Before I begin, in earnest, with this article I wanted to first make few things clear. This past summer I helped OWE plan and promote events in Toronto, Ontario, Canada. I wore many hats during that time, and got to live out a few dreams of mine in the process. I have a bias, admittedly, and genuinely want nothing but the best for the company. I was, however, never an employee of OWE. I aim to report the news I uncover honestly, as a service to documenting the development of Chinese Pro Wrestling.
OWE’s last couple of months have been laden with difficulties. Shortly following the shows I produced for the brand in Toronto the storm clouds gathered as the OWE UK promotion fell apart, the promoter OWE had partnered with, Sean McMahon of NEO-TV, ghosted the head office in China and disappeared with fans’ money, cancelling the shows and leaving numerous refunds incomplete for the cancellation of these events.
This happened amidst the chaos of OWE relocating its operations to two separate and distinct locales: Siem Reap, Cambodia and Chengdu, China. The complexities of moving led to more silence than their difficulties deserved and, as such, rumors began to circle which culminated in a handful of posts being made with fairly bold claims.
In search of answers, I reached out to numerous parties. I’ve spoken with Michael Nee, at length, this week about the concerns at hand. I’ve also attempted to use different channels to get independent confirmations, from reliable sources, on the posted rumors and the statements made by Michael. I’ve messaged Sean McMahon with no response given, and his account on WeChat changed suddenly from being a personal account to a “Degu Media” account. Additionally, I’ve heard back from the likes of CIMA and Sky on the matters that pertain to them.
OWE UK’s Collapse – How will OWE resolve these issues???
OWE are intimately aware of the problem caused when Sean McMahon, suddenly and without warning, announced his resignation from OWE UK and the cancellations of the shows on social media. In the early aftermath of this, the lines of connection were still open for a brief period and the Chinese office were able to convince Sean to process refunds, particularly through having him officially report to several sales platforms he had posted events to that they were indeed cancelled. Unfortunately, as he had also processed payments through the OWE website he had set up, and has since taken down, there are fans who remain unable to secure refunds.
Various sources had, and have continued, to speak openly to me of their misgivings and distrust for Sean McMahon and it came as no big surprise therefore that he has since cut off all communications directly with OWE and the brand itself is unable to secure figures on sales numbers he had made. From the beginning of him starting to sell tickets until the collapse of OWE UK, I am told, he provided none of his sales figures to OWE’s Chinese office.
Notably, as I have been unable to obtain a direct response to what happened from Sean McMahon himself, this means that the claims about his unwillingness to co-operate and provide sales data is presently a one-sided story and unchallenged. Nevertheless, on top of being warned about him by my contacts in the BritWres circle, McMahon’s shifting statements on why the relationship deteriorated have been well publicized elsewhere, and it is easy enough to believe that OWE are accurate in their statements under these circumstances.
Furthermore, I have heard stories of numerous, and shifting, promises and excuses being made to talent signed on to work these shows. Some were convinced to cover their own travel costs at the promise of reimbursement and key matches with big name talent who, as it turned out, were never actually in consideration to be booked. Sean, and his cohorts, were unwilling to commit to providing key details to many talent they engaged in conversation with but pressured them to film promo videos nonetheless.
So, then, that leaves the question of how OWE plans on rebuilding the reputation of its brand in the United Kingdom, and how it intends to take care of the fans who have been unable to secure a refund thus far. As OWE did not directly collect any monies, as I am told, from any of these sales, they simply do not have the money themselves, nor do they have the direct means to reverse transactions conducted by Sean McMahon while he was using their brand name. Members of OWE’s office have been collaborating with new contacts in the UK to try and figure out how they will approach dealing with the mess left behind in the wake of the disastrous OWE UK cancellations.
Different paths forward are being considered and, I’ve been told, a decision is likely to be reached sooner rather than later. Cost are a factor, and negotiations are ongoing, but options on the table include using a new local partner to bring in OWE talent and give away tickets to those who had previously bought tickets, as well as potentially legal actions.
Why Cambodia? Why Chengdu?
The simple answer is that the brand needed to restructure, and explore new opportunities, in an effort to find a path towards sustainable profitability. The long answer, and what it means for the future of the company and their brand of Chinese professional wrestling is, however, far more interesting than summing it up as such.
First and foremost, by the simple act of moving their operations out of Shanghai and into these new spaces in Siem Reap, Cambodia and Chengdu, China the brand is effectively halving its operational costs. Furthermore, beyond Shanghai just being an incredibly expensive city to have their kind of operation thrive within, its entertainment industry is heavily developed and very competitive. Professional wrestling, being new to China, struggled to cut through the noise and turn a profit on live shows. OWE’s ambitions in the big bright city lights of Shanghais were more than reality could support. Without the money making potential of Television in place for Chinese companies the way that it exists in, frankly, the rest of the world, new ideas have become a necessity.
In Cambodia, this is taking the form of setting up in Siem Reap; a city routinely flooded with tourists as a gateway to Angkor Wat, whose downtown core is tiny and whose entertainment industry far less developed, far less competitive, than Shanghai’s. OWE have rented out an 800 square-meter former boxing bar, and have shipped not only their ring, lights, and LED boards in, but have also relocated their entire roster of Chinese talent as well (save for Wang Jin, who is dealing with family matters, and some talent who had advertising obligations to fulfill before they can join the team.)
This facility is located in a busy part of the city, surrounded by a virtual sea of restaurants, hotels, and hostels, with Angkor Wat’s tourism peak season around the corner from November through to March. Michael Nee plans to capture the business of the approximately 6 to 7 million people who move through the city each year, in particular the growing number of foreign tourists visiting Angkor Wat who have nothing to do at night in the region.
In addition to presenting bouts of professional wrestling they have partnered with two different local martial arts groups to present matches in local styles, and it has been intimated to me that they would like to incorporate some of that talent into the professional wrestling side of the business as well. Starting in mid to late October they will be running nightly shows, blending martial arts, professional wrestling, and musical performances together into a “Show and Pub” establishment, bolstered by cheap, all-you-can-drink beer with admission.
Shows will start in Chengdu in China in December, in an area that sees lots of Chinese tourists due to its deep connections with famous historical events, soldiers, and folk heroes. There they will perform a version of professional wrestling which may skew closer to Fighting Opera Makai than DragonGate. For these shows approximately one-third of their roster will travel from Cambodia, leaving that operation still viable, and take up the garb and characters of famous figures from great battles in Chinese history. They aim to bring in audiences already seeking out entertainment connected to the city’s historic roots and present them a fusion of period piece stage play and professional wrestling.
It is no surprise to learn that an operation as boisterous and expansion-hungry as OWE have been in the last two years has burned through a lot of their initial capital, in particular when you look at the specifics of their marketplace and the pitfalls they’ve had to adjust and adapt for. Over the next 3 to 4 months we will see whether or not these sudden pivots bring them to a place of true, sustainable profitability and survivability.
Taiwanese talent released?
The news I was told about the Taiwanese talent who had come to work for the brand through a partnership with NTW (New Taiwan Entertainment Wrestling) was that their contracts were “suspended,” but that they would still be available to OWE should OWE need them. I was further told that Sky, Rekka, and Gaia Hox are focusing on building up the Taiwanese scene, according to OWE. Additionally, it has been made clear to me that the funding assistance OWE was providing to the Taiwanese-scene is no longer going to be able to be done.
While I reached out to all three, Sky was the only one who replied to my requests for comments. He advised me that he was unable to comment on issues pertaining to NTW and OWE’s relationship, but did say that should OWE “book [him] in China or Cambodia [he] will go.”
The future of OWE in Japan + relationship w/ CIMA and #STRONGHEARTS
When the discussion turned to the comments made in the posted rumors about the future of OWE in Japan, Michael Nee mentioned that they still have another 25 shows planned in the country over the remainder of 2019 and 2020. These numbers do not quite align with the roughly once every two months scheduled CIMA told me had been laid out for the brand in 2020, when I reached out to him for comments on OWE’s status and plans for the future. However, where they did align, was in the scheduled takeover of the Japanese brand by CIMA starting with December’s year-ending show for OWE in Japan at Korakuen Hall.
While, from a strictly sales perspective, it is hard to argue that the shows presented in the country under the OWE brand have not been successful, from OWE’s perspective they have failed to generate adequate revenue. The lion’s share of the revenue made from these sold out shows was not being collected by OWE themselves, but was being collected by the man who funded the production of the events, former DragonGate-owner Okamura. With him providing the capital for the shows, their arrangement saw him reap the rewards.
As of their Korakuen Hall show on December 30th 2019, CIMA will be the General Manager of a company invested in by OWE for the express purposes of promoting OWE’s brand in Japan. This is in an effort, of course, to harness the strong sales record the brand has developed in Japan for their own direct enrichment, rather than for a third party like Okamura. CIMA made it clear to me that there will not be any difficulties caused by his AEW commitments in running this more official Japanese extension of OWE. I was told that T-Hawk and El Lindaman will be helping to run the brand.
Additionally, when asked about why reports indicate CIMA and OWE’s Mr. Fu had a falling out, I was told by Michael that there had been some business disagreements and tensions caused inside the company by the fallout of the UK brand extension’s implosion. However, all parties now are on the same page. When asked about it, CIMA was shocked to even hear that people thought there had been a falling out.
The future of their relationship with AEW
Even with all these difficulties about, Michael Nee was still very positive and optimistic when he spoke of OWE’s desire to continue working with All Elite Wrestling, and developing a deeper connection between the two brands. Considering I have also recently been asked, by an insider within AEW, as to the status of OWE’s set-up in Cambodia I can say it seems the feeling is mutual.
While nothing has been solidified in terms of dates for travel or appearances yet for OWE’s Chinese roster in the new American league, it did come up that five members of OWE’s roster have obtained some kind of visa to travel to the US of A. The list reads as a “best of” for the brand: Da Ben, Liu Xinxi, Gao Jingjia, Zhao Junjie, and Duan Yingnan.