“How could I sum up U.K. wrestling right now? It’s the absolute best in the world! No question!”
Progress Wrestling is the brainchild of three lifelong wrestling fans, stand-up comedian Jim Smallman, his former agent Jon Briley, and actor Glen Joseph and was the former stomping ground for WWE’s Finn Balor and nurtured the stars of tomorrow in Trent Seven, Tyler Bate and U.K champion Pete Dunne.
From packing a couple of hundred fans into the Garage in Islington for their first ever show in 2012, Progress Wrestling will present their biggest show ever at the SSE Arena at Wembley in 2018 in what will undoubtedly be the largest independent show in English wrestling for decades.
The announcement capped off an incredible past few years for home-grown performers with these shores now boasting a wealth of thriving talent and it all began in a flat in Edinburgh during the fringe in 2011.
“Myself and Jon Briley (were) watching independent wrestling DVDs. Jon turned to me and said, “we should do this in London”. So, we did.”
However, in 2011, the landscape for British wrestling was at an all-time low, having struggled to possess a flourishing independent scene since the heydays of the World of Sport on ITV.
“We didn’t really think about the scene as it was at the time, but we were told repeatedly that it wasn’t in the best shape and that it was impossible to run shows in London. We ignored all that stuff and just ploughed on, doing our first show in March 2012.”
The show put an emphasis on ignoring the trend to promote ticket sales by attracting international stars and instead by showcasing British athletes with Jim telling the Independent in 2014, “”Why would you not use British wrestlers when they are super talented?”
“I wanted to work in wrestling when I was a teenager, although I’ve never wanted to be a wrestler myself.” Jim said. “I always wanted to work behind the scenes.”
The pair spent seven months putting their first show together and after eleven consecutive sell-out shows at the Garage, the promotion moved to the 700-capacity Electric Ballroom in Camden where the sell-out shows continued and the wrestling boom had begun.
I think it was in 2014 when it went really crazy” Jim continued. “We all started hitting bigger venues and still selling shows out. At some point we’ll reach a glass ceiling but at the minute, it’s pretty good.”
“If you’d have told me after our first show that one day we’d be doing Wembley Arena, I would have laughed for a long time.”
It was only last year when the hard-work of all those involved in the foundations of Progress witnessed the growing global appeal of the brand when Progress hosted two qualifying matches for the WWE Cruiserweight Classic.
“I’m friends with William Regal through comedy and one day he called me up and asked if we would be willing to do a couple of qualifying matches, so we did. It worked out pretty well for everyone involved; it got exposure for our company, Jack Gallagher and Pete Dunne ended up with WWE contracts in some form and it helped raise the profiles of Zack Sabre Jr and Flash Morgan Webster.
“We retain a great relationship with WWE, so we’re always amenable to doing things with them that help wrestling in the UK as a whole.”
“I’d also hope to see us back in the USA at another point as well. It’s crazy how many fans we have out there, so we want to be able to give them shows when we can.”
Current WWE U.K. wrestling champion and former champ Pete Dunne and Tyler Bate stole the show at NXT’s Takeover: Chicago in April in a match of the year candidate but before that, both were attempting to make a name for themselves performing for Progress.
“I remember all of their first matches for us. Tyler was 17, I think, and I couldn’t believe how good he was for such a young kid. In Pete’s first match for us he did all of the moves and we then didn’t use him or a couple of years – his CWC qualifier – but when he came back he’d gone from being a good kid to being one of the best in the world. I can’t praise those lads enough, they’re really very good indeed.”
“If we can be one part of the overall picture that helps them get signed then I’m really happy. Everyone who works for us is a friend and I’m delighted when they get to live their dreams in the USA or Japan. Our job is then to find more new talent and use them correctly, so they can then all go off and get signed.”
The work for next year’s show at Wembley begins now and if Jim already has an idea of who he wants to headline: “Kazuchika Okada and AJ Styles; two of the biggest stars in Japan and the USA and big name draws, we’ve got a lot of tickets to sell for Wembley, so I’d have to do that there!”
(Note: We’re not doing that there!)
For more information on all of Progress’ upcoming shows, visit: www.progresswrestling.com