If you follow British wrestling online, chances are you’ve heard of the imminent revival of World of Sport, a show that comes with some degree of trepidation, given ITV’s recent past with wrestling.
Branded as “WOS Wrestling” – since I guess it’s not really a World of Sport if you’ve only got one sport – there had been murmurs of a pilot for a wrestling show being taped in November, but with the likes of El Ligero (because… of course!), Zack Gibson, Kenny Williams, Johnny Moss, Sha Samuels, Mark Coffey, Joe Coffey and Dave Mastiff having announced themselves for the show, we can be hopeful that at least the show’s going to have some of Britain’s best wrestlers on it.
ITV have confirmed that it’ll be broadcast before the end of 2016, as a two-hour special featuring Jim Ross on commentary. Which doesn’t sound quite so weird, given that he was only over here a few weeks ago for that WhatCulture show. Regardless of when this makes air, that’ll be over 11 years after ITV’s last attempt to revive wrestling, in the form of 2005’s Celebrity Wrestling; a show that was looked to be a celebrity version of Tough Enough, but ended up being a million miles away from any form of wrestling.
Whilst Celebrity Wrestling did have some in-ring action, it was derided for the rest of its make-up, featuring games that looked like rejects from Gladiators. At least there were some name wrestlers on the show, in the form of the late “Rowdy “Roddy Piper (who hosted this debacle), whilst Joe Legend (WWE’s Just Joe) and D’Lo Brown acted as coaches. Despite it being ITV’s first stab at wrestling since their TransAtlantic Wrestling Challenge in 2000, it flopped. It flopped so badly that the show was pulled from its Saturday night timeslot and was hidden away on Sunday mornings until its run finished.
So, with eleven and a half years having passed, ITV’s now moved on and decided that now is the time to bring back wrestling. Well, why not? The British scene is still on an upward trend, but there’s a real danger here that there’s been a misunderstanding in what’s popular. Several years ago, the World of Sport style of wrestling made a resurgence, with the likes of Jack Gallagher and to a lesser extent, Zack Sabre Jr. borrowing from that style. What hasn’t made a resurgence is the format of the World of Sport matches.
Even with some promotions still hanging onto that format, people aren’t clamouring for the old Mountevans rules, where matches are split up across rounds until a pinfall or submission occurs. In that case, what exactly will this “WOS Wrestling” pilot have? British wrestlers in matches that are aimed at casual fans (which would be a bit like WhatCulture, only without the negative publicity surrounding it); or do we go back to the old format and have, say, El Ligero against Joe Coffey with rounds?
Or they could go the other way. The route that I affectionately call “the Gladiators way”. No, not having wrestlers climb a wall, or run around in giant hamster balls. It’s filling the crowd with day-glo colours and foam fingers, cheering and booing when a sign tells them to. Could that work? It all depends on how it’s presented – if there’s too much prominence to the footage of those fans reacting, then there’s a problem… if they’re in the background, then it shouldn’t be a problem.
What ITV have to be careful of, is to not badly misjudge their audience. A lot of advertising for this show has been done online, with wrestlers themselves promoting tickets for the show. As promotions throughout the years will attest, that’s advertising directly to hardcore, internet fans, not the casuals that you’d expect ITV to aim for. My worry is that if you end up getting hardcore fans to attend a show that ends up being aimed at a kid-friendly, prime-time audience, there’s the very real risk of having a show where you have a crowd that subconsciously, at least, will struggle to react to anything, regardless of who you’ve got out there.
At this stage, it’s only a pilot. There’s numerous shows throughout the years that have reached this stage and have not gone into full production; so even if the taping ends up being a day-glo, foam fingered mash-up of the 1980s and an All Star holiday camp show, it doesn’t necessarily mean that it’ll either end up like that in the long run. Sadly, you do get the impression that whomever is producing this for ITV really doesn’t “get” wrestling fans, particularly when the tickets to the show come with a request to “not wear plain black or white tops, checks, stripes, branded commercial logos”. Black t-shirts. It’s all we wear!
At the end of the day, we’re not going to know until the pilot has been recorded next month. If ITV does go down either the full-blown retro World of Sport route, or even the “Gladiators” route, then it’ll be a massive misstep, especially considering how much the British scene has blossomed in the last few years. Crucially, we need to remember that this show is not going to be aimed at hardcore fans like us. The addition of Jim Ross as a commentator is clearly a way to target fans who watched back in the Attitude era, and if anything, that’d make this a competitor for another promotion that sprung up this year: WCPW.
Whilst I can’t see ITV using this as a vehicle for other promotions – we’re hardly going to have the show promote “hey, see El Ligero as a bad guy in PROGRESS” or “watch ICW to see more of the Coffeys” – I’ve got a strong feeling that this revival isn’t going to be handled so badly that it’ll do any damage to the UK scene. If WOS Wrestling airs, is successful and gets a full series, it’s not going to kill PROGRESS. It’s not going to kill Rev Pro. It’s not going to kill ICW… or any other promotion. It’ll create a new base of casual wrestling fans, with some of those potentially going to other shows and maybe create even more new promotions – which means more shows to watch live, and more pay-days for the wrestlers.
At worst, it’ll be a one-and-done show which’ll be a footnote to the British scene. A footnote that’ll just put off those people who would rather have seen X-Factor, Britain’s Got Talent or whatever other junk shows ITV churns out. In order words, it’ll scare off people who probably didn’t have had any affinity to wrestling in the first place!