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.

 

 

 

 

 

 

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.

Chinese Pro Wrestling News Updates: MKW in Nepal, OWE Injury Reports and More!

Middle Kingdom Wrestling

– MKW’s Belt and Road show set for May 11th in Nepal got even more international with the addition of Korean wrestler Shiho. Furthermore, as reported here, MKW are intending for this to be a growing partnership between the brands, as MKW talent have been sent to NRWA before this encounter to perform and help in training. Of particular noteworthiness is the fact that the venue attendance for the NRWA (Nepal Ring Wrestling Association) event shown is larger than I had anticipated, which speaks towards the art’s viability in the region.

 

Oriental Wrestling Entertainment

– #STRONGHEARTS member Takehiro Yamamura has, unfortunately, suffered another injury to his neck while working a Wrestle-1 show. He seems to not be in danger, but is unlikely to ever wrestle again after re-injuring his already damaged neck.

– #STRONGHEARTS member, and OWE head trainer, CIMA also injured himself working in Taiwan at the OWE vs. NTW show. Thankfully his injury was just a dislocated shoulder, and he seems to already be on his way back to 100%.

– While CIMA may have been slightly injured at the OWE vs. NTW show, the more exciting news to come out of the event is that CIMA, along with OWE original Fan Hewei, have captured NTW’s Tag team titles from A-YONG-GO and The Joker, making Fan Hewei the second member of OWE’s crop of young Chinese talent to hold gold in another territory. Also at the event there was a match between Hengha (Wulijimuren and Xiong Zhiyu) from OWE and the Taiwanese team of SKY and PORCO which featured strong comedy elements which translated clearly over video and required no verbal components to understand. The already strong presence of good comedy in Chinese wrestling is something that excites me.

– OWE ran one of their Shanghai Great World shows with some of their roster donning costumes, such as Ultraman and a Gorilla, to try and entice attendees of the venue to engage with the show. Matches were interspersed with other kinds of performances, such as acrobatics. A week later they held another show at Great World, and while both of these Great World shows in recent weeks look to have some excellent matches on their cards, including title matches, neither event has featured any of the Round Robin matches for the opportunity to be CIMA’s partners at AEW’s Double or Nothing. Six weeks remain, and only one of the twenty-three league matches in this tournament has taken place, ending in a draw.

MKW vs. OWE? MKW Belt and Road show in Nepal, OWE’s “Journey to the West” and more!

Middle Kingdom Wrestling

Post match comments from MKW’s rising rookie star Micahel Su after his match with Hyperstreak point towards a future MKW vs. OWE storyline, with Hyperstreak being billed as a representative of the Shanghai based Oriental Wrestling Entertainment who first brought him into the country. His match with “Masterclass” Michael Su was not planned more than a few days in advance of the event on March 10th, but came together in the light of MKW champ Big Sam’s emergency appendectomy.

With the unanticipated nature of this match and how it came together, it’s hard to say that there are any concrete plans in the works already. This very well may be simply clever capitalization to lay the foundation for something that may never materialize.  That being said, there are some interesting facts to consider that lead to this being something I can certainly see come together off of the heels of this opportunity.

First and foremost, it is no secret that OWE have been in contact with NKW owner Adrian Gomez, even before this recent talent sharing venture, including possibly some consulting done by Gomez for the newer promotion. With this connection already in place, and Gomez himself saying that he’s looking to have his talent work more dates and more promotions in 2019, it’s not hard to see this as a path he would wish to develop further upon. Particularly with the ROH vs. CZW storyline being one of his favourites in pro wrestling history.

Both companies would likely benefit far more from this collaboration, with the particular circumstances of the burgeoning Chinese pro wrestling scene being what they are, than the US analogues from that famous indie blockbuster feud did. Indeed, with OWE having essentially brought NTW under its wing, and having Gao Yuan on its roster, the owner of WLW, the scope of an inter-promotional rivalry/invasion angle could be massive in scale for the tightly knit, nascent Chinese pro wrestling scene.

 

– MKW’s first “Belt and Road” tournament was their biggest, riskiest venture to date, bringing together talent from numerous countries to compete in a two day tournament to crown their first ever Belt and Road champion. Now the date for their second Belt and Road tournament has been set. Happening on May 11th, this show will be held in Kathmandu, Nepal.

This is significant for several reasons. If this shows goes off as advertised it will be the first international outing for MKW since their shows in Thailand, which drew poorly due to unfortunate circumstances surrounding the event (including the death of a Thai royal). Furthermore, it looks to have more legs under it than their attempt to run a show in South Korea in conjunction with Professional Live Action (PLA.)

 

Ultimate Wrestling Asia

On March 20th this HKWF Twitter account broadcast thr message that a company featuring talent from promotions across mainland China, Hong Kong, Malaysia, Taiwan, Singapore, and The Philippines would be “coming soon” in this tweet. They even named it “Ultimate Wrestling Asia” in the hashtags. Within a matter of days, an official twitter account for this potential brand sprung up. My correspondence with the account has indicated that they are in the early planning stages of something they hope to grow into a big super show regional promotion, with desires to film episodes for weekly broadcast at some point.

While a tweet like this, announcing the formation of a brand new wrestling promotion, may seem a bit suspect at first, particularly with how barebones and vague it has been, this does feel like a natural extension of Ho Ho Lun’s “Asian Wrestling Revolution” ideology.  This  is coming from an account associated with the HKWF, who are the first promotion founded by this patriarch of Asian pro wrestling.

At the very least, it is already generating buzz and discussion about the non-Japanese East Asian, Southeast Asian, and South Asian scene, as indicated by articles like this springing up. While they have no dates or roster set in stone yet, I can assure you that any developments that happen I will keep you abreast of.

 

Oriental Wrestling Entertainment

March 9th saw the first of the round robin tournament matches to determine which pair of talent will head to AEW’s Double or Nothing event take place at the Great World venue in Shanghai. The match between the teams of “The Captain” A-Ben/”Commando” Duan Yingnan and Rekka/”Scorpio XX” Liu Xinxi ended in a 15-minute time limit draw. Both teams presently have one point apiece. No tournament matches were held on March 16th, and the event on the 23rd had to be canceled due to other obligations. So far, this remains the sole “Who Will In” tournament match to have taken place.

 

– Starting with OWE’s March 16th show at the Great World venue the company is trying something fresh. The venue is located inside an area that functions as a hub for Chinese tourists from other parts of the country to come through and look upon the old fashioned architecture and shop for trinkets and the like. Visitors are paying to gain admission to the Shanghai Great World itself, and are not necessarily there for the pro wrestling. This may sound familiar to those who know of Impact Wrestling’s history with the theme park based Impact Zone venue.

However, unlike that western comparison, the average visitor to Great World really has no clue what pro wrestling even is, so selling them on attending the matches is even harder. To try and create an environment which is conducive to attracting an audience out of these wrestling-uninitiated tourists, OWE are couching some of these performances in recreating a cultural touchstone for all of China, the famous story “Journey to the West.”

They’ve cast their talent in different roles from the famous novel and have them compete in bouts whose storylines are easy to follow, as the average Chinese citizen will most assuredly be familiar with the material being drawn upon. While Gao Yuan has indicated to me that there were some problems in blending this classic story with wrestling on their first time out, one can always expect hiccups in a first attempt at something new. If successful with the shows at the Shanghai Great World venue, Michael Nee has indicated to be that this idea of combining historical or classic fictional stories with OWE’s wrestling may become a part of their touring shows, adapting regional narratives as they visit different parts of China, to help engage and educate the population  on the art if pro wrestling. I’ve explained before why I see OWE as “Truly Chinese Pro Wrestling” and this venture shows just how far outside the conventional western wrestling box they’re willing to go.

 

– On top of announcing Buffa has joined OWE, the company has also confirmed in their official communications that which has already been made clear on social media: Sky and Gaia Hox from Taiwan, and Gao Yuan from Mainland China, have joined the company in an official capacity.

 

– NTW’s relationship with OWE is growing stronger, with it becoming common knowledge in wrestling circles in China and Taiwan that the current owner of NTW has taken a position with OWE. Some fears have been expressed by those I have spoken to that this will lead to the eventual demise of NTW as a Taiwanese brand, as there are a lot of tensions between the governments of China and Taiwan.

 

– Unfortunately three of OWE’s advertised roster members for the upcoming NTW vs. OWE show on March 31st have fallen victim to what seems to be the number one problem in every international outing for this young crop of stars: visa issues.  As such, Zhao Yilong, Zhao Junjie, and Wang Jin will not be able to appear in Taiwan. This mark’s the 2nd time that Zhao Yilong and Wang Jin have been prevented from working in NTW due to visa issues. Nevertheless, the reworked card still looks quite exciting, with Gao Jingjia filling one of their spots.

 

– UK and other European talent will be showing up in OWE soon via the connections OWE have made through the UK-based NEO-TV. This is something they are clearly proud of, because they have made efforts to spread this news on both their Chinese and English-language social media pages.

 

– OWE’s two Japanese dates have officially sold out! Congratulations!

Early 2019 Chinese Pro Wrestling news round-up #2

Oriental Wrestling Entertainment

While I’ve yet to ferret out any details on whom OWE will be sending to AEW’s Double or Nothing in May, that certainly doesn’t mean that there’s not been news. As I’d predicted in my article on 5 Chinese Wrestlers (Outside of OWE) that you should pay attention to, “The Insolent Devil” Gao Yuan made his inevitable debut with OWE on February 23rd 2019. Gao Yuan isn’t certain when he will work with OWE again, exactly, but has informed me that there will be more collaboration this year.

The same match also saw Lin Dong Xuan, who works primarily in Pro Wrestling NOAH via Simon Inoki’s Oriental Heroes Legend, made his OWE debut to replace an injured Gao Jingjia (good news is that from what I have heard it is not serious and he should be fine in a matter of weeks.) Lin Dong Xuan also ranked on the same list as Gao Yuan, and brings the number of promotions represented in the match up to three, with Gao Yuan being the owner of We Love Wrestling. For the record, the match was A-Ben and Lin Dong Xuan vs. T-Hawk and Gao Yuan, and I’m very excited to get to see it.

Furthermore, OWE recently had a near 20 minute, according to reports, match between Zhao Junjie and Fan Hewei to determine their first “Annual Champion.” In the end, Zhao Junjie stood tall with the championship around his waist. While not made terribly evident in their YouTube broadcasts to English-speaking audiences, many of the singles matches over the last stretch of shows have been single-elimination tournament brackets to determine this final encounter.

This event to crown the first ever OWE champion also comes at an opportune time, as NEO-TV have announced that starting next week they will have exclusive English-language content for OWE. While I had previously announced that English-language content would be forthcoming, no date had been provided so this marks a big change in accessibility for Chinese Pro Wrestling. Of note is that the translations will feature entirely new English-language commentary with goals to have the non-commentary dialogue subtitled. For the time being this will be on content moving forward only, but NEO-TV have said that going back and translating old content is “something to consider.”

Additionally, while I haven’t yet had it provided to me, Michael Nee, OWE’s COO, has advised me that the match card for their cross-promoted show with NTW in Taiwan has been determined.

 

Middle Kingdom Wrestling

MKW’s International “Belt and Road” themed show presently being planned to take place in Nepal will see the first time in a few years that Middle Kingdom Wrestling have venture outside of the Chinese mainland. While dates have yet to be confirmed, and the venture built around China’s Belt and Road Initiative may not come to pass, looking into this story has granted me a brief glimpse into the Nepalese Pro Wrestling scene which is, as has become the norm, shockingly more developed than I had anticipated.

Adrian Gomez has made connections with the Nepal Ring Wrestling Association (NRWA) in efforts to stage this show and, so far, all looks to play out to produce an exciting event that could introduce Chinese audiences to a new crop of talent. Current MKW champion, Big Sam, expects that he will be participating in the event but has not had any particulars about his match confirmed as of yet.

While the specifics of the event in the works for Nepal have not been confirmed, MKW’s next Chinese event now has a date and matches announced. Titled “A New Chapter,” the event will take place in Harbin, China on March 10th 2019. So far there are two championship matches scheduled. Black Mamba will defend his Belt and Road Championship against both Bitman and Jyunyan Lee. Big Sam will defend his MKW Championship against “Masterclass” Michael Su. Ho Ho Lun has also been announced for the card.

Of particular note herein is that both Bitman and Michael Su ranked on the same list I had Goa Yuan on, and are now in increasingly high profile championship matches, with MKW’s last streamed event having been viewed by 8 million people. Jyunyan Lee on the other hand is a Chinese-born wrestler currently living in Ontario, Canada and training at Santino Marella’s Battle Arts Academy. I was lucky enough to watch him debut less than a year ago and already he’s become a well loved part of the MKW roster, developing into quite the well-traveled performer very early in his promising career.

 

King of Pro Wrestling

KOPW recently posted an open recruiting call t try and attract students to a newly launched Pro Wrestling training facility located in Guangzhou, China. Ho Ho Lun, Shen Fei and Wang Junjie are listed in the article as the trainers of note. It also notes that there are 10 students currently enrolled, and that some competed after only a few months of training.

 

 

Early 2019 Chinese Pro Wrestling news round-up

Early  2019 has seen an explosion of newsworthy events and information come to light about the expanding Chinese Pro Wrestling scene. In fact there’s been so much news that this time period may be looked back on as a crucial launching point in the next step of the scene’s development, with 2018’s big company debuts serving as a foundation. But enough speculation about the future impact, let’s get to the news!

Oriental Wrestling Entertainment

OWE had, by far, the biggest, most bombastic news out of early 2019 as they headed towards their 1 year anniversary. Spinning out of their very successful second half of 2018,  they made huge moves  that will shape the future of not only their roster but the whole of the scene, bringing a plethora of international eyes onto the brand.

– Partnerships between OWE and The Crash Lucha Libre and All Elite Wrestling were made official (for more AEW partnership details please see comments provided to me by OWE COO Michael Nee, and by AEW Executive VP Matt Jackson.) OWE management are expected to be in Las Vegas today to join Cody, Matt and Nick for meetings and press conferences.

– Famous trainer Jorge “Skayde” Rivera did a stint in China training all members of the roster, regardless of experience level.

NothingElseOn.TV will be broadcasting OWE content on their service, and I learned in discussions with them that they are working on translations to provide English localization for OWE shows and Chinese localization for at least one of their other shows. No dates have been confirmed for when this will be available.

– OWE will be running international dates in Taipei, Taiwan on Marc 30th 2019 and in Osaka and Tokyo, Japan between April 18th and 20th 2019.

– “Scorpio XX” Liu Xinxi will be making his return to international competition February 13th with #STRONGHEARTS at Wrestle-1.

– American talent brought in to China by OWE have recently worked on Gao Yuan’s most recent WLW show, adding further fuel to the rumors that OWE will be more actively working with other promotions in the Chinese Pro Wrestling scene.

 

Ho Ho Lun’s expanding network

– Extreme Wrestling Entertainment (EWE) ran their first show on January 22nd 2019 with very high production values. The promotion is owned and operated by Cai Liangchan, a famous man in Macau who has a background in international sporting events representing Macau and in MMA. Ho Ho Lun has been appointed as the “head producer” for the brand, making this the 3rd company he has a creative controlling stake in (EWE in Macau, HKWF in Hong Kong, and KOPW in mainland China.) Further shows are anticipated to take place in March and May.

– Ho Ho Lun via HKWF will also be helping to run further upcoming Dragon Gate shows in Hong Kong in May, with a “whole Dragon Gate run in Autumn and Spring” planned.

– KOPW and HKWF both ran successful shows in January, with video footage hopefully forthcoming soon.

 

We Love Wrestling

– Gao Yuan, WLW’s owner, has said that while nothing is certain yet he is working on a plan for an OWE vs. WLW event off of the back of their recent inter-promotional friendliness.

– 2019 will see more big shows from WLW, with at least one being in Anshan (Dongbei.)

 

Middle Kingdom Wrestling

– MKW plan on running four to five shows in 2019 in China, with their first being in March.

– MKW have plans for a spring show taking place in Nepal to fall under their newly established “Belt and Road” show banner. Likely this will be headlined by a Belt and Road championship match, to continue their successful and government supported “Belt and Road” promotion efforts.

 

An Interview with Matt Jackson about AEW & OWE

NC: Tell me the story of what led to AEW having a working agreement with OWE: What attracted you to the promotion? Was it a unanimous decision to go in this direction, or were there people who had doubts about the idea? How long has this been in the works? Was there a specific moment that made you go “We have to do this!”?   

MJ: Immediately when I saw a couple of GIFs of the OWE guys on Twitter, I was attracted. So, I looked up more clips and did research on them. I quickly learned my old friend CIMA, who I’d made friends with years ago in Japan, was affiliated with them. That made sense right away, because the clips I watched had a real Dragon Gate feel to it. Yet still, it looked and felt so original. Like a fight scene from an old Kung fu movie.  I knew I’d one day work with these guys right away. I’m attracted to anything out of the ordinary.

 

NC: When you made the announcement of AEW’s partnership with OWE you referred to CIMA’s #Stronghearts faction as “Good Hearts.” How many people have teased you over that flub?

MJ: Hah! Not many, thankfully. I documented the rough travel experience we had, and how I was coming right off a plane from 24 hours of travel with small children, so I think people cut me some slack. Right when I got to the back after I spoke, I looked at PAC whom I knew caught the mistake as well, and we both shared a quick laugh.

 

NC: Speaking of #Stronghearts, you specifically called out the faction in association with OWE. Does this mean fans should expect to see them exclusively from the OWE roster, or should fans expect to see members of their roster not associated with #Stronghearts already?

MJ: Right off the bat, #StrongHearts will be represented strongly, however, that won’t be the end of it. We expect to use several of the talents coming out of OWE. In my perfect world, once we’re running more regularly, I’d love to house several of the wrestlers, use them for a few months as part of an excursion, and send them back home with a little experience under their belts. Then, send more fresh wrestlers from OWE here to the states to do the same.

 

NC: As a follow up to that question, how familiar are you with OWE’s homegrown Chinese roster? Is there anyone you’d want to work with personally?

MJ: I’m fairly new to the Chinese roster, trying to do my homework. I am familiar with the talented Japanese wrestlers that are part of the roster. The guys that have stuck out are Zhao Yilong, Zhao Junjie, and Liu Xinxi. My favorite to watch is probably Zhao Yilong, because of the fun things he incorporates with his character. I can see him getting over huge with the American audience. When I watch some of these unbelievable highspots the OWE crew are doing, immediately I’m thinking about how fun it would be to have a tag team match against any two of them. Excited for the possibilities.

 

NC: It’s no secret that OWE have had difficulties getting international work VISAs for their Chinese talent, with only a handful of their roster who had been advertised to work abroad having actually fulfilled their international bookings. To further complicate matters, the United States and China are presently in the midst of what some call a Trade War. Has AEW worked through these hurdles, or does AEW have a plan in place to do so? Can fans expect to see Chinese OWE roster members at Double or Nothing?

MJ: We are currently working on securing VISAS as we speak. We’ve got a great legal team behind us, with lots of wonderful resources. We are fully expecting to have OWE represented at Double Or Nothing!

 

NC: With an alliance like this in place so early in both companies life spans, AEW and OWE have a strong chance of leaving lasting impressions on each other. How much of a role do you see OWE’s talent pool playing in these foundational first few years of running AEW?

MJ: I think it’s vital to have something completely fresh and unseen by most eyes be one of the major highlights of our shows. We need to be different aesthetically, and OWE is just that. OWE will grab the audience’s attention and deliver something most fans have never seen. I plan to have OWE be one of the first things on our show, because we’ve only got one first time impression, and we’ve got to make it a big one.

 

NC: Is it likely that fans will see AEW talent working cards in China on OWE produced events in the near future? Is China a market you want AEW to expand into, long-term?

MJ: That is definitely part of the plan in the foreseeable future. I’ve already had several members of our roster inquire about doing just that. The plan is to definitely expand into China, as it’s one of the few untapped markets with tons of potential.

Exciting OWE News: AEW Collaboration, International Dates

This past Friday night I had the chance to chat with OWE COO Michael Nee for the first time since the thunderous announcement from AEW’s press rally in Jacksonville, Fl. rocked the Chinese Pro Wrestling scene by announcing that the two fledgling brands would be working together. I connected with him early in his day in China briefly before he headed off to the HenDian venue for rehearsals. He told me about the venue being a film set city, and compared it to Universal Studios. He elaborated upon how much of the buildings there reproduced various classical eras of Chinese architecture. One of the great things about Michael Nee is that he’s always excited about OWE and what they are doing.

When I asked him about AEW he explained to me that they’re still working on the details of the working agreement and have yet to settle on exact terms for the deal between their two companies. This being said they are really pleased to be working with AEW and will be aggressive in working with All Elite. OWE are willing to help AEW in any way they can. He explained that they are willing to “transfer their kids” to AEW and hold joint matches anywhere. Any kind of working relationship status will be open to discussion. While details are yet to be set in stone he did advise me that he, along with OWE’s owner Huayang Fu and VP CIMA, will be joining  a press conference and attending meetings in Las Vegas February 8th and 9th. We can expect more details then on the exact nature of how these brands will work together.

It is unquestionable that OWE’s roster have been developing quickly and the brand isn’t afraid to make changes to gimmicks on the fly, as numerous performers have metamorphosed heavily over the summer. However, the key to excelling as a roster will lie in their kids gaining experience working with more skilled performers. Traditionally the best way to do this has been by working abroad, when the talent pool in your region is either underdeveloped or doesn’t offer you what you seek. Over the course of 2018 OWE attempted to have many of its outstanding young roster get some international experience under their belts but struggled in many cases to obtain the appropriate visas.

With the relationship with AEW looking to bring OWE’s homegrown talent stateside yet again, these concerns about visas came to my mind again and I asked him about the subject. He explained to me that the biggest challenges the faced in getting their Chinese roster the appropriate visas in the past was centered on them not having all their proper documentation and requirements met. For many they didn’t have proper residential documents, or bank accounts with the required minimum balance present, to be able to get the visas approved. Over the year OWE has been working on ensuring all of their students have these issues sorted out to ensure that visas are no longer denied. It also certainly will not hurt that their partner stateside is now backed by a billionaire and will be viewed by visa offices as a more financially stable entity than other partner promotions before them. He says that their travel agent is confident they will be able to travel.

Partnering with AEW and its prestige Billionaire-backer is likely to greatly facilitate international travel for these lads to North America. But, OWE are not hedging all of their international performance bets on AEW. In fact, Mr. Nee revealed to me that at the end of March they will be visiting Taipei for a show, and will be in Osaka and Tokyo for shows between April 18th and the 20th. Furthermore, while no time has been set, he communicated that they are interested in running in Thailand as well.

This falls well in line with the ethos of OWE he expressed throughout our chat. They seek to increase the global connectivity of cultural arts through the best platform possible: pro wrestling. He spoke of how they’ve barely scratched the surface of the numerous styles of Chinese Kung-Fu and historical figures and subjects to draw upon for material and how the martial arts and cultures of other places, such as Thailand’s Muay Thai, are things they would also like to bring into the fold with OWE. I would not be surprised to see them try and bring in recruits from Thailand and India in the long run, to help expand this vision and provide more variety to their roster.

Between these subjects he explained to me that OWE has to pay for to broadcast their show on Chinese TV, which they recently started doing, and wondered if a platform like Twitch would be beneficial for his brand to get directly into. Our conversation turned, inevitably, towards the eventual expectations of having English video content as the company increases its English language social media presence. He said that, while he was very busy, it shouldn’t be too hard for him to put together English subtitles and he might see if some of the English speaking wrestling talent could do commentary. No promises or ETA on this subject, but a recognition that it shouldn’t be too challenging for them to put something together when the time comes.

 

#DiscoveringWrestling Presents – 2018 Year-End Chinese Check-In (Part 2)

In part one of this review of the second half of 2018 in mainland Chinese Pro Wrestling I covered the bulk of companies operating in, and around, the territory (Oriental Heroes Legend being a particularly odd standout for having a lot of matches featuring their talent, but very few of those in China.) This part will be dedicated exclusively to covering the company that pushed me over the edge from covering MKW occasionally to writing my first massive deep dive on the territory: Oriental Wrestling Entertainment.

Without even the smallest shadow of a doubt, Oriental Wrestling Entertainment had the biggest and baddest 2018 in the Chinese Pro Wrestling scene. Debuting in February with immense potential right out of the gate, including an exemplary outing from a talented initial roster. They faltered only slightly, with plans to start their own weekly wrestling cards in Shanghai only coming to fruition in October instead of their earlier planned August start date. Nevertheless, a weekly show still puts them far ahead of the pack moving forward, as only MKW can boast regular monthly shows, and OWE’s biggest potential competitor ―KOPW― only had two shows by the end of 2018. When these recent weekly shows are put together with their earlier offerings their volume of output might be greater than any other company in the country.

Weekly shows also go towards reinforcing OWE managements goal of turning the brand into a pro wrestling-based “Young Men’s Action Idol Troupe.” Idol groups in Japan, particularly, often run numerous shows a week and to accomplish this will often have large rosters of talent which can, as need be, be rotated day-by-day. I would suspect that as more of OWE’s dojo candidates get their feet under them, and more international talent get brought on board to flesh out the roster and diversity of aesthetic, that one can expect to see them run more than one show a week. This is likely not a year one, or even two or three, inevitability but more a long-term output likeliness. Arguably one show a week is the best, safest bet for their young roster at this time as, unlike Japanese music Idol groups, pro wrestling has a high physical strain and chance of injury. But OWE does have its domestic talent signed to 10 year contracts, or at least their initial crop are, and have plans to expand internationally at some point.

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A lot of OWE’s YouTube and QQ Video channels are videos like this. I really hope they don’t go away. The “Idol” Aesthetic of OWE goes a long way to separating them from other brands globally.

Their talent are still training five or six days a week, and now have a guaranteed show every Sunday, meaning that their lives will be quite dedicated to this effort. The benefit, for the pro wrestling fan, is that we can expect to see remarkably quick development into quality performers from their domestic talent. To provide further content to a fresh market, OWE have even begun live streaming their weekly training matches from their dojo. While this effort is exciting, the video quality has not been the HD standard one has come to expect from their other video offerings.

For me, I’d like to focus on the exciting aspect of seeing the talent develop further and grow as performers. Unfortunately, to a degree, the very low video quality renders my enjoyment difficult as it can be hard to tell whom I am watching unless they are in their full performance ring gear.  If they could set up a high-def hard cam in their training centre, much the way CHIKARA have done for their training centre broadcasts, it would go a long way to improving the average viewers experience with these training matches. I also think that it would help forge connections for the international audience with these performers if they could see their development clearly, as being invited into their dojo to watch practice matches certainly feels a lot more intimate than just seeing their fully put-together shows.

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“Wild Wolf” Fan Hewei’s match in NTW over the summer was a fun excursion, and he worked well with the local talent.

On top of becoming the most regularly running promotion in mainland China, OWE’s young roster are growing quickly, gaining rapid experience both in the mainland and, increasingly, overseas. While early efforts to get the OWE lads over to FSW shows failed due to VISA issues (something one can expect to see continue with the troubled trade relationship between China and the USA,) their roster has found other ways to be sent afield. While initial plans were for more talent to go abroad than did, 2018 did see A-Ben work on an Australian show, Fan Hewei work a gig for NTW in Taiwan, and both Gao Jingjia and Duan Yingnan have seen time touring Japan with the CIMA-led, OWE Affiliated #STRONGHEARTS faction.

In fact, #STRONGHEARTS has given the OWE lads a remarkable platform. While the roster is mostly composed of the Dragon Gate International members, at its core, and has been regularly fleshed out by the likes of Dezmond Xavier, Zachary Wentz, and now Trey Miguel, it has also given acts heavily associated with OWE a place to shine in Japan. While their in-ring time has often been heavily protected, giving them moments to shine but not over-exposing their greenness, Gao Jingjia and Duan Yingnan’s work in Japan with #STRONGHEARTS has been fundamental for keeping the OWE lads in the public eye during the times where there was not a lot of activity going on for them in the Chinese mainland. Furthermore, an investment of faith has been made by DDT when they had #STRONGHEARTS win their KO-D 6-Man tag titles with Duan Yingnan in the mix. He became the first ever Chinese mainlander to win a Japanese championship and, while the title reign ended on their first defense, this sets a milestone for Chinese talent in Japan and speaks to a potential-laden future.

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While wrestling abroad as a member of #STRONGHEARTS the OWE lads always get given spots to shine and are quite protected from being exposed. Here’s Duan Yingnan flipping like a genius in the match that crowned him as a Champion in DDT.

Wrestle-1 may have been the first Japanese promotion to open its doors to #STH after the Dragon Gate split, it wasn’t the last and the list looks to expand. DDT, as noted above, have put considerable faith in CIMA’s crew and other small Japanese groups, such as J-Stage, are also jumping aboard the #STRONGHEARTS train. With increased opportunities for the faction in Japan, and growing international interest elsewhere, one can hope to see more of the OWE trained lads make their way over to the faction outside of the mainland to expand upon their gimmicks and their skills in new environments.

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The Titan, Roger, claiming his first victory in his debut with OWE at their Big World event.

Starting with their fall shows, OWE began to debut a new group of talent. While I had heard that new talent would be debuting within the year, I was not prepared for how many nor how diverse they would be. This group, overall, seems a little weaker with their athletic prowess than those who debuted in February 2018.  However this potential weakness has been counteracted by some of them being focused more heavily upon comedy, or just being a giant, massive man.

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Wulijimuren and Xiong Zhiyu have formed a strong alliance as “Hengha.”

Of interesting note is that said giant, massive man, who has been nicknamed Titan in OWE advertising, actually has a background in China’s existing pro wrestling landscape. He is announced as Roger in OWE, a name he first took up while wrestling  in the CWF. Additionally he briefly competed under his real name while with the then-IGF Shanghai dojo, now Simon Inoki’s Oriental Heroes Legend. In essence this means that OWE poached talent from Oriental Heroes Legend. I was aware that, for several months, after their debut event in February, OWE had open tryouts for athletes of all backgrounds to join their team.

This expansion beyond their initial Shaolin candidates has added much needed depth to their roster in terms of body diversity and character archetypes. Within the new talent debuts there is a group of three who work together in what seems to be a more comedy-based wrestling style. Unfortunately I cannot speak to how effectively all of the comedy is landing with their target audiences, but it does carry well enough over the language barrier for me to get a glimpse the intent behind it. Much like DDT, a lot of it is physical in nature and doesn’t rely exclusively upon the spoken word.

I’m working on putting together an update to my roster guide for OWE which will feature the new talent and as much information as I can put together on the talent I haven’t already covered in my previous piece. I can say, at this point, that some of the gimmicks and names are fairly easy to unpack as they rely on English names, whereas others are proving more difficult. One of them made me laugh as, during his introduction, OWE VP and Ring Announcer Michael Nee spelled out his ring name after saying it: C-H-A-M-E-L-E-O-N… and then said it again to reinforce the idea! Part of this harkens back to the commentary I made on OWE tailoring its product to try and help make the experience more inclusive to the new-to-pro-wrestling Chinese audiences and, frankly, sometimes it comes off as silly to an outside viewer but I also always find it endearing.

During my writing of this article in the second half of December 2018 OWE started to have a flurry of information suddenly hitting their social media feeds and, surprisingly, it wasn’t just their Chinese-language ones but their English-language Twitter and even their YouTube account saw a large uptake in content. While their QQ Video page still hosts more content overall, as it dates back to before the shows they are uploading to their YouTube channel, this answers many unanswered questions I had about how they would handle content delivery.

When OWE geared up to start their weekly shows in September, an unfortunate false start which thankfully didn’t derail them for long and was the result of government regulatory issues, I inquired as to the future of the OWE/FSW Twitch streaming alliance. On September 13th FSW advised me that they did not have any insight on when more OWE would be available on their  Twitch channel and added that they had “been busy putting together [their own] stuff.” When I asked OWE directly about their plans to have FSW stream future shows on Twitch I was told that they had no plans to continue that element of their relationship. Furthermore, when I inquired about their plans for their fledgling YouTube page I was advised that they were still trying to figure out how they would proceed. Thankfully, while late in the year, they’ve figured it out and are delivering a larger volume of content.

Their most recent shows have had several exciting elements worth noting. The first is that they have been building up a series of tournament matches leading towards crowning their first champion. I, frankly, am very excited to see who will hold that gorgeous belt for the first time and what that will mean for the Chinese scene. Can they deliver high-end singles competition yet? There are a lot of questions worth investigating. They’ve also had a “Balloon Race” match, which I frankly think is a brand new match type invented in China ― but I’m certain someone will correct me if I am wrong ― and turned out far better than I thought it would. OWE have managed to get some of their content on to a sports TV channel in China, an accomplishment worth noting as getting a product onto TV in the mainland requires, as I recall, some governmental approvals. Additionally they have had talent from The Crash Lucha Libre work their cards and, in their published announcements of their upcoming tour, talk about it in partnership terms. Mexico could be a great place for Chinese talent to go on excursion.

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Like in Mario Kart battle mode on the SNES, you have to pop your opponents three balloons to win the Balloon Race match!

Furthermore, a good while after Fan Hewei worked a match in NTW, an announcement was made of an alliance, of sorts, between OWE and New Taiwan Entertainment Wrestling. The first significant result of this alliance has seen Rekka, an NTW stalwart, report for duty to the OWE dojo at the beginning of 2019. This connection with NTW in Taiwan provides OWE with a place where they can send talent that are ready to go on an excursion to an easier to get to and from locale than some other places, one that sees a plethora of talent come in from Japan and the United States. Allowing their talent to work with different styles in a growing hotbed of the “Asian Wrestling Revolution” could only benefit them. Furthermore, NTW has a lot of interesting and diverse characters to offer up which could continue to help patch up some of the OWE roster’s physical and stylistic sameness issues while they develop more and more homegrown talent.

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SAKA, based out of NTW in Taiwan, would be an interesting element to see injected into OWE competition.

This increased connectivity with the existing scope of the Chinese Pro Wrestling scene lends credence to the rumours I’ve heard of a canceled show concept OWE may have had kicking around, one set to feature nothing but talent from the rest of the Chinese mainland (and possibly Hong Kong and Taiwan) pro wrestling scenes. Had this show come to fruition it probably would have benefited OWE less than the talent featured upon it and, were a similar concept to arise again in the future, I’d expect it to play out more along the “Us vs. Them” narratives commonly found on OWE’s earlier shows and those slated for their upcoming tour dates (Which I have confirmation will be filmed, at the least in Guangdong.) These shows place two OWE teams, one designed to represent Shanghai and one to represent the local city the tour is in, against an international faction composed of familiar FSW related talents, the Dragon Gate International contingent, and luchadors from The Crash promotion such as Arez.

With all of this exciting news coming from the company it would be easy to assume that OWE’s year has been without negatives. Unfortunately it hasn’t been uneventful in this way. Both Gao Jingjia and Duan Yingnan have suffered injuries, with Jingjia’s having kept “The Flowing King” out of action for far longer than anyone would like to see with such a promising young talent. Injury is just a part of the game when it comes to wrestling, but Yingnan’s recovery was rather quick and CIMA has proven that he is willing to nurture promising talent even through troubling injuries, so one hopes that none of these promising lads will be set too far back from any injuries they experience in these formative years.

Without a doubt there’s even more to say about OWE, and the rest of Chinese Pro Wrestling, that I haven’t covered in these articles. I’ve not talked about what talent is excelling, or the increasing quality of matches across the board in the country as more talent rises. The scope of these articles belies analysis of that nature. Nor have I talked about the fact that when I had had a chance to speak with OWE’s management in Las Vegas they said that they would like to have shows in key US cities with the first few years of their outfits operation. An exciting potentiality which seems to be built off of the increasing international success of brands like NJPW and also will, likely, draw upon the history and knowledge of touring Shaolin Kung Fu demonstrations. Could 2019 see these events happen? Will 2019 see the best quality productions in Chinese Pro Wrestling emerge? Will more focus be put on attracting western attention than before, or will these promotions turn their focus more inwards to nurture their domestic markets before branching out more? There are a lot of questions I have, and only one certainty I can share with you: I’ll be there to enjoy it and share it with you as it all happens!