#DiscoveringWrestling Presents – 2018 Year-End Chinese Check-In (Part 1)

On August 26th 2016 I published my first article about Middle Kingdom Wrestling, beginning my foray into documenting, detailing, and analyzing the fledgling Chinese Pro Wrestling scene. Then, on March 15th 2018 I published “#DiscoveringWrestling Presents – State of the Middle Kingdom: An exploration of the burgeoning Chinese Pro Wrestling Scene,” which was received well by both those in and outside of the scene, earning me the opportunity to publish a pair of follow-up articles on the Voices of Wrestling website. It has been six months since I last wrote about the scene and, while initially things were slow, there have been some significant developments and events. As such, I believe it is time that we check-in on these companies and see what’s developed!

In part one of this Check-In I’ll be covering the goings on in KOPW (King of Pro Wrestling,) MKW (Middle Kingdom Wrestling,) CWF (Chinese Wrestling Federation,) OHL (Oriental Heroes Legend,) and WLW (We Love Wrestling,) and part two will be dedicated to getting us caught up on OWE (Oriental Wrestling Entertainment.)

KOPW

One thing King of Pro Wrestling cannot boast about is that it has had many shows in its debut year, as by the end of 2018 this big and bold company will only see two shows under its belt. Their third event was initially planned for a mid-December slot, but has been pushed to early January 2019. Those two, however, are both big deal shows boasting higher than average production values for the scene and strong international roster appearances, with each card featuring Joshi and WWE UK associated talent thus far.

Ho Ho Lun, one of the creative leaders behind the curtains and their current champion,  is optimistic about the future of Pro Wrestling in mainland China and has had KOPW work with OWE to help the Shanghai-based company run its shows in Macau, lending them KOPW’s vaunted ring. He envisions a future for pro wrestling in mainland China that is reminiscent of both the old US Territorial days and China’s Three Kingdoms period, with the country divided up between KOPW in the south, OWE in the middle, and MKW in the north. Of course, at this point in time, only OWE has the resources to create a dedicated roster exclusive to their brand and all other outfits in China see a high rate of crossover in talent. To bolster their brand’s, and the scene’s, futures Ho Ho Lun has told me he would ideally like to set up a school in Guangzhou to train new talent in the long run.

Ho Ho Lun’s belief in the “Asian Wrestling Revolution,” as he has dubbed it, has also seen him forge connections between the non-OWE associated main Dragon Gate group and his own Hong Kong Pro Wrestling, a small outfit that operates exclusively in Hong Kong that was formed before Lun hooked up with Ryan Chen to form KOPW to operate in the mainland. This led to a successful pair of shows for DragonGate in Hong Kong, an tour in Japan with DragonGate for rising Hong Kongese wrestler Bitman, and looks to have brought breakout Hong Kongese superstar Jason Lee back into the Chinese pro wrestling fold again, as he will be returning to wrestle for both the HKWF and KOPW in January 2019. Lun has also forged fledgling relationships with groups in the Philippines, Singapore, and Thailand. Australia also appears to be on his radar.

KOPW benefited from Chinese combat sports league MMC (Mars Martial Championship)’s growing love affair with pro-wrestling in 2018, as they worked with MMC to livestream their second event. Unfortunately the service is unstable when accessed outside of China or on a PC, with my Smartphone working okay for streaming the event but it crashing regularly when run on a computer without a VPN to spoof a local-mainland Chinese IP address. Thankfully KOPW have uploaded much of their matches from their 2nd event to their YouTube page, which compensates heavily for this issue in their bid to get more eyes on their product from outside of the local scene.

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KOPW have one of the sexiest championships in wrestling right now.

Regrettably the main event is the only match missing from their 2nd event on KOPW’s YouTube page, and this points to a concern I had raised previously about KOPW’s usage of talent signed to WWE UK contracts. In the main event Ho Ho Lun defended his KOPW Championship against Sam Gradwell, and due to the nature of the contract he has with the WWE UK brand, a platform like YouTube cannot host wrestling content featuring him in it that is not directly in-line with what his contract allows. As such KOPW’s international audience has been forced, thus far, to miss out on both of their championship bouts thus far. In a smart change of direction, after establishing themselves with their local audience, which they arguably needed the foreign talent to help accomplish, their third event will most certainly not feature any talent presently signed to a WWE UK contract in the main event.

MKW

Middle Kingdom Wrestling have maintained a solid pace and slow build throughout 2018, running almost once a month throughout the year and having their most ambitious project, the Belt and Road Championship Tournament weekend, draw positive attention from government officials for representing President Xi Jinping’s flagship project in a positive light. Said tournament, hosted in Harbin, crowned Black Mamba as the first B&R Champion, and saw talent from a host of countries as far flung as Canada, the Philippines, India, Russia, and more make debuts in mainland China. Throughout it all they have maintained a steady release schedule of their content on their YouTube page, making them the most readily and steadily accessible mainland Chinese company for western audiences.

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Fact: That kick from Black Mamba legitimately knocked out Hong Wan.

During 2018 they saw the debuts of four of their schools students, with the first two, Cam Ferguson and Michael Su, being quickly worked in to their storyline-heavy product. The final two, KC and Bamboo Crusher, made their debuts on MKW’s most recent event to help close out the 2018 calendar year for the promotion. On top of delivering the first appearances of several new students, MKW also held the first rumble styled match and the first ladder match that mainland China has seen. Both in Harbin.

While MKW failed earlier in the year to get former-WWE talent to appear in China, due to no fault of their own, they did succeed in bringing in Kongo Kong to battle their champion Big Sam in the main event of their last show of the year in Shenzhen. This is notable as Kongo Kong is the biggest name in Western wrestling to be brought in to China, and in doing so MKW certainly earn points with the domestic audience who are hungry for the larger-than-life elements of pro wrestling.

2018 also saw a fascinating connection develop between my home of Toronto, Ontario, Canada and Middle Kingdom Wrestling beyond myself covering them. A local independent ace, Buck Gunderson, found himself being imported and developing a strong following as the “Unsung Hero” of MKW. More importantly, however, is that he brought with him a young man name Junyan Lee, who is a Chinese expat living in Ontario and training to be a wrestler here in Canada. I’ve spoken with both of them and their story is one that deserves full elaboration in an article of its own, so please look forward to an interesting, heart-warming tale of the Chinese-Canadian connection in the near future!

Furthermore, it can easily be argued that they were the brand that got MMC interested in helping to bolster the fledgling Chinese pro wrestling market. MKW were the first brand who worked with MMC, having a test-run wherein in the middle of an MMA show run by MMC and MKW title match between Big Sam and Hong Wan was held. Very shortly thereafter MMC would reach out to and work with brands such as WLW and KOPW. They were also the final brand to benefit from collaboration with MMC in 2018, with MMC providing aide to MKW to livestream their final of the year show in China. All of which will be made available on their YouTube channel with full English language commentary, a strength which they still hold uniquely within the market. No other Chinese pro wrestling brand dubs English language commentary onto their western platform content releases.

CWF

The Chinese Wrestling Federation spent most of 2018 in silence, then in the middle of summer announced a truly bizarre event. Out of the blue, on their WeChat page, I was greeted by hype videos and articles about an upcoming even which would feature not only their talent wrestling, but also a bikini contest, HEMA competition, and several other elements.

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It’s a shame this event hasn’t hit the internet. I was really curious to see how they mixed it together out of these disparate elements.

Unfortunately this event seems to have either not been filmed or never been posted to their official video pages. With their youku page having last seen an upload on “2017-10-02” and their website presnetly giving me nothing but timed out errors, though the version associated with their WeChat account is still live. While I cannot say with certainty that they’ve folded, it seems likely that the CWF have fallen on hard times.

That being said, their roster, including head trainer Hell Shark, have made sporadic appearances on shows run by groups including MKW and KOPW, where CWF standout Coldray has had a pair of high profile contests against Chinese pro wrestling’s founding Father, The Slam. As such, whether or not the company carries on into the future, their talent will find a way to continue to leave a mark on the Chinese scene if they so desire.

OHL

Simon Inoki’s rebranding of the once-Inoki Genome Foundation (IGF) into Oriental Heroes Legend has seen its relationship with Pro Wrestling NOAH provide a stable platform for its developing Chinese talent to perform regularly throughout the second half of 2018, with things looking to follow the same path into 2019. With the amount of ring time their students are getting in NOAH, and the mentorship they are being provided by the strict teacher assigned to them, the incomparable Hajime Ohara, it is most certainly a fact that they may have the opportunity to develop quicker than any other Chinese talent not under the OWE umbrella. Ohara is reportedly so strict that he has banned the trainees from smoking cigarettes, even on breaks!

From personal experience attending a NOAH event at Korakuen Hall in August 2018, and from anecdotal evidence provided to me by fans with their ear to the Japanese audience of NOAH, Sun Yilin seems to have garnered the most love from the Japanese audiences thus far. Amusingly, one of my contacts in the Chinese pro wrestling scene has called into question Sun Yilin’s legitimacy as being Chinese. They indicated to me that, since the Chinese pro wrestling community is so tightly knit and they had never heard of him before Simon Inoki rebranded the IGF, along with his being older and seemingly more skilled than the other talent debuting with him under the banner, all of whom were known to the Chinese scene beforehand, that he may be a Japanese wrestler working a Chinese gimmick. This is, without a doubt, something to classify as an unfounded rumor at the moment but I wanted to share it.

While the English language rendering of the brands name is different depending on if one is reading their logo’s English text, where I transcribed their name from, or translating their Japanese articles from their site, as this article does, it doesn’t diminish the fact that Oriental Heroes Legend have made some big strides. They self reported a turnout of approximately 1000 in attendance at a show they put on in Tianjin featuring cooperation from their partners in NOAH. While the article doesn’t mention whether or not they were paid attendees or how they were counted, if this number is accurate it would easily be one of the biggest crowds in Chinese pro wrestling history.

Certainly, Simon Inoki looks to be making history, as he believes that his talent will be the first Chinese wrestlers to hold GHC gold, and also has made comments to the effect of his talent being better than anything else China has to offer to pro wrestling. Unfortunately, there is no footage available of his groundbreaking events from China to see how the domestic Chinese audience are reacting to his brand’s form of pro wrestling and everything, thus far, has been filtered through OHL’s own press team for public release. I can’t even say that I’ve yet been able to hear from any Chinese fans in attendance via my connections yet.

Unfortunately, with their reliance on the Japanese puroresu scene to provide their talent with places to perform, and their limited outings in the domestic mainland Chinese market, they still feel very much like a Japanese company. It will be interesting to see what they have to offer in 2019, with the big questions being how many shows they will run in China, how much development their talent will have, and whether or not they do anything to make themselves different from just another puroresu outfit when they run in China?

WLW

While Gao Yuan’s We Love Wrestling may not have made the biggest waves in 2018, they have been quietly and busily plugging away, running events throughout the calendar year and uploading videos to their bilibili page. Importantly,  they served an important role as the first professional wrestling company to be granted a full backing by MMC (Mars Martial Championship) to run a large, livestreamed event. This event, from spring of 2018, saw a big roster featuring talent from WLW, their partners in NTW (New Taiwan Entertainment Wrestling,) and even some Joshi workers including Shida Hikaru. It was a good quality show put on on the back of MKW’s one-match on an MMC even giving the combat sports league a tase for pro wrestling.

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Gao Yuan, to me, is almost always the highlight of any card he is on.

Had Gao Yuan’s troupe put on a sub-par performance when presented with this remarkable platform it is questionable whether or not MMC would have seen much further promise in the Chinese pro wrestling scene. With MMC’s position as one of the largest, if not the largest, combat sports entities in mainland China, their continued interest in pro wrestling could very well help to legitimize the art in the eyes of not only the domestic audience but possibly even the government as well. MMC have, as this article has made clear, spread their eggs across almost every single non-OWE associated pro wrestling act in China at the moment and one can speculate that this may carry on as a trend in 2019. A trend owed to a successful WLW show.

While their budget and social media profiles may not be able to compete with the likes of KOPW or OWE, and their fanbase isn’t as immediately evident or as vocal as MKW’s, and they don’t have the high-profile alliance of OHL, there’s something that tells me that Gao Yuan’s outfit is one to keep an eye on in 2019.

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Come back soon for Part 2, where we investigate the very busy year OWE has had!

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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 #012 – Hunan Hustle! MKW Championship Match!

This latest episode of Middle Kingdom Wrestling is short and sweet, with only one match. The unusually different video quality and one match only format comes as the result of unexpected changes needing to be adapted to and, for a title change that was put together on the fly, it performs admirably amongst all the difficulties. But if any company wants to thrive in the world of Pro-Wrestling it will have to adapt and overcome adversity, so here’s to you, MKW! I hope to see this belt defended in many future matches, last minute swerves or not!

Match 1: MKW Championship Match – Dalton Bragg (c) vs. “The Selfie King” Hong Wan

Dalton Bragg plays the heel role during his entrance for what appears to be the first time in his tenure with the company, trash talking fans who seem to be engaged with, but not understand, what he is saying. The match starts out as a chop-fest, because, after a match the previous day, Bragg knew the audience would be hot for it, amongst, I’m certain, other reasons. Chop chop chop it goes, Bragg selling them like they’re red hot knives slammed against his chest. The match keeps up on these chops and slaps for a long while, as even after Dalton Bragg regains control he goes around outside the ring slapping the back of Hong Wan up close in the audience’s face.

Speaking of the audience, attendance at this outdoor match was phenomenal. The ring is surrounded by a mob of people. This is the first time that MKW have seemed legitimately impressive in a crowd-drawing manner on camera. It made for a professional, big fight feel even amidst the lower quality of camera work and the unpredictable lighting.

As the match moves on, Hong Wan hits a nice German Suplex, proving that his repertoire of moves is only getting bigger and his execution tighter. Indeed, one of my notes for writing this review read simply “surprisingly diverse set of moves overall“, and that type of unpredictability, tied to ever improving quality of execution, is how you attract the wrestling fan as opposed to the sports entertainment fan. Seeing as how Adrian Gomez, the owner and operator of Middle Kingdom Wrestling, values the golden days of Ring of Honor, it seems like a safe bet that he wants to run a fun wrestling company, and attract that audience as opposed to otherwise.

Bragg has a good moment with a monkey flip in the match, but I would have liked to see him give Selfie King more air on the move. A great monkey flip is a surprising thing of beauty. While Hong Wan undoubtedly gets better with every match he has, and his career is so young he has plenty of room to grow, it would be unfair of me to not mention that Bragg has improved too. In this match he hits his two signature moves, and while the speed on rotation of his kicks could be better, his fluidity on performing the Float-Over DDT is much improved over other times I have seen him do it. If he can continue to ramp up the speed at which he performs he’ll open doors for himself for certain.

The match builds to a close and Selfie King hits Dalton Bragg with a nice Samoan Drop. He follows it up with a standing Moonsault that’s all knees on Dalton’s chest and gets the pinfall. Folks, you have your new Middle Kingdom Wrestling champion, “The Selfie King” Hong Wan! Sadly, for all he has been brilliant at his gimmick throughout his other matches, the Selfie King fails to follow up his win with an in-ring selfie celebration with his gold.

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But he certainly has taken MANY since them! Doing that gimmick proud!

Overall the match was a bit slow, but there were no glaring errors and it flowed nicely, despite the bizarre camera edits and lower quality footage. The commentary continues to get better, and I think I’ve settled on this guy as the voice of MKW. I’m certain that with more practice he’ll certainly get better. It would go a long way for him to learn the names of more moves and to be prepped in advance for what to call certain things.

Grade: B-

Do you have any feedback or questions? Please leave a comment 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 #003 – Kung Fu Hustle & Muscle (Review of the MKW Season 2 Finale)

MKW

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.