MTV’s Wrestling Society X was wild, fast-paced, and explosive. With a mix of pro wrestling and punk rock music, it was a perfect fit for MTV. But somewhere along the way, something went wrong.
Wrestling Society X: A Dream Begins with MTV
The roots for Wrestling Society X began when a 16-year-old named Kevin Kleinrock entered the wrestling business.
Kleinrock got his feet wet with Slammers Wrestling Federation in Los Angeles. He also helped form Southern California Championship Wrestling in 1998 and enjoyed a role as vice president of the briefly popular Xtreme Pro Wrestling.
Next, Kleinrock expanded and helped build Big Vision Entertainment producing VHS videos and DVDs. It was there that he was able to pitch his vision of mixing both pro wrestling and punk rock music.
Over the years, he heard many punk rock bands declaring their love of wrestling, so Kleinrock saw a connection and pushed his idea to the iconic Music Television network.
“Here I am, pitching my first television show, and later that same afternoon, [MTV] greenlit a pilot,” Kleinrock, who now fronts Masked Republic, promoting Lucha Libre in the U.S., recalled in a December 2022 interview with Pro Wrestling Stories.
“It’s been years since then, and s*** does not happen that way,” he said with a laugh.
Kevin wanted the show based around Rancid, a famous American punk rock group; he hoped to call it the Rancid Wrestling Federation. But, unfortunately, Rancid didn’t want anyone, including MTV, to control their name. It was a stumbling block that nearly tanked the entire deal.
A budget for a pilot episode of $300,000 (that ended up being $650,000) saw Kleinrock’s project come to fruition. However, consider this: XPW produced a month of television tapings a few years earlier for just $50,000. Lots of the lavish budget was spent on post-production.
“If you come from the wrestling world,” Kleinrock opined, “You don’t think about things like closed captioning, color correction, and all these things that go into making a television product for a cable network – (they) just aren’t even on the radar.”
This was the first wrestling-related show fully funded by a television network and not a promotion looking for a T.V. deal. A unique journey had begun.
A roster of indy darlings, hardcore stalwarts, and established veterans was brought together.
Additionally, a future WWE World Champion (Seth Rollins) and AEW TNT Champion (Scorpio Sky) were part of the frantic action.
The likes of Human Tornado, Jack Evans, Sean Waltman (going by 6-Pac), Colt Cabana (as Matt Classic), and Vampiro highlighted an eclectic roster that was looked after by their promoter.
“The talent got paid well. Our minimum for talent was double what the minimum people were getting in Impact (TNA) at the time. The average person was getting $300 a taping in Impact, and the least we would pay was $600.”
Turning a Dream Into Reality
The Wrestling Society X pilot, taped in February of 2006, was met positively. After several months, Kevin and his team were bestowed a budget of $3.5 million for ten episodes of television that were taped in November 2006.
“It was amazing, insane money to produce five hours of content, plus bonus (online) content. What a ride!”
Instead of the old-school style NWA studio wrestling, this was taped in a gritty urban location nicknamed the WSX ‘Bunker,’ where falls counted anywhere. It was studio wrestling with a twist, somewhat of a precursor to 2014’s Lucha Underground wrestling television show.
Airing the same night as WWE’s doomed version of ECW, this time slot was to be the first misstep for Wrestling Society X.
The first half-hour was ECW’s for the taking due to WSX only being a 30-minute show starting at 10:30 pm. MTV had put them in a block of programming appealing to young males.
“We had told them if you do anything, the one hour a week not to put us on is Tuesdays at 10 pm,” Kleinrock recollected.
“I told them I would rather you put us up against Monday Night Raw because what we’re doing is closer to what the ECW audience will want and expect.”
The booking team of Kleinrock, Cody Michaels, and Vampiro wanted casual fans to see how vastly wrestling had shifted since the days of the big lumbering giants and corny gimmicks of the 1980s.
Episode one featured the WSX Rumble, including Justin Credible, Teddy Hart, 6-Pac (X-Pac/Sean Waltman), and Vampiro.
It saw the competitors thrown through tables and also involved live electrical cables, thumbtacks, and exploding barbed wire.
The final two competitors, Vampiro and 6-Pac, battled for the inaugural WSX title on the following episode, with Vampiro tombstoning 6-Pac into an exploding coffin.
MTV executives were interested in the explosions and outlandish stunts – not pushing young prospects to make it in the business. Moreover, having less than 30 minutes to work with due to ad breaks, the matches were unusually short – something alien to wrestling T.V. shows for anything other than squash matches.
That debut episode made no impression on the most powerful man in sports entertainment.
“Dave Lagana told me a story about being on Vince [McMahon]’s jet and them watching the first episode, or portion of it, together, and Vince turning to Dave and being like, ‘I don’t get it.'” Kleinrock remembered.
Weekly musical guests like Pitbull, Three Six Mafia, Good Charlotte, and New Found Glory were enlisted to perform and join the WSX commentary booth headed by Kris Kloss.
One particularly confused musician uttered: “I have no idea what’s going on right now.”
Over the next few weeks, we would witness a host of frantic and exciting matches, including Kaos, Matt Sydal, Teddy Hart, and Matt Cross.
We saw New Jack jumping off a shipping container onto Chris Hamrick through a table; Vampiro tombstoning 6-Pac into an exploding coffin to win the WSX title; a Tables, Ladders and Cervezas match; a love angle with Sydal and Lizzy Valentine and Team Dragon Gate being kidnapped.
Camera effects like explosions shaking the camera and diamonds sparkling sometimes distracted viewers from the action. The over-exuberant MC was far too cringeworthy and overly desperate for the limelight.
When the Dreams of Wrestling Society X Became Nightmares
There was a butting of heads backstage between the Wrestling Society X producers and the MTV network.
“What I wanted the show to be was not exactly what ended up being on screen,” Kleinrock revealed. “I would do it again in a heartbeat because who wouldn’t? But I wanted the matches to be more wrestling. So, MTV told us: ‘we don’t want punching, we don’t want kicking, you can’t use kendo sticks.”
This was explained after they’d shot the entire series. The main show became more about highspots and explosions as set pieces during very short and highly-edited matches.
MTV executives wanted crazy explosions on almost every show, but Kleinrock persuaded them not to oversaturate the spectacular moments.
WSXtra, the online show, was edited by the same editors that worked on the TV show but without any restrictions from executives and featured bell-to-bell storytelling not seen on the main show.
Airing head-to-head with ECW on Sci-Fi (now Syfy) on Tuesdays, it opened with a 1.0 rating in the 10:30 pm E.T. timeslot but quickly declined to below 0.6.
Considering modern viewers’ short attention spans, it was somewhat of a shock that the ultra-fast-paced action didn’t take off. It was entertaining, but viewers weren’t tuning in.
“It was ahead of its time. But, unfortunately, it wasn’t supported right, even by the network.”
MTV executives lost interest by the time it aired, and any form of promotion for it died. They didn’t see the potential for merchandising, touring, and pay-per-views as regular wrestling promotions had.
“They told us that not only was the show not getting picked up (for a second season), but they were canceling it and marathoning all of the episodes in one night.”
Episodes 5-9 aired consecutively between 11 pm and 1:30 am on a single night. In the eighth installment, Ricky Banderas dethroned WSX Champion Vampiro by chokeslamming him into a barbed-wire coffin that exploded to become the second and final champion.
The final episode never even aired after they ridiculously contemplated selling it as a 23-minute pay-per-view. However, Kleinrock and Big Vision subsequently sold over 100,000 DVDs of the entire season, including the unaired finale.
That finale featured not one but two bizarre and intriguing stipulation matches.
A Pirahna Deathmatch between Los Pochos Guapos (Kaos and Aaron Aguilera) and The Cartel that saw Kaos submerged in a small tank of the deadly fish.
This was the co-main event to The Filth and The Fury (Teddy Hart & Matt Cross) vs. Team Dragon Gate (Yoshino & Horiguchi) in an Exploding Steel Cage Timebomb Deathmatch.
“That was crazy because I was a last-minute replacement (for PAC – who had visa issues),” Matt Cross told me in an interview for the PWB Podcast in 2007.
“I was driving home from school and got a call from Kevin Kleinrock, who asked me if I wanted to be involved. We talked over the details, and then he told me to drive to the airport. So four hours later, I was flying to L.A. for I didn’t even know how long.”
Return flights hadn’t even been booked, but it was worth putting a pause on his life for the opportunity of wrestling on MTV. Matt had to call his teachers to request not to fail him.
“Four days after that, to be in a cage rigged with explosives at 11 pm P.T. I’m from Cleveland, so that’s 2 am on a Thursday.
“I remember before that match thinking, ‘Everyone I know is in bed and will get up and go to work/school in a couple of hours,’ and here I am getting ready to go in a cage with two guys that don’t speak English in something rigged with explosives. What choices have I made in life that led me here?” Cross said while laughing.
Matt Cross further detailed his mixed emotions on the bout.
“I was scared. I’m not going to lie. To the best of my knowledge, it’d never really been done in the United States. If it has, it was a handful of times. It was the last match, taping, and night – all eyes were on us.
“It was a weird moment. It was a T.V. show, so it was done with stunt coordinators, and I had met with them all.
“There’s a big difference between the producers and stunt people telling you you’ll be okay versus you being the one going in there. I understand it’s designed to explode and not kill me, but it’s still an explosion detonating when I touch it. So I was glad when it was over.”
And that was that. Wrestling Society X was over as well.
Wrestling Society X: Diminished Dreams
Adding insult to injury, some scenes had been taped for season two of Wrestling Society X. This included an angle between Jack Evans and Human Tornado, who were scheduled to contest a secondary WSX title akin to TNA’s X-Division.
The plan was to focus on the acrobatic high-flyers. But alas, it was never to happen.
“I really liked being in WSX,” Cross admitted.
“I wish it would have taken off more than it did because I think the positives far outweighed the negatives. They gave the smaller, lightweight, high-flying, exciting X-Division style more of a push.
“It wasn’t just big, slow-talking guys that I think people are tired of. It brought that excitement to get people jacked up about wrestling again. After that, it was just disappointing.”
As the back of the Wrestling Society X: The Complete First and Last Season DVD case states: “Like all great revolutions, it was misunderstood by many, including the very network that stood to benefit most from its success.”
But, sadly, a lack of backing from MTV ultimately put the nail in WSX’s exploding coffin.
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