It became rapidly apparent that the return of WOS (World of Sport) Wrestling was still chasing the family friendly tone of its one-off New Year special in 2017, and that really came as little surprise – this was airing at 5pm, after all, and obviously seeking to establish the same tea time tradition that its nostalgia-inducing predecessor enjoyed back when our parents were children. The crowd reacted in pantomime fashion true to the British spirit of the show and reminiscent of a more innocent age in the pro wrestling industry, and it was delightful to see.
The pursuit of that nostalgic feeling did not, however, dilute ITV’s obvious desire to offer up a post-modern pro wrestling product. No time was wasted in making that clear, thanks to the WWE-like segment that opened this first episode that saw Stu Bennett, the resident ‘WOS Executive’ and, effectively, the compere of the show promising this was the dawn of a new era and that the “jokers and the clowns” were gone.
It was difficult to marry up that notion when Grado immediately interrupted carrying the WOS Championship he won at the aforementioned New Year special in 2017, but that was soon cleverly utilised as the genesis of the show’s first storyline in true WWE Reality Era fashion – cue a functional five way match to determine Grado’s main event challenger, that gave a platform for Justin Sysum and Alan Maxted in particular to demonstrate their athletic capabilities.
That initial cluttered affair had some logic holes in the action, but warmed the enthusiastic audience up for the far more polished second match that saw WOS Wrestling make its first real statement, one that underlined the opening promise of Bennett – Will Ospreay vs. Davey Boy Smith Jr, booked under the name ‘British Bulldog Jr’ to sensibly cash-in on the international renown of his father. To a seasoned wrestling fan, their action packed, high octane match will have looked like countless others but to viewers tuning in out of curiosity – be that from the nostalgic memory of an older generation or the captured imagination of a youthful first time viewer – it was likely to have proven something very special, entirely unlike the wrestling of the so-called ‘glory days,’ as the commentary team christened the past. It seemed the two had been given a job, and it was one they relished: set out WOS Wrestling’s stall and show the nation what its new face was going to look like. Despite being impressed by the athletics, your Dad or Grandmother might call it ‘Americanised rubbish,’ but your kid brother or sister watching their first wrestling should have, by rights, been electrified by it.
Martin Kirby teamed with the Aiden English-like Joe Hendry to face Iestyn Rees and Kip Sabian in the first round of a WOS Tag Team Championship Tournament next as the show surged ahead without reprieve – a refreshing change for those of us conditioned by WWE’s meandering, bloated programming.
Like a WOS Wrestling take on Dolph Ziggler and Drew McIntyre’s recent partnership on WWE television, Sabian and Rees showed promise as centrepiece villains for the brand, pairing the smaller charismatic athlete with the larger powerhouse straight-man. It was their synergy as a team that allowed them to pick up the victory though, as Kirby and Hendry suffered through miscommunication and juddering chemistry that eventually saw Kirby walk out on Hendry and, in the process, hopefully setting up the first grudge feud of this new WOS Wrestling. It was a simple, time-tested story, but it worked.
Much the same can be said about all of WOS Wrestling’s ring content throughout this first episode. With WWE expanding in the UK with NXT, arguably snagging the majority of the nation’s best talent in the protest, what WOS Wrestling did well was maximise resource. Matches demonstrated a roster that, for the most part, were still mastering and polishing their craft. Those matches were kept simple, functional, but the one truth about pro wrestling WWE has long since forgotten is that simplicity and functionality often still works. Besides, any negative impact of the brand’s restraints, be they creatively or athletically, was offset with the enthusiastic crowd, the charmingly British showmanship, the still impressive athleticism and, above all else, the razor sharp focus on those simple stories being told.
The main event saw Justin Sysum and Rampage both challenge WOS Wrestling Champion Grado for his championship in a Triple Threat Match, and the booking method quickly became clear – Sysum entered as the clear babyface, and Rampage his heel opposite, a pair of statuses solidified by the antics in the opener.. The only question that remained as Grado entered with his championship was whether or not the promise of Bennett at the start of the night and the statement wrestled by Ospreay vs. Smith Jr shortly thereafter was going to be underlined with a title switch away from the comic act of the defending champ.
As the exchanges between Grado and Sysum played out, a gulf of both talent and tone became apparent. You’d have been blind not to conclude Sysum was the vastly superior athlete, the ‘sports entertainer’ compared to Grado’s retro act, heavily infused as it was with what felt like deliberate call backs to the Punch and Judy pantomime of WOS Wrestling’s former self. It would be easy to imagine that retro act would wear thin fairly quickly with a more hardcore wrestling fan as the weeks now progress but your parents and grandparents will love him for his efforts to channel the spirit of Big Daddy, as might the youngest members of the audience.
The aforementioned underline of the rest of the evening’s apparent intentions did indeed punctuate this opening episode of the new look WOS Wrestling, as the villainous Rampage picked up a big title win that has inherent promise – I have always believed the babyface chasing and the heel defending is the better make-up of a main event scene. A wise move then, but a note is worth making that the crowd reaction proved Grado’s act will have its place, appealing as it does so fervently to the feverish, rose-tinted memories of WOS Wrestling as it once was.
Ultimately, though, what lingers in the back of my mind coming out of WOS Wrestling’s full-fledged return to British TV is that typical pro wrestling vernacular and mode of thought that we here in the Internet Wrestling Community (IWC) abide by doesn’t seem to apply here.
WOS Wrestling was different. Unlike its misguided New Year special, this first episode had what felt like a clear vision, and it was executed superbly. The hour long show – WOS Wrestling is already employing the ‘Promised Land’ of pro wrestling programming in using a 60 minute weekly episodic format – raced by, and was hard to keep up with in writing this column. It felt so refreshing compared to sitting through 180 minutes of Monday Night Raw. The focus was in the ring, on the action, and trimmings were practically non-existent – the opening segment was unintrusively short and dutifully to the point, and the one backstage interview did its job surprisingly well. Commentary was humble, focussed, and the crowd was electrified by the basic stories being told in front of them. All of this created a show that felt healthy, that felt fun to watch, that felt passionate in achieving its goal. Sure, it had the usual tinpot production value of typical British light entertainment Saturday night television, but with the relevant adjustments made to the format in comparison to January 1st 2017, it didn’t matter half as much.
The reason for that was because I just enjoyed the hell out of that programme. Less really is more, and while it seems unlikely that WOS Wrestling will prove robust enough to warrant displacing other wrestling product in my life as a fan – or for me to even consider that – it has done more than enough to charm me into becoming a loyal viewer. With a new champion crowned under dubious circumstances, a good old fashioned tournament to crown the first WOS Wrestling Tag Team Champions, a partner having deserted a partner and the women’s division set to make their own mark, I’m riveted and engaged, ready to sit down with some more biscuits and tea this time next week to enjoy the hell out of another hour.
You know, sometimes, when you follow WWE as ardently as I do, you forget just how much fun even the most basic wrestling product can be.
Bravo ITV. You nailed it.
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