What Culture Pro Wrestling (WCPW) have made their biggest announcement to date. As they put it, following the path of the FIFA World Cup, the Davis Cup or the Olympics they will be doing something to "change the face of pro wrestling" when they bring 64 wrestlers across 10 nights to crown one champion in the first ever 'Pro Wrestling World Cup'.
Competitors from six continents will compete in eight preliminary single fall elimination tournaments (including England, Scotland, Mexico and Germany respectively in Nottingham 21 March, Motherwell 23 March, Coventry 30 April and Berlin 2 July) with two men from each region progressing (tickets here). Canadian, American, Japanese and 'Rest of the World' details meanwhile are still forthcoming. The finals will take place from 23-26 August with the last two days being hosted at the Sports Centre in Newcastle. Best of all the whole thing will be free for fans to view through the WCPW YouTube channel.
WCPW had the big guns out for the announcement with the cup's "official ambassador" WWE Hall of Famer Jim Ross leading the charge. "Anything we can do in Pro Wrestling to more closely align our genre to mainstream sports as far as structure is concerned, the better off we are" said Ross. The excitement was shared by many of the others involved. The German Wrestling Federation's Ahmed Chaer, for example, said he was excited about the showcase and how "that whole world can see how good German wrestling is". Chaer announced that on 2 July in Berlin top German talents Juvenile X, Crazy Sexy Mike, Cash Money Erkan, Lucky Kid, Tarkan Aslan and Pascal Spalter will compete alongside two internationally renowned German talents Bad Bones John Klinger and Axel Dieter Jr.
England's Zack Sabre Jr, only recently a feature in WWE's Cruiserweight Classic and arguably the best wrestler in the UK if not the world, was in fine form. "I think nothing represents Pro Wrestling more beautifully than an amalgamation of talent from all over the world and then the stress of being eliminated in one match" he said. Keen to outline his pedigree he told those gathered that tournament-wise "I feel I'm in a good position, I've won a couple over the years", joking that "some get spoken about more than others". "The Isle of Sheppey King of the Ring 2004 tournament doesn't get mentioned in the same light as Battle of Los Angeles or 16 Carat Gold which I won last year". Reflecting more seriously on the possible positive energy the event could bring he told us that with so much uncertainty in the world pro wrestling can shine a light through its inclusivity and welcoming approach. He hoped the tournament would showcase both the wrestling world's diversity and Britain as a focal point of the excitement, building on our country's rich wrestling heritage.
JR's commentary partner, Lucha Underground's Matt Striker was bad cop to JR's good cop. He resisted calls for details of the US, Japanese and 'Rest of the World' qualifiers or of the final four days of the tournament insisting fans follow WCPW for announcements. This, he said, will "add some prestige and mystery to the finals". We did however get further news about some of the qualifiers. For Scotland (in association with the Scottish Wrestling Alliance), top talents vying for the cup title include Joe Coffey, Lewis Girvan, Joe Hendry, Drew Galloway, Mark Coffey, Kenny Williams, BT Gunn and Liam Thompson. Meanwhile the Mexican leg taking place in Coventry will see what Striker called "eight of the finrst luchadores in the world". Caristico (formerly Sin Cara), El Hijo De Dos Caras, Penta el 0M (Pentagon Jr), Alberto El Patron (formerly Del Rio), Drago and Rey Fenix will join El Ligero (who we hear may have some UK roots...) and Rey Mysterio! The latter, announcing his participation via videolink said that he was "ready to take on whoever they put in front of me. You name it I'll take them down!".
There were some great moments at the announcement event, including WWE Superstar Paige (currently recovering from injury) asking how her brothers, the UK Hooligans might be part of the tournament as they are some of the "best British talent in the world". Awkwardly, WCPW had to point to next year's tournament as a possible point of entry. Paige's partner El patron sympathised with WCPW's predicament but said he feared intervening because Paige might "dropkick my face".... Though the Hooligans might not be enrolled, Top flight English talents due to compete include: Rampage, Zack Sabre Jr, Marty Scurll, Will Ospreay, Martin Kirby, Zack Gibson, Jimmy Havoc and Nick 'Magnus' Aldis.
For JR, the whole World Cup was an electrification of sports entertainment. "God knows Pro Wrestling needs fresh and compelling booking" he said. "I think that's what you're going to find in this scenario".
Just before we finished we had the chance to question JR and asked him, given his recent suggestions for booking WWE's Universal Championship and in the spirit of What Culture's 'top lists' what his top tips would be to WCPW for booking the tournament. He told us they're "doing a pretty good job of booking" already. Continuing: "I really, I like the booking which is logical by and large. I like that they don't overthink things. My suggestion would be just don't overthink it. If you want to do booking -it's a unique deal. It's in the eyes of the beholder". "What you and I may like other fellows may not like, it's very subjective". "My way of booking a tournament is go to the end and book it backwards". "It's logical" he said. "You want to make sure your biggest nights - the quarter finals, the semi-finals - you want those last two days to have your best match-ups". "What you do is put what you perceive to be the best dream contest match-ups together and hope that the talents concur and that they deliver." "So my theory would be to start at the end and book backwards in terms of booking and whilst I don't like change for changes sake or surprises for surprises sake, try and have a few surprises on the journey".