rest holds and a comeback. Rampage stunned audiences and showed great versatility throughout his time.
He has since made a big return to the indie scene having yet to be snapped up with a tangible contract. Rampage’s work in PROGRESS isn’t quite finished yet, as he was set to compete in this year’s Super Strong Style 16 tournament, before being postponed. Here’s hoping that when things return to some form of normal that we’ll get to see Rampage get back in touch with his PROGRESS roots and embark on a new chapter of his in-ring career.
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