#DiscoveringWrestling Presents – State of the Middle Kingdom: An exploration of the burgeoning Chinese Pro Wrestling Scene

People say starting is always the hardest part of writing. Particularly when you have something the scope of this subject to cover. But I’ve found this subject has made it harder for me to stop writing.  I first started writing about the nascent Chinese Pro-Wrestling scene in August of 2016, when I took some time out to watch a company I had stumbled across on one of my delves into finding wrestling from places I’d never seen wrestling from before. It makes sense, in retrospect, that Middle Kingdom Wrestling would be my first stop in mainland Chinese Pro-Wrestling. MKW had the distinct benefit of being owned and operated by an American expat, Adrian Gomez, who made intentional decisions to make the brand visible to those outside of the country.

While Middle Kingdom Wrestling was my first window into this scene, they were not the first to break ground for Pro-Wrestling in China, and nor would they be the last. In this very special article, I will aim to paint a broad and informative picture of the mainland Chinese Pro-Wrestling scene, from its shockingly recent first steps, to its latest, boldest accomplishments. I’ll introduce you to the key players, the men responsible for igniting this fire, and those who will carry it into the future.

“But why,” I hear you asking, “should I care about Chinese Pro-Wrestling?”

I have two answers to that question:

The first answer is that, in many ways, China is the future. The international entertainment industry in general has set its sights on China as their changing economic position in the world has led them to become a huge untapped market. While their television, film, and video games have established and entrenched industries, Pro-Wrestling has no such pre-existing footing in the nation. Vince McMahon’s WWE has expressed interest in expanding into the region and set to work on trying to develop Chinese talent in a bid for a piece of the pie. Antonio Inoki’s IGF has taken similar measures. The WWN have toured there and Billy Corgan’s NWA have scheduled a show to break in to the market, neither booked any Chinese talent. This heightened level of international interest in the region, however, has not led to the existing local talent being given much attention at all. The media buzz has been almost sinophobic, only focusing on the names brought in by the WWE for a brief flash and then setting them aside. Herein you will find the real pioneers of Chinese Pro-Wrestling identified and the history of the scene expounded upon.

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The Chinese Entertainment Events organization the NWA partnered with to promote their upcoming show outside of Shanghai put performers on their poster multiple times.

The second answer is that it is a fresh, new, unpredictable scene with an interesting history built upon one man’s passionate shoulders, and a vast depth of possibility lies below the surface. Pro-Wrestling as an art has always found itself transformed, by time and culture, into unique expressions of itself. Core concepts are universal, but presentation and audience expectations, vary wildly from one region to the next. North America, Europe, and Japan have had many multiples of decades to cultivate a wide selection of their versions of Pro-Wrestling. There exists a rich tapestry of influences and exchanges, creating numerous genres and subgenres of Pro-Wrestling within each region. Chinese Pro-Wrestling, however, is very much a teenager, just entering its most formative and developed moments now. This presents us, Pro-Wrestling fans and historians, with a unique opportunity for real-time observation as a new culture engages with, adopts, and modifies Pro-Wrestling into what only China can turn it into. In fact, as it stands, I don’t understand how nobody else is actively excited and talking about Chinese Pro-Wrestling!

Special Notes

First and foremost, I would like to thank “Selfie King” Hong Wan and “Big Sam” Burgess for their invaluable aid in putting together this article. Without Hong Wan’s relentless helpfulness I never would have been able to write this article. He routinely provided me with the latest news in the scene, showed me early OWE information, got me on to WeChat, answered every question I asked him, translated Chinese text for me, and connected me with many other people. Similarly, Sam provided me with honest, nuanced insight into the cultural context of the Chinese Pro-Wrestling scene, helping me to better understand the events and attitudes in play. Without his help this article would not have been as balanced and informative as I have strived to make it. There are many more people who contributed to my understanding of the scene, and I extend my utmost thanks to everyone who spoke with me as I put this together.

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Big Sam hits a Big Boot on “Selfie King” Hong Wan. He would go on to be the 3rd MKW Champion.

Secondly, unlike the WWE, IGF (Inoki Genome Federation) has feet on the ground in China. They operate a dojo in Shanghai, which presently trains approximately eight Chinese talent in Pro-Wrestling. This dojo, I have been told, puts on exhibition shows around the area. Since they operate in China, and with Chinese performers, it is important to mention IGF here as a part of the mainland Chinese Pro-Wrestling landscape. However, as they are simply a satellite of a foreign company, they do not quite belong in the main body of this article. That being said, the criticism I have encountered of their product is useful to help inform our understanding of the tastes of the mainland Chinese pro-wrestling audience. From what I have heard, the exhibitions that the IGF students put on are very Inoki-ism in feel, essentially worked MMA/Shoot fights, which doesn’t seem to go over well with the local audiences. The word I most often saw in regards to this style was “boring.” Also, anecdotally, Wang Bin worked for and was trained by IGF before he was recruited by the WWE.

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“Selfie King” Hong Wan tosses his MKW Championship challenger Big Sam with a release German suplex.

Finally I would like to mention that this article is peppered with links to a tremendous amount of resources, both primary and secondary sources, which I used to build the foundations of this article. If you would like to watch these videos, or follow these performers, or just go down the rabbit hole and learn more about Chinese Pro-Wrestling, I encourage you to open all the tabs you can! I have also made what I would consider to be an army of GIFs which I will be sharing on my twitter account, and possibly elsewhere, to help in promoting Chinese Pro-Wrestling. Now buckle up and trust me, we’ll have more than enough to look at here as it is. To that end, there is no other place to start than with…

The Slam and CWE

When asked about the importance of this man, Hong Wan, second ever MKW champion, told me that “he’s the first ever pro-wrestler in China, every Chinese wrestling fan knows him” and capped it off with “many people are willing to pay to watch him.” The Slam left China to begin his quest to bring Pro-Wrestling home in his late-teens. He was trained in South Korea’s WWA promotion, then returned to mainland China to set up the first ever Chinese Pro-Wrestling promotion in Dongguan in 2004. As the first ever Pro-Wrestler and Promoter in China he would also begin training the talent needed to put on shows. Without an established talent pool and market demand, the early days of the CWE (China Wrestling Entertainment) were akin, in presentation, to backyard wrestling. While their facilities might have been ramshackle, and their gear was without budget, the talent could shine through. These earliest years of CWE were grimy and unpolished and filled with passion, as The Slam strove to establish a foothold for the art and business of Pro-Wrestling in the country.

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The Slam takes the fight to his student, King of Man, in a CWE event in a mall.

While the company has faced its own shares of ups and downs, opening and closing its operations a number of times, their progression has been notable. Not only has the presentation of their product improved over the years, but The Slam has trained almost all of the Chinese talent presently working in the scene. From early forerunners through to current standouts like Gao Yuan, though the two would have a falling out, and Hong Wan, The Slam has trained them all. As a testament to his influence and importance, The Slam isn’t only the father of the mainland scene, but is the grandfather of the Hong Kong scene, having trained its founder Ho Ho Lun as well. While much of The Slam’s students were trained without official facilities, starting in 2013 The Slam would have a series of partnerships with gyms and associations which allowed for more regular training and shows to occur.

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The Slam drops Angelnaut with a TKO at the co-promoted CWE/CNWWE Crazy Fight Wrestling League, Night One.

While the CWE would never rise beyond what one would expect of a struggling indie promotion, time has been on The Slam’s side. Newer events have increasingly higher quality production values and the talent performing on them grows in quality despite having limited opportunities to work and develop their craft in the fledgling market. Passion is, genuinely speaking, what seems to keep the scene moving forward towards betterment more than any attendance figures, gates, or financial backers ever have. Regrettably, not much information is available in English about the CWE’s fourteen year history. Cagematch records only go back to 2012, and you can thank Big Sam for most of that information, but their Youku channel gives further insight into the past. What is of paramount importance to understand is that, between 2004 and 2013 the CWE, and hence all of mainland Chinese wrestling, would more or less develop in a vacuum.

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The Slam’s students, all former CWE roster members, can be found working all over the Chinese scene. Here we see Hell Shark tearing into Jeff Man in MKW.

Once their position as the sole Pro-Wrestling promotion in the country was no more, the CWE quickly developed a noteworthy track record of co-promoting shows with start-up brands. Both CNWWE and MKW benefitted from The Slam’s passion to promote Pro-Wrestling in China when, in December 2013 and July 2015 respectively, they assisted these new upstarts and cross-promoted two-day events with each of them as their first shows.

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M.A., one of The Slam’s younger students, poses with the CWF Fighting Spirit championship.

Presently, it would seem, that The Slam has, once again, had to close down his company. However, even with his operations shut down, The Slam has seen fit to safeguard the future of Chinese Pro-Wrestling. To this end, he has used his connections to get at least one of his students, M.A., a position training with IGF’s Shanghai dojo. Jason Wang, another student of The Slam, is also at the Shanghai dojo and I would suspect he followed much the same path as M.A.. Furthermore, on top of ensuring students receive further training, The Slam himself continues to perform and looks to further his reputation of working with new promotions in 2018. Based on the rumours I have been privy to amongst the Chinese Pro-Wrestling fan community on WeChat, and the reputation the CWE has of opening and closing only to open again, it is possible that we could see The Slam open up shop once again in 2018.

The rise and fall of CNWWE

The humorously named CNWWE (China Nation Wide Wrestling Entertainment) has been described by Adrian Gomez as “an on and off Chongqing based promotion run by a Chinese business man named Paul,” who dreamed of becoming ” the Chinese Vince Mc[Mahon.]” In operation from 2013 to 2015, they produced a total of sixteen confirmed events. Their biggest shows, the two-night Crazy Fight Wrestling League,  were produced in collaboration with The Slam’s CWE, and booked an interesting selection of talent. Along with locals like Gao Yuan and regular visitors from Hong Kong like Bitman, they would book RJM, who went on to be known as Sam Gradwell, and Ho Ho Lun. Both of whom would go on to have connections with the WWE in years to come.

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Gradwell, as RJM, takes to the air against Voodoo and Bad Boy after Bitman sets them up.

After the Crazy Fight Wrestling League the CNWWE would go silent twice, each time for almost a full year before they began to run another series of shows in Chongqing. Again they would book international talent whose popularity and impact on the Pro-Wrestling world would come in to bloom in the years that followed, such as John Skyler, Zack Gibson, and Pete Dunne. They pitted them against the local talent and hit the nail on the head when giving a fresh Gao Yuan the opportunities to work with these men. Many of these matches made film, however the copies that are easily available are all rather low resolution. In spite of the dip in visuals, these matches are actually quite competent. Strangely, while many nights were booked in these runs, each show was at most two matches in length. After their third attempt ended in July of 2015, it seems that the CNWWE are permanently a part of the past.

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Gao Yuan takes the fight to Pete Dunne in one of the later CNWWE runs.

CNWWE’s downfall seems to be directly at the hands of their owner, Paul Wang. “The Drunken Boss,” as he was called by the foreign talent, and the self-proclaimed Vince McMahon of China, may have had money to throw around, but his passion for Pro-Wrestling seemed to dwindle as he failed to make it work. Big Sam explains, “I mentioned wrestling and his response was muted at best; it seemed as if he didn’t care much for wrestling and was more interested in the work I was doing in Shenzhen, working in a supply chain management company.” These sentiments have been echoed by others who have been involved in the scene. Unfortunately, the CNWWE will never have a chance to rebuild for another time, as Paul Wang has passed away.

Adrian Gomez and MKW

Out of all the companies to operate in mainland China, I am the most familiar with Middle Kingdom Wrestling. I’ve covered MKW in my #DiscoveringWrestling blogs and have had the opportunity to interview and correspond with many of those involved in the promotion.. This is neither a surprise, nor an accident, when you consider that Adrian Gomez, the American expat who founded Middle Kingdom Wrestling, made the intentional decision to produce a wealth of content in English. In the summer of 2015, MKW held their first ever shows. Every single match from that two day spread made its way on to YouTube with full English and Chinese commentary. This has been replicated with almost every single match to make tape since. Hosting video content on YouTube makes it inherently more available, and easier to stumble upon. Unfortunately, this feat is not always easy for Chinese operations to achieve. Their product, of course, is available on native Chinese services as well. In this way they have taken extra effort to ensure both Chinese and foreign audiences can engage with their product

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Big Sam is fond of throwing people onto the ring apron.

Not only did they strive to make their product easy to find all over, but they strove to make it the best Chinese Pro-Wrestling show on the internet. They took the tools and aesthetic available to them as a small, upstart company in a country with no established market for the product, played around with it, and put out a product that maximized what they had available to them. They do some unconventional things with their editing and announcing, such as slow-mo replays which they work “right into the match!” and, in the end, their experimentation creates a unique feeling product. Indeed, up until very recently their shows carried some of the overall highest standards, and evolution, of production values in the scene.

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Hong Wan wrecks Tsunami with a Triple German Suplex at the MKW Training Centre.

Without being scientific it seems, as well, that MKW have the highest overall number of non-Chinese, and non- Hong Kongese and Taiwanese, talent to come through their doors. Two out of three MKW champions, including the very first, are of Caucasian heritage, and people like Ash Silva and Big Sam have been regulars with the promotion since its inception. While CNWWE may have booked future bigger names, and may have run more individual matches with each name they brought in, the sheer diversity of talent that MKW bring in is worth taking note of. Often this outside talent, where possible, can be found pulling double-duty on cards, wrestling under a hood and as themselves on the same card. ” Chinese like wrestlers who look like WWE guys,” Sam explains in this interview, “guys from Europe and the USA are well received, especially if they got a bit of mass to their build and an obvious gimmick.” Adrian Gomez, when asked about the difficulty of bringing foreign talent into China told me it’s “pretty difficult to coordinate but most wrestlers want to wrestle in every major country in the world.” Towards that end they are the only mainland Chinese Pro-Wrestling company to have held shows in other countries, and strive to continue building partnerships.

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Ever the cocky heel, Big Sam drops Jason Wang and goes for the pose!

All of this ties directly into Adrian’s mission statement, which he summed up nicely for me in an interview I conducted with him in September 2016, “We just want to give Chinese pro wrestlers and Pro Wrestlers all over the world a platform to be able to wrestle regularly in China and Chinese Pro Wrestling fans a product that they can proudly support as Chinese Pro Wrestling.” To this end, Adrian has strived to set MKW apart from their contemporaries. As this article explains, ” Gomez doesn’t worry about competition… but stresses his character-driven approach differentiates MKW from the rest, ‘[CWF] really prefer the Japanese style… It looks more like a traditional sport. [We] care more about telling stories.'” In line with what I have heard about the IGF exhibitions in China, Adrian would elaborate for meChinese audience[s] don’t react much to chain wrestling. I learned that very quickly, so we changed our focus to offer more entertainment.  We love to make people smile. That’s what we want to focus on.”

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Ash Silva hits a Slingblade on “Party Boy” Gabriel Martini.

In June of 2017, MKW opened their own training school. The trainers have been a mixture of the more advanced local talents, and men Adrian has brought in from abroad, such as Gabriel Martini and Triple T. Were it not for unfortunate non-wrestling events they would have been joined by Toronto independent wrestler Buck Gunderson as well, and he has said he would very much still like to go when circumstances allow. On March 17th 2018 this school will see the graduation of its first student onto a live wrestling show when former MKW referee “The Masterclass” Michael Su makes his debut. From what I hear, Su isn’t the only student ready to move up to an actual show. March 17th’s Wrestle rescue Year of the Dog also promises to have the debut of another American wrestler signed on for a run with MKW, Zombie Dragon.

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“The Statement” Andruew Tang, of Singapore’s SPW, won’t let Ash Silva get away from the headlock, by any means necessary!

Just over a year ago, in an interview I conducted with him, Dalton Bragg told me that “the Chinese wrestling scene starts and ends with MKW.” At the time, there was a semblance of truth to his statement. An argument could be made, then, that MKW was the brand with the best quality and sustainability in the scene. However, while I had once mused that “in the future, MKW could be standing at the forefront of a national style, like NJPW in Japan,” I never saw MKW as a terminating point for the scene. Nevertheless, I never could have foreseen just how much growth the scene would see in the time since that interview was published.

Brad Guo and the CWF

The CWF (Chinese Wrestling Federation) started with a show in a factory in late 2015 to attract investors. It was “founded by Fei Wu Xing, the boss of China’s largest wrestling website ShuaiJiao.com” according to this article, and owned by Brad Guo according to those whom I have spoken to. It is not impossible that they are the same person. Not long after, in May of 2016, they were putting on a rather extravagant card in Shanghai. For this event they brought together many of the best talent available throughout the greater Chinese Pro-Wrestling scene and aimed to blow the roof off of the scene. Unfortunately, even from this very early point, they drew some heavy criticism. In his own words, Big Sam complained that “CWF’s scheduling was very rushed and the organisers arranged the show in an unorthodox style.”  While the show would, in the end, be one of my favourite events I have seen from the mainland Chinese scene, the backstage troubles point towards trouble.

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The main event of the CWF’s Shanghai show pitted Ho Ho Lun and Gao Yuan against The Slam and Jason Lee.

As one of the Chinese companies with the least amount of event info transcribed to Cagematch, I held the false assumption that they had ceased to exist. I was pleased to discover I was wrong when I dug in to their Youku channel, where a variety of matches can be found. It seems that, most often, they would produce filmed matches without the presence of much in terms of an audience. These appear to be for a web series, of some kind, as they are packaged with an intro. Despite this unusual presentation, some of these matches are quite good. The CWF would also serve as another stopping point in the evolution of Gao Yuan, whose importance will be crystallized shortly for you, and at both the Shanghai show and some videos afterwards, his quality would shine forth.

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Gao Yuan and Jason Lee have remarkable chemistry in this near audienceless match from CWF.

Lately the CWF have been low-key, promoting some mini-events, such as mall openings, after their other attempts have seemingly failed to net them meaningful results. Nevertheless, they are still participating in the scene. Hell Shark, a former student of The Slam, is presently heading their training program, but little else is known about their school at the moment. Furthermore, the CWF have helped keep the scene progressing by recently having lent MKW their ring, and some talent, for their tapings. It will be interesting to see what role they play in the future of the scene, as their in-ring product may be the most exciting we have covered thus far for a western indie fan.

Notes on the Role of Hong Kongese and Taiwanese Pro-Wrestlers in Mainland China

It is an undeniable fact that the histories of the mainland Chinese, Hong Kongese, and Taiwanese Pro-Wrestling scenes are interconnected. Hong Kong owes its Pro-Wrestling scene’s lineage, in fact its existence, to The Slam training Ho Ho Lun. Wrestlers from both Hong Kong and Taiwan have worked for pretty much every single mainland Chinese promotion that has opened its doors and, in a strictly literal sense, this doesn’t look to change any time soon. What has changed is the frequency with which these performers are booked in the region, and the reasons why may help to provide some insight into the history, and development of the mainland Chinese Pro-Wrestling scene, as well as the tastes of the mainland audience.

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Hong Kongese wrestler Bitman hits a double stomp on Voodoo, a british expat who lives in mainland China.

It isn’t unusual to see cards loaded with Hong Kongese and Taiwanese talents booked by companies from the first half of the mainland scene’s brief history. It would seem that, between approximately 2009 and 2015, the art of Pro-Wrestling had taken root and developed a larger selection of talent in these regions than it did in the mainland. As such, due to their proximity and experience, they served to flesh out the anemic talent pool for several years. In fact, a 2015 article says that “Singapore, Korea, Taiwan and Hong Kong all boast leagues with some degree of popularity and pedigree,” and goes on to indicate that, in the mainland, “Most estimates suggest there are currently only about 20 wrestlers in the entire country, and a shortage of training facilities or world-class coaches means little new talent is emerging.” However, since then, the number of performers booked on mainland shows from these regions would dwindle.

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King Michael, from Hong Kong, gives Super Daichi, from Taiwan, the stinkface.

The primary, and most impactful for the scope of this article, factor that led to this change was the increase in the number of experienced wrestlers based in the mainland. While the overall numbers of wrestlers in mainland China, particularly natives, has not skyrocketed, the talent has improved. With the maturation of the local crop, and more training programs being opened up by groups like MKW and the CWF, the need to have a majority of the show be imported to run a good show declined. With the need to book less Hong Kong and Taiwan based talent came an increased number of matches being competed in by the mainland talent, which would lead again to them improving further. This has created a positive feedback loop. It also doesn’t hurt that China’s domestic travel, namely by superfast trains, makes travelling from one city to another a far easier feat than one might expect based on North American perceptions.

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Taiwanese wrestler Lenbai outsmarts Tony Trivaldo at an MKW event.

A common sentiment I’ve seen expressed by the local fans is that these performers are presently primarily viewed as bodies used to fill spaces. This calls into question the lasting impact of these Hong Kongese and Taiwanese workers in the mainland. For many fans they were there when they were needed, but few of them are viewed as having any lasting popularity. While several  of them still receive bookings, as the talent pool hasn’t grown so large as to not need any injection of talent from outside the mainland, only Ho Ho Lun is really seen as any kind of a commodity. This certainly stems partially from his long term involvement in the scene, but the far more potent influence at present is his tenure with the WWE.

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Ho Ho Lun, the father of Hong Kong wrestling, goes toe-to-toe with The Slam, father of mainland Chinese wrestling and his trainer.

In the mainland, the WWE is king. The perception of what wrestling is, and should be, has been predominantly influenced by the global titan of the industry. Meanwhile, wrestlers from Hong Kong and Taiwan look up to, emulate, learn from, and compete with Japanese talent. In fact, Ho Ho Lun’s HKWF (Hong Kong Pro Wrestling Federation) has formed alliance with Pro Wrestling ZERO1 that led to their name becoming Kong, and Taiwan’s dominant promotion, NTW (New Taiwan Entertainment Wrestling), has strong ties with DDT (Dramatic Dream Team.) In a conversation I had with Big Sam he expressed to me he feels any performer, no matter the style, should be welcomed into the mainland scene if they have something positive to offer. In a market this fresh, with so few local options available, room can be carved out and fans made if the performers work to get themselves over. It is too early to say that a Japanese-influenced style cannot find its footing there.

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Jeffrey Man, of Hong Kong tag team “The Man Bros,” throws down with Ho Ho Lun in the early days of Chinese pro-wrestling.

But there may be another problem that keeps the Hong Kongese and Taiwanese talent from being viewed as exciting additions to the local scene: they’re still Chinese. Recently Sam explained to me “Hong Kong wrestlers like to differentiate themselves from the rest of China, but the vast majority of Mainland Chinese fans still identify the Hong Kong wrestlers simply as Chinese.” Similar sentiments are certainly transferable to Taiwanese talent as well. This, in essence, creates a disparity in the presentation and perception of these talent which one can certainly see causing some trouble in an industry as known for its egotism as Pro-Wrestling is, no matter how unintentional it may be.

Gao Yuan and WLW

A few months after I had conducted my interview with Dalton Bragg, Gao Yuan, who has undoubtedly risen to become one of the scene’s brightest performers, founded WLW (We Love Wrestling.) They’ve held at least eight shows, as per their Cagematch profile, thus far. Based upon their bilibili page video count I would suspect there are others which have not been documented in English. This is an assumption, however, and one should be mindful as many of the videos on the page are not WLW matches. A selection of the video content the account posts is a collection of Gao Yuan’s matches with other promotions, creating a kind of video resume of his career. Watching these matches you’ll see many familiar faces from shows run by all companies prior. There is, however, one major difference between the way WLW and all other Pro-Wrestling companies in China promote their events. Hong Wan informed me that, unlike their contemporaries, WLW primarily perform as a corporately booked act, at events such as the opening of a mall or a festival, and are most often booked to perform shows for two to three days in a row at the same venue.

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Gao Yuan faces off against Sam Gradwell in a Hong Kong event associated with WLW in early 2018.

From what I have seen it is what you would expect of the scene thus far, with the nice addition of semi-regular Bitman appearances. Their history has been short, and they do not appear to have their own championship as of yet. The only title belt I have seen film of at their events is the CWF’s Fighting Spirit belt. At the end of 2017 WLW were the baby of the Chinese wrestling scene, so it isn’t much of a surprise that there is little meat on their bones to dig into yet. Gao Yuan, however, does need to be talked about. Many of the matches I have enjoyed the most in researching this article have featured him. The level of skill he puts on display in early work with CNWWE tipped me off that I would be in for something special as I watched his career grow in the deep video catalogues of several companies. My feeling here is that, with him creatively at the helm, WLW are likely to turn out matches as they grow that will entertain seasoned wrestling fans.

Huayang Fu, Dragon Gate, and OWE

Aesthetically, and athletically, it is nigh impossible to argue that OWE (Oriental Wrestling Entertainment) isn’t the pinnacle, thus far, in the Chinese Pro-Wrestling scene. The company was founded in 2017 by Huayang Fu, a wealthy businessman who had made his money in film and advertising. While some of the companies on this list have boasted large injections of currency into their ventures, OWE’s budget easily far outclasses the other outfits to have staked a claim to a piece of the fresh Chinese Pro-Wrestling pie. This company came to my attention in January 2018, several months away from its founding and less than a month from it February 2nd 2018 debut live event. I was immediately struck by a pair  of seemingly unbelievable things. The first was that the men whom he had recruited to be his premiere cadre of Pro-Wrestlers were Shaolin Temple kung-fu students, men with an already established understanding of intense athleticism and live performance, some seem to have even performed martial arts stunt work for Chinese film. The second was that OWE had hired CIMA, trained by Ultimo Dragon and veteran performer with arguably Japan’s Number Two promotion Dragon Gate, to be their head coach. They rolled out page after page of hype articles, and gave us a peek into how seriously they were taking this project with training videos as they built towards the date of the show.

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Training footage and an interview with CIMA can be found in one of OWE’s promotional articles.

My head was filled with wild visions of a new hybrid Kung Fu-Pro Wrestling style that would emerge from this pairing of elements. I waited very impatiently for the show to happen, and then for Hong Wan to get links into my greedy hands, so I could see what this new promotion had to offer. I was immediately struck by how much of a production value chasm there is between OWE and all of its Chinese Wrestling contemporaries. Where other companies hold shows in beat-up rings with little to no window dressing, OWE looked shiny, new, well assembled and expensively equipped. OWE boasted a full stage and walkway for entrances, security barricades, multiple TV cameras, a titantron, and all the other accoutrements one is familiar with from promotions with established TV presences.

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The OWE’s video packages before the event were unreal. This wrestle-dancing is unlike anything I’ve seen before.

 

The spike in production values carried on far beyond just the environment and into the presentation of talent performing as well. Before the event started three high quality short intro packages were played. One was a sepia-toned mini Kung Fu Pro-Wrestling film, one was a choreographed Kung Fu Pro-Wrestling group dance routine, and one was a more traditionally Pro-Wrestling themed action vignette in a ring. In this way they inexorably, and immediately, link the notions of Kung Fu, calling to mind the depths of Chinese culture and martial tradition, with Pro-Wrestling. Already, before their men had performed in a wrestling bout, OWE had established themselves as something wholly different than any wrestling product the Chinese scene had seen before. Then they doubled down on being unique and on throwing money around.

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“Mr. COOL” Tang Huachi escapes the headlock and makes a comeback against “Wild Wolf” Fan Hewei.

After a lengthy speech, and another choreographed group dance routine that allowed several members of the roster to show off their personalities, a Chinese Idol Group, SNH48, performed. Normally a musical act wouldn’t be worth a mention when talking about a wrestling show. Herein, however, it actually ties in to the branding of the entire promotion. When it so happened that the first we saw of the performers as wrestlers was in three separate colour-coded matching variations on one uniform, my Idol Culture radar went off. As I would later learn, it was for good reason. Mr. Jie, one of the men high in the ranks of OWE’s management, is the mind running the agency that manages the Shanghai-based SNH48, who are modeled directly after Japan’s massively successful AKB48 idol group. In all honesty, by this point I had decided that there was nothing in Pro-Wrestling I had seen quite like this before, anywhere before. There were still several hours left.

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The Red, Blue, and Black subgroup leaders step up to Masaaki Mochizuki’s defamation of China!

The first half saw members of these teams compete against differently coloured teams, solidifying the subgroups idol feel forever. The matches were fast-paced, flashy, and entertaining, but lacked variety in moves, ring psychology, and enough time for everyone to truly show off their personality. After the intermission there was a costume parade where those on the roster who would not be competing in the second half had a chance to show off their individual character costumes, and put on a show of their personality. This, again, draws upon some Idol Group roots and is also something I have never before seen connected with Pro-Wrestling. The matches in the second half faired a bit better in terms of pacing and psychology than the first half, as the fresh Chinese talent were against foreign heels, most of whom are DragonGate roster members, and some touring Americans. Furthermore, the second half saw the OWE roster wrestling in their elaborate character costumes, instead of in their subgroup gear as the first half did. I really shouldn’t have been surprised by how good these performers were for their first times out as Pro-Wrestlers. Their Shaolin pedigree predisposes them to be good at everything a Pro-Wrestler needs to be good at. Herein, too, the OWE outclasses many of the promotions to have come before it. This is, most certainly, the impact of the kind of money available to them to hire, and train, their roster.

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“The Captain” A Ben (Big Ben) leaps out of the ring and crashes into Masaaki Mochizuki and his nefarious DragonGate brethren.

Downsides are, unfortunately intimately identifiable. There are two versions of the show that you can watch online, the one I linked to earlier, and a shorter edited down version. This edited version suffers from, in my opinion, overly aggressive pruning and incoherent camera cuts. Many of my complaints to do with watching Chinese Pro-Wrestling, in general, have come down to how they are filmed and edited. OWE have, by far, the highest quality video to work from but do an absolute butcher’s job on the product. Gone are are the majority of performers’ entrances, the entire costume parade, match continuity. You name it, they cut it. Even some of the coolest moves of the show. Unfortunately, to get a full experience of the show you have to watch both version, to a degree, as the main event is missing from the original version. The brand has made it clear, both by the ending of their first show teasing their gorgeous championship belt, and on services like WeChat, that they will absolutely be doing more events, including tours. Based on their WeChat information they are also looking to expand their roster further, as they are holding open tryouts.

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For some reason a clear shot of this amazing moment between “Little Vajra” Zhao Yiling and Jack Manley was cut from the edited version.

It is clear, to myself and those I have spoken to, fan and performer alike, that OWE is a very Chinese presentation of wrestling. Their advertising efforts, costuming, presentation, and props all draw inspiration from various elements of Chinese culture. Their title belt is patterned after the Taotie. The individualized costumes they wear reference everything from mythology, to historic martial arts heroes, to modern Chinese street fashion. Even the Idol-ification of the talent owes its existence to the pervasive success of Idol-culture in China. They even had their talent perform a martial arts dance routine on the biggest Chinese variety show during the Lantern Festival.

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At the end of the show, in a moment full of potent meaning, the gorgeous title belt is  lowered from the ceiling.

While these elements and strategies mirror those that have found success with mainstream Chinese entertainment audiences, they have raised the ire of some of China’s Pro-Wrestling fans. One individual even scoffed at the idea that OWE was even wrestling, as he saw it as just a pretty boy Idol group. Furthermore, while talking with some expats living in China about my excitement over how much OWE draws upon Chinese culture and tradition it came to light that the Chinese audience don’t necessarily want things that are presented in a very Chinese way. The Chinese who have money to spend want foreign brands, they are not interested in buying Chinese products unless you call into question their strong sense of nationalism. In my interview with Dalton Bragg he had mentioned that ” Chinese fans demand a certain amount of perfection in their entertainment… and other products won’t be able to compare to the WWE’s production value. Chinese fans won’t tolerate an inferior product and won’t give other promotions a chance to develop.” Contextually there were no Pro-Wrestling groups at the time who could come close to what OWE has achieved in production values, let alone the WWE. Now, however, a new question has to be asked: If a local brand, steeped in Chinese culture, can compete with these production values, can they also overcome the Chinese market’s desire for foreign looking stars, and the Sports Entertainment style of working?

KOPW and The Future

Ryan Chen’s KOPW (King of Pro Wrestling) run their first show in Guangzhou on March 17th 2018. Based upon their promotional materials, they ate looking to make a splash in the scene. Their graphic design game is on point, producing a strong, dynamic logo that brands all of their numerous announcements concerning the impending show. There is an obvious budget behind the promotion, and an interesting, strong array of talent lined up for their first event. They also have a really pretty championship belt and have commissioned the construction of their very own ring, stating in one announcement that “in order to create a good platform, we have found the most professional fight equipment manufacturer in Guangzhou” (quoted with the help of Google Translate.) In these ways they remind me of OWE. However the talent they have scheduled for the event are not newly recruited and trained Pro-Wrestling neophytes, but are instead a competent array of familiar faces and strong foreign bookings. Their lineup features a veritable who’s who of the Chinese Pro-Wrestling scene, having announced booking people such as Gao Yuan, Ho Ho Lun, and King of Man. Not to be outdone by their predecessors, KOPW have booked a handful of international talents, including the PROGRESS tag champions, BUFFA, and Sam Gradwell, who will be returning to mainland China for the first time since he worked with CNWWE in 2015.  Furthermore, at least some of this material will be easily available to everyone, as PROGRESS have announced that the Tag-Team Championship match will be available on their streaming service.

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Tournament bracket for the new KOPW Championship as it stood after Shooting Star had to recuse himself due to injury.

Earlier this year Hong Wan told me that he is both excited and nervous about the future of Chinese Pro-Wrestling.  With an explosion in popularity could come additional government scrutiny. As it stands, Pr-Wrestling in the mainland already faces problems. Adrian Gomez explained to me that they are the “unknown and underdeveloped market, city regulations and access to talent.” Should those who participate in the art of Pro-Wrestling earn themselves a negative reputation it could see further regulations levied specifically against it.  There’s also always the worry about funding. In his interview on KB’s Big Sam says that he’s “seen promotions come and go within China as usually they fail as they try to invest too much and lose all their money after several months.”

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The KOPW Championship belt is one of the sexiest title belts I have ever seen.

With KOPW mirroring the non-Shaolin high-quality elements of presentation and promotion that had me excited in advance of OWE’s debut, I am hopeful that their March 17th debut event can keep the ball rolling on the strong start to 2018 that OWE launched for Chinese Pro-Wrestling. With two new, high-quality players on the field, and the first graduate of the MKW training system making his debut, the early months of 2018 have been filled with a depth of excitement and possibility I haven’t seen in the scene before. Realistically, 2018 looks to be the year to keep your eyes glued on mainland Chinese Pro-Wrestling.

 

 

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#DiscoveringWrestling #014 – The Arrogant Atheist in Mexico

With his time in Middle Kingdom Wrestling behind him, and hot on the heels of losing his biggest championship ever, “The Arrogant Atheist” decided he needed to reinvent himself and moved himself and his family down to Mexico, to see if the grass is greener on the other side. After a few matches in small, indie Lucha Libre promotions Dalton Bragg has caught the eye of Asistencia Asesoría y Administración talent scouts, has attended a tryout for the AAA, whom most of my  readers will likely know as the partner of Lucha Underground, and is set to debut in a dark match for them on March 31st. I had the opportunity to catch up with Bragg and ask him a few questions on the cusp of his, potentially, biggest match to date.

NC: First of all, congratulations. Things have been working out great for you since you moved to Mexico. All momentum towards your intended goal.That’s one hell of a gamble to have pay off, moving your entire family to another country without any guarantees. How does it feel to be given this opportunity by AAA?

DB: It feels like a breath of fresh air. I feel like The Arrogant Atheist is finally going somewhere he can stretch his wings. A place where I will finally receive the recognition I deserve. It’s time that Dalton Bragg showed everyone that he has what it takes to make it in the best wrestling promotion in the world.

NC: Do you know whom your dark match debut will be with?

DB: No.

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Dalton Bragg at the AAA tryouts.

NC: Oh! A mystery opponent! How exciting! Okay, moving on then. What was it like to go through the AAA tryout? 

DB: The AAA tryout was an example of how superior I am to any other talent. Hundreds of hopeful luchadors were forced to watch on helplessly as it became more and more obvious that I was the greatest person there. The TV camera crew seemed to forget that there were other wrestlers there as they began to interview me a 7th and 8th time while others waited for their 1st turn. I look forward to being announced as the winner.

NC: What do you think you need to do, at this point, to make it to the next stage of your career, and how do you envision the next step of your career? 

DB: Dalton Bragg is going to continue to refine his look. I will always look for ways to improve my gear, and I am constantly working on improving my physique and conditioning. After I prove that I belong on the AAA stage in my dark match, I expect they will continue to put me higher and higher on the cards, ask me to travel the country with them and eventually I will win every championship belt they have.

NC: Who do you most want to wrestle on the AAA roster? 

DB: I can’t wait to make it so LA PARKA can never do that goofy dance again…

NC: Now that you’ve performed in the USA, China, and Mexico, what can you tell me about them? What is your favorite place to Wrestle? What does the way the audience and wrestlers interact tell you about pro wrestling in each place?

DB: Mexico is easily my favorite place to wrestle. Chinese fans don’t understand wrestling and it takes a lot of work to get them to interact. In the US, half the crowd is really into [it] and interacting while the other half is tentatively and quietly watching while checking their phones… In Mexico, even a small show is a big deal. Every single person is completely invested and it’s obvious that Lucha Libre is a major part of their culture.

NC: Finally, as the first ever MKW champion how did it feel to lose your title to The Selfie King Hong Wan, someone whom you helped to train?

DB: Losing my MKW title was very clearly a screw job by the heads of MKW. They couldn’t stand that a non-Chinese national was the first ever Champion and they worked very hard ever since to make sure I lost that title. Once it became clear that there was no one who could defeat me, MKW resorted to paying off a referee to fast count me, ensuring a Chinese national could finally hold the title. No one can seriously believe that a rookie like Selfie King could possibly beat me in a fair fight. Obvious screw job. That MKW [championship] still belongs to me.

 

With the future looking bright for Dalton Bragg with AAA, and Vampiro’s connections with local #TorontoWrestling I wonder if we’ll ever see “The Arrogant Atheist” brought up to Canada, like Vampiro is doing with other AAA and Lucha Underground stars? Only time will tell, and I look forward to seeing how Bragg’s career develops as he continues to take risks and change himself in pursuit of a lucrative Pro-Wrestling career.

Do you have any feedback or questions? Please leave a comment here.

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#DiscoveringWrestling #009 – Foreign Expeditions 2: Middle Kingdom Boogaloo

Just this past week Middle Kingdom Wrestling released their latest episode to YouTube, continuing their efforts to get Chinese Pro-Wrestling on the map.This episode featured surprisingly improved commentary, with excitement at the in-ring action from their English-language commentator sounding genuine, and a bare minimum number of plugs to their various websites cluttering up the commentary. However, somehow, between the last episode and this one, filmed at the same event, the camera work got worse. Unfortunately, the camera work draws even more attention to how miniscule the crowd is at this event, which counteracts all the efforts of the announcer to make these people sound like “can’t-miss” superstars.

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I really wish that big red fist were breaking through the wall…

As MKW’s roster is limited, and the WrestleStar III event was a cross-promotional event, we have even more guest talent appearing here. Humungus is from World Underground Wrestling, Eurasian Dragon from Singapore Pro Wrestling, Malkeet Brawler and Maxim Risky from Wrestle Square, and Hayden Zenith from Kingdom Wrestling Federation. Admittedly, even though not always of incredibly high quality, I found all of the performers here at least entertaining. The promo package from Humungus is actually kind of hilarious, and he has a good look with all of his tattoos, but I don’t think his hilarity is intentional.

Match 1: Big Sam and Black Mamba vs. Malkeet Brawler and Maxim Risky

A really basic heel vs face style tag team match. Big Sam plays the “heel enforcer” role well by trying to get an early advantage off of a pre-match powerbomb. As the biggest man in the match, and likely the most experienced, a lot of what is good here does fall on his shoulders. His military Press looks great when the rest of the men in the match are easily half his size.

The Malkeet Brawler early on nails a nice looking snap suplex on Black Mamba, but not all of the Indian team’s moves look as fluid. In fact, neither team performs distinctly better than the other and they put on a slow paced match that doesn’t quite get me revved.

Victory comes for Big Sam and Black Mamba when Mamba gets the pinfall victory off of a “big splash” on his opponent who was just choke slammed by Big Sam. I hope this was done for comedy, as the splash looked weak and boring in a day and age when men of Black Mamba’s size are flipping around all over the place.

Grade: D+
Match 2: Humungus vs. Eursasian Dragon (Champion) – SPW Championship Match

This match barely even happens, and yet you can tell by what little action there is that both Humungus and Eurasian Dragon are less green than the majority of competitors on the MKW shows.It looked to have a bit of potential heading in, and Eurasian Dragon looked mostly good except for his no-height drop kick and final pinning predicament.

It’s a short, sloppy affair with a lot of personality where Eurasian Dragon comes out on top with the world’s slowest magistral cradle.

Grade: C-
Match 3: The Slam vs Hayden Zenith (Champion) – KWF Championship Match

This match opens with some decent chain wrestling, presenting the most crisp action seen on this Thailand card. They both move fast and are confident and fluid in their performance. They even work a good transition from a submission move to a pinning predicament into their match, showing that these two are genuinely a cut above in experience and skill.

This being said, however, the action gets disjointed a bit after a dropkick in the ring ropes. The ring they are using is a Muay Thai ring and the ropes are not tightened as one would usually see in Pro-Wrestling events. They look hard to work with and seem to cause problems with making the spots work as the performers had intended. All fluidity vanishes in an awkward series of moves ending in The Slam being tossed to the entrance ramp.

The Slam is actually really fun to watch. I’ve said it before, and I’ll probably keep saying it: The Slam is like a slightly doughy Junior Heavyweight Chinese version of Goldberg. He explodes around the ring. He has the most experience in actual years of all the Chinese wrestlers, but I wonder if some further excursions to North America or Japan would clear up some of his flaws?

As the match builds to a close the quality is marred by a weirdly botched Jackhammer by The Slam on Hayden Zenith, that may have been Zenith’s fault, while Dalton Bragg does a run-in to check on a downed referee. This botch wouldn’t have been half as noticeable if they had only used one camera angle, but they decided to instant replay it and provide commentary highlighting it…

Match ends when Hayden Zenith wins over The Slam after Dalton Bragg nails the founding father of Chinese Pro-Wrestling with his granny cane and reveals his injury to be a sham.

Grade: C+

Have you been to any wrestling shows in unexpected places? Do you have any comments or questions? Please leave your feedback here!

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#DiscoveringWrestling #005 – The Arrogant Atheist Speaks: An interview with Dalton Bragg

This past week I had the opportunity to do a quick interview session with Dalton Bragg, the bombastic American wrestler who had the unique honour of being the first ever MKW Champion, to better understand who he is and what the Chinese wrestling scene is truly like, from a competitor’s perspective. His answers were sometimes brazen, showing Bragg truly lives up to his moniker as The Arrogant Atheist, but were also informative and enlightening.

NC: Why compete in China? What drove your decision to compete in such a “fresh” territory?

DB: After I was unfairly ousted from Mid-South Wrestling Alliance in Oklahoma, I decided to reflect on my career. I had wrestled in various states, spreading the good word of atheism and demonstrating what wrestling truly looks like… But something was missing. I was never able to reach the top of a promotion. I wasn’t receiving the recognition I knew I deserved. So Dalton Bragg decided to go to one of the only places in the world that hadn’t been exposed to wrestling. A place that would appreciate and not demonize an atheist. Dalton Bragg went to China to establish professional wrestling where no other wrestler or promotion had ever been able to. I decided China would be the best place to refocus my career and wrestling style to see what works in the eyes of people who have no experience with wrestling. It was a chance for me to evolve my wrestling style… So that when I return to the US, I will be unique and unpredictable.

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How would you rate this on the Muta-Meter?

NC: What does it mean to you to be the first ever Middle Kingdom Wrestling champion?

DB: Being the first ever MKW Champion is a long overdue acknowledgment of my greatness. For too long I have been overlooked and under appreciated. Becoming MKW Champion was an inevitability, and it’s no surprise that my reign has lasted well over 500 days.

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Bragg-ing about his victory.

NC: What is it like wrestling in front of a Chinese audience versus wrestling in front of an American audience?

DB: The difference is stark. An American audience demonizes and hates me from the moment they announce The Arrogant Atheist’s arrival. The Chinese audience sat in awe of my greatness. They soaked in the feast of my appearance with their eyes quietly and respected the spectacle of the most amazing wrestler they had ever and will ever witness. An American audience would yell at me, tell me I suck after I had just nailed a perfectly executed springboard code breaker… A Chinese audience gasped and tried to pick their jaws up off the floor. An American audience would shout death threats at me after I won… A Chinese audience would beg me for a photo

NC: Do you change your style drastically in China versus in America?

DB: The entire purpose of going to China was to evolve my style. It was difficult to adjust to the new style of competition Chinese wrestlers offered. But it certainly made me a better wrestler. Being able to adjust to different styles, different levels of talent is an important skill in this business and it’s one I mastered in my time in China.

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Superkick! Isn’t that gimmick infringement?

NC: What made you want to be a Pro-Wrestler?

DB: There was no one moment that made me want to be a wrestler. I was born to do it. This business shaped and molded me. I don’t even remember my past life. The first day I stepped into a ring was the day Dalton Bragg was born. I live for this industry and for better or worse, wrestling is what I am until I die. Being a wrestler is not a matter of “want” to me… It’s simply all I am.

NC: Cagematch.net lists on their bio for you that you were trained in part by Jerry Lynn and Mick Foley, is that true? What was the most important lesson each man taught you?

DB: Jerry Lynn taught me how to throw a beautiful arm drag. Lynn was a classy guy and I wish I had gotten more time with him. Mick Foley taught me less about actual moves and more about in ring psychology. I’ll never forget him explaining to me how pro wrestling is like porn. “You save the money shot for the end.” Foley taught me the why, instead of the how. It was an honor to learn from one of the only people who[se] body can withstand as much punishment as mine.

Also, for the record: Mick Foley is one of the nicest people you will ever meet in the pro-wrestling business.

NC: What stands out to you in regards to how a Chinese audience engages with Pro-Wrestling?

DB: As I mentioned, the Chinese are very new to wrestling. They were often confused by it but always impressed. I put a lot of work into connecting with that audience and showing them how to be a part of the show. In wrestling, the audience is very much a living aspect of what we do and the Chinese audience is like a baby learning to walk and talk. They’re learning when to high five the wrestlers, and how to interact with the show.

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They say he’s cocky, but does he back it up?

NC: What stands out to you in regards to how Chinese Pro-Wrestlers approach Pro-Wrestling?

DB: This is easy. With the exception of only one Chinese wrestler in all of China, Chinese wrestlers are nothing more than fans, putting on stretchy pants and pretending to be wrestlers. They are inexperienced and have this false sense of professionalism. The worst example is The Slam. He is a self-trained moron who would be considered nothing more than a “yarder” in the states. Buying a title belt online doesn’t make you a champion. Coming out to Goldberg’s music doesn’t make you Goldberg. And just because you have a ring, doesn’t mean you know how to wrestle. Other Chinese wrestlers are inexperienced and have a long way to go. I worry about them because many of them are not being trained by an adequate instructor. The only Chinese wrestler worthy of being called a pro-wrestler is The Selfie King, Hong Wan. That kid is young and a bit inexperienced, but he gets the business. If he sticks with it, he will be great. It was a true honor to share a ring with him.

NC: What is your favourite match from your time in China so far?

DB: Obviously my favorite match is the moment I became the first ever MKW Champion. I will forever be etched in Chinese history as the man who beat 3 men in two days, overcame an insane man dislocating my elbow moments before my title match, defeating a fresh opponent who hadn’t wrestled in the same tournament… And still finding a way to achieve my first major championship. Not to mention my place in world history as a member of the first ever pro wrestling match to be filmed in virtual reality. Dalton Bragg vs Voodoo will always mean a lot to me.

NC: What do you see as the future of Pro-Wrestling in China?

DB: The Chinese wrestling scene starts and ends with MKW. It will go as far as promoter Adrian Gomez is willing to take it. They still have a lot of work they need to do like most promotions… but I think they have a good group of guys and a good vision. Hopefully Adrian is better able to utilize the skills of those around him in the future. If he can delegate and give up some of his control over certain aspects of MKW, I think MKW will flourish and I’m confident he will be more successful than any of the rival “promotions” trying to run in China. That being said, I don’t know that wrestling will ever take off in the same way it has in America or Mexico or Japan. I don’t think the culture will accept it the same way. But that doesn’t mean it isn’t profitable or worth pursuing.

NC: Why do you think that the Chinese won’t take to Pro-Wrestling to the same degree that Japan, Mexico, and America have?

DB: I think the Japanese, Mexican and American scenes were cultivated from decades of building up a high quality product that became a major aspect of the local culture. The Chinese wrestling scene won’t have decades before the WWE monopolizes the product in the country and makes competition and growth impossible. Wrestling will only be as big as WWE decided it will be in China. Chinese fans demand a certain amount of perfection in their entertainment… And other products won’t be able to compare to the WWE’s production value. Chinese fans won’t tolerate an inferior product and won’t give other promotions a chance to develop.

To elaborate on what I said about the Chinese audience demanding perfection, I mean that they appreciate the look over the substance. A Chinese audience will be more impressed with the high quality production that the WWE brings, with proper venues, a beautiful ring, beautiful people, bright lights, huge pyrotechnics, etc… than they will [be] with the high quality wrestling you can find in the US, Japan and/or Mexico. A Chinese audience wouldn’t even know to be impressed with a 630 splash because they didn’t grow up watching the sport evolve from a time when scoop slams and suplex[es] were impressive finishers. But they will certainly know enough to recognize a mistake… And in my experience, the Chinese culture isn’t as forgiving of mistakes when it comes to entertainment.

NC: What do you want your legacy in Chinese Pro-Wrestling to be?

DB: I think it’s obvious what my legacy is. Dalton Bragg will always be remembered in Chinese lore as the man who brought pro wrestling to the people of China. Before I went to China, there was no attention being given to that country. Then I help MKW get some attention, and before you know it, the WWE is swooping in and trying to monopolize the industry there. If you think it’s coincidence that they waited until there was an upstart promotion showing promise, you’re an idiot. I will take credit for wherever Pro-Wrestling goes in China.

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What am I looking at?

NC: When will we see Dalton Bragg versus El Dulce Hombre?

DB: I discovered El Dulce Hombre [, known as Candy Brother in MKW,] in Oklahoma and I’ve worked to get him booked wherever I go to help him get noticed. But until he starts winning some matches, we can’t pretend he’s on my level. He has promise, and fans love him… But at the end of the day we all know who the better worker is.

 

Thank you for reading this and don’t forget to ask questions, bookmark this page, and follow me on Twitter, and FaceBook, to make certain you are always #DiscoveringWrestling

#DiscoveringWrestling #004 – International Expeditions (Review of MKW Thailand Edition Episode 1)

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Cool Poster, Guys!

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.

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If you don’t love Kinnikuman, you’re a bad person!

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

 

Conclusion

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.

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

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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.

 

#DiscoveringWrestling #002 – 5000 Years of Chinese History (MKW: Middle Kingdom Wrestling) Part 2

When I initially decided that I wanted to cover Pro-Wrestling companies on the fringes, outside of the mainstream Wrestling media coverage, I figured it would be a hard sell. I knew that it was a subject that I was direly interested in, and which desperately needed more coverage. However, I had no clue when I first set out to write last week’s article almost a month ago (Damn, I was slow to get started!), that the reception and level of support for this idea would be as strong as it has been. I’m not going to gussy it up and over-inflate my ego. I honestly thought I’d have a few friends read my first #DiscoveringWrestling piece disinterestedly, pat me on the back for a “good job”, and that would be that.

Instead, I was greeted with excitement from the wrestling fans who read it, praise for the quality of my writing, and encouragement to keep going onward from professionals running the kinds of companies that I want to talk about. I should have had a suspicion that this was a good idea when Adrian Gomez, the founder of Middle Kingdom Wrestling, agreed to be interviewed by me off of a glance over my previous blog efforts and the fact that I wanted to research wrestling from around the world. I had expected to be refused, but he graciously accepted – and well before he had ever seen what I had to say about his company.

I happily sent him a brief list of questions by e-mail and waited, admittedly anxiously, for his response. What follows is the first interview, and definitely not the last, in the #DiscoveringWrestling series and I would like to sincerely thank Adrian Gomez for taking the time to help us all to better understand his approach to and engagement with Pro-Wrestling, as well as to help kick this series off!

NC: Who are you and how would you describe yourself?

AG: My name is Adrian Gomez.  I love pro wrestling, and traveling and living all over the world.

NC: What made you decide to be the guy who would take advantage of the opportunity you saw for Pro-Wrestling in China?

AG: I’m an expat. I love pro wrestling. I love pro wrestling so much, that I’m willing to take this risk. I love China, I love the way of life here, I love the language. It’s what I was born to do, I feel.

NC: How long have you been living in China?

AG: I’ve been living in China for six years now.

NC: I can think of no better name for a pro-wrestling company in China than Middle Kingdom Wrestling, it evokes a sense of awe and reverence for the cultural heritage of 5000 years of Chinese history. How did you land on that name? What is the meaning behind your logo?

AG: Hahaha! Yes, there are a lot of people that like Middle Kingdom Wrestling just based on our name.  Yes, it’s pretty cool, isn’t it ?  If it evokes the feeling of 5000 years of Chinese history, then that’s exactly why we chose that name.  The logo has a piece of The Great Wall of China on it.

NC: What do you see as the influence of Chinese history and traditional Martial Arts on the way Pro-Wrestling is performed in the country?

AG: Absolutely.  You’re going to see the way we incorporate Kung fu with Pro Wrestling soon.  It’s just a natural fit between both styles of fighting to merge together.

NC: I’ve read some articles that give me a limited understanding of Pro-Wrestling in China, so I know you aren’t the only game in town (so to speak), and I was wondering how you would describe the Chinese Pro-Wrestling scene?

AG: We’ve been working with The Slam, the original Chinese Pro Wrestler, who has been trying to get pro wrestling started in China for over ten years. He’s the only guy in China who can train, he’s the only guy in China that can buil[d] rings. He’s been having his own small pro wrestling shows for almost a decade, and we’ve developed a strong relationship. We are just two people that love pro wrestling and we both want to bring this scene into China’s mainstream.

NC: Was the first season of MKW TV you’ve posted to YouTube filmed at your first event, or had you had previous events?

AG: That was our first, right. We filmed season 1 over two days.

NC: What kind of wrestling do the Chinese like most? and, what about Pro-Wrestling connects with the Chinese audience?

AG: This is a brand new pro wrestling market, right – so in a lot of ways, you can kind of go back to the basics. They like the athleticism that “Kung fu pro wrestling” style brings, but they also love the simple larger than life stars lifting their opponents up for a gorilla press.  They love the comedy aspects, they love the sense of wonder. I think that our live audience reacts to almost everything in a positive way.

NC: How would you describe the style of MKW? What kind of wrestling is it that you do?

AG: I don’t believe in featuring just one style of pro wrestling.  Yes, we have Chinese Pro Wrestlers and yes, some of them do the “Kung Fu” wrestling, but we have all sorts of styles.  MKW pro wrestler Candy Brother wrestles lucha style, Selfie King incorporates gymnastics and so on.  If we had more guys available with different styles, I’d incorporate them as well. It’s about giving everybody a little bit of everything.

NC: Travelling to foreign lands to learn, adapt, and hone one’s skills has been a large part of Pro-Wrestling’s storied legacy and has been the foundation of many very successful performers’ careers in the business. What kind of opportunities do Chinese Pro-Wrestlers have to travel the world and learn different styles and develop their skills?

AG: MKW is all about developing relationships with other promotions around the world. Our guys, through MKW, have a chance to travel to so many places in the world.  Take this November – we’re bringing several MKW pro wrestlers to their first ever Thailand trip in Pattaya, in a huge two day long event called International Pattaya Showdown: Wrestlestar III.  There will be wrestlers from a dozen countries! What a great opportunity to learn from pro wrestling styles all over the world.

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NC: I’m interested to know how you discovered the workers you have brought in from Hong Kong, Taiwan, the United States, and the United Kingdom? Was it difficult to get people to come to China? Do you have any favourite promotions from these regions?

AG: Oh man, that’s a great story.  I studied, I traveled, I had to meet other people to meet other people. I had to know him or her, to get to know him or her.  It was like traveling on a web. I went to Taiwan, I went to Hong Kong, I went everywhere, to make friends and share with them my idea about Middle Kingdom Wrestling.

NC: Do you have any experience in the Pro-Wrestling business outside of your ventures in China?

AG: I’ve always tried to help out at my local independent wrestling events back in the states. Hold the camera, drive wrestlers around, etc.

NC: Do you have any favourite companies, wrestlers, and/or matches that have influenced your opinion on what wrestling is?

AG: My favourite wrestlers are Chris Jericho, Daniel Bryan, Mick Foley, AJ Styles and Eddie Kingston – from the indie scene.  I love WWE and Ring of Honor.  Especially ROH Vs. CZW era Ring of Honor. Great stuff that was.

NC: What does it mean to you to see Hoho Lun and Jason Lee representing Chinese Pro-Wrestling in the WWE #CWC (Cruiserweight Classic)?

AG: Wow, sometimes you just can’t believe it’s happening – it’s really happening. WWE putting their attention in China in such a big way like that, even hiring MKW superstars. It’s great.

NC: In an article I read on pigchina.com you implied that your key to success would be through the presentation of characters and gimmicks, “developing characters…with Chinese characteristics“, rather than more sports-like presentations such as the CWF, why is that?

AG: There’s been quite a few one off pro wrestling shows that have toured China.  I can tell you, for certain, that Chinese audience[s] don’t react much to chain wrestling. I learned that very quickly, so we changed our focus to offer more entertainment.  We love to make people smile. That’s what we want to focus on.  If you watch MKW TV: Chinese Pro Wrestling, we’ve taken a lot of inspiration from WWE Monday Night Raw.  We try to build stories, our episodes are not just pure wrestling.

NC: How big is your ring?

AG: It’s 14 by 14

NC: While watching the episodes of MKW TV that you’ve made available on YouTube, I was struck by how much bigger and more polished The Selfie King got between seasons. What was he up to in the interim?

AG: The Selfie King H.W. is our baby.  We believe that he is the Future of Chinese Pro Wrestling.  He had a rough night the first episode of MKW TV – Ho Ho Lun did too, they weren’t able to talk over their match. Anyway, not to make excuses, Selfie King started training a lot more between seasons, and [started] getting a lot of advice especially from MKW Champion Dalton Bragg.  Dalton Bragg and Big Sam both see a lot in “Selfie King” Hong Wan. Our goal is to send him to Japan at some point and put him over in a big way.  He’s the future of this business, we feel.

NC: Finally, what do you see as the future of Pro-Wrestling, generally, and Middle Kingdom Wrestling, specifically, in China?

AG: We just want to give Chinese pro wrestlers and Pro Wrestlers all over the world a platform to be able to wrestle regularly in China and Chinese Pro Wrestling fan a product that they can proudly support as Chinese Pro Wrestling.

 

When i received Adrian’s response to my questionnaire, I was immediately struck by how passionate he was, and how friendly. It felt like I was sitting down for a beer to catch up with an old friend. This was a familiar experience for me. I’ve felt that way many times before when talking with Pro-Wrestling fans. We are connected by our passions, and it takes a special kind of passion to weather the storm that often accompanies loving Pro-Wrestling. In retrospect, it shouldn’t have surprised me that he was willing to take time out of his busy life for my fledgling blog. Passionate people want to talk about their passions with people who can understand them, and when you add a fascinating and exciting product like Chinese Pro-Wrestling into the mix, you must want to shout it from the rafters everywhere you go. I know I have been. Okay, maybe not literally the rafters.

So, then, what can we take away from the information found herein? First and foremost is the confirmation that the Chinese Pro-Wrestling audience has yet to decide on what it likes best, what gets it going the most in a match. As a fresh audience to the art of Wrestling, they react well to most things now. I’d be interested to check back in on those questions in five or ten years time and see if the response has changed, if the broad acceptance of all tropes of Pro-Wrestling has developed into a Hybrid-Style spiced up by the Chinese worldview and identity or if one aspect has risen to the forefront as the preferred expression, the “National Style“. Doubly interesting, in this same regard, is the general disinterest that the Chinese audience has for chain-wrestling. “What does this speak to?” is the question that comes to mind. Could it be that their unfamiliarity with the genre has yet to give them an appreciation for the technical expressions of style, or is there something innate to chain-wrestling that just doesn’t, and will never, really click with the Chinese audience? These are things to keep your eyes on.

Furthermore, I found it both exciting and interesting to see that the one performer I asked a direct question about, The Selfie King, is the pet project of Adrian Gomez and that the more experienced wrestlers who have been brought in to bolster the roster of MKW see big things for his future. Part of my excitement is self-congratulatory, as I love to play armchair talent scout. If I were starting up a new company in China, or looking to run some tours in the country, and I saw him develop that quickly into an exciting competitor, I certainly would want to scoop him up and push him hard. He has a bright future, and hopefully he’ll get that world-travelled pedigree that all great wrestlers seem to get and you can see him live in your neck of the woods one day.

Finally, and this will be explored further in later posts so I’ll just touch on it briefly here, Adrian tells us how much of a focus for him there is in building inter-promotional relationships  and co-promoting shows. While he only directly mentions the Wrestlerstar III show in Thailand, his dedication to this philosophy can be verified by the announcements that they will also be co-promoting shows in China with help from the APWA as well as in South Korea with the PLA. This normally would be really exciting, as crossover events always add spice to your cards, but with Adrian also saying that the ROH vs CZW feud is one of his favourite times in Pro-Wrestling I would wager that, as these relationships develop, some intriguing storylines will arrive.

To keep up to date with all the latest news and developments in Middle Kingdom Wrestling and other interesting promotions from around the world, keep an eye on the #DiscoveringWrestling series on NuclearConvoy.com and head over to my FaceBook page and Twitter to like and follow me. For more information on MKW right from the source, head over to their Website, FaceBook page and Twitter and like and follow them as well.

And don’t forget, sharing is caring, so if you know anyone else who’d love to learn more about the dark corners of the Pro-Wrestling world, send them my way!

#DiscoveringWrestling #001 – 5000 Years of Chinese History (MKW: Middle Kingdom Wrestling) Part 1

For a long while now, I’ve wanted to add my voice to the world of professional wrestling commentary, but I’ve never before understood what I had to offer, or what I wanted to talk about. There are millions of voices out there chronicling the big leagues with fervor and unquestionable talent. I’m no Dave Meltzer, and don’t think I ever could be, and I could never dare compete with the comedic styling of Adam Blampied over on WhatCulture. I am, however, a passionate fan of this most unique of all performing arts, and my passions skew a little to the left of most of the mainstream coverage. So, I’m going to try and find the things that excite me the most and talk about that, and when necessary we’ll have to slide back up to the WWE for a moment or two.

Easily my favourite thing about pro-wrestling is how versatile it is as a medium, and how this has lead to various regions of the world honing and crafting unique interpretations of the art. These interpretations have gone on to influence each other, going through resurgences and disappearances, and hopped all over the globe creating new offshoots and hybrids as they interact with each other. In Japan you have the lauded Strong Style, known worldwide and heralded as the brainchild of Antonio Inoki, but alongside it you have Giant Baba’s King’s Road, Ultimo Dragon’s Lucharesu lineage (as the name implies, a Japanese derivative of Lucha Libre, Mexico’s vaunted addition to Pro-Wrestling), the Death Match scene, the revolutionary Joshi styles, and much, much more. Japan is a tiny country, and yet their output is so varied and innovative, because Pro-Wrestling is limitless. This diversity is found everywhere the art goes, and as time marches ever onward, so does Pro-Wrestling, finding itself in new areas it has never been before.

Even before the WWE’s #CWC (Cruiserweight Classic) announced its list of competitors, I had been on a hunt for information on what Pro-Wrestling was like in places that have yet to hit the global scene, and had come across the name of Hoho Lun, and a mainland Chinese organization he had done work for by the name of Middle Kingdom Wrestling. Pro-Wrestling in China is a hatchling, barely existing, and, in the future, MKW could be standing at the forefront of a national style, like NJPW in Japan. With the power of the internet we have an invaluable opportunity to get in on the ground floor and watch it happen, because they’ve made the exciting decision to put it all up on YouTube (the logistics of this are interesting, considering they operate out of mainland China).  Now, there are distinct Pros and Cons to their decision to get Chinese wrestling onto YouTube ASAP, and I’ll run down the Cons before we move on, because I’d like to focus on the Pros.

The camera work and production values are unique. This one will actually show up in the Pros as well, but it can be a Con. It’s not the smooth work you want, and it’s often many steps below the recordings done by North American indie shows, but between season one and season two, the quality improves a good deal. I’d wager that the biggest contributors to the poor quality are the cameras they are using. Numerous times when the action is in motion and the wrestlers and cameramen are moving about, the camera will go out of focus. This is obviously unintended, as I cannot imagine any wrestling promotion thinking, “Yes, let’s make it more difficult for our viewers to see what’s going on“.  It’s rough but overall this is forgivable. On literally their first show they filmed it and put it online. There are bound to be hiccups, and while they’re unavoidable, it didn’t at any point knock me completely out of enjoying the show.

The commentary is on the weird side, with “characters” rotating in and out between “episodes“. These “characters“, unless I am terribly mistaken, are all voiced by the same two people, and I could certainly do without that. Stability in the announcing team would be best, in my opinion, to add to the atmosphere of the shows. Some of the moves are called right, some aren’t. This is something that even the WWE can’t escape, unless Mauro Ranallo is on the mic (because he’s pretty much flawless). There’s room to grow on their commentary team. I didn’t hate them, like some commentators, but they just felt off. We’ll see how they go as more episodes air.

Y’know, the more I think of it, these Cons are all part of one problem in particular, and this is a problem that literally only doing more shows will cure: They’re green. The company is very young and, based on publicised data, nobody involved has a huge amount of experience in performing in their roles. It can’t be helped, and, most importantly, I can see the potential underneath it all. Some of their spots look awkward or overly telegraphed. It’s natural. I’ve seen that at small indie shows in North America all the time. Their booking is not particularly inspired, but they neither have the history of long-standing feuds nor the depth of roster needed for truly great wrestling booking. In their first season they put their brand-new belt on an American whom I’d never heard of before named Dalton Bragg, and it bothered me at first that they hadn’t put the belt on a native Chinese wrestler. Again, I can’t fault them for this decision. The local talent aren’t as experienced and when they are experienced, they were on loan from somewhere else. Furthermore, it seems Dalton has made MKW his home. He seems, rather surprisingly to me, to have a connection with the attendees. I expect that the numbers in attendance should grow as the shows continue. Hopefully they can get up to a regular touring schedule and draw a steady audience, cementing themselves as the premiere Chinese Pro-Wrestling group.

Now, from a position wherein I recognize that not everything they do will be great immediately, let’s talk about where the shows succeed, and where I see potential underneath the roughness. Remember that unique camera work I talked about? Well, here’s what’s good about it:  the camera seems to routinely luck its way into some really dramatic shots, such as when the massive King Michael is standing across the ring from his opponent, The Slam,  and the camera moves up from behind him to give the viewer a shot of his opponent that highlights their size difference (You can watch that video here ). Now, with the equipment and skill level involved, the effect is dampened a bit, but when I first watched it I knew that this could be done again and to great effect in the future, with more practice and better cameras.

While the image quality isn’t the best, and the production values are amateur, they do this nice slow-motion effect on the end of a match that really spices up their otherwise unremarkable presentation. It’s a little cheesy, and certainly wouldn’t be possible in a live broadcast, but it adds a unique flavour to their shows that I can’t say I have ever seen done before. Sure, some companies will do slow-mo replays, but these guys work that shit right into the match!

The talent in the ring varies, with some performers being rather special considering how recently they had started off in the business. Such as The Selfie King, whom I can honestly say has a great gimmick that represents a distinct portion of the Chinese zeitgeist. He plays up his gimmick throughout his matches, stopping to take selfies on the outside, exuding true heelish arrogance, and at one point he even lays down next to his defeated opponent and takes a selfie with him, staying true to his moniker. He shows some good development between the two seasons, bulking up, growing his hair out a bit, and getting some better ring gear. Then there’s a more veteran Chinese wrestler on the shows: The Slam, a man with one of the greatest ring names ever. The Slam is something like an energetic slightly-doughy Asian Goldberg who keeps a frenetic pace and looks crisp in every moment except for one, and that’s when it appeared he didn’t have all the muscle needed to deal with slamming the massive King Michael. I’d love to see The Slam put on some additional muscle-mass/definition and really look as great as I think he can. But he’s not really an MKW guy, as the announcers will routinely let you know. He’s a champ elsewhere (in reality, the champ of the group that MKW are partnering with to have access to a ring and put on these shows, a group which, if my facts are straight, was founded by The Slam). But I gotta say, the guy who hooked my attention the most, was a Taiwanese wrestler named LenBai, who feels like he understands the Strong Style concept very well, and finishes his matches with a move I can only describe as a Fisherman’s Death Valley Driver. He displayed a vicious streak out of nowhere during the first season, and a half-painted face that really connected with me and makes me want to see more of him. He draws on the mystique of characters like The Great Muta, and exhibits a solid understanding of the psychology involved in properly executing his gimmick.

wrestlers3-768x902Image originally from “Sino Smackdown” article on pigchina.com, link can be found at the bottom of the article.

This is, momentarily, where I’ll talk about the WWE. This year they have arranged for a showcase of global talent in the #CWC, Cruiserweight Classic, that is stunning to say the least. As I watched these matches and I listened to the commentary I began to understand something about the world of wrestling. It is ever evolving and parts of the world are being opened up to it by impassioned people who are seizing the opportunity to put their stamp, their own personal and national identity, on the Pro-Wrestling stage. Hoho Lun, who won his first round match in that esteemed tournament held by the big guys, founded the Hong Kong Pro-Wrestling Federation, and has been in both seasons of MKW TV on YouTube thus far. This young man brought Pro-Wrestling to his home. We in North America live in a part of the world with some of the deepest and richest roots for the industry, leading it in one very big, loud, shiny direction for a long while now as a new style percolates on the indie scene, with uncountable options to meet our needs and an established market for the medium. We cannot really fathom what it would be like to be part of the birth of it, but boy have I always wanted to see what it was like.

No matter what my, or your, concerns are with the quality of these shows, there is an undeniably interesting opportunity and a wealth of underlying potential  to Middle Kingdom Wrestling. Getting in at the beginning of an entire country, the most populous country in the world, discovering and engaging with Pro-Wrestling, authoring its own narrative in the grand history of this art, is an exciting prospect. Where will this go? What will Five-Thousand years of Chinese History do to Pro-Wrestling?

These are questions that I could never begin to guess at the answers to. I’ve studied Chinese history, both in school and in my leisure time, and have found myself lost in countless stories and cultural myths. Their pop culture has maintained strong roots to this history and mythology, with cinema genres that are uniquely Chinese captivating my attention for much of my life (Wuxia cinema is entrancing), and I can certainly see how I, as a western fan of their culture, would try to respectfully adapt their cultural uniqueness to Pro-Wrestling. However, it isn’t my place to do so and I am far more excited to see what their history, mythology, martial arts traditions, and unique perspectives on arts and entertainment will add to Pro-Wrestling when authored by their own hands, from their own minds. I’d wager that in the early years they will hew closely to styles and ideas imported from Japan and “the west” until they find their footing in the art form and then we will see them truly flourish, developing their own styles that are uniquely Chinese expressions of Pro-Wrestling. That is what I am looking forward to, and that is why we should all be keeping an eye on the Chinese Pro-Wrestling scene and Middle Kingdom Wrestling.

Come back next week for Part 2 of my coverage of Middle Kingdom Wrestling. I had the unique and exciting opportunity to interview Adrian Gomez, the man who founded MKW. .

If you’d like to watch all the MKW matches, head over and subscribe to their YouTube channel here, and for more information on the nascent state of Pro-Wrestling in China, there are some good articles from Forbes here and PIG China here. Middle Kingdom Wrestling’s website can be found here.