#DiscoveringWrestling #020 – #TorontoWrestling reviews Smash Wrestling’s Have Ring Will Wrestle

I arrived at the Phoenix Concert Theatre a touch too early, and woefully underfed. With back-to-back shows to attend, I had an 8 hour shift of writing notes, talking to fans nearby me, and no food in my belly to look forward to. Thankfully the Phoenix has a Burrito Guy (okay, he also makes Tacos and Quesadillas) and while moderately overpriced (it is venue food, after all) the damn burritos this man cooks up were big and delicious. Burrito Guy saved my day. I had lunch and dinner from him, and would not have been able to focus on the proceedings had he not been there. If you have been to the Phoenix, you’ve seen him slinging his food, next time try it.

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Basically the best event logo they’ve had. The event T-Shirts are boss and I love mine. Buy one yourself!

Match 1: Brent Banks vs. Kevin Blackwood vs. Buxx Belmar vs. Scotty O’Shea vs. Sebastian Suave vs. Vaughn Vertigo

This match was a 6-Man Timed Entry Elimination Match. They didn’t explain the rules to the audience beforehand but it became readily apparent as they started with just Brent Banks and Scotty O’Shea in the ring, but Kingdom James, the manager of Sebastian Suave, came out and cut a promo and waited around at ringside for his man to come in. The big countdown clock also helped, once the next fellow was ten seconds away. I hate O’Shea’s ring gear more and more with every time I see him. Kingdom called it a wet suit. It does kinda look that way.

The match kicks off and Brent Banks makes a point of showing off how agile he is. He gets a gorgeous dropkick into the mix to take control of the flow of the match. The countdown pops up, sooner I think than anyone anticipated, and Vertigo hits the ring, taking quick control of the situation with his aerial stylings. The countdown pops up again and Buxx Belmar heads to the ring, somehow acting even weirder than before his injury put him out for years. Belmar takes down everyone, dropping them in a big dog pile in the middle of the ring, and does a splash on the pile. He then hits O’Shea and Vertigo with his very loudly proclaimed “Penis Attack!”, best described as a Shining Wizard face hump.Banks avoids being the victim of Belmar’s balls, and gains the advantage. The countdown timer pops up again and we are treated to the entrance of Sebastian Suave. Suave takes control of the ring and drops everyone. Suave ties O’Shea up but before he can eliminate the wet-suit wearing Hacker he eats a superkick from Brent Banks. That countdown timer comes up again and Kevin Blackwood storms down to the ring. He tries to clear out the competition, gets through most folk, bot O’Shea takes him down.

The match moves on and they go for the obligatory multi-man Tower of Doom spot out of the corner. I’m growing tired of this spot, it’s not fun anymore. Suave takes control of the fracas but eats a huge powerbomb from Banks. Everyone switches up, in and out of the ring, and in the chaos Buxx Belmar scores the first elimination on Vertigo, but can’t rejoice in his vioctory as Sebastian Suave wrecks him for the 3 as well. Four men left. Kingdom James announces a commercial break and some endorsement message plays on the “tron”, Suave stares at it and admires himself on the big screen. Usually these commercial break spots are a moment of rest for those in the ring, but Blackwood says “Fuck It!” and grabs Suave in a surprise pinning predicament to eliminate The Endorsement. Huge Pop from the crowd. Blackwood goes  on a tear, hits O’Shea with a Yoshitonic for one, but he keeps going. Blacwood sneaks a roll up on Banks during the fracas for 3 count and gets a nice clean hit on on O’Shea for 2.5. O’Shea almost puts Blackwood away with a corner cannonball. Scotty O’Shea avoids multiple pinfall attempts and ends up getting the final three count out of a nice Gory Special into a slam.

Good opening match with lots of energy brought out of the crowd, good way to psyche us up for the two back to back shows. Post match Tarik beats down Blackwood for just being the new kid on the block. It feels like Tarik is in the Gatekeeper role in Smash, running new blood through the meat grinder to establish them and see if they stick. Should be a good feud between them.

Grade: B-
Match 2: Well-Oiled Machines (Psycho Mike + Braxton Sutter) vs. Tabarnak De Team (Thomas Dubois + Mathieu St-Jacques)

The whole match starts with the Well-Oiled Machines oiling themselves up, followed by the crowd chanting for TDT to likewise oil up, so they take their flannel off and get their burly Quebecois selves nice and greasy. Of course, Psycho Mike and Braxton Sutter take this as an opportunity to jump them and beat down on them before the bell. but they make the terrible choice of gloating over their pre-match assault and wind up falling victim to an act of revenge. TDT stack Mike and Braxton on top of each other in the corner and brutalize them. TDT take control, tagging in and out, as they work over Psycho Mike. They just wreck him for a while.

The Well-Oiled Machines take control via shenanigans and Sutter lays into St-Jacques, beating him down but not securing the pinfall. Frequent tags keep the Machines in control until St-Jacques clears the opposition and gets the hot tag. Dubois is inand tosses Psycho Mike around, hitting huge moves. The Well-Oiled Machines spill out to the floor and Tabarnak De Team follow suit with stereo Tope Suicidas. The two teams brawl into the audience in what is easily becoming a trope at Smash shows. They work their way back, collectively, into the ring and when the opportunity presents itself St-Jacques hits a glorious Moonsault on Psycho Mike, but Sutter breaks up the pin. The Well-Oiled Machines next get Thomas Dubois into a pin, and he kicks out with both of them on top of him. St-Jacques comes in and DDTs both opponents. They go into a sequence where both teams tease their finishes but can’t follow through, TDT get the upper hand and slam Mike and Sutter into each other, then hit a Diving European Uppercut-Powerbomb combo for the win.

Grade: B-

Amusingly, between matches they have to get some crew in to  wipe down the ropes, as they were covered in oil from the previous four burly men.

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Having never seen either before, this image made me anticipate a much more even match.  That was a height joke.

Match 3: KC Spinelli vs. Vanessa Kraven

Vanessa Kraven is huge compared to KC Spinelli, and they play off of it, both for comedy and intensity. They start with comedy as KC tries to deal w/ the sheer size of Kraven, whom they introduced as “The Mountain“. It’s almost as if KC is stunned by the fact that a woman that large exists, standing across from her. Spinelli finds an oily patch of ropes, vocally drawing attention to it, and when the chance arrives she grinds Kraven’s face into the oily patch. Nevertheless, Kraven keeps derailing Spinelli with, needing just one hit to undue any amount of work Spinelli can do. Inevitably Kraven easily takes control with a series of damn thunderous chops. She gets to stomping on Spinelli, but they just look too fake and take me right out of the story they’ve been telling. Kraven makes up for her stomps with a pair of nice overhead belly-to-belly suplexes. The second one looks like it was a bad head dump. Brutal! She gets that corner cannonball everybody and their uncle is doing now and only keeps KC down for two. Both previous matches, and many more on this night, featured that exact same move. This one seemed kinda boring after the previous two, this one just didn’t  stand out. Kraven wins with a Chokebomb.

Overall, this match wasn’t bad, but it did nothing to really excite me and felt poorly placed on the card.

Grade: C
Match 4: Kevin Bennett and Franky TM vs. the Super Smash Bros (Stu Grayson + Evil Uno)

Before the bell a brawl breaks out and all four men spill outside the ring, and then Bennet’s cronies get involved. The Super Smash Brothers are overwhelmed and Bennett’s cronies hold them in place as Franky goes for a big ol’ Tope Suicida, but Uno and Stu escape just in time for Franky to wreck Bennett’s thugs. Then they just brawl all over the venue. They head back up the ramp and it’s impossible for me to see exactly what is going on. Then all of a sudden people are flying down the ramp section and there’s just chaos.

The SSB get back in the ring, dragging a limp Bennett and Franky with them and finally the bell rings, the match can now start. They go for a pin, and almost get a win right out of the gate, but Bennett’s cronies break it up. The biggest guy out there, Bennett’s personal security, eats an absolutely brutal slam onto the apron from Stu Grayson. He’s just so heavy looking, the force that must have had… I certainly wouldn’t have gotten up after that.

Once the fracas ends it’s Franky and Uno in the ring, very evenly matched. Uno tags in Stu who flies through the air, right into the loving embrace of Franky TM, who drops him hard in a great slam. Bennett gets in with Stu, but can’t secure the three count when he has Grayson down. There’s miscommunication and Bennett winds up ganking Franky, but the SSB can’t get the 3 either.

Franky cleans house, but he goes after Bennett, looking to take out many months of frustration and being Bennett’s bitch. Bennett’s cronies yank him out of harm’s way and then Franky gets abused by the SSB. He eats a series of knees and super kicks while tied in the ropes and takes a running knee-piledriver combo for the SSB to win.

Grade: C+
Match 5: Greed vs. Tyson Dux (c) – Smash Championship Title Match

Greed starts throwing down big hits right away, but Dux comes back and hits a huge corner Death Valley Driver. He only keeps greed down for two. The story of the match is technique versus brute force. There’s some even back and forth, each man laying furiously into the other. Grred keeps up well with the former Cruiserweight Classic competitor in Tyson Dux. They spill outside onto the floor. Greed gets the advantage, using his size and weight.

The crowd is oddly silent but they pep up when Dux gets to work suplex-ing and cutter-ing Greed. In the ensuing action there is one point where Dux’s pained expression is just priceless. I hope they got an angle on the camera that captures it for their streaming service. You gotta see it. Dux hits a big superplex on Greed, and transitions, turning the big man over into a Boston Crab right in the middle of the ring. Greed escapes and Dux tries to thwart him by going up top but the big man catches him and rams him to the turnbuckle. Again, it’s oddly quiet. Greed takes control and finally his his shirtless Bullfrog Splash (I coined that myself, at the show, get it? Because Greed is huge) but only gets two on Dux. The champ gets a huge brainbuster on Greed, only keeps him down for two. Dux picks him back up and gets another brainbuster for the final three count.

It was a good match but never really lit the crowd on fire. I’m surprised that ROH haven’t come knocking for Dux, considering the style he’s working these days and their dearth of talent.

Grade: B-
Match 6: Tarik vs. Kyle O’Reilly

The crowd is on fire when O’Reilly makes his entrance. There’s some nice chain wrestling to start. They go back and forth with technical style and O’Reilly does his sunset flip-arm bar spot. O’Reilly is in control and he does the weirdest twisting takedown. O’Reilly grinds on Tarik, controlling the flow of the fight, but it gets messy on the apron and Tarik winds up in control. Tarik gets a nice Vertical Suplex in, but only gets a two count out of it. His frustration grows and Tarik’s well established wild side comes out, he chokes O’Reilly multiple times with the ring ropes. It spills outside for a moment, but it quickly gets back inside and Kyle gets to kicking Tarik, but Tarik reverses with a Disaster Kick and gets 2 on O’Reilly. Tarik goes for a mount on O’Reilly but gets a leg bar for his troubles. They do a strong style strike exchange, and it looks like Kyle’s in control but Tarik counters with a huge drop kick.

Tarik looks to be in control and goes for his Backpack Stunner but gets choked. They brawl and O’Reilly gets in his signature combo before going into a huge sequence that nets him multiple submissions on Tarik, but Tarik gets to the ropes. He keeps up beating on Tarik but winds up eating a comeback Backpack Stunner, getting a two count on the former Ring of Honor World Champion. They exchange a series of huge big boots, do a forearm back and forth spot, and then Kyle gets the upper hand and unloads with dozen knees on Tarik. A final flurry of moves sees O’Reilly choking, kicking, and brainbuster-ing Tarik, who kicks out at two. O’Reilly catches him mid kick out and locks on an armbar for the tap out.

Grade: B
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They need to get more designs done like this for future shows.

Match 7: Michael Elgin vs. Zack Sabre Jr.

The crowd was hyped. They mix it up and play power versus technique to good results. They do a classic Greco-Roman knuckle lock test of strength spot, I haven’t seen one of those in a while. Made me smile. It was like comfort food for my wrestling soul. ZSJ goes to work on Elgin’s arm, binding him for days. I love the little touches Sabre does, grinding away at spots on Elgin’s arm with his elbow, bending his fingers back. For all the babyface treatment he gets, ZSJ is vicious and ruthless in the squared circle.

Elgin stops Sabre with a cutter, and uses his strength to put ZSJ down. They do the stalling suplex spot, full thirty seconds, each one punctuated by a chant. It gets elgin a two count. They go back and forth, do some strong man spots, and then ZSJ gets a great sweep and running PK for the two count. Elgin gets three German Suplexes on the Brit, but ZSJ dodges a lariat and ties Big Mike up. Elgin escapes and hits an Enzuigiri to try and take control but Sabre combos into a two count. Then they exchange strikes. Sabre kicks the crap outta Big Mike but eats a Falcon Arrow for his troubles. Sabre winds up getting a Jim Briggs Special on the top rope, but gets sunset bombed, hard. Somehow Sabre kicks out. Big Mike sells all the work ZSJ has done to his arm really well, and it was a bit of shame that he didn’t carried it over into the WCPW show, but the two don’t share continuity so there’d be no meaning behind it outside of for the audience members who attended both events back to back.

Big Mike gets out of submissions using power and the two brawl to the apron where Elgin hits a DVD. He then hits Sabre with an outside-to-inside Avalanche Falcon Arrow, gets two. Buckle Bomb and then Power Bomb and Sabre counters into a prawn hold. It’s followed by a lightning fast exchange between the two. it ends with Elgin hitting a Sit-Out Cricifix Powerbomb. He getsa two count and the crowd goes wild. Elgin goes for the Burning Hammer but Sabre flips out of it and gets a strong kick on Elgin. This leads into a flurry of action and Elgin gets the win with a sitout powerbomb.

Grade: A-

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#DiscoveringWrestling #018 – A Muy Bien Addendum

So, last week I posted a quickly put together introduction to Hajime Ohara, as part of my efforts to promote the great wrestling that people aren’t aware of or aren’t paying attention to. I was lucky enough to receive some good feedback from different corners of the internet I shared it with. So, this week, we’re going to address some of the things that were brought to my attention.

First, it was brought to my attention that I mention “Muy Bien” a bunch but I never make it clear why I use the term. It’s simple, really. It is Hajime Ohara’s catchphrase. It’s on his trunks and his merch and he says it in promos.

But, why does a Japanese wrestler spout seemingly random Spanish? Well, this ties directly into another frequently brought up point! I didn’t go enough into Ohara’s history. In the interest of, as my intial article proclaimed, this being part of a brief introduction I’m not going to go into tremendous detail here. Just the big stuff.  He started his career under the tutelage of two legends of Lucha Libre, Ultimo Dragon and Skayde, and spent the first portion of his career in Mexico. Throughout the 2000s he worked for a plethora of promotions, across the globe: CMLL, Dradition, Toryumon Mexico, Nu Wrestling Evolution, HUSTLE, and Zero-1. During this time he held few titles but did have an impressive 291 day reign with the NWA International Jr Heavyweight title. He worked in a few of Tajiri’s short-lived promotions in the early 2010s before finding his home with Pro Wrestling NOAH in 2013. He held tag gold in the junior division twice with Kenoh, but his January 7th 2017 Korakuen Hall victory has provided him with his first singles reign in the company.

It was suggested that I should illustrate some of his backbreaker variants, which is quite difficult to do without having GIFs. In the future I will try to make GIFs. For now, I will try to describe my favourite variation, which is when he stars with his opponent iin a Fireman’s Carry position and then flips them over his head onto his knee in a sickening looking backbreaker. He does it with such speed and snappiness that the change of position makes it genuinely look more wild and dangerous than a regular backbreaker, even though the bump is essentially the same.

Okay, then, to top it off, here’s some more videos:

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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.

 

Thank you for reading this and don’t forget to ask questions, bookmark this page, and follow me on Twitter, and FaceBook, to make certain you are always #DiscoveringWrestling

#CrowdPleasers #003 – CHIKARA: Action Arcade Wrestling on IndieGoGo

Admittedly this campaign almost slipped by me entirely. Thankfully it came back into my focus with enough time left for us to break down the campaign and see what it’s doing right and, just maybe, what it is doing wrong. At the time of writing this article CHIKARA: Action Arcade Wrestling (a terribly generic name) sits at just 48% of its stated goal with eighteen days left in its fundraising cycle. Obviously, there’s something to look at here.

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It’sa solid logo. Nice job there.

Now, if my #DiscoveringWrestling articles haven’t tipped you off already, I’m going to say it outright: I LOVE PRO-WRESTLING! Above and beyond that, I particularly love CHIKARA. They are innovative, different, exciting, and fresh. More importantly, they’ve been all of those things since they first hit the scene in 2002. The first time I ever went on a road trip to see a wrestling show was for a CHIKARA show in Ottawa, and they have only gotten more impressive each year. Their annual King of Trios tournament is an under-recognized highlight of every year’s Pro-Wrestling content. If there is ANY cast of characters in Pro-Wrestling who deserves to have a video game made featuring them, it is CHIKARA’s colorful and charismatic roster. It is hard to describe, in any brief manner, how different CHIKARA are from other wrestling promotions, so I’ll just leave this match here for the uninitiated.

With at least a cursory knowledge of the awesomeness of CHIKARA, we can all dive in to the campaign and start rooting around in its innermost chambers. As usual, the video package is where we’re going to start. Unfortunately, unlike the other recent entries in the #CrowdPleasers series, i don’t have much nice to say about the video. The package consists primarily of two components, some early alpha build footage and a “backstage promo” from The Estonian Thunderfrog and the game developer David Horn. While Thunderfrog, as a professional wrestler, delivers his parts with relative ease, the developer sounds uncertain of what he is doing. I can understand nerves getting the better of you, but the hype video is no place to put that front and centre. It lends no confidence to the viewer that the project is secure in these hands. This is particularly emphasized by the fact that the clear, well-enunciated and confident Mike Quackenbush immediately precedes Horn’s segment. It would have likely been better for Quack to have more involvement in the hype video.

The early alpha footage is heavily on the “meh” side of things but is, thankfully, easily forgotten as the campaign’s original video package is immediately followed by more video content. This further video content not only answers important questions about the game (a shame that they only released it halfway through the campaign) but also highlights some higher quality renders and animations. Again, the further video content showcases developer David Horn who is so anti-charismatic that it fails to sell me on the project, even when – from a detached and objective standpoint – the game’s controls sound fairly well thought out and intuitive. The developer’s have chosen to streamline the game to as few as two action buttons, with pushing both action buttons at the same time generating additional effects. They have even factored in the fact that some players would want to map the combined button press to a third button. It all sounds pretty solid and the video does highlight these facts. It is, therefore, even more of a shame that the developer himself brings my passion from a fire to a spark. Even the awesome nod towards mechanics from the timeless Fire Pro Wrestling franchise can only go so far to counteract an otherwise boring presentation of very crucial and potentially exciting information.

With the lack of salesmanship in mind, it seems very smart that the game’s developers chose to use IndieGoGo’s flexible funding option, which allows them to keep all of the money invested in the project ― whether or not they hit their initial goal. This is particularly true in light of what happened with CHIKARA’s previous attempt at crowd-funding a video game with Rudo Resurrection. Rudo Resurrection’s campaign failed to meet its $50,000 goal, hitting only just barely over $18,000, and even then it still delivered a more competent presentation and out-paced this current campaign by, at this time, approximately $8000. While CHIKARA: Action Arcade Wrestling’s developers have made a commitment that no matter how much money they raise the game will be released, they have done nothing to create the sense of urgency that drives a lot of people to fund campaigns in larger sums (of both people and money). As usual, the flexible funding option is a double-edged sword. In this type of situation you have to rely far more heavily on your campaign selling the need to invest early instead of waiting for the game to come out.

This actually leads nicely into the topic of the lack of any game content. Until it becomes a standard practice for crowd-funding, I’m going to bring this up at every opportunity. This campaign has no demo for the game. In fact, as mentioned earlier, it launched with only meh-inducing early alpha footage and next to no information on how the game mechanics would function was provided until the midway point. This is no way to inspire confidence in the ability of the developers to deliver a fun, functional game worth investing your hard earned money into. Sure, if you select certain perks you can get early beta access, but that’s just not good enough. Maybe I am being too idealistic, maybe the developers couldn’t reach a playable state without additional funding, but the lack of a playable demo to entice the investor with a tangible understanding of the project does nothing but lower my expectations.

In that same vein, without a demo to figure things out in, the audience is limited to the campaign’s explanations of gameplay, and the video packages released, to get a solid grasp on what they can expect to see in a final release of the game. In this regard I was left with some pretty big unanswered questions. Why were there no moves involving the corner turnbuckles? Why were there no top rope moves and no dives through the ropes? CHIKARA has built itself up as superheroic Lucha Libre and I’d expect that to be recreated and, particularly in a game billing itself as Arcade style, made a central part of the game. these are the flashiest looking parts of any match and they are completely absent from any of the information this campaign presents.

Then, with all of this uncertainty in place, the campaign recently released a video for their “Wrestle Factory” feature, the game’s “Create-A-Wrestler” mode, where the tone comes off all kinds of wrong. They seem to be proud of and bragging about the inclusion of CAW features that are, honestly speaking, standard practice and commonplace amongst Pro-Wrestling games since ―at the very least ―the Playstation 2 era. I cannot fathom how they thought that basic body-morphing options would impress their audience ― who have likely owned pretty much a minimum of one or two wrestling games for every console generation, if not more. It really feels as if the developers have their priorities all backwards when it comes to the campaign.

Immediately following all of these different video packages they go into a diatribe on why they wanted to make an Arcade styled wrestling game instead of a Simulation game (though, let’s be honest, no wrestling game has really been a simulation of the actual industry other than Grey Dog Software’s Total Extreme Wrestling games). Now, they do provide some decent logic for their Arcade aesthetic and gameplay but I don’t feel that these really jive with some of the odder elements of the gameplay footage they displayed, like the fireballs and energy beams being used. CHIKARA has had a long history of interesting non-standard wrestling moves, such as Ophidian and Amasis using hypnosis on their opponents, or Ultimate Spider Jr’s invisible web shooting abilities and, my favourite, Chuck Taylor’s invisible grenade. These would have made handsome additions to the game and would have actually felt at home in CHIKARA’s world. But then, maybe that’s all part of the problem CHIKARA: Action Arcade Wrestling is facing…

After this brief explanation from the developers on their gameplay choices, they have a section promising to provide more details. Problematically, instead of providing the details themselves in the campaign page they only include an excerpt from an article from some website I have never heard of before today. This then forces the reader to make the decision on whether or not they want to dive down that rabbit hole. From my perspective, all relevant information should be included in the campaign page itself and I’d personally be interested to see the number of click-throughs  versus the number of visits to the IndieGoGo campaign page itself.

At this point, for research’s sake, i went down the rabbit hole myself. It is a dangerous prospect to lead someone away from your campaign mid-pitch, they could easily find themselves never coming back. But I wanted to get a full set of information to write this article. At this point, through the link and Google searches, we find out that this is actually the third game in the Action Arcade Wrestling series developed by Mr. Horn,  this is just the first time he has had a licensed property to work with. The other games don’t look bad, from a gameplay perspective, but the graphics are just… ugh. Obviously, and thankfully, this CHIKARA edition of Action Arcade Wrestling is using the wonderful Unreal 4 engine and looks much better, both for its licensed character designs and the better, stronger engine. More important than the graphical progress is the fact that these videos for the older entries in the franchise answer some of the questions I had about the campaign itself. Such as how interactions with the turnbuckles and top rope moves might look, as well as affirming their likely presence in the game. Furthermore, these games advertise themselves as priced in the $1.00 to $3.00 range, indicating that they cannot be all that expensive or difficult to produce. Granted, the Unreal 4 engine is bound to up the costs, but at the least this news helps to reassure the potential investor that the game will come to fruition. It is a far cry from an actual playable proof-of-concept, but it goes some ways to changing how I felt about the viability of the game. While the staff credits at the very end of the campaign do mention this fact,  it should have been made much clearer in the body of the campaign at this very point, instead of sending me off to other sites and Google searches. I needn’t have left this page to get this information.

While the information on it is mind-bogglingly minimal, the campaign does say that the game will be available both through Steam and on consoles. Which consoles, however, is never mentioned. Lack of information in this matter is bad and makes the campaign carry an additional burden it needn’t have to. Even speculative information such as “likely Playstation 4 and XBox One” would be better than literally nothing.

Another informational downside to the campaign is having to infer the game’s roster from the video packages. It’s pretty lame. I can see the benefit in not revealing the entire roster until the game is closer to release. It certainly could change based upon who has signed contracts with CHIKARA for their likenesses, but having no one confirmed is a criminal shame. Some, really any, promotional roster art would go a long way towards making the campaign not seem amateurish. Along these exact same lines lies the fact that the risks and challenges section is also not very well defined.

This campaign’s rewards are limited in scope, but at least that makes it easy to analyze and critique them. Almost every one of the rewards is a digital reward. This makes their shipping and handling fees a likely minimal worry. Even then, based on their funding breakdown, I would be assuming that all of the physical rewards are being fulfilled by CHIKARA directly and that they will be eating the costs to encourage the game to hit completion unhindered by these worries. I cannot be certain, but it’s what i suspect.

The minimum donation level at $10 dollars nets you a one month access coupon to Chikaratopia, CHIKARA’s streaming service ―normally $7.99 per month. Thus, for marginally more, you get to support the game being made and get the streaming service you never knew you needed (seriously, if this is your first interaction with something bearing the CHIKARA name, do yourself a favour and check out their matches. The promotion is brilliant.) But I could never recommend a level that does not include getting the game afterwards, so that’s where we go next at $25. At this level of expenditure you get the game and the Chikaratopia for one month. As you move up the perks you get more and more time on Chikaratopia and some early access to beta features of the game, such as beta CAW at $60. Physical perks only kick in for $75 and above, with a t-shirt, an Ultramantis Black mask, and a signed poster kicking in as you go up.

The $100 tier is, from some rudimentary calculations, probably the most bang for your buck, with a mask (probably about $30 on its own, based on costs I’ve seen at shows), a t-shirt ($15), a year of Chikaratopia ($96), the game with all early beta access (approximately a $15-30 value, I’d bet) all together. This really isn’t all that bad of a value if you are a dyed in the wool CHIKARA fan.

I WOULD SPEND: $0-$100

This is a first for me. I find myself remarkably divided on how I feel about this campaign. On the one hand, the game could be great and I love CHIKARA. On the other, the campaign felt amateurish and underwhelming the whole way through. It all boiled down to one particular question for me: If this weren’t a CHIKARA game, would I care? Likely the answer would be “No.” The unfortunate fact is that this campaign does not sell me on the investment on its own. It relies too heavily upon the licensed property to catch my interest. At best, even with a licensed property I care deeply for, the campaign is middling to above-average quality. I backed Rudo Ressurection on KickStarter and I want CHIKARA to have a videogame, for I think they are the perfect property to turn into an exciting game, but sadly I’m not 100% sold on this.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

NC: How long have you been living in China?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

NC: How big is your ring?

AG: It’s 14 by 14

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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