#DiscoveringWrestling #003 – Kung Fu Hustle & Muscle (Review of the MKW Season 2 Finale)

MKW

Middle Kingdom Wrestling recently hit a new landmark in their self-proclaimed journey to become the dominant Pro-Wrestling company in China. They posted their Season 2 finale to YouTube on September 18, 2016. You can watch it right here and then follow me on to the review!

This episode only has two matches, and each offers a bit to talk about. The “Kung Fu Showcase Match”pitted M.A. against King of Man and the season concludd on the “No Rules Match” for the MKW championship, where reigning champion Dalton Bragg faced off against the imposing challenger King Michael.

So, match by match, here are my thoughts:

M.A. vs King of Man

Both M.A. and King of Man are making their MKW debuts in this match and it has both guys come out of the match looking pretty good, considering that they are definitely on the greener side of the roster. But that doesn’t mean there weren’t some issues which detracted from what could have otherwise been a much better outing.

The match was, overall, very back-and-forth. Both performers were given opportunities to look dominant, and in the end King of Man really shone the most in this performance. The match started off a bit shakey. Amidst some rather solid striking and grappling, at several points, the timing was awkward. Two particular moments really stand out as offenders. First there was the moment when M.A. goes for a splash on King of Man well after his opponent had started to get up. It broke suspension of disbelief because hard, with my thoughts focusing on “why would he jump, he could see the dude already got out of the way?“rather than on what happened in the subsequent moments. I’m being a bit harsh, because I understand that these guys aren’t ring veterans, but any time the viewer is taken out of a match like that it can ruin what was an otherwise rather good match. Furthermore, this is exacerbated by the English-language announcer hyping the match up as a special “Kung-Fu Pro-Wrestling Showcase“, which creates an elevated expectation of precision timing, choreography, and skill being on display. The other moment that really stood out wasn’t the fault of the wrestlers, but of the referee. He got in the way, taking far too long to fix a turnbuckle pad that had come loose, and this disruption to the flow of the match really deflated what should have been an exciting, quick-paced sequence. Herein, all credit goes to King of Man for still delivering a really cool looking moment after having been forced to wait for so long to do it.

From the moment the commentary starts up during the match’s intro we can tell that these guys are the “Kung Fu Pro Wrestlers” that Adrian said would be coming back in our interview with him. I can see what they are trying to do here, with the quick strikes and the multiple spinning back kicks that King of Man throws out. However, it fails to feel truly like Kung-Fu to a western viewer, particularly one such as myself who is already a tremendous fan of both Martial Arts-Inspired Pro-Wrestling and both Mainland Chinese and Hong Kong Kung-Fu Cinema. To really play up the Kung Fu and have it feel like a distinct style, unlike an already established striking heavy style (such as what KENTA popularized), I’d like to see them do things that are more unique to Kung Fu and it’s variety of styles. Such as the unique stepping patterns and sticky hands and maybe play to some of the established movements from Kung Fu cinema classics. The announcer does a good job to make it sound like “Kung-Fu Pro-Wrestling” is a burgeoning and wholly unique to MKW style, but overall it felt like it could be at home on the US indie circuit. It wasn’t by any means bad, and I see a lot of potential for development here with these athletes. If they can really find some way to innovate and more thoroughly blend Kung-Fu into Pro-Wrestling, this could be the birth  of a wholly unique style. As it stands, however, the announcer really talks up the Kung-Fu element here more than the athletes display it, and I feel that to come off as genuine the inverse needs to be true. If Middle Kingdom Wrestling wants me to believe in Kung-Fu Pro-Wrestling as a style which I can find nowhere else, they need to show it to me instead of telling it to me. It must be evident even if I don’t understand the language of the announcing.

That being said, King of Man plays to the Wire Fu aesthetics one would expect from the merger of these two styles more so than M.A. does. as the larger of the competitors certainly goes for a more hard-hitting, brawling style. They play well off of each other but the announcer doesn’t really click with the action. It always feels like the commentary is contrived. Part of this, certainly, has to do with the quality of the recording, it has this hollow quality to it, which creates the effect that the announcer himself is disinterested. This can be worsened on the occasions wherein the announcing also sounds amateur or hackneyed. Surprise often seems forced, and nothing sounds terribly original to the commentator, and it gives me the sense that they are just reading off of a script that has been written after watching the matches several times but has never been edited. In the end, it should be the in-ring action that matters most, but the English-language commentary for MKW is essential to them growing a brand. The commentator is responsible for bridging the gap with an audience who have, most likely, never heard of anyone in the ring before and creating a sense of narrative and purpose to these viewers to have them wanting to come back for more. My hope is that they can get some new equipment and double down on their efforts for Season 3.

In the end, King of Man took the win. This was most certainly the right decision from where I’m sitting. The smaller, quicker and more nimble of the athletes who more exemplified (to the best of his ability) what the announcer was hyping up as the birth of a new division, came through as the victor. If M.A. had won it might have felt like a bigger let down than intended, because of the Kung-Fu elements being far less on display by him.

King Michael vs Dalton Bragg

I’m going to come out and say, right off the bat, that I hate the piles of random crap in place of tables. They look both dangerous and bad. I get that they wanted to do a Hardcore match and maybe they couldn’t get a real table, but this is just not good as a replacement. The board never broke because it was always just knocked off of the chairs and stools it got stacked on. It was anti-climactic and looked unsafe to bump on. There was no return on the risk to reward investment. Furthermore, the referee again had to get involved in a way that broke character, helping to set up the contraption. I would hope that they literally never do this again.

The match itself did its best to tell a traditional David versus Goliath match, trying to make the MKW Champion, Dalton Bragg, look like the underdog. This point was never really hit though. The match never hit the height of drama needed for me to ever feel like the belt was in jeopardy of changing hands. This is, pretty much, a cardinal sin when it comes to the format of MKW’s shows. The seasons are terribly brief and if they’re going to build the value of their title, every single title match needs to feel big. Maybe this is a criticism that the native Chinese audience won’t have, I’m not familiar enough with their average level of familiarity with Pro-Wrestling tropes, but if MKW wants to attract more attention from an English audience (who will most likely be die-hard wrestling fans, because I can’t imagine a casual wrestling fan doing the work to find and watch Chinese Pro-Wrestling at this time) and grow the prestige of their brand and belt, then it will be important.

In the end, Dalton Bragg came out, entirely unsurprisingly, still the champion. The in-ring action was unfortunately unmemorable when compared to the disastrous attempts at using faux-tables, and King Michael didn’t really work well with what Bragg had to offer. It’s interesting to note that I actually rather enjoyed King Michael’s season one match against The Slam. He seems to be a limited worker who can put on really entertaining matches with the right opponents. I didn’t feel that he and Bragg had the kind of chemistry and physicality needed for that to happen.

In retrospect, I really enjoyed the M.A. versus King of Man match that opened the episode far more than this match. That’s a problem. I really shouldn’t be enjoying the opening match more than the main event, particularly when the main event is the once-per-season title match. It’s a bit of a dour note to leave the season on, as far as matches are concerned, but wisely the story continued briefly post-match, as The Slam, a champion in his own promotion, challenged Dalton Bragg for the MKW title. With both men being more experienced than the majority of the rest of the MKW roster, we can expect that their match will certainly do better for the belt than this one.

 Conclusion

All in all, this episode was a less impressive season finale than the season one finale. It successfully introduced two new names to MKW viewers in the opening match and the, unfortunately, sub-par title match was salvaged somewhat by the promise of a match between The Slam and Dalton Bragg in the near future. If this were the only episode of MKW I had ever seen my viewership might be in jeopardy but as it is, that last cliffhanger moment will have me coming back for more. I think MKW need to up the ante moving forward. They still do some of their fun slow-mo replays mid match, they still feel like a fun and growing company, but I really want to see more out of them . Really, I want the best for MKW. They have a lot of interesting shows on the horizon, which I’ll be looking to review as well, and hopefully they can put on increasingly high quality, all around, shows.

 

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