Pinoy pro-wrestling goes digital-first
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By Joseph L. Garcia, Reporter
A WRESTLING ring stands in the abandoned ballroom of a Quezon City dimsum house. This ring, with the sounds of its slams rumbling throughout the building, is the centerpiece of the wrestling academy of Filipino Pro Wrestling (FPW), the first day of which was held on Feb. 4.
“This is the only training facility — well, we call it a facility; it’s barely a facility now — but it’s the only place where you can train in wrestling in an actual wrestling ring in the Philippines,” said standup comedian Red Ollero, who is also president of FPW in an interview at the sidelines of the training session.
FPW comes at the heels of PWR (Philippine Wrestling Revolution), which closed during the pandemic. “Offshoot ba siya? Parang hindi eh (Is it an offshoot? It doesn’t look like it),” said Mr. Ollero. He was also president there, and he discussed the various reasons as to why the former wrestling promotion had to be closed. Aside from administrative issues, the pandemic’s restriction on live events meant a loss of ticket sales, despite having to pay for storage for their equipment. “It’s a completely new wrestling promotion,” he said of FPW.
WRESTLING, ONSCREENHe talks about resurrecting wrestling, albeit in a different format. “Live events are back,” he said, but FPW will bring back wrestling in a digital-forward format. “The business model is going to be primarily digital. The live events, they just exist so we can tape content. It’s going to be primarily, a content creation house.” They have partnered with Transcend Studios, and they see the events in shows being released as weekly episodes on YouTube. “PWR before was primarily focused on live events. When we upload anything digitally, we just uploaded whatever live event we had. Or best matches.”
FPW’s episodic format will include extras like interviews, backstage drama, promos, and all the other things that make pro-wrestling such a compelling, theatrical watch. “We’ve come to an understanding that this needs to be developed, and this needs years of work in it,” said Mr. Ollero. Many of the present wrestlers in FPW’s roster were former PWR players, numbering about 16.
Going digital has its seeds in the pandemic, from Mr. Ollero’s own standup career, which saw him transitioning from live events to holding Zoom comedy shows, and regularly updating his social media sites. “When I was forced to upload digital content, it really not only boosted my content creation side, or my social media sites, but it also drove ticket sales to the live events,” he said. “Before, my thinking was, if I upload sh*t, nobody will watch live anymore — not thinking that if you upload sh*t, more people will watch… I wanted to apply the same learnings to FPW.”
WRESTLING TRAININGWhen BusinessWorld arrived at the training academy, the aspiring pro-wrestlers (about 14 of them), were dropping on the mats and practicing how to roll artfully, and, more importantly, safely. These were just one of the drills that day, which saw cardio, with an emphasis on breathing and energy, basic wrestling moves, and ropework. “We’re training for everything to be second nature,” said Mr. Ollero. “If you’re not tired in the ring, you have more control with what you do. At the same time, we want to train you to think and work even if you’re tired. When you’re performing, you never know.”
Speaking of the ring, Mr. Ollero emphasizes why having their own ring is important. In the old days, they once trained on mats and an old boxing ring, which is constructed differently from a wrestling ring. “The boxing ring is not meant for you to fall on,” he said. Wrestling rings are made of wood, and shocks, and about an inch of rebonded foam. “When you take those bumps… a lot of the shock is absorbed,” he said. “It’s built for you to slam on. A boxing ring, no.” The structure of the ropes is also important: in wrestling rings, the ropes are pulled taut, to serve as springs to execute moves. “That’s one of the things that we couldn’t practice on when we were in a boxing ring, because those ropes were soft.”
CHILDHOOD DREAMS AND PUSHING LIMITSWe interviewed some of the aspiring wrestlers in the ring. An 18-year-old girl, still in college, was practicing flips. “It’s been my childhood dream,” said Raichel Mendoza. “It’s satisfying for me. It’s healing my inner self.”
Training will be difficult. They will have to do this every week: besides the physical aspect of it, they will spend workshops building their character and ring persona, until they are deemed to be ready for the ring by the wrestlers and trainers. “It looks easy, but when you’re doing it, it’s hard. You also have to be careful.” said Ms. Mendoza.
Meanwhile, 20-something Quito Castro, who works as a department manager in sports retail, had been playing varsity baseball since he was a boy — and watching wrestling, too. “Test the limits of my body,” he said, when asked about his reasons for joining the academy. “I’ve been fascinated about the physical component of wrestling.”
A lawyer, Nik Gutierrez, would take off his glasses occasionally during workouts, blurred as they were with his sweat. “I’ve been a fan all my life,” he told BusinessWorld. “I grew up in the ’90s. I grew up in the Attitude Era. The Rock, Stone Cold, DX.” One of his friends from grade school went on to become a PWR wrestler, Evan Carleaux. “It was just a dream that someday, one of us would be a wrestler,” he said.
“Personally, I just wanted to try something new. I badly need to exercise,” he said. He said that before entering law school, he had been quite fit, but the demands of a law career made fitness goals less of a priority. “I had the hardest workout in years,” he said about his first day in training. “But it was great. I’m the (least-fit) person here. And I had fun.”
Pro-wrestling’s demanding schedule might see only three or four people remaining from the class by the end of the academy’s run, by Mr. Ollero’s count. “Even if I don’t make it… at least I tried to do something that was impossible during my childhood,” said Mr. Gutierrez. “I was able to do it.”
“There are people who think that you have to be super athletic,” said Mr. Ollero, recalling his own time in the ring as PWR’s Rederick Mahaba. “I came in with a torn knee, and I was like 300+ lbs., and I made it.”
“I think it’s really persistence. You’ve got to have the heart to want it,” he said on what makes a pro-wrestler. “There are people who get impatient. And it hurts. If you train for a long time, and you don’t see the fruits of your labor; if you’re not booked as a wrestler, you will quit. But other people, I think, enjoy it.”
“You just don’t quit.”
FPW’s next show, Astig: The Pilot Taping, will be on Feb. 19 at the Power MAC Center. Tickets are available at ticket2me.net, at P750 (from Feb. 13 to 18) and P1,000 on the day itself.