Ahead of a huge few months in WWE, the announcement of another UK TV deal means wrestling is once again body slamming its was back on to free to air TV. As WWE prepares to welcome a new generation of fans to their Universe, Rushonrock’s King Of The Ring, Andy Spoors answers five questions newcomers may find themselves asking…
So, what’s the big deal?
After years of a WWE monopoly, Sky Sports relinquished the rights to BT Sport in January. The move raised a few eyebrows, as it not only signalled the end of a 30 -year relationship between Sky and WWE, but also showed a new strategy by BT in their quest to rival the satellite giants.
It still meant very little to the vast majority of homes in the UK. If anything, on subscriber numbers alone, it could be viewed as something of a backwards step to move from Sky. After agreeing new television deals in the US for record sums, BT may have had deeper pockets to expand their content and subscriber list on this occasion, or they may have caught WWE when they were feeling flush.
Offering live and highlight broadcasts of Raw and Smackdown, as well as NXT and NXT UK, the new home of WWE has thrown the doors open far wider than its predecessor. It was, however, the announcement this past Tuesday that could launch WWE’s popularity in the UK to record numbers.
Channel 5 will now also show highlight programmes of the company’s flagship shows, Raw and Smackdown. Beginning February 2, a one-hour version of Raw will air on Sundays at 10:30 and Smackdown on Saturday at 10:30. NXT UK will also air on the Paramount Network Channel (Freeview Channel 57) each Wednesday from 12am.
Not since their tumultuous relationship with Channel 4 in the late 90s/early 2000s, has WWE been available to all TV owners in the UK. This was arguably when the company enjoyed the highest levels of popularity on our fair shores, so the return to free to air is a huge opportunity to reach a whole new audience.
But it’s all fake – right?
Let’s get this one out the way straight away shall we? Pre-determined would be a more accurate way of putting it. A common misconception is that wrestling fans are somehow living in denial that what they see is real. Let us assure you, this is not the case. Is Game Of Thrones or Star Wars real? No, but a lot of people still enjoy the hell out of it.
The risks the Superstars (WWE’s terminology for wrestlers) take as well as the resultant injuries are very much real. That man crashing to the ring mat or from a ladder is going to feel it. But after years of training and growing accustomed to taking bumps, muscle memory kicks in. The storylines in place, keep things entertaining and help the audience become invested in their favourites or boo the bad guys. It’s panto meets sports. Athleticism meets EastEnders. The following quote from current WWE Superstar, Seth Rollins, answers this question perfectly.
“Fake is like the worst word you could possibly use to describe anything, you know? What are you talking about? What is fake? It’s a television show, and a live performance. Nothing’s fake about it. We’re not telling you we’re out there fighting each other.
We’re going out there to entertain you. I consider myself an athlete. I train like an athlete, I eat like an athlete, I recover and get sore just like any other athlete. We’re not lying to anybody. People just don’t understand the art form of what we do.”
I haven’t watched it since the 90s. Is it still the same?
Yes and no. The 90s saw record viewing figures during what was labelled as the ‘Attitude Era’, that have never really returned since. WWE was at war with WCW and the rivalry seemed to spur on both sides to push the envelope. The wrestling industry was better for it. No one could rest on their laurels and WWE eventually emerged victorious for a number of reasons.
That era played home to some of the names that to this day transcend sports entertainment, with The Rock, Stone Cold, The Undertaker and Triple H now household names. Risqué segments to grab headlines were commonplace, often involving scantily clad females.
As a famous song once pointed out, “the times they are a-changin’” and WWE has been no exception. The matches are the same and owner Vince McMahon can still call on the aforementioned Superstars to make cameo appearances every once in a while. Indeed, even legends such as Hulk Hogan and Ric Flair pop on the company’s programming from time to time. They are not, however, the work horses that keep the juggernaut that is WWE moving anymore.
A more respectful and family-friendly approach is evident today. The characters are still larger than life. The storylines are OTT, but arguably the standard of performance in the ring is as high as it has ever been. All roads still lead to Wrestlemania, the company’s showpiece event of the year, but new deals see controversial events in Saudi Arabia are also present. The biggest change fans from the 90s will notice, is that of the women’s division. The murky history of using women as sex symbols or sanctioning 30-second matches is long gone. Today, the fairer sex can do everything their male counterparts can. From headlining Wrestlemania to participating in ladder, Hell in a Cell or their own Royal Rumble match (more on that soon) nothing is seemingly off the table in the hunt for a level playing field.
So where can I watch it?
With the recent announcement of Channel 5’s highlight shows, there has never been more opportunity to watch WWE Superstars. From live presentations of Raw and Smackdown, to the addition of NXT and NXT UK on BT Sport there’s something for everyone.
If you want to catch up on the previously mentioned Attitude Era and everything that has happened since, just like any major company, WWE offer a streaming service called the WWE Network. For a tenner a month, subscribers get access to a huge library of WWE’s past PPV and television productions. In addition, there are copious amounts of documentaries, prank shows and of course the opportunity to watch every PPV live each month.
Want to experience it all live? WWE’s latest brand, NXT UK, showcases some of the best British and European talent and can be seen around the country for their television tapings every couple of months. The UK has always been WWE’s second home, so arena tours come around twice a year for family friendly action.
Of course, there are an abundance of independent shows outside the confines of WWE, that deserve all the support they can get. Progress, ICW, North and Fight Club Pro are just a handful of shows around the country, that put on stellar shows and are well worth checking out on social media to see if it is for you.
Got anything a bit more metal?
Glad you asked. Regular readers will know just how much Rushonrock love WWE’s alternative brand, NXT. From the more intimate venue for its tapings, to the metal soundtrack evident from the off, this could be the show for you. Slipknot provide the current theme for the weekly show and NXT Takeover shows frequently showcase live performances from upcoming and established rock acts such as Poppy and Cane Hill.
The whole production feels counter-culture, playing on the ideology of a smaller more vocal fan base to create the loudest atmospheres, accompanied by fantastic rock tracks. Heavily tattooed and self-confessed metal head Superstars such as Aleister Black and Viking Raiders have further boosted the alternative image the brand takes great pleasure in portraying.
A relationship with Download Festival has seen NXT Superstars wrestle on at Donington Park for several years now. So if the idea of one of the world’s best rock festivals combining with some of the world’s best in the sports entertainment business doesn’t whet the appetite, there’s just no pleasing some.