I read, to my great delight, that British professional wrestling is returning, not just to our screens, but to ITV on a Saturday afternoon in a one-off return of World of Sport. I appreciate that younger readers may not recall the days when British wrestling ruled the world, sort of, but for old codgers like me, this is good news.
I first watched the wrestling back in the – oh dear – the 1960s, along with my grandfather who simply never missed it. 4.00pm on a Saturday afternoon and, grapple fans, it’s over to Dewsbury Town Hall for this afternoon’s action with your commentator Kent Walton. Even as a young child, there was a doubt in my mind as to wrestling’s authenticity. It was strange how each “fight” had a certain pattern, these ebbs and flows and all that. But mostly I set aside my disbelief to enjoy the sport. My grandfather fumed if anyone dare suggest there might just be an element of theatre to the whole thing.
Kent Walton will not be around to commentate on the new shows on account of his death, but stepping into his seat will be WWE’s Jim Ross. Mick McManus, Jackie ‘Mr TV’ Pallo and Big Daddy will not be there for very similar reasons to Mr Walton. In fact, I don’t expect to recognise a single soul.
I went to shows at the Colston Hall, Bristol, where the big stars appeared and once you had gotten used to the lack of commentary it was even more exciting. I don’t think I have ever been more excited than when I watched McManus beat Jim Breaks in an absolute epic which ended when Mick kicked Breaks in the testicles. But I also saw Big Daddy, who brought it all home to us that perhaps it was all fixed after all. No way could a 25 stone tub of lard beat someone fit who was half his weight. The belly-bumping with his old adversary Giant Haystacks, who seemed to be almost twice his weight, was toe-curling.
World of Sport was up against the BBC’s Grandstand and the latter had all the big sports (this was before Sky bought them all) so ITV did not have the greatest sporting portfolio. So we started with the ITV Seven which was four horse races from one course and three from another, introduced by a man called John Rickman, who always removed his hat to great viewers at the start of the show. Then, there was an hour to fill before the wrestling so we might get Log Rolling from Canada or Canal Vaulting from the Netherlands. Finally, it was over to Kent.
And now it’s coming back, I hope not just for a one-off but for good. In the old days, there were no wrestling governing bodies, the world champions just being world champions and not the WWE world champion or whatever. There were big blokes against big blokes (heavyweights), little blokes against little blokes (lightweight, middleweight or heavy middleweight) and when there were two blokes left of different sizes, we would have a catchweight contest.
The beauty – if that’s the right word – of the old time wrestlers was they looked like us. No huge muscles, but balding middle aged men with beer bellies. Obviously, this is not a description of me, but you get the idea.
I cannot wait for the wrestling to come back. Given the ITV have the contract to show horse racing, they can also bring back the ITV Seven and maybe even the Log Rolling and Canal Vaulting. And once the main wrestling event is over I can switch back to the BBC for the teleprinter.
The more things change, the more they stay the same and happily that applies to British wrestling, too.