Monday 5 December 2016

Interview: Jim Smallman [Progress Wrestling]

This. Is. Progress...

Rob Brazier Photography

“We might not be the biggest but I certainly think that we're the best - but then again, I am biased! It feels excellent to be as acclaimed as we are. Bear in mind I'm just a fan who happens to own a wrestling company with his mates.”

This may be a bit of a departure for Intravenous Magazine, but I think you'll agree that there is a method to our madness. Alternative culture is about embracing diversity, passion and devotion to sounds, ideas, and styles not fully (or if ever) embraced by the mainstream. And professional wrestling is one such thing that ticks all of those boxes.

It's a world that isn't far removed from the music scene with the WWE's and Metallica's of the world selling out stadiums around the world, right down to the local acts and promotions putting on shows in clubs in their local areas.

But one company that has taken the UK, and infact parts of the world by storm over the past few year's is London-based promotion Progress Wrestling. With a punk rock atmosphere and penchant for innovation, it captures the spirit of the likes of ECW, filtering through a very British DIY ethic. And the results have been a boon for wrestling fans in the UK.

We caught up with one of the promotions founders, Jim Smallman to talk about the promotions near unstoppable rise, the state of pro-wrestling today, and standing out.

Intravenous Magazine: First of all, what makes a person decide to start a pro-wrestling promotion?

Jim Smallman: Well, we'd be fans for ages. But for us, it was to see if we could do it. Me and Jon (Briley, one of the other co-owners) were sat in our flat during the Edinburgh Fringe (as he was my agent at the time) and decided to have a go. Well, he suggested it whilst we were watching a PWG DVD. We thought it would be a fun, if costly, hobby.

IVM: Where do you begin to go about it and how hard was it to get off the ground?

JS: It was pretty difficult, even with Jon having a ton of experience of organising comedy tours and the like. We had to learn everything and ask a lot of people a lot of questions. Like "how do you get a wrestling ring?" Stuff that seems so second nature now was completely new to us when we started out. And then for the first year or so we made zero money. So it wasn't as easy a birth as you might think, even if we've never had a show that hasn't sold out.

IVM: You wear many hats with Progress as an announcer, promoter, and writer – Where does Progress end and real life begin for you these days?

JS: Progress is my life. In all seriousness, most of the day to day promotion stuff is done by Jon. Creative is handled by all three of us, and I don't think I'm really a ring announcer. I'm a comedian who gets to say the names of some wrestlers before their matches. But I do spend most of my time thinking about Progress.

IVM: What is the ethos behind Progress Wrestling as a promotion?

JS: We wanted to put on shows that we'd want to watch as fans, and also help develop a community of like-minded people. I'm really into punk music and love the ethos behind anything DIY and inclusive, so we've always aimed for that kind of vibe.

IVM: What were the thought processes behind having the Progress championship as a staff (now a belt), and shields for the tag titles?

JS: Just to be different. Anyone can start a wrestling promotion. Not everyone can start one that stands out. We've always stood out.

IVM: Progress alumni can now be seen wrestling for companies such as WWE, ROH, TNA, as well as in Japan how has this helped, or perhaps hindered Progress?

JS: It's helped us. Every time we lose someone to WWE there's someone else who knows it's their time to step into the spotlight. We never really lose people to the other companies - they all still work for us, just not at every show. Besides, when Tommy End and Jack Gallagher headed for WWE they were good enough to help highlight us on, which is pretty sweet and only helps us be seen as a successful independent promotion that helps nurture talent.

IVM: You started at the Islington Garage, and have quickly moved to The Electric Ballroom, infiltrated the hallowed Brixton Academy, and have even been a part of Download Festival – can the rooms only keep getting bigger?.

JS: There's a glass ceiling to independent wrestling attendance figures. We sold 2500 tickets for Brixton, but we can't do that every month. Selling 700 tickets every month (sometimes twice a month) is a mind boggling achievement as it is, which I think people sometimes forget. It's super hard to find a venue bigger than Brixton that would suit us, as well - regardless of if we'd fill it. We're happy where we are.

IVM: How would you describe a typical Progress show?

JS: Loud, hard-hitting, fun. It's our job to send everyone home happy from our shows, so we give them as much varied entertainment as they can enjoy. And if you're in the crowd, it's part ECW Arena, part away end at the football and part punk gig.

IVM: The documentary film 'This.Is.Progress' premiered recently and is now available to view through the Demand.Progress. service – how has the reception been to this so far and can we expect more of these documentaries in the future?

JS: Well, we didn't make the documentary ourselves. It was made by Elixir Media and I believe that they're looking at crowdfunding to make a longer version of the documentary. The current one you can view is 20 minutes long but they've already shot loads of footage. Hopefully that will lead to something more, but again, it's not down to us.

IVM: It is safe to say that Progress is one of the top independent wrestling companies in the UK today, no small feat when there are over 100 active promotions, how does that feel?

JS: We might not be the biggest but I certainly think that we're the best - but then again, I am biased! It feels excellent to be as acclaimed as we are. Bear in mind I'm just a fan who happens to own a wrestling company with his mates. When fans rave about what we do it still means the world to me.

IVM: What has been your proudest moment so far with Progress and why?

JS: The very beginning of the Brixton show was really awesome for me, 2500 people chanting my name and my Dad and Sister in the audience (who don't get my love of wrestling) and my wife and at the time 4 week old son by the side of the stage. That was pretty mind blowing. I also rank the whole Jimmy Havoc vs Progress storyline is up there with any stand-up that I've created in my "other" career.

IVM: Where do you see British professional wrestling in five / ten years time?

JS: It won't be as hot as it is right now, because there are always peaks and troughs. For the great promoters out there like ICW, Rev Pro, Southside, Fight Club Pro, Futureshock, Attack and so on, there will be unscrupulous people who think there's an easy few quid to be made and that'll hurt the industry. Hopefully we'll still be around as we've tried to build on a foundation of using British talent and living within our means!

IVM: Does British wrestling need more prominent TV coverage in order to push it to the next level, or is the internet filling in the gaps these days?

JS: Nope. TV doesn't have the effect that it did a couple of decades ago. We can be in control of our own content with, and WWE are leading the way with their network. The way everyone consumes media has changed and the fabled television deal now makes no difference at all.

Rob Brazier Photography

IVM: Who do you consider to be some of the top British talent around today?

JS: Luckily, everyone that we use at our shows! Pete Dunne is our current champion and is about to take over the world, then you have guys like Zack Sabre Jr, Will Ospreay and Marty Scurll who already have. Jimmy Havoc is one of the very best characters in the world, then you have guys like Trent Seven, Tyler Bate, Morgan Webster, Mark Andrews... I could go on and on. And women's wrestling is great too - Jinny, Dahlia Black, Nixon Newell.

IVM: With the feel of a raucous punk rock gig at Progress events, do you consider Wrestling fans to be a subculture unto themselves?

JS: I always know that if someone likes wrestling then I'm probably going to get on well with them. At our shows you can pretty much guarantee that you'll meet someone who likes wrestling, the same music or comic books or video games as you. Being a wrestling fan is the new rock and roll. Or something.

IVM: What advice would you give to someone looking to set up a professional wrestling promotion, or become a wrestler?

JS: Setting up a promotion: Save up a lot of money, don't tread on the toes of other promotions and do things right. Think about what an audience would like to see rather than what YOU want to see. And don't book yourself as champion, for the love of god.

Becoming a wrestler: Find a good school, train a lot, go to the gym every day, expect to be in pain and broke, listen to advice from every veteran who will give you their time and when you've made your debit, wrestle EVERYWHERE.

IVM: 2016 has been a whirlwind year for Progress – what do you have in store for 2017?

JS: So many more shows. Camden, Brixton, Manchester, Birmingham, Germany, Orlando, a three day SSS16 tournament... it'll be busy. And we've already started planning some awesome surprises.

IVM: Finally, is there anything you'd like to add/plug?

JS: I'm on Twitter at @jimsmallman. Company stuff: Tickets and merchandise and news via, watch all our shows for $5 via and follow us on Twitter via @thisis_progress.

You can watch all of Progress Wrestling's shows on demand at, and for ticket and show information, please check out the Progress Wrestling website at

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