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

Oriental Wrestling Entertainment

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

King of Pro Wrestling

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

 

Middle Kingdom Wrestling

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

 

World Wrestling Entertainment

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

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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 #3

Oriental Wrestling Entertainment

– After the recently announced international talent search by OWE,  the first performer to be venturing to China has been confirmed to be Buffa. Buffa has a track record in Xhina, having performed initially for king of Pro Wrestling (KOPW,) he went on to also work matches for Gao Yuan’s We Love Wrestling (WLW,) and Middle Kingdom Wrestling (MKW.) He will arrive in China a few days before his March 16th debut, and I will  have further updates on his time in China as it develops.

Buffa has a track record working for Pro Wrestling Zero-1 in Japan and was a strong player in the foundational years of modern US indie wrestling under the name K-Pusha, in the tag team “All Money Is Legal.” He will bring a wealth of experience and charisma with him to OWE. Of particular interest, to me, is the fact that Buffa will be, by my count, the foreigner to have worked for the most Chinese Pro Wrestling companies in the scene’s short existence thus far.

– Additional information has come to light about OWE’s “Road to Double or Nothing” after their March 3rd 2019 event in Shanghai. In an article published on their official WeChat page, they detailed many of the events of the night, including many of the match outcomes. What stood out the most, however, is the use of a fan voting system being implemented.

This system, run via a dedicated OWE  mini-program inside the app, looks to rank the talent via paid fan support to help determine how the trials will progress in key ways. These trials, thus far, in story have  been handled as single-elimination, randomly selected tag-team matches to qualify for a round robin tournament. The first inkling of how the fan votes will impact the end result of the proceedings can be found in things such as determining which eliminated competitor gets to come back to team with “Hyperstreak” Gregiry Sharpe in future matches after he won a multi-man scramble match to qualify for the trials.

For approximately one cent in RMB fans can purchase a support ticket. They then use the OWE social media application to give that ticket to one of the eliminated wrestlers. After approximately 5 weeks, according to my sources, the wrestler with the most support tickets will get a second shot at competing to go to Double or Nothing, by joining Sharpe in the Round Robin. The rankings will be updated , as I understand it, on Friday afternoons.

This kind of fan ranking system, as you may recall from my previous articles, is derived from OWE’s idol culture influence and aims to take advantage of China’s high level of online engagement. Exactly how much influence it will have on the end results of OWE’s “Road to Double or Nothing” story is, presently, unknowable. It will certainly be exciting to watch this uniquely Chinese adaptation of both idol culture and pro wrestling shape events over the next three months in the lead up to All Elite Wrestling’s May 25th debut event in Las Vegas.

The randomly paired teams who were not eliminated will move on to a round Robin tournament where the highest ranked team will earn spots at Double or Nothing. This would account for two of the 4 mentioned spots. The only round robin match date announced so far is set for March 9th.

– Episodes of this storyline will air to the west  on platforms such as NEO-TV, Powerslam TV, and Twitch. OWE aims to have all of them come out to western audiences with enough time to be caught up on their storylines by the time fans are attending Double or Nothing.

 

 

SPOILERS BELOW THIS POINT

If you wish to avoid spoilers please hit Ctrl+F and search for MKW to skip down to news about that company. Otherwise read on for a list of who has stayed in the contest and who has been eliminated. I’d like to preface this section by indicating that I am certain of most of this information being accurate, but that a small set of details remains unclear to me at this time regarding who, exactly, is in the eliminated pool. I’ve decided to publish it nonetheless and will work to correct any errors as I determine them.

 

– The wrestlers who survived elimination in this opening salvo were (listed in order of team placement in the round robin chart found below)

“T-Cool” Tang Huaqi and “Monkey King” Wang Jin, “The Bull” Xiong Zhiyu and “Mongolian Warrior” Wulijimuren, Rekka (from NTW) and “Scorpio XX” Liu Xinxi, “Wild Wolf” Fan Hewei and “Lightning Leopard” Cheng Xiangke, “The Captain” A-Ben and “Commando” Duan Yingnan, Zhao Junjie and Zhao Yilong, “Hyperstreak” Gregory Sharpe with his partner TBD.

-The wrestlers I can confirm as presently eliminated are:  Duan Dihang, Shuai Shuai, Tornado (blue pants) and Ren Yuhang, Xuan Xuan and Gao Jingjia. There are some names I’m.not certain of correct translations for and I’m working on getting that sorted out.

OWE-WHo-Will-In-AEW-Double-or-Nothing-round-robin

I’m personally very happy to see OWE running this storyline as their first ever round robin tournament, and I’m happy to see that the Japanese influence is very much at play. Western companies rarely, if ever, run round robins but they do so very much for the talent and audience.

 

Middle Kingdom Wrestling 

As I had mentioned in my previous news round-up, MKW’s next event will be held on March 10th 2019. Since then, several interesting bits of news have come to light.

– MKW Champion Big Sam will not be able to compete at the March 10th event, as he required emergency surgery. His surgery went smoothly and hopefully his recovery goes smoothly too and he can continue blazing a trail in Chinese Pro Wrestling in the near future.

Unfortunately this leaves the former main event annulled, and brilliant rookie Michael Su without a flagship title match on the card. From what I have been told, American wrestler “Hyperstreak” Gregory Sharpe will be taking Big Sam’s spot across the ring from “Masterclass” Michael Su. This is significant because it was also framed to me as possibly the first step towards an OWE vs. MKW event, as OWE is Sharpe’s home promotion in China.

Jason Cheng, also know as Cheng YuXiang, one of the WWE’s Chinese talent recruits, will be performing on the card in a match against Uncle Money, of MKW’s dominant heel faction The Stable. This is fairly significant as it will be an injection of fresh blood, trained at a prestige facility, to the fledgling scene. It’s hard to say how well the returning hero will fare, with his NXT career being exclusively on the mostly unfilmed Largo Loop, but he is sure to generate buzz with his WWE association. With Ho Ho Lun also working the same card it will also mark, as far as I am aware, the first event to feature this many former WWE Chinese talents in China. MKW have even dedicated an entire article to his return home to China.

– MKW also appear to be seeking new recruits to their ever improving training program, as illustrated by this article from WeChat. MKW’s efforts to bring new talent into the fold have, thus far, yielded some strong results with graduate Michael Su making my Top 5 Chinese Wrestlers Outside of OWE list within his first year of competition.

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.

 

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

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

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

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

I have two answers to that question:

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

NWA Chinese Event Poster.jpg

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

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

Special Notes

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

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

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

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

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

The Slam and CWE

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The rise and fall of CNWWE

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

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

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

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

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

Adrian Gomez and MKW

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Brad Guo and the CWF

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Taiwanese wrestler Lenbai outsmarts Tony Trivaldo at an MKW event.

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

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

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

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

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

Gao Yuan and WLW

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

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

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

Huayang Fu, Dragon Gate, and OWE

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

KOPW and The Future

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

#TorontoWrestling at Smash Wrestling’s Any Given Sunday 6

Well, folks, this one was a humdinger! On January 21st 2018 Smash Wrestling held their first show of the new year, and it was filled with brilliant action and big moments. This time I found myself back at The Phoenix, and greeted by a sea of chairs unlike any setup I had seen Smash run thus far. This card was seemingly designed to set up the major storylines of 2018, and in their push to build narratives, I found some things to nitpick, but the good far outweighed the bad. So let’s get to it!

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Match 1 – Scotty O’Shea vs. Joe Hendry

The legitimate best part of this match was Hendry’s brilliant mocking of Scotty during his comedy entrance package, taking the piss right out of the poor lad. Unfortunately, I found neither man really brought much of anything special to the bout. They’re both competent athletes who are solid hands in the ring, but there just wasn’t anything to really get excited about. The closest I got to excited was during the two times that Hendry navigated his way into the Ankle Lock from unusual starting positions. It was fluid, interesting, technical wrestling inserted almost  without context into this otherwise standard and dry opening contest. In the end O’Shea picks up the win off of a low blow and corner cannonball spot.

Grade: C+
Match 2 – The Super Smash Brothers (Evil Uno and Stu Grayson) vs. Halal Beefcake (Idris Abraham and Joe Coleman)

The match starts with a long stretch of solid but not particularly engaging action that has the SSB reveling in their new extra-heelish mannerisms. They isolate and work on Coleman for what felt like a very long time. After about a million years Coleman gets the tag to Idris Abraham after a double back suplex on both of the SSB. This pops the crowd and sets Idris up for positive treatment from the fans. Abraham doesn’t disappoint either. He runs the ropes like a flash of lighting as Halal Beefcake build up their offensive comeback. Unfortunately for the adorable goofs, the SSB aren’t put out of the fight as they set up their win off of a great leaping knee strike counter from Stu Grayson. With the speed game of Halal Beefcake shut down, Uno and Grayson lay hard into their opponents and let the Smasholes in attendance know that they are full villains by breaking their own pins to lay more punishment into the beleaguered faces, only to come out on top anyways! Dastardly doings right there.

In the end this match could have been more engaging for longer, but it finished very strong and carried on the villainous tone that the evening would run with through till the end.

Grade: B
Match 3 – Tarik vs. Sebastian Suave

Tarik made his way to the ring, in what looked to be some nice new gear, to a rowdy and appreciative audience reaction. He paused to revel in it near me, laying out some good meta pro-wrestling commentary and loving every minute of the wild affair. This reaction was irrefutable proof that Smash’s project to turn Tarik face had been working, and this match would go on to cement that turn.

The match exploded into an aggressive back-and-forth from the first ding of the bell. Tarik’s turns in control were frenetic and passionate flurries, while Suave’s were slowed down, methodical and impactful. The two worked well together and kept the pace at an engaging level throughout. Tarik came off as more charismatic than usual as he fought a fight that his opponent, and the loud-mouthed manager Kingdom James, had made personal.

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Tarik and Suave battle on the apron as I take notes in the front row. Take note of my proximity to the ring for later.

As the match built to its climax the audience was treated to bigger and flashier moves as the men traded near falls off of some of their go-to fight ending manoeuvres. Notably Tarik kicks out of a top rope driver and Suave out of a diving knee and a benadriller. At this point Suave lays in to Tarik with murderous elbows and their fight spills outside the confines of the ring, and the match, as Suave, unable to put Tarik down, turns his boots to Tarik’s family in attendance and the two are pulled apart by security and we have a non-ending to what was a tremendous match.

Grade: B
Match 4 – Carter Mason vs. Lionel Knight vs. Kevin Blackwood vs. Allie vs. Jeff Cobb

This match had so much potential to be a show stealer. The men and women in the match can all go and their combined talent should have led to something along the lines of the last multi-man bout Cobb was in at Smash’s New Girl in Town. Unfortunately the central conceit of the match failed to provide the same kind of framework for success that the previous one did. I want to make it clear that none of the performers did a bad job performing the roles they were given, and the match as a whole wasn’t boring, or bad, but it was disappointing.

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Jeff Cobb is ready for his match, folks.

The match started out seemingly on even footing between all the competitors, but after a double knee combo from Carter Mason and Kevin Blackwood sent Cobb out to the floor, the power dynamics began to be creep their way in. The heels, Blackwood and Mason, developed most of their heat from the fact that they would hit Allie, their opponent in this competition. The male faces, on the other hand, would have moments where they team up with and seemingly protect Allie, forgoing actively attacking their opponent in a competition. Really, the guys getting the boos in the match were the only ones who treated Allie the same way they would treat anyone else who stood across the ring for them, and this made the whole match feel disingenuous. In fact, it diverted energy away from the pace and offense output of the performance. In the end Cobb picked up the win when he took Blackwood on a Tour of the Islands.

Grade: B-
Match 5 – Kevin Bennett vs. Mark Haskins

Mark Haskins is a tiny, intense, living murder bullet. I had two words jotted down in my notes about the opening moments of this match, “fast” and “aggresive,” before Haskins came flying in my direction. A suicide dive aimed at Bennett’s cronies Muscles and Big Tank, wiped them out and caught me in the crossfire. My beer fell victim to the assault, spilling its frothy blood across my collected possesions and leaving a slippery film across the floor to remind performers of its once crisp, refreshing taste. I hope it looked great on camera. For full disclosure, Smash crew had a new fresh beer in my hands quick-fast.

Stunned I watched as Haskins and Bennett released their limiters and went crazy with each other. I fell behind by a lot in my note taking and my back and neck were stiff from absorbing the impact. Their match was like a whirlwind. It was super fast and hard hitting. Most importantly, I think it was the best match I’ve ever seen Bennett in. The match builds in violence, and Haskins lays his kicks in like he is trying to commit literal murder, but Bennett is up for it and they dial up each other’s offense as the match builds.

Bennett’s cronies interfere one too many times and the referee ejects them, leaving Bennett alone for the first time in as much of Smash as I can remember. Unfortunately they come back after the match has gotten really good and wind up getting Haskins the win by DQ. As part of a longer storey that has been brewing for months, this non-finish is almost excusable, but the problem comes with the fact that it was the second such ending of the night, and the fourth match to end with heelish shenanigans. I think this may be a slight flaw to the way the shows are planned for television tapings, but it just started to feel really “same-y” as the show went on.

Grade: B+
Match 6 – Brent Banks vs. Matt Riddle

This match was super fun and competitive. Banks and Riddle work smoothly with each other from the opening bell. Early on we see Riddle using his MMA-based grappling to confound and fluster Brent Banks to such a degree that he teases stomping on Riddle’s bare feet. Riddle tries to capitalize on Banks hesitancy to pick a direction to approach the fight from and the audience is treated to some very gymnastics heavy reversal sequences as the two men figure each other out. As the match develops, Riddle dials the aggression up to eleven and gets in some nasty shots with his “Bro 2 Sleep” and a deadlift German suplex for a near fall, followed shortly by a pair of gutwrench suplexes that had the crowd chanting “Broplex City.”

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Team SPLX taking the fight to the Toronto locals at AGS6!

Banks, finally fed up with the dominance of his opponent, takes the next opportunity to stomp on Riddle’s unprotected feet and gets a German suplex of his own. At this point the dynamic of the match changes for the better. Riddle aggressively pushes ever onward towards winning, but is met now by a Brent Banks who is frustrated by being outclassed and wants to prove his worth. Banks strives on in the face of the oncoming assault and takes desperate measures, like catching Riddle’s kick and biting his foot, which he follows with a sensational running boot in the corner. The action comes on hard and varied in style and Riddle looks to come out on top when he hits his tombstone piledriver to end a huge back-and-forth sequence. Unfortunately for the Bro, Banks kicks out at two and makes a brief comeback before reversing Riddle offense into a pinning predicament and scoring the surprise victory.

Grade: A
Match 7 – Tyson Dux (c) vs. Frankie The Mobster – Smash Championship Match

Built off of the idea that Frankie and Dux go way back as friends, this match opens with tempers flaring as Dux jumps his once-friend and lays into him with ferocity. It’s a nice change from the average Dux title defense which had little emotional stakes to offer the audience, and with Dux style led to many of them feeling too similar to the last outing.

Unfortunately this emotional component to the match doesn’t stop FTM from slowing… the… pace… to… a… crawl. He talks a lot and looms menacingly over Dux, moving weirdly and laying in some attacks as the match builds. It’s well executed but boring, that is until Dux gets fired up and just hits oh so many suplexes and goes for the pin. Unfortunately, at this precise moment, the SSB try to make their way down to the ring from the stage and the referee gets distracted. This distraction allows Vanessa Kraven to come in and obliterate Dux with a chokebomb. Frankie then hits his finisher and gets the pinfall, dethroning the longest-reigning Smash champion to date and forming a new villainous stable in the process. I’m curious to see how this plays out for two particular reasons: 1) All of these allied villains are from Quebec, which means there is a cultural rivalry with Ontarians they can easily capitalize on and 2) Frankie, while a long-time player in the Ontario and Quebec independent wrestling scene, is not what one would consider a modern indie worker in style, and has had a propensity for injuries over the years.

Grade: B
Match 8 – The Well -Oiled Machine (Braxton Sutter and Psycho Mike) vs. Tabarnak de Team (Mathieu St-Jacques and Thomas Dubois)

This was a fucking fun, hectic, tremendous match. The opening action was solid, with the teams trading dominant position in the ring. The violence was quickly dialed up to new heights for both of these teams. They introduced and murdered ladders early on, each man making certain to slam his opponent on a ladder, or throw one at him, or strike him with one at every given opportunity. While both teams were equally violent, willing to brutalize their opposition for the prize on the line, Tabarnak de Team took the early advantage by managing to set up strong double team moves that took both of the Well-Oiled Machines down at the same time.

Monsieurs St-Jacques and Dubois, in a momentary lull in their torrent of team offense, take the time to keep myself and those around me out of our seats to set up the first of two tables they would use. It was a surreal moment as these sweaty, burly Quebecois woodsmen commanded us to move. It was like I had become the camera of a well produced show and they perfectly filled the frame, bursting with intensity and charismatic aggression. New ladders and chairs are introduced to the match and Braxton Sutter gets put through the table they forced me to move for, which prompts Psycho Mike to return and start wailing on his opponents, yelling like a maniac. Around this time the crowd also pops huge for Psycho Mike fixing the support arms on a ladder previously set up by TdT, because it was upside down and wouldn’t lock into place due to that. A portion of the crowd had been trying to communicate to TdT but it just didn’t get fixed till Mike got his hands on it. Good job Mike!

Heading into the final stretch of the match Sutter brings out the second table and sets it up, again clearing fans away in the jam-packed Phoenix. This show I do believe was genuinely the biggest audience I have seen at a Smash show, with far more chairs set up than ever before, and the main eventers were there to work. There were constantly men and weapons in motion, Dubois weaponized his top-rope Moonsault to the outside with a smaller ladder clutched in his arms as he flipped onto everyone below. It was just this wonderful mess of insane stunts and courageous, violent performers. A terrifying ladder spot sees the Well-Oiled Machines send one member of TdT off the top of a ladder to crash into the other standing on the apron, only to have both of them then crash through the table Sutter had set up on the outside. With this, the Well-Oiled Machines were free to climb the ladders and grab the belts hanging in the air to become the first ever Smash Wrestling Tag Team champions. While some moments were a bit derivative, the participants performance was top notch and the match turned out to be remarkably engaging.

Grade: A+
Conclusion:

While there are certainly elements of the show that I have been critical of thus far, this show was dialed up to eleven to kick off Smash’s 2018. The sheer number of screwjob/non-endings won’t feel anywhere near as troublesome when the show is broken down into two weeks or more worth of television, and I do not begrudge this brand their efforts to make their television product compelling and engaging. To compensate for this fact I can certainly see that all the talent put their best foot forwards in terms of how they presented the action that lead to these endings and it certainly kept me entertained and wanting to see more. If they can keep this energy up in throughout the year, and provide the fans with big payoffs to the stories they are building, then Smash are set to burn down the expectations of the Ontario indie scene and erect new standards in their place.

 

#TorontoWrestling at Smash Wrestling’s CANUSA Classic 2017

On December 3rd 2017 Smash Wrestling returned again to the overbearing stuffiness of the Franklin Horner Community Centre for their annual all-female event, pitting teams representing Women’s Wrestling from Canada and the US of A against each other. Seeing as Cheerleader Melissa and Mercedes Martinez were on the card, it reminded me heavily of the NCW Femme Fatales event I attended back in Montreal, years before I made the move down here to Toronto. The venue, as was to be expected, did the in-ring action little justice. My girlfriend, who attended the event with me, was compelled on several occasions to go outside for a breath of fresh air as the venue’s lack of air circulation was triggering her asthma. Overall I am willing to travel back to this facility for the quality of shows that Smash put on, but I won’t be bringing anyone with me to this venue again. It’s just not good when you compare it to the far superior Phoenix and Opera House. Nevertheless, venue aside, the show did a good job of highlighting some amazing, incredibly talented performers.

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Match 1 – Veda Scott (USA) vs. Danyah (Canada)

Veda made an immediate impact with her entrance, riding to the ring on a child’s bicycle, draped in the American flag, as Kid Rock’s “American Badass” blared over the sound system. This light mockery of the least beloved phase of the Deadman’s career, however, could easily be seen as the high point of this match. Veda performed adequately enough but, and particularly from my angle, the same cannot be said for Danyah. Her inexperience showed throughout the match, as she delivered lacklustre and/or sloppy offense. The uncertainty in her movements really weighed down the pace of the match when the action was in her hands to control. Of particular note were the corner dropkicks, which looked neither impactful nor crisp. In the end, Veda picked up the win off of a series of kicks.

Grade: C+
Match 2 – Kaitlin Diamond (USA) vs. Gisele Shaw (Canada)

I had no serious complaints about the quality of this match. It was quite fun and served its role as an opening match better than the first one did. Gisele put on an early display of lucha libre inspired agility and offense, popping the crowd as she went. Instantly she was, by virtue of her being Canadian and doing cool moves, placed hard in the role of the babyface. This played well into Diamond’s hands as the crowd really got behind booing her as she took control by fighting dirty.

Both performers looked good in the match, with Diamond receiving the lion’s share of my praise for her solid displays of power and striking. Her offense was technically sound and well executed, but lacked a little something to make it stand out from the crowd. Gisele Shaw, on the other hand, had the moves that made the audience pop more but, while she did display nice control in the sequence, her strike flurry felt weightless. It seemed as if she was more concerned about her form being on point than the blows looking like they could hurt someone. In the end Diamond picked up the win with a strange fisherman’s hold dropped into a package front-facelock neckbreaker (I honestly cannot describe it better than that, sorry folks!)

Grade: B
Match 3 – Samantha Heights (USA) vs. Jewells Malone (Canada)

Nothing but fun here. This match was a solid pace from the opening moments where Heights ambushed Malone all the way through to the end. The two had some good brawling on the outside of the ring, capped off by Malone turning momentum in her favor with a leaping chair attack off of the ring apron. Back in the ring, and in clearer view, both women put their offensive skills on display. Samantha Heights, much like the last time I saw her, kept up a barrage of banter mixed in to her rough heelish ring work. Distinct improvements to the quality of her ring work could be seen, to a degree that astonished me for the relatively short time period between September and December.

Malone, whom I was watching for the first time, delivered nice strikes and suplexes, but shone the most with her speed as she ran the ropes. The two had good chemistry with each other, both being the rough and tumble sort of charismatic brawler that wrestling so often revolves around. In the end, Jewells Malone would pick up the victory off of a TKO, but not without having to kick out of an impressive cross-up Shining Wizard from Heights. These two certainly have a future in the business.

Grade: B
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While not initially advertised as a Fight Network taping, partway through the show they realized how well it was going and seemingly changed their minds. Not everything will be broadcast, but these are three great matches to highlight.

Match 4 – Jordynne Grace (USA) vs. Alexia Nicole (Canada)

This match was built around the physical mismatch of the women’s bodies, with Jordynne Grace dwarfing the absolutely teeny Alexia Nicole, to great effect and fun. Jordynne’s power easily overwhelmed her opponent from the opening moments of the match, with Alexia being forced to rely on her speed and technique to mount any kind of offense. Alexia would mount her offense with a series of lucha-like twisty, fast manoeuvres and then get cut off by something simple, like a spinebuster, by Jordynne Grace that would pop the audience far harder and with far less effort. Indeed, the audience loved Grace throughout the match, giving her much love for her hard hitting, firm, big-move centric offense.

The intensity of the match built up nicely as it went on, with Grace easily taking control but unable to secure the pinfall victory over Alexia Nicole. Muscle Buster? Nope, that’s a kick-out. Electric Chair Apron Facebuster? Nope, that’s a kick out, too! In the end, frustrated by her inability to keep the much smaller woman down, Grace fell victim to an unfortunately unconvincing wheelbarrow facebuster from Alexia. This, unfortunately, but a bit of a damper on an otherwise great match, muddying the quality and believability of the finish. Nevertheless, the performances of the women in this match were rock solid.

The night had begun with the announcement that there would be a “Standout Performance” medal awarded to one wrestler at the end of the night, as voted on by “the people in the back” (read: other wrestlers, Smash Wrestling management and crew). After this match I knew Jordynne Grace would win that award. I wasn’t wrong. Jordynne Grace is the future.

Grade: B+
Match 5 – Cheerleader Melissa (USA) vs. Xandra Bale (Canada)

This match was, both in kayfabe and reality, very one sided. Cheerleader Melissa was both booked to look dominant and was the crisper, more refined performer in the outing. On the other hand, Xandra Bale is underwhelming. Every time I see her I want to like her, her entrances and look are on point, but she always winds up disappointing me. This match was, regrettably, no exception. Indeed, the best thing I can say about her in this outing was that Xandra Bale is 100% unafraid to take some wild spots and bumps. Melissa swung her through chairs hard, knocking over a whole swath of audience seating in the act.

Melissa dominated the match, with simple, effective, and brutally applied submissions and strikes. This built  up to a finishing sequence that saw Bale try to fight back, with slow strikes and a spinning fisherman buster, only for Melissa to come out with the win off of an Avalanche Air Raid Crash. Keeping in mind the limitations I feel Bale has as a performer, I still rated this match rather well for the fact that the match was booked and built in such a way as to limit how exposed these weaknesses were. Cheerleader Melissa carried the heaviest bulk of the offense in the match and Bale played the beleaguered underdog well.

Grade: B
Match 6 – Mercedes Martinez (USA) vs. Rosemary (Canada)

This match benefitted from the previous match’s one-sidedness, as the more even back-and-forth presentation made the participants both feel like a big deal. The opening saw the Smash-faithful firmly on the side of Rosemary, and Martinez throwing some of the loudest chops I have ever heard in person. The love that Toronto has for Rosemary cannot be understated here, as the audience popped pretty much any time she did anything. Martinez, as a deft performer, capitalized on this to elicit boos from the audience by faking dives and throwing Rosemary hard with a beautiful side suplex.

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Rosemary always makes a striking entrance. I didn’t take this picture and have lost my notes on where it came from. If this was yours, let me know how to credit you please!

In the end, after being beaten with chairs outside, eating a super ace crusher and a series of nice suplexes from Martinez, Rosemary would score the win with her Red Wedding. This match was, without a doubt, the best thus far of the night. Both women came out looking to make an impression and didn’t slack in any way. It was fun. Both of them are also incredibly versed in suplexes and it just felt like the best pairing possible.

Grade: B+
Match 7 – Allie (USA) vs. Gail Kim (Canada)

This match was touted as being Gail Kim’s last Canadian Pro-Wrestling match before her retirement. As some of you may be aware, I had been thankful to see her for the first time at the Bound For Glory event in Ottawa. This evening, however, offered me something that the other didn’t: An intimate venue and indie setting. At Impact Wrestling, the talent felt so far away, so inaccessible. Here I finally got to meet her an, very inelegantly, thank her for how much she gave me what I wanted out of women’s wrestling back in the glory days of TNA. She lead the charge, to me, in the North American women’s wrestling scene being taken seriously by a mainstream audience. Her efforts will, likely, never get the true respect they deserve but she stands atop a mountain in my mind. So, as a personal moment, I really want to thank both Gail Kim and Smash Wrestling for being so great on that night!

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Gail Kim was my gateway into loving women’s wrestling. She answered the question I was asking when she went to TNA and started her career there: Can women’s wrestling be more than what the WWE was giving me? The answer was an emphatic “Yes”. Thank You!

The match itself was solid, but at times felt a bit rushed. They opened with back-and-forth exchanges, showing each other to be evenly matched. Allie was the first to ratchet up the pace of the match, with an aggressive facebuster. Unfortunately, like too many Smash matches, the two brawled outside and disappeared from view for a while. With Allie as the aggressor, Gail Kim responds by avoiding an attempted corner drop kick and turns it into a corner Figure-4 leglock of her own, turning the tide against her fellow Impact Wrestling roster member. Gail then turns to her submission game heavily, working on Allie’s legs with submissions and strikes. This leads to Allie getting a submission of her own on Gail, a very well execute Cattle Mutilation.

In the end, Allie kicks out of Gail’s Eat Defeat finisher at a healthy two-count, and surprises the veteran Kim with a reversal into a pinning predicament to score the win. This victory was also the deciding blow in the even heat between Team USA and Team Canada. Even though led by a native Canadian, Team USA scores the win at CANUSA 2017 off of Allie’s quick wits and never say die attitude.

Grade: B+
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Team Canada and Team USA, post event, with their medals. Sadly Veda Scott isn’t in this as she had to catch a flight to the UK for a show.

Conclusion:

This was the first all-women wrestling show I had been to in many, many years (my last one being an nCw Femmes Fatales show years before I moved to Toronto from Montreal which, coincidentally, also featured Cheerleader Melissa and Mercedes Martinez on the card.) This show was exciting and energetic, building towards a solid finish from an engaging start. I wish there was a stronger presence in Canada for all-women’s shows. The talent pool certainly exists to run them, and the local scene is certainly developing new depth all the time. Locally, it seems, a lot of the younger women are cutting their teeth in inter-gender matches as well. I look forward to CANUSA 2018 and seeing who they bring in for that spectacle. Also, writing this makes me realize how much I regret not seeing a Stardom or Ice Ribbon or Sendai Girls show while in Japan in January 2017. Next time I am in Tokyo, you can definitely expect me to attend a Joshi show or two.

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Montreal, many years and many bad hair decisions ago. Myself and Cheerleader Melissa. She told me I looked like a wrestler with my hair.