The rise and demise of British wrestling on TV

Greeting grappling fans…

Those were the words introducing millions of wrestling fans at 4 o’clock every Saturday afternoon on itvs (the uk’s 2nd biggest channel) world of sport. Streets would be empty roads clear and shops closed through lack of people on the hunt for a bargain, all because of the wrestling.

Stars like big daddy, Giant haystacks, Kendo Nagasaki  would bring in the viewers in their millions on a weekly basis. In 1963 the wrestling out drew the fa cup final with 16 million viewers beating that year’s FA cup final (the biggest domestic football match of the calendar year) which had 12 million on the same channel. Basically it was popular very popular.

But that was then, now the thought of a British wrestling show pulling in millions of viewers on a weekly basis and reaching the mainstream success the world of sport show did seems unfathomable No matter how hot the British wrestling scene is in 2018. In 1988 Greg Dyke the head of programming on Itv declared British wrestling and its fans (working class) were not fashionable enough for advertisers And swung the axe on the show after a successful 33 years

Gone but not forgotten

Wrestling in the UK hit a low. The first couple of years after it lost mainstream TV saw live attendance go up as people still wanted to see the stars of that era and now couldn’t catch them on TV. But in time that phased out as new stars were not being created as there was no television as a vehicle of promotion anymore. Live attendance took a nosedive.

When i first started watching wrestling in the early 90s the only thing available was from America WCW had a slot on itv in the early hours on a Saturday and of course the WWF which after a brief spell on itv had partnered up with sky sports and is still there to this day. As i became obsessed with what was happening in the states i cannot count the times i was told by my grandparents and other adults in my life  that the American stuff was nothing like how it was in my day when wrestling was good. I didn’t pay much attention but it must of been hard being a fan of the world of sport days and seeing the only thing available now was what the Americans was giving them, “that isn’t proper wrestling look at them all flying about” as my Granddad use to say.

Small resurgence and false hope

When the attitude era kicked in and the WWF had their late 90s boom period wrestling in this country started to pick up again first it was with wwf tribute shows where you could go to seaside resorts and see the “UK Undertaker and “Big Red Machine. While that was happening small independent wrestling groups emerged with young fresh talent inspired by the American wrestling they grew up with started coming through. Stars like PAC (Adrian Neville) and Drew Galloway found success and experience and with these groups the FWA probably the most famous at the time also found TV as well with the birth of the wrestling channel a short lived tv station on cable television it was the first international channel of the Fight network in Canada. It was in this era that fans whispered and hoped for a more stable TV show we could watch like the UK fans before us did.

It never happened though and as the talent got better and more work with Indy groups popping up all over the country there was never one stable or strong enough promotion to get their act together enough to stay financially viable let alone secure a TV deal.

The Hotbed of Wrestling still no TV though

21st may 2017 at the Allstate arena in Chicago Pete Dunne challenged Tyler Bate for the WWE UK championship in a amazing match that was given ****¾ from famed wrestling journalist Dave Meltzer. The notable thing for me in this match was the multiple UK chants this match got from the lively Chicago crowd.

In the last couple of years independent wrestling in the UK has gone from bringing in old wwe stars and losing money because of the costs of the imports to a thriving scene looked at by the rest of the world. Promotions like Progress and revolution pro are leading the charge and are putting on matches that are gaining critical acclaim. Even the imports that are coming over now are current young stars themselves and with the age of the internet making the world and likewise the wrestling world a smaller place. everything wrestling wise is coming up roses. The only exception to this is still no mainstream tv to push this UK wrestling resurgence over the edge.

Dec 31st 2016 World of sport returned to ITV in a one of special and was watched by 1.5 million viewers. Now that’s not the greatest rating in the world but it was up against competition from a big football match in the same timeslot that did great numbers. Still it was good enough for itv to announce a 10 week run of television uk fans hopes were high that it would be a successful run and end up becoming a full time thing. Itv partnered up with Impact wrestling and was set to record the tapings in May for a July launch. Unfortunately these hopes were quickly dashed when it was announced that due to prolonged contract negotiations the taping had been postponed indefinitely.

Hopes for the future

As i said the UK is thriving right now for quality wrestling and NXT takeover Chicago proved that. But it could be so much more than just a developmental country for the WWE if the ITV show had taken off this year i doubt it would of had the critical acclaim progress gets on a monthly basis but it would have put new eyes on the scene gained more mainstream attention and definitely made new fans for the UK indie scene who would look for alternatives to the world of sport product like our American counterparts did in finding companies like ROH and PWG.

The UK scene is great right now but just imagine how much greater it would be if fans had a day locked in their viewing schedule for the most watched wrestling promotion in the country which whoever takes that ITV spot if anyone does it instantly would be. So with the tapings complete for a 10 week run for itv now complete and a scheduled July release date the time is now for the British wrestling scene to get back what it lost all those

years ago. There’s hope grappling fans there’s hope.

@aaron6785