#DiscoveringWrestling #009 – Foreign Expeditions 2: Middle Kingdom Boogaloo

Just this past week Middle Kingdom Wrestling released their latest episode to YouTube, continuing their efforts to get Chinese Pro-Wrestling on the map.This episode featured surprisingly improved commentary, with excitement at the in-ring action from their English-language commentator sounding genuine, and a bare minimum number of plugs to their various websites cluttering up the commentary. However, somehow, between the last episode and this one, filmed at the same event, the camera work got worse. Unfortunately, the camera work draws even more attention to how miniscule the crowd is at this event, which counteracts all the efforts of the announcer to make these people sound like “can’t-miss” superstars.

MKW

I really wish that big red fist were breaking through the wall…

As MKW’s roster is limited, and the WrestleStar III event was a cross-promotional event, we have even more guest talent appearing here. Humungus is from World Underground Wrestling, Eurasian Dragon from Singapore Pro Wrestling, Malkeet Brawler and Maxim Risky from Wrestle Square, and Hayden Zenith from Kingdom Wrestling Federation. Admittedly, even though not always of incredibly high quality, I found all of the performers here at least entertaining. The promo package from Humungus is actually kind of hilarious, and he has a good look with all of his tattoos, but I don’t think his hilarity is intentional.

Match 1: Big Sam and Black Mamba vs. Malkeet Brawler and Maxim Risky

A really basic heel vs face style tag team match. Big Sam plays the “heel enforcer” role well by trying to get an early advantage off of a pre-match powerbomb. As the biggest man in the match, and likely the most experienced, a lot of what is good here does fall on his shoulders. His military Press looks great when the rest of the men in the match are easily half his size.

The Malkeet Brawler early on nails a nice looking snap suplex on Black Mamba, but not all of the Indian team’s moves look as fluid. In fact, neither team performs distinctly better than the other and they put on a slow paced match that doesn’t quite get me revved.

Victory comes for Big Sam and Black Mamba when Mamba gets the pinfall victory off of a “big splash” on his opponent who was just choke slammed by Big Sam. I hope this was done for comedy, as the splash looked weak and boring in a day and age when men of Black Mamba’s size are flipping around all over the place.

Grade: D+
Match 2: Humungus vs. Eursasian Dragon (Champion) – SPW Championship Match

This match barely even happens, and yet you can tell by what little action there is that both Humungus and Eurasian Dragon are less green than the majority of competitors on the MKW shows.It looked to have a bit of potential heading in, and Eurasian Dragon looked mostly good except for his no-height drop kick and final pinning predicament.

It’s a short, sloppy affair with a lot of personality where Eurasian Dragon comes out on top with the world’s slowest magistral cradle.

Grade: C-
Match 3: The Slam vs Hayden Zenith (Champion) – KWF Championship Match

This match opens with some decent chain wrestling, presenting the most crisp action seen on this Thailand card. They both move fast and are confident and fluid in their performance. They even work a good transition from a submission move to a pinning predicament into their match, showing that these two are genuinely a cut above in experience and skill.

This being said, however, the action gets disjointed a bit after a dropkick in the ring ropes. The ring they are using is a Muay Thai ring and the ropes are not tightened as one would usually see in Pro-Wrestling events. They look hard to work with and seem to cause problems with making the spots work as the performers had intended. All fluidity vanishes in an awkward series of moves ending in The Slam being tossed to the entrance ramp.

The Slam is actually really fun to watch. I’ve said it before, and I’ll probably keep saying it: The Slam is like a slightly doughy Junior Heavyweight Chinese version of Goldberg. He explodes around the ring. He has the most experience in actual years of all the Chinese wrestlers, but I wonder if some further excursions to North America or Japan would clear up some of his flaws?

As the match builds to a close the quality is marred by a weirdly botched Jackhammer by The Slam on Hayden Zenith, that may have been Zenith’s fault, while Dalton Bragg does a run-in to check on a downed referee. This botch wouldn’t have been half as noticeable if they had only used one camera angle, but they decided to instant replay it and provide commentary highlighting it…

Match ends when Hayden Zenith wins over The Slam after Dalton Bragg nails the founding father of Chinese Pro-Wrestling with his granny cane and reveals his injury to be a sham.

Grade: C+

Have you been to any wrestling shows in unexpected places? Do you have any comments or questions? Please leave your feedback here!

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#DiscoveringWrestling #004 – International Expeditions (Review of MKW Thailand Edition Episode 1)

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Cool Poster, Guys!

Just before the end of 2016 Middle Kingdom Wrestling participated in their biggest venture to date, a co-promoted tour  in Thailand with Kingdom Wrestling Federation, a local Thai group, and Association Bitteroise de Catch, out of France, dubbed WrestleStar III. These shows, for my interest in shining a light on underrepresented places in international Pro-Wrestling, seemed like the perfect, exciting opportunity to see what these countries, and companies, have to offer.

From the very start of this episode there are some problems that need to be addressed that have nothing to do with the in-ring performances. The two most glaring of these problems are the inconsistent video quality and the commentary. The video quality differs heavily between the handheld cameras filming at ringside, which look clean and sharp, and the arena’s (I’m assuming it’s the arena’s) fixed position camera. It’s literally the difference between HD and my old rabbit-ears antenna TV from childhood. The cuts between these cameras are jarring and distract from the flow of the action, making me think that my computer was buffering something bad until I recognized the pattern. Genuinely, if I had had the reigns in editing and had seen the quality difference, I’d have left all of the hard cam footage on the floor. It sullies the product.

Sadly, that’s not where MKW finish undercutting their own product .Their commentary is atrocious. The unnamed commentator sounds bored and without any genuine interest in the product, and whether or not he actually cares is irrelevant when he’s putting me to sleep.  The only time he sounds somewhat alive is when he’s plugging MKW’s YouTube, FaceBook, and Twitter pages. Which in the 20 minutes or so of actual show he does far too often. When I’m genuinely wishing I was listening to Michael Cole on commentary instead of you, well, you’re doing something very wrong.

That being said, if you can get past the video and commentary problems, you do have some wrestling here to watch. So let’s talk about the matches.

Match 1: MKW Championship #1 Contender’s  Triple Threat Match: Candy Brother vs. Mikey Rawaz vs. “The Selfie King” Hong Wan

So, let’s address one non-wrestling issue with this match before we get into the meat of the review, they spell “Triple” incorrectly. It’s such a basic, simple, avoidable error that really makes the product feel less important, less professional, than I know the people behind it want it to be seen as. There’s a lot of quality issues that a truly young promotion like MKW can be forgiven for, and they’re likely going to catch a lot more flak from reviewers and commentators as they grow because they have chosen to film and put everything they do on YouTube, but spelling errors take literally any basic spell check function to avoid.

Sadly the first thing you’ll notice as the competitors take to the ring is that the venue they’re in is empty. Not literally empty, but the audience is so small that I worry about the costs of them putting on this show and I’m not even financially involved.  The venue itself looks so much better than the usual gyms and bars that MKW has filmed its fights in, and if it were even one quarter full it would have looked super impressive.

The match itself starts with some awkward clothesline and dropkick exchanges where each participant gets their shot in on someone else. I say “awkward” not because it doesn’t make sense from a psychology perspective, but because there is a lot of uncertainty in the ring. They go for some exchanges and there are some awkward spills to the apron before they get to their first big spot, a tower of doom-esque  Vertical Suplex/Side Russian Leg Sweep combination. In theory it’s a cool idea, and one I personally haven’t seen before, but the synchronization and force just wasn’t there and leaves the moment lacking in intensity. I can’t tell who was responsible for this, but it does fall on the Candy Brother/Mikey Rawaz side of the equation.

The match plays out with only a few special moments thereafter. After being Irish whipped into the corner, Candy Brother takes one of the worst looking corner bumps I have ever seen. I couldn’t tell if he was trying what he was doing for the first time or the construction of the Muay Thai ring was working against the performers, but either way it looked really off. Candy Brother actually has a few shining moments in the match amidst all the uncertainty of motion. He makes me laugh out loud while selling a hit where he rolls on the ground and says “My face, it hurts SO bad!”, even just typing it makes me chuckle, and he gets both of his opponents into an interesting submission hold I can only describe as a Double PALO Special. Warsman would be proud.

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If you don’t love Kinnikuman, you’re a bad person!

Mikey Rawaz spends almost the entirety of the match making me groan, he is simply the least skilled man in the match, and if he isn’t then he’s not trying hard to impress the audience.  His timing and movements lack any crispness or fluidity. He had one good spot when the three men were setting up for the classic Superplex/Powerbomb Tower of Doom where he had Hong Wan and Candy Brother stacked up in such a way that when he punched Wan he would knock his head into Candy Brother’s junk, hurting both men at once. It was a clever spot.

“The Selfie King” Hong Wan shines as the star in this match, and is certainly booked to look that way as well. In both the Tower of Doom styled moments he was the one who delivered the crucial attack that damaged both of his opponents. Throughout the match he does his best to get the minimal crowd in attendance to clap and get hyped for the action in the match, but it almost feels like Thailand doesn’t get Pro-Wrestling yet, as the crowd really fails to respond in a meaningful way. It also pretty much fails to be a crowd. Nevertheless, Hong Wan works his “Selfie King” gimmick like a champ, pausing after the momentous Tower of Doom spot to take selfies with the carnage in the background behind him. I wish the MKW twitter account would post these pictures. It’d certainly give them more content to upload, and likely help in boosting visibility of the product on social media.

Hong Wan is also, as you might have guessed, the inevitable winner of the match, nailing a rather nice Frog Splash on Candy Brother to earn himself the #1 Contender spot for the MKW Championship.  I’m certain he’ll have the match of his young career against the far more veteran Dalton Bragg.

Winner: “The Selfie King” Hong Wan

Match Rating:  C-

 

Match 2: ABC Tag-Team Championship Match: Ash Silva and Jason Wang (challengers) vs. Tony Trivaldo and Claude Roca (champions)

As the two teams enter the first thing I was struck with was that it looked like the audience got smaller, which certainly is a shame because this match features a truly interesting mix of talent. Claude Roca, a veritable grandfather, is the most skilled man on this show. The announcer says he has 50 years of wrestling experience and is in his 70s, and he moves better than some people I’ve seen in the peak of their physical prowess under 30. My usual go-to for researching grapplers, Cagematch, only tracks him back to 2006 but I refuse to believe that a man this old started that recently and hasn’t gotten cripplingly hurt. He moves about like an old school European grappler and his offense genuinely has an old timey feel, in a good way. He’s mystifyingly good and to quote the comment on his Cagematch page, ““being old and still in top condition” is a gimmick of its own.

Claude Roca and Ash Silva start off the bout against each other and the elder grappler looks great as he ties up his young opponent and flips him about. Likely working to let the older man look good and keep him from taking too many bumps, Roca stays in control and dominant for his team. Once the big man, Tony Trivaldo, is tagged in for his team the inexperience of the MKW performers becomes a bit more evident as Silva slips awkwardly out of a body slam and hits a zig zag on the big man. This, from the movements made by the performers, was obviously supposed to be a fluid sequence but seems stuttered by the lack of polish in the transition. Both MKW’s and KWF’s talent on this episode in general need to work on smooth out their movements and looking more sure of themselves. Or, to put it more succinctly, they need to work on Body Agency and Shared Weight.

Jason Wang is tagged in after a failed pin attempt and shows a nice series of tight forearm shots on Trivaldo and even hoists the big man up for a really crisp looking Fisherman’s Suplex and a genuinely stiff looking running knee. Annoyingly we see a gaff here, where the running knee places Trivaldo on his back and far away from Ash Silva, who calls out to Wang for the tag and climbs the turnbuckle to jump into a splash on the big man. Trivaldo compensates for the distance by rolling oddly towards his opponents and sitting halfway up. The sequence does a lot of harm to the good will established thus far by the performers by breaking that suspension of disbelief that is crucial to the Art of Wrestling.

Trivaldo plays the big man role adequately in this match, taking down both of his opponents after some miscommunication between the partners. The impact of the moment is dulled by a ref who obviously is not aware that he is obstructing the flow of the match by standing directly between Trivaldo and the challengers.

Roca gets tagged in again and shows off that he can still take some awkward looking bumps during an exchange with Jason Wang, and then Ash Silva gets tagged back in and works up some good heel heat by laying into the old man with some mean looking kicks and headbutts. Roca generates instant “old man in peril” sympathy babyface heat during this segment which culminates in a fancy looking two-man monkey flip against both opponents freeing him up for the tag.

Trivaldo again plays a good big man off of a hot tag that leads to the conclusion of the match where he awkwardly picks up his geriatric companion and hurls him at Jason Wang for the pinning combination to retain their championship. The segment is punctuated by the most awkward echoing bang sound. Like they jacked up the volume on the impact in the audio file for the match to try and make it seem super intense on the final big moves.

Winners: Claude Roca and Tony Trivaldo

Match Rating: C

 

Conclusion

Overall a sufficiently entertaining show for MKW. If I weren’t already a wrestling fan, I don’t think this product would win me over to being one, but as a fan it is exciting to see the growth of the company and talent. Yet again Hong Wan has managed to improve his looks between seasons, getting new tights and looking leaner and more fit and hasn’t lost a step when it comes to milking his gimmick for all its worth. Jason Wang looks smoother than before and Ash Silva has had tremendous improvement since I watched him in the debut season. I don’t anticipate that in less than a year of me watching the product I will see the true evolution and definition of a uniquely  Chinese expression of Pro-Wrestling, but I can say that MKW is doing its damndest to lay the groundwork needed to build that upon and if these young men continue to improve at the pace they have already set then they may one day be spoken of in the way that people talk about El Santo and Antonio Inoki, as the men who came to be definitions of what it means to wrestle in their countries.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

NC: How long have you been living in China?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

AG: There’s been quite a few one off pro wrestling shows that have toured China.  I can tell you, for certain, that Chinese audience[s] don’t react much to chain wrestling. I learned that very quickly, so we changed our focus to offer more entertainment.  We love to make people smile. That’s what we want to focus on.  If you watch MKW TV: Chinese Pro Wrestling, we’ve taken a lot of inspiration from WWE Monday Night Raw.  We try to build stories, our episodes are not just pure wrestling.

NC: How big is your ring?

AG: It’s 14 by 14

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

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

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

AG: We just want to give Chinese pro wrestlers and Pro Wrestlers all over the world a platform to be able to wrestle regularly in China and Chinese Pro Wrestling fan a product that they can proudly support as Chinese Pro Wrestling.

 

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

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

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

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

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

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