Eighteen months on from their New Year’s Eve pilot, ITV finally came good with the wrestling as the first of a ten-part series began this past Saturday night.
The opening video package feels rather like mid 00s WWE, shots in the locker room of folks taping up, warming up… and then we’re live inside the “WOS Arena”, with Alex Shane and So Cal Val on commentary. Val introduces the new WOS executive from commentary: Stu Bennett. He doesn’t quite have bad news, as he says that the says that the days of the “professional buffoons” are over. Cue Grado! It’s worth noting that dead air is an enemy of this commentary team, who seem to be overly scripted and then some.
Also for some reason the hard camera isn’t exactly level. I get the feeling that Grado’s about to slide away in the midst of the Kevin Dunn-ish camera cuts. Grado tells us he walks his dog rather than go to the gym, but he does it with pride… he’s an every man! Remember the pilot from 18 months or so ago? Grado does, because he won the WOS title then and it was the best night of his life.
Bennett says that Grado doesn’t represent the future of WOS, so we’re already plumbed into “bad guy authority figure” territory. We quickly move onto the announcement of a five-man eliminator, with the winner getting a shot at Grado.
Rampage vs. Adam Maxted vs. Sha Samuels vs. Justin Sysum vs. Crater
All five men were introduced at the same time, presumably as Stu’s evil henchmen… which is going to make any cheering/booing a bit tricky, no? Crater’s billed by Alex Shane as over 36 stone, which’d put him at original Yokozuna levels (500lbs)… which seems a bit of a stretch?
The bell rings as Rampage and Sha jumped Sysum in the aisle… while we see Crater just hurling Maxted down the aisle in the background. Crater makes it into the ring, and bulldozes through Sha and Rampage, complete with a quick replay, before Adam Maxted steals the spotlight from Crater… and gets made to pay with a scoop slam. Hey, there’s an overhead Wiley Coyote cam! Crater sits on Maxted in the ropes as we rotate through the virtual rolodex of camera angles… and we’re told that Crater’s disqualified for choking? Not to matter, he clotheslines everyone then chokeslams Sysum as we’re replayed the DQ… the first time in forever that a wrestler’s been DQ’d for the rope choke spot. They’d best be this stringent with the rules throughout!
With the big man gone, the slightly less-bigger men are left behind as Sha and Rampage double-team Sysum relentlessly. A double clothesline from Sysum and some Stinger splashes put paid to those two, as we’re shown a nice thru-the-turnbuckles angle as Sysum hits a springboard crossbody.
Eh, it’s shrugged off as Sha and Rampage combine to hit him with a clothesline for a near-fall… they do it again, but this time in extra-close zoom as Rampage accidentally hits Sha, who’s rolled up by Sysum for the pin! Sha hangs around at ringside though as Rampage jumps him… a shoulder charge misses as Rampage sails to the outside, leaving Maxted and Sysum in the ring… and after some missed elbows from “Flex” Sysum shows off some leapfrogs and a dropkick as Maxted heads outside. He’s knocked off the apron as Sysum goes in for a tope… but he clips the top rope and takes a nasty landing!
Referee Steve Lynskey starts the ten count, focusing on those two… Sysum makes it back in while Sha rolls in Rampage just after the ten count. Lynskey awards the win to Sysum… and apparently he effed up because he’d also counted out Rampage despite NOT looking at him. A decent, if not rushed opener, cramming a little too much into the time it got. **¾
Not to worry, Stu Bennett is quickly on hand to confirm that Sysum is in the main event… and that Rampage will be there too “because the referee blew it”. So it’s a three-way for the WOS title in the main event. Hey, they got there in the end, but did they need to be so convoluted?
Back from commercial, we’ve a Don’t Try This At Home warning, before Alex Shane recaps what we just saw. Hey, they’ve gone for the WWE-like LED board on the camera-facing ring apron. Except it’s a little too wide and sticks out on both sides…
Will Ospreay vs. Davey Boy Smith Jr.
Hey, surprise Will Ospreay… and he’s in against “British Bulldog Jr.” Uh oh. I sense a style clash.
Commentary puts over both men as being global stars, and we start with Bulldog showing off some shoulder tackles, before Ospreay sent him outside with a ‘rana and a dropkick. Bulldog’s quickly back in with a shotgun dropkick as Ospreay rebounded off the ropes, before he sends Will into the corners hard. Alex Shane called Ospreay the “most viral wrestler ever”, before thankfully throwing in some context as the Bulldog held him up for a nice slam.
Another big slam follows, with a replay of Ospreay’s sell, before get a delayed stalling suplex, continue with the camera panning up and down Ospreay. More replays! The Bulldog’s really neutered Ospreay throughout the match, until he throws him into the ropes and eats a handspring overhead kick in return! Yep, we replay that! Ospreay’s right back in with a springboard forearm and a standing corkscrew moonsault for a near-fall… but a missed enziguiri allowed the Bulldog to grab Will and catch him with a delayed German suplex. Another German suplex is flipped out of by Ospreay, who runs into a lariat as he was almost put-away. A standing Spanish fly out of nowhere gets Ospreay a two-count as the editor’s trigger finger was right there on the replay, before he hauled up the Bulldog for a Storm Breaker.
It’s escaped by Smith, who teases a Bulldog powerslam… but instead Ospreay’s in with a Dragon suplex, then the Robinson special for a near-fall. Will heads up top, but his shooting star press meets the Bulldog’s knees, before he’s caught with a Saito suplex… two-count! One Ligerbomb later though… and we’re still waiting as Ospreay’s damn near invincible! Next up is a superplex, which Ospreay blocks because he slips down for the Cheeky Fernando’s Kick. No likey, if only because I see you shoe-horning in the synergy Alex Shane… in the end it’s not enough though as Ospreay tries for a springboard cutter, only to get caught with a powerslam off the middle rope, and the Bulldog gets the win. Enjoyable stuff, if not massively over-edited… I’d love to see the raw footage of this. ***½
In among the myriad of camera angle cuts, it’s worth pointing out that the Epic Studios in Norwich seems to be a very short venue – and if you shoot pointing up, you’re going to get studio lights in shot. WWE had the same issue with this with their show last year… it is what it is, I guess.
We’re taken backstage next with Rachel Stringer, who’s there with the WOS tag team title belts. Kip Sabian and Iestyn Rees are there, but Kip isn’t happy with her pre-amble… and insists that they’re not “one team” they are “the team.”
WOS Tag Team Championship Tournament – First Round: Martin Kirby & Joe Hendry vs. Kip Sabian & Iestyn Rees
Joe Hendry gets his own music, which instantly makes him stand out head and shoulders above everyone else, and by God, he’s over. See, all you need is to sing your own music and have a gold jacket!
Commentary’s all about how Kirby and Hendry came out separately, perhaps a little too much, as we crash into adverts. We’re back as Hendry and Sabian exchange takedowns, but Hendry’s quickly on top with a wristlock before Kirby comes in to drop a double axe to the arm. Kirby’s got to fight out of a headlock as Sabian’s right back in, before he cartwheeled past Kip and hits some headscissors… which are naturally replayed.
Hendry’s back in as they hit a double back elbow, before Iestyn Rees gets himself involved as he holds Hendry from the outside ahead of an attack from Sabian. Stu Bennett’s as partisan as always on commentary there, as Hendry’s now playing the good guy in peril as he’s kept well away from Martin Kirby in the other corner. Hendry does manage to get a roll-up on Rees, but there’s a kick out that sent Hendry into Kirby – who’d wandered down the apron for some reason. That keeps the momentum in the bad guys’ favour, with Sabian hitting a nice step-up enziguiri and a slingshot leg drop as they came close to winning. Eventually, a missed missile dropkick from Sabian gives Hendry a chance to tag out… but Martin Kirby drops off the apron, having clearly not forgiven Hendry for the earlier accident.
Kirby walked away as Hendry began a spirited comeback, in spite of being beaten down for so long, including a nice stacked-up fallaway slam. That IS a Freak of Nature! Except it apparently was enough for Alex Shane to say that “if this was the Commonwealth Games, Hendry’d be walking out of here on points.” Really? Hendry keeps up as he trips Rees and rolls him into an ankle lock, but Kip Sabian broke it up with a missile dropkick before a powerbomb/top rope cutter combo was enough to put away Joe Hendry. This was fine, but you could tell from the hard camera side alone that the crowd weren’t THAT into it. More on that later… **½
WOS Championship: Rampage vs. Justin Sysum vs. Grado (c)
Rampage was cornered by Sha Samuels and CJ Banks – with little reasoning for their partnership – but at least everyone got proper entrances.
That kid’s been given the Grado hat again, and for the second time in the show, he’s nonplussed. For some reason Steve Lynskey’s your ref, despite his cock-up earlier… perhaps Stu was asleep at the wheel there? We start with Grado busting out the Dusty punches and a Bionic elbow on Rampage, who’s then clotheslined to the outside by Sysum as we get the Big Daddy “eas-eh” chants. We then get the non-Big Daddy comedy as Grado does high kicks into the air, and a side headlock as we’re back to the “eas-eh” stuff. I don’t get why Sysum’s laughing at falling for these pratfalls… I’m with Stu.
Grado catches a boot out of the corner from Sysum as we’re here for more goofing, but the Hammer backflips out as Grado just claps like a seal. Rampage tries to attack them from behind but his cameo’s cut-short as he’s tossed outside… he quickly recovers to trip Sysum ass they brawl on the outside… in place for Grado to leap off the apron with a cannonball! Back inside, Grado tries to cover Rampage, but gets a near-fall as Rampage sparked into life, dumping the Scotsman with a suplex as the tide turned. Sysum’s still knocked loopy, but he’s able to come back in with a flying shoulder tackle to Rampage, before he looked to charge at Rampage and got knocked in mid-stride by Grado, who followed in with a cannonball.
He doesn’t follow up on Rampage, who tries to hit a banned piledriver… but Grado back drops free and hits a cutter for a near-fall as Sysum breaks it up. Rampage shoves Sysum to the outside, and he’s right back on Grado with a leaping DDT for the win. That was a bit sudden, but we wrap up the show with Rampage holding the WOS title aloft. **
Next week: we’ve a ladder match for a “big opportunity” (featuring Robbie X, Liam Slater, CJ Banks and a fourth man I couldn’t identify), tag title tournament action with Doug Williams and HT Drake vs. Nathan Cruz and Adam Maxted, and women’s action as Bea Priestley, Viper and Kay Lee Ray battle to crown a women’s champion.
So… WOS Wrestling’s rebirth. Well, it’s “not for hardcore fans” – it’s so clearly a product aimed at a mainstream audience with the hope/intention of getting them to watch the show regularly. The ITV gloss instantly makes this show stand out head and shoulders of just about everything bar WWE these days. Except they seem to have surpassed WWE in one thing. Camera angles. They have gone massively overboard on them. Fixed hard cam? Check. Rarely-done camera between-the-turnbuckles? Check. (I’ll not say “first”, because AML already did it). Mobile cameras? Check. Crowd cameras? Check. Overhead, rotating camera? Check. Slightly further-in-than-hard camera at-an-angle? Check. Having so many feeds gives the production and editing team a wealth of options… and if you’re not used to shooting wrestling, it perhaps is too tempting to “try and show everything at once.” That’s the trap WOS fell into, with a dizzying array of camera angles, instant replays and suffocatingly-tight edits. Whether they’re able to re-edit and cut down on this remains to be seen…
As for commentary, well, Alex Shane’s decent enough at the role of doing play-by-play, but it could do with being toned down a bit. On the 2016 pilot, one of the main complaints was about commentary… and sadly it does feel like it’s horribly canned at points. So Cal Val was there for the tapings, but for some reason her interactions were either wooden or seemed like she was in another room entirely.
My only major concerns here, aside from the production (which I doubt can change bar editing since the raw footage is all in the can), is the way it’s been presented. Assume you’re a new fan, hardly any of the characters and scenarios were fleshed out. You can get why Stu Bennett doesn’t like Grado (even if it does only add to the mid-noughties WWE feel), but (for instance), why is Joe Hendry happy to challenge for the tag titles but not the big one? While throwing out five names in the initial world title picture is a bit much (and I’m not a fan of opening your show with a match that had an elimination that was not blindingly obvious for a seasoned fan, let alone a newcomer), do we really need three sets of titles? For a show that’s only guaranteed to go for ten weeks right now? That’s perhaps a little overkill, and while the presence of a women’s title is welcomed, if it’s just Bea, Viper and Kay Lee, it kinda makes it redundant – you’d be better off introducing those three and then expanding to a title in the second season, along with some extra names.
All in all, WOS was not the all out debacle that some were predicting. Far from it. While the in ring was exactly what you’d expect for the names involved, it’s just a shame that the ITV sheen has added and detracted from the overall product – and the effects of this won’t be known until further down the line, when the viewing figures come in for weeks two and beyond.
I’ll still be tuning in… and absolutely dreading the deluge of camera cuts and replays in next week’s ladder match!