How World Of Sport Failed To Bring Wrestling Back To The Mainstream

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Hamish Woodward

World Of Sport Wrestling came back into our homes in 2016, trying to renew public interest in professional wrestling.

With the likes of Big Daddy, Giant Haystacks and Mick McManus long gone, ITV sought to bring new, exciting stars to the forefront, and make the wrestling a household favourite once again.

World Of Sport Returned As A New Year’s Eve Special In 2016

In October 2016, ITV officially announced that they were bringing wrestling back. They revealed that a one-off special, titled “World of Sport Wrestling” would air on ITV1 on New Year’s Eve 2016. Stars like Grado, British Bulldog Jr and Zack Gibson wrestled on the show, which had a very different look to the classic British wrestling from year’s past.

The show was shot in the Dock10 studios in Salford on November 1st, 2016. This is the same place where shows like Blue Peter and Match of the Day are shot, so is a hub for British television. This was clear in the presentation of World of Sport, which was nothing like a wrestling show fans have seen before.

It was more akin to an ITV game show than the WWE. Shot in a brightly lit and colourful studio, it took some adjustment for fans of promotions like Progress and ICW. With the wrestling boom in the 2010s coming from a punk rock-style of presentation, this seemed completely out of touch with what the fans wanted.

The show itself showed promise. The thread throughout the show saw Grado chasing the WOS Championship. He lost the first match of the show to Dave Mastiff, as the Englishman became the inaugural titleholder. The Scot won a battle royal to earn a title shot, before ending the show as the new champion of the fledgling promotion.

The special pilot show drew 1.25 million viewers. While this is more than AEW Dynamite manages in the US, and close to Raw’s ratings, it was apparently a disappointment for ITV.

Nearly a million people tuned out during the programme, and came back on the channel once it ended. This was not a good look, especially for a show given prime-time status on the third-biggest channel on TV.

However, this was good enough for ITV to commission a full series, to be broadcast two years later.

The World Of Sport Wrestling Series Failed To Impress

ITV booked a whole series of wrestling for 2018, giving them a primetime slot on ITV1 for ten weeks. This had the potential to be absolutely huge, and was the reason why WWE decided to create NXT UK.

They aimed to stop ITV signing up all the top UK talent, and making a promotion more popular than the WWE. Despite that, the World of Sport roster was an impressive one.

With supremely popular wrestler and actor Grado joining with talents like Will Ospreay, Joe Hendry and Gabe Kidd, they had the opportunity to create something fantastic. A mix of personalities and top in-ring stars could have legitimately challenged the WWE in the UK.

Will Ospreay was one of the stars of World of Sport, but couldn’t save them from cancellation.

Sadly, it all went wrong. It seemed like a show made for non-wrestling fans. The kind that watch Ninja Warrior and Gladiators on ITV. They were never going to be interested in the wrestling, so catering to them was a bad idea.

The show simply wasn’t good. The in-ring action was good, and the wrestlers did their best with what they had. But the presentation was simply not wrestling. The storylines were boring, the twists and turns could be seen a mile away, and it seemed like nobody involved had ever seen wrestling before.

The ratings started badly, and simply got worse from there. The poor quality of the show, despite the fantastic wrestlers involved, was reflected in the ratings. The first episode attracted 937,000 viewers on Saturday evening.

However, viewers soon tuned out, with a drastic drop toward the end of the series. The 10th episode, which saw Justin Sysum become the WOS Champion, saw just 200,000 fans tune in. This is over a million less than their pilot episode two years prior.

You could see what ITV were going for. They wanted a non-offensive, sanitized version of what was happening in British wrestling. They wanted “the wrestling” that families used to sit around the TV at 4pm waiting for. But times changed, and people moved on. This wasn’t for the wrestling fans, so of course it failed.

When ITV signed a deal to show AEW Dynamite (although not in a primetime spot), the show was quietly cancelled. This was after a countrywide tour, with most of the big stars appearing. It was a final farewell for the stars of the show, and the end of any chance of mainstream wrestling in the UK again.

The Show Is Being Revived, But Not On TV

If you were one of the fans of the World of Sport reboot, then you are in luck. WOS: The Return is starting in September, with a new series planned for the promotion.

The show will feature returning stars from the ITV show, including former WOS Heavyweight Champion Grado, Sha Samuels, Adam Maxted, Martin Kirby, Alpha Male Iestyn Rees and Ashton Smith. They have an impressive roster which will only be buoyed by additional signings.

However, the company do not have a TV deal to show their wrestling events. Instead, they will be filmed at a taping in Norwich in September, and streamed via social media and on the WOS website.

If they do good numbers online, the chances of World of Sport being brought back to British TV would increase. However, given their latest failures on ITV, I wouldn’t hold your breath for another primetime spot.

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