In part one of this review of the second half of 2018 in mainland Chinese Pro Wrestling I covered the bulk of companies operating in, and around, the territory (Oriental Heroes Legend being a particularly odd standout for having a lot of matches featuring their talent, but very few of those in China.) This part will be dedicated exclusively to covering the company that pushed me over the edge from covering MKW occasionally to writing my first massive deep dive on the territory: Oriental Wrestling Entertainment.
Without even the smallest shadow of a doubt, Oriental Wrestling Entertainment had the biggest and baddest 2018 in the Chinese Pro Wrestling scene. Debuting in February with immense potential right out of the gate, including an exemplary outing from a talented initial roster. They faltered only slightly, with plans to start their own weekly wrestling cards in Shanghai only coming to fruition in October instead of their earlier planned August start date. Nevertheless, a weekly show still puts them far ahead of the pack moving forward, as only MKW can boast regular monthly shows, and OWE’s biggest potential competitor ―KOPW― only had two shows by the end of 2018. When these recent weekly shows are put together with their earlier offerings their volume of output might be greater than any other company in the country.
Weekly shows also go towards reinforcing OWE managements goal of turning the brand into a pro wrestling-based “Young Men’s Action Idol Troupe.” Idol groups in Japan, particularly, often run numerous shows a week and to accomplish this will often have large rosters of talent which can, as need be, be rotated day-by-day. I would suspect that as more of OWE’s dojo candidates get their feet under them, and more international talent get brought on board to flesh out the roster and diversity of aesthetic, that one can expect to see them run more than one show a week. This is likely not a year one, or even two or three, inevitability but more a long-term output likeliness. Arguably one show a week is the best, safest bet for their young roster at this time as, unlike Japanese music Idol groups, pro wrestling has a high physical strain and chance of injury. But OWE does have its domestic talent signed to 10 year contracts, or at least their initial crop are, and have plans to expand internationally at some point.
Their talent are still training five or six days a week, and now have a guaranteed show every Sunday, meaning that their lives will be quite dedicated to this effort. The benefit, for the pro wrestling fan, is that we can expect to see remarkably quick development into quality performers from their domestic talent. To provide further content to a fresh market, OWE have even begun live streaming their weekly training matches from their dojo. While this effort is exciting, the video quality has not been the HD standard one has come to expect from their other video offerings.
For me, I’d like to focus on the exciting aspect of seeing the talent develop further and grow as performers. Unfortunately, to a degree, the very low video quality renders my enjoyment difficult as it can be hard to tell whom I am watching unless they are in their full performance ring gear. If they could set up a high-def hard cam in their training centre, much the way CHIKARA have done for their training centre broadcasts, it would go a long way to improving the average viewers experience with these training matches. I also think that it would help forge connections for the international audience with these performers if they could see their development clearly, as being invited into their dojo to watch practice matches certainly feels a lot more intimate than just seeing their fully put-together shows.
On top of becoming the most regularly running promotion in mainland China, OWE’s young roster are growing quickly, gaining rapid experience both in the mainland and, increasingly, overseas. While early efforts to get the OWE lads over to FSW shows failed due to VISA issues (something one can expect to see continue with the troubled trade relationship between China and the USA,) their roster has found other ways to be sent afield. While initial plans were for more talent to go abroad than did, 2018 did see A-Ben work on an Australian show, Fan Hewei work a gig for NTW in Taiwan, and both Gao Jingjia and Duan Yingnan have seen time touring Japan with the CIMA-led, OWE Affiliated #STRONGHEARTS faction.
In fact, #STRONGHEARTS has given the OWE lads a remarkable platform. While the roster is mostly composed of the Dragon Gate International members, at its core, and has been regularly fleshed out by the likes of Dezmond Xavier, Zachary Wentz, and now Trey Miguel, it has also given acts heavily associated with OWE a place to shine in Japan. While their in-ring time has often been heavily protected, giving them moments to shine but not over-exposing their greenness, Gao Jingjia and Duan Yingnan’s work in Japan with #STRONGHEARTS has been fundamental for keeping the OWE lads in the public eye during the times where there was not a lot of activity going on for them in the Chinese mainland. Furthermore, an investment of faith has been made by DDT when they had #STRONGHEARTS win their KO-D 6-Man tag titles with Duan Yingnan in the mix. He became the first ever Chinese mainlander to win a Japanese championship and, while the title reign ended on their first defense, this sets a milestone for Chinese talent in Japan and speaks to a potential-laden future.
Wrestle-1 may have been the first Japanese promotion to open its doors to #STH after the Dragon Gate split, it wasn’t the last and the list looks to expand. DDT, as noted above, have put considerable faith in CIMA’s crew and other small Japanese groups, such as J-Stage, are also jumping aboard the #STRONGHEARTS train. With increased opportunities for the faction in Japan, and growing international interest elsewhere, one can hope to see more of the OWE trained lads make their way over to the faction outside of the mainland to expand upon their gimmicks and their skills in new environments.
Starting with their fall shows, OWE began to debut a new group of talent. While I had heard that new talent would be debuting within the year, I was not prepared for how many nor how diverse they would be. This group, overall, seems a little weaker with their athletic prowess than those who debuted in February 2018. However this potential weakness has been counteracted by some of them being focused more heavily upon comedy, or just being a giant, massive man.
Of interesting note is that said giant, massive man, who has been nicknamed Titan in OWE advertising, actually has a background in China’s existing pro wrestling landscape. He is announced as Roger in OWE, a name he first took up while wrestling in the CWF. Additionally he briefly competed under his real name while with the then-IGF Shanghai dojo, now Simon Inoki’s Oriental Heroes Legend. In essence this means that OWE poached talent from Oriental Heroes Legend. I was aware that, for several months, after their debut event in February, OWE had open tryouts for athletes of all backgrounds to join their team.
This expansion beyond their initial Shaolin candidates has added much needed depth to their roster in terms of body diversity and character archetypes. Within the new talent debuts there is a group of three who work together in what seems to be a more comedy-based wrestling style. Unfortunately I cannot speak to how effectively all of the comedy is landing with their target audiences, but it does carry well enough over the language barrier for me to get a glimpse the intent behind it. Much like DDT, a lot of it is physical in nature and doesn’t rely exclusively upon the spoken word.
I’m working on putting together an update to my roster guide for OWE which will feature the new talent and as much information as I can put together on the talent I haven’t already covered in my previous piece. I can say, at this point, that some of the gimmicks and names are fairly easy to unpack as they rely on English names, whereas others are proving more difficult. One of them made me laugh as, during his introduction, OWE VP and Ring Announcer Michael Nee spelled out his ring name after saying it: C-H-A-M-E-L-E-O-N… and then said it again to reinforce the idea! Part of this harkens back to the commentary I made on OWE tailoring its product to try and help make the experience more inclusive to the new-to-pro-wrestling Chinese audiences and, frankly, sometimes it comes off as silly to an outside viewer but I also always find it endearing.
During my writing of this article in the second half of December 2018 OWE started to have a flurry of information suddenly hitting their social media feeds and, surprisingly, it wasn’t just their Chinese-language ones but their English-language Twitter and even their YouTube account saw a large uptake in content. While their QQ Video page still hosts more content overall, as it dates back to before the shows they are uploading to their YouTube channel, this answers many unanswered questions I had about how they would handle content delivery.
When OWE geared up to start their weekly shows in September, an unfortunate false start which thankfully didn’t derail them for long and was the result of government regulatory issues, I inquired as to the future of the OWE/FSW Twitch streaming alliance. On September 13th FSW advised me that they did not have any insight on when more OWE would be available on their Twitch channel and added that they had “been busy putting together [their own] stuff.” When I asked OWE directly about their plans to have FSW stream future shows on Twitch I was told that they had no plans to continue that element of their relationship. Furthermore, when I inquired about their plans for their fledgling YouTube page I was advised that they were still trying to figure out how they would proceed. Thankfully, while late in the year, they’ve figured it out and are delivering a larger volume of content.
Their most recent shows have had several exciting elements worth noting. The first is that they have been building up a series of tournament matches leading towards crowning their first champion. I, frankly, am very excited to see who will hold that gorgeous belt for the first time and what that will mean for the Chinese scene. Can they deliver high-end singles competition yet? There are a lot of questions worth investigating. They’ve also had a “Balloon Race” match, which I frankly think is a brand new match type invented in China ― but I’m certain someone will correct me if I am wrong ― and turned out far better than I thought it would. OWE have managed to get some of their content on to a sports TV channel in China, an accomplishment worth noting as getting a product onto TV in the mainland requires, as I recall, some governmental approvals. Additionally they have had talent from The Crash Lucha Libre work their cards and, in their published announcements of their upcoming tour, talk about it in partnership terms. Mexico could be a great place for Chinese talent to go on excursion.
Furthermore, a good while after Fan Hewei worked a match in NTW, an announcement was made of an alliance, of sorts, between OWE and New Taiwan Entertainment Wrestling. The first significant result of this alliance has seen Rekka, an NTW stalwart, report for duty to the OWE dojo at the beginning of 2019. This connection with NTW in Taiwan provides OWE with a place where they can send talent that are ready to go on an excursion to an easier to get to and from locale than some other places, one that sees a plethora of talent come in from Japan and the United States. Allowing their talent to work with different styles in a growing hotbed of the “Asian Wrestling Revolution” could only benefit them. Furthermore, NTW has a lot of interesting and diverse characters to offer up which could continue to help patch up some of the OWE roster’s physical and stylistic sameness issues while they develop more and more homegrown talent.
This increased connectivity with the existing scope of the Chinese Pro Wrestling scene lends credence to the rumours I’ve heard of a canceled show concept OWE may have had kicking around, one set to feature nothing but talent from the rest of the Chinese mainland (and possibly Hong Kong and Taiwan) pro wrestling scenes. Had this show come to fruition it probably would have benefited OWE less than the talent featured upon it and, were a similar concept to arise again in the future, I’d expect it to play out more along the “Us vs. Them” narratives commonly found on OWE’s earlier shows and those slated for their upcoming tour dates (Which I have confirmation will be filmed, at the least in Guangdong.) These shows place two OWE teams, one designed to represent Shanghai and one to represent the local city the tour is in, against an international faction composed of familiar FSW related talents, the Dragon Gate International contingent, and luchadors from The Crash promotion such as Arez.
With all of this exciting news coming from the company it would be easy to assume that OWE’s year has been without negatives. Unfortunately it hasn’t been uneventful in this way. Both Gao Jingjia and Duan Yingnan have suffered injuries, with Jingjia’s having kept “The Flowing King” out of action for far longer than anyone would like to see with such a promising young talent. Injury is just a part of the game when it comes to wrestling, but Yingnan’s recovery was rather quick and CIMA has proven that he is willing to nurture promising talent even through troubling injuries, so one hopes that none of these promising lads will be set too far back from any injuries they experience in these formative years.
Without a doubt there’s even more to say about OWE, and the rest of Chinese Pro Wrestling, that I haven’t covered in these articles. I’ve not talked about what talent is excelling, or the increasing quality of matches across the board in the country as more talent rises. The scope of these articles belies analysis of that nature. Nor have I talked about the fact that when I had had a chance to speak with OWE’s management in Las Vegas they said that they would like to have shows in key US cities with the first few years of their outfits operation. An exciting potentiality which seems to be built off of the increasing international success of brands like NJPW and also will, likely, draw upon the history and knowledge of touring Shaolin Kung Fu demonstrations. Could 2019 see these events happen? Will 2019 see the best quality productions in Chinese Pro Wrestling emerge? Will more focus be put on attracting western attention than before, or will these promotions turn their focus more inwards to nurture their domestic markets before branching out more? There are a lot of questions I have, and only one certainty I can share with you: I’ll be there to enjoy it and share it with you as it all happens!