Professional wrestling in Australia makes up a small but growing part of Australian culture. Unlike the North American or Japanese products which have large, globally renowned organisations such as World Wrestling Entertainment or New Japan Pro Wrestling with several hundred smaller promotions, Australia has approximately 30 smaller independent circuit promotions which exist in all but two of the states, those being the Northern Territory and Tasmania. Tours from the North American product are regularly sold out in capital cities such as Melbourne, Sydney, Adelaide and Brisbane.
Professional wrestling in Australia first gained distinction in the early 1900s, however there were very few shows promoted. Nonetheless, stars such as Clarence Weber, Jack Carkeek, Clarence Whistler and Georg Hackenschmidt were made. As time went on, the sport's popularity began to grow, particularly in the 1930s as people sought to find relief from The Great Depression.
Throughout the 1940s professional wrestling suffered due to World War II but in the 1950s reached new highs as many stars from overseas were imported and created larger crowds and, in turn, a larger market. Established names such as Lou Thesz, Dr. Jerry Graham and Gorgeous George toured the country during the decade.
Throughout the 1960s and 1970s, Australia established its only major promotion in WCW Australia. WCW had a television deal with the Nine Network, the first in Australia to do so and attracted crowds between 2,000 and 9,000 people on a weekly basis. International stars such as Killer Kowalski, Ray Stevens, Dominic Denucci, Mario Milano, Spiros Arion, Karl Gotch, Bruno Sammartino, Gorilla Monsoon and local stars Ron Miller and Larry O’Dea were all involved with the promotion which grew steadily through the 1960s and was a well known product in the 1970s. However, with the introduction of World Series Cricket, WCW was left with no television deal and was forced to close down in 1978. This sent the Australian market into a large decline. With no access to any product anywhere in the world, the Australian market was almost dead until World Wrestling Entertainment became a prominent figure in professional wrestling in the mid-1980s.
Australia has depended on the North American product since 1985. Hosting tours in 1985 and 1986 kept a solid viewing in the sport through programmes such as Superstars of Wrestling and Saturday Night's Main Event. Small local promotions have tried to take advantage of the popularity of professional wrestling in more recent times, but there has been nothing of note since the demise of World Championship Wrestling in 1978.
However the local scene has been the subject of controversy.
In September 2002, a promotion called PCW presented a show called Carnage, in which two wrestlers faced off in the first-ever barbed-wire match in Australia. The event was billed as a "Great Family Night Out", however before the bout an announcer warned parents to take their children from the Rowville arena if they were upset by blood.
The match saw real blood, fake glass and one contestant setting fire to a chair. The ring ropes were replaced with barbed wire and a bucket of thumb tacks was dumped on the ring floor. Much of the controversy surrounded rumours about the event, suggesting that the outpour of blood was so intense that it 'splattered' onto members of the crowd. Much of this can be attributed to people who had heard about the match giving their take of it on the Internet.
Despite the fact that this event was publicised as having a gory match and the preceding warning, people complained that the match in question was 'too much'. A concerned mother called Melbourne Talkback radio station 3AW, and a wrestler heard this call and also rang in. This resulted in the main media outlets covering the story. For the record, neither of the wrestlers were seriously injured. It also resulted in a police investigation. and a furore within the local Knox City Council.
Individual wrestlers originating in Australia have struggled for the most part to obtain any international recognition. Perhaps the two biggest names when one mentions Australia are the Fabulous Kangaroos - Roy Heffernan and Al Costello. They are the only Australian wrestlers to make it big in the United States and held the WWWF Tag Team Championship, as well as being inducted into the Wrestling Observer Newsletter Hall of Fame. In more recent times Nathan Jones made two WWE appearances at WrestleMania XIX and at Survivor Series later that same year, making him the only Australian wrestler to ever appear on a WWE pay-per-view event. Jones also appeared on two World Wrestling All-Stars pay-per-views, losing to Jeff Jarrett at WWA: The Inception and to Scott Steiner at WWA: The Eruption. Only two other Australian wrestlers have appeared on any pay-per-view event at all. They are Chuck E. Chaos at WWA: The Eruption who lost to Jerry Lynn, and Mark Mercedes at WWA: The Reckoning who lost to Rick Steiner.
Shows from North American promotions have been held in Australia as early as 1985 when WWE toured through Melbourne, Perth, Newcastle and Adelaide and through Melbourne and Brisbane again in 1986. That was the last Australia saw of a live North American product until WCW did a Nitro and Thunder taping in Melbourne and a Thunder taping in Brisbane and Sydney in 2000.
The next time WWE came to Australia was for the WWE Global Warning Tour in 2002. A crowd of 56,000 packed into Colonial Stadium as well a pay-per-view audience throughout Asia witnessed the first WWE show on Australian soil in 16 years. WWE has visited Australia regularly since Global Warning by touring at least once a year since 2003, with the latest show by the Smackdown & ECW brand's in June 2008 visiting Brisbane, Sydney, Newcastle, Adelaide and Melbourne.
Australia also hosted shows presented by World Wrestling All-Stars and various smaller shows have featured overseas talent, but nothing of note.
Throughout the 1990s, both WCW Monday Nitro and RAW were broadcasted on free-to-air networks but were put in poor timeslots and were subsequently cancelled because of poor ratings. WWE's major pay-per-views (Royal Rumble, WrestleMania, King of the Ring, SummerSlam and Survivor Series) were all shown up until 2001, when every pay-per-view began being shown.
WWE programming returned in 2000 with RAW being shown on Fox Sports on Tuesday nights. SmackDown! followed and was broadcasted on FOX8 Friday nights but was moved to Saturday nights in 2001.
In September 2002 negotiations between FOX8 and WWE fell through and SmackDown! was cancelled. A special NWA-TNA package replaced it in early 2003 but only lasted a year. NWA-TNA pay-per-views were shown once a month throughout 2003 during a time when they were being presented weekly in the United States. WWE pay-per-views were also lost to Main Event in the same deal that cost Australian fans SmackDown. Village Cinemas showed them for a few months until August 2003 when SmackDown! returned on Saturday nights as well as the pay-per-views, starting with SummerSlam. RAW was moved from Fox Sports to FOX8 and was shown on Friday nights. In order to prevent spoiler hunting on the internet, FOX8 moved WWE programming to timeslots closer to their United States air date.
In February 2005, WWE Heat, WWE Velocity and The WWE Experience were added to FOX8 and set up a large wrestling program on Saturdays and Sundays. Despite Heat, Velocity and Experience all being cancelled in the United States the shows continued to be shown in Australia to fulfill contractual obligations. When SmackDown! was moved to Friday nights in the United States, in Australia it remained on Friday afternoons. ECW on Sci Fi began broadcasting in Australia from September 2, 2006 in the place of WWE Velocity on Saturdays and the WWE Fanatic Series began airing in October 2006.
After just over 3 years, TNA made it's return. Beginning with TNA Sacrifice 2006 on May 27, 2006 on tape delay. This continued for 12 months before events started being broadcast live in May 2007. TNA iMPACT! began airing on April 5, 2008 on FOX8. Just on the second week of airing, TNA averaged more viewers than both WWE Smackdown and WWE Raw.
On June 2, 2008 WWE and Channel nine announced that they would be airing WWE Afterburn on nine every Sunday at 1:30 starting on June 15
Pay-per-views in Australia are shown on Main Event, the only provider in Australia. Main Event has been broadcasting pay-per-views for both WWE starting in 1999 until the present time (including the Fanatic Series from 2006) and WCW pay-per-views from 1997 until they were bought out in March 2001. Main Event also began broadcasting TNA pay-per-views in May 2006, starting with Sacrifice. One year later, TNA pay per views were lifted from the 13 day tape delay format to a live format. (Credit: Wikipedia).
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Network Nine Australia