Amidst negativity, OWE strives to find a path forward

Before I begin, in earnest, with this article I wanted to first make few things clear. This past summer I helped OWE plan and promote events in Toronto, Ontario, Canada. I wore many hats during that time, and got to live out a few dreams of mine in the process. I have a bias, admittedly, and genuinely want nothing but the best for the company.  I was, however, never an employee of OWE. I aim to report the news I uncover honestly, as a service to documenting the development of Chinese Pro Wrestling.

OWE’s last couple of months have been laden with difficulties. Shortly following the shows I produced for the brand in Toronto the storm clouds gathered as the OWE UK promotion fell apart, the promoter OWE had partnered with, Sean McMahon of NEO-TV, ghosted the head office in China and disappeared with fans’ money, cancelling the shows and leaving numerous refunds incomplete for the cancellation of these events.

This happened amidst the chaos of OWE relocating its operations to two separate and distinct locales: Siem Reap, Cambodia and Chengdu, China. The complexities of moving led to more silence than their difficulties deserved and, as such, rumors began to circle which culminated in a handful of posts being made with fairly bold claims.

 

 

In search of answers, I reached out to numerous parties. I’ve spoken with Michael Nee, at length, this week about the concerns at hand. I’ve also attempted to use different channels to get independent confirmations, from reliable sources, on the posted rumors and the statements made by Michael. I’ve messaged Sean McMahon with no response given, and his account on WeChat changed suddenly from being a personal account to a “Degu Media” account. Additionally, I’ve heard back from the likes of CIMA and Sky on the matters that pertain to them.

 

OWE UK’s Collapse – How will OWE resolve these issues???

OWE are intimately aware of the problem caused when Sean McMahon, suddenly and without warning, announced his resignation from OWE UK and the cancellations of the shows on social media. In the early aftermath of this, the lines of connection were still  open for a brief period and the Chinese office were able to convince Sean to process refunds, particularly through having him officially report to several sales platforms he had posted events to that they were indeed cancelled. Unfortunately, as he had also processed payments through the OWE website he had set up, and has since taken down, there are fans who remain unable to secure refunds.

Various sources had, and have continued, to speak openly to me of their misgivings and distrust for Sean McMahon and it came as no big surprise therefore that he has since cut off all communications directly with OWE and the brand itself is unable to secure figures on sales numbers he had made. From the beginning of him starting to sell tickets until the collapse of OWE UK, I am told, he provided none of his sales figures to OWE’s Chinese office.

Notably, as I have been unable to obtain a direct response to what happened from Sean McMahon himself, this means that the claims about his unwillingness to co-operate and provide sales data is presently a one-sided story and unchallenged. Nevertheless, on top of being warned about him by my contacts in the BritWres circle, McMahon’s shifting statements on why the relationship deteriorated have been well publicized elsewhere, and it is easy enough to believe that OWE are accurate in their statements under these circumstances.

Furthermore, I have heard stories of numerous, and shifting, promises and excuses being made to talent signed on to work these shows. Some were convinced to cover their own travel costs at the promise of reimbursement and key matches with big name talent who, as it turned out, were never actually in consideration to be booked. Sean, and his cohorts, were unwilling to commit to providing key details to many talent they engaged in conversation with but pressured them to film promo videos nonetheless.

So, then, that leaves the question of how OWE plans on rebuilding the reputation of its brand in the United Kingdom, and how it intends to take care of the fans who have been unable to secure a refund thus far. As OWE did not directly collect any monies, as I am told, from any of these sales, they simply do not have the money themselves, nor do they have the direct means to reverse transactions conducted by Sean McMahon while he was using their brand name. Members of OWE’s office have been collaborating with new contacts in the UK to try and figure out how they will approach dealing with the mess left behind in the wake of the disastrous OWE UK cancellations.

Different paths forward are being considered and, I’ve been told, a decision is likely to be reached sooner rather than later. Cost are a factor, and negotiations are ongoing, but options on the table include using a new local partner to bring in OWE talent and give away tickets to those who had previously bought tickets, as well as potentially legal actions.

 

Why Cambodia? Why Chengdu?

The simple answer is that the brand needed to restructure, and explore new opportunities, in an effort to find a path towards sustainable profitability. The long answer, and what it means for the future of the company and their brand of Chinese professional wrestling is, however, far more interesting than summing it up as such.

First and foremost, by the simple act of moving their operations out of Shanghai and into  these new spaces in Siem Reap, Cambodia and Chengdu, China the brand is effectively halving its operational costs. Furthermore, beyond Shanghai just being an incredibly expensive city to have their kind of operation thrive within, its entertainment industry is heavily developed and very competitive. Professional wrestling, being new to China, struggled to cut through the noise and turn a profit on live shows. OWE’s ambitions in the big bright city lights of Shanghais were more than reality could support. Without the money making potential of Television in place for Chinese companies the way that it exists in, frankly, the rest of the world, new ideas have become a necessity.

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OWE’s “Angkor Wat” Training Centre and Show Bar

In Cambodia, this is taking the form of setting up in Siem Reap; a city routinely flooded with tourists as a gateway to Angkor Wat, whose downtown core is tiny and whose entertainment industry far less developed, far less competitive, than Shanghai’s. OWE have rented out an 800 square-meter former boxing bar, and have shipped not only their ring, lights, and LED boards in, but have also relocated their entire roster of Chinese talent as well (save for Wang Jin, who is dealing with family matters, and some talent who had advertising obligations to fulfill before they can join the team.)

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Inside as their ring was being set up in Cambodia.

This facility is located in a busy part of the city, surrounded by a virtual sea of restaurants, hotels, and hostels, with Angkor Wat’s tourism peak season around the corner from November through to March. Michael Nee plans to capture the business of the approximately 6 to 7 million people who move through the city each year, in particular the growing number of foreign tourists visiting Angkor Wat who have nothing to do at night in the region.

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A more panoramic view of their Cambodian operation’s construction.

In addition to presenting bouts of professional wrestling they have partnered with two different local martial arts groups to present matches in local styles, and it has been intimated to me that they would like to incorporate some of that talent into the professional wrestling side of the business as well.  Starting in mid to late October they will be running nightly shows, blending martial arts, professional wrestling, and musical performances together into a “Show and Pub” establishment, bolstered by cheap, all-you-can-drink beer with admission.

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Outside of their future show space in Chengdu, China.

Shows will start in Chengdu in China in December, in an area that sees lots of Chinese tourists due to its deep connections with famous historical events, soldiers, and folk heroes. There they will perform a version of professional wrestling which may skew closer to Fighting Opera Makai than DragonGate. For these shows approximately one-third of their roster will travel from Cambodia, leaving that operation still viable, and take up the garb and characters of famous figures from great battles in Chinese history. They aim to bring in audiences already seeking out entertainment connected to the city’s historic roots and present them a fusion of period piece stage play and professional wrestling.

It is no surprise to learn that an operation as boisterous and expansion-hungry as OWE have been in the last two years has burned through a lot of their initial capital, in particular when you look at the specifics of their marketplace and the pitfalls they’ve had to adjust and adapt for.  Over the next 3 to 4 months we will see whether or not these sudden pivots bring them to a place of true, sustainable profitability and survivability.

 

Taiwanese talent released?

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The news I was told about the Taiwanese talent who had come to work for the brand through a partnership with NTW (New Taiwan Entertainment Wrestling) was that their contracts were “suspended,” but that they would still be available to OWE should OWE need them. I was further told that Sky, Rekka, and Gaia Hox are focusing on building up the Taiwanese scene, according to OWE. Additionally, it has been made clear to me that the funding assistance OWE was providing to the Taiwanese-scene is no longer going to be able to be done.

While I reached out to all three, Sky was the only one who replied to my requests for comments.  He advised me that he was unable to comment on issues pertaining to NTW and OWE’s relationship, but did say that should OWE “book [him] in China or Cambodia [he] will go.”

 

The future of OWE in Japan + relationship w/ CIMA and #STRONGHEARTS

When the discussion turned to the comments made in the posted rumors about the future of OWE in Japan, Michael Nee mentioned that they still have another 25 shows planned in the country over the remainder of 2019 and 2020. These numbers do not quite align with the roughly once every two months scheduled CIMA told me had been laid out for the brand in 2020, when I reached out to him for comments on OWE’s status and plans for the future. However, where they did align, was in the scheduled takeover of the Japanese brand by CIMA starting with December’s year-ending show for OWE in Japan at Korakuen Hall.

While, from a strictly sales perspective, it is hard to argue that the shows presented in the country under the OWE brand have not been successful, from OWE’s perspective they have failed to generate adequate revenue. The lion’s share of the revenue made from these sold out shows was not being collected by OWE themselves, but was being collected by the man who funded the production of the events, former DragonGate-owner Okamura. With him providing the capital for the shows, their arrangement saw him reap the rewards.

As of their Korakuen Hall show on December 30th 2019, CIMA will be the General Manager of a company invested in by OWE for the express purposes of promoting OWE’s brand in Japan. This is in an effort, of course, to harness the strong sales record the brand has developed in Japan for their own direct enrichment, rather than for a third party like Okamura. CIMA made it clear to me that there will not be any difficulties  caused by his AEW commitments in running this more official Japanese extension of OWE. I was told that T-Hawk and El Lindaman will be helping to run the brand.

Additionally, when asked about why reports indicate CIMA and OWE’s Mr. Fu had a falling out, I was told by Michael that there had been some business disagreements and tensions caused inside the company by the fallout of the UK brand extension’s implosion. However, all parties now are on the same page.  When asked about it, CIMA was shocked to even hear that people thought there had been a falling out.

 

The future of their relationship with AEW

Even with all these difficulties about, Michael Nee was still very positive and optimistic when he spoke of OWE’s desire to continue working with All Elite Wrestling, and developing a deeper connection between the two brands. Considering I have also recently been asked, by an insider within AEW, as to the status of OWE’s set-up in Cambodia I can say it seems the feeling is mutual.

While nothing has been solidified in terms of dates for travel or appearances yet for OWE’s Chinese roster in the new American league, it did come up that five members of OWE’s roster have obtained some kind of visa to travel to the US of A. The list reads as a “best of” for the brand: Da Ben, Liu Xinxi, Gao Jingjia, Zhao Junjie, and Duan Yingnan.

 

 

 

 

 

 

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

MKW vs. OWE? MKW Belt and Road show in Nepal, OWE’s “Journey to the West” and more!

Middle Kingdom Wrestling

Post match comments from MKW’s rising rookie star Micahel Su after his match with Hyperstreak point towards a future MKW vs. OWE storyline, with Hyperstreak being billed as a representative of the Shanghai based Oriental Wrestling Entertainment who first brought him into the country. His match with “Masterclass” Michael Su was not planned more than a few days in advance of the event on March 10th, but came together in the light of MKW champ Big Sam’s emergency appendectomy.

With the unanticipated nature of this match and how it came together, it’s hard to say that there are any concrete plans in the works already. This very well may be simply clever capitalization to lay the foundation for something that may never materialize.  That being said, there are some interesting facts to consider that lead to this being something I can certainly see come together off of the heels of this opportunity.

First and foremost, it is no secret that OWE have been in contact with NKW owner Adrian Gomez, even before this recent talent sharing venture, including possibly some consulting done by Gomez for the newer promotion. With this connection already in place, and Gomez himself saying that he’s looking to have his talent work more dates and more promotions in 2019, it’s not hard to see this as a path he would wish to develop further upon. Particularly with the ROH vs. CZW storyline being one of his favourites in pro wrestling history.

Both companies would likely benefit far more from this collaboration, with the particular circumstances of the burgeoning Chinese pro wrestling scene being what they are, than the US analogues from that famous indie blockbuster feud did. Indeed, with OWE having essentially brought NTW under its wing, and having Gao Yuan on its roster, the owner of WLW, the scope of an inter-promotional rivalry/invasion angle could be massive in scale for the tightly knit, nascent Chinese pro wrestling scene.

 

– MKW’s first “Belt and Road” tournament was their biggest, riskiest venture to date, bringing together talent from numerous countries to compete in a two day tournament to crown their first ever Belt and Road champion. Now the date for their second Belt and Road tournament has been set. Happening on May 11th, this show will be held in Kathmandu, Nepal.

This is significant for several reasons. If this shows goes off as advertised it will be the first international outing for MKW since their shows in Thailand, which drew poorly due to unfortunate circumstances surrounding the event (including the death of a Thai royal). Furthermore, it looks to have more legs under it than their attempt to run a show in South Korea in conjunction with Professional Live Action (PLA.)

 

Ultimate Wrestling Asia

On March 20th this HKWF Twitter account broadcast thr message that a company featuring talent from promotions across mainland China, Hong Kong, Malaysia, Taiwan, Singapore, and The Philippines would be “coming soon” in this tweet. They even named it “Ultimate Wrestling Asia” in the hashtags. Within a matter of days, an official twitter account for this potential brand sprung up. My correspondence with the account has indicated that they are in the early planning stages of something they hope to grow into a big super show regional promotion, with desires to film episodes for weekly broadcast at some point.

While a tweet like this, announcing the formation of a brand new wrestling promotion, may seem a bit suspect at first, particularly with how barebones and vague it has been, this does feel like a natural extension of Ho Ho Lun’s “Asian Wrestling Revolution” ideology.  This  is coming from an account associated with the HKWF, who are the first promotion founded by this patriarch of Asian pro wrestling.

At the very least, it is already generating buzz and discussion about the non-Japanese East Asian, Southeast Asian, and South Asian scene, as indicated by articles like this springing up. While they have no dates or roster set in stone yet, I can assure you that any developments that happen I will keep you abreast of.

 

Oriental Wrestling Entertainment

March 9th saw the first of the round robin tournament matches to determine which pair of talent will head to AEW’s Double or Nothing event take place at the Great World venue in Shanghai. The match between the teams of “The Captain” A-Ben/”Commando” Duan Yingnan and Rekka/”Scorpio XX” Liu Xinxi ended in a 15-minute time limit draw. Both teams presently have one point apiece. No tournament matches were held on March 16th, and the event on the 23rd had to be canceled due to other obligations. So far, this remains the sole “Who Will In” tournament match to have taken place.

 

– Starting with OWE’s March 16th show at the Great World venue the company is trying something fresh. The venue is located inside an area that functions as a hub for Chinese tourists from other parts of the country to come through and look upon the old fashioned architecture and shop for trinkets and the like. Visitors are paying to gain admission to the Shanghai Great World itself, and are not necessarily there for the pro wrestling. This may sound familiar to those who know of Impact Wrestling’s history with the theme park based Impact Zone venue.

However, unlike that western comparison, the average visitor to Great World really has no clue what pro wrestling even is, so selling them on attending the matches is even harder. To try and create an environment which is conducive to attracting an audience out of these wrestling-uninitiated tourists, OWE are couching some of these performances in recreating a cultural touchstone for all of China, the famous story “Journey to the West.”

They’ve cast their talent in different roles from the famous novel and have them compete in bouts whose storylines are easy to follow, as the average Chinese citizen will most assuredly be familiar with the material being drawn upon. While Gao Yuan has indicated to me that there were some problems in blending this classic story with wrestling on their first time out, one can always expect hiccups in a first attempt at something new. If successful with the shows at the Shanghai Great World venue, Michael Nee has indicated to be that this idea of combining historical or classic fictional stories with OWE’s wrestling may become a part of their touring shows, adapting regional narratives as they visit different parts of China, to help engage and educate the population  on the art if pro wrestling. I’ve explained before why I see OWE as “Truly Chinese Pro Wrestling” and this venture shows just how far outside the conventional western wrestling box they’re willing to go.

 

– On top of announcing Buffa has joined OWE, the company has also confirmed in their official communications that which has already been made clear on social media: Sky and Gaia Hox from Taiwan, and Gao Yuan from Mainland China, have joined the company in an official capacity.

 

– NTW’s relationship with OWE is growing stronger, with it becoming common knowledge in wrestling circles in China and Taiwan that the current owner of NTW has taken a position with OWE. Some fears have been expressed by those I have spoken to that this will lead to the eventual demise of NTW as a Taiwanese brand, as there are a lot of tensions between the governments of China and Taiwan.

 

– Unfortunately three of OWE’s advertised roster members for the upcoming NTW vs. OWE show on March 31st have fallen victim to what seems to be the number one problem in every international outing for this young crop of stars: visa issues.  As such, Zhao Yilong, Zhao Junjie, and Wang Jin will not be able to appear in Taiwan. This mark’s the 2nd time that Zhao Yilong and Wang Jin have been prevented from working in NTW due to visa issues. Nevertheless, the reworked card still looks quite exciting, with Gao Jingjia filling one of their spots.

 

– UK and other European talent will be showing up in OWE soon via the connections OWE have made through the UK-based NEO-TV. This is something they are clearly proud of, because they have made efforts to spread this news on both their Chinese and English-language social media pages.

 

– OWE’s two Japanese dates have officially sold out! Congratulations!