There's a fascinating phenomenon that becomes engaged the longer a fanbase is established; eventually the fanbase can begin to take control. We saw it happen with the reboot of Doctor Who as Russell T Davies and Stephen Moffatt are both open life-long fans of the programme, who've gone from writing fan fiction to controlling the actual product. It blurs a line, when the fans take over where does the line between legitimate product and unofficial fan production end? This brings us to WhatCulture Pro-Wrestling (WCPW), an offshoot of Whatculture - the website formerly known as Obsessed with Film that changed it's name when it became obsessed with everything and realised they can make list articles about it. In 2014, they set up a YouTube channel, Whatculture WWE, delivering video versions of the lovely list-icles and eventually spinning it off into videos of 'How They Would Have Booked...' Or 'How They Should Book, wrestling news and even PPV predictions with their on-air talent developing something of a series of wrestling personae. Now two years later, their YouTube channel has more followers than TNA so they took the only natural next step: they've set up their own promotion in an attempt to become a serious force in UK wrestling and to prove they're not messing around, they've got El Ligero on their first taped show in one of what was probably three shows he worked that day.
Now various technical elements can be excused for being a bit rough at first. During backstage promos, clearly they haven't got much room on their green-screen because everyone is packed into a small cube and as a result, the blocking suffers. Often people seem to come in and have their back to the camera in order to fit in which results in the mic failing to pick them up (sadly resulting in us missing some of the beautiful singing voice of Joe Hendry). Their backstage interviewer constantly bobs around mugging to camera but also out of shot in a way that irritates because if there's a static camera, you learn the edges of the space and you stick to them, damnit. Also the lighting needs some adjustment as during these sequences, there are often shadows obscuring faces and the occasional block of loose pixels. It's slightly surprising as their on-channel green-screen work has always been impressively smooth and high quality but despite having given an extended bit of criticism here, it's only their first show. If it's the first of many, I'm sure they'll improve quickly.
Another issue that they will have to approach is the on-air talent. The wrestlers themselves are obviously all pros but some of the Whatculture personalities fail to translate their YouTube shtick into the in-ring action with 'King' Ross especially going overboard on the 'heel' antics on commentary. Ross and Simon Miller do a decent job of calling the action but for my money, there was too much 'colour' added with the two of them talking over people talking in the ring and during entrances. You know how annoying it is when Michael Cole drowns out the eeriness of Bray Wyatt by talking about how eery it is? Imagine that but with two of them talking incessantly over another classic Hendry singing entrance (luckily, WCPW have provided the commentary-free clip of that entrance on their channel). Equally there's a general tone of 'smark' to the product, which lends itself further to a feeling of fan-service but does occasionally also seem like at least someone on creative probably drops insider terminology on a daily basis and thinks using WWE wrestler's indie names is hilarious.
Adam Pacitti introduces himself as the general manager and WCPW. He hits the right level of sincerity for the crowd who are clearly all fans of the channel (because why else would they pay to see it?) and doing some real palm eating. There seems to be a genuine excitement, especially for the announced appearance of Damien Sandow at next month's tapings. We transition into:
Match 1 - Triple Threat Elimination Mach - Alex Gracie (W/ Lucas Archer and James R Kennedy) v Gabriel Kidd v Joseph Conners
This opening bout featured some interesting storytelling as for the most part Kidd and Conners teamed up to keep Gracie out of the match and level the advantage of him having a stable. Gabriel Kidd was particularly impressive, his red trunks helping this comparison, reminding me of a young Daniel Bryan with the commentary team doing their best to put him over as a newcomer playing with scene veterans and holding his own. Joseph Conners showing some truly hard-hitting offense including a fantastic springboard DDT onto Gracie while he had Kidd in a small package pin. Sadly, the match was broken up just as it was starting to get interesting as Kidd was pinned following a Righteous Kill DDT from Conners before Gracie would go for a roll-up, Conners kicks out at two, has a short comeback before Archer and Kennedy invade the ring and lowblow Conners leading to a disqualification. It seems a bold and maybe reckless move to make the first match of your new promotion have a screwy finish. Sure it could be used to build storyline with the efforts of Conners and Kidd to remove Gracie but once one of them is out of the way, Gracie's gang pounced. It's more about introducing what you do, it sets a precedent. It said, at least to this humble reviewer, that individual match quality isn't as important as overall product. This may pay off in the long run but left me feeling a tad deflated.
Joseph Conners wins via DQ (6.33)
Match 2 - Martin Kirby vs El Ligero
This was a fun, comedy match by the two performers with Kirby playing a fun jealous heel. Ligero got a much bigger reaction from the crowd so Kirby twice locked up with Ligero, transitioned to a headlock, bounce off the ropes, shoulder tackle and launched into extended celebrations that would make Bo Dallas say 'well that was excessive'. From here the match launched into a story of Ligero outwrestling Kirby at every point pulling off some lovely highflying offense including a particularly crisp hurricanrana so Kirby responds by trying to imitate Ligero. The highlight of this match comes when Kirby climbs the top rope looking to Triple H with a bottle of water only to spew it onto Ligero, he goes to repeat the indignation only for Ligero to leap up and uppercut the mouthful of water over the crowd. The match hits it's finish when Kirby lines up Ligero for a sable bomb, Ligero reverses, hits a tornado DDT for the pin. This might have been a better choice for the first match as it had everything you want from an opener: high energy, big spots, got the crowd excited and a big, clean finish. Sure it could have done with a bit of tweaking in some of the more awkward comedy spots, Kirby's attempts to replicate Ligero did lead to some clumsy dead air but for the most part, a good showing for both men.
El Ligero wins via pinfall (9.30)
Match 3 - Prince Ameen vs Joe Coffey
Ameen comes out and gives a promo that gets no reaction from a crowd who make Full Sail seem pleasant. Ameen gets in one clever line as he responds to a 'what' chant by pointing out they mean to chant 'WhatCulture'. Then out comes Joe Coffey. They have a match that shows off Coffey's resiliency, speed and strength and Ameen... He has one decent Spinebuster. The finish comes after Coffey sets Ameen up for a discus lariat but Ameen rolls out of the ring and gets counted out. This now makes two out of three matches ending in a screwy fashion. Once again, it might pay off in the long run but in the immediate, did nothing for Ameen who presents no effective or impressive offense.
Joe Coffey wins via countout (6.05)
Main Event - Joe Hendry vs Big Damo (Jack King as special Enforcer) for the position of Jack's champion and a shot at the WCPW WHC.
In the booth, Simon and Ross are joined by Whatculture's top heel, Adam Blampied. Hendry has one of his trademark singing entrances that is interrupted by Damo dragging him out from backstage. The two brawl for a while outside the ring till Hendry throws Damo inside. The two have good chemistry and a strong back and forth with some highlights including a massive running crossbody from Damo and a superb fallaway slam by Hendry. Sadly it comes after a ref bump causing Jack King to slide in and play ref as the ending is marred by a chair Damo pulls out, Hendry dropkicks the chair into Damo, Hendry and Jack tustle over the chair and Damo uses the distraction to hit The Ulster Plantation and get the pin. That makes three of four matches in their first show without clean finishes. The pre-match brawl outside the ring and the actual in match action itself is lovely and I liked the unity with Jack King, presenter of wrestling news show The Fast Count, hitting multiple fast counts when forced to step in for the referee who seems to be out for hours but it would have been preferential if they wanted Jack to be the referee, to just make him special referee and skip the ref bump shenanigans. It overbooks what could have been a promising, if surprisingly brief match.
Big Damo wins via Pinfall (6.37)
The show's ending segment is where everything begins to click. Pacitti returns to the ring to unveil the WCPW WHC belt, of course just as he's celebrating this moment, out comes Adam Blampied with his contender for the title, Rampage Brown. Blampied plays off the crowd better than any of the other non-wrestlers especially when someone in the crowd starts jibing him for being a 'cut-price Bischoff', he comes into his element. Rampage also is allowed to look like a monster knocking out two refs, looking like he murdered one of the 'stage crew' with a piledriver before tearing up the cardboard belt that was used as a championship on the YouTube channel. This move feels particularly well targeted as WhatCulture fans gave Blampied a Rollins-esque hero's entrance, by the end of the segment there were boos-a-plenty and even a chant of 'fuck off Rampage'. If they wanted to make people buy the team of Brown and Blampied as heels, it definitely worked.
I'm going to eschew the ATPW tradition of putting a grade at the bottom here because it feels unfair to even try and place this fledgling promotion on the scale for it's debut. It had enough promise to suggest they might keep going for a while and certainly, the in-ring camera crew deserve praise for some particularly well placed and edited action, especially by independent standards. It can be forgiven for its weaknesses because it was just its first episode and nothing's going to be perfect at first.
What holds it together is a certain disbelief that it exists. A website expanding to feature a wrestling section is fine, that spinning off to a YouTube channel makes sense but them expanding into their own promotion is insane. These are people that love wrestling, that watched the WWE and became fans, that created a fan product that became legitimate and has now pulled in it's own fans who have in turn created fan product that could become legitimate. As a wrestling show, it wasn't the best but as a snapshot of a unique moment in time, it was fascinating. It presents a unique position of a certain 'Hey look ma, I made it' attitude that makes fans feel so close, they could almost take it and make it themselves. This isn't just them wrestling in their back garden with their friends in a trampoline, this is a proper company that in its next round of tapings has Sandow as well as Jay Lethal, Noam Dar and Will Ospreay. They've managed to create something real and that's a lot more than most fans can say. Give them time and space to grow, and maybe someday we'll be saying 'WCPW, that's where the big boys play'.
Photo Credit: WCPW & Bob Dahlstrom