It’s been one of those sneaky weeks where several excellent matches have cropped up out of nowhere.
ROH’s Best in the World pay per view saw a wonderful tag title bout between the Young Bucks and The Briscoes, while the second night of the NJPW/RevPro crossover saw Minoru Suzuki and Tomohiro Ishii deal horrific damage to one another (as we’d expect of two of the scariest men in wrestling).
Over on 205 Live, Mustafa Ali and Buddy Murphy added another classic to their feud – this time with a no DQ stipulation – producing perhaps either man’s best WWE bout since joining the promotion.
However, while all three matches were clearly excellent, I feel the best from a storytelling point of view could be found on PROGRESS’ on demand service. Even before the show had been made available, there were rumblings online of a bonafide show-stealer between Will Ospreay and Jordan Devlin.
Having now watched the bout, I can confirm that it’s well worth a watch – but it wasn’t just due to the wrestling itself. The background of the match, and the respective spaces both competitors occupy in the current wrestling landscape, led to a unique crowd dynamic. The atmosphere in the Electric Ballroom transcended traditional face/heel dynamics, and in lesser hands, could have harmed the quality of the match.
Instead, Devlin and Ospreay used this to their advantage, turning an excellent display of modern UK wrestling into something even better.
Will Ospreay vs. Jordan Devlin
PROGRESS Chapter 72: Got Got Need
Electric Ballroom, London, UK
Background: This match had little build in terms of a direct feud between the two men, but still contained many points of intrigue. Ospreay is embroiled in multiple feuds across the globe, tussling with the best of New Japan’s junior heavyweight division, waging mental war with ‘James’ Havoc in PROGRESS, and getting set for a San Francisco battle between members of CHAOS and LIJ.
Devlin has defended his OTT Championship against all-comers in homeland Ireland, and also entered the WWE UK Championship Tournament for the second year running. Sadly for fans of the Import Killer, he again failed to go on a particularly deep run in the competition.
However, Devlin’s increased presence as of late seems to have turned the tide. Despite being a natural heel, he was the subject of an outpouring of affection from the PROGRESS faithful before, during, and after this showdown with the Aerial Assassin.
Ospreay’s elevation into the ranks of wrestling’s global elite has had the opposite effect. His initial PROGRESS run was of immense importance to worker and promotion, helping put both on the map. Now his success (and outspoken awareness of that success) seems to have agitated particular UK crowds – resulting in the prickly reception he received at Chapter 72.
The Match: Ospreay instantly recognises that the Electric Ballroom’s loyalties lie with Devlin, and ramps up the heelish antics from the beginning. However, all the early momentum lies with the Irishman, who gains the upper hand with a huge Uranage and a pair of diving knees to the face.
Ospreay fights back with his over-the-top-rope version of the 619, before lounging on the ropes – lapping up the crowd’s disdain like Shawn Michaels in his detestable ’90s pomp. While watching this for the first time, I found myself using the break in action to wonder what had warped the Ospreay character. Success? Criticism? Maybe just being a member of the ruthless CHAOS faction?
Will grinds Devlin down with the one thing guaranteed to get heat from a 21st-century wrestling crowd: a series of restholds. Jordan counters him with a Wheelbarrow into a double stomp, before nailing a Brainbuster. It’s a reversal of their usual roles, high-flying Ospreay attempting to slow the action, while Devlin plays the exciting sparkplug.
The former PROGRESS Champion levers Devlin to the outside with his legs, before dipping into his more familiar arsenal with a big Sasuke Special. Some of the front row scatter, allowing Ospreay to pose on a vacant chair. He then struts across the laps of a few fans like Ric Flair, hilarious and hate-able in equal measure.
Devlin beats the count back inside, but is met with one of his own signature moves – a Reverse Bloody Sunday. He kicks out at two, garnering a big pop from the crowd despite it not really being a convincing near fall. It’s a real testament to his babyface appeal.
A furious exchange of moves and counters follows, standard stuff in any top-tier UK indy, but very well executed nonetheless. What follows, however, is far from ordinary. Devlin attempts a Spanish Fly from the top, only for Ospreay to somehow land on his feet and keep ahold of his opponent. Both facial expressions tell it all: Ospreay defiant, Devlin disbelieving.
Momentum is now firmly in Will’s favour, but Devlin kicks out of everything. It’s worth noting that both men go for a lot of pinfall attempts throughout the match, really selling their desperation to win by hook or by crook. It’s not a blood feud, but the clash of two incredibly competitive individuals.
A strike exchange follows, which Ospreay seems to have won with a Hook Kick, only for Jordan to roll himself into a monumental Canadian Destroyer. He looks to end it with the Package Piledriver, but Will reverses into the poetically-named Teabag Driver. Importantly, it’s a Jimmy Havoc move. Ospreay then hits Okada’s Rainmaker (or is it Havoc’s Acid Rainmaker?), but Devlin again refuses to stay down.
Will goes for the Stormbreaker, but Jordan reverses into a move I’ve referred to in my notes as ‘some mental mid-air flipping Hurricanrana’. It’s truly something, but Ospreay survives. He goes for a desperation Lariat, but Devlin rolls with it Nakamura-style, jackknifing his whole body around Will’s arm. The Import Killer again looks for the Package Piledriver, but Ospreay squirms free and tries the Lariat once more. Again Jordan avoids in, drilling his opponent with a sickening Reverse ‘Rana. It’s all getting a little bit New Japan; Will even maintains wrist control before the second lariat, aping the tendencies of his CHAOS mentor.
After that furious closing sequence, one worthy of ending any match, Devlin hits the ropes – only to be caught in mid-air, re-positioned with ease by a deceptively strong Ospreay, and nailed with a climactic Stormbreaker.
Aftermath: In the immediate aftermath of the pinfall, Ospreay acts like a heel, almost taunting the crowd for supporting his opponent. However, he seems to remember himself, dusting down Devlin and directing applause towards him. Not that the Irishman looks too pleased about it; for all his babyface behaviour as of late, he’s still very much Jordan Devlin.
Devlin gets out of the ring – and Ospreay immediately lays out a PROGRESS trainee with the Rainmaker. He shoos Jordan away, and the Import Killer simply walks off with a sneer – a nice character wrinkle. Yes, he may have been the good guy in this match, but that doesn’t mean he’s going to go out of his way to save a member of the ring crew.
Ospreay plants his new prey’s head on the bottom rope and delivers a merciless Curb Stomp, a pretty blatant callback to his feud with Havoc. The only difference being that he was the victim back then, brutally assaulted by the man he no longer respects.
Paul Robinson darts from the back in business attire – a nice touch that makes everything seem a little more real – and shoos Will to the back like a furious dad. Importantly, Robinson was a tag partner of both Ospreay and Havoc at various stages of his career, and could well factor in the next chapter of the feud.
Ultimately, though, while I admire it as a booking decision, it’s important not to let these developments overshadow a truly excellent bout. It’s one that was always going to deliver, given the talent of both men, but did so in strange circumstances.