PROGRESS Wrestling, one of the most popular independent promotions on the planet, is heading Down Under in an unprecedented tour. Founded in 2011, the English based federation helped spark the British Boom of pro wrestling, and to this day is the foremost UK company. After heading to the Big Easy for some WrestleMania weekend fun, PROGRESS is preparing to begin the Aussie tour on April 18th, doing three events, each a joint show with a local promotion from the city they’re in: Explosive Pro Wrestling (EPW) in Perth, Melbourne City Wrestling (MCW) in Melbourne, and Pro Wrestling Australia (PWA) in Sydney. These shows are stacked, with matches like Michael Morleone vs. Jimmy Havoc and Toni Storm vs. Jessica Troy. But, PROGRESS is not the most recent company to show interest in expanding their Australian market, nor are they the biggest. How will this PROGRESS x Australia tour compare with other recent ventures in the country? And what does this mean for Australian wrestling in the future?
In February, New Japan Pro Wrestling (NJPW), arguably the hottest wrestling company on the planet, spent a five day, four show tour of Australia, setting up shop in Adelaide, Melbourne, Sydney, and Perth, in that order. That’s a lot of travel in not a lot of time, but all accounts the shows were entertaining, and New Japan considered them a success financially. The Wrestling Observer Newsletter reported that they considered it enough of a success to plan another trip there later this year (November or December), and this time hitting a new town as well in Gold Coast. This fits with New Japan’s worldwide expansion, as they are always making waves in the US market. It’s also noteworthy that the Melbourne show was at Festival Hall, one the staple venues for the historic and wildly popular Australian company World Championship Wrestling in the 60’s and 70’s (years later, an American company used the same). This indicates that New Japan is looking to spend some time there, despite not doing astronomical attendance numbers. What made their tour successful, was the higher ticket prices and merchandise sales, demonstrating that in a country where they do not have TV, it’s a highly niche market. PROGRESS similarly will focus on getting the most out of the small market, but on a somewhat smaller scale than their Japanese predecessors. The biggest venue PROGRESS is running, the Star Event Centre in Sydney, holds a capacity of 981 (that’s without a ring taking up space), whereas New Japan didn’t do less than 1,200 for their shows (topping off at 3,400 in Sydney). These attendance differences are to be expected, however, as New Japan is the second largest wrestling company in the world, and PROGRESS is a true-blue independent promotion.
PROGRESS’ attendance numbers will be closer to what the WSW did in March. The World Series Wrestling company, while an Australian promotion, ran what felt like a foreign federation’s tour at International Assault in March, booking huge worldwide names like Austin Aries, Young Bucks, and Joey Ryan to name a few. PROGRESS will undoubtedly outdo WSW, because the venues they’re running are larger, even though the international talent they’re bringing in have less worldwide recognition. This shows the faith PROGRESS has in itself and the companies they’re working with to make money in these bigger venues. WSW ran two shows in Melbourne on back to back nights, doing a sellout both nights with an attendance of 505, while PROGRESS x MCW is running the Thornebury Theatre, which can hold up to 700. Furthermore, Melbourne City Wrestling, the promotion with which they are joint-promoting there, is producing one of their biggest shows of the year, Ballroom Brawl, the very next night in the very same venue, which will also feature some PROGRESS talent, and both shows will sell out. Sydney will be the same story: while WSW did a near sellout at 700, the PROGRESS x PWA show will hit 900.
All of this, however, pales in comparison to what WWE is reportedly planning: a six-digit attendance figure in October. CBS Sports, Fox Sports, and the Wrestling Observer all reported in early March they are doing a major show at the Melbourne Cricket Ground, which can hold 100,000 for a wrestling show. If they indeed hit that magical number, it will be the largest attendance figure ever recorded for WWE (the WrestleMania 32 number was inflated, according to Dave Meltzer). WWE has done house show tours almost every year in Australia for the last fifteen years, most recently running a NXT tour in December of 2016, where they did better attendance numbers than what New Japan did this year. But the October show would be the first major show WWE did Down Under since 2002’s Global Warning, where they drew over 50,000. With their TV presence there, the growth of the Network, and the Australian and New Zealand talent they’ve signed over the last few years, WWE is poised to grow exponentially, and in turn, grow the Australian pro wrestling market as a whole.
PROGRESS Wrestling performing joint wrestling shows in Australia is one example of several international companies and performers taking notice of the growth of the wrestling market there. With dream matches like Davis Storm vs Pete Dunne and Travis Banks vs Robbie Eagles, they are sure to fill up buildings, and prompt a return visit in the future from UK’s best. While it would have been interesting for Progress to also team up with Southern Pro Wrestling (SPW) in New Zealand, the future looks very bright for interest in pro wrestling in that part of the world. Some people will see incredible talent like Slex or Marcius Pitt for the first time, and this worldwide stage that the PROGRESS joint shows provide will only elevate their notoriety, and in turn, elevate the status of Australian pro wrestling around the globe.