Just before the end of 2016 Middle Kingdom Wrestling participated in their biggest venture to date, a co-promoted tour in Thailand with Kingdom Wrestling Federation, a local Thai group, and Association Bitteroise de Catch, out of France, dubbed WrestleStar III. These shows, for my interest in shining a light on underrepresented places in international Pro-Wrestling, seemed like the perfect, exciting opportunity to see what these countries, and companies, have to offer.
From the very start of this episode there are some problems that need to be addressed that have nothing to do with the in-ring performances. The two most glaring of these problems are the inconsistent video quality and the commentary. The video quality differs heavily between the handheld cameras filming at ringside, which look clean and sharp, and the arena’s (I’m assuming it’s the arena’s) fixed position camera. It’s literally the difference between HD and my old rabbit-ears antenna TV from childhood. The cuts between these cameras are jarring and distract from the flow of the action, making me think that my computer was buffering something bad until I recognized the pattern. Genuinely, if I had had the reigns in editing and had seen the quality difference, I’d have left all of the hard cam footage on the floor. It sullies the product.
Sadly, that’s not where MKW finish undercutting their own product .Their commentary is atrocious. The unnamed commentator sounds bored and without any genuine interest in the product, and whether or not he actually cares is irrelevant when he’s putting me to sleep. The only time he sounds somewhat alive is when he’s plugging MKW’s YouTube, FaceBook, and Twitter pages. Which in the 20 minutes or so of actual show he does far too often. When I’m genuinely wishing I was listening to Michael Cole on commentary instead of you, well, you’re doing something very wrong.
That being said, if you can get past the video and commentary problems, you do have some wrestling here to watch. So let’s talk about the matches.
Match 1: MKW Championship #1 Contender’s Triple Threat Match: Candy Brother vs. Mikey Rawaz vs. “The Selfie King” Hong Wan
So, let’s address one non-wrestling issue with this match before we get into the meat of the review, they spell “Triple” incorrectly. It’s such a basic, simple, avoidable error that really makes the product feel less important, less professional, than I know the people behind it want it to be seen as. There’s a lot of quality issues that a truly young promotion like MKW can be forgiven for, and they’re likely going to catch a lot more flak from reviewers and commentators as they grow because they have chosen to film and put everything they do on YouTube, but spelling errors take literally any basic spell check function to avoid.
Sadly the first thing you’ll notice as the competitors take to the ring is that the venue they’re in is empty. Not literally empty, but the audience is so small that I worry about the costs of them putting on this show and I’m not even financially involved. The venue itself looks so much better than the usual gyms and bars that MKW has filmed its fights in, and if it were even one quarter full it would have looked super impressive.
The match itself starts with some awkward clothesline and dropkick exchanges where each participant gets their shot in on someone else. I say “awkward” not because it doesn’t make sense from a psychology perspective, but because there is a lot of uncertainty in the ring. They go for some exchanges and there are some awkward spills to the apron before they get to their first big spot, a tower of doom-esque Vertical Suplex/Side Russian Leg Sweep combination. In theory it’s a cool idea, and one I personally haven’t seen before, but the synchronization and force just wasn’t there and leaves the moment lacking in intensity. I can’t tell who was responsible for this, but it does fall on the Candy Brother/Mikey Rawaz side of the equation.
The match plays out with only a few special moments thereafter. After being Irish whipped into the corner, Candy Brother takes one of the worst looking corner bumps I have ever seen. I couldn’t tell if he was trying what he was doing for the first time or the construction of the Muay Thai ring was working against the performers, but either way it looked really off. Candy Brother actually has a few shining moments in the match amidst all the uncertainty of motion. He makes me laugh out loud while selling a hit where he rolls on the ground and says “My face, it hurts SO bad!”, even just typing it makes me chuckle, and he gets both of his opponents into an interesting submission hold I can only describe as a Double PALO Special. Warsman would be proud.
Mikey Rawaz spends almost the entirety of the match making me groan, he is simply the least skilled man in the match, and if he isn’t then he’s not trying hard to impress the audience. His timing and movements lack any crispness or fluidity. He had one good spot when the three men were setting up for the classic Superplex/Powerbomb Tower of Doom where he had Hong Wan and Candy Brother stacked up in such a way that when he punched Wan he would knock his head into Candy Brother’s junk, hurting both men at once. It was a clever spot.
“The Selfie King” Hong Wan shines as the star in this match, and is certainly booked to look that way as well. In both the Tower of Doom styled moments he was the one who delivered the crucial attack that damaged both of his opponents. Throughout the match he does his best to get the minimal crowd in attendance to clap and get hyped for the action in the match, but it almost feels like Thailand doesn’t get Pro-Wrestling yet, as the crowd really fails to respond in a meaningful way. It also pretty much fails to be a crowd. Nevertheless, Hong Wan works his “Selfie King” gimmick like a champ, pausing after the momentous Tower of Doom spot to take selfies with the carnage in the background behind him. I wish the MKW twitter account would post these pictures. It’d certainly give them more content to upload, and likely help in boosting visibility of the product on social media.
Hong Wan is also, as you might have guessed, the inevitable winner of the match, nailing a rather nice Frog Splash on Candy Brother to earn himself the #1 Contender spot for the MKW Championship. I’m certain he’ll have the match of his young career against the far more veteran Dalton Bragg.
Winner: “The Selfie King” Hong Wan
Match Rating: C-
Match 2: ABC Tag-Team Championship Match: Ash Silva and Jason Wang (challengers) vs. Tony Trivaldo and Claude Roca (champions)
As the two teams enter the first thing I was struck with was that it looked like the audience got smaller, which certainly is a shame because this match features a truly interesting mix of talent. Claude Roca, a veritable grandfather, is the most skilled man on this show. The announcer says he has 50 years of wrestling experience and is in his 70s, and he moves better than some people I’ve seen in the peak of their physical prowess under 30. My usual go-to for researching grapplers, Cagematch, only tracks him back to 2006 but I refuse to believe that a man this old started that recently and hasn’t gotten cripplingly hurt. He moves about like an old school European grappler and his offense genuinely has an old timey feel, in a good way. He’s mystifyingly good and to quote the comment on his Cagematch page, ““being old and still in top condition” is a gimmick of its own.”
Claude Roca and Ash Silva start off the bout against each other and the elder grappler looks great as he ties up his young opponent and flips him about. Likely working to let the older man look good and keep him from taking too many bumps, Roca stays in control and dominant for his team. Once the big man, Tony Trivaldo, is tagged in for his team the inexperience of the MKW performers becomes a bit more evident as Silva slips awkwardly out of a body slam and hits a zig zag on the big man. This, from the movements made by the performers, was obviously supposed to be a fluid sequence but seems stuttered by the lack of polish in the transition. Both MKW’s and KWF’s talent on this episode in general need to work on smooth out their movements and looking more sure of themselves. Or, to put it more succinctly, they need to work on Body Agency and Shared Weight.
Jason Wang is tagged in after a failed pin attempt and shows a nice series of tight forearm shots on Trivaldo and even hoists the big man up for a really crisp looking Fisherman’s Suplex and a genuinely stiff looking running knee. Annoyingly we see a gaff here, where the running knee places Trivaldo on his back and far away from Ash Silva, who calls out to Wang for the tag and climbs the turnbuckle to jump into a splash on the big man. Trivaldo compensates for the distance by rolling oddly towards his opponents and sitting halfway up. The sequence does a lot of harm to the good will established thus far by the performers by breaking that suspension of disbelief that is crucial to the Art of Wrestling.
Trivaldo plays the big man role adequately in this match, taking down both of his opponents after some miscommunication between the partners. The impact of the moment is dulled by a ref who obviously is not aware that he is obstructing the flow of the match by standing directly between Trivaldo and the challengers.
Roca gets tagged in again and shows off that he can still take some awkward looking bumps during an exchange with Jason Wang, and then Ash Silva gets tagged back in and works up some good heel heat by laying into the old man with some mean looking kicks and headbutts. Roca generates instant “old man in peril” sympathy babyface heat during this segment which culminates in a fancy looking two-man monkey flip against both opponents freeing him up for the tag.
Trivaldo again plays a good big man off of a hot tag that leads to the conclusion of the match where he awkwardly picks up his geriatric companion and hurls him at Jason Wang for the pinning combination to retain their championship. The segment is punctuated by the most awkward echoing bang sound. Like they jacked up the volume on the impact in the audio file for the match to try and make it seem super intense on the final big moves.
Winners: Claude Roca and Tony Trivaldo
Match Rating: C
Overall a sufficiently entertaining show for MKW. If I weren’t already a wrestling fan, I don’t think this product would win me over to being one, but as a fan it is exciting to see the growth of the company and talent. Yet again Hong Wan has managed to improve his looks between seasons, getting new tights and looking leaner and more fit and hasn’t lost a step when it comes to milking his gimmick for all its worth. Jason Wang looks smoother than before and Ash Silva has had tremendous improvement since I watched him in the debut season. I don’t anticipate that in less than a year of me watching the product I will see the true evolution and definition of a uniquely Chinese expression of Pro-Wrestling, but I can say that MKW is doing its damndest to lay the groundwork needed to build that upon and if these young men continue to improve at the pace they have already set then they may one day be spoken of in the way that people talk about El Santo and Antonio Inoki, as the men who came to be definitions of what it means to wrestle in their countries.