After a pilot episode that showed a lot of promise, the World of Sport Wrestling revival series we were all hoping for is on its way. As announced on March 23rd, a ten-episode run is on deck for the 1970s wrestling classic beloved by angry grannies with handbags everywhere.
Except it isn’t World of Sport anymore. And Jeff Jarrett and Impact Wrestling/Anthem Sports are running the ship now.
Regardless of that last part, WOS still has a huge amount of potential. It’s on ITV, a channel available in pretty much every single household in the UK which regularly gets up to 10 MILLION viewers for its top shows. Just for context, I’m writing this in a week where Monday Night RAW dropped to just 2.85m viewers. See why WWE got a little nervous and started raiding UK talent at the end of last year?
The Jarretts, Anthem Sports and ITV have a potential juggernaut on their hands. So with that all in mind, here are four things they need to get right in the upcoming series in order to guarantee success.
Learn From Past Mistakes
I’ll be honest with you – when I first heard that Impact Wrestling were coming onboard with WOSW, my first reaction wasn’t to leap out of my chair and fist-pump wildly. That’s not to say it was overwhelmingly negative either, but here’s the thing; if this was ten years ago, the news of TNA partnering with a new promotion with a big-time TV deal would be pretty exciting. But this is not the same Impact Zone where Kurt Angle, AJ Styles and Samoa Joe tore it up every week and people talked excitedly of a potential WWE rival emerging; this is one which barely clung to survival last year in a protracted and ugly legal battle, punch-drunk off the back of lurching from one PR and monetary disaster to another for the past five years. On-screen the long road to recovery for not-TNA-anymore is underway, but behind the scenes there is still legal wrangling over the Broken Hardys gimmick which has reflected poorly on Anthem Sports (‘fuck that owl’ anyone?) as well as a string of high-profile departures, all of whom seem to be following the likes of Bobby Roode over into the welcoming arms of WWE as Impact’s contract department dithers.
In short, Impact Wrestling has made some pretty serious mis-steps in the past few years, and the new dawn with Anthem Sports and aligning with WOS Wrestling represents the perfect moment to draw a line underneath past gaffes and move forward. The temptation to fall back into bad habits will be strong, however, and it’s one they must avoid at all costs.
Maximise Your Available Talent
As it stands, the WOSW roster is strong; a good mix of entertaining personalities and great in-ring ability, exactly the right combination for a mainstream promotion. Add in TNA alumni like Magnus and Rockstar Spud, as well as current Impact talents crossing over at the television tapings – Impact World Champion Bobby Lashley is already confirmed – and you’ve got a solid core to build a promotion around.
The key now is knowing what to do with them.
Judging by the press conference and the brawl that resulted, Zack Gibson is being positioned as a top heel on the brand, which is excellent – he is absolute MONEY as a shouty, obnoxious heel, drawing massive boos by merely raising a microphone to his mouth years before Roman Reigns did it. Grado and El Ligero can be great as funny, loveable babyfaces, ideal for Gibson to play off, and Sha Samuels, Johnny Moss and Dave Mastiff were entertaining as a heel stable of enforcers on the pilot episode. Additionally there are babyface beasts like Rampage and Joe Coffey, high-flyers like Kenny Williams, and name value in Davey Boy Smith Jr. Given the right promo material and feuds, these guys can all put on excellent matches.
Elsewhere, a question mark remains over Viper, who is currently the only woman on the roster. She’s something special; not for nothing is she known as ‘Megaton Barbie’ by Stardom Wrestling fans in Japan. She combines glamorous looks with an imposing stature, physicality and moveset that draws positive comparisons to Nia Jax, and the question is over how you use her. She’s far too good to be used as a valet at ringside, so do you have her call back to Klondyke Kate from the original series and mix it up with the men in intergender matches, as she has done effectively in ICW and WCPW? Or if that’s not PG enough (as WWE have found out), do you build a division around her, and if so who do you bring in to pair her off with? In lieu of woman’s wrestling gaining more high-profile traction than ever, it would be criminally naive to ignore this and leave Viper without much to do on the show.
Beware The Empire, And Do Smart Business
Speaking of talent and WWE in particular, the empire have been in full-on acquisition mode recently, with special attention being paid to the white-hot UK independent scene. And whilst they have been flexible with allowing the 16 wrestlers they signed for the UK Championship Tournament to continue working indie dates (within reason), the fact that their contracts restricted them from working for WOS and WCPW in particular told you the tactical element behind these signings; as long as they’re with us, they aren’t making money for a potential rival on live broadcasts. And having already secured white-hot talents like Pete Dunne, Mark Andrews, Tyler Bate, Trent Seven and more, they show no signs of slowing down.
In short, if WOSW want to bolster their roster, sitting on their hands is not an option. Given such indecision is seemingly the reason Drew Galloway left Impact to return to WWE, the ability to not only retain talent but bolster the ranks is a concern that needs to be addressed going forward. With any luck, a blowaway first series combined with a lucrative television deal – and the endorsements that come with it – will be enough to prove that not all roads in wrestling lead to Titan Towers.
Snagging someone like a Will Ospreay or Marty Scurll fresh out of their Ring of Honor/New Japan deals would be a huge statement of intent – but I’m probably getting ahead of myself now.
Know Your Audience
The most important one of all. Given they will be on a mainstream TV channel in ITV, PG will almost certainly be the name of the game. If used correctly though, that’s no bad thing whatsoever. Both WWE AND NJPW are PG products, but that hasn’t stopped the likes of AJ Styles, Kazuchika Okada and co from producing excellent matches and great television. What is more important than that, however, is understanding what audience WOSW wants to attract and styling accordingly.
In a recent Wrestling Observer chat, Dave Meltzer identified what the current popular trends in wrestling are; big personalities having great, athletic, fast-paced matches and believable feuds. Importantly he also mentioned what isn’t so popular right now; goofy gimmicks, ridiculous storylines and over-the-top scripted comedy segments. Is that a universal truth? Absolutely not – some people loved the House of Horrors match. But in general, those trends are what Meltzer has observed, no pun intended. And they’d seem to add up; believable and hard-hitting matches are NJPW’s entire MO at this point, and business is booming for them, whilst WWE is at its best when the cringeworthy skits are stripped away to reveal two wrestlers beating the snot out of each other. Meanwhile, and perhaps more pertinently, Impact is still struggling to find an upturn in audience in spite of, and perhaps because of, a reliance on bringing back stars from a bygone era (Low Ki? Scott Steiner? Really?) and storylines like the Josh Matthews/Jeremy Borash announcer feud which supposedly is intended to be funny but comes off like two bratty kids scraping fingernails down a chalkboard.
The other factor at play though is this; as much as wrestling in the UK is on fire right now, and more and more fans are enjoying it, will that translate to enough viewers to please the ITV execs? On a mainstream channel, WOSW will likely have to play to a mainstream crowd of non-wrestling fans. I hate the term ‘casual’ fans – as far as I’m concerned, you’re either a fan or not – but WOSW will need an element of curiosity value to attract people in and break through, especially if there are opportunities for crossover work with wrestlers appearing on other ITV shows. Does that mean they have to indulge the whackiness a bit? Maybe. But I don’t think there’s much need to go over the top with it. For me, the pilot episode actually struck a nice balance – big characters, entertaining backstage skits furthering storylines, clearly defined heroes and villains, a family-friendly feel without feeling too hokey, and great feats of athletic ability in the ring.
Think about what made you love wrestling as a kid, and what makes kids and new fans love wrestling now; superheroes battling for supremacy, defying gravity, pulling off feats of superhuman strength and endurance and overcoming adversity. Hulk Hogan, Bret Hart, Stone Cold, The Rock, John Cena, Roman Reigns (yes, come at me internet), Jeff Hardy, Rey Mysterio, CM Punk, Kurt Angle, The Undertaker – the list goes on, and on, and on. The fact you now have a former wrestler in Batista literally playing a superhero in a massively popular movie franchise kinda proves my point. In an era where comic book superheroes are more mainstream than ever, WOSW has a roster of larger than life warriors on their hands; and if you give the public the real-life Avengers, I’m fairly certain the fans will come. In droves.
That’s my four-step plan for success for WOSW; what’s yours? Drop it off in the comments or tweet me @AJV1Beta, and let’s have a chat. Regardless, no-one wants WOSW to succeed more than I do, so Jeff Jarrett, I just want to let you know good luck – we’re all counting on you.