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
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.”
as Triple H WWE legend, also known
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.