18+ Done Different – How WrestleVerse Succeeded In Being Different

When you think of 18+ wrestling shows, you’ve probably got in mind exploding light tubes, plenty of blood, tables, barbed wire and lashing of ribald language.

As a young teenager who had a penchant for horror and science fiction films that I was too young to watch, I believed that all certificate 18 films were like The Exorcist, Texas Chainsaw Massacre or the original release of The Terminator. I watched a lot of cheesy horror and science fiction, too, completely unaware that that much sought after 18 certificate was a far broader church than I knew existed.  It would be years before I realised, in my youthful naivete, that 18 wasn’t so much an indicator of style just in an indicator of suitability. 

It’s odd that, even now, decades later, there’s still those much older than I was back then who think that a TV-PG product has to be sanitised, that an “Adult Only” show has to be more than just strong violence and language, yet get outraged at sexualisation or objectification, and that, bizarrely, adults can’t make their own informed decisions about what they like or don’t like without being told by someone else.

There’s certainly a place for the “adult” language, scenarios and the use of blood in wrestling, but overuse often leads to desensitisation or a desire for a never-ending path of “we want more.” Whilst swearing is easy, blood is the one where a line is sometimes drawn, but as wrestlers find newer ways to give the fans the blood they desire, the fans will continue to demand more visceral thrills to titillate them. Whether you love the sight of blood or hate it, there’s no doubt that there’s a place for it in British wrestling.

There’s also a place for alternative products – family-friendly shows are just as important as catering to the hardcore wrestling fan base, shows that feature the legends of British wrestling to show where things have come from, shows that appeal to a smaller fanbase, rabid and passionate. If wrestling was all one thing, it’d be a boring product – it should be treated like any other form of entertainment – film, music, books, theatre – a broad spectrum of content under a single umbrella term.

WrestleVerse managed to capture something unexpected. What WrestleVerse did was create a product that was suitable for adults but done differently. It didn’t rely on ECWEsque tropes for jaded “we’re grown up, give us blood cos blood is cool” fans, it chose to just present an entertaining, surreal and occasionally silly product, with familiar faces revelling in the strangeness of it all, as were the fans.

The show proved it’s sometimes just good to have some adult (as in grown-up) fun, without it being all “look how adult we are… here’s some blood, bosoms and bad behaviour.” and on Friday 1st November, The Tower Nightclub in Hull was the home of a bold experiment in the form of WrestleVerse, specifically WrestleVerse 1: The Portal Opens, hosted by Jed Salisbury, a Hull-based comedian and one of the participants of the BBC Two documentary series Who Are You Calling Fat? 

From the very first time Jed spoke to his closing comments, you could tell he was having fun.  This wasn’t a slick host with all the facts at his fingertips recalling information from a prepared script full of hyperbole.  It was a guy who was able to react as a true wrestling fan who just happens to be the host, having fun with the audience and occasionally the wrestlers.  No cheesy overacting, no pantomime behaviour.

Aside from the wonderful Salisbury guiding us through the strangeness of the WrestleVerse, we also had Enforcers of Justice ensuring every combatant followed the rules and a surprisingly hench security guard protecting the symbol of power in the WrestleVerse; the Sword of Power.  If he’d have been carrying weapons, he’d have had big guns!

The opening match saw Project Non-Stop Party (wonderfully abbreviated to PNS Party on their entrance video), the combination of Man Like Dereiss and Jack Bandicoot, on fine form against the Anti Fun Police, represented by Chief Deputy Dunne and Officer Joe Nelson. It was a fun match and an ideal way to start any show. Dunne and Nelson are so in tune it’s difficult to think of a better pairing for this show (that’s not to take away from Los Santos Federales Jr, though). Dereiss and Bandicoot were tag-teaming for the first time, though you wouldn’t have known it from watching them together. Anyone who appreciates manic flippy stuff would appreciate this match!

Sean Kustom, as the Prince of Thunder, took on Chuck Wood in a wonderful match that showcased both men and their respective characters. Without a doubt, Chuck Wood has to be one of the most entertaining yet underrated characters, bringing a whole new depth to what could be a one-dimensional entity. Both men were able to showcase not only their in-ring work but also their larger-than-life personas.

An interruption from Rory Coyle, the last Sick Boy and British wrestling’s video nasty, introduced a darker edge to the show, temporarily. He wanted to be close to Chuck Wood, but also wanted to show everyone the lumberjack’s worst fear… which would turn out to be a bear. An actual bear, sort of, at an 18+ show. Sadly, we didn’t see Wood wrestle the bear, but maybe one day. Again, the fans were completely behind this, even wanting the bear to be unleashed and questioning how the animal had got into the venue.

Delicious Flex (Maxted) took on ‘Just’ Dave Graves, the only wrestler not to have transformed for this show. Flex, as the bad guy, was arrogance incarnate and accompanied by his stunning valet, they made a pair that sent ripples of jealousy through the audience. Dave Graves is, wherever he goes, a formidable opponent and this was an outstanding encounter for both men. Graves lost as “Old School” Buffalo Jones chose that moment to send a video message to his nephew, before asking for his Blue Chew.

The Outfit is an experiment that Nathan Cruz has entered into and taken places already, so to see him in WrestleVerse was great. Alongside “The Muscle” in the form of Lucas Steel and “The Apprentice” Myles Kayman, it’s a trio that has to be seen to be believed. Largely influenced by The Godfather, there’s also a sense of the elder statesmen highlighting younger talent in the way that Cruz carries himself within the group, and that was on show here. They took on Ultimo Deluxe Diablo, Teeny and Tiny, a manic trio which saw Tiny dive into the ring and get a suitably amazing response from the fanbase who were already behind what WrestleVerse were presenting.

Big Bad Rampage Johnson took on the Karate Kid. It’s a match that Tidal wrestling had a couple of weeks earlier and it was a reminder of exactly why Rampage Brown is one of the best in the business and how great Mike Bailey is. This match needed to be seen live to be appreciated, and if you’re anywhere where these two cross paths in the future, you owe it to yourself to go see it.

As the show came to an end, it was clear that the fans had a lot of fun, and isn’t that what wrestling is about? This show was pure entertaining from beginning to end, with the show ending with all involved fighting to get the Sword of Power and be declared Master of the WrestleVerse. Thankfully, before it could happen, the portal to the WrestleVerse closed, promising to open again soon. Not your average show ending.

Sure, if you limit your expectation of 18+ to hardcore deathmatches where you’re not happy unless someone is bleeding (as long as it’s not you), then WrestleVerse won’t appeal. It also won’t appeal if you’ve got a dyed-in-the-wool opinion of wrestling that rarely shifts beyond a narrow stream. That said, to quote Isaac Asimov – “Your assumptions are your windows on the world. Scrub them off every once in a while, or the light won’t come in.”

Here’s hoping WrestleVerse gets a second show in 2020 and that more people take the chance to try something different.

Curiosity piqued?  WrestleVerse can be found on Twitter and Facebook.

Photos courtesy of WrestleVerse and iWilburn Art.

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