It’s fair to say that it’s all looking pretty rosy for British wrestling right now. The UK independent scene is the strongest it has ever been and our talent is the envy of the world, from the WWE UK roster to guys like Zack Sabre Jr., Will Ospreay and Marty Scurll tearing it up in Japan. Things have taken a turn for the mainstream, as well, with WOS Wrestling arriving on ITV every Saturday afternoon. The first few episodes have aired already and the rest of the 10-part series is set to grace screens for the next couple of months.
The fact British wrestling is airing on terrestrial television is a huge deal and one that every right-minded fan of the UK scene should be thrilled by. But is the show actually any good? Let’s take a look at where it’s going right, and where it’s going wrong…
RIGHT: The Talent
WOS has assembled a great roster, cherry-picking the best performers that WWE hasn’t nabbed for its UK division. There’s veterans like Grado, Nathan Cruz, Rampage Brown – who has lost his surname in true WWE style – and Doug Williams, but also young performers like Joe Hendry and former Love Island star Adam Maxted. The company has also pulled off the coup of the century in bringing Will Ospreay into its ranks, adding a welcome dose of star power for fans familiar with indy wrestling.
This terrific base of talent is also true behind the commentary table, which we will discuss more later. WWE’s former bearer of bad news, Stu Bennett, in particular stands out as a very strong choice to serve as the authority figure for WOS Wrestling. He’s an unapologetic bad guy, but the dynamic of having him as a constant ringside presence at the commentary table is an unconventional move that really works, especially given his rather laissez-faire response to obvious cheating.
WRONG: Running Before It Can Walk
The foundation of any great wrestling show is building simple storylines and matches that every fan in the audience can get behind. Unfortunately, WOS Wrestling isn’t working in that tradition. The first match of the first episode was a mad five-man elimination bout and the second episode featured a multi-man ladder match, with the winner earning an unspecified “opportunity” from Bennett.
These matches are fun, but they don’t serve as an introduction to wrestling for those who may never have seen even the most basic match before. It’s a prime example of the show trying to run before it can walk, throwing increasingly complex bouts at the audience, rather than building cogent storylines based around the myriad interesting characters on the roster.
It would serve WOS well to simply strip things back a little and focus on just showcasing wrestling. Those have been the strongest moments of the show so far.
RIGHT: Varied In-Ring Action
It’s on that note that we come to perhaps the thorniest issue WOS Wrestling has to handle. Some of those watching will be hardcore experts, while others are casual grapple fans and the third group consists of those who are completely new to professional wrestling. Thus far, the show has done a very good job of crafting in-ring content that appeals to all of those different groups.
No one should watch WOS expecting to see the spot-filled, indy style matches of New Japan Pro Wrestling or Ring of Honor. The tone is more akin to the wrestling shows put on at holiday camps around the UK, which have been the proving ground for generations of British talent. The matches are largely simplistic and focused around one or two big moments, rather than a heart-stopping string of near falls.
However, the show has also shown a willingness to be a little more elaborate. The first episode saw Will Ospreay take on Davey Boy Smith Jr. in an all-out war that wouldn’t have been out of place on a PROGRESS or ICW card. It helps that Ospreay is one of the best in the world, but this was a clear mission statement that WOS Wrestling might just have the ability to keep everyone happy.
WRONG: Bizarre Production Choices
WWE comes in for a lot of criticism due to Kevin Dunn’s hyperactive editing and constantly shifting camera angles. Compared to the team who put together WOS Wrestling, though, Dunn has the control and restraint of a Stanley Kubrick and Michael Haneke love child. The camera work on the show is erratic and unpredictable, as if those involved have never cut together a wrestling show before.
It doesn’t help that dramatic moves are often missed entirely on the programme, though this may be more a result of the teatime slot in which the show airs rather than further incompetence on behalf of those editing it. The question is, though, why anyone would bother to book a ladder match when any of the dangerous moments the match demands have to be concealed by cutting to the crowd. It’s yet another argument in favour of focusing on simple, story-driven wrestling.
RIGHT: Commentary That Actually Does Its Job
Commentary is the starting point of a wrestling show and, as WWE fans will know, it’s very tough to get invested in any wrestling storyline if it is being sold through poor commentary work. That’s not an issue with WOS Wrestling, which benefits greatly from the voices of Alex Shane, SoCal Val and the aforementioned Stu Bennett. They’re not always completely wrestling-focused, but they don’t do the WWE tic of promoting social media and other programming, or nattering about random nonsense.
Bennett, in particular, creates an unusual and interesting dynamic in which Shane is regularly positioned as the outraged babyface questioning the actions of his boss. Val, meanwhile, adds her own idiosyncratic twist to proceedings and gives the thing both an American voice and a female one.
WRONG: Over-Stuffed Episodes
With just an hour of television time, which translates to about 45 minutes, after ad breaks, WOS Wrestling has a tough job to manage. It wants to offer exposure to as many of its talents as possible, but this means that there are far too many segments crammed in to the show each week. The matches don’t get chance to breathe and any promos are over far too quickly. A show like Lucha Underground knows exactly how to work with a short timeslot, focusing each week on a smaller crop of stories and characters, and WOS would be wise to follow the lead of the guys at El Rey.
To summarise, WOS Wrestling has all of the constituent parts it needs to be a genuinely excellent wrestling show that can please existing fans, while inspiring a new generation of grapple fans. It has production issues that it might take until a second series to solve and a timeslot just an hour or two later might mean they can get away with slightly more hard-hitting action between the ropes. However, it would be wrong to write the whole thing off because, when it’s at its best, it’s a very enjoyable hour of wrestling.