Five weeks into 5* Wrestling’s run on Freesports and they’ve seen some stormy seas in the ocean of online opinion.

5* Wrestling had, online, become must-see TV.  Anyone keeping an eye on #5StarWrestling would see a true mix of praise, consternation and outrage.  It must have been a great time for a wrestling company borne from their video games (Wrestling Manager in 2010, leading to 5 Star Wrestling for PS3 and 5 Star Wrestling: ReGenesis for PS4).  Driven by the vision of Dan Hinkles, it was ambitious and he proved his ambition when he spoke to the iSax podcast long before Freesports.  It’s certainly something that British wrestling fans will want to hear.  There’s a fine line between confidence and arrogance.

First week jitters aside, the production has improved over subsequent weeks and shows no signs of halting as they continue to be the most widely accessible British wrestling show thanks to Freesports being available on most digital television platforms.  By its fifth week, on 1st March 2018, 5* faced far and away it’s biggest challenge – the weather.  With some of its roster unable to make the event, the Belfast show could have been cancelled, but everyone involved pulled it off, in a scrappily entertaining fashion, giving us a mix of a reduced regular roster and some new talent familiar to OTT Wrestling fans… and Alberto El Patron, who spoke happily about WWE along with a new championship… at length.

Five weeks in, five shows down.  Week six saw the continuation of a snowstorm in the United Kingdom making travel hazardous across who regions and many wrestling shows had to make the decision to run or not – it wasn’t just the safety of the wrestlers and staff getting to the venues, the fans needed to be able to travel, too.  5* wasn’t alone in its decision to cancel a show, but the stakes for them were a lot higher – they had a live television contract to fulfil.  This one was forgivable, given the weather conditions.

The next week was an odd one – surely it was too early for a season break, but that’s the only explanation I can come up with for there apparently being no show booked at all.  Perhaps we’d get a recap or an unseen highlights show, but there was nothing on Freesports.

Then the wheels came off the bus with a single screenshot posted to social media by the Wrestle Thoughts fan podcast.  It appeared to be from Dan Hinkles, the creator of 5* Wrestling and referenced Jason (possibly Jason Noble – one of the investors and listed as Director of Pro Wrestling UK LTD).  They spoke of their hopes to keep things going in a reduced capacity but that it had all fallen through.

No more 5* Wrestling, no more live events, no more television show.  It had all collapsed and left the high hopes of those involved, workers and fans, in ruins, let alone the now broken television contract.

The return of British wrestling to weekly national television had stopped after five weeks of live television.

5* Wrestling on Freesports wasn’t their first live television show – they’d also had coverage via Spike TV in January 2017 with what would be a one-off broadcast of the not-search-friendly Dominant Wrestling.  It caused a buzz, but nothing more came of it, despite the ambition.  One live show, a small number of shows outside of this and, despite this limited experience, they’d managed to secure a three-year “opportunity of a lifetime” deal, which would have seen five belts in contest and plans to finally televise the aborted 128 man tournament.

It was in 2017 that they made the ambitious 128 man tournament announcement, again with much criticism from some of the staunchest supporters of British wrestling, including Steve Saxon (of Britannia Wrestling Promotions and the iSax podcast).  Logistically fraught with complexity, it came as little surprise that, despite promises it was going ahead, deals for venues being put into place and, more importantly, the roster of workers being contracted to appear, the event was “postponed” and would be rescheduled to February 2018, when it didn’t happen either!

The problem with the 128 man tournament plans is the same as the one that wrestlers face after the closure of the business – no bookings, no pay.  It’s disappointing when one show doesn’t run, it’s a lost wage and these men and women are self-employed – no work, no wage.  Three years of TV contract for the best workers – the ones you knew would be the jewel in the 5* crown – was a big deal to each of them, and now it’s lost, with absolutely sign of recompense.  The venues, many of which would have been booked well in advance, have also lost bookings, which will impact the casual working staff that they have.  Fans will be among those hoping to get money back for tickets bought – if you’re a fan and paid by credit card, get in touch with your credit card company.

5* Wrestling had the talent to be hugely successful and there was true passion about the project – many asked fans to give 5* Wrestling a chance because it had the potential to be something great.

It had the likes of Zack Gibson, Nathan Cruz, Mark Haskins, El Ligero, Dave Mastiff, Flash Morgan Webster, Adam Maxted & Charlie Sterling, The Primate, and many, many more.  We had the antics of Kid Fite, Lou King Sharp and Krieger, trying to get onto a show.  There was the irrepressible and supremely confident Joe Hendry on commentary, alongside the highly knowledgeable Greg Lambert. It had brought in the UK Hooligans and Jody Fleisch and used them well.  Ricky Knight Jr, Big Grizzly and others had been given huge opportunities that would have enhanced their already impressive output, output often only seen by devoted British wrestling fans, as opposed to the casual viewer audience that Freesports could have brought to the table.  This was a potential breakout moment for British wrestling – the first time that British wrestling had been on a nationally available channel.

With such a variety of talent, it should be impossible for 5* Wrestling to go wrong when it comes to engaging, entertaining stories to keep the fans coming back for more.  But, telling the story isn’t the only thing, regardless of how good the players are, you need the audience to watch it; not the at-home audience, the live audience to go with the live television show.

Large arenas are great, it’s prestigious, there can be no doubt, to announce that you’re running an arena and to see and hear the buzz of the crowd as their passion fills the venue must be a huge rush for any performer.  Having them appear half full or less just made them look empty and cavernous, and it showed on live TV!  Hiding the audience doesn’t help, but revealing them does it no justice either.  Heaven knows what the cost of running the arenas was, but it can’t have been financially efficient! 

In five weeks, we’d seen 5* Wrestling start to follow in the footsteps of many other wrestling companies, just on a much grander, much more exposed scale.  They’ve had a rocky start, they found their level and were running shows with, largely, quality talent.  Then, with one announcement, it all fell apart.  Many had predicted it would happen; but, as with all naysayers, they would have gone quiet had it been a success; they can now gloat all they want, but this is not a good thing.

This isn’t about a single company, this is about a platform to showcase the talent in the UK and it’s about British wrestling.  The plans to bring back wrestling to ITV have fallen silent after much fanfare, Spike TV was a one-and-done deal in the end and now Freesports has been burnt for the duration of a three year, ambitious deal that they’d proudly boasted “brought £650,000 of production value” to the table in a now-deleted tweet.  Why should any broadcaster in the UK trust British wrestling again?

Photos by the superb The Ringside Perspective