British professional wrestling is finally coming back to primetime television. In the last couple of weeks, social media and news outlets have been exploding over the news that World of Sport is finally making a return after 30 years for a two hour special airing later this year. With this monumental news exciting wrestling fans around the country, it inspired me to look at the history and potential future of World of Sport wrestling.
World of Sport ran on ITV from 2nd January 1965 to 28th September 1985; every Saturday from 12:15-5:10pm, the programme featured highlights from a variety of sports, with everything from ice skating to stock car racing. Yet at 4pm each Saturday, high streets across the country would be baron; supermarkets would close early in anticipation for dissertation. People would flock back to their homes to get their 45 minute weekly fix of British professional wrestling.
As the wrestling had to blend in with other legitimate sports on the show, such as rugby, football, and snooker, there was a distinct lack of heels and exaggerated characters in order to make it seem more like a pure competition. In order to add validity to the sport, matches were contested under Admiral Lord Mountevans’ Rules (a major political figure and professional wrestling fan), which were introduced post-World War 2 in order to clean-up the sport.
- Matches were contested under five minute rounds (usually six, but sometimes more for bigger matches).
- One-on-one Matches were two out of three falls (pinfall or submission), except in special cases. If there was a knockout or disqualification, the fight would automatically end, regardless of any previous falls.
- Tag matches were usually one fall and did not feature rounds, although they were a rarity.
- If a wrestler did something illegal, the ref would issue a public warning over the house microphone. Three public warnings would result in a disqualification, although on rare occasions, disqualifications were given instantly for certain actions. This public warning system allowed heel wrestlers to employ villainous tactics into their matches without being disqualified, whilst simultaneously building more tension as the crowd waited to see if they would reach the three public warnings, and ultimately, the disqualification.
- Ground attacks were illegal unless they were part of a takedown move (e.g, a snapmare into a ground headlock). This is where the signature British technical style evolved from, and can still be seen today by the likes of Zack Sabre Jr.
- Professional wrestling was a strictly male sport in Britain until the late 1970s, when the ban on women was lifted by the Greater London Council.
In order to keep up with the unique style of wrestling they had, both in terms of the rule system and the strong emphasis on technical wrestling, the majority of the roster was made up of faces, with only a small minority of heels. Most matches were simply clean sporting contests with no storylines or rivalries.
Although the sport had been popular since the beginning of the 20th century, televised wrestling allowed competitors to become household names, whether that was through their flawless technical ability, or more often, their radiating personalities. Thanks to the exposure of television, wrestling suddenly became a firm part of mainstream British culture. Live event attendances shot up, every town in the country had a wrestling show running at least once a month, and the business was never better.
After a slight decline in viewership and attendance figures in the mid-1970s, the next boom in British wrestling occurred when the legendary of Big Daddy was created. From 1977 onwards, Big Daddy became a fan favourite around the country, and remains the most well-known wrestler in British history. Despite his overweight physique and lack of conditioning, Daddy defeated every heel in the country, usually in very short fashion. Even when he was unable to compete in a full singles bout, the man also known as Shirley Crabtree remained at the top as he was regularly positioned in tag matches, with the likes of Dynamite Kid and Steven Regal doing all of the work for him, before allowing Daddy to come in and finish off his foes.
However, it was this focus on one major star that proved to be the sport’s downfall. As Daddy rarely performed at non-televised live events, promotions around the country were lacking in big names to draw in crowds, thus although television ratings were still healthy, live audiences began losing interest. British performers became dissatisfied with the dismal live event attendances, and lack of opportunities to reach top levels on television, thus consequently, they began travelling abroad to places like Japan, which gave spread the technical British style around the globe.
On 28 September 1985, World of Sport was taken off the air despite still having a strong, loyal viewership. Wrestling did go on to get its own dedicated show, however the time slot changed from week to week, and sometimes wasn’t even shown at all, causing viewers to slowly being driven away. With the irregular time schedule, and the influx of American wrestling on British television thanks to the globalisation of WWF, British wrestling was axed completely by 1988. Fans cried out for it to brought back, and live attendances figures increased greatly due to the audience’s thirst for British professional wrestling. However, after a couple of years of success, only the loyal fans remained in those halls and community centres. British wrestling was on its last legs.
Thankfully for the wrestlers and the fans, the bad times didn’t last forever. British wrestling is once again experiencing a boom period, with promotions around the country regularly putting on large shows featuring international stars, and home-grown talents that are stars in their own right. This year, we have seen the largest independent professional wrestling shows in Britain since the 1980s, and thanks to the likes of Progress Wrestling’s streaming service that is more affordable than WWE’s, and WCPW broadcasting their product on YouTube, British wrestling is no longer restricted to our shores, it can now be seen around the world. Not only that, but British wrestlers have began to take over the world, with the likes of Marty Scurll and Zack Sabre Jr. winning PWG’s Battle of Los Angeles tournament, and people like Neville, Jack Gallagher, and Noam Dar being signed to WWE.
So with this mass increase in interest in British wrestling, there is no more perfect time to bring back the former staple of British television than now. What’s more, thanks to announcers like Mauro Ranallo and Matt Striker referencing World of Sport on internationally broadcasted wrestling shows, this once gem of British popular culture is now known globally. Wrestling purists, particularly in Japan, have been studying the classic British style from the World of Sport matches for decades in order to learn to be more technically sound, therefore the news of its return isn’t just exciting British fans, it’s big news around the wrestling world.
With the likes of Sha Samuels, Dave Mastiff, Kimberly Benson, Johnny Moss, and the hardest working man in British wrestling, El Ligero, already being confirmed for the show, as well as commentary provided by the legendary Jim Ross, the World of Sport special is bound to exhibit a mix of styles from some of the best in British talent. Old fans of the programme will be able to witness the evolution of British professional wrestling, whilst newer fans will be able to learn the history and future of this great sport.
Currently, the show is only scheduled for a one-off special, yet if it garners enough interest, it could potentially lead to more. Personally, I would love to see it turn into a one hour weekly show set inside a studio similar to Lucha Underground – it could run one season a year, all be filmed within a short space of time, bring in a variety of talents, and hopefully a wealth of viewers. Whether the show will be turned into a weekly show, an annual special, or if it simply remains as a one-off, the return of World of Sport will be extremely beneficial for the British wrestling scene. Having a mainstream platform on primetime television is bound to bring in old World of Sport fans, WWE exclusive fans, and even brand new fans, all who are unaware of the popularity and high quality of modern British wrestling. What’s more, thanks to the internet, the programme will no doubt reach fans around the world thanks to World of Sport’s global recognition, bringing in further interest to the British product. This mass exposure will subsequently lead to a rise in attendance figures and online viewership to promotions around the country, a larger following for individual wrestlers, and a general boost to the British scene.
Regardless of the future of World of Sport after this much anticipated two hour special, it is clear that British wrestling will benefit thanks to the homecoming of this iconic brand. With the return of World of Sport comes a world of opportunities and potential.
If you’re interested in learning more about the history of World of Sport, and British wrestling as a whole, check out the fantastic documentary, Two Falls to a Finish, which features the likes of Robbie Brookside, Zack Sabre Jr., Alex Shane, and Hulk Hogan.
Don’t forget to follow me on Twitter for more wrestling – @hairywrestling.