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

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

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

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

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

Section One: Statements Concerning CIMA

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Section Two: Statements Concerning Pay and Chinese Management

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Section Three: Statements Concerning the Chinese Wrestlers

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

MN : Insurance.

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

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

My Final Thoughts

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

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

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

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

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

 

Amidst negativity, OWE strives to find a path forward

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

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

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

 

 

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Why Cambodia? Why Chengdu?

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

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

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

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

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Inside as their ring was being set up in Cambodia.

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

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

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

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Outside of their future show space in Chengdu, China.

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

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

 

Taiwanese talent released?

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

 

The future of their relationship with AEW

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

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

 

 

 

 

 

 

OWE’s “Road to Double or Nothing” and Open Call for Talent

The Road to Double or Nothing 

Recently, on their official WeChat page, Oriental Wrestling Entertainment published some details of their upcoming plans for their Spring season. The core of the storyline drive will be a series of matches designed to select the four OWE talents who will travel with CIMA to participate in All Elite Wrestling’s sold out debut event in Las Vegas on May 25th 2019. These “trials” started on OWE’s March 3rd event at the Yangtze River Theatre.

Yes, you read that right: 4.

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How great is this poster?

The number of candidates to be selected was listed as four in two separate articles published by OWE recently. I cannot confirm any names, as can be understood when you consider the fact that the next two months of story content, give or take, will revolve around determining who these four men will be. That being said, from what I have heard I suspect that it will be two Japanese performers and two Chinese performers who make the cut.

With Matt Jackson having previously indicated that AEW intends for #STRONGHEARTS  to play a pivotal role from the very beginning, and the hype reel played for the SCU vs. OWE announcement at the Ticket Announcement Party having featured exclusively Chinese talent, this 2 and 2 formulation makes sense.

This also means that, unless someone lets the cat out of the bag early on, we should only be finding out who will be appearing at Double or Nothing much closer to the event date than any other announcement is likely to come.

 

Cross-Promotion with NTW

The date and the card for OWE’s cross-promoted event with New Taiwan Entertainment Wrestling (NTW) have been set. The date we have known for a while now is March 30th 2019.  In this article we also see some key matches advertised. The #STRONGHEARTS team of El Lindaman and T-Hawk will face off against TAJIRI and KAZUYA, a 6-Man tag featuring teams representing Taiwan and OWE, and a tag team match featuring CIMA and Fan Hewei teaming against Taiwanese veteran A-YONG-GO and The Joker have all been advertised.

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Keep an eye on SAKA, the man is a literal one-armed wrestler. Very entertaining performer.

Also of note, the official #STRONGHEARTS twitter account has been promoting a tour for fans in Japan to visit Taiwan, attend the show, and then do some sightseeing in Taiwan. It’s an idea that shows just how much CIMA and his crew want to stay engaged with their Japanese fanbase and I think it is something I would go on, were I there.

 

OWE International Talent Recruitment

In one of OWE’s articles detailing their upcoming Road to Double or Nothing plans there was also a section which translated intriguingly as “Hero Recruitment,” which indicated OWE’s interest in bringing in new international talent. The details were unclear, as I was using Google Translate, so I reached out to OWE COO Michael Nee for clarification.

Our conversation brought much to light. OWE are, indeed, currently seeking new applicants from abroad to help flesh out their roster and provide the Chinese audience with different kinds of looks and athletes from what are currently available.

OWE are looking for talent willing to relocate to China for minimum two months at a time to work with them, as Chinese business visas allow for businessmen to stay in the country for up to 60 consecutive days at a time. At the end of two months, if both parties wish to continue the arrangement, it would be as simple as leaving the mainland for nearby Hong Kong, Macau or Japan for a day or two and re-entering China to get a new stamp in your passport for another two months. Michael Nee has said that applicants for these visas will need to have a letter of invitation to be able to apply which, of course, would be supplied for chosen candidates who do not already have the visa.

OWE will provide talent with monthly pay, food, and lodging during their time in China. Additionally, performers brought in to the company will be training alongside OWE’s  roster in their facility ― which regularly has world class talent scout and trainer CIMA on hand, and has brought in trainers as reputable and diverse as Jorge “Skayde” Rivera and Yan Chao, a Chinese member of Cirque du Soleil (which is why acrobatics are so well handled and represented in OWE from the very beginning.) Most importantly, there are a planned two weekly shows.

OWE have a very active presence on Chinese media platforms and an expanding presence on western services as well, with one show per week typically serving as their big show in a more traditional venue and the second being held in their training facility with a small and intimate audience. All of which typically makes film and sees release at the least on their QQ video page and potentially internationally via their new deal with NEO-TV or on platforms such as YouTube and Twitch. They intend for their new international recruits to get a good deal of video time.

While all applicants will be considered, they’re looking to bring in international talent that meet certain requirements, with an emphasis being placed on both their look and their career level. Preferences in look are towards physically larger athletes of non-Asian backgrounds to draw the eyes of China’s typical wrestling fans, whose major exposure to the art is through the WWE’s heavy push to get their product broadcast in the emerging market.

Preferences in regards to career status are towards those who have yet to break out into the big time, the so called next big things, looking to get noticed but who may not have cut through  the static in the crowded North American or European marketplaces. As I mentioned above, Michael Nee made a key point of how easy it is to renew your 60-day legal work cycle, and, as such, this is something which could be an opportunity for long term work with the company, should both parties see it as worthwhile.

For those who wish to apply, send an e-mail to Pearl, at Pearl6689@163.com. Provide a written profile of yourself,  as well as a link to something like a Facebook page, where photos, video, and contact information can all be found in one place.

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

KOPW

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

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

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

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

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

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

MKW

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

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

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

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

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

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

CWF

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

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

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

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

OHL

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

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

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

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

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

WLW

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

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

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

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

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

#DiscoveringWrestling Presents – A Beginner’s Guide to OWE (Oriental Wrestling Entertainment)

Twitter’s penchant for sharing GIFs recently caused an explosion of interest in Oriental Wrestling Entertainment, after two of their roster made debuts on a Dragon Gate show held at KBS Hall in Kyoto the first weekend of May 2018. This debut was followed shortly by news that rocked the Puroresu landscape. This news was that Dragon Gate was splitting into two companies, one to operate domestically and one to operate internationally. The international branch of the promotion would be led by CIMA, taking a small handful of Dragon Gate talent with him, and be based in Shanghai, China. Their goal? To elevate and establish OWE as a Chinese pro wrestling titan. While visa difficulties with the United States of America and Australia have kept most of their announced international exhibitions from occurring as planned, their drive to give their fledgling talent greater exposure, and experience, as quickly as possible has been clear.  Presently OWE has partnerships with two other companies, the aforementioned international arm of Dragon Gate, and Future Stars of Wrestling out of Las Vegas, Nevada.

These partnerships have led to two distinct benefits for the company. The first is that the amount of international interest in their product is steadily increasing, as now viewers outside of mainland China can see OWE’s talent appearing on both Dragon Gate’s streaming service, and on FSW’s twitch channel. FSW’s offering presents those unwilling to venture onto Chinese streaming services the opportunity to tune in weekly on Fridays at 6:00 PM PST (9:00 PM EST) to catch the latest video content from the Chinese wunderkind of pro wrestling. The second is that their roster is now made up of three separate components: Dragon Gate international’s talent, a likely rotating cast from FSW, and OWE’s homegrown talent. This article will set out to name, identify, and explain as many of the nuances of the roster as possible to newcomers to the product. Since the Dragon Gate and FSW roster members working in OWE have readily available information out in the wilds of the internet I will only briefly discuss them, and the meat of the article will go towards OWE’s developing roster.

A special note before I begin: The first event OWE held on 2/2/18 also featured a number of other Dragon Gate wrestlers, and the American team of Zachary Wentz and Dezmond Xavier, but with the separation of Dragon Gate into two branches there is no indication that they will be making any returns.

Dragon Gate International

CIMA

Undeniably a legend in the world of lucharesu and puroresu, CIMA has grown to be known for his good eye for talent and his passion to train and elevate that talent into something truly phenomenal. The list of men whose careers he has helped shape is very long and includes names like Matt Sydal, Tony Nese, and Ricochet. He’s the head coach of OWE and has been on every show they have run as a performer, including accompanying talent abroad to their international dates. He has a criminally underappreciated sense of humour.

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CIMA makes the mistake of smelling Remy Marcel’s shoe at FSW’s May 12th 2018 9th Anniversary event.

T-Hawk

A solid tag-team and trios worker in Dragon Gate who many thought capable of being the next big thing for the company, until the Dragon Gate fandom decided they had no interest in him. It seems likely that OWE will be an opportunity for him to reboot, away from the history of negative impressions and downward trajectory he was facing in his home promotion. It is worth noting that within weeks of leaving the main Dragon Gate branch, T-Hawk has picked up international gold during his outings in Australia with the struggling AWF.

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T-Hawk sporting some shiny new gold.

El Lindaman

An incredible judoka who can look very impressive throwing people around, but his small stature may have been holding him back from getting attention as a singles competitor. This matter of stature, however, may become a moot point in the landscape of OWE’s locker room, where the average competitor is rather slight in stature themselves.

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CIMA and El Lindaman on a tour of Australia.

Takehiro Yamamura

Unfortunately, while full of brilliance and potential in his early career, Yamamura suffered an incredible back injury that has sidelined him for so long that fans are questioning whether or not he can make a comeback at all. His close ties with CIMA have led to CIMA overseeing, and seemingly paying for, his expensive rehab and medical treatments. CIMA seems to believe he will make a comeback, but what he will be like if/when he steps in a ring again are wholly unknown,

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Takehiro Yamamura wearing an OWE jersey to throw the opening pitch at a baseball game.

Future Stars of Wrestling

Jack Manley and Remy Marcel

The Whirlwind Gentlemen, or simply “WG” as they are known in OWE, look to be a major connecting link between FSW and OWE. Their primary function is to help teach the OWE roster what American-style pro wrestling is like, which they have plenty of experience doing as the coaches for FSW’s school.  On the shows they play foreign heels who don’t speak Chinese and get themselves into trouble with their aggression and lack of understanding of the Chinese context. They both do great character work and have a penchant for interesting moves, even if some people online have questioned their execution in-ring. Their commitment to OWE’s development can be seen in Remy changing his twitter handle to reflect his new position.

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Remy and Jack make their entrance at OWE’s May 7th Shaolin Temple show!

Damian Drake and Spyder Warrior

Tagging together as the Midnight Marvels, this duo have humorously seen themselves renamed as simply “Brad” and “Thomas” in Shuaijiao’s coverage of OWE. This, unfortunately, undercuts the amazing work they’ve done to fill their gimmicks with carefully crafted comic book references. Drake seems to be a particularly good fit for OWE, with his background in parkour granting him athletic bonuses that OWE seems the utmost place to maximize them within. They are both there for the immediate future, looking to participate in OWE’s upcoming big summer plans, and Drake has expressed to me directly that he has interests in working in China as much as he can.

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The Midnight Marvels lay down the law!

Clutch Kucera and Sugar Brown

Known as the Bonus Boyz in the US, this team have been rebranded in OWE as the “RMB Brothers,” or “Real Money Brothers” in English, but their gimmick remains the same: They’re there to fight, and win, to earn their win bonuses. They have a hard hitting, heavy-handed style that offers the lads in OWE something different to work with. Their presence, for however long they stay, will add much needed diversity in physical appearance to the matches OWE puts on, along with a cruel Western style heel edge.

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These guys look like people I’d like to party with.

Jake Cafe

Self identified as “The Thinking Man’s High Flier,” and called “Jackie Coffee” in Chinese press coverage of OWE’s 5/7/2018 Shaolin Temple show, Jakob Austin Young looks to fit well in the mix. In his first outing for the company he participated in a main event tag-team triple threat match that has produced some phenomenal GIFs. He brings an element of roguish American heel tactics to the table, providing some diversity to the style of work being performed on these events.

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“Seattle’s Best” gets a handful of Liu Xinxi’s hair to turn the situation in his favor!

Minor Gregory Jade

Billed as “Hyperstreak” in FSW, with an entrance package in OWE calling him Minor Gregory Jade, ring announcer Michael Nee proclaiming in English that he is “The Rocket, G Sharp,” and appearing as “Greco” (which may be a misspelling of his real name, Greg) in the press coverage I have seen so far,no matter what you call him he brings energy to the table. He seems to have been paired up, at least for now, with Jake Cafe. He adds a unique masked look to the roster, alongside the Midnight Marvels.

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Check out the energy levels on this guy!

Oriental Wrestling Entertainment

OWE’s homegrown roster are divided, presently, into three teams (with the possibility of a fourth on its way.) Each team is made up of seven men, some of whom we haven’t seen wrestle yet. These teams make up a total of 21 wrestlers, but OWE have indicated that they have upwards of 50 people presently training in their facility (which has several rings, full gyms, and provides three square meals a day.) Properly identifying these teams has proven a bit challenging as, while each teams roster remains the same, the on-screen graphics during the first show introduced the red team as both Team W and Team E (each team has been named for one initial of OWE.) To further complicate this, A-Ben is clearly indicated as a member of the Red team in graphics, with every other member working the show in red gear, but made his first appearance in black gear. As such i have done my best to use logic and information to deduce a proper structure here.

Team O (Colour: Black)

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Team O as displayed during the 2/2/18 debut show.

“Mr. COOL” Tang Huaqi

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Check out those moves!

Tang Huaqi is a member of the fledgling cross-team faction identified by Shuaijiao as the Mongolian Wolf Clan(蒙古苍狼帮.) While his debut match may have seen him sporting the simple uniform of his team, when he’s decked out in his personalized gear he rocks a very modern Chinese urban dance aesthetic, sporting remarkably flashy colours that dazzle and astound. He carries himself with a certain charismatic cockiness befitting his urban dance culture styling, and his positioning as an early standout amongst OWE’s roster.

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I know this looks like it’s on fast forward, but it’s not.

Picking up a victory in his debut match, and taking a tremendous beating in his second match before going down to Gao Jingjia, arguably one of the company’s slotted-in for stardom performers, Tang Huaqi has looked remarkable in each outing. While he may not have the inhuman physical prowess that his contemporaries like Gao Jingjia and Zhao Yilong have, he brings plenty of cool to the table. He is a competent high flier, executing 450 splashes and the like with ease. The impressiveness of this pales in comparison, however, to his remarkably smooth and exciting striking style. He brings unique angles of attack to the table with his strikes, and uses them to set up aesthetically pleasing sequences that transition into traditional pro wrestling moves flawlessly. Looking like he belongs on the set of a modern Kung-Fu film, he promises to be an exciting player on the roster, and is likely to be an early favorite of many new fans. As of the second OWE show it seems his moniker may officially be evolving into “Mr. T Cool” Tang Huaqi.

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With or without a T, he’ll always be “Cool.”

“Tiger Tooth” Wang Jin

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These body motions should be familiar to Kung Fu film fans if they’ve seen a movie about the Monkey King.

While some online have made accurate aesthetic connections between the headdress worn by Chinese legendary hero Lu Bu and Wang Jin, I knew the moment I saw him come out for the post-intermission costume parade that his gimmick was an homage to Sun Wukong, the Monkey King of myth and legend. Also called “Tiger Teeth Goku,” in English by ring announcer Michael Nee, Wang Jin brings all the requisite mischievous charm needed to play the role perfectly. His brand of light-hearted, good guy tomfoolery and trickery is a popular character trope in Chinese entertainment presently, with him doing things like tricking Jack Manley and Remy Marcel into chanting “We are garbage, garbage, garbage!” in Chinese.

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Wang Jin’s tricky movements fall right in line with his character archetype.

He looks confident on the microphone, and the audience reacted as intended to his making light of the foreigners, but his personality is far from where his qualifications end. He is remarkably speedy, and agile, able to move in ways that are eye-catching and frenetic when need be. His facial expressions all the while keeping up his character. His strength, thus far, seems to be in playing a competent, entertaining backup man in tag team matches. He’s done this with both Tang Huaqi and Zhao Yilong, putting in solid, entertaining work in matches where they come out looking tremendous. The company views him favorably as well, placing him on much of their promotional materials.

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Wang Jin hurls himself at Jack Manley!

“Flowing King” Gao Jingjia

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Recently he’s been called “Floater Jingjia” and, frankly, I hope it doesn’t stick. He’s a “Flowing King” to me.

Gao Jingjia’s gimmick might just be that he is insanely  good at flips and moving about the ring in dynamic, flowing ways. His attire has been compared to that of Marvel superhero Black Bolt, a fellow king of sorts. He certainly looks like a superhero as he performs move after move heretofore unthought of. Maybe that’s enough for him, too, a cool nickname, a cool costume, and a revolutionary repertoire of moves.

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Gao Jingjia’s Ladder 450 Splash is a remarkably flashy move.

His 630 Senton, Outside-to-In Double Stomp, and Ladder 450 Splash have earned the attention of pro wrestling fans and stars alike, with even Ricochet retweeting some of the content. Not only does he do things that look impossible, he does it all and keeps picking up wins. He has had three matches so far, all of them tag team matches of some form, where he has picked up the winning pinfall. One of his wins came in front of Dragon Gate audience, shortly before the announced split of the company. It seems evident that OWE’s management trust him to perform well, and see big things in the future of their “Flowing King.”

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On the May 7th Shaolin Temple show, Gao Jingjia introduces this fun Cutter variation.

“Big Head” Wulijimuren

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Wulijimuren’s entrance is amazing, and I’ll hear no haters!

It comes as no surprise, based on his attire, that Wulijimuren is a member of the Mongolian Wolf Clan. His costuming has been compared by some to Mongolian shamans, and he certainly feels like he could be at home on the steppes in his gear. Regrettably, I cannot seem to find any logic, thus far, behind his nickname “Big Head.”

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I’ve never seen a Hip Attack used in this way before. OWE are just innovating all over the place.

In his debut match he played the victim to much of his opponents combined offense, but still remained an element in the match right up to the end. His use of the hip attack makes him stand out, immediately, from his peers as none of them perform the move as well. He’s also, amusingly, the kind of guy who’ll slap his opponent in the face and then run away. He has put good energy on display for the audience in his matches and looks to be integrating more personality into his performance at a quick rate.

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His head looks pretty proportional to me. Does it look big to you?

“Storm Boy” Lu Ye

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“Storm Boy” Lu Ye certainly knows how to make an entrance! Confusingly, the next time he would appear he would be called “Masl Man,” while never wearing a mask.

 

Lu Ye is another member of OWE’s roster who rocks the modern Chinese urban dance fashion, even carrying around a baseball bat to enhance the look. I’ve seen advertising on QQ’s video site for Chinese urban dance competitions where competitors carry baseball bats as part of their attire, so this all ties in nicely together.

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His small size does have the advantage of letting him perform this move with Yang Hao as his assist.

In the ring he moves well, but is a very slight competitor. His size allows him to perform some fun combo moves with his, thus far, frequent tag partner Yang Hao. The pair have fared well in their two outings. They pickied up a victory against the Mongolian Wolf Clan at the Shaolin Temple, and performed in a strong outing against Dragon Gate talent on their debut show.

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In his second match, Lu Ye showed he’s got a mean DDT.

“Happy Ghost” Yang Hao

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There’s certainly a lot of happiness going on here! During his second outing Michael Nee called him “Mr. Off-Key,” but I’ve yet to put that together with the rest of his gimmick.

Yang Hao’s gimmick takes two separate elements and fuses them together. His nickname, “Happy Ghost,” I am told is very popular in China. It is given to someone who makes others happy. This would be why he is decked out in bright colours and is always smiling. Layered on top of that is how he hops down to the ring, carrying a red lantern. Lanterns have often been associated with celebrations in China, so the happiness connects to that as well… however the hopping has a more sinister twist to it. The Jiangshi are legendary undead, commonly called “hopping vampires” in media featuring them. In essence one can infer that, while he aims to bring happiness, there is a dangerous side to him as well. This is doubled down on by his attire, which while bright also resembles the traditional clothing the Jiangshi are usually depicted in.

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Sometimes there’s no water in the pool.

As a competitor Yang Hao is quite fast and smooth, working surprisingly well in his debut bouts with larger  opposition. He has a penchant for throwing himself about, both inside and outside the ring. As they have teamed together in all their appearances, thus far, it is safe to predict that he and Lu Ye will be an early and steady team within the promotion’s fledgling years.

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Yang Hao isn’t yet as refined or developed in his flying as teammate Gao Jingjia is. I expect he’ll be another serious acrobat for the company.

“Little White Dragon” Cui Xiangmeng

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I honestly cannot wait till I get to see “Little White Dragon” actually wrestle!

Very little information is available regarding this member of Team O so far. He hasn’t worked a single match yet, but he did cut a striking figure during his 2/2/2018 costume parade introduction. His look feels very much like he is a future Ace style character, throwing rapid punches and kicks as he walked to the ring decked out in brilliant white attire befitting a veteran performer.

Team W (Colour: Blue)

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Team W as displayed during the 2/2/18 debut show.

“Warm-Hearted Oba” Duan Dihang

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He certainly is a “cutie,” isn’t he?

Duan Dihang, dubbed “the cutie” in English by Michael Nee during the Shaolin Temple show, has a fairly simple gimmick to understand: he is desirable to young women. The term Oba, as pointed out by the Panda Power Plex blog, is “a Chinese word transliterated from the Korean word “oppa.” It literally means “older brother,” but Korean girls use it to refer to their boyfriends…or perhaps pop stars they wish were their boyfriends.” Interestingly he is, thus far, the only member of the roster who has only appeared in his team’s blue uniform. This could either be because management are having a hard time compressing his gimmick into a specific look, or alternatively they have decided that he will have an “everyman” look, to set him apart from the rest. I can see both being equally likely.

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I really hope people start calling this “Air Oba.”

In the ring, so far, he has shown a lot of fire but also keeps getting beaten down. During the debut show he took a nasty four-on-one spot, and he has taken some beatings in his 2nd match as well. That being said he is also the only OWE roster member to have won a match via submission, which sets an interesting tonal difference between he and his cohort.

 

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Believe it or not, he won the match for his team after getting hit with this.

“Dashing Swordsman” Duan Yingnan

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This is an undeniably sexy entrance.

Duan Yingnan’s gimmick is a bit of a visual pun, playing off of the swordsman aesthetic to highlight his attractiveness. Herein the dashing  in his name is synonymous with the name Michael Nee calls him in English, “Pretty Boy.” However, dashing can also refer to quick movements, and like the rest of the roster he certainly has that going for him.

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Duan Yingnan and Ren Yuhang exchange some sweet arm drags.

Like many on the roster, it’s difficult to say much about his in-ring work for the lack of ring time he has had, mainly hanging around in multi-man tags and given little opportunity to shine brilliantly. He is physically capable but looks a bit more gunshy in some of his movements than his contemporaries. He’s got a mean arm drag, and I’ve a feeling he’s one to keep your eyes on.

 

“Martial Artist” Mao Chenxiang

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This homage is tremendous.

Mao Chenxiang has, without a doubt, the distinction of having the easiest to identify and understand gimmick on the entire roster. They don’t even try to keep it subtle, with Michael Nee calling him both “Bruce Lee,” and the ever endearing “Bruce Lee 2000,” in English, during his two nights out. Before you ask, I’ve asked for you: Yes, Bruce Lee is still that  popular in China. He’s been updated with a transparent plastic shirt, but he brings the classic Nunchaku to the table all the same.

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The nose wipe and bouncy stepping at the end of this sequence is solid mimicry.

In the ring he tries hard to replicate Bruce Lee’s classic bouncy step, and hand gestures, managing to stay in character well, but hasn’t let loose with any of the vocalizations so associated with his gimmick. He hasn’t had much opportunity to show off his skills yet, being booked only in multi-man tags.

 

“Little Guan Yu” Zhao Junjie

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More wrestlers should carry a Guan Dao with them to the ring.

Zhao Junjie’s gimmick takes us on a deep dive into Chinese  cultural history, referencing a real hero of the Three Kingdoms period, Guan Yu. A beloved and oft fictionalized historical figure. This places him easily in the position of a heroic baby face. His attire reinforces that, with elements that feel both traditional and modern, yet always militant. He also has great face paint.

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“Little Guan Yu” is not one to be disrespected.

He has a good fire in him, given his limited exposure and no wins on his record. He’s got a penchant for being straightforward, from what I have seen of his work. That being said, his striking style is not what I anticipated it would be, and is rather unique whilst remaining straightforward. Even though he has been on the losing side in all of his outings, he has never been involved directly in the finish. This early in the game it could be accidental, or they could be trying to keep him looking strong in their back pocket. He certainly looks like he’s got what it takes to be worthy of that thinking, and will only grow more valuable as he gains more experience.

 

“Little Vajra” Zhao Yilong

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Zhao Yilong does this move probably better than anyone else I’ve ever seen do it.

Without a doubt my favorite member of OWE’s roster, Zhao Yilong is likely to be an early top star for the company. He delivered a superb standout performance during the second half OWE’s debut show. Said  performance saw him put on a display of comedy, character work, athleticism, and charm. His gimmick served, herein, as the linchpin for him to anchor these components together.

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Zhao Yilong’s best spots revolve around his gimmick.

While OWE’s performers are all Shaolin Temple Kung Fu students, “Little Vajra” is the only one who portrays a wrestling Shaolin Monk in the ring. His look is instantly recognizable around the world, with Shaolin Monks occupying an irrevocable position in the international concept of Kung-Fu, and to another extent, China itself. Shaolin, primarily through the spread of Kung-Fu films in the 70s, has influenced numerous creators internationally and cannot be said to exist only in the Chinese zeitgeist at this point. But it was theirs first, and they’ll be damned if they’re outdone at it.  His nickname, “Little Vajra,” references an implement important to the spiritual practices of Buddhism. The Vajra is both a tool of religious worship and a lightning bolt-like weapon of heroic gods. The characters used to write his name, “小金刚 literally means “Little Vajra”, but 金刚 can also mean metal” and also, sometimes, diamond. The durability, and irresistible force, of his namesake is reinforced by the painting of his head a yellowish-golden colour. This is a reference to the 18 Bronzemen (or Brassmen), legendary guardians of the southern Shaolin Temple, whose bodies were as hard as metal. They served to protect the temple, and to test its students to see if they had become masters.

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This flipping headbutt is a key signature move of “Little Vajra.”

He is remarkably agile in the ring, performing remarkable flips and feats of derring-do. While these things are undeniably impressive, they serve only to highlight the aerial prowess of their performer. Zhao Yilong’s best in ring moments work to tell you who he is as a character, both to comedic effect and to athletic awe. He exhibits remarkable neck strength and flexibility, which he uses offensively throughout his matches. He routinely uses his head as a weapon, to send opponents flying with a wallop to the chest, and uses it to block punches while meditating. Even without understanding the cultural elements of what is going on here, he perfectly visually communicates through aesthetic and action that his cranium is to be feared. For a native Chinese audience this would be instantly recognizable as a reference. He even gives the audience quotes from his master when he gets on the microphone, and they’re all as upright and just and sincere as one would expect of the noble Shaolin.

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The praying rope walk is both in tune with his gimmick and a wonderful homage to Jinsei Shinzaki.

Layered on top of his tremendously constructed Shaolin character is a stream running through his repertoire of moves I’ve dubbed “Bald Men Manoeuvres.” This sees him perform both the Stone Cold Stunner and a Jinsei Shinzaki-esque praying rope walk. I sincerely hope that this is intentional, but I’ll take serendipitous as well.

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Bah Gawd! Stunner!

Not only is Zhao Yilong packed with enough talent to impress even the most jaded of fans, his gimmick and performance choices allow him to maximize his screen time and appeal to both an international and domestic audience simultaneously. While a western fan may not know about the 18 Bronzemen, and a new Chinese fan may not get the visual pun of the Stone Cold Stunner, the elements that bind the gimmick together will grab attention across the whole scope of OWE’s targeted audiences.

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There are so many puns to make, but I’ll stick with “Now that’s using your head!”

“Lightning Leopard” Chen Xiangke

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Chen Xiangke gets creative to take Remy Marcel off his feet.

Chen Xiangke likely earned this nickname through his innate speed, which is evident immediately. His attire makes me think of Hwoarang from Tekken, but that’s likely of little impact on his character. His visual moment of frustration in the match, when he cast aside his little hooded vest in frustration, gave him a good moment of personality. He’s also the mischievous voice in Zhao Yilong’s ear when he convinces the monk to bang th WHirlwind Gentlemen’s heads together.

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Each time I look at this GIF loop I’m amazed that this man has had as little experiencing in pro wrestling as he’s had.

His ring work is, as his name implies, rather fast paced and there was nothing he did that made me question his capabilities. Unfortunately his one appearance thus far saw him tagging with teammate Zhao Yilong, who unfortunately outshone him in pretty much every aspect. In his match he also took one hell of a beating, serving as an emotional driver for the plot of the match. This limited his opportunities to shine outside of selling. Regrettably this roster is not yet the strongest at the psychology of pro wrestling. Without a second match on the books, it’s hard to say anything further than that he has potential and his placement on the card made sense.

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Jack Manley tries to murder Chen Xiangke

 

Special Note: The roster listing image at the top of this section also shows a “Chen Sheng,” who has not competed yet. I’ve suspicions about which of the three unidentified rosters members (more on that later) he is, but I am not certain so it will not be included here.

Team E (Colour: Red)

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Team E as displayed during the 2/2/18 debut show.

“Wild Wolf” Fan Hewei

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“Wild Wolf” Fan Hewei has a disservice done to how cool he is when he gets called “The Wolf” Fan Logan.

The man that Shuaijiao indicates is the leader of the cross-team faction Mongolian Wolf Clan, Fan Hewei is also, quite possibly, the brother of teammate Fan Qiuyang. Unfortunately, as his vicious attire and sharp claws would indicate, he isn’t the friendliest of older brothers. As a character so far he has shown himself to be remarkably aggressive, willing to attack his underlings when they fail him in matches.

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Fan Hewei will tolerate no failures from his Mongolian Wolf Clan subordinates, Fan Qiuyan and Wulijimuren.

In the ring his movements aggressiveness are dialed up to eleven. While I haven’t seen a tremendous amount out of him yet, he performs a mean Dragon Screw Leg Whip in both of his matches. He was amongst the first batch of talent announced for international expeditions, but unfortunately visa issues kept him, and several others, from making international appearances over the course of May 2018. He gdoes, however, get a fair deal of screen time and good moments on the Shaolin Temple show, which I hope lead to some long term traits of his character being developed.

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Fan Hewei’s wild Dragon Screw Leg Whip is a thing of beauty.

 

“Teardrop Magic Star” Fan Qiuyang

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He’s also been called “Bluffer” Fan Qiuyang.

Fan Qiuyang’s crazy visual kei inspired clown outfit has drawn comparisons to costumes seen at the Met Gala. While in his costume he moved differently, almost like something wasn’t quite right with him, completely living in the persona. Unfortunately this was only in costume, as none of his gimmicks traits seemed to carry over to his team outfit performance on the debut night. He is the fourth member of the Mongolian Wolf Clan, and is possibly Fan Hewei’s brother. In ring he has yet to do anything I’ve deemed exciting enough to GIF, but he’s only two matches into his career.

 

“Scorpion” Liu Xinxi

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Liu Xinxi seems to have some sort of dark mystical elements to his gimmick, based on the entrance music he was given at the Shaolin Temple show.

Called “Scorpio XX” and “Scorpio 2X” in his second and third matches, Liu Xinxi is a performer who didn’t seem to have all that much to offer other than a silly scorpion tail leg-in-the-air pose during his first outing on February 2nd. On top of others in the match seemingly mocking his signature pose, he offered up little during that show besides a lacklustre costume parade entrance.

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“Scorpio 2X” shows off his offensive capabilities.

However, after his excursion to Dragon Gate, where he wound up eating the pin, his stock in the company seems to have risen, as he main-evented the Shaolin Temple show while teaming with obvious roster standout Gao Jingjia. Given more room to perform, he has shown, and will likely continue to show, that he is a competent high flyer with all the tools needed to get over on his in ring work.

 

“Savage” Ren Yuhang

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That gear actually looks really comfortable.

Ren Yuhang’s gimmick seems to be that of a wealthy man driven savage by some tragedy. Or, at the very least, that is how it reads on camera. His movements can seem like heartbroken madness and a pent up rage burning inside him, but this is offset by the elegance of his attire. Certainly this points to his strength in physical melodrama, but it doesn’t feel like a fully fleshed out idea yet.

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Ren Yuhang has spent a lot of time, so far, getting knocked down in multi-man tags.

In his debut match he tapped out in a multi-man tag, and his second outing sees him on the losing side of another multi-man tag. This early in the game that could either mean something, or be a coincidence. It’s too early to tell.

 

“Tank” Sun Chaoqun

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I’m so happy he wrestles in this petite silver belly shirt.

Clad in brilliant silver from head to toe, Sun Chaoqun’s individual attire makes him feel like a fever dream cyberpunk martial artist has travelled back in time to kick some ass. His nickname, and his in ring personality, are fairly simple to understand. He’s a powerhouse who few others on the roster can go toe-to-toe with.

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“Tank” drops “The Cutie” hard with a sit-out powerbomb.

In each of his matches so far he has had the opportunity to show off his power, utilizing moves such as chokeslams and powerbombs that the rest of the roster doesn’t make use of in their repertoire. He’s found himself, like many others, mostly operating in tag matches and has a mixed 1-1 win-loss record so far. I hadn’t placed him highly in my rankings off of his first match, but after the costume parade and his second match, wherein OWE seem to be developing a budding rivalry between “Tank” and other Team E hoss Xiong Zhiyu, his stock in my eyes has risen significantly.

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The intensity with which Sun Chaoqun delivers his offense is really a strong point in his performances.

“Red Bull” Xiong Zhiyu

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“Red Bull” Xiong Zhiyu makes a great entrance at the SHaolin Temple.

Xiong Zhiyu, much like his teammate Sun Chaoqun, was nicknamed for his size. While “Tank” comes to the ring looking like he’s from the future, the “Red Bull” of OWE stalks out of the past. His horned armour and face paint calls to mind ancient Chinese armour given a fantasy spin. While I initially suspected there might be some deeper historical references being made by his entrance attire, my investigations in that direction have turned up nothing. There is, however, something interesting to note in his attire. His fringed trunks are very similar in design to OWE’s head trainer CIMA’s ring attire. Like much with OWE in these early days, this could be of no real significance, but it certainly stood out to me.

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The name of this move when translated from Chinese to English is “Head-Lift Bomb Drop.” I like it.

His in-ring style is much what you would expect of someone who is the most physically dominant member of his roster. He tosses people around very well, even utilizing a rather unique head-lift powerbomb variation I’ve honestly not seen elsewhere before. However, beyond being just a big man in performances, he is also the comedy king of the team. When a match, a dance, or a QQ video calls for someone to inject a moment of levity, he answers the call brilliantly. As one of the sole standouts physically from the rest of the OWE roster, and this penchant for comedy in his pocket, it’s likely that he can develop into a strong part of OWE’s future.

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In a few years I can see these two men going to war with each other. The audio on these chops is LOUD.

“The Captain” A Ben (Big Ben)

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Look at that damn coat! It’s majestic!

A-Ben, or as he seems to be adopting lately “Captain Akilles Ben,” has the unique distinction of being one of only three OWE roster members who’ve been able to get their visas approved and compete abroad, which saw this apple-crushing future Ace work in Australia recently. His entire presentation, thus far, has seen him built up to be the face of the company. He’s had, arguably, the most screen time of anyone so far. His attire stood immediately apart from everyone else on the roster with his big furry coat. Most importantly, out of two shows so far, he is the only member of OWE’s homegrown roster to have worked a singles match. Backstage, I have been told by Damian Drake, he is even looked to as a locker room leader. He is, without a doubt in my mind, “The Captain” for a reason.

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He may be “The Captain,” but he has feelings too!

It is strange, then, that he has lost all of his OWE matches (with reports on his Australian outing not available yet.) Each of these losses has come at the hands of foreigners, and after each bout he is left despondent in the ring. This seems to be the groundwork for a larger narrative being laid down here. The Ace of the OWE roster encounters, and struggles to deal with, his lack of experience in competition against foes who show no respect for the tradition of Shaolin, and 5000 years of Chinese history, that he holds dear. During the first event he stood up to Masaaki Mochizuki for saying that pro wrestling belongs to the Japanese, and that Shaolin Kung-Fu wouldn’t beat him, and he lost. During the second event he worked a tag match, teaming with Zhao Junjie, to face the RMB Brothers, who only care about their win bonus and are willing to resort to nasty tactics to get any advantage possible. While still too early to make any guarantees, this looks like his redemption arc may lead to the OWE championship.

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A-Ben’s got real fire behind that strike flurry.

Thankfully for “The Captain,” he has all the tools necessary to carry himself as the eventual Ace of OWE. He is remarkably athletic, gifted with tremendous muscles on his wiry frame, and has a striking face with glass-cutting cheekbones. His style is far more direct than most of OWE’s roster, foregoing flips but still willing to fly. He’s shown strong fire in his matches, taking everything and not giving up. Mochizuki laid hard into him with kicks in his first match and he roared, his fighting spirit never waning. Considering the Chinese wrestling fandom’s love for the WWE, which i elaborated upon in a previous article it seems impossible to me that A-Ben’s use of the Rock Bottom in his most recent match is an accident. It is a superstar’s move being used to foreshadow the creation of a superstar.

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“Little Guan Yu” yells at the RMB Brothers to startle and stun them, setting up “The Captain” to sail over the top rope onto them!

Miscellaneous

Yan Chao

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Yan Chao puts on a broadsword display at FSW’s 9th anniversary show.

Yan Chao is both a martial artist and an acrobat, with a resume including working for the globally renowned Cirque du Soleil. He is one of OWE’s first trainers, and I would assume he is one of the reasons the roster can twist and fly with such ease. However he seems to not have much familiarity with the act of pro wrestling, having some of the same in-ring foibles as the rest of the roster when he made his appearance with FSW. I think it is questionable that we will see him make many in-ring appearances outside of when visa issues prevent others from making international commitments.

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I can certainly see his influence as a trainer in how the OWE lads move, because Yan Chao is very slick.

Michael Nee

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Michael Nee separates A-Ben and Masaaki Mochizuki.

Michael Nee is both a VP of OWE and their ring announcer and lead commentator. He has a charm and charisma to him that carries over to a western audience, as seen by the positive reactions he got to his guest ring announcer spot at FSW’s 9th anniversary show.

 

Huayang Fu

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Huayang Fu, center, stands with four future stars.

The owner and founder of OWE, he attends, thus far, every show and sits in amongst the audience. He straddles the line between proud father-figure and General Manager when it comes time for his inevitable involvement in the evening’s proceedings. He’s given authorization to change match-ups at the last minute and been there to encourage his roster after their many defeats at the hands of disparaging foreigners. I’m curious to see whether or not he takes a step back from this on-screen role as the promotion develops and expands.

 

Unidentified

White + Black Emissaries

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I really want to see these guys work, their entrance is fantastic.

While I’ve successfully managed to get their nicknames translated, these enigmatic emissaries real names have eluded me. They’ve only appeared, thus far, during OWE’s debut costume parade. Nevertheless, with their gimmick, representing characters associated with yin and yang and its connections to the Chinese afterlife, as it has been explained to me, I would consider it a safe bet that they will work together as a regular tag team once they start competing.

 

Contortionist

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I suspect that this fantastic fellow may be the elusive Chen Sheng.

Regrettably I have been unable to identify this mysterious fellows name or nickname. There are two things that are clear about him, however. The first is that he has not wrestled yet, to my knowledge, appearing only in the costume parade. The second is that he is remarkably flexible and seems to have an element of contortionism to his gimmick. As I’ve never seen that blended with pro wrestling before, I’m curious to see where he goes from here.

Closing Notes

While I may have a head start on the average western viewer of OWE, and I may have friends willing to help me with translation and understanding cultural contexts, I cannot say that my job here has been perfect. OWE haven’t published any official documentation in English yet, so these names may not be what they end up using if/when they make their full expansion outside of mainland China. Furthermore, this is an evolving product in its infancy. Their shows number in the single digits and they’ve not been around for a full year yet, including if you start counting from mid-2017 when the company was founded.

Each show I have watched so far has had refinements and modifications in the naming, styling, and in-ring work of each roster member. This guide utilizes, as its primary source of naming information, the on screen lower thirds from the debut event. The performers, when introduced on this show, each had a given name and a nickname on screen. On top of this layer you often have Michael Nee switching between English and Mandarin. Since the first show he’s been adding extra names on top of the on screen names by saying them in English, like Bruce Lee, which appeared alongside the Chinese characters saying “Martial Artist” Mao Chenxiang. This extraneous English name is then followed immediately by the performers name being spoken in Mandarin. I’m not certain how this will work out, and some of it sounds a bit strange to my ear (and, i’d wager, many native English speakers would agree.)

This guide is not intended to be infallible, but should set everyone on the right track to better understanding, engaging with, and enjoying OWE’s product.

Finally:

Special Thanks go out to Mike Spears of Open the Voice Gate, Joe DeFalco of FSW, and “Selfie King” Hong Wan for their time and willingness to answer questions without which I would not have been able to put this article together in anywhere near as meaningful or comprehensive a fashion.

 

#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.

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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.