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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

KOPW

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

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

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

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

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

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

MKW

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

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

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

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

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

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

CWF

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

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

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

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

OHL

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

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

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

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

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

WLW

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

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

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

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

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

#DiscoveringWrestling #015 – 5 Reasons you should give IMPACT WRESTLING some bloody respect.

With their troubled history it is easy to lump blame and negativity miles high, like giant pillars of owl dung, upon IMPACT WRESTLING, but to openly wish for their failure and to take up the rallying cry of “Fuck TNA!” shows a fundamental lack of respect for the company’s high points, and what their legacy is. I’m not certain that I can convince everybody to give them some respect, but I hope to make some strong attempts to do so. So, in no particular order, here are 5 good reasons that you should give TNA some respect.

Honourable Mentions: It’s another place for the boys to get work and it disappearing would mean a lot of talented people looking for new work for one. Then there is the often brought up X-Division and how phenomenal it really was at its peak (and I’d argue the talent has always been stellar).

1) AJ Styles. For eleven years of his absolutely brilliant career, AJ Styles called Total Nonstop Action home. In TNA he held the vaunted NWA World Heavyweight Championship and Tag Team championship, the TNA X-Division championship, the TNA Tag-Team championship, the TNA World Heavyweight championship, and pretty much every other accolade the company could concoct. You’d be surprised to note that they never tried having him cross-dress for the KnockOuts titles. He moved all over the card, competing in all sorts of matches. Through TNA’s foreign partnerships, he wrestled in AAA, CMLL, NJPW, and Wrestle-1. The point is, he did everything the company had to offer.

Certainly not all of it was the best. Some of it was total shit. But some of it was brilliant, and all of it was AJ Styles putting his heart, soul, and body, into becoming the best performer he could be in any given booking circumstances. You can’t spend eleven years working in one place, and doing everything that can be done there, and not have you come out the other end undeniably affected by it. AJ Styles has certainly proved that he is self-motivated and insanely talented since he left TNA, but for those who were watching him develop in that company, there was never any doubt that he truly was The Phenomenal One. Without TNA giving AJ Styles all of that time, on air and in front of a television audience, for him to hone his craft, it is doubtful that he would be in the same position he is in now.

2) It was the first major point of exposure for a lot talent. The rosters of WWE NXT, RAW, and SmackDown! are now replete with talent that got their first major break with TNA. Samoa Joe,  Austin Aries,  and Bobby Roode all put on career defining matches and spent many years with a company that, at one point, was considered the upstart that might challenge the E one day. Sadly TNA had an addiction to insane booking and faded stars. Nevertheless,  countless other incredible talent all called the company home. To this day they continue to do so, more recently giving Grado a huge potential audience out of pretty much nowhere.

Even if we expect that IMPACT WRESTLING can never rise to that speculative challenger height again, as a company with high production values and fifteen years of establishing itself a fanbase, however degraded it may be from its heights, they can, and will, have an important role to play in many future stars careers. They’ve done it before and can, certainly, do it again. Just look at the names these two entries contain for evidence.

3) It was a place where people could reinvent themselves. I fondly remember seeing Christian Cage debut in TNA. I had grown frustrated with the WWE in how they were treating him, and his start in TNA was great. He was given an opportunity and proved himself to be what he had never been allowed to be before: the guy. Over the course of its ups and down, IMPACT WRESTLING even provided perennial tag team wrestler Bubba Ray Dudley/Brother Ray the opportunity to invent the Bully Ray character, one that gave him a solid storyline built around himself and a place in the spotlight as a world champion. Even unto today, with their post-separation actions inciting jeers and hatred from the wrestling community, this oft maligned company provided Matt and Jeff hardy the creative freedom and platform to create the #BROKEN gimmick that has launched them into a brilliant career renaissance. I am confident that if they had never left the WWE, there would never have been chants of DELETE! echoing across wrestling venues throughout North America, indie and WWE, at this time.

4) International Exposure. International cross-promotional events and talent exchanges dot the landscape of TNA’s rocky history. I first watched Hiroshi Tanahashi wrestle on a TNA pay-per-view, in 2006, against AJ Styles, a full eight years before the two would meet again in New Japan. The first NJPW full show I watched was Wrestle Kingdom III, which featured heavy involvement from TNA who were advertising it as Global Impact. I tried to find it online for a price I could afford at the time and came across the complete unedited version on a DVD sellers site and bought that. It was a bootleg burned DVD, but it was a launching point for me headfirst into Puroresu, right alongside the Fight Network’s English-announcing dub of Pro-Wrestling NOAH. It’s funny how things come full circle with Anthem now owning all of my original gateway drugs for Japanese Pro-Wrestling.

Their annual World X Cup tournament exposed me to wrestlers from AAA, CMLL, AJPW, and Dragon Gate. Their announce team was never shy to tell you who they were, where they came from, and what they had done in their careers outside of TNA. This stood in direct opposition, and for the most part still stands that way today, to how the WWE handle international talent. I loved Abismo Negro. I bought a CMLL show with a Team TNA vs Team CMLL match from that same DVD seller. I discovered Mistico and Averno. My tastes diversified and I fell in love with how Pro-Wrestling transforms across cultural contexts. I can genuinely say that if TNA had never existed, I likely never would have become the fan I am today. The fan who had the trip of a lifetime in Tokyo fueld by my desire to attend Wrestle Kingdom, the fan who has made friends with performers and other fans alike, the fan who wants to contribute something back to the art I love. Maybe I’m an extreme example, but I cannot be the only one whose spark was kindled in this way by TNA.

They had the prescience to blaze a trail into India. In securing themselves TV deals in the highly populated foreign market, scouting talent from the country to bring onboard to make the product attractive to said population, and having a hand in setting up the short lived Indian Ring-Ka-King promotion, they assured that they are an indellible part of the face of Pro-Wrestling to this massive market, right next to Dalip Singh and the WWE.

Now, in 2017, under new management, they have a talent exchange with NOAH. Based on the March twelfth GREAT VOYAGE in YOKOHAMA showing, it looks promising, at the least for the quality matches it has generated in Japan and giving more international exposure to potential breakout stars like Moose. Considering the absolute tear that Pro-Wrestling NOAH has been on under the NOAH the REBORN moniker, it certainly couldn’t hurt either company to put their best people together to generate interest in both brands and to forge a new reputation for IMPACT WRESTLING, one that highlights impactfuland internationally influenced wrestling and sheds the bad habits of its heritage. But, we’ll have to wait and see on that one.

5) Women’s wrestling. Before NXT and the Women’s Revolution was even a twinkle in Paul Levesque’s eye, TNA was putting on some serious women’s wrestling matches. The company dedicated far more air time to women’s wrestling than contemporaneous WWE did and it let its female talent go at it just as hard as the men. Gail Kim excelled in TNA. Her tenure in the WWE before heading to TNA had made me curious about her, but in TNA’s Knockouts division she truly shone her brightest and excelled far beyond what she had ever accomplished in the E.

Indeed, there was a general attitude in the way TNA treated its women that was a step up from the WWE at the time. In an era where the WWE would phase the Women’s Championship into the Diva’s belt, emblazoned with a delicate butterfly, TNA had both the KnockOuts Tag and singles titles and women routinely, to this day, compete in hardcore matches. They were ahead of the curve, by a long shot. It wasn’t always perfect, but it generally outclassed what the WWE was offering contemporaneously. Like everything with TNA, it went through its ups and downs, but it fueled and helped shape in me a desire to see more intense women’s wrestling. It was around that same time that I would first start to look into Joshi wrestling.

I also find it useful to remember that TNA didn’t come up with an angle making fun of the beautiful Mickie James for being overweight and calling her Piggie James on national television. So there’s also that. Yeah…

Look, I get it. TNA dropped the ball. They dropped it so hard that they lost it in the crust of the Earth. But somehow, amongst all that mess, they still managed to do some incredible good. The story of TNA and IMPACT WRESTLING is one of peaks and valleys. But no one ever seems to remember or care about the peaks, preferring to mock and throw verbal rocks at the company. They have done a lot for the industry, for the talent, and for me. Yeah, I stopped watching them when they got really bad, and every now and then I would check in to see how they were doing. It really wasn’t all bad, and learning to acknowledge and respect it for what it did right, well, it could go a long way towards helping them recover. Anthem is gonna need all the help it can get to rehabilitate this damaged brand, and they have a lot of cool talent and great archive footage to forge a new path with. Give them some credit. Tell them what you want to see more of, and leave the hate out of it.

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