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WRESTLING COLUMNS

British Wrestling: Icon Needed!
September 20, 2006 by Dan Clark


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The state of British wrestling couldn't have been any worse at the start of the current century. What does an industry do when its main exposure (television) is taken away from it without notice" What does an industry do when its main attraction kills his opponent and subsequently retires" It dies.

For the better part of 20 years wrestling was a main event for Friday nights. Thousands of fans would buy tickets to watch the likes of Adrian Street to Jackie Pallo. This was at large due to the primetime slot that ITV had handed the company. The slot was part of Sunday nights "World of Sport" show. "World of Sport" was a program that was dedicated to showcasing the main sports within the United Kingdom, along with the minor sports such as netball and hockey. The promotion behind the wrestling section of "World of Sport" was run by the Crabtree family for a large amount of the time. For a long while it seemed that British wrestling would live on forever. The ratings were strong and the attendance was acceptable. Wrestling in the United Kingdom was making money. That was until ITV scheduling was changed forever. The general feeling was that ITV was beginning to show its age. ITV officials believed that no body wanted to see obese men in tight clothing jump on each other. The main obese man at the time was the now legendary, Big Daddy, Shirley Crabtree Jr.

Shirley's brother, Max Crabtree was at the time Britain's most powerful man in wrestling, he promoted the shows. Max and Shirley created a monster of a persona... Big Daddy. This Union Jack clad, top hat wearing, larger than life character dominated British wrestling until its departure from its primetime slot. Many report that Shirley and Max were greedy and wanted to keep Big Daddy dominant and possibly killed off many opportunities for smaller, more talented wrestlers. But while this cannot be immediately be linked to the fall of British wrestling, one thing was for sure, Big Daddy was British wrestling.

In August of 1987, Big Daddy faced Mal "King Kong" Kirk. This would subsequently be both of theirs final match. Big Daddy was famous for belly-splashing his opponents. The trick to the move was that Big Daddy was so big that while it appeared that he was crushing the life out of his opponent, he would take the fall using his knees and hands, barely touch his opponent. However, in this particular match they were both unlucky. Big Daddy executed the move to a usual standard... only for Mal to turn a ghostly white. The match ended immediately and Mal Kirk was rushed to the hospital, only to be pronounced dead. He was unknowingly suffering from a heart condition, which could not take the strain of Big Daddy's 375lb frame. Shirley Crabtree never forgave himself and silently retired from wrestling.

With any event, if you add that it will be shown on television you can expect to attract a fair few more people than usual. Without it, a promotion can just about survive, but without its main attraction, it's going to die. By the turn of the decade the promotion was dead, former legends started to die and young wrestlers had to find work else where. The industry was being raped of all of its assets at once. British wrestlers who were serious about becoming stars were leaving the country, and the mainstream audience who watched British wrestling forgot the British style and were now watching WWF.

Current day WWE has an obvious empire that it has control over. Within this empire is the United Kingdom. At present, to watch WWE in the United Kingdom (legally) you will have to pay an additional fee to watch it on Sky Sports. Thousands upon thousands subscribe to Sky Sports due to its WWE coverage. People are paying to watch WWE programming, and paying an additional amount to watch selected WWE PPV. Yet many channels believe that British wrestling isn't profitable enough. So why is it that WWE has a loyal base of viewers who will pay good money to watch the product, but you can't give British wrestling to the public for free" Well, a combination of reasons are involved. One of the strong reasons is that within the United Kingdom many "casual viewers" see wrestling as; fake, fat men holding each other. The other side of the spectrum is that many fans still remember the glory days of WWF, a product now known as "Crash TV" where you had to tune in every week to be surprised. But the bottom line is that if you mention the word wrestling to the general public of the United Kingdom you will find disrespect for the sport of entertainment.

The conclusion that many young, British promotions have come to is that they have to restore that respect for the sport. Dozens of promotions use this as their tagline within the United Kingdom. But what do you do when the main product of wrestling constantly puts huge men over, respected, talented men" You follow suit. In my opinion the British wrestling industry needs a group to find the biggest, best looking, most charismatic men and put them together in a ring. Now I know that this is the typical na´ve view that many people share, but it makes sense. How can British wrestling depend on the likes of Spud and Jonny Storm, not that they aren't talented, when they collectively are smaller than an average WWE performer who is watched by millions each week. There are big men out there, wrestling needs them! It simply isn't feasible to put a man smaller than 5'8" and lighter than 200lbs at the top of the mountain. Wrestling in the UK is about dominance, it's been fed to us by mainstream America and we need to swallow. The less promotions with the tagline "restoring respect to wrestling" the better. A 5'4" in-ring technician is never a match for a 6'5" hoss. This doesn't mean that all wrestlers need to be huge to get over, but it surely helps when the "Land of Giants" is watched by millions every week.

So you have the manpower, now you need the money. There are 425,000 millionaires in the United Kingdom. All it takes is one to back a venture and we could quite possibly have a competitive market on our hands. Money is obviously a huge, desirable factor. But a decent camera crew, with decent camera's and lighting make anyone look a million times better. UK promotions seem to spend huge amounts on the shows, only to record them in dark buildings, with shaky camera men with camera's the size of a phone. Its almost like the object of recording the show is to say "Hey, look how dark it was in there" you shouldn't record anything you wouldn't buy yourself. British promotions expect outsiders (people not associated with the company in the first place) to buy DVDs of there shows for sometimes as much as a monthly subscription to watch WWE. I wonder how many they sell"

Last but not least a wrestling product needs a respectable network to pick them up and advertise them. In March of 2004 many viewers tuned into the worlds first wrestling dedicated channel. "The Wrestling Channel" or "TWC" was the best thing since sliced bread for 6 months. Soon after though, repeats and re-runs of shows were a common thing and various promotions stopped supplying shows. The latest trend is showing British wrestling shows from various promotions (meaning not just FWA). In theory this is a great idea. The shows are actually put together well and I would like to particularly credit LDN Capital TV. Its production values are significantly better than its rivals and the show is put together in a proper manner. The only downside to this whole trend is that no-one knows when it's on. There is no advertising on any other channel for these shows and you're lucky if you actually find the show. Many promotions before have shown that getting on TV is great... if they advertise you in a correct way. Ideally a big 5 channel (BBC 1/2 , ITV, Channel 4, five) would want to pick up such a promotion. Even if a respectable satellite channel was interested, it would increase competitiveness within the industry.

The whole reason for all of this is to have a product, which may not be respecting wrestling, but a product that would draw the masses to shows featuring British wrestlers going solo with each other, without the aid of Americans. We desperately need an iconic promotion that will allow Britain to one day, fly solo away from America and carve a niche for itself. But before that, a promotion needs to draw the masses and prove that wrestling is a mainstream product, when displayed correctly.

This is most obviously an idealistic future, one that would imitate WWE and subsequently drift away from it. But while WWE is number 1, more promotions need to follow the leader instead of trying to imitate the glory days of British wrestling.

Authors Note: In no way do I mean any offence to the current British wrestling industry, while I believe that many things are wrong with the industry today, I write this article to express my views on the industry and what I believe would help wrestling in the United Kingdom. Everyone who reads this will have a completely different opinion, but that's what I believe columns are about. Inspiring debate and discussion.

by Dan Clark ..


Tim wrote: Look no further than Nigel Mcguinness from ROH.
Wayne Murden wrote:
Excellent colomn excellently written... us Brits once did have an icon but unfortunately we didnt realize it till it was too late Name was Dynamite Kid..
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