When you think of classic wrestling personalities such as Hulk Hogan, The Rock and ‘Stone Cold’ Steve Austin, a certain image comes to mind. They are macho men, performing in what has been traditionally a sport by straight men for straight men.
But that’s changing.
Progress Wresting is a British wrestling promotion which has become a worldwide phenomenon in its six years of existence. Fans flock from around the globe to its regular shows in London and Manchester.
Its motto, Everyone’s Welcome, is designed to encourage people to come and feel comfortable at wrestling shows which have been traditionally very straight white and male.
Rainbow flags are flown by the audience in scenes more reminiscent of Manchester Pride than a professional wrestling show.
Its fans, who refer to themselves as Progress Ultras, are not just fans of the company’s outstanding wrestling output, but are committed to the principles of anti-sexism, anti-racism and LGBT equality that the company promotes.
The wrestler most representative of the company’s ethos is its biggest homegrown star – current number one contender Jack Sexsmith, who is openly pansexual.
Sexsmith is always a threat in the ring, despite his relatively small stature.
As he enters the ring, fans of all genders and sexualities embrace him, with many asking for – and receiving – a kiss from the Pansexual Phenomenon himself.
His proud sexuality continues to be on display after the bell has rung, with impressive moves such as the LGB-DDT and the ever popular Crippler Cockface (involving the use of a condom named Mr Cocko).
Sexsmith faces his biggest challenge yet when he takes a shot at the Progress Wrestling World Championship in Manchester in May. He is due to face Travis Banks ‘The Kiwi Buzzsaw’, a hard-hitting New Zealander who has been on a tear over the last year.
The reasons for Progress’ success are many. Its focus on British talent rather than US imports has allowed the company to grow organically, relying on engrossing storylines and high quality in-ring action rather than just big names.
This focus on producing its own stars has paid dividends, as Progress alumni make waves around the globe. Manchester’s own Jack Gallagher and NXT’s Aleister Black are just two of the wrestlers currently making a name for themselves as full-time WWE employees.
The current UK champion Pete Dunne, as well as the inaugural champion Tyler Bate, are both Progress regulars and have put on some of their best work under the Progress banner.
The incredible match between the two at last year’s NXT Takeover Chicago was voted NXT match of the year by WWE fans worldwide.
Every show has sold out since it first came to Manchester in 2015. But as the company continues to grow, it is running larger venues – hence the move from the O2 Ritz to the Victoria Warehouse.
And in September, Progress will become the first ever independent wrestling company to run a show at the huge Wembley Arena.
But the road to Wembley goes through the Victoria Warehouse. And for Jack Sexsmith, this is an opportunity to head into England’s biggest ever independent show as the World Champion.
Can the ultimate underdog Sexsmith overcome the last remaining obstacle on his path to glory? Be there to find out. Everyone’s welcome.