Tuesday 3 January 2017

World Of Sport

For those unfamiliar, either due to age or region, World Of Sport was a mainstay of British family programming for 20 years, showcasing a variety of sports from the hours of noon until 5pm every Saturday.

For those who lived during the era of 1965 to 1985, you'll no doubt have fond memories of that slot of time around four in the afternoon where everyone, from your little brother to your Granny, got together to cheer on the good guys and boo the villains, replicating moves and jumping off of couches.

Since the death of World Of Sport in the mid-80s, wrestling in Britain suffered a massive and sharp decline in popularity, mirroring the rise of American wrestling as the WWF, buoyed by Wrestlemania, and WCW fought to take over what little broadcasting time there was left on television, usually through broadcasters such as Sky which carried with them a hefty price tag to watch your favourite sport. The live scene, and spandex on free-to-view TV, disappeared.

But thanks to great promotions such as Insane Championship Wrestling, PROGRESS and countless others, the popularity of various documentaries and the rise of stars such as Grado, Drew Galloway, Noam Dar and many others making the leap across the pond to American shows, the time has seemingly come for ITV to dip their toes back into broadcasting British wrestling, and as such we were treated to a two-hour event this past weekend.

If you haven't checked it out yet, it is available to see on the ITV Player for a short period of time via http://www.itv.com/

The introductions are brought to us by our commentary team for the evening, the legendary Jim Ross and former wrestler and current promoter Alex Shane who, to put it briefly, has done a lot over the past decade to try to get, and keep, British wrestling on TV.

Whether you are a wrestling fan or not, everyone in Great Britain has heard the tales of the legendary rivalry between Big Daddy and Giant Haystacks. These two behemoths of men were never the greatest athletes within the rings, but they are a cultural phenomenon. Ironically or sincerely, whenever a non-wrestling fan encounters a wrestling fan in Britain you can bet money on the first question out of their mouths being, word for word, "What, like Big Daddy and Giant Haystacks?"

With that in mind, it was very fitting that the opening contest be between portly superstars Dave Mastiff (accompanied to the ring by villains Sha Samuels and Johnny Moss), and Grado. The match was set to be for the WOS Championship, and with Grado arguably the biggest crossover star in British wrestling today (his being at the forefront of several ICW documentaries, appearing on TNA and several mainstream shows such as Scot Squad is credited as a major factor in bringing casual fans into the British wrestling fold) it seemed a certainty that the fan favourite would win the title to start the show off with a bang.

Anybody expecting a plodding affair reminiscent of a bygone era were in for a bit of a shock as Grado, between his usual mugging for the crowd, showed his strength by taking Mastiff off his feet several times, and Dave himself even produced a senton from the second rope, albeit one that ultimately missed.

What really surprised me about the show in general was just how much the crowd were into it from the start. Making noise and chanting hard for Grado to win, the atmosphere was reminiscent of great family show mainstays like Gladiators, with foam fingers flying around and a chorus of cheers and boos at every moment. Grado was going up top, cheering on by the fans, when Johnny Moss managed to distract the referee long enough for Grado's long-term rival Sha Samuels to get involved and push him off, right into the path of a 300-pound Dave Mastiff somersaulting himself into the corner, getting the victory and the title by nefarious means.

We cut backstage to World Of Sport GM, Mr Beasley, being interviewed by Rachel. Mr Beasley is talking about how excited he is to have played a hand in wrestling being back on TV, with a new champion in Dave Mastiff, when an enraged Grado interrupts trying to call attention to the fact that Sha and Moss (referred to, in true Grado form, as a pair of dafties), when the new champion emerges hot on his tail, celebrating with his cohorts. Waving the title in Grado's face, things heat up to the point where security appear to try and drag them apart as Jim Ross takes us to our first commercial break.

Back to the show and in the interim Mr Beasley has had a chance to review the tape of the match and has determined that the title fight ending in such a manner is not only disrespectful to those that have came before them, but also setting a bad example to any young viewers watching, who should be taught the lesson that cheaters never prosper.

As such, Mr Beasley has declared a Battle Royal to take place tonight, the winner of which will go on to face Dave Mastiff for his title. What followed this announcement was the first of many short vignettes of ex-wrestler talking heads such as Rollerball Rocco and Marty Jones discussing stars of yesteryear. These vignettes would continue throughout the show and gave a good boost of nostalgia for the older viewers, adding to the family entertainment feel of the whole show.

While fathers and grans were still explaining the mystery and intrigue of Kendo Nagasaki from decades ago, kids and young adults had the chance to explain about the current stars as a four-way ladder match to determine the first entrant into the Battle Royal got underway.

Featuring "Delicious" Danny Hope, Sam Bailey, CJ Banks and Kenny Williams, this was a fast-paced, high-flying extravaganza that perfectly complimented the big brutes of the opening contest. It was nice to see, with most of the usual wrestling chants being missing from the show, that Danny Hope got a huge "Tassle-mania" ovation. It was also lovely to see him sporting a Kris Travis armband in memory of the late British wrestler who sadly passed away in March 2016.

With his bright pink attire, athletic skills and undeniable charisma, Kenny Williams was a fan favourite from the start and, ascending two ladders and knocking CJ Banks down from the top, Williams was indeed able to reach up and remove the briefcase to earn his spot in the Battle Royal. This was not the first huge ladder match victory for Kenny this year, as he managed to win the ICW Zero G title at the Hydro this year, and hopefully this victory tonight will help his star shine bright for years to come. A phenomenal talent.

From one special event to another, the first ever female singles match in World Of Sport history would be up next. When it comes to women wrestlers in British history, the name that always comes to mind is Klondyke Kate, the large and intimidating woman who would fight with the men in decades past.

Channelling that intimidation factor was Viper, a fifteen stone brawler set to face ten stone Alexis Rose, as she came to right with a snake around her neck, kissing it for good luck before getting into the ring to take it to her opponent. A wrestler with little over a year's experience under her belt, Alexis Rose was one of the few competitors tonight who I knew nothing about beforehand, which is a shame as she appears to have a pretty sweet moonsault in her arsenal, as well as experience in fighting Viper in title fights to boot.

Still, it would be that moonsault that would ultimately be her undoing, as she missed, allowing Viper to get the victory.

Up next, a tag match featuring brothers Joe and Mark Coffey, versus Rampage Brown and Ashton Smith, with the winning team both going into the Battle Royal. Again, it was nice to hear the crowd chanting the Iron Man tune for "Iron Man" Joe Coffey, showing that the man who headlined the ICW Hydro show versus Kurt Angle is well known across the country. As he should be, as along with brother Mark, who is an exceptional talent as well, the pair looked a million bucks and were easily the standout talents on the show. If you check out one pair of wrestlers from this show, it would be Joe and Mark Coffey.

The crowd themselves got more lively during this contest, as several disparaging chants and taunts were directed towards Ashton Smith in particular. An incredibly well-worked match ended with the brothers prevailing, bringing our total entrants for the Battle Royal up to four (with Grado having been added too). This would be increased to seven as, during another backstage segment where Dave Mastiff tried to bully Mr Beasley into letting him away with not defending the belt, saw his pals Sha Samuels and Johnny Moss added into the mix, along with a "special guest" who had been personally invited to take part.

Next up the masked El Ligero took on submission specialist Zack Gibson. With the depth of experience between them, both worked a quick, smooth bout featuring a lot of great transitions. The crowd were on their feet behind El Ligero, who despite having his arm injured by Gibson during the match, managed to perform a springboard spinning DDT to seal his place in the number one contendership Battle Royal.

Backstage now with Rachel, to interview all of the entrants. It was pretty cool to see everyone retain their actual personas, with Ligero staying mute and Sha practically taking Rachel's head off. Great stuff.

The Battle Royal got under way and, as with most of these types of matches, the field was quickly whittled down to just villains Sha and Moss versus Grado. A face-off between the brothers Joe and Mark led to their elimination, which may spell trouble ahead for them if World Of Sport continues after this one-off special.

With the underdog cornered now, our special guest finally made his appearance - Davey Boy Smith Jr, taking on the moniker of his father, the "British Bulldog". Entering to an electric ovation, Davey Boy managed to wear down both Moss and Sha with some great suplexes and the trademark Running Powerslam of the original British Bulldog, but found himself eliminated due to the combined forces of Johnny Moss and Sha Samuels.

Back to being outnumbered, Grado dug deep and managed to find it within himself to win the Battle Royal, but it came at a hefty cost as Sha and Moss attacked him after the decision and caused injury to his left knee, before Davey Boy Smith Jr managed to run back in to save him.

Main event time now as it is Grado v Dave Mastiff for the second time for the WOS title. The referee decided that enough was enough and eliminated Sha Samuels and Johnny Moss from ringside, allowing Grado a level playing field.

With everyone looking on from the edge of their seats, Dave Masiff took it to the outside and attacked Grado before he even made it to the ring, trying to get him to quit before the match even officially started, slamming him again and again onto the entrance ramp.

Finally convinced to get things into the ring, Dave immediately went after the leg of Grado, as Mr Beasley, Rachel and various veterans looked on in horror and disgust. Dave looked into the book of dastardly tactics and took to the ring post, taking off the top padding and exposing the turnbuckle. As the referee worked diligently to fix the post, Dave Mastiff ran at Grado in the corner, looking to finish him off once and for all. But the distraction would prove to be his own undoing, as Grado managed to recover enough to slip out of the way and catch a dazed Mastiff with a Cutter to gain the victory and win the WOS championship belt.

The crowd went wild, the show ended, and everyone went home happy.

In terms of family friendly entertainment, this was perfect. Very British, very competitive, with plenty for everyone to cheer and boo. They did a cracking job of tying the history into the current product without relying too much on nostalgia. It was very matter-of-fact, which helped highlight the current crop of talent that we have. For, no doubt as great and entertaining British wrestling was in the 60s, 70s and 80s for its time, the current talent we have are not a throw-back act. They have done it their own way, dragging the British scene kicking and screaming out of obscurity and into the mainstream. Documentaries on the BBC, shows in multi-thousand capacity venues, and a UK tournament set to be held by the WWE, Great Britain is the place to be right now in terms of wrestling, and I think the World Of Sport special did a good job of highlighting that in a mainstream way.

Athletes like Joe Coffey, Mark Coffey and Kenny Williams were allowed to shine on their abilities, characters like El Ligero, Grado, Dave Mastiff and Sha Samuels had the crowd in the palm of their hands. Another thing I would say is that everyone looked great, being allowed to use their own characters and physically speaking, the likes of Johnny Moss and Viper looked the best I have ever seen them. The pacing was spot on too, with most matches lasting around ten minutes including entrances, and short vignettes in between. Jim Ross and Alex Shane were great on commentary, save from a few forced jokes. Overall it was an incredible show!

If you want to check out more from the talent featured you would do well to seek out a show near you as no doubt several of them will be featured all over the country, whether it be at family friendly shows or the more adult variety:

 - Grado, Kenny Williams, Viper, Joe Coffey and Mark Coffey can be found regularly on Insane Championship Wrestling shows;
 - Dave Mastif, Danny Hope andAshton Smith all feature on PCW;
 - Rampage Brown is also a PCW guy but is being featured on WCPW a lot too;
 - Futureshock seems to be the best place to catch Sam Bailey and Alexis Rose;
 - Davey Boy Smith Jr wrestlers for NOAH in Japan;
 - CJ Banks and Zack Gibson wrestle all over the place and, along the same vein,
 - with over 1,200 matches to his name, El Ligero is widely considered the hardest working wrestler today with a match at a different promotion seemingly every day.

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