If even the WWE is paying attention to wrestling in Southeast Asia, wouldn’t you too? It’s a jungle, so here’s a cheatsheet for you to navigate the regional scene.
Already Grapple MAX is 3 years old, no longer the new kid on the block, but one of the most established wrestling brands in all of Asia.
Where have our grapplers popped up to perform at? Take a look and you’ll get a good picture of wrestling in Southeast Asia, and a little beyond. Grapple MAX talent have traversed rings and mats across Malaysia, Thailand, the Philippines, Japan, India, Hong Kong, Macau, and Taiwan.
But let’s keep it focused to the immediate Southeast Asia region. I’ve compiled a who’s who of companies, key talent, and offered my opinions.
Grapple MAX has a calendar of monthly events lined up all the way till the end of the year. Grapple MAX shows bring in about 100-200 people on regular shows, and 500-800 at larger venues. SPW’s shows are once every 2-3 months and attract a steady 400-600.
Pretty healthy fan ecosystem in Singapore. We have the Kick to the Gut! podcast guys who do weekly episodes that cover local wrestling. Grapple MAX supplies them with guest interviewees all the time, and the podcast production value is terrific. Of course. The guys work in a radio station. Kick to the Gut! even trained to perform a full match with us at Marina Bay Sands.
Other fan pages on Facebook include Sir Huss Pro and Singapore Wrestling Society. Sir Huss Pro gives out annual awards to recap each year, and Singapore Wrestling Society used to write show reviews for all local events. Used to. SWS has since stopped doing reviews, and that stoppage coincided with one SPW wrestler’s emotional outburst towards the feedback he was receiving from a review. Causation or correlation? Up to you.
Grapple MAX co-founder Greg and I both conceived plans for our own school while we were still in SPW.
In 2015 Grapple MAX didn’t exist yet. We were only an idea on a spreadsheet. Then after observing the gaps in the industry for a while and figuring out how to fill them, we went live.
Both promotions attract vastly different fan bases and target markets. We have positioned Grapple MAX as a school with a rigorous training syllabus. SPW has built its reputation on running shows in bigger arenas, and performing video skits for entertainment.
I used to wonder why Japanese martial arts like Karate could split into so many derivative styles rooted in different philosophies. It was only when I split off with Greg to open our own school that I understood immediately. The founders simply had their own approaches.
Recently, do you know who are Singapore’s newest wrestling fans? I doubt they even know it, but it’s the Singapore government. Not kidding. It’s only February but 2 different government organisations – the People’s Association and the National Youth Council – have approached Grapple MAX separately for collaborations and coverage. SPW has also done shows for migrant workers at their dorms.
Grapple MAX trainees TJ and Prabu covered above by Youth.sg, one of the brands under the Ministry of Culture, Community and Youth.
Once every 2-3 months. Shows attract anywhere from 100-400 people depending on venue. KuAsh Theatre is a beautiful arena. Air conditioned with great lighting and awesome food trucks for post-show celebratory cheat meals. Lately the shows have been in a futsal court.
You can spot the Lalang Squad at any Malaysian show. They’re a huge group of super engaged fans who sit ringside wearing purple T-shirts carrying signs. They spread announcements throughout the community, because they are proud Malaysia has its own wrestling culture. Grapple MAX got off to a strong start in Malaysia because of this passionate bunch.
Malaysia and Grapple MAX have had an almost symbiotic relationship, particularly from 2016 to 2018, which took wrestling in Southeast Asia to a new level.
Promoters cross booked talent frequently, and used each others’ shows as platforms to advance storylines. Grapple MAX co-founder “Endboss” GREGORY and Grapple MAX special projects coordinator The D have both previously held Malaysia Pro Wrestling’s top prize. I held the hardcore title. Shaukat won a Hong Kong championship at a Grapple MAX show. Other collaborations include the jointly produced show Enter The Ring, and Emman joining the Grapple MAX excursion to Japan in 2018.
As for Asia Wrestling Entertainment, they started off with a bang, booking stars such as British Strong Style, Hurricane, Chris Masters, and Tajiri on their cards. Then a combination of poor management and questionable financial practices led them to an early death. They did pay part time talent like us pretty well while they were alive though. And I appreciate them giving our Grapple MAX trainee DJ Kal his international debut.
Malaysian wrestling made headlines when Phoenix won a championship and caught media attention as the world’s first hijabi wrestler.
Once every quarter when Gatoh Move used to be alive. Gatoh Move was founded by Japan’s Emi Sakura, and the training is tough. But excellent. Recently they announced they were shuttering up, and then it was revealed soon after that the Gatoh Move Thai lineup had separated to establish 2 different outfits, TOP and Setup.
To get a spot on a Gatoh Move card, you had to be reasonably competent. They were the pioneers of mat wrestling in Southeast Asia, and they demonstrated to us that this model could work. Grapple MAX has featured a number of Gatoh Move talent on our own mat-based wrestling shows. Grapple MAX coaches have all performed in Gatoh Move-related events in Bangkok.
TOP and Setup – it almost reminds me of Grapple MAX and SPW. A familiar arc. But it’s too early to call this one. Their marketing styles are similarly different as well. TOP takes a more student-centric approach, while Setup launched with great fanfare by organising a collab show with Wrestle Square from India. Competition between both brands looks intense and and aggressive. I’m happy to spectate.
Kingdom Wrestling Federation is pretty dormant but they are still running in other parts of the world. The boss Chief AramMir performed in Malaysia once, and that’s where I met him and received a booking to eventually win my cruiserweight title in Pattaya, Thailand.
There’s also a strip club sort of bar called the Pink Panther in a seedy area of Bangkok, that has a makeshift wrestling ring in it. It’s just 4 posts stuck into the ground like pegs, with ropes passed through them. After your performance you split the bar tips with your wrestling friends. Money’s not bad for just brawling about, no bumps necessary.
To wrap up, it’s Thailand. Home of Muay Thai. Pro wrestling has a lot more of an uphill battle in this country compared to other places, in terms of penetrating the market. Simply because of the entrenched Muay Thai culture. The fact that I don’t have top of mind recall about any influencers here corroborates that too.
The regularity of their shows impresses me. PWR plans storylines that span consecutive shows, and their events are at least once a month. This shows a level of forward planning not typical in the region. Shows draw between 200-400 people, and over 500 on special cards.
MWF has some pretty interesting venues. One of the cool ones is Resorts World Manila, in front of the Wolfgang steakhouse. These mall shows are free for anyone to attend. That makes Grapple MAX and MWF both share the similarity of performing on casino properties.
The Smark Henry blog provides comprehensive coverage on Filipino wrestling action. Their writers attend every show live. There’s also a good mix of international wrestling discussed here.
You can also find the Wrestling Wrestling podcast, which is hosted by PWR talent. Having URL links in this section tells you something about how much effort they have put into building their presence and voice.
Fight Sport Manila is a well curated resource not just limited to pro wrestling, but also MMA. They cover the wrestling scene with photo essays, and held a voting competition in 2018. The Ladykiller won “International Wrestler of the Year”, and “Wrestling Match of the Year” (with Chris Panzer).
Wrestling Wednesdays is a 3-nation influencer page that does fan art of regional wrestlers. Every Wednesday, an artist from Philippines, Malaysia, and Singapore is rostered up to post an illustration to promote SEA wrestling.
PWR tickets are also sold through their distributor channels that include a toy store, and a cafe.
I’ve crossed paths with a lot of Filipino wrestlers over the last few years. Such as competing against Jake De Leon and John Sebastian in Malaysia and Thailand, or traveling to India with Crystal, or a 2-part feud with Chris Panzer in each of our respective home turfs. I’ve also faced Robin Sane and Sandata in the ring. All genuinely likeable people.
Many of their boys and girls also like to visit Grapple MAX when they come to Singapore. For example, we’ve played host to Sandata, Ken Warren, half the YOLOs, Chino Guinto, Mike Madrigal, Lucha Donna etc. It shows me their hunger for a different perspective on training, and their desire to build professional networks. It makes the Filipino wrestlers stand out, and I gotta give props for that.
The Filipino scene used to be pretty isolated from the rest of the region in the early years, but in 2018 they threw their doors wide open. Accomplished WWE names such as TJP, and quite a number of top Japanese wrestlers have performed there.
Social media marketing is top notch – it contributes a lot to the brand that is one of the pillars of wrestling in Southeast Asia. I see the Philippines driving regional wrestling forward in the next 1 or 2 years.
Saigon Pro Wrestling Club
They do mat wrestling shows in a dance studio once every few months drawing 100-200 people. They’ve wrestled in packed nightclubs before but those are not standard show venues for the promotion.
Still a scene that’s in its infancy. SPWC just concluded a crowdfunding round to raise $2,200 for a new ring. Have to say that’s pretty creative and resourceful. Excited to see what the young leaders of this budding outfit can turn this company into, if they sharpen their management skills as much as their wrestling.
The scene is always evolving. Wrestling in Southeast Asia has grown tremendously, but we are still in the process of terraforming the space into something sustainable. For talent, it’s easier to find cross border bookings nowadays, and for fans, there’s a lot more online wrestling content you can consume.
But it’s still a treacherous environment. Companies closing down, new ones popping up. Most are run as hobby clubs, or haven’t reached the critical mass to see an uptick in business. Many promotions cannot separate the main talent from the key booking team, and that’s always going to present a conflict of interest when it comes to quality. One fan observed to me that there’s a lot of heart, but sometimes not a lot of anything else to back it up. Harsh, but possibly true.
At Grapple MAX, we recognised that many of our trainees put a lot of trust in us to kickstart their careers. We’ve been around for years and we know this scene inside out. So it’s our responsibility to work tirelessly to develop wrestling in Southeast Asia.
There’s never been a better time to try out this sport in Southeast Asia. Grapple MAX has just entered its next phase of explosive growth. Join us when you’re ready!