BIG MAN, BIG EX­PEC­TA­TIONS

The first-ever Chi­nese sign­ing by the World Wrestling En­ter­tain­ment will have not just the weight of fans ex­pec­ta­tions’ on his shoul­ders as he trains to be­come a su­per­star — lo­cal wrestling com­pa­nies and the WWE it­self see him as the key to fur­ther­ing the

China Daily (Canada) - - SHANGHAI - By ALYWIN CHEW in Shang­hai Alywin@chi­nadaily.com.cn

It had only been 30 min­utes into the start of the third and fi­nal day of the World Wrestling En­ter­tain­ment (WWE) selec­tion tri­als in Shang­hai, but some of the par­tic­i­pants were al­ready strug­gling to stay on their feet.

Be­side the wrestling ring that was set up in an au­di­to­rium within the Mercedes-Benz Arena, one man laid on his back and stared up at the ceil­ing, seem­ingly ex­hausted from the tum­bles he had to per­form. Another stood mo­tion­less in a small pud­dle of his own per­spi­ra­tion, hands on his hips, as he tried to catch his breath.

“We’re break­ing them down to see who re­ally wants this…ath­letic abil­ity can only take you so far. It’s the peo­ple who are will­ing to go that ex­tra mile who will make it in this busi­ness,” said Paul Levesque, also known as Triple H in the WWE.

“A lot of the work­outs that we’ve made the par­tic­i­pants do are es­sen­tial for safety. What we do in the ring is very much a part­ner­ship be­tween peo­ple. You have to be more con­cerned about the safety of the other per­son than you do your­self.”

At the end of the gru­el­ing selec­tion process, seven con­tes­tants made the shortlist for a train­ing pro­gram that would be held in the WWE’s 30,000-square-foot fa­cil­ity in Or­lando, Florida. It is still un­clear at this stage which of these in­di­vid­u­als would take up the of­fer.

One per­son who is def­i­nitely mak­ing the trip to Or­lando, how­ever, is Wang Bin. The 22-year-old, 220-pound An­hui na­tive who at 6-foot-3 is nearly as tall as the leg­endary Triple H, was on June 16 un­veiled at a me­dia event as the first Chi­nese signed into the WWE’s de­vel­op­men­tal pro­gram.

Un­like most of the par­tic­i­pants of the trial, Wang has con­sid­er­able ex­pe­ri­ence in pro­fes­sional wrestling. He had spent the past four years in Ja­pan’s pro­fes­sional wrestling cir­cles and was even trained by WWE Hall of Famer An­to­nio Inoki for two years.

“About four years ago a Ja­panese wrestling as­so­ci­a­tion called the Inoki Genome Fed­er­a­tion or­ga­nized a com­pe­ti­tion in Shang­hai. I at­tended the event and got to know some peo­ple from the as­so­ci­a­tion. They were ask­ing if peo­ple from China wanted to train in Ja­pan. I im­me­di­ately jumped at that chance,” said Wang.

“I have al­ways been a fan of the WWE since I was a child and have har­bored am­bi­tions to be just like those su­per­stars. I de­cided to leave for Ja­pan be­cause the scene here in China isn’t that de­vel­oped.”

Wang isn’t wrong in say­ing so. Apart from Ja­pan, the pro wrestling scene across Asia can still be con­sid­ered to be in a nascent stage.

Ja­panese pro wrestling, also known as puroresu, is widely be­lieved to have started in the early 1950s when a sumo wrestler named Riki­dozan started the Ja­pan Pro Wrestling Al­liance.

In con­trast, this form of sports en­ter­tain­ment has a his­tory of slightly more than a decade in China, con­sist­ing of just a hand­ful of in­de­pen­dent out­fits.

Guang­dong-based China Wrestling En­ter­tain­ment (CWE) is widely con­sid­ered the pi­o­neer of the pro wrestling scene in the coun­try. Set up in 2004, the com­pany is run by Liu Xuanzheng, also known as “The Slam”, who has ex­pe­ri­ence wrestling in South Korea.

De­spite be­ing an in­dus­try vet­eran, The Slam’s real name doesn’t ac­tu­ally show up in Google, the world’s most used search en­gine, and could per­haps be seen as an in­di­ca­tion of how China’s pro wrestling scene is still iso­lated from the rest of the world.

Another com­pany is Harbin-based Mid­dle King­dom Wrestling (MKW). Founded by an Amer­i­can named Adrian Gomez, MKW has been mak­ing brisk progress in China fol­low­ing its in­cep­tion last year, hav­ing held three wrestling events across the coun­try.

Gomez, who plans the sto­ry­line and writes the scripts for the shows, is aim­ing to es­tab­lish a dis­tinc­tively Chi­nese style of wrestling en­ter­tain­ment within five years. MKW has also es­tab­lished ties with pro wrestling out­fits across the re­gion, reg­u­larly book­ing for­eign wrestlers to come per­form in China.

Ken­neth Thex­eira, a 27-year-old Eurasian of Por­tuguese- Chi­nese parent­age, wres­tled in Dong­guan in Guang­dong prov­ince ear­lier this year in Jan­uary thanks to MKW.

“I ad­mire the vi­sion and am­bi­tion of MKW, which is home to in­ter­est­ing char­ac­ters and good wrestlers…they also tape episodes for a sea­sonal web se­ries, which is gain­ing trac­tion in China and around the world,” said the Sin­ga­porean wrestler, who goes by the nick­name “Eurasian Dragon”.

Another wrestler that MKW had brought over to China was Hong Kong’s Ho Ho Lun. The 28-year-old, who took part in the WWE try-outs last week, made the head­lines ear­lier this year when he was se­lected to take part in the in­au­gu­ral WWE Cruis­er­weight Se­ries. This com­pe­ti­tion, which fea­tures 32 up-and-com­ing wrestlers from around the world, is a po­ten­tial spring­board for him to get a foot into the WWE.

Ho, the founder of the Hong Kong Pro-Wrestling Fed­er­a­tion, said that one of the main im­ped­i­ments to pro wrestling’s growth across Asia is the lack of a steady sup­ply of wrestlers. And this is not be­cause no­body as­pires to be­come one but rather, most peo­ple quit af­ter dis­cov­er­ing how tough the train­ing is.

“I know of a lot of peo­ple who dream of be­com­ing pro wrestlers, but af­ter un­der­go­ing the train­ing they re­al­ize that it is too painful a process. I think only one out of 100 trainees have the de­ter­mi­na­tion to train un­til they make their de­but in the ring,” said Ho.

In a test of met­tle not so dif­fer­ent from the WWE boot camp last week, Ho of­ten makes his new mem­bers per­form 500 squats within 30 min­utes.

“Many of those who sign up think that they’ll be learn­ing how to per­form the dif­fer­ent ma­neu­vers. But the fact is that we have to con­di­tion our bod­ies to a cer­tain level be­fore we can even ex­e­cute our first slam,” added Ho.

It re­mains to be seen if the WWE’s first Chi­nese sign­ing will even­tu­ally emerge as a WWE su­per­star. In­dus­try ex­perts agree that the de­vel­op­men­tal pro­gram can of­ten be a long and fu­tile jour­ney. But even if Wang has what it takes to break into the WWE, it would take at least a few years be­fore he makes his de­but.

Ac­cord­ing to Levesque, Amer­i­can fe­male wrestler Sasha Banks took about three years to progress from the de­vel­op­men­tal pro­gram to be­ing in Wrestle­ma­nia, WWE’s flag­ship event which this year posted a record turnout of 101,763 spec­ta­tors at the AT&T Sta­dium in Arlington, Texas. Levesque said that Banks is con­sid­ered a very early bloomer.

How­ever, Levesque is con­fi­dent that Wang can live up to his prom­ise and be­come a su­per­star, say­ing about 80 per­cent of the wrestlers cur­rently on WWE’s Raw and Smack­down pro­grams had grad­u­ated from the Or­lando fa­cil­ity.

Lo­cal wrestling out­fits would surely be keep­ing their fin­gers crossed for Wang. Gomez said that hav­ing a Chi­nese WWE su­per­star will help gen­er­ate more in­ter­est in the lo­cal pro wrestling scene and per­haps

Find­ing a ‘Yao Ming of the WWE’ and hav­ing him be­come the in­ter­est point will help Chi­nese to fall in love with our prod­uct.”

Paul Levesque,

as Triple H WWE leg­end, also known

PHOTOS PRO­VIDED TO CHINA DAILY

The do­mes­tic wrestling scene in China may be home to a num­ber of for­eign and lo­cal wrestlers but it is still rel­a­tively un­heard of out­side the coun­try ex­cept in pro wrestling cir­cles.

Wang Bin (left) poses for a photo with WWE leg­end Triple H af­ter sign­ing a con­tract. The An­hui na­tive is seen as the key to win­ning Chi­nese au­di­ences for the WWE and the lo­cal wrestling scene. MKW wrestlers per­form a stunt in a ring. Pro wrestling, un­like reg­u­lar wrestling, is a com­bi­na­tion of ath­leti­cism and show­man­ship.

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