Thirty years in the making, numerous false dawns and failed promises during the course of those three decades and a Britwres scene that is, arguably, stronger than it’s ever been as well as literally over a thousand people turned away from the Manchester tapings.
On paper at least, the 2016 revival of World of Sport by ITV had all of the ingredients to be a massive success, treating regular fans to the names they love in a mainstream setting and exposing tens of thousands of casual viewers to something which could turn them into overnight into an entire new generation of grapple fans.
But there was always the fear that something would go wrong, that those not sensitive to the production of professional wrestling would inadvertently throw a spanner into the works in their efforts to make the new version of WOS appeal to those who remembered its original format and those with no interest in the UK indie scene.
And did they?
Well, for the largest part, they didn’t – the 2016 WOS Special is a very welcome late Xmas present for all concerned.
Taking “World of Sport” as its company name (ignoring the fact that this was originally just the title of the program, which variously broadcast matches from Joint Promotions, All Star and even the WWF during its lifetime) and “Mr Beesley” (played by Max Beesley Snr) as the Commissioner/GM figure, WOS is presented in a familiar format to modern fans, with kayfabed storylines, backstage interview segments and the like, moving away from the traditional presentation of individual matches that was the mainstay of the original show.
Surviving WOS veterans fill the ringside seats and short video packages appear at various intervals to remind the viewer of the supposed connection between past and present, but it has to be said that many of the luminaries in attendance look more than a little out of place and puzzled by the action going on in the ring, as well as the chants that are commonplace amongst modern fans.
The “WOS Arena” is sensibly a miniature homage to the WWE area layout, with large screens, entrance ramp, crowd barriers and commentary team positioned at ringside. The actual commentary is done excellently, on the one hand by Jim Ross, and less well on the other, by Alex Shane, who looks the part, but in reality adds very little to the mix and his bland colour commentary is drowned out almost constantly by Ross’s far superior play-by-play style.
WOS Title Match: Grado vs Dave Mastiff
We’re told by Mr Beesley that this opening match will be to determine the first WOS Champion, and fan favourite Grado makes his entrance, cutting a passionate promo before being interrupted by the arrival of clear heel Mastiff, accompanied by his henchmen Sha Samuels and Johnny Moss (all sporting rather spiffy armour and fur mantles). The match showcases Mastiff’s baffling agility and brutal style, as well as establishing Grado as the opportunistic face that seizes every chance which comes his way. But outside interference from Samuels and Moss sees Grado pinned, and Mastiff crowned as inaugural WOS Champion. Afterwards, a chagrined Grado confronts Beesley and demands redress, to which the GM answers that Mastiff will be forced to defend his newly won title against the winner of an eight-man Battle Royale, the entrants of which will be determined by the outcomes of the rest of the night’s matches in addition to Grado himself and a mystery entrant, whom Beesley claims will make sure things go according to the rules.
Ladder Match: CJ Banks vs Sam Bailey vs Kenny Williams vs Danny Hope
Competing for a briefcase suspended from the ceiling of the WOS Arena and apparently containing a contract for entry in to the Battle Royale later in the show, these four have a lot to prove in a short space of time. Planchas, topes and the usual array of dives to ringside characterise the match, and while all of those involved perform well, Banks and Williams stand out amongst the lighter talent on the show. When Williams outlasts the others to be the one who climbs the ladder and takes the briefcase, the reaction of the crowd suggests that, if there is more WOS to come in the near future, the young Scot should factor heavily in any plans to feature light-heavy or cruiserweight competition.
Tag Team Match: Mark & Joe Coffey vs Ashton Smith & Rampage
It’s hard to guess why WOS have chosen to refer to Rampage Brown simply as “Rampage” and it’s also rather distracting, until Alex Shane slips and starts to call him by his more familiar moniker and it infects Jim Ross as well. Aside from this, you have a very solid and enjoyable tag match, as the Coffey Brothers function as a bankable face team against the less familiar tandem of Smith and Brown. The latter’s differing styles and sizes make them a more intriguing and nuanced team, as opposed to the uniformly brawny Coffeys, and something that could work well if given time to develop. The Coffey’s take a deserved win, and prove that WOS can do tag teams as well as singles matches.
Women’s Match: Viper vs Alexis Rose
The commentators claim that this is the first time an all female match has taken place on a WOS broadcast, and I’m not enough of an expert on its history to argue with them. There seem to be big plans for Viper, as she comes to ringside with a large snake wrapped around her neck and proceeds to dominate her smaller opponent for most of the match, taking a victory, but not earning herself a spot in the Battle Royale, as apparently some parts of WOS are still restricted by gender. Rose acquitted herself well and should be invited back, but comparisons with past female heels and being labelled a “monster” seem antiquated ways to treat a talented female grappler such as Viper, who’s stature and confidence could be used as a positive role model for a new generation of female wrestling fans.
Singles Match: El Ligero vs Zack Gibson
On paper, this was the match of the night, and in reality it proved to be the same. The most travelled and hard-working wrestler in the country, in El Ligero, and perhaps the most underrated heavyweight of the past five years, in Gibson, managed to showcase their respective skills very well. Though not tearing the house down, both looked likely to take the win at various stages, and this should be the template for main events going forward in WOS. Ligero eventually secured the victory and a place in the Battle Royale for his trouble.
Battle Royal: Grado vs Sha Samuels vs Johnny Moss vs Kenny Williams vs Joe Coffey vs Mark Coffey vs El Ligero vs A Mystery Opponent
It’s as old as the hills to get two matches out of the talent with a Battle Royale, so why the hell not? This follows the tried and tested formula of babyfaces against heels and teams watching each other’s backs, but with Williams and then Ligero being dumped out in surprisingly short order. Samuels and Moss then devote their attention to clashing with the Coffey Brothers, who are also removed from the ring soon afterwards to allow Mastiff’s henchmen to gang-up on the erstwhile Grado. This is the moment when the mystery entrant is revealed and Shane’s carping on about NGW’s “Davey Boy Smith Memorial Tournament” explained, as Davey Boy Smith Jnr makes his way down to rapturous applause. He proceeds to flatten Samuels and Moss for a while, then gets jumped by them and eliminated in bafflingly little time. But this is explained when Grado recovers and uses the distraction of the heels to toss Samuels out and then pull down the top rope to do the same to a charging Moss. Grado wins, and the second title bout of the night will be a rematch of the first.
WOS Title Match: Dave Mastiff (C) vs Grado
The gloating of the champion is soon curtailed when referee Steve Lynsky sends Samuels and Moss to the back, and so he simply resorts to attacking the knee of his opponent, which his henchmen injured at the end of the Battle Royale. Again the narrative here is the plucky face being battered and abused by the physically superior heel, as Mastiff berates Grado and slaps aside his attempts to mount any offence. But in the end the determination of the Scot wins out, and he lands an opportunistic pinfall on Mastiff after outsmarting him, to become the second WOS Champion and the man wearing the belt as the pyros fire and the show goes off the air.
The Closing Argument
Sure, there were things that could have been done better, stuff that needs to be improved and some points that should be binned altogether going forward. But no one that’s able to look at the WOS Special with fair criticism could claim it was anything other than a success that provides the solid framework for a very viable and appealing series in the same vein.
The audience in attendance seemed to be sold, and most opinion on the night of broadcast was very positive indeed, and even my own mother-in-law lapped it up and wanted to know when WOS was coming back for more, which I think proves that it has mass appeal and that ITV would be crazy to let this one slip through their fingers.
But of course, the real strength was the roster of UK talent that made the show come to life in the ring. No one that made it onto the card looked out of place or overwhelmed by the experience, and in addition the sheer number of quality UK grapplers that didn’t make it means that there’s so many more faces and matches left to look forward to in the future.
In short, if they decide to make a go of it, fix the niggling issues and push it to the moon, WOS could truly be the mainstream, weekly British wrestling show we’ve all been waiting for.
Star Rating: 4 out of 5