The More Things Change, the More They Stay the Same


So…somebody tells me that there’s a bit of a shake up happening with regards to professional wrestling on television. Apparently SmackDown! has changed nights from Thursday to Friday, Raw will be switching to the USA Network and NWA: TNA now has its own its own slot on Spike TV. Just from checking out the various columns around InsidePulse, I can see that this is a very exciting and interesting times for those of you in America but, speaking for the people of Great Britain, I don’t see what the fuss is about.

You see, here in good ol’ Blighty, nothing really has changed. TNA can still be viewed on The Wrestling Channel, same as it ever was; Raw is still shown on Sky Sports and SmackDown! was always shown on Friday over here, in any case. In fact, by an ironic twist, we now get SmackDown! a couple of hours earlier than the States, since the show remains in it’s old time-slot on Sky Sports.


Of course, that’s not to say that we Brits haven’t had our fair share of TV changes in regards to our wrestling so, to keep these things in perspective I thought I’d give you a brief history of wrestling on telvision, here in the UK.

The only real place to start would be with the early days of British wrestling and the World of Sport programme that provided us with an hour of wrestling action every Saturday afternoon at four o’clock. It ran for an astounding 22 years and was the nation’s major wrestling fix, long before the WWF came to town. Regularly one of the highest rated programmes on British terrestrial television, everybody from the guys in the local working men’s club, to the grannies in the front row, to the cream of British society (Queen Elizabeth herself once professed to be a fan of the sport) was glued to the television.

Make no mistake, the wrestlers we saw every weekend on the small screen did not look anywhere near as good as their American counterparts, but they were far more accomplished in the ring, by a considerable margin. You may not have seen too many dropkicks or ranas or moonsaults from the top rope, but when it came to old fashioned mat-work, the Brits were the best in the business. Of course, the two guys that everyone remembers, whenever the old-school British style is brought up, were Big Daddy and Giant Haystacks (also known as the Loch Ness Monster in Stampede and WCW). These two clollasal monsters of the mat – Big Daddy was 6’6″, 350 lbs, whilst Haystacks was 6’11” and a whopping 635lbs – where the era’s ubiquitous face and heel respectively and they completely dominated the sport over here. Granted, neither man could work a lick, but they sold out arena after arena, usually competed in tag matches so that their more nimble partners could perform the lion’s share of the action. The two men managed to sell-out Wembley Stadium on the premise of a one-on-one match up between them that ended up lasting all of four minutes and, believe it or not, the crowd ate it up.

Behind the immense shadows of these two men, however, were scores of wrestlers who could certainly hold their own in the ring, and then some. Mark “Rollerball” Rocco (the original Black Tiger in Japan), Kendo Nagasaki, Jackie Pallo, Mick McManus, Dynamite Kid, Young David (Davey Boy Smith), Steve (William) Regal, Fit Finlay, “Exotic” Adrian Street, “Judo” Al Hayes (Lord Alfred Hayes), “Bomber” Pat Roach, Alan Kilby (a deaf and dumb guy, who was an outstanding technician), Chic Cullen, Allan Dennison, “Crybaby” Jim Breaks, Robbie Brookside, Marty Jones, Tony St. Clair, “Cyanide” Sid Cooper, Blondie Barrett…I could go on for ages.

The style was very different as nearly all matches were contested by two out of three falls, and they were always done over a number of five-minute rounds (usually six or eight rounds). There were very few three minute TV matches for the British fan, as any victory that occurred before Round 6 was considered to be short-change. There were no instant Disqualifications, either, but rather a rule-breaking wrassler would be given two public warnings, announced over the tannoy, before finally losing the match via DQ. What constituted a public warning? Well, kicking your opponent when he was on the floor, using a clenched fist, refusing to break when you were in the ropes, touching the referee, coming off the top rope (seriously)…all of these were liable to result in such a warning.

The counts were a lot quicker too – not the pinfall, but the ten count for a KO or for a count-out outside the ring were done at a rapid pace, meaning the wrestlers couldn’t just take a breather on the outside.

As well as the hard work of the British grapplers, World of Sport was also a training ground for many American and Japanese workers, who were earning their dues by wrestling across the globe to pick up new skills. England was always considered a tough school of wrestling, but it taught up-and-coming stars the more realistic European style of wrestling. Britain was one place to learn, just as Austria’s CWA was another, but the list of World of Sport alumni is truly staggering.

Bret Hart (as “Cowboy” Brett Hart), Owen Hart (as “Bronco” Owen Hart), Kamala (as the Mississippi Mauler), Satoru Sayama (as Sammie Lee), Jushin Liger (as Fuji Yamada) and Akira Maeda (as Kwick Kick Lee) were just some of the would-be legends who passed through this sainted isle on their way to the big time. Of course, back then, they were mostly jobbed out to the British guys, or tagging with the behemoths, but still if you ever wanted to see the Hitman or Tiger Mask wrestle in a completely different environment, go and get some old British tapes from your local trader.

All this came crashing down in 1988, when Greg Dyke, the director of ITV (the channel that hosted World of Sport) decided that professional wrestling was too low brow for his company and promptly pulled the plug on British wrestling, sending it into a death spiral that it is only just starting to recover from now, some 17 years after the event.

So wht did we have to fill our void? Well, if you had satellite access, you could catch up with the WWF action and see a totally different breed of wrestler. No more working class guys with thinning hair and paunches, who wrestled on a weekend for the love of the sport and a £50 payday (and that was the upper midcarders). Now we could see the likes of Hogan, Bundy, Savage, DiBiase, Roberts and Andre tear up our screens. We also realised that wrestling didn’t have to be fought over five minute rounds, that the ropes and turnbuckles could be used to perform different moves and that kicking a guy on the floor was all part of the fun (not to mention chair shots, belt shots and other forgeign objects). Perhaps more importantly, there was an entertainment aspect to the sport that hadn’t been a major feature of World of Sport. For us Brits, guys wretled one another to see who was the better wrestler and that was pretty much the be all and end all. In the WWF we saw guys beating the holy hell outof each other for reasons as diverse as stealing another man’s wife, being paid off by a sinister millionaire, having their head shaved by an effeminate barber…it was – well, weird, but also kinda cool.

We also had WCW on terrestrial television, shown late at night and about six months behind the US programming. Not having access to Sky, this was the programme that I asked my Dad to tape, so that I could watch it the following day. In the months that followed, I saw the likes of Ric Flair, Sid Vicious, Sting, Arn Anderson, Lex Luger, the Steiners, Tom Zenk, Bobby Eaton and Michael Wallstreet tearing it up on my TV screen. I saw Vader destroying jobbers two or three at a time; I saw Cactus Jack landing back first on the bare concrete; I saw the Juicer, Arachnaman, Vinnie Vegas and the Dudes With Attitude and, as a twelve year old boy, I realised what I’d been missing.

Since then, there has always been some wrestling available somehwere on the television and us Brits have struck lucky in many ways. As of this writing, not a year has gone by where we have had to actually pay for every Pay-Per-View. Channel 4 (another terrestrial channel) used to show some of them for free, albeit with adverts interrupting the action. Once I had access to Sky Television, eight out of the twelve yearly WWF events were freeview in the UK, including WrestleMania, SummerSlam and Survivor Series each year. Although we are getting fewer and fewer of them for free as the years go on, it only costs us £14.99 (about $28) to watch them. The TNA PPVs are shown for free on the Wrestling Channel, a month after they air in the States, so we get a Hell of a lot of premium wrestling action for very little in the way out cash.

Last year, the day after WrestleMania XX, things got even better for us as the long-awaited Wrestling Channel finally aired on Sky Channel 427. This was a wrestling fan’s dream come true and, until we get WWE 24/7 over here, it remains the most watched channel in my household. In the last 18 months we’ve had TNA, Ring of Honor, NWA: Wildside, World of Sport, Classic Memphis, NOAH, Irish Whip Wrestling, FWA, NJPW, GAEA, 3PW, CZW, CMLL and Shoot Interviews, all for free. Add to that various MMA programs across the other satellite a cable companies and we’re siting very pretty here across the pond.

Is there a point to this column? Not really, except to say that, for all the fuss being made in America regarding the network and schedule changes for WWE and TNA, things could be worse. We had fifteen years where there was very little wrestling to be found on our TV sets and what there was was late at night or very heavily edited (I swear to God – one station used to edit chairshots by putting Batman-esque logos over the point of contact that read CRASH!, BAM!, CRUNCH! and so on). If you wanted a regular wrestling fix you were forced to outlay a hell of a lot of money for satellite TV (which, for kid in school with no weekend job, just wasn’t happening), or find yourself a reliable tape trader. Okay, so we’re spoiled now with a dedicated channel and all the WWE action we want, but it was tough for a long time.

I think the situation in the States is excellent. So what if SmackDown! has changed days and Raw has changed networks? If you’re a dedicated fan of the sport, then you’ll follow with them. TNA has it’s own TV show again and that can only be good news for them and MMA fans should be delighted that UFC is getting a more prominent timeslot. I don’t see a resurgence of the Monday Night Wars any time soon, but it is a good time to be a wrestling fan again.

That’s all from me for this special edition column. I’ll be back on Thursday with my regularly scheduled ramblings. In the meantime, check out my column on the Ultimate Warrior HERE and vote on who you would like to see in the Final Raw Main Event.

Until the next time…farewell.