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.

 

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#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!

 

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

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

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

KOPW

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

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

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

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

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

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

MKW

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

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

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

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

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

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

CWF

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

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

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

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

OHL

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

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

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

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

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

WLW

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

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

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

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

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

#DiscoveringWrestling #014 – The Arrogant Atheist in Mexico

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

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

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

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

DB: No.

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Dalton Bragg at the AAA tryouts.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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#DiscoveringWrestling #012 – Hunan Hustle! MKW Championship Match!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Grade: B-

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