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Just Business: World of Sport Returns! (A Review of the Return of a British Tea Time Tradition)
By Samuel 'Plan
Jan 1, 2017 - 3:18:40 PM

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Just Business: World of Sport Returns! (A Review of the Return of a British Tea Time Tradition)


It was with excitement many a fan of the British wrestling scene greeted news that one of our country’s premier television channels – ITV – was bringing back World of Sport Wrestling for a New Year’s Eve two-hour pilot special. Finally, it seemed, mainstream television would provide a burgeoning independent scene with a platform to show the average British punter just what pro wrestling today looked like, and what it could accomplish.

In typical contradictory form, though, I approached the news with trepidation. It has long been my opinion that pro wrestling as we know it – being the highly produced American version – is not something the inherent British character takes to very easily. I feared the majority of people in this country ignorant to the appeal of pro wrestling would look at it with a patronising humour, rather than an inspired acceptance of the industry’s legitimacy. Knowing ITV, it was with this very attitude I was worried World of Sport’s revival would be treated: tongue in cheek humour and an “isn’t it all rather quaint?” attitude.

Were my fears realised? Yes, and no.

There is no doubt that ITV treated World of Sport Wrestling last night as a typically over-produced, rather corporate Saturday night light entertainment television show, along the same lines as game shows such as Ant and Dec’s Saturday Night Takeaway or talent competitions such as X Factor. It was therefore easy to feel cynical; at times, I was half expecting John Fashanu and Ulrika Johnson to pop up. So too did it become clear over the course of the two hours the show aired that this was a product trapped between a rock and a hard place, actively seeking to gleefully embrace its colourful, cherished heritage from the ‘70s and ‘80s while at the same time seeming chained down by the looming shadow of WWE’s success in the States. We even had a rip-off of Money in the Bank, would you believe. Whether it was because of WWE aggressively scouting the Indy scene, the truth was that WOS didn’t have a great crop of talent to recruit either, and there were moments this showed; some of those appearing felt like they’d accidentally wandered off the set of a CITV sitcom being filmed nearby. And, as I had predicted, there were times that the natural British character led to some cringe-worthy backstage segments, with impassioned accusations of people being, shock and horror, very rude! Not to forget angered denouncements of senior citizens being threatened! It did the villains’ sense of menace no favours.

I could, by the show’s close, conclude that any fan going into World of Sport’s revival with hopes of a legitimate pro wrestling product closely related to the gritty tone of the Indy scene would be disappointed. This was a wrestling programme aimed at the mainstream and uninformed; not at the growing hardcore base of dedicated British pro wrestling fans. The tone, as a result, was not one well suited to pleasing more discerning fans. It wasn’t quite the red coat clad Butlins nightmare I had envisioned when the news first broke, but there’s no doubt it was planted firmly in the dreaded “PG” territory; if not something even less ‘edgy’ than that.

Yet, for everything World of Sport’s revival turned out to be, primarily among them was that it turned out to be fun; a true pro wrestling product, regardless of its tone. With two championship matches, a ladder match, a tag match and a battle royale, it was a neat tour through popular pro wrestling formats for the uninitiated, while showing a willingness to embrace how times have changed for the initiated. WOS legends sat at ringside, a welcome reminder of a heritage the show was keen to emphasise it was following on from directly; this was treated as an extension of the product that ceased to be three decades ago, rather than a completely clean start. This also lent a sense of ‘Event’ to proceedings too, albeit a humble one, in the form of the first ever all-women’s match in WOS history – and it was a very good effort from Viper and Alexis Rose too. Bringing in JR for commentary was an inspired decision, with his typical passion being sure to draw you into the simple story more than you might expect; even if listening to the once-Voice of WWE Anglicising himself did result in some unintentional comedy. “Tougher than a £1 steak,” indeed. It should be mentioned that Alex Shane was a better colour commentator than anyone currently employed by the familiar American wrestling giant too, I thought.

As mentioned, the talent deployed didn’t strike as the cream of the crop, and prioritising Grado in the manner the show did felt misguided when they had the son of Daveyboy Smith to hand, but there was a reverence of the past that felt heavily implied – Grado vs. Mastiff for the WOS Championship was presented to deliberately evoke memories of the near-mythical Big Daddy vs. Giant Haystacks feud of once upon a time. Indeed, such was the role both men were destined for from the onset, it seemed. JR comparing Grado to Dusty Rhodes felt like an unjustified stretch and may go over the heads of those unfamiliar with the American scene, but the Big Daddy comparison that followed seemed utterly on point; for Shane to then compare Mastiff to Haystacks is what made clear the aforementioned implication. Some might be critical that this reverence for the past led to clearly more talented performers being sidelined, but I saw it as a positive; one must understand the past to understand where next to go, after all, and for a pilot effort I see no harm in adhering to a philosophy of spiritual sequels.

Elsewhere, there was a healthy variety of talent. As mentioned, Viper and Rose put on an impressive big vs. little bout in the middle of the card that hinted at potential for both performers and a women’s division for WOS should this pilot evolve into something more. El Ligero added a little established name power, and the appearance of Davey Jr, though limited mainly to a cameo, was further indicator that this new WOS intended to be a hybrid of the British past and American present. There was, generally, a pervasive sense of everyone involved wanting to transform the show into a platform to establish, as far as they could, a personal brand of their own. The Coffey Brothers did particularly well on that front in their clash against brothers Ashton Smith and Rampage, while Zack Gibson stood out as a living example of the hybrid philosophy informing the majority broadcast: a mix of then and now. And while Grado and Dave Mastiff, the heart of the evolving tale of the night, weren’t necessarily the best two talents present, they played their respective roles well enough.

What may stand out most to dedicated pro wrestling fans, however, is the booking of the evening’s affair. In an age where fans cry out for logic and a clear sense of cause and effect in the way wrestling television is written, World of Sport was sure to deliver. Kicking off with a championship match felt strange to begin with, but it wasn’t long before the master-plan became clear: a dirty finish to the opener would lead to an impromptu decision from General Manager Mr Beasley to book a second championship bout at the evening’s conclusion, transforming every match on the card (bar the women’s) into a qualifier for a battle royale that would crown a new number one contender, leading directly into the new champion’s first defence. It was a clean, simple idea enacted efficiently and with intelligence, lending meaning to everything taking place. It wasn’t executed flawlessly, with events in the battle royale feeling particularly curious, but for a mainstream start-up wrestling show I thought it was remarkably expertly handled. If the overall production felt corporate and, at times, charmless, the writing was the exact opposite: affectionate toward pro wrestling tradition, and compiled by those who knew what they were doing, or had at least done their respectful research.

Don’t go in expecting barn-burning matches set to make any End of Year awards lists. The talent available simply wasn’t good enough to be hitting that level. But if you go in with appropriately tempered expectations, there’s nothing stopping you enjoying two hours of British pro wrestling, taking time to tribute those who came before while making admirable efforts to lay groundwork for a future of the world’s greatest work in the United Kingdom. Yes, it was a little pantomime, sometimes cringe-worthy and still carried a sense of humouring the industry rather than unapologetically championing it, but, honestly, does any of that matter too much if the end result is an enjoyable wrestling show different to what we, as fans, are so heavily inundated with in the UK?

ITV aren’t going to be in a position to pick a fight with WWE any time soon, WOS’s resurrection feeling too restricted to achieve anything grandiose. Further, if you want to experience the true extent of the UK wrestling scene, then you may be better off taking the few minutes more required to seek out an Indy promotion’s own product online, rather than pinning your hopes on a full time resurrection of a homely 1980s tea time tradition. In fact, for all the criticism and jaded cynicism it was met with upon announcement, the UK Championship tournament WWE is set to put on is liable to be what many were hoping for from WOS – a legitimate attempt to show the British mainstream that pro wrestling deserves respect, not tolerance; to show British fans that there is a burgeoning scene on this side of the Pond as well.

In recognition of that burgeoning scene, here at Just Business, January is set to be something of a month for British pro wrestling. Kicking off with this review, I will continue to examine British pro wrestling with a review of NORTH Wrestling’s NCL 1 show from last summer, before providing coverage of WWE’s UK Championship tournament to boot; and, to cap off, a playlist of greatest hits from a personal all-time favourite of mine: Daveyboy Smith himself.

But for now, please feel free to share with me your own thoughts on World of Sport’s New Year resurrection! Was it any good? Did it all feel too corporate? Could we see a move toward a one-hour weekly programme airing in seasons here and there over the years? Let me know!

Thanks for reading.






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