OWE in Japan: Sellouts and New Dates! (plus more!)

– Both of OWE’s Japan dates have officially sold out. Contrary to what the OWE Twitter account said,  ” Sorry , friends in Japan , will announce next OWE shows in Japan soon!,” the OWE Facebook page and Michael Nee have both indicated the next date is June 24th 2019. No venue has been announced yet.

 

– A recently published article on OWE’s official WeChat account indicated that the round-robin tournament to decide who will go to AEW’s Double or Nothing event will be starting back up again. The fan vote has concluded to determine that Xuan Xuan, who beat his nearest competition by over 300 support ticket votes, is back in the tournament.

As the eliminated competitor to get a second chance in the tournament, he was originally supposed to team with Hyperstreak, but the article also announced that Hyperstreak had to pull out due to an injury. He will be replaced by Fan Qiuyang, guaranteeing that any team who wins will feature Chinese talent at Double or Nothing, .

The initial article has since been deleted by the user who uploaded it to OWE’s WeChat platform, and has been replaced with an almost identical article which shuffled the formatting and media placement a bit. The key differentiator between the two is that only the first article published specifically mentioned Fan Qiuyang as Xuan Xuan’s new partner, while the second article skips over that detail.

There has been, unfortunately, no confirmation on whether or not any of OWE’s roster have had their visas approved as of yet.

 

– Based on a poll on OWE’s facebook page, it is likely that NEO-TV will be prioritizing the “Who Will In” tournament over older, unreleased content from the tournament to crown OWE’s first champion.

 

– From looking at the announced line-ups for the Japanese dates, these shows will not see any of the tournament action. That being said, the AEW/OWE connection seems to be strengthened by Michael Nakazawa working the cards.

 

– in the latest episode of Being The Elite, Matt and Nick Jackson announced that AEW has signed CIMA to a full time contract. What this means for his position as president of Dragon Gate International and as VP and head trainer of OWE is, as of yet, unknown.

Advertisements

#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.

CIMA-smells-Remy-Marcel-shoe-FSW-OWE-Oriental-Wrestling-Entertainment.gif

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.

T-Hawk-wins-AWF-Heavyweight-title

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.

CIMA-and-El-Lindaman-in-Australia.jpg

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,

Takehiro-Yamamura-OWE-jersey.jpg

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.

WG-Remy-Marcel-Jack-Manley-entrance.gif

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.

Damian-Drake-and-Spyder-Warrior-attack-Xiong-Zhiyu.gif

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.

RMB-Brothers-Bonus-Boys-debut-in-OWE.gif

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.

Jake-Cafe-Tang-Huaqi-Liu-Xinxi-segment.gif

“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.

Minor-Gregory-Jade-entrance.gif

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)

Black Team.gif

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

“Mr. COOL” Tang Huaqi

Oriental-Wrestling-Entertainment-OWE-Costume-Parade-Mr-Cool.gif

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.

Oriental-Wrestling-Entertainment-OWE-Mr-Cool-Tang-Huachi-comeback-sequence-against-Wild-Wolf-Fan-Hewei.gif

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.

Tang-Huaqi-cool-sequence-with-Jacke-Cafe-Liu-Xinxi.gif

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

“Tiger Tooth” Wang Jin

Oriental-Wrestling-Entertainment-OWE-Costume-Parade-Monkey-King.gif

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.

Oriental-Wrestling-Entertainment-OWE-Monkey-King-dropkick-and-evade-into-backpack-sleeper-on-R1.gif

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.

Wang-Jin-handspring-crossbody-attack.gif

Wang Jin hurls himself at Jack Manley!

“Flowing King” Gao Jingjia

Oriental-Wrestling-Entertainment-OWE-Flowing-King-nails-DG-Guy-with-outside-to-inside-leaping-stomp.gif

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.

Gao-Jingjia-Ladder 450-on-Tang-Huaqi.gif

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.”

Gao-Jingjia-hits-amazing-cutter-variation-on-Fan-Hewei.gif

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

“Big Head” Wulijimuren

Wulijimuren-entrance-at-Shaolin-Temple.gif

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.”

Wulijimuren-uses-Hip-Attack-against-Lu-Ye-arm.gif

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.

Oriental-Wrestling-Entertainment-OWE-Foreign-Heels-Zachary-Wentz-Dezmond-Xavier-and-DG-Guy-triple-big-boot-to-Big-Head.gif

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

“Storm Boy” Lu Ye

Oriental-Wrestling-Entertainment-OWE-Storm-Boy-Lu-Yu-Entrance.gif

“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.

Oriental-Wrestling-Entertainment-OWE-Storm-Boy-and-Happy-Ghost-combo-move-cut-from-second-version.gif

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.

Lu-Ye-hits-solid-DDT-on-Wulijimuren.gif

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

“Happy Ghost” Yang Hao

Oriental-Wrestling-Entertainment-OWE-Happy-Ghost-Yang-Hao-Entrance.gif

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.

Lu-Ye-and-Yang-Hao-no-water-in-the-pool-stereo-running-shooting-star-press.gif

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.

Oriental-Wrestling-Entertainment-OWE-Happy-Ghost-hits-YAMATO-and_Purple-DG-Guy-with-Space-Flying-Tiger-Drop.gif

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

Oriental-Wrestling-Entertainment-OWE-Costume-Parade-Unidentified-2.gif

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)

Blue Team.gif

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

“Warm-Hearted Oba” Duan Dihang

Duan-Dihang-Charismatic-Entrance.gif

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.

Duan-Dihan-flies.gif

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.

 

Oriental-Wrestling-Entertainment-OWE-Red-Team-members-beat-down-warm-heart-with-quadruple-team-move

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

“Dashing Swordsman” Duan Yingnan

Oriental-Wrestling-Entertainment-OWE-Costume-Parade-Dashing-Swordsman.gif

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.

Duan-Yingnan-and-Ren-Yuhang-exchange-nice-arm-drags.gif

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

Oriental-Wrestling-Entertainment-OWE-Costume-Parade-Bruce-Lee.gif

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.

Mao-Chengxiang-has-Bruce-Lee-mannerisms-down.gif

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

Oriental-Wrestling-Entertainment-OWE-Costume-Parade-Little-Guan-Yu-Zhao-Junjie.gif

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.

Zhao-Junjie-big-move.gif

“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

OWE-Little-Vajra-flips.gif

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.

Zhao-Yilong-demondtrates-his-neck-strength-and-durability.gif

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.

Zhao-Yilong-Wang-Jin-double-team-aganst-Jack-Manley.gif

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.

Zhao-Yilong-praying-ropewalk.gif

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.

Oriental-Wrestling-Entertainment-OWE-Monk-Little-Vajra-Zhao-Yilong-hits-Remy-Marcel-with-Stone-Cold-Stunner

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.

Oriental-Wrestling-Entertainment-OWE-Monk-Little-Vajra-Zhao-Yilong-takes-down-Jack-Manley-with-headbutt.gif

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

“Lightning Leopard” Chen Xiangke

Oriental-Wrestling-Entertainment-OWE-Lightning-Leopard-gets-creative-to-take-Remy-Marcel-off-his-feet.gif

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.

Oriental-Wrestling-Entertainment-OWE-Lightning-Leopard-nice-escape.gif

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.

Oriental-Wrestling-Entertainment-OWE-Jack-Manley-kills-Lightning-Leopard-with-Powerbomb.gif

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)

Red Team.gif

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

“Wild Wolf” Fan Hewei

Oriental-Wrestling-Entertainment-OWE-Wild-Wolf-Fan-Hewei.gif

“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.

Fan-Hewei-slams-Fan-Qiuyan-onto-Wulijimuren.gif

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.

Fan-Hewei-vs-Gao-Jingjia-cool-sequence-amazing-dragon-screw-leg-whip.gif

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

 

“Teardrop Magic Star” Fan Qiuyang

Oriental-Wrestling-Entertainment-OWE-Costume-Parade-Teardrop.gif

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

Oriental-Wrestling-Entertainment-OWE-Costume-Parade-Scorpion.gif

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.

Liu-Xinxi-high-speed-attack-sequence.gif

“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

Oriental-Wrestling-Entertainment-OWE-Costume-Parade-Savage-Ren-Yuhang.gif

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.

Oriental-Wrestling-Entertainment-Blue-guy-reversal-into-springboard-dropkick-on-red-guy.gif

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

Oriental-Wrestling-Entertainment-OWE-Costume-Parade-Tank-Sun-Chaoqun.gif

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.

Sun-Chaoqun-powerbombs-Duan-Dihan.gif

“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.

Oriental-Wrestling-Entertainment-OWE-R1-Huge-Chokeslam-and-Splash-on-Monkey-King.gif

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

“Red Bull” Xiong Zhiyu

Xiong-Zhiyu-sends-helmet-flying-on-entrance.gif

“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.

Xiong-Zhiyu-hits-Damian-Drake-with-Head-Lift-Bomb-Drop.gif

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.

Xiong-Zhiyu-and-Sun-Chaoqun-exchange-chops.gif

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)

Oriental-Wrestling-Entertainment-OWE-The-Captain-makes-his-pimptastic-entrance.gif

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.

A-Ben-sad-picture.jpg

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.

A-Ben-with-strike-flurry.gif

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.

A-Ben-goes-sailing-over-Zhao-Junjie-onto-RMB-Brothers.gif

“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

Yanchao-Kung-Fu-sword-demo-OWE-FSW-Oriental-Wrestling-Entertainment.gif

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.

Yanchao-Kung-Fu-Flip-Escape-From-grounded-head-scissors-OWE-Oriental-Wrestling-Entertainment.gif

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

Michael Nee

Oriental-Wrestling-Entertainment-OWE-Red-Blue-Black-Team-Captains-Step-to-Masaaki-Mochizuki-and-friends.gif

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

Huayang-Fu-stands-with-A-Ben-Wang-Jin-Tang-Huaqi-Zhao-Yilong-at-OWE-event.jpg

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

Oriental-Wrestling-Entertainment-OWE-Costume-Parade-Unidentified.gif

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

Oriental-Wrestling-Entertainment-OWE-Costume-Parade-Unidentified-3.gif

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.

NWA Chinese Event Poster.jpg

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

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

Special Notes

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

Middle-Kingdom-Wrestling-MKW-Hong-Wan-Selfie-King-eats-Big-Sam-Boot

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.

Middle-Kingdom-Wrestling-MKW-Selfie-King-Hong-Wan-German-Suplex-on-Big-Sam

“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.

China-Wrestling-Entertainment-CWE-The-Slam-vs.-King-of-Man-Military-Press-and-Spear.gif

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.

China-Wrestling-Entertainment-China-Nation-Wide-Wrestling-Entertainment-The-Slam-hits-Angelnaut-with-TKO-CRazy-Fight-Wrestling-League

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.

Middle-Kingdom-Wrestling-MKW-Hell-Shark-nice-kick-combo-against-Jeff-Jeffrey-Man.gif

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.

Chinese-Wrestling-Federation-CWF-Mofi-Angus-M.A.-MA-with-Fighting-Spirit-Championship.jpg

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.

China-Wrestling-Entertainment-China-Nation-Wide-Wrestling-Entertainment-Bitman-RJM-Bad-Boy-Voodoo-Sequence

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.

China-Nation-Wide-Wrestling-Entertainment-CNWWE-Gao-Yuan-hits-Pete-Peter-Dunne-with-signature-strike-flurry-number-two.gif

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

Middle-Kingdom-Wrestling-MKW-Big-Sam-slams-Selfie-King-Hong-Wan-hard-on-ring-apron.gif

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.

Middle-Kingdom-Wrestling-MKW-Selfie-King-Hong-Wan-Triple-German-Suplex-on-Tsunami.gif

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.

Middle-Kingdom-Wrestling-MKW-Big-Sam-drops-Jason-Wang-with-Military-Press-and-poses.gif

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.”

Middle-Kingdom-Wrestling-MKW-Ash-Silva-hits-Slingblade-on-Party-Boy-Gabriel-Martini.gif

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.

Middle-Kingdom-Wrestling-MKW-The-Statement-Andruew-Tang-holds-on-to-Ahs-Silva-by-any-means-necessary.gif

“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.

Chinese-Wrestling-Federation-CWF-Ho-Ho-Lun-and-Gao-Yuan-tag-team-combo-against-Jason-Lee-Shanghai-Show.gif

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.

Chinese-Wrestling-Federation-CWF-Jason-Lee-vs.-Gao-Yuan-cool-sequence-German-Suplex-and-kick.gif

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.

China-Wrestling-Entertainment-China-Nation-Wide-Wrestling-Entertainment-Bitman-Double-Stomp-on-Voodoo-Crazy-Fight-Wrestling-League.gif

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.

Chinese-Wrestling-Federation-CWF-King-Michael-channels-Rikishi-as-he-sits-on-Super-Daichi-face.gif

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.

Middle-Kingdom-Wrestling-MKW-Lenbai-outsmarts-Tony-Trivaldo.gif

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.

Chinese-Wrestling-Federation-CWF-Ho-Ho-Lun-and-The-Slam-cool-sequence-Shanghai-Show.gif

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.

CHINA-~4.GIF

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.

We-Love-Wrestling-WLW-Gao-Yuan-counters-Sam-Gradwell-counter-into-a-submission.gif

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.

CIMA in OWE.gif

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.

Oriental-Wrestling-Entertainment-OWE-Choreographed-wrestle-dancing.gif

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.

Oriental-Wrestling-Entertainment-OWE-Mr-Cool-Tang-Huachi-comeback-sequence-against-Wild-Wolf-Fan-Hewei.gif

“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.

Oriental-Wrestling-Entertainment-OWE-Red-Blue-Black-Team-Captains-Step-to-Masaaki-Mochizuki-and-friends.gif

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.

Oriental-Wrestling-Entertainment-OWE-The-Captain-flies-out-of-the-ring-onto-Masaaki-Mochizuki-et-al.gif

“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.

Oriental-Wrestling-Entertainment-OWE-Little-Vajra-Zhao-Yilong-Flip-headbutt-and-awesome-evasion-versu-Jack-Manley.gif

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.

Oriental-Wrestling-Entertainment-OWE-championship-is-lowered-from-the-ceiling-after-the-first-show-signalling-the-future-to-come.gif

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.

King-of-Pro-Wrestling-KOPW-Championship-Tournament-brackets-graphic

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.”

King-of-Pr-Wrestling-KOPW-Championship-Belt-Video.gif

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.

 

 

#DiscoveringWrestling #003 – Kung Fu Hustle & Muscle (Review of the MKW Season 2 Finale)

MKW

Middle Kingdom Wrestling recently hit a new landmark in their self-proclaimed journey to become the dominant Pro-Wrestling company in China. They posted their Season 2 finale to YouTube on September 18, 2016. You can watch it right here and then follow me on to the review!

This episode only has two matches, and each offers a bit to talk about. The “Kung Fu Showcase Match”pitted M.A. against King of Man and the season concludd on the “No Rules Match” for the MKW championship, where reigning champion Dalton Bragg faced off against the imposing challenger King Michael.

So, match by match, here are my thoughts:

M.A. vs King of Man

Both M.A. and King of Man are making their MKW debuts in this match and it has both guys come out of the match looking pretty good, considering that they are definitely on the greener side of the roster. But that doesn’t mean there weren’t some issues which detracted from what could have otherwise been a much better outing.

The match was, overall, very back-and-forth. Both performers were given opportunities to look dominant, and in the end King of Man really shone the most in this performance. The match started off a bit shakey. Amidst some rather solid striking and grappling, at several points, the timing was awkward. Two particular moments really stand out as offenders. First there was the moment when M.A. goes for a splash on King of Man well after his opponent had started to get up. It broke suspension of disbelief because hard, with my thoughts focusing on “why would he jump, he could see the dude already got out of the way?“rather than on what happened in the subsequent moments. I’m being a bit harsh, because I understand that these guys aren’t ring veterans, but any time the viewer is taken out of a match like that it can ruin what was an otherwise rather good match. Furthermore, this is exacerbated by the English-language announcer hyping the match up as a special “Kung-Fu Pro-Wrestling Showcase“, which creates an elevated expectation of precision timing, choreography, and skill being on display. The other moment that really stood out wasn’t the fault of the wrestlers, but of the referee. He got in the way, taking far too long to fix a turnbuckle pad that had come loose, and this disruption to the flow of the match really deflated what should have been an exciting, quick-paced sequence. Herein, all credit goes to King of Man for still delivering a really cool looking moment after having been forced to wait for so long to do it.

From the moment the commentary starts up during the match’s intro we can tell that these guys are the “Kung Fu Pro Wrestlers” that Adrian said would be coming back in our interview with him. I can see what they are trying to do here, with the quick strikes and the multiple spinning back kicks that King of Man throws out. However, it fails to feel truly like Kung-Fu to a western viewer, particularly one such as myself who is already a tremendous fan of both Martial Arts-Inspired Pro-Wrestling and both Mainland Chinese and Hong Kong Kung-Fu Cinema. To really play up the Kung Fu and have it feel like a distinct style, unlike an already established striking heavy style (such as what KENTA popularized), I’d like to see them do things that are more unique to Kung Fu and it’s variety of styles. Such as the unique stepping patterns and sticky hands and maybe play to some of the established movements from Kung Fu cinema classics. The announcer does a good job to make it sound like “Kung-Fu Pro-Wrestling” is a burgeoning and wholly unique to MKW style, but overall it felt like it could be at home on the US indie circuit. It wasn’t by any means bad, and I see a lot of potential for development here with these athletes. If they can really find some way to innovate and more thoroughly blend Kung-Fu into Pro-Wrestling, this could be the birth  of a wholly unique style. As it stands, however, the announcer really talks up the Kung-Fu element here more than the athletes display it, and I feel that to come off as genuine the inverse needs to be true. If Middle Kingdom Wrestling wants me to believe in Kung-Fu Pro-Wrestling as a style which I can find nowhere else, they need to show it to me instead of telling it to me. It must be evident even if I don’t understand the language of the announcing.

That being said, King of Man plays to the Wire Fu aesthetics one would expect from the merger of these two styles more so than M.A. does. as the larger of the competitors certainly goes for a more hard-hitting, brawling style. They play well off of each other but the announcer doesn’t really click with the action. It always feels like the commentary is contrived. Part of this, certainly, has to do with the quality of the recording, it has this hollow quality to it, which creates the effect that the announcer himself is disinterested. This can be worsened on the occasions wherein the announcing also sounds amateur or hackneyed. Surprise often seems forced, and nothing sounds terribly original to the commentator, and it gives me the sense that they are just reading off of a script that has been written after watching the matches several times but has never been edited. In the end, it should be the in-ring action that matters most, but the English-language commentary for MKW is essential to them growing a brand. The commentator is responsible for bridging the gap with an audience who have, most likely, never heard of anyone in the ring before and creating a sense of narrative and purpose to these viewers to have them wanting to come back for more. My hope is that they can get some new equipment and double down on their efforts for Season 3.

In the end, King of Man took the win. This was most certainly the right decision from where I’m sitting. The smaller, quicker and more nimble of the athletes who more exemplified (to the best of his ability) what the announcer was hyping up as the birth of a new division, came through as the victor. If M.A. had won it might have felt like a bigger let down than intended, because of the Kung-Fu elements being far less on display by him.

King Michael vs Dalton Bragg

I’m going to come out and say, right off the bat, that I hate the piles of random crap in place of tables. They look both dangerous and bad. I get that they wanted to do a Hardcore match and maybe they couldn’t get a real table, but this is just not good as a replacement. The board never broke because it was always just knocked off of the chairs and stools it got stacked on. It was anti-climactic and looked unsafe to bump on. There was no return on the risk to reward investment. Furthermore, the referee again had to get involved in a way that broke character, helping to set up the contraption. I would hope that they literally never do this again.

The match itself did its best to tell a traditional David versus Goliath match, trying to make the MKW Champion, Dalton Bragg, look like the underdog. This point was never really hit though. The match never hit the height of drama needed for me to ever feel like the belt was in jeopardy of changing hands. This is, pretty much, a cardinal sin when it comes to the format of MKW’s shows. The seasons are terribly brief and if they’re going to build the value of their title, every single title match needs to feel big. Maybe this is a criticism that the native Chinese audience won’t have, I’m not familiar enough with their average level of familiarity with Pro-Wrestling tropes, but if MKW wants to attract more attention from an English audience (who will most likely be die-hard wrestling fans, because I can’t imagine a casual wrestling fan doing the work to find and watch Chinese Pro-Wrestling at this time) and grow the prestige of their brand and belt, then it will be important.

In the end, Dalton Bragg came out, entirely unsurprisingly, still the champion. The in-ring action was unfortunately unmemorable when compared to the disastrous attempts at using faux-tables, and King Michael didn’t really work well with what Bragg had to offer. It’s interesting to note that I actually rather enjoyed King Michael’s season one match against The Slam. He seems to be a limited worker who can put on really entertaining matches with the right opponents. I didn’t feel that he and Bragg had the kind of chemistry and physicality needed for that to happen.

In retrospect, I really enjoyed the M.A. versus King of Man match that opened the episode far more than this match. That’s a problem. I really shouldn’t be enjoying the opening match more than the main event, particularly when the main event is the once-per-season title match. It’s a bit of a dour note to leave the season on, as far as matches are concerned, but wisely the story continued briefly post-match, as The Slam, a champion in his own promotion, challenged Dalton Bragg for the MKW title. With both men being more experienced than the majority of the rest of the MKW roster, we can expect that their match will certainly do better for the belt than this one.

 Conclusion

All in all, this episode was a less impressive season finale than the season one finale. It successfully introduced two new names to MKW viewers in the opening match and the, unfortunately, sub-par title match was salvaged somewhat by the promise of a match between The Slam and Dalton Bragg in the near future. If this were the only episode of MKW I had ever seen my viewership might be in jeopardy but as it is, that last cliffhanger moment will have me coming back for more. I think MKW need to up the ante moving forward. They still do some of their fun slow-mo replays mid match, they still feel like a fun and growing company, but I really want to see more out of them . Really, I want the best for MKW. They have a lot of interesting shows on the horizon, which I’ll be looking to review as well, and hopefully they can put on increasingly high quality, all around, shows.