British professional wrestling is finally coming back to prime-time television.
World of Sport originally ran on ITV from January 2nd 1965 to September 28th 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 desertion, for they knew that people would be flocking back home to get their 45 minute weekly fix of professional wrestling.
As the in-ring action had to blend in with other legitimate sports on the show, such as rugby, football, and snooker, there was initially a distinct lack of heels and exaggerated characters featured on World of Sport in order to make it seem more like a pure competition. In order to add further validity, 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 were a rarity, usually only one fall and did not feature rounds.
- 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, transitioning 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 simple, clean sporting contests with no storylines or rivalries.
Although the live spectacle 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 Big Daddy was created. From 1977 onwards, Big Daddy became a fan favourite around the country, and remains the most well-known wrestler from this era.
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 due to his physical state, 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 in short fashion.
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 in turn spread the technical British style around the globe.
On September 29th 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 be slowly driven away. With the irregular time schedule, and the influx of American wrestling 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 temporarily 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 names, and home-grown talents that are stars in their own right. Today’s British scene is a diverse, colourful melting pot of styles and competitors from around the globe, with the technical base British wrestling was built upon still in-tact.
After a one-off New Year’s Eve special at the end of 2016, a re-branded WOS Wrestling will return to ITV 1 on Saturday July 28th at 5pm as a weekly television show.
WOS Wrestling has recognised and built upon the exciting variety of talents available within Britain today and from beyond these shores, with stars such as New Zealand’s Bea Priestley. From comedic favourites like Grado, to international high flying superstars like Will Ospreay, a former reality star in Adam Maxted, and globally recognised faces such as Stu Bennett, there’s something for everyone in this family friendly show. There’s enough to please fans of all ages and preferences, along with the production values great quality wrestling deserves.
Not only will a popular slot on one of the country’s biggest channels be fantastic for the show, it will also be majorly beneficial for all the talents involved, and indie promotions around the UK that book them. For some, this will be their first big time exposure to wrestling fans at large, and hopefully they will utilise every second of it.
If you are a fan of anybody involved in WOS Wrestling, make sure you tune in to watch whenever you can, and always inform the show that those specific roster members are the reason why you’re watching.
With enough star power to intrigue the most casual of fans, and the talent to keep them coming back, WOS has the ingredients to be a big success for ITV. Plus, once any kid in the country takes one look at Ospreay hitting a ridiculous aerial assault, they’ll be instantly hooked. Whether it becomes a mainstay on ITV’s Saturday night schedule, or it becomes a one-off experiment that benefits a lot of wrestlers, WOS Wrestling can only do a world of good for British wrestling.
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