New Year’s Eve saw ITV revive a nostalgic brand: World of Sport Wrestling. Those of a certain age will remember Saturday evenings watching Big Daddy, Giant Haystacks – and my personal favourite, who can probably take some credit for how I’ve spent my professional career hidden behind a mask – Kendo Nagasaki. It’s just dawned on me, my years chasing fame in Japan could be down to my first exposure to professional wrestling. The original WOS Wrestling was pulled in the mid-eighties, followed by Wrestling with Kent Walton. The question is: does the TV schedule have room for it today?
There was room for it back in 1988 when wrestling left our screens. Hindsight is 20/20 but producers must look back on that decision and kick themselves. A year later the WWE (then known as WWF) started its UK invasion. It grew so fast in popularity here, SummerSlam was held at Wembley stadium in 1992. Over 80,000 fans witnessed The British Bulldog Davey Boy Smith take the Intercontinental Championship from Bret “The Hitman” Hart.
Had a channel retained UK wrestling, maybe the WWE would have had a genuine transatlantic rival. We’ll never know, but by passing up on wrestling, the UK television networks gave up all creative control. Vince McMahon designed the blueprint, defeated his only challenger WCW (ironically, they aired on ITV in the nineties), and every wrestling organisation since has fallen into line.
ITV clearly has been watching WWE. From the opening minutes of WOS Wrestling it becomes obvious. The set has good production values, without the scale of WWE. It’s a mix of their take on Gladiators and a clinical TNA set. The game changer is having Jim Ross on commentary. The voice synonymous with a whole generation of WWE.
ITV may have watched WWE but what follows is veiled flattery. Vince’s outfit has gone from the cartoony version of wrestling it brought to the world when WOS Wrestling ended in the eighties, through the adult-rated Attitude Era, to the PG and Reality Era. That current landscape means a pre-watershed wrestling show can survive on telly. During this evolution the term: sports entertainment was coined.
The problem with WOS Wrestling is how it tries to pay homage to the old stars like Big Daddy with constant reminders, evoking nostalgia, but accidentally makes one nostalgic for an antiquated version of pro-wrestling in the form of old school WWF.
Nowadays a wrestling show is all about the storylines and mic work. ITV went for the owner angle, a Mr Beesley that ran things. Okay, so we get a British Jack Tunney. Beesley’s “office” was propped with posters indicating it was just a spare room at MediaCityUK.
The first match saw Grado get screwed out of the WOS Championship by bad guy Dave Mastiff. This, in itself, was great. Mastiff was the clear heel, he had two henchmen in tow and he and Grado told a classic tale of favoured underdog holding his own.
Nowadays clear heels and faces are rare in professional wrestling, this throwback was fine and a necessity with a less savvy audience. What wasn’t great was the way Beesley said he couldn’t let a screwjob stand for the title and declared Mastiff would defend it at the end of the show against the winner of a Battle Royal.
Okay, anyone that was watched wrestling long enough knows that if a title (in this case, the only title) kicks-off a show, we’re not getting a clean finish. So the surprise was gone from the off. The idea all dodgy finishes will be challenged is flawed. The acting with Beesley was from a bygone era.
And that is WOS Wrestling’s major problem. It doesn’t know if it’s a programme that should be like its eighties counterpart, or one that can be compared to modern day WWE.
They edged toward the latter with a ladder match. Kenny Williams took the result, he looked better than the rest based on ability and aesthetics. But the other three, CJ Banks, Sam Bailey (not The X Factor singer) and Delicious Danny, all deserve a round of applause for pulling off a dangerous match with tea-time restrictions.
The other main standout – no, not El Ligero, although he was good – was Alexis Rose. She looked the part and moved around the ring well. WWE’s current British female wrestler is in the bad books. Rose would be worth a shot in their performance centre.
The Battle Royal had a secret entrant (that joined late for no good reason). It was The new British Bulldog, the son of Davey Boy, now using his name with Jnr added. He didn’t progress to the title bout. Presumably, ITV aren’t confident they could tie him down should the show go fulltime so can’t afford to have a champion MIA.
Of course, Grado won the Battle Royal and then the title match. Classic babyface overcoming the odds in the end. Cheating never pays, kids.
ITV must have an eye on a permanent return, why bring back the title otherwise? Based on this, there is plenty of potential that deserves exploring but they need a creative team more akin to the modern era of wrestling. Without this, WOS Wrestling would grow stale fast.
Promising but work to be done.
(Follow @MrCliveBalls on Twitter. He points out, he is available to do creative work for Sports Entertainment outfits.)