Exclusive Interview: PROGRESS WRESTLING – “We’ve been able to sell out shows because of our fans’ amazing loyalty and the phenomenal talent we employ”
By Sumit Rehal
PROGRESS Wrestling has been the hub of wrestling for Londoners since the first show at The Garage in Islington in 2012. This year, the promotion moved to Camden due to demand for more tickets as a result of their spectacular shows
Following Chapter 16 of PROGRESS’ story, we spoke to the co-founder, Jim Smallman, who can be found in the middle of the squared circle as the ring announcer and all round host of each Chapter. The show saw RJ Singh’s final appearance in the ring following his defeat in a career vs career match against Stixx and also saw the despised Jimmy Havoc retain the PROGRESS Championship in a triple threat match against Rampage Brown and Dave Mastiff. We asked Jim his thoughts on an ever growing audience, a PROGRESS Network and what to expect from British wrestling in 2015.
Highlight Nation: It’s been around six months since I last interviewed you, since then you have sold out in the Electric Ballroom, with fans sitting on waiting lists. Did you expect to reach capacity so soon after moving to a bigger venue?
Jim Smallman: We actually increased our capacity by about 50 after our first show at the Ballroom as we realised we could get more people in. We’re now at 700. When we first moved we hoped that we would sell the venue out – and we did – but it required a lot of work to get the fans excited about the move to the Ballroom from the Garage. Sometimes we have to take a step back and think about it, as 700 people for a UK independent show with no imported talent on it is pretty impressive! However, we don’t always presume that we’re going to sell out and rest on our laurels. Sure, we’ve sold out our show in January in 24 hours and have a large waiting list for any returns, but we never presume that every show will be like that. So we’ll keep working on putting on the best shows possible and hope we can keep hitting those numbers every time.
HN: I arrived from Preston City Wrestling just before Chapter 16. Both shows were sold out with an unbelievable atmosphere but there is still a massive difference of culture between the two. How have you been able to build such a distinct cult following.
JS: PCW is a great company and their shows look awesome – I’m always annoyed I can never go to one as I’m always performing on Friday and Saturday evenings when they tend to have their shows. I think our following is pretty cool; we’ve tried to appeal to both die-hard wrestling fans and people from London who perhaps haven’t watched wrestling for years. That’s created the mix of people you get at our shows and made the atmosphere what it is today – it’s definitely a wrestling crowd, but with the feel of a punk gig or a football match. I think then because we focus on British talent and a consistent roster between shows that our fans have taken to supporting our company as much as they support any individual wrestler. As someone who went to the ECW Arena years ago, to have the fans be so behind our product as a whole is a really special thing, and it’s certainly down in part to the cool mix of people that we have at the shows.
HN: You said in the last interview that you don’t really mind too much if PROGRESS makes it to TV as it’s those sitting in attendance that counts. There have been mentions of a PROGRESS network on Facebook recently. Is this something you can see coming into fruition?
JS: Myself and Glen discussed the TV thing on our PROGCast the other week; we’ve got no real desire to go on TV until there is a way to represent how good the live shows are. You can’t capture that atmosphere on television, and a big part of our success is down to the fans making their own community at each show. The TV thing won’t change unless all of a sudden there is a way to capture the feeling of the live shows. As for a “network”, it’s not our top priority – the live shows always are – but it is something we’ve thought about. Maybe in the future something could come out of that, but for now it’s still always our focus to look at the live shows first and foremost.
HN: What a send off RJ Singh received, he retired after 13 years of wrestling, how does it feel to have such a veteran have his last match in wrestling at your own show?
JS: It’s an amazing honour for us to be the hosts of RJ’s final ever match. He’s been on most of our shows – although as he said in the ring, he nearly didn’t work for us when we were very new! – and he’s been a great guy to have around, not just because if his talent and experience in the ring, but also because he’s been such a positive influence backstage and on all of our trainees. The level of emotion for his final match against Stixx was to be expected but still amazing to witness, and he’s the first person to make me cry in a long time! Seeing all 700 people in the Ballroom give him a standing ovation is a fitting send-off to a man who has been at the forefront of British wrestling for the last 13 years. I’m so happy we could be involved in it, as we’re all big fans of RJ.
HN: It’s been such a great year for the fans, how would you sum up this term and what can we expect from PROGRESS in 2015?
JS: I think 2014 has been a wonderful year for us, but also for British wrestling as a whole. So many promotions have put on great shows this year, and it’s been great for us to move from our original venue to one twice the size, then consistently selling it out. The reason we’ve been able to sell out so often is down to our fans’ amazing loyalty and enthusiasm, and to the phenomenal talent that we’re lucky enough to employ. If we could make 2015 just as successful then we’ll be very lucky indeed, and we’ll certainly be aiming to improve on everything that we already do. We might be doing pretty well, but that’s no reason to presume that we can’t work even harder. So we will, and hopefully this time next year I’ll be talking about another good year!
Tickets for Chapter 17 have already sold out, setting up a strong 2015 for the North London outfit. Fans can sign up to the waiting list to receive updates on any future tickets that become available by clicking here.
Click here for the previous interview with Jim and the Highlight Nation editor for The Independent earlier this year.
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