Professional wrestling has been one of the favorite Filipino pastimes for over three decades. Many who were born during the mid-80s grew up idolizing Hulk Hogan, Randy “Macho Man” Savage, The Ultimate Warrior, “Rowdy” Roddy Piper, and Ric “The Nature Boy” Flair through the World Wrestling Federation (WWF). (Today, it is known as WWE, or World Wrestling Entertainment.)
Its popularity in the country gave musician and radio personality Ramon “RJ” Jacinto an idea to launch his own promotion known as Pinoy Wrestling. Its roster of performers, dubbed with silly monikers, were composed of ridiculous, perhaps sarcastic hyper-stereotypes; viewers had to bear with the likes of Lawin the Birdman, Turko Turero, Joe Pogi, Macho Franco, The Bakal Boys, and Iggy Igorot.
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Jacinto’s venture into the scene was short-lived, but the American brand of professional wrestling remained a staple on both local cable and network television. Kids and teens of the 90s will remember that the 6 PM time slot was reserved for Raw Is War every Thursday on Star Sports. Some waited for Cartoon Network to sign off on Fridays at 9 PM to watch World Championship Wrestling’s Nitro on the late-night TNT program.
In the early 2000s, the now-defunct Destiny Cable showed a new style of professional wrestling through one of its exclusive Japanese channels. It introduced Filipinos to Puroresu, which presents the performance art as a legitimate sport; it had fewer theatrics while incorporating hard-hitting martial arts strikes with shoot-style submission locks.
A Filipino in the WWE
Professional wrestling has come a long way in the country. While some have lost interest and moved on, many fans have remained loyal throughout its various evolutions. Now, the nation houses two of Southeast Asia’s most prominent organizations: Philippine Wrestling Revolution (PWR) and Manila Wrestling Federation (MWF).
Founded in late 2013, PWR began staging shows in September 2014, and has held over 40 events since. On the other hand, MWF began delivering family-friendly entertainment in 2017. It did not take too long for Filipino wrestlers to gain international recognition. A handful of homegrown talents are now starting to carve their respective names in overseas federations.
Last month, three local wrestlers represented the Philippines in WWE’s talent tryout in Shanghai. Crystal, Jake de Leon, and Ken Warren of PWR were among the 40 individuals who tried their luck in the four-day boot camp. The other athletes came from mainland China, Hong Kong, Taiwan, Japan, Singapore, and Thailand.
Irish WWE superstar Stephen Farrelly, more popularly known as Sheamus, believes that it will be only a matter of time before the Philippines gets its own representative in the world’s largest professional wrestling company.
“I’d love to see someone from the Philippines represent WWE. There should be one from every country. It’s great,” the wrestler says. He was recently in town to promote WWE’s live event at the Araneta Coliseum on September 20.
Filipino-American wrestlers have walked through the hallowed halls of WWE before, with Dave “Batista” Bautista and TJ Perkins being the most notable ones. Earlier this year, the promotion’s developmental territory NXT signed Michael Paris, who was best known for his work in Total Non-stop Action Wrestling as DJZ, and Zema Ion. He now wrestles under the ring name Joaquin Wilde.
WWE officials had been going around Asia in search of its next superstars. In January 2017, senior director of talent development Canyon Ceman and Asia Pacific general manager Chris Marsh dropped by the Philippines and attended a PWR show.
Sheamus received numerous accolades in his ten-year run in the promotion, which included multiple reigns as its world champion. This, despite starting in Ireland, which is not known to be a wrestling hub in the same vein as Mexico, Japan, and the United States. “There’s no such thing as ‘It can’t be done’ in any country or any area,” the 41-year-old insists. “If they get proper training from someone who knows what they’re doing and they don’t take unnecessary risks in the ring, there’s no reason why.”
Sheamus has not competed since April and is still unsure of his return to the squared-circle, but the man known as “The Celtic Warrior” hopes to make it just in time for next month’s show. “People here are amazing. I always say that what makes a great country great is the people in it,” he says. “Everyone’s proud of their country, everyone’s super nice, and everyone’s so respectable.”
Advertised to appear at the event is Kofi Kingston, who puts his WWE Championship on the line against Daniel Bryan. There will also be a street fight between Roman Reigns and Drew McIntyre, as well as a SmackDown Women's Championship match between current titleholder Bayley and Charlotte Flair.
Also set to appear are The New Day's Big E and Xavier Woods, who are set to square off with Elias and Sami Zayn for the SmackDown Tag Team Championship. R-Truth is slated to take on Andrade, while Carmella is booked to be pitted against Mandy Rose who will be accompanied by Sonya Deville. Other WWE superstars announced for the September 20 affair are Kevin Owens, Ali, Shinsuke Nakamura, Chad Gable and EC3. The talent lineup is subject to change.
For more information on the WWE Live even at the Araneta, visit Ticket.com.ph.
Photographs by Richard Esguerra