By Haydn Gleed
Happy New Year to you all, as you will be reading this in 2017. I hope the year brings you and your loved ones everything that you so wish.
On the final day of 2016, one of the major channels in the UK resurrected mainstream British wrestling with the one off return of World Of Sport Wrestling. Was it a success? Yes, I certainly believe it was.
I will say straight off the bat that this wasn’t a full representation of what the British wrestling scene can offer in 2017, but it was a fun throwback to a simpler time with a two hour show which had a story with a start, middle and end and a satisfying payoff. The original World Of Sport Wrestling show 30-plus years ago was designed for families to sit down after their Saturday dinner and watch larger than life characters battle each other with a clear good guy and a clear bad guy, and this is exactly what you got here.
The main thread of the show was Grado, better known to the American public from TNA, as the underdog babyface who lost the opening match against the dastardly Dave Mastiff, who won the WOS title through interference from his mates. Grado then had to spend the evening defying all the odds and overcome these to get his hands on the title. If you want proof that a simple story like that can work in 2017, watch the reaction of the crowd and the joy in the faces of the children as the jumped up and down as the Scotsman wore the title over his shoulder as the show faded to black. This was a show displaying wrestling in its simplest form and it worked.
Maybe because this show was geared towards a more family friendly audience considering it was being broadcast at 5pm in the afternoon, there were no standout matches that you could watch and have your breath taken away like you get from a Progress Wrestling, ICW, or some other British indie companies. The ladder match was decent with some impressive athleticism, but was clearly restricted due to the awareness that the makers of the show didn’t want people to try these things at home. The match of the night in my eyes was Zack Gibson and El Ligero, but this also had it’s hand tied as to how violent they could get evidenced by the panning away from Zack Gibson powerbombing El Ligero on the edge of the broadcast table. But what wasn’t missing, as is so much the case in modern wrestling, was the outrage displayed by the announcers at these actions which allowed Gibson to gather heat. Who was the announcer who made this call? Good Ol’ JR.
The moment Jim Ross appeared on the screen it made the show feel big time for the casual wrestling fan who would have recognized both his appearance and voice from WWE. For the non-fan he came across like he always has as somebody you trust to call it like it is. The memorable JR calls were there putting over Grado’s win as something historic, while also coming up with lines like describing Dave Mastiff as a fridge standing on the turnbuckle or reworking his famous lines by describing Viper as tougher than a one pound steak. His broadcast partner, Alex Shane, is a former British indie wrestler who recently has been seen on British television on Sky TV with WrestleTalk TV. Alex put in a decent performance using his clear knowledge of the British wrestling scene to good use, but to be honest kind of faded into the background after a while. The production values in general are also worth noting as this looked fantastic. The “arena” was well lit and the lighting along with the mini pyro’s all looked great. Think the Impact Zone but with better lighting and a crowd that were actually into everything that was going on in the ring and reacting. Whoever oversaw the production on this project deserves a big pat on the back.
What I enjoyed about this show more than anything was the clear division between heels and babyfaces as I mentioned previously. Each wrestler was clearly defined as someone you should like or not like and they acted and wrestled in that manner. Instead of the modern trend of trying to get yourself over even if you are a heel, the bad guys were there to try and make the babyfaces look good and not upstage them which for me is the basic premise of what heels should do. Ashton Smith for example who tagged with Rampage Brown against The Coffey Brothers can do some wonderful athletic moves in the ring. I’ve seen him wrestle live at a Preston City Wrestling event and thought he looked fantastic, but there was none of that here. It was pure trying to gain the advantage by cheating and mocking the babyfaces when he managed to get away with it, restricting himself from performing any moves that would get a positive reaction from the crowd. Because of the wrestlers working hard to stay within their roles, the crowd reacted accordingly despite there being some clearly rowdy/knowledgeable wrestling fans in the crowd as displayed by the fans who started to sing Joe Coffey’s distinctive British indie scene music during the tag match.
Another delightful part of the show was the flashbacks to the original World Of Sports Wrestling stars who were shown in videos coming back from commercials talking about the original run of the show in the 70s and 80s. During these videos, they didn’t take you out of the world they were creating during the show by talking about Brian Dixon booking such and such to go over so and so, instead talking about their characters as if that was who they were at that point in their lives and talking about feuds as if they were real. If you haven’t seen the show you may be reading that and going “oh, lord, a bunch of old timers clinging onto kayfabe”, but it worked and didn’t insult the intelligence of the viewers. It walked a very fine tightrope and managed to stay away from falling into a void of cliché’s or not realizing the fans are smarter to the business in 2017.
The show wasn’t perfect by a long shot and there is so much I could nitpick about it. For example, the announcers or nobody else addressed why Davey Boy Smith Jr. could enter a Battle Royal after four of the seven competitors originally in the ring had been eliminated. Yes, I get it was supposed to be a surprise, but it was not exactly logical and needed an explanation. Also, the interview with the authority figure Mr Beasley straight after the first match in the backstage area, surrounded by what looked like junk and ready to be disposed computer parts looked bush league. But, as I said from the start, this show was fun and everyone involved told a great story so to nitpick segment by segment would be harsh.
The big question coming out of this is, would this work on a regular basis in 2017? I think it would, but not on a large scale. As an old school/long time fan this was a nice throwback for me and it probably worked on a nostalgia level as much as anything else for me. My girlfriend, who is not by any means a wrestling fan, enjoyed it because it was more about the stories being told rather than violence in the ring. What I am curious about, and if you fit in this category please get in touch and let me know what you thought of this show, is how this would work on the 25 year old and under fan who only started watching wrestling in the Attitude Era.
The wrestling world has changed a lot since this type of show was the norm, and you don’t need me to spell it out or take you on a journey to understand that that is true. Fans are used to more athletic moves, used to more violence, used to more complex storylines and dare I say it less cheesiness/cliché wrestling tricks. However, I would argue that you could watch this show and learn a lot about how to get a crowd engaged, how to tell stories both in and out of the ring without going over the top with your moveset or violence and how characters stick to the narrative set to them as to which side they are on, but I can also not see this type of show being accepted by the masses on a weekly or even monthly basis in this day and age.
Despite this, this was a success, as I wrote off the top. It brought British Wrestling back to the mainstream of the nation and was a fun two-hour wrestling show. Now it’s over to WWE to highlight British wrestling in their way in two week’s time. Comparing them will certainly be interesting.
As always you can find me on twitter @haydngleed or via email firstname.lastname@example.org.