It’s amazing what you can find on YouTube – particularly when it’s something that perhaps could have been consigned to the dustbin of history.
We’ve said it before here on BackBodyDrop – television isn’t the be-all and end-all of things, particularly when it comes to wrestling. Since World of Sport left British screens in 1985, the UK has seen plenty of attempts, and usually, they’ve all been flash-in-the-pan affairs. One such effort came in the form of 1999’s UWA Wrestling Rampage.
Airing on L!VE TV – a channel that was only accessible via cable (not even via Sky/satellite TV) – it’d be fair to say that the program wasn’t exactly getting massive exposure, but hey, it was ticking that supposed panacea that was “get British wrestling back on TV”. We’ll be looking back at the complete series, finishing with a look at how it was set-up compared to what wrestling was offering elsewhere in the world at the time. Remember, this was taped in the same time as we had the “Monday Night Wars” – the whole WWE Attitude and the WCW/nWo storylines – and with the bulk of the crowd being fans of the American product, they’d either have to offer something at the same level or something radically different (but crucially, still good) to survive.
As you’d probably guess, the UWA barely lasted six months, as they spent themselves into closure – with too much money spent on advertising, and painfully little coming back in the form of ticket sales.
So, the debut episode starts with Dan Berlinka (one of the two founders of the promotion) in a television control room, welcoming us to the show. As well as being the founder, Berlinka was actually the director of this show, and would go on to create a children’s TV show called Dixi, as well as write for many other TV shows such as Thunderbirds, Hollyoaks and Shaun the Sheep.
On the initial show is a match for the MPW (Michinoku Pro) British Commonwealth Junior Heavyweight Title, featuring Tiger Mask (the same one who’s still wrestling in Japan in 2016) vs. Jason Cross. “The Mighty Papa T”, Mick McManus, Paul Sloane and Jonny Storm are also on the card.
Billed as the first nationally televised match in over a decade, we get a video package of Phil Powers, along with manager Steve Lynskey (yes, the same guy who’s now a referee… except here he’s apparently American). We see almost a young, cherub-like Doug Williams and footage of a recent match that ended with Lynskey accidentally throwing powder at Williams.
There’s footage of “Mad Dog” powerbombing Phil Powers during an episode of L!VE TV’s “CatFight”, before we’re taken to the ring. So far, this really does come across like a reboot of the World of Sport, with a measured, professional approach to the show… rather than the archetypical bombastic overtones that you’d have associated with an American product.
Then we go to the ring, where our ring announcer really oversells the dog part of Mad Dog McPhie’s gimmick, saying he’s got “canine-like instincts”, likes “freshly slaughtered livestock” and has just been released from quarantine. I was expecting the worst when his ring music started with pitiful dog whimpering, but if an cliche-riddled, quintessentially 90s ring announcer in leather and denim is the worst this product has, then it can’t be too bad.
Mad Dog McPhie vs. Phil Powers
Oh my word. “UWA’s Mister Nice, Phil Powers”. With a gimmick like that, this guy wouldn’t stand a chance in 2016. Especially with his ring music predictably being Snap’s “I’ve got the power”
McPhie jumps into Powers from the bell, before Phil chops back and lands a diving elbow and a dropkick. McPhie uses his size to his advantage by… going into the world’s sloppiest Sharpshooter.
Powers returns fire with a neckbreaker, then a suplex, and then a missile dropkick, which even gets a multi-angle replay. A butterfly suplex gets Powers a two-count, as Rolling Thunder (a forward roll into a corner charge) and a kick to the back of McPhie’s spine keeps Powers on top.
At least until Powers went flying, as he missed a senton, only to pop up and shock McPhie with a roll-up for the win. That was far from good… the match was too short to be anything special, and although we were told a story, there’s something about seeing a giant’s first move against a smaller man being a Sharpshooter, They dubbed music immediately after the match ended, so we could see Phil Powers celebrating to his music, but not hear anyone in the crowd reacting. **
Since it’s my favourite subject, the commentary team certainly fit in with L!VE TV’s “tabloid television” style, with the overblown cliches and such like. Inoffensive, but certainly not memorable.
Backstage now, and we have our backstage interview with Paul Sloan. It’s as “white meat babyface” as you’d see. Next!
Back to Dan Berlinka in studio, who builds up the upcoming title match, the Death Squad, the Tiny Girls, “Papa T takes a short stroll around the ring” and Mick McManus.
Late 1990s adverts were really odd… but on L!VE TV seemed to have nothing but car finance and loan companies advertising. Oh. and the Mystical Tarot, who seemed to have the answer to everything by turning some cards over as you paid £1 a minute to listen in.
We return to the arena, where we’re invited to give a “huge wrestling welcome” to Mick McManus and his dubbed music. McManus is billed as the UWA’s chairman, which was an authority figure back before they were massively overdone. Judging from everyone’s attire here, I’m guessing that black and leather was the uniform of the UWA?
McManus has a sit-down interview playing over some generic B-reel footage of the roster. They announce a ten man “winner stays on tournament”, with names to follow, but first, it’s back to the ring for tag team action.
2 Far Gone have what I guess is meant to be garage music, but again they seem to be cast as white-meat babyfaces, against the Death Squad – who used Nirvana’s “Smells Like Teen Spirit”. They were billed at an “incomprehensible” 515lbs (which is quite comprehensible when you consider that by that point, wrestling had already had a 500+lb Giant/Big Show, and a 500-800lb sumo wrestler called Yokozuna. For some reason the Death Squad – who looked like a low-rent British version of the Nasty Boys – were accompanied by the “Tiny Girls”, which is an act I’m not about to look up on Google thank-you-very-much. That combination seemed very incongruous; it wasn’t even like the Death Squad’s valets were even in matching attire to give the idea that they were biker chicks or anything… they really felt like they had been tacked on by the TV channel.
Apparently the Death Squad are from Sheffield, as they tell the fan they’re about to go to work on these “Southern boys”
2 Far Gone (Paul Tyrell & Steve Morocco) vs. The Death Squad (Mad Mark Myers & Duke Lynch)
Morocco easily gets shoved into the corner and tags out to Tyrell, who has less luck against Myers. An enziguiri from Tyrell and a double dropkick takes down Lynch, who sneaks in a double-team on Morocco by hanging him across the top ropes.
A very lackadaisical clothesline from Myers takes down Morocco, but 2 Far Gone make a comeback with a double team leapfrog that… doesn’t go well, shall we say, as Tyrell lands on his partner’s head before making contact with Myers’ back. They leave in the “you fucked up” chants from the crowd, before an axehandle chop/backbreaker combo gets just a one count.
After breaking up the pin, Lynch picks up Tyrell with a stalling tree slam – called the Tearjerker – before the Death Squad combine for the Sheffield Hammer. That being, a double team move where Myers backflips using Lynch as a base, landing onto Tyrell for the win. An impressive move given their size, but again, completely incongruous to the whole act. Speaking of, the Tiny Girls go fishing for kisses in the crowd after the match as their charges continue to beat down 2 Far Gone after the match. *¼
We’re back to the studio, and apparently the Death Squad are harrassing Mick McManus for a tag team title shot. Which is the first we’ve ever heard of this group having a tag team title. Or indeed, any other tag teams.
More commercials follow, including for a show called “Bangers and Smash”, and for adjustable beds, with a housewife telling us how her husband Willie loves it. Yeah, this wasn’t subtle…
Dan in the studio again introduces us to Tiger Mask IV from Michinoku Pro Wrestling. He tells us he had to earn his place as “Tiger Mask”, and even referred back to the original Tiger Mask’s matches with Dynamite Kid. The title they’re fighting for – the Michinoku Pro British Commonwealth Junior Heavyweight title – was vacated because the last champion didn’t defend it. Apparently that would have been the Dirt Bike Kid, for those whose memories go back that far… Holy backstories Batman!
We get a backstage promo from Tiger Mask. In Japanese. Without translation. Oh well, we can’t have everything… but perhaps we could have done without one of the commentators mocking him for “looking like he’s in pantomime”.
MPW British Commonwealth Junior Heavyweight Title: Jason Cross vs. Tiger Mask
That title belt, by the way, looks a little odd, as it just has the word “ENGLAND” emblazoned on it three times. It’s not just a gimmick belt, and a few years earlier was part of the J-Crown – the haul of nine titles that Ultimo Dragon once carried around with him.
I’m just going to ignore the ignorant/heel commentary for this one..
Tiger Mask takes down Cross with a kick, before the pair go back and forth with wristlocks. They get one-counts after leg sweeps, before Jason Cross’ attempt at a handspring elbow ends up so badly done, the crowd boo and chant “you fucked up” again. The commentary team try to mask it by saying it’s a chant of “UWA”, which is a valiant effort!
Tiger Mask sends Cross to the outside with a dropkick, before he goes flying with a tope. Cross returns to the ring, but gets met with flying forearm, and then a crossbody off the top rope for a near-fall. A second attempt is caught as Cross crotches Tiger Mask on the top rope, before sending him flying into the ring with a hurricanrana.
A cannonball off the apron sees Cross take down Tiger Mask – as we actually do get UWA chants now. Back inside, Cross drops Tiger Mask with some European uppercuts, before a Northern Lights suplex earns him a two-count. Cross misses a moonsault off the top rope, and walks back into a spin kick from Tiger Mask, whose moonsault also goes wrong, before a wonky sit-out powerbomb gets Cross another near-fall.
Cross’ latest leap off the top rope is met with a dropkick to the gut, before Tiger Mask connects with a top rope moonsault – and that’s the win! A lot shorter than I anticipated, but save for Cross’ slip-ups, this wasn’t too bad. ***¼
Dan’s back in the studio and announces Gran Naniwa vs. Kerry Cabrero for next week’s show. Naniwa gets a promo, but this time they actually remembered a translator for him! The UWA TV title match is also announced, and it’s that ten-man gauntlet match, with the names revealed “earlier on”… but this is the first time we get them on TV. Competing in the Royal Rumble with pinfalls will be Phil Powers, Doug Williams, Paul Sloane, Jonny Storm, Mad Dog McPhie, Kerry Cabrero, “Fallen Angel” Christopher Daniels (yes, the same one), Big Papa T, Danny Royal and Stevie Knight.
Berlinka notes that Christopher Daniels is the only non-British wrestler in the tournament… and apparently this was a condition of him signing. Daniels takes on “100% British Beef” Danny Royal next week.
We get a recap of Powers vs. McPhie from earlier, before a shot of Big Papa T – a masked man in a singlet – power-walking down a high street takes us to break. Apparently Big Papa T is a former bodyguard to the president of Congo, and a former amateur wrestler… and he’s in action next.
A laser show depicts a man having his head cut-off in a guillotine – incidentally, those lasers have been working as entrance “videos” for everyone here, in lieu of what we expect nowadays. Big Papa T’s out with someone called Rebecca, which I guess could work if she was acknowledged as, say, a handler… anyway, he’s dancing down to the ring. Just because. Big Papa T’s apparently banned from amateur wrestling for reasons we’re not told, and he used to be an executioner. Which explains the guillotine animation in his entrance.
Big Papa T vs. Mark Sloane
Sloane starts by trying to tie-up with Papa, but he just nonchalantly walks away. Second time wasn’t lucky as Sloane gets shoved into the corner as Papa dances some more… and again.
Sloane kips up, and they finally lock up as he… gets pushed away. Big Papa T no-sells Sloane’s kicks that, thanks to the camera angle, don’t even look like they connected. A horrid looking belly to belly takes down Sloane, as a leg drop is followed up by a Texas Cloverleaf, that Mark Sloane immediately taps to. This was WWE mid 2000s level of “big guy who can’t work” awful. -*
After the match, Papa T dances around the ring as Rebecca follows him to the back. Papa T is apparently an advert for wrestling… erm… yeah.
We’re back to Dan Berlinka who’s showing us Paul Sloan and Phil Powers. Jameelah’s got an interview with Powers, who has another generic babyface promo summarising his match from earlier, and then wishes Sloane luck.
Apparently 225lb is “train stopping”. I’m not going to try and verify that, but I can tell you that this ring announcer’s hyperbole remains horrendous.
Paul Sloan vs. Jonny Storm
Yes, it’s the same Jonny Storm who’s still going around today. The commentary team tease that Storm’s spoken with Steve Lynskey, which I guess is to underline Storm’s over-the-top heel act.
The match starts with a press slam from Sloan, then a clothesline that sends Storm to the outside. Steve Lynskey comes out with Mad Dog McPhie during the match, as Sloan gets a spear for a near-fall, with McPhie breaking the count yet not causing a disqualification. A dropkick from Storm takes down Sloan, before he goes up top for a frog splash and misses.
Sloan capitalises by picking up Storm, then throwing him into the corner for some mounted punches. Steve Lynskey leaps onto the apron to distract the referee, as McPhie clocks Sloan, before Storm takes the chance to roll him up whilst having the feet on the ropes for the win. Way too short to be anything really. *
After the match, McPhie powerbombs Sloan, before he holds him up for some of the weakest slaps in wrestling history from Lynskey. Phil Powers rushes out for the save, but not before McPhie and Storm double-team Sloan with a powerbomb. Powers hits a plancha to the two heels, as security come out to separate them.
The show ends with Dan in the studio once more, as he signs off by plugging more matches for next week: Doug Williams vs. Stevie Knight, Danny Royal vs. Christopher Daniels and Gran Naniwa vs. Kerry Cabrero; before the show closes with a sub-10 second generic promo with Jameelah and Mick McManus.
Jameelah: “Quite a situation we’ve got going on at the moment, Mick.”
McManus: “Well, not really, we can resolve it and have a tag match, and have it right here next week”
I really hope they reuse that as routine often as they can, since they didn’t personalise it in any way…
As a debut offering, it certainly gave the UWA a base to build from. They debuted a group of characters in the ring, and filled us in with more of the roster than you’d have expected. That being said, the majority of action on show was positively dire, featuring guys in the cross-over period between the glory days of World of Sport, and the era where the British scene tried to occupy itself with bland characters, big wrestlers, and generally failed at an attempt to copy the American product.
As we take infrequent looks at this product, I can only hope the bell-to-bell action improves!