Just Business: WOS Wrestling Episode II

WOS Wrestling

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Just Business: WOS Wrestling Episode II

Last week’s debut episode of WOS Wrestling on ITV was a blast, provided you were able to put aside the typical pro wrestling mindset and come to understand this was a show produced by a network not a part of the industry, and completely unconcerned with that industry too. The results were freeing – a far cry from the top quality pro wrestling available on the circuit today, but that contained a hybrid spirit of just enough recognisable pro wrestling for die hards and just enough camp irreverence for the older generations with golden memories of what British wrestling – or “real wrestling” as it was affectionately known by our parents – once was.

So could WOS Wrestling Episode II live up to the humble standard of quality set seven days ago? If anything, the second week was going to be more important than the first. Memories of the woeful New Year’s special are still lingering, at least in this writer’s mind, and reassurance was needed that last week’s follow-up wasn’t just a fluke of a landing. This week had to make that landing stick.

Stu Bennett kicked off the action announcing a Triple Threat Match main event to crown the first ever WOS Wrestling Women’s Champion, supposedly inspired by the headlining match from last week’s inaugural episode, before a pattern was established – just like last week, WOS Wrestling Episode II kicked off with a stripped down WWE-like segment.

Flanked by his flunkies, new WOS Wrestling Heavyweight Champion Rampage emerged for a ‘championship celebration’ and, like last week’s opening segment, it was delightfully brief. Better yet, it immediately led to a WOS Wrestling Heavyweight Championship Match, that pitted Rampage against Aiden English’s Scottish doppelgänger, Joe Hendry!

In an age where in more prominent, more ‘legitimate’ promotions an entrance might take five minutes, here WOS Wrestling is getting on with the show, shooting through a celebration, a call out, a response and the making of a title match all in that same length of time. Imagine that – a world where we just get on with it.

The lifeblood of any wrestling show remains the action obviously, and that’s where many people will continue to be turned off with this humble little experiment of ITV’s. WOS Wrestling Episode II was very much in line with last week’s ring action. Matches were relatively basic, functional for the most part, but that’s all they needed to be. When the live crowd is as enthused, as happy to be there and as willing to play along with the pantomime of the in-ring storytelling as the WOS crowd is, the basic nature of the matches seems borderline irrelevant – in fact, it plays to the show’s favour, feeling refreshingly void of the self-imposed importance of bigger league grappling.

More to the point, there’s enough in there to still enjoy, and that applied to the opening World title bout. Rampage and Hendry’s effort won’t linger in your mind for long, but it was a pleasurable title bout nonetheless, on par with a standard lower mid card TV match you might see in WWE.

Liam Slater, Robbie X, Gabriel Kid and Lionheart welcomed us back from the first advert break of the night already standing in the four corners of the ring, prepped to compete in a Ladder Match. Fascinatingly, the prize here was kept a mystery – a simple slant on this modern wrestling staple that suddenly gets you wondering why something like that hasn’t been tried in so simple a fashion by America’s top promotion too. Rather than sniff at the light entertainment effort at mystery, I’d sooner applaud the desire to add an extra little intrigue to the affair.

These additions are baby steps, small ideas executed among the functional bouts, but I’ll be damned if I don’t enjoy the hell out of watching it.

There was no real through-line to this four man mid card affair unfortunately, instead watching as a platform for all four men to showcase what they can do to the nation watching. Athletic performances helped offset that a little, with Slater impressing in particular as a hot prospect for the show that could win a plentiful fan base among those willing to keep watching – he’s young, he’s good looking, he’s athletic and he’s plucky; he has all the makings, frankly, of a traditional wrestling hero. Lionheart played his part well too, the crafty and wily experienced ring general picking spots and demonstrating hard-nosed guile in pursuing the mystery reward.

It was Kidd who victoriously navigated his way around the array of legitimate steel ladders to claim the opportunity on offer for himself – though the refusal to reveal what that opportunity is until next week felt more frustrating than tantalising. But then, maybe that’s the traditional pro wrestling mindset in me, where it is widely agreed the sensible thing to do is to promote what are considered big matches in the promotion ahead of time. Remember, though, that mindset and the orthodox conversation it prompts hardly apply here.

There was barely time to pause for breath as WOS Wrestling Episode II continued rolling on without any fat to trim into the next match in the WOS Wrestling Tag Team Championship Tournament – Doug Williams and HT Drake vs. Nathan Cruz and Adam Maxted.

In something of an unintended nod to the 1980s, the wrestling stepped up a notch in this tag match, almost stealing the show for the second week running, this time thanks in no small part to the experienced presence of Doug Williams and self-evident hunger and natural charisma of the bout’s younger trio of stars. The action came thick and fast, full of pinning combinations and tag team continuity from both sides, ultimately making for a deeply satisfying watch. Veteran pro wrestling fans with eagle-eyes might have even spotted the bout’s fleeting tribute to the work of WWE’s Revival – a testament to the Top Guy’s influence on the tandem art form.

In the end, despite a gritty fighting effort from two naturally likeable heroes, the underhanded continuity of Cruz and Maxted was enough to overcome the guile of their opponents to advance in the tournament. Was it a match of superior quality to the tag wrestling we’ve seen elsewhere over the last two or three months? I’m not sure, but I know it was notably more entertaining, and presented with considerably greater importance – it is nailing the framework in such a way that to helps negate any issues a viewer might develop with the quality of the ring product.

And so, before you could blink, it was time for the main event of WOS Wrestling Episode II, contested for a rather beautiful looking WOS Wrestling Women’s Championship. Kay Lee Ray, Bea Priestley and Viper were those gifted with the honour of chasing World of Sport’s first ever Women’s Championship.

The match came to follow the obvious story worth telling, as Viper dominated her opposition with her size and raw power as Priestley and Lee Ray desperately sought to gain traction as a duo to overcome Viper’s overwhelming onslaught. Their resources failed them repeatedly, and only the sudden death nature of the Triple Threat kept both the smaller women in the contest. Adopting the Triple Threat structure spelled out in the genre redefinition provided by WWE’s Brock Lesnar, John Cena and Seth Rollins in January 2015, eventually Priestley and Ray were able to, together, incapacitate the monster long enough to sprint against one another towards an opportunistic win in whatever time they might have bought for themselves.

That time wasn’t enough.

Impressively, though, even when Viper reinserted herself in destructive fashion, the match only became increasingly frantic, almost frenetically competitive. The execution wasn’t always great, and like with every match on WOS Wrestling Episode II – and last week’s Episode I – it was in the minutiae where quality lacked. The grander conceptual vision, however, was very impressive, and even for all its flaws among the finer details the main event of WOS Wrestling Episode II was infinitely better than any of the women’s wrestling recently seen on WWE’s NXT UK specials.

It was Kay Lee Ray who picked up the win and the strap with a genuinely impressive show of strength as she nailed Viper with her finish to punctuate what was a main event that exceeded my expectations, thereby justifying its status in the top slot of the show.

In fact, putting aside all the remarks we might make about the camp nature of WOS Wrestling it’s worth saying that British wrestling has historic prestige of its own kind in this country, so this really was a high stakes match to crown the first ever WOS Women’s Champion. It was a little bit of British wrestling history that shouldn’t be lost on those proud of the heritage of the performance art in this country, one that utilised the vaunted past as a platform to showcase the exciting future.

That really was a theme for WOS Wrestling Episode II, and another factor that only added to its continued sense of much needed, palette cleansing refreshment. The announce team and the production is never afraid to champion the long and storied past of British wrestling, but when it does it is always sure to quickly follow-up with a reiteration that, as good as yesteryear might have been, tomorrow is only going to be better.

There are no words to describe just how much of a relief it is to watch any kind of a wrestling show that embraces that kind of an attitude in 2018.

Make no mistake that WOS Wrestling Episode II was all about paving the way towards a bright future, which it did by undoubtedly sticking the landing after all. Two weeks in and this feels now like a settled product with an adopted production style you won’t see anywhere else. It is one that borrows heavily from its American influences. It feels curiously retro in its simple design – not unlike the earliest 1993 episodes of Monday Night Raw in WWE for example – yet is undoubtedly about bracing the fresh young generation of British wrestlers who haven’t yet been snapped up by the Stamford-based monolith of Vince McMahon’s design.

Put simply, now, we’re settled in. Next week promises the first grudge match of this new WOS Wrestling, as Joe Hendry seeks some revenge on his treacherous one-time partner in a match being billed as Revenge or Redemption, while Gabriel Kidd gets to benefit from the fallout of his Ladder Match victory in this week’s WOS Wrestling Episode II as his mystery opportunity comes to fruition.

Not unlike the fans shown in every cut-away of tonight’s episode, I just sat through another hour of simplistic wrestling with a beaming smile on my face, and now I’m very much looking forward to the same again next week.

Until then, grapple fans!

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