On the 10th of September, 2017, an audience of 1200 people in Alexandra Palace watched as Eddie Dennis attacked his best friend and tag team partner, Mark Andrews, from behind, just after Mark had won a scramble match for the #1 contendership for the Progress World Title.
On the 30th of September, 2018, a much larger audience of people in Wembley Arena will watch as Eddie Dennis and Mark Andrews finally take each other on in a match to end this feud, to settle the bad blood from the past year, and close this chapter in their friendship.
Those are the facts. The rest, as they say, is up for interpretation.
As a tag team, Eddie and Mark – FSU – were the first pair to hold the Progress Tag Team Titles, back when they were enormous shields, in March 2014. Mark had previously held the Progress World Title for, well… not long, in November 2013. Within Progress, the two of them have been inseparable since Chapter Six, whether tagging together or simply supporting each other’s singles runs. When Will Ospreay was unavailable for that chapter, Mark suggested Eddie as his partner, and from that, Eddie’s place in Progress was cemented. As Defend Indy Wrestling has been running since 2011, we can extrapolate from that – and from what both have said, we can only assume the friendship is long running and deep.
So what makes someone attack their best friend, from behind, in front of an audience, rather than settle a personal grievance behind the scenes? What happens when professional and personal become so intertwined that you can’t tell the two apart? What do you do when a friendship you thought was solid turns out to have been rotting from the inside out, and you didn’t notice until it disintegrated under your fingers? Where do you start in piecing it back together and finding out where the first crack was that led to it shattering?
We can start in August 2013, when Mark and Pete Dunne flew themselves to the US, a roundly criticised move, with no bookings but plenty of aspirations. Eddie seems to be happy in the picture, but there’s something in that, something that a lot of wrestlers didn’t agree with, the idea of flying yourself somewhere and hustling for bookings, rather than waiting to be big enough for a promotion to fly you over and cover those costs. Why didn’t Eddie go with them? Because when you’ve got a proper job, you can’t just get up and walk out into something where your income and accommodations are uncertain, because you’re used to a level of security already, and the idea of sacrificing that can be paralysing.
So Eddie watching his best friend fly off to make connections overseas, wrestles on the weekends, and teaches in the week. Wrestling is a pipe dream that Mark can afford to waste time on, that Mark has energy and money to spare on, and Eddie’s already set down a path that makes that more complicated. Does the resentment start here, Mark’s easy ability to shrug off the idea of consequences, Eddie’s inability to let go of structure?
Do we talk about how Eddie remembers the first import Mark wrestled – Brian Kendrick – but not his own? How he was there to see Mark and Pete off at the airport, watching that dream fly away? How part of wanting to get better at wrestling quickly was about keeping up with Mark?
The match in Progress that these two had together, at Chapter 17, will mark a huge difference between how they’re going to be at Chapter 76, three years later. And the biggest change? Was it Mark’s WWE matches? Was it Mark’s interlude in TNA that happened after that Chapter 17 match? Was it that Eddie kept on feeling like he didn’t measure up, despite towering over Mark? Or was what chafed the most Eddie’s own words – that he spent countless assemblies telling children to follow their dreams, while he let his slip further and further away, and that the hypocrisy burned deep?
When you work as a high flier and another partner, the more grounded partner becomes something of a safety net for the other, always ready to catch, always ready to assist, responsible for making sure that you’re between them and a hard landing. In that, Eddie exists as a safety net to Mark, constantly aware that when Mark is about to leap, he needs to be in the right place.
When we look at their relationship, too, when we hear the words we’ve been hearing for the last year, we hear Eddie’s bitterness at being left behind, we hear how Mark’s had someone to carry him wherever he’s gone, how he’s had a free ride from parents and a hand up into WWE through his association with Pete Dunne. But Eddie’s part of that, too, sacrificing himself for Mark’s success – Mark’s the only one of the two of them to ever hold the Progress World Title, and Eddie put himself in danger for that, too. Mark doesn’t need to look before he leaps, because he knows that someone or something will stop him hitting the ground at speed – and Eddie doesn’t have that.
Eddie’s spent so much time trying to make himself a safety net of a steady job, a steady income, a home, a house, trying to give himself that reassurance that, maybe, he can’t get from Mark. Mark isn’t going to catch Eddie if he falls, he’s going to get out of the way, and eventually, if you’re holding someone else up for long enough, they start to take you for granted. We can’t know when Eddie realised that he was holding up someone who didn’t do the same for him, how long that idea festered before he took action, but at Ally Pally, Eddie taught Mark a very important lesson about safety nets.
You notice them most when they’re not there.
So why the delay in Eddie making his move and stepping into this match? Why has it taken a year for us to get to the point, a year of spats and harsh words and publicly airing grievances – and no matches? To start with, Mark wanted to make it better, was trying to call Eddie, trying to understand what had happened, because Mark hadn’t known anything was wrong until that moment where everything fractured and he found himself looking at a friendship reflected like a funhouse mirror, warped and twisted by Eddie’s anger and jealousy. All he wanted was to talk to his friend, to make it better, to understand Eddie’s side, but Eddie had no interest in being consoled with platitudes again, to hear more excuses as to why Mark’s effort was enough.
In Flash Morgan Webster’s podcast, from 2016, Eddie says “If Progress hadn’t come along, I probably wouldn’t still be wrestling now”. That’s a heavy statement, given Mark’s involvement in getting Eddie in there, and Eddie’s public ending of their friendship within that same promotion. Progress is where this plays out, has gone from working with a friend to their battleground. But Eddie didn’t realise he only had six chapters to get his offense in, to take Mark to task. No one did.
In July 2017, Eddie quit his stable, safety net job as a headteacher, and took to wrestling full time. In September 2017, he quit his stable, safety net friendship with Mark Andrews. And in January 2018, he tore a pectoral muscle, which required surgery, and took him out of wrestling until June 2018. But five months of being unable to wrestle didn’t stop Eddie getting involved in Mark’s matches, didn’t stop him from making his point, didn’t stop him from saying what he felt needed to be said. It just stopped the match from taking place.
At this point, both wrestlers have said harsh words to each other, but Eddie started that early, while Mark said he wanted to keep their difficulties private. Chapter 75 finally set a date for the match, with Mark finally firing back at Eddie, saying he’d given up on his dreams, that he’d abandoned them – but it’s interesting to note that none of Eddie’s previous comments have been addressed. Mark hasn’t given any rebuttals to Eddie’s previous points, he doesn’t seem to have an answer to that.
This was made clear on Twitter, where Eddie mentioned there was a shirt with both their names on it, and that people should buy it from him rather than Mark. Mark’s response was that Eddie had been selling prints with his face on it for months – however, Eddie responded that Mark had been signing those prints. And this is where all Mark’s arguments seem to break down – he can’t find an answer, so he deflects. If he was signing the prints, then he had an agreement with Eddie that Eddie would sell them, even after their friendship imploded. But instead of answering Eddie’s comment about the shirt, Mark deflects, making it about prints, instead. Sure, both are about image rights, but when Mark doesn’t have an answer to something, this is what he does. It’s what he’s done for the whole feud.
Even when it comes down to when this match was going to happen, Mark has been deflecting, over and over. No, he didn’t want to fight in public. No, Eddie wasn’t worth his time. No, Eddie wasn’t cleared to wrestle. Even when Eddie took to a Junior show and attacked Mark’s tour director, something which seemed to finally make him snap, he was content to wait for Eddie to heal, content to let the embers of their friendship keep burning hot, as if accepting the match, setting a date, would be pouring cold water over the coals and accepting the rising steam as a smoke signal of the end. It was almost a relief to see Mark finally break at Chapter 75, when Eddie threatened not just his wrestling career, but his music one as well, when Eddie took everything Mark has left to love now his best friend is gone, and held it over his head. Finally, Mark, after months on the ground, refusing to be baited into what was surely going to be the final end of their friendship, leapt.
Eddie’s stipulation for the match at Chapter 76: Hello Wembley! is that it’s tables, ladders, and chairs, something that allows him to use his strength – and yet, it gives Mark ample opportunity to use his own skills, something which can’t have escaped Eddie’s notice. Maybe Eddie’s so used to setting things up for Mark’s benefit that he made this choice without even questioning if it was the right one. Maybe Mark accepted because he’s used to leaping without looking, and has forgotten that the person who used to catch him is now going to be the one who is instrumental in his fall. Maybe no one’s really right in this argument; Mark unable to face up to where he’s made mistakes, and Eddie unable to accept that some of where he’s lacking is down to his own decisions, but there’s one thing that we’re absolutely certain of.
This ends, 30th September, Wembley Arena. A match a year in the waiting, a match to settle something that words are too sharp for, a match because some things cannot be forgiven. In the end, it doesn’t matter who’s right, and who’s wrong, and if that was ever really a question either of them bothered to ask themselves. In the end, it comes down to two words. Winner. Loser.
When the bell rings at the end of that match, one man will be victorious – and what happens to the other? What are the stakes? What’s on the line? The answer is, at the end of that match, the loser… will know he’s lost. Will know thousands of people saw him lose. What does the winner get? The winner gets to know he’s won.