A new week for the revival of WOS Wrestling came with a new opportunity to prove its unique ability to take modern wrestling precepts and produce such concepts free of the usual stresses imposed on a promotion by the industry standards. This time, that took the form of WOS Wrestling Episode III’s grudge match, the first since the WOS brand’s resurrection. ‘Revenge or Redemption’ witnessed Joe Hendry vs. Martin Kirby in the former’s chance to make the latter pay for the walk-out we witnessed in Episode I’s WOS Wrestling Tag Team Championship Tournament opening round match.
Before that, though, Stu Bennett told Grado in a backstage segment at the top of the show that part of his remit is to put wrestling first at WOS Wrestling, and so far that’s exactly what we’ve seen. Brevity has become the show’s trademark, a rapid pace to the action both within and between matches, and WOS Wrestling Episode III was no different – Bennett’s hard words to Grado rapidly eventuated in the self-christened ‘People’s Champion’ emerging this week bedecked in a suit and tie to take on Sha Samuels. The objective: prove to Bennett that Grado had as much substance to his ring game as he had sizzle to his showmanship.
Did he succeed? Perhaps fans might debate that question in real terms, but what mattered here was what (refreshingly) matters most in WOS Wrestling and that’s the fiction, the story we’re being asked to invest in. Once again the enthused and willing live crowd did just that, making it easier for the television viewer to do likewise. Surviving a pasting from Samuels and shedding any pretence of a corporate sell-out with the metaphoric visual of discarding his suit and tie amidst a comeback to reveal his traditional ring gear, it was a simple story with a simple but pertinent message: it is possible to do you and still matter, even when you’re told it isn’t.
But let’s keep in mind that Grado’s objective in the story was perhaps not the match’s point in reality. Instead, once again Grado found himself at the heart of the campest part of the show. That campness, that legacy of British pantomime, remains a vital part of WOS Wrestling’s heritage, positioning Grado as a performer perhaps not front and centre of Bennett’s own crusade to put the wrestling first but as the indispensable key-keeper of WOS Wrestling’s popular memory.
The ‘Revenge or Redemption’ grudge match around which WOS Wrestling Episode III had been heavily promoted rolled up next in short order, and by this stage anybody who had already watched through Episodes I and II should have found it no surprise that the moral line was as clearly defined and ardently adhered to as ever – the crowd were firmly behind the heroic Hendry and made no secret of their revulsion for the mutinous Kirby.
The design of WOS Wrestling Episode III’s featured match proved hugely impressive, inflecting its early goings with the spirit of iconic pro wrestling matches like Kurt Angle vs. Shane McMahon, Kirby challenging Hendry – who, the commentary track pointed out, had been to the Commonwealth Games with his amateur skills – to a mat exchange. In fact, the influence of Angle was clear to identify throughout the match’s major spots. The patient, segmented beginning that maximised Kirby’s opportunities to become ever-more hated by the live crowd clearly reflected a main event design seen frequently in the highest echelons of the business internationally too. Discuss execution all you like; simple matches have, much like the admirable brevity, become a stamp of WOS Wrestling. That can never take away from the concept of a match’s design though, and the concept of ‘Revenge or Redemption’s’ design was brave and aspiring and well-performed, emulating some of the industry’s finest of both today and yesterday together.
Kirby’s underhanded victory is a classical idea, one that felt justified by the story told between him and Hendry thus far while leaving open the opportunity for a second singles encounter later down the line, perhaps with a tasty stipulation attached to it. If such a final encounter emerges, Hendry vs. Kirby will be the kind of modernised, Americanised melodrama not often seen in the original incarnation of WOS, adding only another impressive accomplishment to the reincarnation’s resume – operating in a new creative sphere of the industry, and doing so with great success. When taken in that context, Hendry vs. Kirby, both specifically on WOS Wrestling Episode III and in general, is a pretty historically important feud, being the first of its kind to break that aforementioned ground in World of Sport.
BT Gunn and Stevie Boy greeted us from another advert break, looking like a peculiarly British version of WWE’s Uso brothers circa 2014. Brad Slayer and CJ Banks provided their opposition in WOS Wrestling Episode III’s entry in the tremendously fun Tag Team Championship Tournament, in what proved to be yet another throwback to the kind of tag wrestling that positioned the 1980s as a heyday for the format. The action popped with energy, combining impressive visuals with a mobile and ever-shifting story that prioritised rapid tags and focussed on surgical continuity. The result was a tightly performed encounter that successfully utilised the essential tag story of the hot babyfaces scoring a searingly hot tag to attain a feel good victory.
There’s no denying that the heroic victors Gunn and Boy seem poised to become the central beneficiaries of this tournament, an impressively polished article that’s only going to get better with experience. Their future is immensely bright.
Fans shouldn’t have expected the high of Gunn and Boy’s win to last long though, considering the sadistic Bennett runs the show. No sooner had the two young prospects celebrated their win did Gabriel Kidd discover his ‘huge’ opportunity was little more than a painful play on words – the size of his opportunity was meant literally, as Bennett rewarded Kidd’s Ladder Match win last week with a gladiatorial run-in with the leviathan Crater. “Schadenfreude is my favourite form of comedy!” Bennett exclaimed as he relished Kidd’s unnecessary evisceration. Is this the beginning of Kidd’s WOS Wrestling story? Will he return from this massacre as the fighting future striving against the inexplicable grudge of a corporate suit to fulfil his potential? For now the only certainty is that, by the time Crater and Bennett were done, Kidd had earned the sympathy of the fans, something Bennett in particular should be careful of – history shows us the weight of fan support can far outweigh the power of the office, even when the weight of that power comes in the ecliptic form of Crater.
WOS Wrestling Episode III was, like its preceding two episodes, already culminating before you could catch your breath, this week main evented with Heavyweight Champion Rampage defending his title for the second week running, this time against a man spurned two weeks ago in the form of the athletic Justin Sysum.
Rampage emerged flanked by his usual flunkies, Samuels and Banks, both wearing the scars of their earlier battles and neither enough to deter the immensely athletic Sysum. WOS Wrestling Episode III’s main event exploded into life with the kind of vibrant athletics that have been in the ascendancy throughout the industry in the last decade, marking this a fashionable match that saw Sysum utilise his combination of size and speed to repeatedly get the better of the juxtaposed champion. This was the always effective debate between styles – Rampage, the grounder and pounder, sought to slow the bout down to a grind that favoured his smash-mouth brawling, while Sysum, the diver and the flyer, sought instead to keep the pace inflamed.
The pace switched as the opposing styles performed their tango, vying for supremacy, the action playing out with a pair of refined performances that eventually led to a spirit-crushing conclusion as CJ Banks prevented Sysum from avoiding a count-out on the back of a climactic double clothesline spot that landed both competitors temporarily on the outside of the ring. Do I smell another grudge brewing? I hope so!
In the end WOS Wrestling Episode III proved to be the third confident show in a row, as self-assured about its identity as the two already in the archive. Deftly handling a slew of traditional pro wrestling tropes once more, without a sign of a stumble anywhere inside of its smile-inducing sixty minutes, this is a product that continues to build a success out of a humble knowledge of its strongest and weakest points. In sticking to a masterful execution of the basics and now beginning to inject some character and storyline development in equal parts, what WOS is doing is employing that old Paul Heyman adage: accentuate the positives, de-emphasise the negatives.
Unfinished business is now abounds. Hendry should, by rights, not yet be done with Kirby, who is now set to wrestle WOS Wrestling’s greatest talent acquisition next week in the form of Will Ospreay. Could there be a little shared universe storytelling on the near horizon? Sysum has continued reason to pursue the WOS Wrestling Heavyweight Championship while Rampage may yet have to defend his title for the third week straight. Even in the show’s ‘mid card’ – if it might be called that – we have intrigue developing, with Kidd now possessing a bone to pick with Crater and the man weaponising WOS’s resident monster: executive Stu Bennett. Plus we get some more women’s action, and let’s not forget how outstanding the women proved just seven days ago.
WOS Wrestling Episode III continued the trend of its two predecessors in leaving me with a beaming smile on my face. At this point I no longer have any reason to doubt Episode IV won’t do the same.
Until then, grapple fans!
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