Pro wrestling was once a Saturday afternoon staple in the United Kingdom. After more than two decades, it could be thrust into the public eye once again.
On New Year’s Eve 2016, UK broadcaster ITV revived World of Sport, the classic British sports program that ran between 1965 and 1985 and featured non-mainstream sports that its rival, BBC’s Grandstand, didn’t have the rights to show—including pro wrestling. Names like Big Daddy and Giant Haystacks helped bolster World of Sports’ reputation for more than 20 years before the show’s ultimate demise.
But ITV decided to bring back the wrestling segment as its own show, World of Sport Wrestling, a two-hour special showcasing British wrestling talent from IPW:UK, Revolution Pro Wrestling, One Pro Wrestling, Real Quality Wrestling, and more. Adding to the action was commentary by legendary wrestling announcer Jim Ross and former British Heavyweight Wrestling Champion, Alex Shane.
The show opened with a title match between Grado and Dave Mastiff. Grado, a veteran of TNA and ICW (not to mention the subject of his own Vice documentary) lost to the heavyweight bruiser best known for his time at New Generation Wrestling and IPW:UK. But Mastiff’s dirty victory, due in part to outside interference from IPW:UK stalwarts Johnny Moss and Sha Samuels, managed to cement Grado as a loveable babyface.
Over the course of the show, viewers were introduced to El Ligero, a veteran of the Lucha style who is known as one of the the hardest-working men in British wrestling, and Kenny Williams, who at 23 is the youngest competitor on the show. Sam Bailey, , CJ Banks, Zack Gibson, and Delicious Danny rounded out the solo wrestlers, with Davey Boy Smith Jr. joining in as a surprise battle royal entrant, to the delight of the crowd. The tag team division featured Mark and Joe Coffey, along with Rampage Brown and his protégé, Ashton Smith. The first ever female-only match in World of Sport history featured indomitable Scottish goddess Viper, a veteran of Shine and Shimmer, and Alexis Rose, whose gymnast background provided an incredible show.
The final bout was a rematch of the show’s opener: WOS general manager Mr. Beesley declared that foul play had no place in WOS, and ordered both Grado and Mastiff to start again. This time, Moss and Samuels were sent to the back, but although Grado was given another shot at the title, he had been injured in the battle royal to decide who would face Mastiff, and his position seemed hopeless. Ultimately, with the help of Davey Boy Smith Jr., he managed to get the win, and become World of Sport champion.
The show was well-paced, with a strong storyline throughout that showcased the main players but still gave small character moments to the other wrestlers. Viewers also got a chance to glimpse back into World of Sport history, with greats like Johnny Saint discussing their time in the ring, along with Jane Wade, Big Daddy’s daughter, talking about her father’s matches and costumes, all of which was shown along with old wrestling footage from the 1960s, 1970s and 1980s. The women’s division may need to be fleshed out for a true series to begin, but overall, the show gave viewers insight into parts of British pro wrestling they may not have known existed, and gave those in the know a chance to see their favorite indie stars on primetime television. Hopefully we’ll see more from World of Sport in the future.
Steph Maxwell-Kavanagh is an outspoken wrestling writer from the UK. She owns and writes for Rasslin Rehash, where she presents recaps, articles, and satirical pieces, with a feminist viewpoint.