TV Review: Will ITV's World Of Sport Wrestling Rekindle Your Love Of British Professional Wrestling?

on Saturday, August 04, 2018
'WOS Wrestling' Episode 1 (UK airdate: 28 July 2018) // Words: Saam Das

"This is the dawn of a new era" proclaims WOS Executive Stu Bennett, most popularly known for his time in WWE (formerly WWF) as the charismatic Wade Barrett, in the opening sequence of the returning 'WOS Wrestling' on ITV. Following its pilot episode which aired on New Year's Eve in 2016, and the rich history of 'World Of Sport' which showcased British professional wrestling for over thirty years on ITV until 1988, the programme has begun its latest evolution. We take an indepth look at the first episode of the revival, so spoilers ahead.

Bennett continues his promo: "This is the day that British professional wrestling gets put back on a global map." In some respects, this is true - the move back to ITV for pro wrestling sparked significant concern for the US-based WWE, the world's biggest wrestling organisation, to start signing several UK wrestlers to their roster. In other respects, Bennett's words rather downplay the recent resurgence of the independent British scene, which has seen sold out arena shows from the likes of ICW in Scotland and PROGRESS in London.

Of course, Bennett's propaganda is part of wrestling's pantomime nature. Embellishment and exaggeration is at its core, the mix of theatricality and athleticism being known in some quarters as 'sports entertainment'. (And yes, everyone knows that the outcomes are pre-determined.) Somewhat against type however is Scottish wrestler Grado, a pot-bellied everyman (a 'face'/good guy) who won the revamped WOS Title in the NYE pilot, and interrupts Barrett's opening salvo.

Grado's success comes from his charm, which has extended to appearing in BBC sitcoms north of the border, but Bennett (a 'heel'/bad guy) is having none of it here. A five-way elimination match is immediately announced to compete for a shot at Grado's WOS Championship. Perhaps sensibly, this match introduces some of wrestling's rules. (Yes, there are rules. No, these aren't always followed.) The masked "giant" Crater, who is basically straight out of the old school 'World Of Sport'-era, is disqualified shortly after the match begins.

With the lumbering Crater out of the way, the match has a reasonable ebb and flow, showcasing the talents of Justin Sysum, Sha Samuels, Rampage, and former 'Love Island' contestant Adam Maxted. Fair play to Maxted for channelling a fairly unlikeable persona from his reality TV past into a reasonably successful wrestling character.

Following a pinfall, the conclusion of the match sees Sysum victorious by a 'count-out' as the remaining competitors fail to make it back to the ring within the alloted time, much like a boxing count. Except the referee misses that Rampage also beats the count, and hence Bennett announces that the championship match at the end of the show will be a three-way match with Sysum, Rampage, and Grado.

Next up is Will Ospreay versus Davey Boy Smith Jr, or as he's billed here in order to piggyback off his father's successful American wrestling career, British Bulldog Jr. The gravity-defying Ospreay is a real coup for 'WOS Wrestling', one of the most sought after professional wrestlers in the world, but his debut outing here is not the smoothest.

The half-British, half-Canadian British Bulldog Jr gets the 1-2-3 pinfall count for the win, and 'Rule Britannia' embarrassingly starts blaring out. This is rather symptomatic of the cheesiness of 'WOS Wrestling', which is perhaps its biggest crutch. There's clearly an attempt to replicate the family atmosphere and silliness of entertaining nineties show 'Gladiators', another show that mixed sport and entertainment. Unless the characters are developed further however, it will be difficult to buy into this creative direction.

To be fair to 'WOS' the following match - a fluid and impressive two-on-two tag team event - taps more into this direction, with Martin Kirby turning his back on his tag team partner Joe Hendry seemingly out of nowhere, allowing their opponents Kip Sabian and Iestyn Rees to pick up the win. Hopefully this will mean more focus on Hendry, a Commonwealth Games athlete, who arguably offers the greatest entrance videos of any wrestler working today. From his rendition of Eiffel 65 classic 'Blue' to his incredible 'Johemian Rhapsody', it'd be fantastic to see similar efforts make it to the small screen.

The first episode's main event is the three-man match for the title, which works surprisingly well considering the different styles of the performers. Justin Sysum's top rope 450 Splash manouever being a particular highlight of proceedings, albeit not quite enough to win the title, which is instead picked up by new champion Rampage thus bringing Grado's rather unexpected 628 day reign to an end.

While it's brilliant to see professional wrestling back in a relatively prominent slot on terrestrial TV, it's hard to imagine that 'WOS Wrestling' will appeal greatly to older audiences - including those who might have enjoyed seeing Big Daddy and Giant Haystacks on the original 'World Of Sport'. The younger/family audience however seems well catered for here, and with a slew of top British female wrestlers on the way and hopefully more character vignettes/promos, this could yet be a success.

Concerns remain about the choppy camerawork and editing, which struggles at times to present the action suitably, and the over-the-top commentary from Alex Shane and SoCal Val is often cringe-inducing. Indeed, ITV has history with cringeworthy takes on wrestling, with 2005's 'Celebrity Wrestling' a cautionary tale for anyone optimistic about this new show. Still, we're only one episode into this series and with storylines beginning to develop, we're not going to consign this to the "MINUS FIVE STARS!" category just yet.


'WOS Wrestling' airs on Saturdays in the UK on ITV. Catch up on the ITV Hub.

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