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

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

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

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

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

Section One: Statements Concerning CIMA

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Section Two: Statements Concerning Pay and Chinese Management

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Section Three: Statements Concerning the Chinese Wrestlers

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

MN : Insurance.

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

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

My Final Thoughts

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

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

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

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

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

 

Chinese Pro Wrestling News Updates: MKW in Nepal, OWE Injury Reports and More!

Middle Kingdom Wrestling

– MKW’s Belt and Road show set for May 11th in Nepal got even more international with the addition of Korean wrestler Shiho. Furthermore, as reported here, MKW are intending for this to be a growing partnership between the brands, as MKW talent have been sent to NRWA before this encounter to perform and help in training. Of particular noteworthiness is the fact that the venue attendance for the NRWA (Nepal Ring Wrestling Association) event shown is larger than I had anticipated, which speaks towards the art’s viability in the region.

 

Oriental Wrestling Entertainment

– #STRONGHEARTS member Takehiro Yamamura has, unfortunately, suffered another injury to his neck while working a Wrestle-1 show. He seems to not be in danger, but is unlikely to ever wrestle again after re-injuring his already damaged neck.

– #STRONGHEARTS member, and OWE head trainer, CIMA also injured himself working in Taiwan at the OWE vs. NTW show. Thankfully his injury was just a dislocated shoulder, and he seems to already be on his way back to 100%.

– While CIMA may have been slightly injured at the OWE vs. NTW show, the more exciting news to come out of the event is that CIMA, along with OWE original Fan Hewei, have captured NTW’s Tag team titles from A-YONG-GO and The Joker, making Fan Hewei the second member of OWE’s crop of young Chinese talent to hold gold in another territory. Also at the event there was a match between Hengha (Wulijimuren and Xiong Zhiyu) from OWE and the Taiwanese team of SKY and PORCO which featured strong comedy elements which translated clearly over video and required no verbal components to understand. The already strong presence of good comedy in Chinese wrestling is something that excites me.

– OWE ran one of their Shanghai Great World shows with some of their roster donning costumes, such as Ultraman and a Gorilla, to try and entice attendees of the venue to engage with the show. Matches were interspersed with other kinds of performances, such as acrobatics. A week later they held another show at Great World, and while both of these Great World shows in recent weeks look to have some excellent matches on their cards, including title matches, neither event has featured any of the Round Robin matches for the opportunity to be CIMA’s partners at AEW’s Double or Nothing. Six weeks remain, and only one of the twenty-three league matches in this tournament has taken place, ending in a draw.

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

The Road to Double or Nothing 

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

Yes, you read that right: 4.

Road-To-Double-or-Nothing-CIMA-OWE-Poster.png

How great is this poster?

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

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

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

 

Cross-Promotion with NTW

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

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

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

 

OWE International Talent Recruitment

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

Dragon Gate International

CIMA

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

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

T-Hawk

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

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T-Hawk sporting some shiny new gold.

El Lindaman

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

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CIMA and El Lindaman on a tour of Australia.

Takehiro Yamamura

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

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

Future Stars of Wrestling

Jack Manley and Remy Marcel

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

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

Damian Drake and Spyder Warrior

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

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The Midnight Marvels lay down the law!

Clutch Kucera and Sugar Brown

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

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

Jake Cafe

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

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

Minor Gregory Jade

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

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Check out the energy levels on this guy!

Oriental Wrestling Entertainment

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

Team O (Colour: Black)

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

“Mr. COOL” Tang Huaqi

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Check out those moves!

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

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

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

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

“Tiger Tooth” Wang Jin

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

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

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

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

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Wang Jin hurls himself at Jack Manley!

“Flowing King” Gao Jingjia

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

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

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

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

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

“Big Head” Wulijimuren

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

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

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

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

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

“Storm Boy” Lu Ye

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

 

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

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

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

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

“Happy Ghost” Yang Hao

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

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

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Sometimes there’s no water in the pool.

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

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

“Little White Dragon” Cui Xiangmeng

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

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

Team W (Colour: Blue)

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

“Warm-Hearted Oba” Duan Dihang

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He certainly is a “cutie,” isn’t he?

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

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

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

 

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

“Dashing Swordsman” Duan Yingnan

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This is an undeniably sexy entrance.

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

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Duan Yingnan and Ren Yuhang exchange some sweet arm drags.

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

 

“Martial Artist” Mao Chenxiang

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This homage is tremendous.

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

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

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

 

“Little Guan Yu” Zhao Junjie

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

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

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

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

 

“Little Vajra” Zhao Yilong

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

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

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Zhao Yilong’s best spots revolve around his gimmick.

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

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

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

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

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

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Bah Gawd! Stunner!

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

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

“Lightning Leopard” Chen Xiangke

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

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

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

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

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Jack Manley tries to murder Chen Xiangke

 

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

Team E (Colour: Red)

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

“Wild Wolf” Fan Hewei

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

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

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

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

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

 

“Teardrop Magic Star” Fan Qiuyang

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

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

 

“Scorpion” Liu Xinxi

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

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

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“Scorpio 2X” shows off his offensive capabilities.

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

 

“Savage” Ren Yuhang

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That gear actually looks really comfortable.

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

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

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

 

“Tank” Sun Chaoqun

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

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

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

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

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

“Red Bull” Xiong Zhiyu

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

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

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

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

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

“The Captain” A Ben (Big Ben)

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Look at that damn coat! It’s majestic!

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

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

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

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

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

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

Miscellaneous

Yan Chao

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

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

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

Michael Nee

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Michael Nee separates A-Ben and Masaaki Mochizuki.

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

 

Huayang Fu

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Huayang Fu, center, stands with four future stars.

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

 

Unidentified

White + Black Emissaries

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

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

 

Contortionist

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

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

Closing Notes

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

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

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

Finally:

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