Early 2019 Chinese Pro Wrestling News Round-Up #3

Oriental Wrestling Entertainment

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

SPOILERS BELOW THIS POINT

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

 

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

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

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

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

 

Middle Kingdom Wrestling 

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

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

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

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

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

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Early 2019 Chinese Pro Wrestling news round-up #2

Oriental Wrestling Entertainment

While I’ve yet to ferret out any details on whom OWE will be sending to AEW’s Double or Nothing in May, that certainly doesn’t mean that there’s not been news. As I’d predicted in my article on 5 Chinese Wrestlers (Outside of OWE) that you should pay attention to, “The Insolent Devil” Gao Yuan made his inevitable debut with OWE on February 23rd 2019. Gao Yuan isn’t certain when he will work with OWE again, exactly, but has informed me that there will be more collaboration this year.

The same match also saw Lin Dong Xuan, who works primarily in Pro Wrestling NOAH via Simon Inoki’s Oriental Heroes Legend, made his OWE debut to replace an injured Gao Jingjia (good news is that from what I have heard it is not serious and he should be fine in a matter of weeks.) Lin Dong Xuan also ranked on the same list as Gao Yuan, and brings the number of promotions represented in the match up to three, with Gao Yuan being the owner of We Love Wrestling. For the record, the match was A-Ben and Lin Dong Xuan vs. T-Hawk and Gao Yuan, and I’m very excited to get to see it.

Furthermore, OWE recently had a near 20 minute, according to reports, match between Zhao Junjie and Fan Hewei to determine their first “Annual Champion.” In the end, Zhao Junjie stood tall with the championship around his waist. While not made terribly evident in their YouTube broadcasts to English-speaking audiences, many of the singles matches over the last stretch of shows have been single-elimination tournament brackets to determine this final encounter.

This event to crown the first ever OWE champion also comes at an opportune time, as NEO-TV have announced that starting next week they will have exclusive English-language content for OWE. While I had previously announced that English-language content would be forthcoming, no date had been provided so this marks a big change in accessibility for Chinese Pro Wrestling. Of note is that the translations will feature entirely new English-language commentary with goals to have the non-commentary dialogue subtitled. For the time being this will be on content moving forward only, but NEO-TV have said that going back and translating old content is “something to consider.”

Additionally, while I haven’t yet had it provided to me, Michael Nee, OWE’s COO, has advised me that the match card for their cross-promoted show with NTW in Taiwan has been determined.

 

Middle Kingdom Wrestling

MKW’s International “Belt and Road” themed show presently being planned to take place in Nepal will see the first time in a few years that Middle Kingdom Wrestling have venture outside of the Chinese mainland. While dates have yet to be confirmed, and the venture built around China’s Belt and Road Initiative may not come to pass, looking into this story has granted me a brief glimpse into the Nepalese Pro Wrestling scene which is, as has become the norm, shockingly more developed than I had anticipated.

Adrian Gomez has made connections with the Nepal Ring Wrestling Association (NRWA) in efforts to stage this show and, so far, all looks to play out to produce an exciting event that could introduce Chinese audiences to a new crop of talent. Current MKW champion, Big Sam, expects that he will be participating in the event but has not had any particulars about his match confirmed as of yet.

While the specifics of the event in the works for Nepal have not been confirmed, MKW’s next Chinese event now has a date and matches announced. Titled “A New Chapter,” the event will take place in Harbin, China on March 10th 2019. So far there are two championship matches scheduled. Black Mamba will defend his Belt and Road Championship against both Bitman and Jyunyan Lee. Big Sam will defend his MKW Championship against “Masterclass” Michael Su. Ho Ho Lun has also been announced for the card.

Of particular note herein is that both Bitman and Michael Su ranked on the same list I had Goa Yuan on, and are now in increasingly high profile championship matches, with MKW’s last streamed event having been viewed by 8 million people. Jyunyan Lee on the other hand is a Chinese-born wrestler currently living in Ontario, Canada and training at Santino Marella’s Battle Arts Academy. I was lucky enough to watch him debut less than a year ago and already he’s become a well loved part of the MKW roster, developing into quite the well-traveled performer very early in his promising career.

 

King of Pro Wrestling

KOPW recently posted an open recruiting call t try and attract students to a newly launched Pro Wrestling training facility located in Guangzhou, China. Ho Ho Lun, Shen Fei and Wang Junjie are listed in the article as the trainers of note. It also notes that there are 10 students currently enrolled, and that some competed after only a few months of training.

 

 

Early 2019 Chinese Pro Wrestling news round-up

Early  2019 has seen an explosion of newsworthy events and information come to light about the expanding Chinese Pro Wrestling scene. In fact there’s been so much news that this time period may be looked back on as a crucial launching point in the next step of the scene’s development, with 2018’s big company debuts serving as a foundation. But enough speculation about the future impact, let’s get to the news!

Oriental Wrestling Entertainment

OWE had, by far, the biggest, most bombastic news out of early 2019 as they headed towards their 1 year anniversary. Spinning out of their very successful second half of 2018,  they made huge moves  that will shape the future of not only their roster but the whole of the scene, bringing a plethora of international eyes onto the brand.

– Partnerships between OWE and The Crash Lucha Libre and All Elite Wrestling were made official (for more AEW partnership details please see comments provided to me by OWE COO Michael Nee, and by AEW Executive VP Matt Jackson.) OWE management are expected to be in Las Vegas today to join Cody, Matt and Nick for meetings and press conferences.

– Famous trainer Jorge “Skayde” Rivera did a stint in China training all members of the roster, regardless of experience level.

NothingElseOn.TV will be broadcasting OWE content on their service, and I learned in discussions with them that they are working on translations to provide English localization for OWE shows and Chinese localization for at least one of their other shows. No dates have been confirmed for when this will be available.

– OWE will be running international dates in Taipei, Taiwan on Marc 30th 2019 and in Osaka and Tokyo, Japan between April 18th and 20th 2019.

– “Scorpio XX” Liu Xinxi will be making his return to international competition February 13th with #STRONGHEARTS at Wrestle-1.

– American talent brought in to China by OWE have recently worked on Gao Yuan’s most recent WLW show, adding further fuel to the rumors that OWE will be more actively working with other promotions in the Chinese Pro Wrestling scene.

 

Ho Ho Lun’s expanding network

– Extreme Wrestling Entertainment (EWE) ran their first show on January 22nd 2019 with very high production values. The promotion is owned and operated by Cai Liangchan, a famous man in Macau who has a background in international sporting events representing Macau and in MMA. Ho Ho Lun has been appointed as the “head producer” for the brand, making this the 3rd company he has a creative controlling stake in (EWE in Macau, HKWF in Hong Kong, and KOPW in mainland China.) Further shows are anticipated to take place in March and May.

– Ho Ho Lun via HKWF will also be helping to run further upcoming Dragon Gate shows in Hong Kong in May, with a “whole Dragon Gate run in Autumn and Spring” planned.

– KOPW and HKWF both ran successful shows in January, with video footage hopefully forthcoming soon.

 

We Love Wrestling

– Gao Yuan, WLW’s owner, has said that while nothing is certain yet he is working on a plan for an OWE vs. WLW event off of the back of their recent inter-promotional friendliness.

– 2019 will see more big shows from WLW, with at least one being in Anshan (Dongbei.)

 

Middle Kingdom Wrestling

– MKW plan on running four to five shows in 2019 in China, with their first being in March.

– MKW have plans for a spring show taking place in Nepal to fall under their newly established “Belt and Road” show banner. Likely this will be headlined by a Belt and Road championship match, to continue their successful and government supported “Belt and Road” promotion efforts.

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

KOPW

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

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

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

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

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

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

MKW

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

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

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

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

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

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

CWF

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

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

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

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

OHL

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

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

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

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

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

WLW

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

I have two answers to that question:

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

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

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

Special Notes

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

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

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

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

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

The Slam and CWE

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The rise and fall of CNWWE

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

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

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

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

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

Adrian Gomez and MKW

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Brad Guo and the CWF

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Taiwanese wrestler Lenbai outsmarts Tony Trivaldo at an MKW event.

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

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

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

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

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

Gao Yuan and WLW

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

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

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

Huayang Fu, Dragon Gate, and OWE

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

KOPW and The Future

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

#DiscoveringWrestling #014 – The Arrogant Atheist in Mexico

With his time in Middle Kingdom Wrestling behind him, and hot on the heels of losing his biggest championship ever, “The Arrogant Atheist” decided he needed to reinvent himself and moved himself and his family down to Mexico, to see if the grass is greener on the other side. After a few matches in small, indie Lucha Libre promotions Dalton Bragg has caught the eye of Asistencia Asesoría y Administración talent scouts, has attended a tryout for the AAA, whom most of my  readers will likely know as the partner of Lucha Underground, and is set to debut in a dark match for them on March 31st. I had the opportunity to catch up with Bragg and ask him a few questions on the cusp of his, potentially, biggest match to date.

NC: First of all, congratulations. Things have been working out great for you since you moved to Mexico. All momentum towards your intended goal.That’s one hell of a gamble to have pay off, moving your entire family to another country without any guarantees. How does it feel to be given this opportunity by AAA?

DB: It feels like a breath of fresh air. I feel like The Arrogant Atheist is finally going somewhere he can stretch his wings. A place where I will finally receive the recognition I deserve. It’s time that Dalton Bragg showed everyone that he has what it takes to make it in the best wrestling promotion in the world.

NC: Do you know whom your dark match debut will be with?

DB: No.

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Dalton Bragg at the AAA tryouts.

NC: Oh! A mystery opponent! How exciting! Okay, moving on then. What was it like to go through the AAA tryout? 

DB: The AAA tryout was an example of how superior I am to any other talent. Hundreds of hopeful luchadors were forced to watch on helplessly as it became more and more obvious that I was the greatest person there. The TV camera crew seemed to forget that there were other wrestlers there as they began to interview me a 7th and 8th time while others waited for their 1st turn. I look forward to being announced as the winner.

NC: What do you think you need to do, at this point, to make it to the next stage of your career, and how do you envision the next step of your career? 

DB: Dalton Bragg is going to continue to refine his look. I will always look for ways to improve my gear, and I am constantly working on improving my physique and conditioning. After I prove that I belong on the AAA stage in my dark match, I expect they will continue to put me higher and higher on the cards, ask me to travel the country with them and eventually I will win every championship belt they have.

NC: Who do you most want to wrestle on the AAA roster? 

DB: I can’t wait to make it so LA PARKA can never do that goofy dance again…

NC: Now that you’ve performed in the USA, China, and Mexico, what can you tell me about them? What is your favorite place to Wrestle? What does the way the audience and wrestlers interact tell you about pro wrestling in each place?

DB: Mexico is easily my favorite place to wrestle. Chinese fans don’t understand wrestling and it takes a lot of work to get them to interact. In the US, half the crowd is really into [it] and interacting while the other half is tentatively and quietly watching while checking their phones… In Mexico, even a small show is a big deal. Every single person is completely invested and it’s obvious that Lucha Libre is a major part of their culture.

NC: Finally, as the first ever MKW champion how did it feel to lose your title to The Selfie King Hong Wan, someone whom you helped to train?

DB: Losing my MKW title was very clearly a screw job by the heads of MKW. They couldn’t stand that a non-Chinese national was the first ever Champion and they worked very hard ever since to make sure I lost that title. Once it became clear that there was no one who could defeat me, MKW resorted to paying off a referee to fast count me, ensuring a Chinese national could finally hold the title. No one can seriously believe that a rookie like Selfie King could possibly beat me in a fair fight. Obvious screw job. That MKW [championship] still belongs to me.

 

With the future looking bright for Dalton Bragg with AAA, and Vampiro’s connections with local #TorontoWrestling I wonder if we’ll ever see “The Arrogant Atheist” brought up to Canada, like Vampiro is doing with other AAA and Lucha Underground stars? Only time will tell, and I look forward to seeing how Bragg’s career develops as he continues to take risks and change himself in pursuit of a lucrative Pro-Wrestling career.

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#DiscoveringWrestling #012 – Hunan Hustle! MKW Championship Match!

This latest episode of Middle Kingdom Wrestling is short and sweet, with only one match. The unusually different video quality and one match only format comes as the result of unexpected changes needing to be adapted to and, for a title change that was put together on the fly, it performs admirably amongst all the difficulties. But if any company wants to thrive in the world of Pro-Wrestling it will have to adapt and overcome adversity, so here’s to you, MKW! I hope to see this belt defended in many future matches, last minute swerves or not!

Match 1: MKW Championship Match – Dalton Bragg (c) vs. “The Selfie King” Hong Wan

Dalton Bragg plays the heel role during his entrance for what appears to be the first time in his tenure with the company, trash talking fans who seem to be engaged with, but not understand, what he is saying. The match starts out as a chop-fest, because, after a match the previous day, Bragg knew the audience would be hot for it, amongst, I’m certain, other reasons. Chop chop chop it goes, Bragg selling them like they’re red hot knives slammed against his chest. The match keeps up on these chops and slaps for a long while, as even after Dalton Bragg regains control he goes around outside the ring slapping the back of Hong Wan up close in the audience’s face.

Speaking of the audience, attendance at this outdoor match was phenomenal. The ring is surrounded by a mob of people. This is the first time that MKW have seemed legitimately impressive in a crowd-drawing manner on camera. It made for a professional, big fight feel even amidst the lower quality of camera work and the unpredictable lighting.

As the match moves on, Hong Wan hits a nice German Suplex, proving that his repertoire of moves is only getting bigger and his execution tighter. Indeed, one of my notes for writing this review read simply “surprisingly diverse set of moves overall“, and that type of unpredictability, tied to ever improving quality of execution, is how you attract the wrestling fan as opposed to the sports entertainment fan. Seeing as how Adrian Gomez, the owner and operator of Middle Kingdom Wrestling, values the golden days of Ring of Honor, it seems like a safe bet that he wants to run a fun wrestling company, and attract that audience as opposed to otherwise.

Bragg has a good moment with a monkey flip in the match, but I would have liked to see him give Selfie King more air on the move. A great monkey flip is a surprising thing of beauty. While Hong Wan undoubtedly gets better with every match he has, and his career is so young he has plenty of room to grow, it would be unfair of me to not mention that Bragg has improved too. In this match he hits his two signature moves, and while the speed on rotation of his kicks could be better, his fluidity on performing the Float-Over DDT is much improved over other times I have seen him do it. If he can continue to ramp up the speed at which he performs he’ll open doors for himself for certain.

The match builds to a close and Selfie King hits Dalton Bragg with a nice Samoan Drop. He follows it up with a standing Moonsault that’s all knees on Dalton’s chest and gets the pinfall. Folks, you have your new Middle Kingdom Wrestling champion, “The Selfie King” Hong Wan! Sadly, for all he has been brilliant at his gimmick throughout his other matches, the Selfie King fails to follow up his win with an in-ring selfie celebration with his gold.

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But he certainly has taken MANY since them! Doing that gimmick proud!

Overall the match was a bit slow, but there were no glaring errors and it flowed nicely, despite the bizarre camera edits and lower quality footage. The commentary continues to get better, and I think I’ve settled on this guy as the voice of MKW. I’m certain that with more practice he’ll certainly get better. It would go a long way for him to learn the names of more moves and to be prepped in advance for what to call certain things.

Grade: B-

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#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+

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#DiscoveringWrestling #005 – The Arrogant Atheist Speaks: An interview with Dalton Bragg

This past week I had the opportunity to do a quick interview session with Dalton Bragg, the bombastic American wrestler who had the unique honour of being the first ever MKW Champion, to better understand who he is and what the Chinese wrestling scene is truly like, from a competitor’s perspective. His answers were sometimes brazen, showing Bragg truly lives up to his moniker as The Arrogant Atheist, but were also informative and enlightening.

NC: Why compete in China? What drove your decision to compete in such a “fresh” territory?

DB: After I was unfairly ousted from Mid-South Wrestling Alliance in Oklahoma, I decided to reflect on my career. I had wrestled in various states, spreading the good word of atheism and demonstrating what wrestling truly looks like… But something was missing. I was never able to reach the top of a promotion. I wasn’t receiving the recognition I knew I deserved. So Dalton Bragg decided to go to one of the only places in the world that hadn’t been exposed to wrestling. A place that would appreciate and not demonize an atheist. Dalton Bragg went to China to establish professional wrestling where no other wrestler or promotion had ever been able to. I decided China would be the best place to refocus my career and wrestling style to see what works in the eyes of people who have no experience with wrestling. It was a chance for me to evolve my wrestling style… So that when I return to the US, I will be unique and unpredictable.

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How would you rate this on the Muta-Meter?

NC: What does it mean to you to be the first ever Middle Kingdom Wrestling champion?

DB: Being the first ever MKW Champion is a long overdue acknowledgment of my greatness. For too long I have been overlooked and under appreciated. Becoming MKW Champion was an inevitability, and it’s no surprise that my reign has lasted well over 500 days.

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Bragg-ing about his victory.

NC: What is it like wrestling in front of a Chinese audience versus wrestling in front of an American audience?

DB: The difference is stark. An American audience demonizes and hates me from the moment they announce The Arrogant Atheist’s arrival. The Chinese audience sat in awe of my greatness. They soaked in the feast of my appearance with their eyes quietly and respected the spectacle of the most amazing wrestler they had ever and will ever witness. An American audience would yell at me, tell me I suck after I had just nailed a perfectly executed springboard code breaker… A Chinese audience gasped and tried to pick their jaws up off the floor. An American audience would shout death threats at me after I won… A Chinese audience would beg me for a photo

NC: Do you change your style drastically in China versus in America?

DB: The entire purpose of going to China was to evolve my style. It was difficult to adjust to the new style of competition Chinese wrestlers offered. But it certainly made me a better wrestler. Being able to adjust to different styles, different levels of talent is an important skill in this business and it’s one I mastered in my time in China.

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Superkick! Isn’t that gimmick infringement?

NC: What made you want to be a Pro-Wrestler?

DB: There was no one moment that made me want to be a wrestler. I was born to do it. This business shaped and molded me. I don’t even remember my past life. The first day I stepped into a ring was the day Dalton Bragg was born. I live for this industry and for better or worse, wrestling is what I am until I die. Being a wrestler is not a matter of “want” to me… It’s simply all I am.

NC: Cagematch.net lists on their bio for you that you were trained in part by Jerry Lynn and Mick Foley, is that true? What was the most important lesson each man taught you?

DB: Jerry Lynn taught me how to throw a beautiful arm drag. Lynn was a classy guy and I wish I had gotten more time with him. Mick Foley taught me less about actual moves and more about in ring psychology. I’ll never forget him explaining to me how pro wrestling is like porn. “You save the money shot for the end.” Foley taught me the why, instead of the how. It was an honor to learn from one of the only people who[se] body can withstand as much punishment as mine.

Also, for the record: Mick Foley is one of the nicest people you will ever meet in the pro-wrestling business.

NC: What stands out to you in regards to how a Chinese audience engages with Pro-Wrestling?

DB: As I mentioned, the Chinese are very new to wrestling. They were often confused by it but always impressed. I put a lot of work into connecting with that audience and showing them how to be a part of the show. In wrestling, the audience is very much a living aspect of what we do and the Chinese audience is like a baby learning to walk and talk. They’re learning when to high five the wrestlers, and how to interact with the show.

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They say he’s cocky, but does he back it up?

NC: What stands out to you in regards to how Chinese Pro-Wrestlers approach Pro-Wrestling?

DB: This is easy. With the exception of only one Chinese wrestler in all of China, Chinese wrestlers are nothing more than fans, putting on stretchy pants and pretending to be wrestlers. They are inexperienced and have this false sense of professionalism. The worst example is The Slam. He is a self-trained moron who would be considered nothing more than a “yarder” in the states. Buying a title belt online doesn’t make you a champion. Coming out to Goldberg’s music doesn’t make you Goldberg. And just because you have a ring, doesn’t mean you know how to wrestle. Other Chinese wrestlers are inexperienced and have a long way to go. I worry about them because many of them are not being trained by an adequate instructor. The only Chinese wrestler worthy of being called a pro-wrestler is The Selfie King, Hong Wan. That kid is young and a bit inexperienced, but he gets the business. If he sticks with it, he will be great. It was a true honor to share a ring with him.

NC: What is your favourite match from your time in China so far?

DB: Obviously my favorite match is the moment I became the first ever MKW Champion. I will forever be etched in Chinese history as the man who beat 3 men in two days, overcame an insane man dislocating my elbow moments before my title match, defeating a fresh opponent who hadn’t wrestled in the same tournament… And still finding a way to achieve my first major championship. Not to mention my place in world history as a member of the first ever pro wrestling match to be filmed in virtual reality. Dalton Bragg vs Voodoo will always mean a lot to me.

NC: What do you see as the future of Pro-Wrestling in China?

DB: The Chinese wrestling scene starts and ends with MKW. It will go as far as promoter Adrian Gomez is willing to take it. They still have a lot of work they need to do like most promotions… but I think they have a good group of guys and a good vision. Hopefully Adrian is better able to utilize the skills of those around him in the future. If he can delegate and give up some of his control over certain aspects of MKW, I think MKW will flourish and I’m confident he will be more successful than any of the rival “promotions” trying to run in China. That being said, I don’t know that wrestling will ever take off in the same way it has in America or Mexico or Japan. I don’t think the culture will accept it the same way. But that doesn’t mean it isn’t profitable or worth pursuing.

NC: Why do you think that the Chinese won’t take to Pro-Wrestling to the same degree that Japan, Mexico, and America have?

DB: I think the Japanese, Mexican and American scenes were cultivated from decades of building up a high quality product that became a major aspect of the local culture. The Chinese wrestling scene won’t have decades before the WWE monopolizes the product in the country and makes competition and growth impossible. Wrestling will only be as big as WWE decided it will be in China. 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.

To elaborate on what I said about the Chinese audience demanding perfection, I mean that they appreciate the look over the substance. A Chinese audience will be more impressed with the high quality production that the WWE brings, with proper venues, a beautiful ring, beautiful people, bright lights, huge pyrotechnics, etc… than they will [be] with the high quality wrestling you can find in the US, Japan and/or Mexico. A Chinese audience wouldn’t even know to be impressed with a 630 splash because they didn’t grow up watching the sport evolve from a time when scoop slams and suplex[es] were impressive finishers. But they will certainly know enough to recognize a mistake… And in my experience, the Chinese culture isn’t as forgiving of mistakes when it comes to entertainment.

NC: What do you want your legacy in Chinese Pro-Wrestling to be?

DB: I think it’s obvious what my legacy is. Dalton Bragg will always be remembered in Chinese lore as the man who brought pro wrestling to the people of China. Before I went to China, there was no attention being given to that country. Then I help MKW get some attention, and before you know it, the WWE is swooping in and trying to monopolize the industry there. If you think it’s coincidence that they waited until there was an upstart promotion showing promise, you’re an idiot. I will take credit for wherever Pro-Wrestling goes in China.

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What am I looking at?

NC: When will we see Dalton Bragg versus El Dulce Hombre?

DB: I discovered El Dulce Hombre [, known as Candy Brother in MKW,] in Oklahoma and I’ve worked to get him booked wherever I go to help him get noticed. But until he starts winning some matches, we can’t pretend he’s on my level. He has promise, and fans love him… But at the end of the day we all know who the better worker is.

 

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