Rumours abound about OWE, but where does the truth lie?

Shortly after my last article detailing the shifting approach to business OWE are undertaking to adapt to their circumstances was published, in direct response to one set of criticism and rumors that had begun to circulate online, another round of criticism and rumors was brought to light by someone posting on Facebook.

See the text in question, captured as a screencap, in these images.

I was initially taken aback by the claims the poster made about the Canadian shows being cancelled. While it is true that the shows did not happen exactly as originally intended, they nevertheless did occur and are available for free on FiteTV at present. This incongruity with reality led me to be skeptical of the claims made throughout the rest of the posted diatribe.

This time, however, the comments were being presented from the perspective of a wrestler in China who had been offered a job with the company, and not simply an anonymous friend-of-a-friend. A wrestler who distinguished himself as separate from the Chinese talent. This gave me a clear angle of approach to the comments in question, so I reached out to as many western workers who had performed for OWE as I could, in search of their insight into the comments made. Most of them agreed to disclose their opinions on these issues under the condition that I kept their feedback anonymous.

Section One: Statements Concerning CIMA

For those who closely follow the evolving news surrounding Japan’s #2 promotion, Dragon Gate, it is no secret that CIMA’s departure was not an amicable one. The bad blood is indeed, presently, still an issue. While former stars such as Akira Tozawa and Shingo Takagi, both now employed elsewhere, sent in video packages in celebration of the company’s 20th anniversary, CIMA has been scrubbed from video. Mike Spears, co-host of the Dragon Gate centric Open the Voice Gate podcast explained the relationship to me, saying “I believe the best way to describe the current relationship is that there is a clear separation without any indication of a reconciliation coming soon.”

In my interactions with Michael Nee and Huayang Fu it is clear to me that both of them are aware of NJPW as a brand, and of the position it holds in the Japanese wrestling landscape. Additionally, none of the people I spoke with could offer up any evidence or corroboration for the claims that CIMA lied to OWE about the level of importance of Dragon Gate in the Japanese marketplace. They did, however, have a lot to say about the claims that CIMA hates Americans, and that he was absent for much of the time OWE has been around.

One of them, who even explained to me that he had had disagreements with CIMA during their interactions, told me “There’s no proof that I know of that CIMA doesn’t like Americans.” Another illustrated it as such “CIMA didn’t entirely hate us but he does hate American wrestling. That he’s said so himself. But he does like anyone that can do the fast pace, highspot, super indy style.” A third told me “I don’t really know about any of the CIMA stuff, he certainly didn’t care to help any of the foreigners though.” Meanwhile, Jay Cafe told me that he “enjoyed the opportunity to train with CIMA the times he was there to train.”

Unexpectedly, one of the men I spoke with also shed some light on the situation described between CIMA and one of his students. “the story about CIMA and the student was very exaggerated” he told me, “one of his students getting drunk is true but he didn’t stay with the Americans out of fear of CIMA, he went with them because he was very drunk and they offered to take him back home to rest. I nor anyone else that was there never saw or heard of CIMA “verbally destroying him” and he still travels by CIMA to this day.”

It seems that, overall, there are a variety of different experiences performers have had with CIMA while in OWE. The less-than-favorable reactions CIMA may have given towards some performers may very well have been due to stylistic disagreements. CIMA has been long known to have been influential in the careers of many very successful western performers such as the Young Bucks, Ricochet, and PAC. With that in mind,  it is hard to believe that he simply dislikes Americans as a rule, particularly in the light of what has been said above.

However, with regards to his involvement levels in OWE’s training regime, the statements made had more uniform responses. On that matter, one performer indicated that he “agrees about every word on CIMA.” Another, more elaborately, told me “he was hardly there and hardly trained the Chinese wrestlers after a certain point, around last summer. THawk and Lindaman would train when they were around but it was also not often. Although there was always Americans around after a few months the decision was made to end all training by Americans leaving us with nothing to do.”

With CIMA’s international obligations having remained at a high volume after he signed on with OWE, it isn’t much of a surprise to learn that he hasn’t been the primary trainer after the initial set-up was completed and a baseline of quality and expectations established. Obligations being what they are, he has spent much of his time in Japan, Europe, Mexico, the United States, and even Canada. As I’ve reported before, the company has brought in Skayde for a training stint previously, and the advanced students are presently handling a lot of the day-to-day training. While not as experienced as CIMA, I’d wager that their development is still in good hands from an athletic, moves oriented perspective. Time will tell how well they tell stories.

Section Two: Statements Concerning Pay and Chinese Management

The situation regarding pay for western workers is presented as fairly bleak by the writer of these comments, he explains that not only is the pay lower than that which was agreed upon before talents arrived in China, but that additionally “they [OWE] are illegally taxing your salary.”

These statements, amongst those I spoke with, were met with wildly varying levels of agreement. For some performers, like Jay Cafe, the situation played out in exactly the opposite way, as he explained that  the”First tour [he] did from [the] end of April to the middle of June [he] wasn’t making a lot. When [he] came back in August [he] had a meeting in which they raised [his] salary.” Another echoed this sentiment, saying ” My money was always right, in fact they paid me more than they said.” A third expressed that ” they have always stood by their word with me”

This is, however, not where the story ends. One particular performer told me ” We wouldn’t know when we would be paid or had to go through long all day ordeals to get paid and at one point they cut all of our pay in half without notice. Myself, I was always paid the agreed upon amount although sometimes it was like I said; a confusing and frustrating all day ordeal. But I also saw [someone else] not get the money… originally agreed to before coming to China” these thoughts were echoed by Remy Marcel, who said ” They also made tons of promises then upon getting there for said tour it would change. While our money was always paid out it wasn’t as much as the conditions that were set prior to tour.” He also indicated that ” they paid us and took care of us but it was def[initely] under the table”

While money issues may not have held entirely true to his statements, the writer of this post is correct when he attests that “wrestling is still VERY new” in China, with less than twenty years of existence in the country and no complex history of training and psychology being built up yet. Without a doubt, foreign talent are at any given point the most experienced performers with the most pedigree to their background ― whether they hail from the west or from Japan, this holds true.

The post accuses OWE’s management of being arrogant, thinking that their budget would guarantee fans, and most importantly indicates that OWE “dismissed all of the information the foreign talent tried to pass on to them.” On this matter I would find universal agreement from the western talent who worked there.  One wrestler told me that American talent “would make suggestions at length about training, advertising, merchandise, stories, characters, and almost all of it was ignored. In the end we were just kind of there.”

Jay Cafe confirmed this sentiment, saying ” The office would pull the Americans into a meeting and ask us what they could do better and then not do anything we suggested.” Another echoed this, saying “most of them don’t understand professional wrestling… they don’t really understand the psychology of the business.” While yet another would state “the Chinese writers were very arrogant and wouldn’t listen us about anything despite them not knowing anything about wrestling.” One told me, specifically, that he “decided to leave because it was clear that Mr. Fu, the owner, had no direction or clue what he was doing. All he cared about was making money but had no idea how and invested very little time or interest in OWE.”

Additionally there are concerns raised about the cancellation of shows. I’ve reported previously that plans have been delayed, pushing dates back several times when the brand was gearing up for weekly shows in Shanghai. Government regulation, red tape, and securing a venue are major obstructive elements in China, which is why it can take months to settle on a date for a show, even for promotions operating on a smaller scale. While a smaller promotion may not catch any flack for delays in securing venues or last minute shuffles caused by governmental oversight, due to the smaller number of eyes on the brand, a lot of attention has been cast upon OWE since its intentionally bombastic beginnings.

Depending on the time period talent were abroad in China, the response to claims about the frequency of cancellations has been wildly varied. Earlier, as the brand was establishing itself, talent indicated to me that “canceled shows did happen frequently and without much notice, that and our venues would seemingly change on a whim.” While talent there more recently have told me “the only time one was cancelled was because of the typhoon.”

For what it is worth, even amidst complaints and requests for anonymity, wrestlers who agreed to speak with me expressed that they were grateful for the opportunity and that they were well taken care of while living abroad. Professional wrestling has a very strong culture associated with it, one which seems to have been rubbed the wrong way in some cases by being forced into a Chinese-dominant context, wherein expectations and norms cannot reasonably be predicted to remain steady. Many foreign businesses have tried to make their business model work in China, only to fail and have to adapt to the realities of Chinese culture, politics, and market forces. It seems unreasonable to expect that western experience in wrestling would succeed where others have failed, just because it is wrestling.

Section Three: Statements Concerning the Chinese Wrestlers

The writer comments that “they basically get paid circus peanuts, and the way that wrestling works [in OWE] is like an MLM scheme.”  And further illustrates this point by stating that the Chinese talent “sign a contract for 8 years, yes 8, then if you try to leave you forfeit the money they owe” to these performers. While it seems a shocking statement, one should not be surprised by learning, at this point, that there are eight years left that these talent remain under contract for, as it has been reported both by myself and elsewhere that these talent, two years ago, signed ten year long contracts.

These contracts, as have been known for a while, are idol style contracts for idol performers, destined to be stars not only in professional wrestling but wider Chinese pop culture as well. This explains why the writer critiques the OWE by claiming that the kids were overworked and laments that “they had to learn literal dancing, acting for stage plays, and occasionally wrestling.” Pretty much without exception, the foreign workers who have been employed by OWE agree with these concerns, and I received further elaboration from some of them.

One of them spoke at length on the matter, stating “The Chinese wrestlers in almost normal fashion in China were indeed severely overworked and criminally underpaid. We would see them have to rehearse for hours into the night long after us or any foreigners got to leave and then have to get up early to take down and/or setup elsewhere. They had to learn new routines all the time and did in fact spend little time actually training for wrestling”

Jay Cafe would further critique OWE on this matter, saying “[the] kids were definitely over worked and because of that never got more ring time to become better and then the office would be like why aren’t they better. It was ridiculous.”

Realistically, I find it hard to feel surprised at learning that the contracts and salaries offered by a Chinese startup company to its Chinese employees is considered subpar for the expectations of a westerner, in light of what is readily available about the Chinese labor market and wages. Trying to measure the wages-to-work-hours ratio of the fledgling Chinese pro wrestling business from a western wrestler’s perspective seems inherently culturally biased, and crucially flawed. While I cannot attest to the details of the OWE rosters’ contracts, I can say that on top of providing every wrestler with a monthly wage, they also provide food, lodging, training, opportunities for international travel, medical care, and numerous other benefits that don’t seem to be factored into the equation when claiming they are worked too hard and paid too little.

It’s not much of a surprise that the writer of this post indicated that “they spent more time outside of the ring, than inside, which shows if you’ve ever seen a live event,” if this is the prevailing opinion from many of the western workers who have passed through the promotion. However, I have seen video of many of the kids, and I have seen one of them live in person, and know those who have seen many more live performances from OWE’s Chinese roster and, frankly, it’s a mixed bag.

Some of OWE’s Chinese roster have taken up the art far better than others, and ring time is far more regularly handed to them than to their weaker peers ―which exacerbates the problem. This particular problem is already known to the management in OWE, and will be addressed by the impending onslaught of daily shows to be had out of their OWE Asia Fight Club Show & Pub.

Furthermore, while wrestling is at the core of OWE’s product, from the very beginning they have not shied away from the fact that they aim to produce a unique and varied product, with roots in both wrestling and Idol culture. From their very first press release, and their very first show, their dance routines, acrobatic displays, and martial arts exhibitions have been centre stage alongside their in-ring performances. In order to put on such a wildly varied array of performances, it must necessitate time spent away from the ring, even if this is unfortunately an element slowing the development of some of their talent as wrestlers.

In regards to the difficulties in getting Chinese talent over to the USA for AEW shows, I have long reported that visa issues have been afoot, fouling up their ability to work there. Outside of this one post, I have never heard anyone from OWE or AEW claim the talent are not ready, it has always been a visas issue and, as Remy Marcel would put it, “the Chinese/American trade stuff made… for a hairy situation.”

Cambodia, he writes, is “compar[ed]… to hell” and that the kids are trapped there. However, as I’ve discussed before, this is not a wholly accurate representation of the situation. Wang Jin has been spending time at his family home to take care of personal matters there, a cadre of talent have been in China for promotional obligations, and the roster will still be travelling for shows in Japan and China come December.

Additionally, “hell” is hardly the words used to describe Cambodia by those I’ve spoken to who have been on the ground in Siem Reap with the kids, explaining to me that “The wrestlers don’t seem upset to be here. They enjoy shopping here as things are so inexpensive.” In fact, the only real negative I’ve heard about their time in Cambodia is that “OWE has now been training the kids to do Cambodian fighting, which most of them don’t want to do.”

Valid concerns were raised, however, about the long-term health of these kids with such a rigorous, diverse training and performance  schedule ahead of them. One individual told me “I do believe the kids are over worked at times. OWE wants to have shows every day. I believe that is too much. And these guys will need a break.. also they do so much in some of their training with high spots that it’s very dangerous.”

It’s been no secret that a star performer for the brand, Gao Jingjia, has suffered more than one injury in his short career as a pro wrestler. As one of OWE’s most routinely put-on-display and high caliber performers he has been out of action for more time than anyone would like to see. In light of this, it seems believable that with daily training and daily performing that talent could wind up racking up a slew of injuries. The fact that those from abroad who have been there share in some of these concerns is, indeed, disconcerting.

While I am always going to lean on the side of performers health, there are ways that this kind of daily performance and training schedule can be structured to minimize the chance of injury. In discussion with local Toronto wrestlers on this matter, namely Buck Gunderson who has experience with the Chinese wrestling landscape himself, it was made evident to me that with a roster as large as OWE’s is, it would not be hard to rotate performing duties between blocks of talent and give them off days to allow them to recuperate.

Section Four: OWE’s Response to Questions + Concerns from Western talent

After numerous interviews with former OWE western talent, much time ruminating on what they had to say in response to the posts made by this anonymous wrestler about OWE, and writing this article itself in more than one draft, I compiled for myself a list of questions that I thought needed answers and reached out to OWE’s VP Michael Nee seeking answers. As has been the norm, he was open to the opportunity to share information about, and perspective from, OWE.

For the sake of transparency, I will admit to having very mildly edited the responses he provided in an effort to improve the clarity of some of the statements being made. I strived to do this as little as possible, and make it as evident as possible by using square brackets.

NC: Several of the western wrestlers who worked for OWE in the past have expressed to me that they were not paid what was agreed upon for their work with the company. Others have said that it was difficult to get the money they were owed, having to go through many difficulties to get paid. Can you explain why this would be how many feel?

MN: We never owe any one of them any money.  They all get their pay and sign on paper when [they] get the money. OWE is a company in China and has its own financial department. We pay all employees on the 10th of every month. Some people might have problems (let’s say from FSW) since they don’t understand the China payment date and they insisted about they should get paid every 30 days, like I arrive on 25, and leave on 25 and I want my whole month salary when the date I leave… but in China we don’t do this way, we pay you on the next 10th for what you are [owed for] your working days from last month, but eventually they all get their payment, that is something for sure.

And there might be once it is better for them to apply local bank debit card, something might be not go that smooth, but again, none of them got no pay before they go home, it is 100% for sure.

NC: Are there any pay disputes you are personally aware of?        

MN: OWE is not a American company, it is in China, sometimes misunderstanding or process might be issued, but all solved. If they all got the money, where is the dispute?

NC: You’ve previously expressed to me that one of OWE’s primary goals in the near future is to gain international recognition and build a global fan base while you slowly build the domestic Chinese market for professional wrestling. Why is it then that all of the western talent I have spoken with say that OWE’s writers and decision makers ignored all of their advice and insight into the business of professional wrestling?

MN: You do know CIMA was the one who helped up to build the whole training system from zero to now, and you do know [that the] Japan[ese] wrestling method and training system is totally different from US or any other places. I was trying to combine both cultures together by communication,  if there were conflicts at the time, and we have to respect CIMA more since he is our general coach.

About OWE writers, I have to tell you the truth , they don’t understand wrestling, but they understand Chinese market, well, even [if] there is no market.  And most important thing that is we are on YouKu and Chin[ese] local TV, please remember that “we are in China,” we have to obey to Chin[ese] rules, and once if we ever made any mistake, OWE will be closed by the government. And of course we were trying to respect every opinions. For the decision maker, to protect OWE not be closed by China’s government is the first priority.  And I have to tell you even we do this way, we still find no market in China so far, and none of any wrestling business can be in China if they all think the western way. Anyway , I have to tell you this is the fact that was happening, some of them might not be 100% happy, but I always explained and meeting with them. I cannot satisfy all of them. But since we offer them the best we can , please also respect us instead of criticizing.

NC: I was told that all of the training led by American talent while they were in China, and drawing a salary from OWE, was cancelled a long time ago? Why did that happen?

MN : From 2017 to most of the 2018, besides CIMA, we had 2 American coaches and we paid pretty high salary to them. Why cancelled ? – too expensive , and that is the only reason. and we told them in advance.

NC: What is OWE’s training like now that it seems that the #Stronghearts wrestlers will not be leading instruction? If it’s just senior OWE roster members leading training, is there a set system or schedule?

MN: After almost 3 years training, OWE’s senior roster team [is] pretty strong, and by the way, CIMA and his team now represent OWE to explore [the] Japan[ese] market. Our Chinese OWE [roster are] now in Cambodia to make living. To find a way to let OWE make living is the first priority. We can’t just spend all away and don’t find the way to make some.

NC: People have raised concerns over the contracts that OWE’s Chinese talent are under,. Specifically, that they are restrictive and that unless the wrestlers pay fees they cannot leave OWE and are, in essence, stuck in Cambodia against their will. We have long known that the roster are under long term contracts, but if they wanted to leave would there be any contractual mechanism in place to prevent their leaving?

MN: 1, OWE Cambodia center has not opened, there is not job now, there is no matches now, how to get overwork??

2, OWE talents, unlike other  independent wrestlers in other countries, they were chosen and contract signed from the very beginning back to 2017. OWE provide everything, OWE spent over millions and millions of money to make them to what they are today. OWE has long term contract with them like any other TV talents or singers for show business. It is much too unfair to say this way. If any people don’t understand about whole story, they cannot criticize OWE like this…. [after I asked for elaboration and clarification, this comment would be elaborated upon, adding the following]

Back to 2017 while OWE selected the talents from martial art schools, all contract deal were signed legally and their parents also involved too. All contracts are protected by law , too many items to support both parties and of course there are some penalties for breaking contract , you cannot just ask me for one single item.

Let me put this way, any company or organization If they have contract from employer and employees, if one party break the contract, it’s protected by the regional laws. And all OWE contract[s are] based on legal laws in China. And of course the contract deal like this should be international common sense. Anyone who break the contract by individual issues or reasons, should they take their own responsibility? It’s not the issue of money, it’s the issue of the sense of law. OWE now have many talents and staffs and the company still running day by day, that proves OWE is not the company that rumors are talking about

3, About Cambodia,  now this might be a chance to make OWE continue the business. OWE signed contract with them from 2017 and now OWE is trying to find a way out, should they support OWE?… [after I asked for elaboration and clarification, this comment would be elaborated upon, adding the following]

We all realize that It’s [going to] take much more time for China[‘s] Market to accept wrestling. OWE we take the responsibility for all crews and the expectation from investors, we now are finding more efficient way out for developing [the brand]. For all the contracted talents after mutually communication and opinions discussion, all talents and staffs want OWE [to] make better [financial success], and support OWE‘s direction. That’s w[h]y all talents are so excited about our South Asia training + show center open on 11/9.

4 , Have you ever came to Cambodia ? If not , you should come . We provide much better place to stay  and everything, and most of all, we provide them the opportunity to make money.  That is why now they all really exciting about this new place, I have no idea who says hell of here, and this is a rumour too unfair to us .

5, We just announce the new salary structure, they will make much more than before, you know why?  Because we can make money here to pay them more.

NC: With these long contracts, how is OWE helping the Chinese roster prepare for their future post-wrestling? Is there an insurance or liability taken out for each student in case they have a severe injury that could endanger their life after wrestling? 

MN: Once again  we provide everything, includ[ing] insurance, and again, the long contract is there total contract package includes show business, they are the key for OWE.

And I have to say something, among those western wrestlers, I don’t see anyone give them any insurance and liability.

NC: Concerns have been raised about the Chinese roster being pushed too hard, training for far too many hours per day and, now, being expected to perform nightly in Cambodia on top of their training. People are worried that this schedule will lead to injuries. Does OWE have a plan in place to make certain its performers have enough rest to stay healthy amidst this rigorous schedule? If so, how will it function?

MN: 1) The daily show will be start[ing] soon, and none of them will be over working,  and till I officially open day, now they rest and gym and train and [get] ready to perform.

2) This is a tourist place, we will not ask them to do something too dangerous, we are much more afraid of they got injured than anybody, however, we invested too much money [than] people can ever imag[ine] to those talents. If you were me, you would just don’t care of them or [would you]try to protect them[?]

3, Now we plan to have each one of them do shows every 2 days, and more shows and less hard core wrestling, as long as the tourist like us , and they are not hard core wrestling fans. we will treat this as training match and also make some money.

NC: Injuries in wrestling are a very real possibility. What kind of plans are in place to provide medical care for wrestlers who are injured?

MN : Insurance.

[At the end of our exchange, outside of the scope of a specific question, Michael Nee would add the following comment:]

MN: At last, OWE is not easy, we got money from investors and the goal is to make money and famous. Now OWE has a little name, and now it’s time to make money, and it is the most important things.  OWE still there, these young talents can make living and maybe be more famous in the future. OWE not there, there will be no any opportunity for in China for wrestling. OWE is the only one who still go for this road. We need support, not rumours.

My Final Thoughts

While one former OWE western employee told me the comments made are “100% accurate! These are [things] I wanted to say publicly, but I stayed tight lipped,” as I’ve laid out above, opinions and experiences are far more nuanced and varied than the picture painted by one man who has not actually worked for the company. Indeed, he stated in his own post that “they offered [him] a job once,” but that he never accepted it.

Remy Marcel told me that “[his] take is mismanagement will be the downfall of the company [if it] doesn’t bounce back.” Many of the people who worked there still hope for the brand to do well, even when factoring in the perceived negatives that they experienced. Everyone who responded to me had positive things to say alongside the concerns they raised. I still want to see the company succeed, and see its promising young Chinese roster become international stars. Without OWE being there to fund and train them, that seems a highly improbable outcome. Indeed, this sentiment is echoed by Remy Marcel as well, who said “[the] reason I stay[ed] for as long was [because of] my love for the Chinese students as they will always be the heart and soul of that company.”

For me, this anonymous post situation speaks to the overwhelming pervasiveness of negativity getting more traction online than positivity, as OWE have continued to churn out content online that rarely gets talked about while numerous people flocked to me asking about this titillating new set of rumours. This element of online behaviour, in this instance, was married to the cultural divide between Western sensibilities and Chinese practices and, well, the news has been filled with those kinds of conflicts lately hasn’t it?

We’re all well aware of how different the measuring stick is for wages and work hours, for what kind of ideas are acceptable or not, between the global west and China. Sensationalizing it from an outsiders perspective seems folly. It is doubtless that, at this particular time, from a strictly western perspective, the hours worked and wages earned may not seem satisfactory. But has anyone seen the figures in comparison to other Chinese labour markets these kids could have ended up in? Everything must be viewed in context. What we may see as being overworked can also be seen as the kids having nothing to worry about other than training, as no day jobs wait on the sidelines for weekend warriors in OWE.

It is clear to me that OWE aims to make these kids in to stars. As a company with less than three full years under its belt, there have been some bumps in the road, some issues with finding direction, focus, and financial success. But if they can right their ship, realistically the sky is the limit. Michael Nee seems absolutely confident that the company’s new venture in Cambodia is that corrective action needed to right their ship and set it back on course to global wrestling phenomenon, now with added Southeast Asian flair. The online fandom have torn apart the idea of Cambodia being a viable financial windfall for the company. Me? I’m going to say this: OWE have surprised me with their big moves in the past, and I hope they continue to do so for many years to come.

 

Amidst negativity, OWE strives to find a path forward

Before I begin, in earnest, with this article I wanted to first make few things clear. This past summer I helped OWE plan and promote events in Toronto, Ontario, Canada. I wore many hats during that time, and got to live out a few dreams of mine in the process. I have a bias, admittedly, and genuinely want nothing but the best for the company.  I was, however, never an employee of OWE. I aim to report the news I uncover honestly, as a service to documenting the development of Chinese Pro Wrestling.

OWE’s last couple of months have been laden with difficulties. Shortly following the shows I produced for the brand in Toronto the storm clouds gathered as the OWE UK promotion fell apart, the promoter OWE had partnered with, Sean McMahon of NEO-TV, ghosted the head office in China and disappeared with fans’ money, cancelling the shows and leaving numerous refunds incomplete for the cancellation of these events.

This happened amidst the chaos of OWE relocating its operations to two separate and distinct locales: Siem Reap, Cambodia and Chengdu, China. The complexities of moving led to more silence than their difficulties deserved and, as such, rumors began to circle which culminated in a handful of posts being made with fairly bold claims.

 

 

In search of answers, I reached out to numerous parties. I’ve spoken with Michael Nee, at length, this week about the concerns at hand. I’ve also attempted to use different channels to get independent confirmations, from reliable sources, on the posted rumors and the statements made by Michael. I’ve messaged Sean McMahon with no response given, and his account on WeChat changed suddenly from being a personal account to a “Degu Media” account. Additionally, I’ve heard back from the likes of CIMA and Sky on the matters that pertain to them.

 

OWE UK’s Collapse – How will OWE resolve these issues???

OWE are intimately aware of the problem caused when Sean McMahon, suddenly and without warning, announced his resignation from OWE UK and the cancellations of the shows on social media. In the early aftermath of this, the lines of connection were still  open for a brief period and the Chinese office were able to convince Sean to process refunds, particularly through having him officially report to several sales platforms he had posted events to that they were indeed cancelled. Unfortunately, as he had also processed payments through the OWE website he had set up, and has since taken down, there are fans who remain unable to secure refunds.

Various sources had, and have continued, to speak openly to me of their misgivings and distrust for Sean McMahon and it came as no big surprise therefore that he has since cut off all communications directly with OWE and the brand itself is unable to secure figures on sales numbers he had made. From the beginning of him starting to sell tickets until the collapse of OWE UK, I am told, he provided none of his sales figures to OWE’s Chinese office.

Notably, as I have been unable to obtain a direct response to what happened from Sean McMahon himself, this means that the claims about his unwillingness to co-operate and provide sales data is presently a one-sided story and unchallenged. Nevertheless, on top of being warned about him by my contacts in the BritWres circle, McMahon’s shifting statements on why the relationship deteriorated have been well publicized elsewhere, and it is easy enough to believe that OWE are accurate in their statements under these circumstances.

Furthermore, I have heard stories of numerous, and shifting, promises and excuses being made to talent signed on to work these shows. Some were convinced to cover their own travel costs at the promise of reimbursement and key matches with big name talent who, as it turned out, were never actually in consideration to be booked. Sean, and his cohorts, were unwilling to commit to providing key details to many talent they engaged in conversation with but pressured them to film promo videos nonetheless.

So, then, that leaves the question of how OWE plans on rebuilding the reputation of its brand in the United Kingdom, and how it intends to take care of the fans who have been unable to secure a refund thus far. As OWE did not directly collect any monies, as I am told, from any of these sales, they simply do not have the money themselves, nor do they have the direct means to reverse transactions conducted by Sean McMahon while he was using their brand name. Members of OWE’s office have been collaborating with new contacts in the UK to try and figure out how they will approach dealing with the mess left behind in the wake of the disastrous OWE UK cancellations.

Different paths forward are being considered and, I’ve been told, a decision is likely to be reached sooner rather than later. Cost are a factor, and negotiations are ongoing, but options on the table include using a new local partner to bring in OWE talent and give away tickets to those who had previously bought tickets, as well as potentially legal actions.

 

Why Cambodia? Why Chengdu?

The simple answer is that the brand needed to restructure, and explore new opportunities, in an effort to find a path towards sustainable profitability. The long answer, and what it means for the future of the company and their brand of Chinese professional wrestling is, however, far more interesting than summing it up as such.

First and foremost, by the simple act of moving their operations out of Shanghai and into  these new spaces in Siem Reap, Cambodia and Chengdu, China the brand is effectively halving its operational costs. Furthermore, beyond Shanghai just being an incredibly expensive city to have their kind of operation thrive within, its entertainment industry is heavily developed and very competitive. Professional wrestling, being new to China, struggled to cut through the noise and turn a profit on live shows. OWE’s ambitions in the big bright city lights of Shanghais were more than reality could support. Without the money making potential of Television in place for Chinese companies the way that it exists in, frankly, the rest of the world, new ideas have become a necessity.

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OWE’s “Angkor Wat” Training Centre and Show Bar

In Cambodia, this is taking the form of setting up in Siem Reap; a city routinely flooded with tourists as a gateway to Angkor Wat, whose downtown core is tiny and whose entertainment industry far less developed, far less competitive, than Shanghai’s. OWE have rented out an 800 square-meter former boxing bar, and have shipped not only their ring, lights, and LED boards in, but have also relocated their entire roster of Chinese talent as well (save for Wang Jin, who is dealing with family matters, and some talent who had advertising obligations to fulfill before they can join the team.)

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Inside as their ring was being set up in Cambodia.

This facility is located in a busy part of the city, surrounded by a virtual sea of restaurants, hotels, and hostels, with Angkor Wat’s tourism peak season around the corner from November through to March. Michael Nee plans to capture the business of the approximately 6 to 7 million people who move through the city each year, in particular the growing number of foreign tourists visiting Angkor Wat who have nothing to do at night in the region.

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A more panoramic view of their Cambodian operation’s construction.

In addition to presenting bouts of professional wrestling they have partnered with two different local martial arts groups to present matches in local styles, and it has been intimated to me that they would like to incorporate some of that talent into the professional wrestling side of the business as well.  Starting in mid to late October they will be running nightly shows, blending martial arts, professional wrestling, and musical performances together into a “Show and Pub” establishment, bolstered by cheap, all-you-can-drink beer with admission.

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Outside of their future show space in Chengdu, China.

Shows will start in Chengdu in China in December, in an area that sees lots of Chinese tourists due to its deep connections with famous historical events, soldiers, and folk heroes. There they will perform a version of professional wrestling which may skew closer to Fighting Opera Makai than DragonGate. For these shows approximately one-third of their roster will travel from Cambodia, leaving that operation still viable, and take up the garb and characters of famous figures from great battles in Chinese history. They aim to bring in audiences already seeking out entertainment connected to the city’s historic roots and present them a fusion of period piece stage play and professional wrestling.

It is no surprise to learn that an operation as boisterous and expansion-hungry as OWE have been in the last two years has burned through a lot of their initial capital, in particular when you look at the specifics of their marketplace and the pitfalls they’ve had to adjust and adapt for.  Over the next 3 to 4 months we will see whether or not these sudden pivots bring them to a place of true, sustainable profitability and survivability.

 

Taiwanese talent released?

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The news I was told about the Taiwanese talent who had come to work for the brand through a partnership with NTW (New Taiwan Entertainment Wrestling) was that their contracts were “suspended,” but that they would still be available to OWE should OWE need them. I was further told that Sky, Rekka, and Gaia Hox are focusing on building up the Taiwanese scene, according to OWE. Additionally, it has been made clear to me that the funding assistance OWE was providing to the Taiwanese-scene is no longer going to be able to be done.

While I reached out to all three, Sky was the only one who replied to my requests for comments.  He advised me that he was unable to comment on issues pertaining to NTW and OWE’s relationship, but did say that should OWE “book [him] in China or Cambodia [he] will go.”

 

The future of OWE in Japan + relationship w/ CIMA and #STRONGHEARTS

When the discussion turned to the comments made in the posted rumors about the future of OWE in Japan, Michael Nee mentioned that they still have another 25 shows planned in the country over the remainder of 2019 and 2020. These numbers do not quite align with the roughly once every two months scheduled CIMA told me had been laid out for the brand in 2020, when I reached out to him for comments on OWE’s status and plans for the future. However, where they did align, was in the scheduled takeover of the Japanese brand by CIMA starting with December’s year-ending show for OWE in Japan at Korakuen Hall.

While, from a strictly sales perspective, it is hard to argue that the shows presented in the country under the OWE brand have not been successful, from OWE’s perspective they have failed to generate adequate revenue. The lion’s share of the revenue made from these sold out shows was not being collected by OWE themselves, but was being collected by the man who funded the production of the events, former DragonGate-owner Okamura. With him providing the capital for the shows, their arrangement saw him reap the rewards.

As of their Korakuen Hall show on December 30th 2019, CIMA will be the General Manager of a company invested in by OWE for the express purposes of promoting OWE’s brand in Japan. This is in an effort, of course, to harness the strong sales record the brand has developed in Japan for their own direct enrichment, rather than for a third party like Okamura. CIMA made it clear to me that there will not be any difficulties  caused by his AEW commitments in running this more official Japanese extension of OWE. I was told that T-Hawk and El Lindaman will be helping to run the brand.

Additionally, when asked about why reports indicate CIMA and OWE’s Mr. Fu had a falling out, I was told by Michael that there had been some business disagreements and tensions caused inside the company by the fallout of the UK brand extension’s implosion. However, all parties now are on the same page.  When asked about it, CIMA was shocked to even hear that people thought there had been a falling out.

 

The future of their relationship with AEW

Even with all these difficulties about, Michael Nee was still very positive and optimistic when he spoke of OWE’s desire to continue working with All Elite Wrestling, and developing a deeper connection between the two brands. Considering I have also recently been asked, by an insider within AEW, as to the status of OWE’s set-up in Cambodia I can say it seems the feeling is mutual.

While nothing has been solidified in terms of dates for travel or appearances yet for OWE’s Chinese roster in the new American league, it did come up that five members of OWE’s roster have obtained some kind of visa to travel to the US of A. The list reads as a “best of” for the brand: Da Ben, Liu Xinxi, Gao Jingjia, Zhao Junjie, and Duan Yingnan.

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Absolute Latest News on the OWE/AEW Partnership: CIMA’s status confirmed, SCU in Shanghai!

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– OWE’s Wulijimuren, also known as the “Mongolian Warrior,” injured his knee while wrestling in Osaka during OWE’s debut tour of Japan. Unfortunately, from what I have heard, it is an issue with his meniscus. OWE’s COO has advised me that the projected timeline for recovery is approximately six months, but may be less. Regrettably this means he will not be able to work the tournament he was scheduled to participate in to determine which OWE roster members would work at Double or Nothing.

– On May 1st, five people representing AEW will visit Shanghai to meet with OWE: Chris Harrington, Christopher Daniels, Frankie Kazarian, Scorpio Sky, and Jeff Jones. It was mentioned to me that SCU might work one of OWE’s Shanghai Great World shows during their visit.

– OWE’s shows in Japan were viewed as successful by management, with particular emphasis put on how happy they were with how well received their shows were. They were very low on stock immediately after their Korakuen Hall show with their merchandise mostly selling out, if not completely sold out, by the end of the three shows.

– After CIMA’s signing by AEW was announced, rumours about what this means for his status with OWE, and OWE’s status with its investors, began to circulate on Twitter. OWE’s COO Michael Nee has advised me that CIMA’s deal with AEW “Has nothing to do with what he is doing in Japan and China,” and that when he isn’t working for AEW he will always be doing things for OWE in China. Or, to put it succinctly, “Nothing changed.” I also learned that CIMA is really mad at the twitter user spreading these rumours about OWE.

– During my conversation with Michael about CIMA’s status re: AEW he advised me that many other Japanese wrestlers have signed with AEW as well, and that he saw some of them in Japan on his trip. We already know that AEW has signed a number of Japanese talent to their brand, including Michael Nakazawa who worked OWE’s Japanese shows. This may indicate that more Japanese talent announcements’ are in our future, or may simply be who we already know about.

– OWE had a successful performance on a Chinese satellite TV variety show. You can view the footage I’ve seen here.

 

King of Pro Wrestling

– After a decent stretch of silence, news recently came out from both Shuaijiao, China’s biggest pro wrestling news site, and KOPW themselves, that KOPW have partnered with DGFBA (Dongguan City Fighting Boxing Association,) a boxing promotion  in Dongguan, China. This partnership will see a strategic partnership formed between the two promotions to co-promote events under a specific branding called, as best as I can deduce, Baowu Wolf Extreme Boxing Championship, which blends together both styles and has involvement from even the Dongguan Wushu Association in some capacity. Trials for this idea will be held on April 27th  and 28th. From this article it appears to be an opening bout of pro wrestling before a night of boxing. If Chinese MMA organization MMC’s experimentation with and support for pro wrestling in China has any bearing on this, there is a strong chance to convert fans off of this course of action.

 

Middle Kingdom Wrestling

– MKW have announced their next show, Dragon Roar, in Harbin, China and will take place on June 16th. This event will bring Joshi back to China, further cementing the strong presence of Joshi on Chinese pro Wrestling undercards as a fundamental element of the scene, and will expand on their partnership with Japanese indie Pro Wrestling Alive.

 

World Wrestling Entertainment

– I’ve heard rumours from reliable, credible sources that the WWE will be holding another tryout in Shanghai within the coming months.

OWE in Japan: Sellouts and New Dates! (plus more!)

– Both of OWE’s Japan dates have officially sold out. Contrary to what the OWE Twitter account said,  ” Sorry , friends in Japan , will announce next OWE shows in Japan soon!,” the OWE Facebook page and Michael Nee have both indicated the next date is June 24th 2019. No venue has been announced yet.

 

– A recently published article on OWE’s official WeChat account indicated that the round-robin tournament to decide who will go to AEW’s Double or Nothing event will be starting back up again. The fan vote has concluded to determine that Xuan Xuan, who beat his nearest competition by over 300 support ticket votes, is back in the tournament.

As the eliminated competitor to get a second chance in the tournament, he was originally supposed to team with Hyperstreak, but the article also announced that Hyperstreak had to pull out due to an injury. He will be replaced by Fan Qiuyang, guaranteeing that any team who wins will feature Chinese talent at Double or Nothing, .

The initial article has since been deleted by the user who uploaded it to OWE’s WeChat platform, and has been replaced with an almost identical article which shuffled the formatting and media placement a bit. The key differentiator between the two is that only the first article published specifically mentioned Fan Qiuyang as Xuan Xuan’s new partner, while the second article skips over that detail.

There has been, unfortunately, no confirmation on whether or not any of OWE’s roster have had their visas approved as of yet.

 

– Based on a poll on OWE’s facebook page, it is likely that NEO-TV will be prioritizing the “Who Will In” tournament over older, unreleased content from the tournament to crown OWE’s first champion.

 

– From looking at the announced line-ups for the Japanese dates, these shows will not see any of the tournament action. That being said, the AEW/OWE connection seems to be strengthened by Michael Nakazawa working the cards.

 

– in the latest episode of Being The Elite, Matt and Nick Jackson announced that AEW has signed CIMA to a full time contract. What this means for his position as president of Dragon Gate International and as VP and head trainer of OWE is, as of yet, unknown.