Wednesday, 3 December 2008

Bye Bye Fight Network!

On March 15th, 2004, I felt like a kid in a sweet shop, because it was on that day my television viewing habits changed. Well, for a while anyway.

That day saw the launch of The Wrestling Channel, the world’s first ever channel dedicated to the noble art of professional wrestling, and the line-up looked tremendous. From America we had Total Non-Stop Action, Major League Wrestling and Ring of Honor. From Japan we had Pro Wrestling NOAH and New Japan. From Mexico we had CMLL. And from Britain, we had the Frontier Wrestling Alliance (and the less said about that deal the better).

The euphoria only lasted for a few months. As time went on the wrestling programming became interspersed with live phone-in game shows such as Bikini Beach, and an adult entertainment show called Bang Babes (which morphed into a late-night live sex phone-in channel). Eventually, these gave way, but there was a price.

When it seemed that professional wrestling alone couldn’t sustain the channel, mixed martial arts was introduced into the equation, beginning with the British Cage Warriors promotion. Other non-wrestling programming was soon introduced, including an awful show which saw your average Joe Public enter the boxing ring to engage in fights which were frankly quite shocking and which never should have seen the light of day in the first place. Thankfully that particular show only lasted one week.

But by this time the cracks were already beginning to appear. The dream of the all-wrestling television channel seemed to be going down the pan, and when rival channel Bravo brought the rights to TNA’s programming, the writing seemed on the wall.

So after The Wrestling Channel became TWC, then TWC Fight, the Canadian-based Fight Network stepped in.

Professional wrestling was pushed to the back of the schedule, with only LDN, Ring of Honor and the decades old World of Sport shows thriving as mixed martial arts became the mainstay of the new Fight Network. At first things seemed to go quite well. It was good to see some of these promotions, even though the shows were a few years old.

But if truth be known, this particular fight fan was getting a little bored with the channel, especially when the same shows seemed to be broadcast over and over again, and there was hardly any new programming. The last Ring of Honor show I saw on the channel had a main event of Samoa Joe v C.M. Punk. The English Boxing show seemed to show the same old Billy Schwer fight all the time, and the channel’s finest moment seemed to be Amberlady Honey Wars, an Lithuanian show that saw scantily-clad young ladies rolling around in sticky honey, much to the delight of the crowd watching.

Then, this past Monday, it all came to an end. As I was channel surfing that morning, the regular programming had been replaced by a standard test card. A few hours later the channel was gone from the system completely.

At the time of writing, two days later, there still hasn’t been any official announcement from The Fight Network about the channel’s status. We still don’t know if it’s gone for good or if it will be coming back in the future.

Which means that professional wrestling and mixed martial arts fans have been hit hard in Britain. Wrestling fans will now have to make do with watching WWE on Sky, or TNA on Bravo, while the only televised MMA we’ll see in over here will come in the form of UFC on Setanta, or the occasional Cage Gladiators show on ITV4. We’re even going to lose Cage Rage when Nuts TV closes down in a few weeks. All of this will mean that fans will turn to the internet even more, looking for torrent downloads and watching the shows on their computers, which, for this old fashioned writer, just doesn’t seem right somehow. A television show should be watched on television!

A few people have posted on forums wondering what they could have done to save the channel. I think the simple answer to this was that probably nothing could be done. Perhaps if they’d actually bothered to advertise the channel, and had made more of an effort to get more up-to-date programming, then people may have watched. But in the end yours truly, like countless other combat sports fans, just got tired of seeing the same thing over and over again, and that’s what cost the channel dearly in the end.

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