PROGRESS Wrestling, based in London, England is not only one of the best Independent Wrestling promotions in the UK, but possibly one of, if not the, best promotion in the world. To give you a sense of how popular PROGRESS is, they sold out they’re tickets to their 2 day event in may (chapter 19) in 30 minutes, 1200 tickets in 30 MINUTES! When you watch a PROGRESS show for the first time you can sense the difference that sets them apart from others almost automatically. The atmosphere (probably the best crowd you can in the world), Great camerawork, storylines that actually make sense and leave you wanting more rather than scratching your head wondering why it’s even going on, and Almost exclusively featuring home grown talent, in which in any normal case you would think wouldn’t be a great idea but they flourish with it. I got the chance to get a few questions in with one of the masterminds behind PROGRESS, Jim Smallman. We talk about his job, dream matches, and the future of PROGRESS amongst other things. PROGRESS Chapter 17 will be released for download this Sunday, you can purchase that and all the other Chapters at the Progress Shop.
I was performing a comedy show during August 2011 in Edinburgh for the whole month, and the show mentioned me being a wrestling fan a couple of times. My manager at the time was my friend Jon Briley, who is now one of the three owners of PROGRESS (with me and Glen Joseph), and we would watch RoH and PWG shows in the evenings when work was finished for the day. One night Jon said “we should promote wrestling. How hard could it be?”, and we went from there. At the time nobody really ran shows in central London so we decided to see if we could break that mould. We never thought PROGRESS would become as popular as it has; Our first venue held 350 fans and we decided we’d be happy if we sold maybe 150 tickets and didn’t go bankrupt putting the show on. As it turned out, that show sold out and we’ve sold out every show ever since.
Q: In Progress You’re the promoter, ring announcer and in special occasions even a ref, is it hard to handle all these things plus whatever you have going on in the background?
I’ve never officially been a referee, I’ve just stepped in to count the occasional pinfall from time to time when I’m forced into it! You need to be trained to be a good referee and I’m certainly not trained to do the job! I do a lot of official jobs within PROGRESS. In the public eye I’m the face of the company, the ring announcer and I handle all the press stuff (hence me answering these questions now!). Behind the scenes I share writing and booking duties with my colleagues, I work on merchandise with our awesome designer Rob Dobrowolsky and I built and maintain our website and online store. Plus I perform at on average 4 comedy gigs a week and work as a voiceover artist. Plus I have a wife and daughter! I’m a pretty busy buy, but PROGRESS is fun so it never feels like work. It’s easy enough to juggle everything that I have going on, and wrestling is a hobby that happens to now pay for itself. It’s all good.
Q: Who comes up with the booking of the storylines and what was the inspiration for the ongoing Jimmy Havoc saga?
The three of us work on storylines together, so you can’t really put any idea down to one person. Because I don’t live in London, and because Glen is often away on tour (he’s currently in New Zealand) we often have a lot of emails bouncing back and forth between the three of us. Then we’ll try to get together in person or on Skype and work things out for the next few months, so that’s pretty much how all of our ideas have fleshed out. With Jimmy… we had ideas for him, and his evil persona and megalomaniac persona developed organically from that.
(the Jimmy Havoc Story)
Q: For the new fans looking to get into Progress, which chapter would you say would be a good place to start?
I think all of our shows are brilliant – of course I would, I’m biased – but I think Chapter Nine (featuring me getting murdered by Mr Havoc) and Chapter Ten are great shows to watch back to back to really “get” our product. Of course, Chapter Thirteen is up in full on YouTube for free and features a lot of great matches, not least Zack Sabre Jr vs Prince Devitt (in full makeup as The Joker) which is one of the best matches that I’ve ever seen live. You can download most of our shows from our website if you want to check us out.
Q: Progress has two different shows, the main chapters and the ENDVR shows, can you explain the difference between the two for newer fans?So our main shows take place at the 700 capacity Electric Ballroom in Camden, London. They’re always numbered as “Chapters”, with our next one being Chapter 18 on March 22nd. ENDVR shows are held at our old venue, The Garage, with over 300 fans watching a mixture of established professionals from our main roster and beyond combined with the best graduates from our training school. the ProJo.
Q: Any plans on having progress titles defended in other promotions around the world in the future?
Not at present. I doubt we would be against it, and a lot of the talent that we use are starting to find their way to the USA and Japan so it might happen in the future. But at present, no.
Q: Was there a reason the Progress Championship wasn’t an actual title belt until recently? And Will the tag team champions be getting title belts soon also?
We wanted to be different, and I think by having a staff for the singles title and the shields for the tag titles we sent out a message that our product is different. Remember, we only have a belt now because Havoc destroyed the staff (although it is a handsome belt that he is in possession of). There’s no plan on having belts for the tag team champions, we love the shields.
Q: Do you pay close attention to the US indie scene? If so what are some of your favorite promotions to check out?
I do indeed, and likewise I’m a massive fan of Japanese wrestling. My favourite promotion stateside is PWG, but I’m also a big fan of RoH and Chikara. I’d love to go to a PWG show at some point, the fact that the atmosphere at our shows is often compared to theirs is really great praise.
Q: I’ve noticed you choose to run with homegrown talent rather than import talent on a regular basis which I find to be such a great thing. Can you explain why you do this?
First off, we wanted to try and do something positive to the British wrestling scene. One of the reasons that it’s so hot at the moment is that we’ve got tons of talent over here, and it seems a shame to not use it. We wanted to develop engaging storylines and feuds, and the best way to do that is to use talent that is easy to use regularly; if you’re relying on imports then you can’t always have cohesive storylines and ideas. Also, it’s for a business reason: We are run as a legit business, even though we’re all huge wrestling fans, and bringing imports in costs a lot of money when we’ve got super talented guys here already. Not that we won’t use imports from time to time, at least if they’re used sparingly it feels special.
Q: There is a lot of talent coming out of the Progress Dojo, can you see it becoming a go to wrestling school world wide down the line?
It would be nice if that happened, but at the minute we’re super pleased that some of the guys coming through our school (Ali Armstrong, Pastor William Eaver, Chuck Mambo, Sebastian and so on) are not just working regularly on our ENDVR and occasional main shows, but they’re also starting to get booked across the UK. We are the only full-time school in London, and I think the word is starting to spread that we’re a great place to train.
Q: Would you like to do a joint show with another promotion one day like how Ring of Honor and New Japan Pro Wrestling have been doing? If so what’s a dream match you would like to set up?
I’m kind of against joint promotions, mainly as one promotion ends up being the “loser” in the eyes of the fans. I’m far too egotistical and proud of PROGRESS to have us put in a position like that! If I could set up some dream matches between our talent and other promotions though… well, there are three matches that I’d certainly love to see off the top of my head.
Jimmy Havoc vs Okada (battle of the Rainmakers)
Will Ospreay vs Kenny Omega
Rampage Brown vs Tommaso Ciampa
Q: With all the matches you’ve seen in Progress do you have a personal favorite?
It varies from day to day. I can probably narrow it down to five: Prince Devitt vs Zack Sabre Jr; Regression vs Noam Dar, Will Ospreay, Mark Andrews and Eddie Dennis; Zack Gibson vs Flash Morgan Webster; Rampage Brown vs Samoa Joe and ZSJ vs Mark Haskins vs Ricochet.
Q: Will Progress be traveling throughout Europe in the future?
Not on the agenda at the moment. We’re lucky that a fair few fans fly in from Europe for our shows, with guys coming over from Germany, Austria, France, The Netherlands and a good contingent from Italy. We get asked all the time if we would put shows on around the UK too, but London is our home and we’re happy there. Plus other companies work really hard to establish themselves in their territories, we have no desire to step on any toes. We’ve found success in one of the hardest cities in the world to promote wrestling, and we’re very happy to build on that where we are rather than elsewhere.
(PROGRESS Chapter 13, Full Show)