SUPER STRONG STYLE 16: ASSESSING THE FIELD
Once a year PROGRESS holds their now three-day tournament to crown a new number one contender for their world title belt. Last year’s winner Travis Banks has had quite the year, ascending to the top of the company, having a few belting matches, turning heel mid-reign et al. With this year’s event at Ally Pally soon upon us, let’s take a look at the entrants and rate their chances of success.
The Bruiserweight has spent the start of 2018 on the back-burner in PROGRESS, but seems primed for a good run in the run up to the Wembley show in September. A power house in terms of his ring work, character, and international appeal, Dunne seems an ideal candidate to headline the biggest independent wrestling show of the modern age. A rematch with Banks from last year’s big September show would have a nice symmetry to it also, with the champion/challenger and babyface/heel roles reversed in addition. Definitely stands an excellent chance of going the distance.
Somewhat of a familiar face though he may be, Keith Lee’s chances of victory in the tourney wouldn’t seem to be overly high. With wins over Flash Morgan Webster and Travis Banks to his name, the former WWN champion certainly has the pedigree and believability to be a credible winner in the eyes of the Ultras. Realistically, with a rumoured contract offer from WWE, and his diary on the indies booked solid the Limitless One won’t be challenging for, let alone winning, the company’s big one any time soon. An outside bet if there ever was one.
Zack Sabre Jr
Could Sabre follow up his win in New Japan’s J Cup with the win at Alexandra Palace? He’s certainly been on a tear since last year’s tournament where he lost to Travis Banks in the semi-finals. Impressive victories over the likes of Marty Scurll and Tyler Bate have enhanced his reputation as a killer submission artist, and a wrestler to never underestimate the potential of. His profile on the world stage has never been higher; a regular competitor since Chapter 1, Sabre has never held the PROGRESS world title, coming up just short against Banks in New Orleans recently. Only a fool would bet against him at this point, however.
The Ambassador has had a run the exact opposite of ZSJ’s, dominated as it is by losses on PROGRESS cards. Timothy Thatcher, Joe Coffey, Rampage Brown, Flash Morgan Webster and Rob Lynch have each taken a win over the elder statesman of British with Doug not winning a single bout for the company. A recent YouTube short documentary produced by PROGRESS on Williams hints that this may be leading to a resurgence in his fortunes. Williams would certainly be a good shout to feature in a strong position on the Wembley show, for services to the British mat game alone. Despite all that, Williams has to be considered the outsider of the field of 16.
The South African-born Angelico makes his debut for the company at Super Strong Style 16, and as such likely doesn’t stand much hope of going all the way on his first weekend in. An impressive resume, highlighted by runs in Lucha Underground, AAA and PWG makes him something of an unknown quantity to those who don’t follow the international scene closely (loops for WCPW and RevPro notwithstanding). He takes the spot occupied by Flamita in last year’s tourney: the exotic flippy one, who will likely be eliminated in round two.
The spectre of Eddie Dennis haunts Mandrews’ every move in PROGRESS, and will surely be no different here. Realistically, he has had numerous attempts at cracking the main event scene over the last year or so, and isn’t due another for a while. Therefore, look to Ally Pally to continue the feud between the former FSU; the feud that began there at Chapter 55 after Mark had tried to gift Dennis the pin in the 8-man scramble match (Team Mandrews all the way!)
Flash Morgan Webster
Morgan has had a bit of an odd time in PROGRESS since September, becoming known as the nearly man of the company. Currently taking his place in an odd quartet of Haskins, Havoc and Haskins, his prospects look good as he had Travis Banks beaten at Chapter 65 which went over very well with the live crowd. Always an excellent performer, his alliance with the former tag champs could be the missing piece of the puzzle that sees the Modfather make a lasting leap to the main event scene. Certainly not the favourite, but could make it to the final match on day 3.
No chance. Mambo is one of the smoothest, most likable performers on the Brit wres scene at the moment, but he doesn’t have a snowball’s chance in hell of winning this one. Last featured on a main chapter as a stand in for a stranded Pete Dunne in December, our Chuck doesn’t appear to be a credible headliner now – and it would take a large character adjustment to have him slot into the top card. He never misses a beat in any given match, and always looks crisp, but this has to be a definite ‘no’, doesn’t it?
The erstwhile member of CCK has had quite the singles run since tag partner Kid Lykos was injured in a match with the Grizzled Young Veterans. Contrary to his fortunes in Fight Club: Pro – where he lost the company’s top title to Meiko Satomura in March – Brookes seems to be on a steady line to the upper mid card. Headlining against Travis Banks, and winning a feud with Banks’ other best bud TK Cooper. The Tipton native certainly has all the tools to make it all the way to the final, and has the look of a credible headliner due to his height and unique look. Brookes may be the dark horse of the field, and is definitely worth a punt.
Effectively a guest star in PROGRESS, Devlin comes to his first PROGRESS shows in over a year with something to prove after his last showing didn’t set the crowd on fire. Mainly plying his trade in his native Ireland, most notably for OTT, Devlin carries some stock as a he was trained by Finn Balor and is contracted to WWEUK. But in terms of being a larger than life pro wrestler, there’s not a lot to grab hold of here. He’s had some crackers in the past against the likes of Trent Seven (in ICW) et al, but doesn’t really have that blockbuster name value that one would expect from this year’s winner.
Janela is something of an enigma as a talent brought in for the weekend. Popular with fans due to his crazy spots (such as singing karaoke with Great Sasuke at the close of a recent match), he fits into the little corner of PROGRESS that embraces wackiness. That sort of thing doesn’t really make its way to the top of the card in this company, however. For that reason alone, we’re looking at a first round exit for Joey (with a Wasteman Challenge appearance on day 2 or 3).
Reuniting as a heel version of the South Pacific Power Trip with champion Travis Banks won’t do Cooper’s chances any harm in the tournament. Similar to Chris Brookes, he has had a fair run at the top over the last few chapters in world title matches opposing Banks and Brookes. Seemingly losing Dahlia Black to the commentary table, TK would need somewhat of a reinvention to crack glass ceiling, and become a credible main eventer. Having said that, perhaps some heelish tactics alongside Banks will see him reach the final – similar to Tyler Bate’s journey last year, only to fall at the final hurdle.
The Product is certainly value for money in whatever promotion he appears in, and certainly can’t do any worse than his first round loss to Zack Sabre Jr last year (unless he draws ZSJ in the first round again this year). Working as a babyface in PROGRESS, the Cream in your Coffee may just be missing that killer edge that he exhibits elsewhere when wrestling as a heel. His recent turn in Defiant alongside The Prestige shows that he can do great stuff on the other side of the fence. In terms of sheer likability, the 104 Minute Man is up there with Chuck Mambo – but like Mambo, that last big leap up the card is hard to see happening. Should make it to the second round though.
Last year’s co-finalist has been on somewhat of a losing streak in recent times, but maybe that’s all about to change. What are the chances that we’re witnessing the good, old fashioned wrestling losing streak I order to set up a surprise victory? It may not be the most obvious route to go, but Bate certainly has the talent, the name value, and the international presence to be able to headline a place the size of Wembley Arena. Two interesting options would be to pit him against either Pete Dunne or Zack Sabre Jr in the final, avenging two big losses in the minds of fans. Still so young, making us mere mortals feel old, the sky is truly the limit for Bate in his career. Should go far in the set of 16 again.
A guest star from WWE? Very nice indeed. The former Chris Hero hasn’t exactly set the world alight since re-joining NXT, but he remains an excellent, excellent worker who may very well steal the weekend. His last high-profile match at Takeover Philadelphia resulted in a loss to the far more over Velveteen Dream, and a swift fall to barely being seen on TV thereafter. Clearly WWE don’t know what they have in Ohno, as he has shown on the indies over the course of his career that he can have a great match with just about anyone. Clearly, however, the on-loan star isn’t going to win the whole thing, but bearing in mind the politics of wrestling may go through a few people to be seen in a good light.
Grizzled Young Veterans
Can you say shenanigans? What’s going on here, with the tag champs deciding on the day of the first show who will take the spot in SSS16? Both men are great workers, but it’s Zack Gibson who brings the heat from the crowd by sheer virtue of having a scouse accent. It would seem logical that he’d be the man to enter based on that, added to the fact that WWE have allegedly signed him to one of their UK-style contracts which could very well give his profile a big bump. James Drake is an excellent worker in the ring, but his character just isn’t there yet, so he doesn’t seem like the man who will take the spot in the tournament. Gibson headlining Wembley would be music to the ears of those who love a true wrestling heel; buuuut, having said that, it would still be seen as an upset if he were to take the big W. Thumbs down.
So, who are the favourites based on that analysis? It seems that you your money would be quite safe if you were to bet one of the following three gentlemen: Pete Dunne, Tyler Bate or Zack Sabre Jr. When PROGRESS is in the midst of setting up their biggest show, by far, to date for Wembley on September 30th, it makes sense to have as big a name as possible in the main event. The three talented chaps above represent the biggest names the company has on the books, as well as being three of the most exciting wrestlers in terms of ring performance. If pushed to go with only one choice, it would have to be Pete Dunne. The man is setting the world alight on the indies and for WWE, and is certainly the biggest draw of the field.
We’ll know for certain when Super Strong Style 16 takes place – May 5th-7th at Alexandra Palace. Tickets: Available now through the official Alexandra Palace tickets website, here. Also available on the door, on the night, subject to availability.
Our thanks to PROGRESS Wrestling for the images used in the article.