PROGRESS Wrestling co-owner reflects on WWE relationship, contract with WWE Network was set to expire late January 2023

Originally published at PROGRESS Wrestling co-owner reflects on WWE relationship, contract with WWE Network was set to expire late January 2023

Details of the working relationship between PROGRESS and WWE. 

On January 18th, 2023, PROGRESS Wrestling confirmed that their deal with WWE to air PROGRESS content on the WWE Network came to an end. The deal was agreed upon years prior by another group that is no longer running PROGRESS. 

The current owners of the promotion are Martyn Best and Lee McAteer. Best was interviewed by Tom Campbell of Cultaholic Wrestling and spoke in-depth about the relationship. He said the deal was set to expire at the end of January 2023. Best shared that there were several occasions when matches from PROGRESS shows were omitted from the WWE Network stream because there were talents featured that might have been considered competition to the WWE landscape. 

PROGRESS eventually told WWE to take all of the content or what would be the point in them creating the show. They were aware the deal with WWE was coming up so plans were set in motion to launch DEMAND PROGRESS PLUS. Going back to the working relationship, Best said they were prepared for potential pushback from WWE when talents such as Swerve Strickland, Anthony Ogogo and Jonathan Gresham would appear for them seeing as how those names were signed to AEW/ROH. 

Best added that they were not willing to compromise their own matches and shows to satisfy any potential inconvenience regarding the specific subject at hand. There was an agreement made with WWE that allows them to keep the PROGRESS content up on the WWE Network. 

Well it certainly gave you an insight into the absolute professionalism that they have and how they — we all know they transformed the world of professional wrestling, typically for the good I would say (Best said about him & Lee McAteer learning from WWE during the relationship). Just how they do it is very business-like from behind the scenes. Very organized. The deal for example, it’s an extension of probably their decision last year. The Netflix deal has clearly been a very clear, thoughtful business decision which is gonna generate a lot of income for the Endeavor group now. I think the relationship we had with WWE was very much about putting our shows on their network. So seeing how they did that has given us some insights into what we have now created with DEMAND PROGRESS PLUS and I think having control of your content and how you market it and promote it was something that we gleaned from how WWE did it. They didn’t have any editorial or content control over the shows before — in what we did. There were a couple of times where we were bringing in wrestlers and talents from other promotions which maybe they would have viewed as competitive to the WWE landscape. So I know on a couple of occasions, they omitted one or two particular contests. But after a while, we said, ‘Look, you either take it all or what’s the point of us creating this show with different strands in it?’ And they accepted that and then we had wrestlers from other promotions. They just then left us unfettered to deliver our own personal brand of wrestling to them and that went well. The contract that PROGRESS had with them was due to expire at the end of January anyways so we were mindful that-that was gonna happen. As a consequence of that, we were already making our plans to create our own, essentially, network, on DEMAND PROGRESS PLUS. So hence why that was launched sort of relatively quickly afterwards and fans didn’t miss out on too much of being able to see our content online. 

Yeah, we were indeed (prepared for there to be pushback from WWE about not wanting to air certain PROGRESS matches on the Network that featured other companies’ signed wrestlers) and we’d been very open with them about it and you know, people like Anthony (Ogogo) and Jonathan (Gresham), Swerve Strickland I think at the time were signed to AEW. We were aware that-that might have prevented some of that content from going on the Network but, we were absolutely not prepared to just compromise the quality of our shows because ultimately, we’ve gotta deliver a wrestling match and a wrestling show that satisfies our fans and the greatest of respect to WWE. The fans had to take priority here. We did keep a good relationship with the Network. There’s still quite a lot of our content historically on the Network and accessible. We reached a concluding agreement that we would allow them to keep that on there. Just many strands of some of the great wrestlers we’ve had through our ring: Pete Dunne, GUNTHER, Toni Storm spring instantly to mind. So they are still available on the Network and both parties are really pleased that we got — we haven’t ended the relationship. It just changed. Never close doors. Even the so-called forbidden doors. Always keep doors and relationships open… 

This past February, PROGRESS and DEFY Wrestling merged. Best said conversations about a merger began in August 2023 while in London, England. 

PROGRESS and DEFY collaborated on a double-header in London. Best said the two parties spent a great deal of time around each other and a lot of conversations took place. 

Probably last August when DEFY were over in London (is when the conversations about a merger began). If you recall, it was a very busy weekend. AEW at Wembley. We had a double-header with DEFY and we each saw, the first time, each other’s shows. We spent three, four days in each other’s company, lots of conversations and we just recognized that we have the same views and perspectives and values about running a wrestling promotion. We were looking at what can we do to improve each other’s position and status with that as a landscape to the world of professional wrestling. That showed there’s a huge amount of interest and enthusiasm for professional wrestling. I think the sector’s bounced back post-COVID as lots of other areas have, and I think it was just the coming together of like minds between Lee (McAteer) and myself and Jim (Perry) and Matt (Farmer)… and it was probably one of our most successful weekends with a lot of fans coming to both shows at the (Electric) Ballroom and then we saw the buzz the following day at Wembley. As most things do, it started from a, ‘Hey, how about if we did more of this? And what would that look like?’ And one thing led to another and us putting two companies together.

Continuing on that front, when it comes to booking, Martyn stated that him and Lee McAteer are open to DEFY’s Matt Farmer and Jim Perry having say in PROGRESS’ booking. 

Probably the answer’s yes (if DEFY & PROGRESS could have say in each other’s booking decisions). So we are keeping both brands totally separate as a wrestling promotion. As again, like I said, Lee (McAteer) and I have got a bunch of experience from different businesses, different sectors. Myself, from football and basketball in the U.K. from different sports perspectives and Jim (Perry) and Matt (Farmer), again, Matt, former professional wrestler himself. He knows what it’s like to be a wrestler, he knows what they’re looking for in terms of support, what they can commit to in terms of adding to any narrative, any booking, etcetera. So yeah, we’d certainly be welcoming from a PROGRESS point of view, Jim and Matt’s input into our booking. Definitely.

PROGRESS Wrestling is partnering with Pro Wrestling NOAH to bring the promotion to the U.K. in September. The likes of Naomichi Marufuji, Kaito Kiyomiya and Masa Kitamiya are scheduled for the tour. 

In October, PROGRESS, DEFY and NOAH will be a part of wXw Germany’s World Tag Team Festival. 

If the quotes in this article are used, please credit Cultaholic Wrestling with an H/T to POST Wrestling for the transcriptions.