Homegrown professional wrestling is poised to make its return to New Zealand screens this summer. Whatever took it so long?
Off the Ropes, a 13-part series coming to Prime TV, marks the first time in a quarter-century that New Zealanders will see local grapplers — with folded chairs suitably held aloft — offering their version of a made-for-television sport that has become a billion dollar international industry in the years since it last screened here.
For that remarkable turnaround — from smalltown freak show to global media sensation — we have to thank the New York-based World Wrestling Entertainment operation, a publicly listed entertainment company employing 460 staff (excluding wrestlers) with annual revenues of $US400 million and a market capitalisation of more than $US1 billion.
For our money, though, New Zealand was always among the first non-American countries to get its broadcasting head around the pro-wrestling schtick.
The long-running On The Mat show from the 1970s still ranks as one of local television’s most inspired broadcasting moments, not least for it being the first New Zealand made programmes to be sold overseas, courtesy of its brilliant local producer and frontman, Steve Rickard.
Former On the Mat stars closely involved with the series include “Irishman” Mike Ryan and Juno Huia who has passed his mantle of “Maori Warrior” on to emerging talent, Whetu. According to Prime’s advance publicity, teaming up with producer/director and wrestling fan Stevo O’Rourke of Wellington-based Ocular Films, provided the catalyst for the new series.
“Off the Ropes is going to make compelling viewing,“ O’Rourke says. “Wrestling is the ultimate in physical theatre. It’s about telling the story of good versus evil.
“The wrestlers are true athletes who combine the fighting arts with acrobatics and showmanship. There are going to be very strong characters in the show. There will be good guys, bad guys, bad guys who turn good and so on. There will be someone everyone can relate to.”
All power to them. And if anyone is in the market for a great book on the business and media aspects of this international phenomenon, here’s one reecnt title you probably shouldn't be without.