#DiscoveringWrestling #002 – 5000 Years of Chinese History (MKW: Middle Kingdom Wrestling) Part 2

When I initially decided that I wanted to cover Pro-Wrestling companies on the fringes, outside of the mainstream Wrestling media coverage, I figured it would be a hard sell. I knew that it was a subject that I was direly interested in, and which desperately needed more coverage. However, I had no clue when I first set out to write last week’s article almost a month ago (Damn, I was slow to get started!), that the reception and level of support for this idea would be as strong as it has been. I’m not going to gussy it up and over-inflate my ego. I honestly thought I’d have a few friends read my first #DiscoveringWrestling piece disinterestedly, pat me on the back for a “good job”, and that would be that.

Instead, I was greeted with excitement from the wrestling fans who read it, praise for the quality of my writing, and encouragement to keep going onward from professionals running the kinds of companies that I want to talk about. I should have had a suspicion that this was a good idea when Adrian Gomez, the founder of Middle Kingdom Wrestling, agreed to be interviewed by me off of a glance over my previous blog efforts and the fact that I wanted to research wrestling from around the world. I had expected to be refused, but he graciously accepted – and well before he had ever seen what I had to say about his company.

I happily sent him a brief list of questions by e-mail and waited, admittedly anxiously, for his response. What follows is the first interview, and definitely not the last, in the #DiscoveringWrestling series and I would like to sincerely thank Adrian Gomez for taking the time to help us all to better understand his approach to and engagement with Pro-Wrestling, as well as to help kick this series off!

NC: Who are you and how would you describe yourself?

AG: My name is Adrian Gomez.  I love pro wrestling, and traveling and living all over the world.

NC: What made you decide to be the guy who would take advantage of the opportunity you saw for Pro-Wrestling in China?

AG: I’m an expat. I love pro wrestling. I love pro wrestling so much, that I’m willing to take this risk. I love China, I love the way of life here, I love the language. It’s what I was born to do, I feel.

NC: How long have you been living in China?

AG: I’ve been living in China for six years now.

NC: I can think of no better name for a pro-wrestling company in China than Middle Kingdom Wrestling, it evokes a sense of awe and reverence for the cultural heritage of 5000 years of Chinese history. How did you land on that name? What is the meaning behind your logo?

AG: Hahaha! Yes, there are a lot of people that like Middle Kingdom Wrestling just based on our name.  Yes, it’s pretty cool, isn’t it ?  If it evokes the feeling of 5000 years of Chinese history, then that’s exactly why we chose that name.  The logo has a piece of The Great Wall of China on it.

NC: What do you see as the influence of Chinese history and traditional Martial Arts on the way Pro-Wrestling is performed in the country?

AG: Absolutely.  You’re going to see the way we incorporate Kung fu with Pro Wrestling soon.  It’s just a natural fit between both styles of fighting to merge together.

NC: I’ve read some articles that give me a limited understanding of Pro-Wrestling in China, so I know you aren’t the only game in town (so to speak), and I was wondering how you would describe the Chinese Pro-Wrestling scene?

AG: We’ve been working with The Slam, the original Chinese Pro Wrestler, who has been trying to get pro wrestling started in China for over ten years. He’s the only guy in China who can train, he’s the only guy in China that can buil[d] rings. He’s been having his own small pro wrestling shows for almost a decade, and we’ve developed a strong relationship. We are just two people that love pro wrestling and we both want to bring this scene into China’s mainstream.

NC: Was the first season of MKW TV you’ve posted to YouTube filmed at your first event, or had you had previous events?

AG: That was our first, right. We filmed season 1 over two days.

NC: What kind of wrestling do the Chinese like most? and, what about Pro-Wrestling connects with the Chinese audience?

AG: This is a brand new pro wrestling market, right – so in a lot of ways, you can kind of go back to the basics. They like the athleticism that “Kung fu pro wrestling” style brings, but they also love the simple larger than life stars lifting their opponents up for a gorilla press.  They love the comedy aspects, they love the sense of wonder. I think that our live audience reacts to almost everything in a positive way.

NC: How would you describe the style of MKW? What kind of wrestling is it that you do?

AG: I don’t believe in featuring just one style of pro wrestling.  Yes, we have Chinese Pro Wrestlers and yes, some of them do the “Kung Fu” wrestling, but we have all sorts of styles.  MKW pro wrestler Candy Brother wrestles lucha style, Selfie King incorporates gymnastics and so on.  If we had more guys available with different styles, I’d incorporate them as well. It’s about giving everybody a little bit of everything.

NC: Travelling to foreign lands to learn, adapt, and hone one’s skills has been a large part of Pro-Wrestling’s storied legacy and has been the foundation of many very successful performers’ careers in the business. What kind of opportunities do Chinese Pro-Wrestlers have to travel the world and learn different styles and develop their skills?

AG: MKW is all about developing relationships with other promotions around the world. Our guys, through MKW, have a chance to travel to so many places in the world.  Take this November – we’re bringing several MKW pro wrestlers to their first ever Thailand trip in Pattaya, in a huge two day long event called International Pattaya Showdown: Wrestlestar III.  There will be wrestlers from a dozen countries! What a great opportunity to learn from pro wrestling styles all over the world.

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NC: I’m interested to know how you discovered the workers you have brought in from Hong Kong, Taiwan, the United States, and the United Kingdom? Was it difficult to get people to come to China? Do you have any favourite promotions from these regions?

AG: Oh man, that’s a great story.  I studied, I traveled, I had to meet other people to meet other people. I had to know him or her, to get to know him or her.  It was like traveling on a web. I went to Taiwan, I went to Hong Kong, I went everywhere, to make friends and share with them my idea about Middle Kingdom Wrestling.

NC: Do you have any experience in the Pro-Wrestling business outside of your ventures in China?

AG: I’ve always tried to help out at my local independent wrestling events back in the states. Hold the camera, drive wrestlers around, etc.

NC: Do you have any favourite companies, wrestlers, and/or matches that have influenced your opinion on what wrestling is?

AG: My favourite wrestlers are Chris Jericho, Daniel Bryan, Mick Foley, AJ Styles and Eddie Kingston – from the indie scene.  I love WWE and Ring of Honor.  Especially ROH Vs. CZW era Ring of Honor. Great stuff that was.

NC: What does it mean to you to see Hoho Lun and Jason Lee representing Chinese Pro-Wrestling in the WWE #CWC (Cruiserweight Classic)?

AG: Wow, sometimes you just can’t believe it’s happening – it’s really happening. WWE putting their attention in China in such a big way like that, even hiring MKW superstars. It’s great.

NC: In an article I read on pigchina.com you implied that your key to success would be through the presentation of characters and gimmicks, “developing characters…with Chinese characteristics“, rather than more sports-like presentations such as the CWF, why is that?

AG: There’s been quite a few one off pro wrestling shows that have toured China.  I can tell you, for certain, that Chinese 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.  If you watch MKW TV: Chinese Pro Wrestling, we’ve taken a lot of inspiration from WWE Monday Night Raw.  We try to build stories, our episodes are not just pure wrestling.

NC: How big is your ring?

AG: It’s 14 by 14

NC: While watching the episodes of MKW TV that you’ve made available on YouTube, I was struck by how much bigger and more polished The Selfie King got between seasons. What was he up to in the interim?

AG: The Selfie King H.W. is our baby.  We believe that he is the Future of Chinese Pro Wrestling.  He had a rough night the first episode of MKW TV – Ho Ho Lun did too, they weren’t able to talk over their match. Anyway, not to make excuses, Selfie King started training a lot more between seasons, and [started] getting a lot of advice especially from MKW Champion Dalton Bragg.  Dalton Bragg and Big Sam both see a lot in “Selfie King” Hong Wan. Our goal is to send him to Japan at some point and put him over in a big way.  He’s the future of this business, we feel.

NC: Finally, what do you see as the future of Pro-Wrestling, generally, and Middle Kingdom Wrestling, specifically, in China?

AG: 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 fan a product that they can proudly support as Chinese Pro Wrestling.

 

When i received Adrian’s response to my questionnaire, I was immediately struck by how passionate he was, and how friendly. It felt like I was sitting down for a beer to catch up with an old friend. This was a familiar experience for me. I’ve felt that way many times before when talking with Pro-Wrestling fans. We are connected by our passions, and it takes a special kind of passion to weather the storm that often accompanies loving Pro-Wrestling. In retrospect, it shouldn’t have surprised me that he was willing to take time out of his busy life for my fledgling blog. Passionate people want to talk about their passions with people who can understand them, and when you add a fascinating and exciting product like Chinese Pro-Wrestling into the mix, you must want to shout it from the rafters everywhere you go. I know I have been. Okay, maybe not literally the rafters.

So, then, what can we take away from the information found herein? First and foremost is the confirmation that the Chinese Pro-Wrestling audience has yet to decide on what it likes best, what gets it going the most in a match. As a fresh audience to the art of Wrestling, they react well to most things now. I’d be interested to check back in on those questions in five or ten years time and see if the response has changed, if the broad acceptance of all tropes of Pro-Wrestling has developed into a Hybrid-Style spiced up by the Chinese worldview and identity or if one aspect has risen to the forefront as the preferred expression, the “National Style“. Doubly interesting, in this same regard, is the general disinterest that the Chinese audience has for chain-wrestling. “What does this speak to?” is the question that comes to mind. Could it be that their unfamiliarity with the genre has yet to give them an appreciation for the technical expressions of style, or is there something innate to chain-wrestling that just doesn’t, and will never, really click with the Chinese audience? These are things to keep your eyes on.

Furthermore, I found it both exciting and interesting to see that the one performer I asked a direct question about, The Selfie King, is the pet project of Adrian Gomez and that the more experienced wrestlers who have been brought in to bolster the roster of MKW see big things for his future. Part of my excitement is self-congratulatory, as I love to play armchair talent scout. If I were starting up a new company in China, or looking to run some tours in the country, and I saw him develop that quickly into an exciting competitor, I certainly would want to scoop him up and push him hard. He has a bright future, and hopefully he’ll get that world-travelled pedigree that all great wrestlers seem to get and you can see him live in your neck of the woods one day.

Finally, and this will be explored further in later posts so I’ll just touch on it briefly here, Adrian tells us how much of a focus for him there is in building inter-promotional relationships  and co-promoting shows. While he only directly mentions the Wrestlerstar III show in Thailand, his dedication to this philosophy can be verified by the announcements that they will also be co-promoting shows in China with help from the APWA as well as in South Korea with the PLA. This normally would be really exciting, as crossover events always add spice to your cards, but with Adrian also saying that the ROH vs CZW feud is one of his favourite times in Pro-Wrestling I would wager that, as these relationships develop, some intriguing storylines will arrive.

To keep up to date with all the latest news and developments in Middle Kingdom Wrestling and other interesting promotions from around the world, keep an eye on the #DiscoveringWrestling series on NuclearConvoy.com and head over to my FaceBook page and Twitter to like and follow me. For more information on MKW right from the source, head over to their Website, FaceBook page and Twitter and like and follow them as well.

And don’t forget, sharing is caring, so if you know anyone else who’d love to learn more about the dark corners of the Pro-Wrestling world, send them my way!

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#DiscoveringWrestling #001 – 5000 Years of Chinese History (MKW: Middle Kingdom Wrestling) Part 1

For a long while now, I’ve wanted to add my voice to the world of professional wrestling commentary, but I’ve never before understood what I had to offer, or what I wanted to talk about. There are millions of voices out there chronicling the big leagues with fervor and unquestionable talent. I’m no Dave Meltzer, and don’t think I ever could be, and I could never dare compete with the comedic styling of Adam Blampied over on WhatCulture. I am, however, a passionate fan of this most unique of all performing arts, and my passions skew a little to the left of most of the mainstream coverage. So, I’m going to try and find the things that excite me the most and talk about that, and when necessary we’ll have to slide back up to the WWE for a moment or two.

Easily my favourite thing about pro-wrestling is how versatile it is as a medium, and how this has lead to various regions of the world honing and crafting unique interpretations of the art. These interpretations have gone on to influence each other, going through resurgences and disappearances, and hopped all over the globe creating new offshoots and hybrids as they interact with each other. In Japan you have the lauded Strong Style, known worldwide and heralded as the brainchild of Antonio Inoki, but alongside it you have Giant Baba’s King’s Road, Ultimo Dragon’s Lucharesu lineage (as the name implies, a Japanese derivative of Lucha Libre, Mexico’s vaunted addition to Pro-Wrestling), the Death Match scene, the revolutionary Joshi styles, and much, much more. Japan is a tiny country, and yet their output is so varied and innovative, because Pro-Wrestling is limitless. This diversity is found everywhere the art goes, and as time marches ever onward, so does Pro-Wrestling, finding itself in new areas it has never been before.

Even before the WWE’s #CWC (Cruiserweight Classic) announced its list of competitors, I had been on a hunt for information on what Pro-Wrestling was like in places that have yet to hit the global scene, and had come across the name of Hoho Lun, and a mainland Chinese organization he had done work for by the name of Middle Kingdom Wrestling. Pro-Wrestling in China is a hatchling, barely existing, and, in the future, MKW could be standing at the forefront of a national style, like NJPW in Japan. With the power of the internet we have an invaluable opportunity to get in on the ground floor and watch it happen, because they’ve made the exciting decision to put it all up on YouTube (the logistics of this are interesting, considering they operate out of mainland China).  Now, there are distinct Pros and Cons to their decision to get Chinese wrestling onto YouTube ASAP, and I’ll run down the Cons before we move on, because I’d like to focus on the Pros.

The camera work and production values are unique. This one will actually show up in the Pros as well, but it can be a Con. It’s not the smooth work you want, and it’s often many steps below the recordings done by North American indie shows, but between season one and season two, the quality improves a good deal. I’d wager that the biggest contributors to the poor quality are the cameras they are using. Numerous times when the action is in motion and the wrestlers and cameramen are moving about, the camera will go out of focus. This is obviously unintended, as I cannot imagine any wrestling promotion thinking, “Yes, let’s make it more difficult for our viewers to see what’s going on“.  It’s rough but overall this is forgivable. On literally their first show they filmed it and put it online. There are bound to be hiccups, and while they’re unavoidable, it didn’t at any point knock me completely out of enjoying the show.

The commentary is on the weird side, with “characters” rotating in and out between “episodes“. These “characters“, unless I am terribly mistaken, are all voiced by the same two people, and I could certainly do without that. Stability in the announcing team would be best, in my opinion, to add to the atmosphere of the shows. Some of the moves are called right, some aren’t. This is something that even the WWE can’t escape, unless Mauro Ranallo is on the mic (because he’s pretty much flawless). There’s room to grow on their commentary team. I didn’t hate them, like some commentators, but they just felt off. We’ll see how they go as more episodes air.

Y’know, the more I think of it, these Cons are all part of one problem in particular, and this is a problem that literally only doing more shows will cure: They’re green. The company is very young and, based on publicised data, nobody involved has a huge amount of experience in performing in their roles. It can’t be helped, and, most importantly, I can see the potential underneath it all. Some of their spots look awkward or overly telegraphed. It’s natural. I’ve seen that at small indie shows in North America all the time. Their booking is not particularly inspired, but they neither have the history of long-standing feuds nor the depth of roster needed for truly great wrestling booking. In their first season they put their brand-new belt on an American whom I’d never heard of before named Dalton Bragg, and it bothered me at first that they hadn’t put the belt on a native Chinese wrestler. Again, I can’t fault them for this decision. The local talent aren’t as experienced and when they are experienced, they were on loan from somewhere else. Furthermore, it seems Dalton has made MKW his home. He seems, rather surprisingly to me, to have a connection with the attendees. I expect that the numbers in attendance should grow as the shows continue. Hopefully they can get up to a regular touring schedule and draw a steady audience, cementing themselves as the premiere Chinese Pro-Wrestling group.

Now, from a position wherein I recognize that not everything they do will be great immediately, let’s talk about where the shows succeed, and where I see potential underneath the roughness. Remember that unique camera work I talked about? Well, here’s what’s good about it:  the camera seems to routinely luck its way into some really dramatic shots, such as when the massive King Michael is standing across the ring from his opponent, The Slam,  and the camera moves up from behind him to give the viewer a shot of his opponent that highlights their size difference (You can watch that video here ). Now, with the equipment and skill level involved, the effect is dampened a bit, but when I first watched it I knew that this could be done again and to great effect in the future, with more practice and better cameras.

While the image quality isn’t the best, and the production values are amateur, they do this nice slow-motion effect on the end of a match that really spices up their otherwise unremarkable presentation. It’s a little cheesy, and certainly wouldn’t be possible in a live broadcast, but it adds a unique flavour to their shows that I can’t say I have ever seen done before. Sure, some companies will do slow-mo replays, but these guys work that shit right into the match!

The talent in the ring varies, with some performers being rather special considering how recently they had started off in the business. Such as The Selfie King, whom I can honestly say has a great gimmick that represents a distinct portion of the Chinese zeitgeist. He plays up his gimmick throughout his matches, stopping to take selfies on the outside, exuding true heelish arrogance, and at one point he even lays down next to his defeated opponent and takes a selfie with him, staying true to his moniker. He shows some good development between the two seasons, bulking up, growing his hair out a bit, and getting some better ring gear. Then there’s a more veteran Chinese wrestler on the shows: The Slam, a man with one of the greatest ring names ever. The Slam is something like an energetic slightly-doughy Asian Goldberg who keeps a frenetic pace and looks crisp in every moment except for one, and that’s when it appeared he didn’t have all the muscle needed to deal with slamming the massive King Michael. I’d love to see The Slam put on some additional muscle-mass/definition and really look as great as I think he can. But he’s not really an MKW guy, as the announcers will routinely let you know. He’s a champ elsewhere (in reality, the champ of the group that MKW are partnering with to have access to a ring and put on these shows, a group which, if my facts are straight, was founded by The Slam). But I gotta say, the guy who hooked my attention the most, was a Taiwanese wrestler named LenBai, who feels like he understands the Strong Style concept very well, and finishes his matches with a move I can only describe as a Fisherman’s Death Valley Driver. He displayed a vicious streak out of nowhere during the first season, and a half-painted face that really connected with me and makes me want to see more of him. He draws on the mystique of characters like The Great Muta, and exhibits a solid understanding of the psychology involved in properly executing his gimmick.

wrestlers3-768x902Image originally from “Sino Smackdown” article on pigchina.com, link can be found at the bottom of the article.

This is, momentarily, where I’ll talk about the WWE. This year they have arranged for a showcase of global talent in the #CWC, Cruiserweight Classic, that is stunning to say the least. As I watched these matches and I listened to the commentary I began to understand something about the world of wrestling. It is ever evolving and parts of the world are being opened up to it by impassioned people who are seizing the opportunity to put their stamp, their own personal and national identity, on the Pro-Wrestling stage. Hoho Lun, who won his first round match in that esteemed tournament held by the big guys, founded the Hong Kong Pro-Wrestling Federation, and has been in both seasons of MKW TV on YouTube thus far. This young man brought Pro-Wrestling to his home. We in North America live in a part of the world with some of the deepest and richest roots for the industry, leading it in one very big, loud, shiny direction for a long while now as a new style percolates on the indie scene, with uncountable options to meet our needs and an established market for the medium. We cannot really fathom what it would be like to be part of the birth of it, but boy have I always wanted to see what it was like.

No matter what my, or your, concerns are with the quality of these shows, there is an undeniably interesting opportunity and a wealth of underlying potential  to Middle Kingdom Wrestling. Getting in at the beginning of an entire country, the most populous country in the world, discovering and engaging with Pro-Wrestling, authoring its own narrative in the grand history of this art, is an exciting prospect. Where will this go? What will Five-Thousand years of Chinese History do to Pro-Wrestling?

These are questions that I could never begin to guess at the answers to. I’ve studied Chinese history, both in school and in my leisure time, and have found myself lost in countless stories and cultural myths. Their pop culture has maintained strong roots to this history and mythology, with cinema genres that are uniquely Chinese captivating my attention for much of my life (Wuxia cinema is entrancing), and I can certainly see how I, as a western fan of their culture, would try to respectfully adapt their cultural uniqueness to Pro-Wrestling. However, it isn’t my place to do so and I am far more excited to see what their history, mythology, martial arts traditions, and unique perspectives on arts and entertainment will add to Pro-Wrestling when authored by their own hands, from their own minds. I’d wager that in the early years they will hew closely to styles and ideas imported from Japan and “the west” until they find their footing in the art form and then we will see them truly flourish, developing their own styles that are uniquely Chinese expressions of Pro-Wrestling. That is what I am looking forward to, and that is why we should all be keeping an eye on the Chinese Pro-Wrestling scene and Middle Kingdom Wrestling.

Come back next week for Part 2 of my coverage of Middle Kingdom Wrestling. I had the unique and exciting opportunity to interview Adrian Gomez, the man who founded MKW. .

If you’d like to watch all the MKW matches, head over and subscribe to their YouTube channel here, and for more information on the nascent state of Pro-Wrestling in China, there are some good articles from Forbes here and PIG China here. Middle Kingdom Wrestling’s website can be found here.