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Singaporean Pro Wrestling: From WTF to OMG

Singaporean Pro Wrestling: From WTF to OMG

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(Images courtesy of Najwan Noor for SPW unless otherwise stated) 

“Ow. OW. STOP. STOP!!”

“TAPPPPP!” I bellow, trying to mask my prepubescent squeaks.

Upon hearing my command, my mother’s hand hits the mattress in repeated desperation, signalling it’s time I relinquish the submission hold I have on her legs, which has also bent her spine back on itself.

Too weak to lift my mother up, and too much of a pussy to leap off the wardrobe, 10-year-old me chose to exact upon her the Walls of Jericho (under the guise of showing the poor lady “something cool” her legs could do) to emulate my idols—the burly men whom I watched beat the living shit out of each other on TV every week.

If all of this sounds familiar, then you, like me, probably grew up in the mid 90s to early 2000s a huge fan of the WWF/E and professional wrestling. Because the characters were so charismatic; the acting so convincing and the promos so intense, many of us bought willingly into the charade, suspending any common sense and believing pro wrestling was real.

Last Friday, past returned to the present when my colleague, Grace, asked if I wanted to join her on a media invite to catch Boiling Point, Singapore Pro Wrestling (SPW)‘s first show of 2019.

Truth be told, I was very sceptical. I hadn’t heard of any of the wrestlers before, which meant the story arcs that are crucial to enjoying pro wrestling would’ve been lost on me. As an adult, I had also peeked behind the curtain enough to know how it all worked. And forgive me for saying this, but whenever Singapore tries to imitate huge international franchises, everything tends to feel a bit … try-hard.

Yet as much as I had nothing better to do that Friday night, nothing—and I mean absolutely NOTHING—could’ve prepared me for how fucking mind-blowing it turned out to be.

(Image: WWE)
7 PM

As Grace and I approach the building where the night’s rehearsed beatdowns are to take place, our spirited conversation is usurped by a stunned silence. Instead of a warehouse in some random industrial estate, or an air-conditioned gym in town, we find ourselves staring up at the Singapore Federation of Chinese Clan Associations in the octogenarian-friendly neighbourhood of Toa Payoh.

Cautiously entering the grounds, we spot a small crowd milling about against a backdrop of banners detailing the federation’s history and achievements in Mandarin. Let me just say that the mental image of old, distinguished Chinese men sipping tea juxtaposed with sweaty muscular bodies crashing into one another in these hallowed halls is so damn hilarious.

While I hadn’t known what to expect, I definitely wasn’t expecting this.

The crowd, a motley crew of everyone from Caucasian families wheeling large ice box coolers as if headed to an afternoon picnic, to groups of rowdy twenty-somethings in ripped skinny jeans and even the occasional couple, was clearly there because they wanted to be.

Many were also wearing t-shirts emblazoned with logos and names like “Trexxus”, The Horrors”, and “The Dragons”, leaving Grace and I to don the mantle of The Confused.

Before we can concoct any concrete theories on the appeal of SPW, the doors to the venue open and we follow the crowd into a medium-sized hall not unlike the one in your old secondary school, complete with the state portraits of Madam Halimah Yacob and spouse overseeing proceedings. Centre stage: a small ring surrounded by rows of folding chairs, the nearest just three metres away, and separated from the squared-circle by nothing more than a couple of crash mats on the floor.

As we take our seats and wait for the hall to fill, the ring announcer’s booming voice erupts from the speakers.

“WELLLLLCOME TO S-P-W’S BOILINGGGGG POINTTTTTT!”

Cue thunderous cheers from the already hype crowd as Grace and I sit back in amusement. After a couple of announcements, the lights dim and the big show begins.

Damn.
 A resounding splat which echoes around the hall 5 minutes later jolts me into realising that the action is real. It is real, it is happening, and bodies are being broken.  

I mean, let me just explain how a powerbomb works.

A fully grown man, easily 120 kg, bends a similarly proportioned guy over and towards him, shoving his head between his legs. Then lifting the man up by his waist, the victim tracing an almost graceful arc as his entire body turns a complete 180 degrees, he is brought to rest in a sitting position on his manhandler’s shoulders.

It looks somewhat like an inverted piggyback ride, until the victim is raised into the air and plunged into the floor of the ring.

Really, it is not a splat. It is an earth shattering moment. As body embraces floor, the universe quivers.

And this keeps happening. Again and again, incredible feats of strength, opponents twice each other’s size lifting each other into the air like it’s nothing, with no one immune to the thunderous impact of when flesh meets canvas.

Whatever goes up comes down twice as hard, and soon, patches of angry welts begin forming on bodies as sweat pours down the wrestlers’ backs.

For the rest of the evening, high boots to the face are the norm, as are high-risk front and backflips—each one mere centimetres away from an awkward landing that could’ve resulted in real, serious injury.

It’s brutal, yet I can’t look away.

Think lights. Think sweat. Think the thunderous roar of metal springs, rubber, and canvas all straining under the weight of plummeting Singaporean men.

Think beer. Think uproarious exclamations. Think the mindless intoxication that swallows you whole and spits you out a raving lunatic; the conservative Singaporean side of you now but a mere sweat stain on the gym floor.

It was not just entertaining. At one point, Grace and I looked at each other and saw neither colleagues nor friends. Instead, we saw enlightenment made manifest in human bodies.

Now, call me a sadist, but there’s also a visceral joy in watching someone throttled within an inch of their life, and something immensely satisfying about seeing them thrown around until they crumple into heaps on the ground, clutching their bodies and grimacing in pain.

I found myself clapping like a demented seal, shouting myself hoarse for all the wrestlers despite not knowing who the faces or heels—pro wrestling speak for heroes & villains—were supposed to be.

I was not cheering for the characters. I was cheering for the men and women behind them.  

No matter whether they were beefcakes or lean, mean, wrestling machines, their athleticism was truly a sight to behold. Bodies launched into the air without fear, before skilful landings were performed, as though these were seasoned ballerinas and not clumsy, burly men.

Likewise, the aptly-named spinebusters and complicated hurricaranas were well-executed, and the matches were choreographed to chaotic perfection.

We liked what we saw, we appreciated their skills, and most importantly, we respected the effort.

BAH GAWD, HE'S BROKEN IN HALF!
The wrestlers probably know this because other than their in-ring skills, they were also great at playing to the crowd and “selling” (making it seem as realistic as possible) their moves.

Every huge collision was accompanied by either a pained groan or a triumphant roar; tiny details but central to the faux reality which allowed the audience to tune out real life.

When Andruew “The Statement” Tang, co-founder of SPW, lets out his trademark “EEEEEEEEYAKKK!!” grunt, the crowd immediately follows suit. Whether ironically or as a genuine show of support, I couldn’t quite figure out.

Not that it mattered. He fed on our enthusiasm, and we cheered his ability. Everyone in the room was grinning because they loved it. Heck, I loved it.

Truly, it was too easy to be swept away by the mania. To further fuel the fans’ passion, wrestlers moved the action out of the ring and down to the fans, narrowly avoiding being counted out by the ref. It was an ingenious way of engaging with the crowd and used to great comedic effect.

As “The Trickster”, a zany dude who had the musculature of a twig, faced the monster of a man “P-Nutz”, everyone chanted “YOU’RE GONNA DIE!” over and over again in one voice when he sprints into the crowd, terrified and desperate to get away from the beast. In another match, the “Power Warrior” also swiped and ate a Cheeto from a fan who was happily munching on them while watching the action.

And it’s then that I realise we weren’t at the show. We were part of the show.

HOLY SHIT (repeat x 1000)
10 PM

As the last match of the evening ends, Grace and I find ourselves incapable of words to express why we feel the way we do.

Eventually, I realise how simple it is. Pro wrestling is like the gratuitous action movies we all secretly know and love: from the flurries of punches and flying knees to the comedy and soap-opera drama. And once you step into the hall to watch the physically demanding performance art that’s worthy of so much respect, you enter a different realm in which reality is skilfully woven into fiction.

SPW is just like that. Only unlike some of the unbelievable storylines that WWF/E has pushed over the years, there’s enough of our own Singaporean reality captured in this to make it appealing to Singaporean fans.

Instead of a sold-out Madison Square Garden, we have the grassroots and homely charm of the Singapore Federation of Chinese Clan Associations. In place of strapping ang mohs, we have your (literal) guys-next-door who don’t take themselves too seriously, if at all.  

And as surprising as it is, pro wrestling—or at least the version these guys are doing—is actually inspiring.

Because the men we see hurling their bodies around are people we might bump into on the street or on the MRT, they are much more relatable.

In a twist of fate, “The Statement” could’ve just as easily been your insurance agent neighbour, reading your financial statements. The jacked AF Destroyer Dharma, could’ve been your Shenton Way accountant, crunching numbers instead of his washboard abs.

And so, whether you’re a child or an adult, watching your fellow Singaporeans have the balls to backflip from the top rope for a living (whilst having fun doing it) is refreshing in a way that’s hard to describe. We Singaporeans are an uptight lot who can sometimes appear to possess little in the way of a sense of humor, but in that squared-circle, the perfect antithesis of life as we know it can be found.

In the ring, the wrestlers are free. They are whoever they want to be, and capable of whatever they dare to do. In the hall, the sterile and corporate Singapore we live in falls away, and attitude and outrageousness are king.

It’s fun because it’s so liberating to know that something as outlandish as pro wrestling exists, and can exist in a no-nonsense society such as our own.

So, go. Go and suspend your beliefs in reality for a few hours and be entertained. Trust me, it’s not so bad that it’s good. It’s just good.

Forget the story arcs. It doesn’t matter what they are.

In fact, Grace and I already planning to catch their next show. But next time, we’ll have to remember to bring a couple of cans of beer along.

Oh, hell yeah.

(Image: WWE)
AND THAT’S THE BOTTOM LINE … okay maybe it’s not but if you know what is, tell us at community@ricemedia.co

Oh and just in case you were wondering, this post is not sponsored in any way by SPW. The event was just that damn good.

Author

Justin Vanderstraaten Staff writer