As of writing the current reigning (defending) PROGRESS world champion is ‘The Kiwi Buzzsaw’ Travis Banks. He is a babyface, and very popular, and this is a problem.
Banks rose rapidly through the ranks last year following the departure of his South Pacific Power Trip stablemates TK Cooper and Dahlia Black. Up until going it alone, Banks had been somewhat of a low-card wrestler paying his dues, and doing lots of jobs. The fact that the SPPT’s last match as a team was against the team of Trent Seven and Tyler Bate set him up nicely for a run against the tag twosome and stablemate Pete Dunne.
Building steadily through April and then May with his victory at Super Strong Style 16, Banks’ ascent to the top of the card was sealed. Taking in the booming cheers and chants of ‘Trav is our champion’, he was booked to face Dunne for the world title at Chapter 55: Chase The Sun in Alexandra Palace. Banks took the belt in a good match, very slightly marred by a broken middle rope towards the end of the match.
But something just hasn’t quite clicked with Trav’s run so far. First embarking on a run to avenge losses in the run up to Ally Pally, Banks waged strong contests against the likes of Matt Riddle and Keith Lee. But subsequent defences against Mark Andrews, Eddie Dennis, Chris Brookes and TK Cooper haven’t set the world on fire. That’s not through lack of effort, it’s just that PROGRESS’ world title really works best when it’s around the waist of a nasty heel.
Witness Jimmy Havoc’s reign of terror alongside his Regression stable that helped to put the company on the map. ‘The King of the Goths’’ epic, and ultra-violent, feud with Will Ospreay really anchored the whole promotion with a story that would keep people coming back with Chapters ending on cliff-hangers. As Jim Smallman and co. desperately stacked the odds against the champion to wrest control of the belt back from him, everyone in the champion’s orbit benefited and Havoc’s star was never brighter.
Marty Scurll’s Villain character really came into its own during his reign (with a brief intermission) as champion. Snapping fingers and locking in chicken wings, Scurll smashed through the likes of perennial nearly-man Mark Andrews, Chris Hero and Tommy End, inspiring bile by cheating to win at any and every opportunity. Once again, everyone involved with the champion came out looking better, and the shows had a real impetus to them.
Most recently, Pete Dunne, through his association with WWE, helped to explode the popularity of the league with his love to hate him attitude and hard hitting offense. Feuding with the likes of former champions Mark Haskins, Jimmy Havoc and Mark Andrews, the chase for the title by the faces really gets the heart pumping. Stacking the odds against his opponents by using his British Strong Style stablemates (and sledgehammer), the PROGRESS Ultras would bay for blood when the Bruiserweight was in the ring.
Likewise, during Travis Banks’ run at Pete Dunne the excitement was at fever pitch, right up to and including his big win at Chapter 55. But then comes the title run, and the expectations that go with it. It’s absolutely not a mark against Banks himself or PROGRESS management, but, in terms of talking points and memorable moments, his reign hasn’t created much of a buzz. This is the way of the runs that followed Jimmy Havoc and Marty Scurll’s reigns too. Will Ospreay and Mark Haskins’ run with the big belt were good, without ever becoming great.
Maybe, with his run against team-mates TK Cooper and Chris Brookes looking to have ended, the solution might be to turn Banks heel. It’s a rare thing to turn someone in the middle of a title reign (last example, CM Punk?), and it could be hard to pull off given his popularity. It’s definitely something to consider as PROGRESS always works best with a champion from the dark side on top. There doesn’t appear to be any obvious candidates to assume that mantle with Eddie Dennis out with a serious biceps injury, Joseph Conners having just taken a pasting from Pete Dunne, and Dunne himself having only just turned face in October. No one except the champion himself is a logical candidate.
Jack Sexsmith, the classic underdog babyface, has now declared that he will challenge the PROGRESS champion at Chapter 69: Be Here Now on May 20th. That may be the perfect opportunity to turn Banks to the dark side, and give the belt a bit of oomph heading towards the biggest British show of the year at Wembley Arena this September. The right man is in the right place on the card at the right time. He just needs a slight attitude adjustment to make his run a classic.