So I write this on a train home after an incredible year of the Graps. I don’t know if I’ve seen more independent wrestling than past years (certainly since retiring, I saw a lot). But is has been hectic. The time between Super Strong Style 16 and Strong Style Evolved seemed incredibly hectic, and the 3 shows in 2 countries in 4 days in December, were in particular crazy. But that’s because gorging oneself on the Graps has been a pleasurable experience. Some of the matches I’ve seen have been better than anything in the world, and Graps in Europe has been incredible. Whilst PROGRESS has had a great if slightly cooler year, there has been some great companies that have stepped up all over the UK and Europe. So, before I begin with my top 5, I’d share the fact that underneath the list I’ve put my “Honourable Mentions”. It’s long. Those are matches that are well worth watching.
#5. Rob Lynch vs. Doug Williams vs. Joseph Conners vs. Rampage Brown (PROGRESS Chapter 69: Be Here Now)
Yes. Rob Lynch is in my “Top 5 Matches of the Year”. Bear with me.
I tried to pick between these two matches as they both contain the one thing that I love in wrestling – storylines. Both of these were pivotal points in storylines.
Doug Williams is a British legend, slowly winding down his career. The year for Doug began with the fact he was on a bit of a losing streak – he wasn’t winning matches and questioning if he could still do it. This resulted in vignettes involving Glen Joseph – one of the PROGRESS owners – trying to get into Doug’s head, with a pep talk and entry into Super Strong Style 16 – PROGRESS’ round robin tournament. I genuinely had Doug Williams as a favourite.
He entered, and lost in the first round to Pete Dunne.
But, there was another moment at Super Strong Style 16: WALTER gave up his Atlas Championship. This meant the Atlas Championship was vacant until Chapter 69: Be Here Now. 4 contenders were found, but I felt Doug Williams’ championship opportunity was gone, and Rampage Brown was to be brought in to be a champion.
How wrong we were.
Doug ended up picking up the victory, and the crowd went wild. It was one of the loudest pops I’ve ever witnessed, and Victoria Warehouse was loud. Doug eventually said if he lost the championship, he would retire, which happened on the biggest stage of the year – Wembley Stadium.
This match is available on Demand PROGRESS.
#4. Jordan Devlin & David Starr vs. WALTER & Low Ki (OTT Wrestling – A Haven For Monsters)
Similarly to the number 5 entry, the storyline was the thing here, but it was the beginning element.
Jordan Devlin had been on a hugely hot streak in Ireland. Gaining the title of “The Import Killer”, OTT’s biggest babyface didn’t do one thing – lose. WALTER: Austria’s superstar who had been terrorising Europe with his chops, was finally in Ireland. A intergeneration Indie dream team of WALTER & Low-Ki was put together for a tag match with Jordan Devlin and his best friend: David Starr.
Only one thing was different, WALTER made Devlin pass out, and he lost.
This then saw the beginning of a great story with even better video packages, a story that we’re half way through – At the time of writing WALTER is OTT Champion, after running through Devlin as well as an indie dream team. Whoever topples WALTER in OTT is a made man.
I put this above #5, maybe in a bit of hindsight – it’s been a fascinating storyline. And Jordan Devlin has been my second favourite this year.
This match is available on OTT On Demand.
#3. WALTER vs. Tyler Bate – PROGRESS Wrestling Chapter 76: Hello Wembley
Speaking of WALTER, he is also champion in PROGRESS Wrestling. However the big Austrian’s character is a bit more of a babyface, a sympathetic badass if such a character exists.
Part of WALTER’s popularity has been beating Travis Banks for the PROGRESS Wrestling Champion, the largely unpopular champion dropped the belt to Der Ringeneral at a PROGRESS Chapter before Wembley, as he had an injury he needed surgery for.
Tyler Bate, also, found his way into the Wembley main event on a road-less-travelled, a strong favourite going into the final day of Super Strong Style 16, Bate had to withdraw due to an injury, with Zack Sabre Jr. winning the whole tournament. ZSJ had to – along with Will Ospreay – withdraw from Wembley due to New Japan commitments meaning that the biggest card in English wrestling history was hamstrung, and with Pete Dunne busy with the debuting Ilja Dragunov, the biggest match in European wrestling that could have a result, was Bate vs WALTER.
It took place in Wembley Arena and was an absolute belter, WALTER hitting and smashing the much smaller Bate around the arena, with Bate displaying his Big Strong Boi tendencies surprising the larger Austrian. After 25 minutes of a long card WALTER, with his pile driver like finisher, surprised the thousands in attendance and retained his PROGRESS Championship. How long he remains at the top remains to be seen, but if this is the spiritual zenith of PROGRESS, then by goodness, it was a great peak.
This match is available for free on Demand PROGRESS, as the show overran.
#2. CCK vs LAX – PROGRESS Wrestling Chapter 80: Gods & Monsters
Chris Brookes – the Tipton native that is so far fiercely independent – probably is the most creative force in British Wrestling right now. Whether it’s his string of merch, the Tuesday Night Graps which have his fingerprints all over it, or the fact that he’s single handedly made Lush a viable option for men, Chris is primarily a creative man but with the ability to put on matches. Many people around the world discussed the creativity of CCK vs LAX in PROGRESS’ United States tour, so we were in for a treat when Santana & Ortiz made the hop to the UK for the double header. This match also had a prize – #1 contendership for Aussie Open’s titles the next day.
What followed was 25-30 minutes of some of the most creative tag team action I’ve ever seen. I always like seeing things that as a jaded wrestling fan I’ve never seen before, and this match had it in spades. I really cannot tell you how it went, except Santana & Ortiz picked up the win, but I’d strongly recommend you to find it to watch.
This match is available on Demand PROGRESS.
#1. Zack Sabre Jr. vs. Kazuchika Okada – Rev Pro/NJPW: Strong Style Evolved
So if this had been a top 10 list the remaining 5 would probably have “Zack Sabre Jr. vs. ” as a start. Along with Devlin, nobody has had a body of work like Zack Sabre Jr. in 2018 in my opinion. Having 4 or 5 star matches all over the world, ZSJ was for a long time the top match on my list, his belter on Chapter 63: Take Me Underground with Tyler Bate. That match doesn’t even make the top 5 now.
By far my favourite offering of him I saw live though was him against The Rainmaker: Kazuchika Okada. This match in an ice rink in Altrincham was 25 minutes of intense technical wrestling that had me engrossed for that long. Whilst it lacked the storyline that some of the others on the list had, it didn’t need one. It was superb and well worth an hour of your time to hunt out and watch twice.
This match is available on RPW On Demand.
Those are my picks (along with a long list of honourable mentions below), what were your favourites of 2018? Please list them in the comments below!
PROGRESS Chapter 63 – Take Me Underground
Zack Sabre Jr vs. Tyler Bate
“Flash” Morgan Webster vs. Mark Andrews
WALTER vs Mark Davis
PROGRESS Chapter 64 – Thunderbastards are Go
Anti-Fun Police vs. Sexy Starr
PROGRESS Chapter 68 – Super Strong Style 16 (Day 1)
Zack Sabre Jr vs. Chuck Mambo
PROGRESS Chapter 68 – Super Strong Style 16 (Day 2)
Chuck Mambo vs. Jordan Devlin vs. TK Cooper
Angelico vs. Keith Lee
Zack Sabre Jr vs. David Starr
Tyler Bate vs. Kassius Ohno
PROGRESS Chapter 68 – Super Strong Style 16 (Day 3)
Zack Sabre Jr vs. Kassius Ohno
PROGRESS Chapter 69 – Be Here Now
Aussie Open vs. Mills & Mayhew
Zack Sabre Jr vs. Mark Andrews
WALTER vs. David Starr
Rob Lynch vs. Doug Williams vs. Joseph Conners vs. Rampage Brown
Toni Storm vs. Jinny
Britannia Wrestling Promotions – Prestatyn
Pyro vs. Joseph Conners
Over The Top Wrestling – A Haven For Monsters
Jordan Devlin & David Starr vs. WALTER & Low Ki
PROGRESS Chapter 71: F.E.E.L.I.N.G.C.A.L.L.E.D.P.R.O.G.R.E.S.S.
Spike Trivet vs. Jimmy Havoc
Dakota Kai vs. Jinny
Rev Pro/NJPW: Strong Style Evolved
David Starr vs. Tiger Mask vs. El Phantasmo vs. Taiji Ishimori
Anti-Fun Police vs. Chris Brookes & Timothy Thatcher
British Strong Style vs. The 198 & Avalanche
PROGRESS Chapter 76: Hello Wembley
The Pre Show Battle Royal
Tag Team Thunderbastard Match
Pete Dunne vs. Ilja Dragunov
WALTER vs. Tyler Bate
PROGRESS Chapter 78: 24 Hour PROGRESS People
Eddie Dennis vs. “Speedball” Mike Bailey
Chris Ridgeway vs. Jordan Devlin
Ilja Dragunov vs. David Starr
La Triple W: La Hora De La Verdad
Jason Júpiter vs. Jordan Devlin
Session Moth Martina vs. Ruky (Beer in the Bucket Match)
Aussie Open vs. Team White Wolf
PROGRESS Chapter 80: Gods & Monsters
Ilja Dragunov vs. Tyler Bate
CCK vs. LAX
PROGRESS Chapter 81: Pour Some PROGRESS on Me
British Strong Style vs. CCK & Timothy Thatcher
Aussie Open vs. LAX
Also published on Medium.