They say pro wrestling is the ultimate conspiracy. Performers conspire to put on the most convincing illusion of a "real" fight, announcers and commentators conspire to present the in-ring action as truth, and audience members conspire to buy into the theatrics and drama being sold. It's perhaps the most extreme suspension of disbelief any entertainment form demands, but can be incredibly rewarding when all the pieces fall into place.
Case in point: look no further than the Undertaker's recent retirement, Daniel Bryan's cathartic championship win at WrestleMania 30, or even Chris Benoit and Eddie Guerrero's confetti-showered embrace from over a decade ago. Those were truly magical moments that proved that even a "fake" sport can still manufacture genuine emotion.
|We're still broken about this, tbh,|
For pro wrestling to work, the conspiracy has to be complete. The slightest drop of cynicism or smark-ness makes the illusion fall apart, and everyone is just left wondering what the hell just happened.
So what's the point of this long-ass intro? It's simply this: If you came into the Manila Wrestling Federation's debut show, MWF Live: MWF x MCS, committed to have fun and buy into the conspiracy, you're likely to have found it easy to be delighted. If, on the other hand, you walked into the show with a cynical eye, you'll have missed the point entirely.
We'll get this out of the way upfront: The product is still tremendously raw. Technical purists will point out that the match structures were weak, the psychology inconsistent, the strikes generally soft, and the characters paper-thin. Production hitches like the crappy sound system, interminably-long 45-minute intermission, and an air-conditioning system on its dying breath were immediately obvious, even to the most charitable eyes.
But you know what? That's shit that can mostly be addressed with experience, seasoning, time, and training; what MWF has in spades is ambition, vision, and some darn good building blocks to unlock unlimited growth for the future. And for a company that's essentially still in beta, those are pretty fine assets to have.
So with that, let's get down to the show review.
1. The Manila Rules Format Is Still Strange... But Promising
We'll be the first to admit that we had our misgivings about MWF's proprietary Manila Rules format, which breaks up the traditional wrestling match format into five separate rounds of four minutes each. We believed this would take away the wonderful ebb-and-flow of storytelling that underlines some of the most epic matches you're familiar with. Dismantling the matches into five-course chunks would, we thought, take away the dramatic build-up found in the best wrestling matches, and unnecessarily box in performers. Initial reactions from netizens also sounded dismissive, calling it different for the sake of being different.
Having finally seen a Manila Rules match live, we still think it's an imperfect format, but Robin Sane and Mr. Lucha sure showed us there's actually some promise behind it.
|Robin Sane shows off some early dynamite.|
The two are clearly the finest that MWF has to offer, and tore the house down with their contrasting styles. Mr. Lucha is a lot more mobile than you would have figured from the limited amount of YouTube highlights available, and deserves to be the face most associated with the upstart promotion. Character aside, the man owns some admirable charisma, traversing the fine line between being a bumbling, beaming, goofball, and being an absolute destroyer in the ring. He's tight, springy, and shockingly agile, as his array of spinning back elbows, cartwheels, and enzuigiris proved. Meanwhile, his power arsenal is top-shelf, bulldozing his way to a well-earned win with a fabulous powerbomb-Death Valley Driver mash-up he proudly calls "DVD X."
But while the Crayola-colored Mr. Lucha may be MWF's face, Robin Sane is most definitely its ace. You may have found his bubblegum "Tara na... Let's go!" shtick cheesy af, but within the confines of MWF's over-the-top, comic-inspired sandbox, it fits right in. The dude is arguably the best high-flyer in the local wrestling scene today, dishing off the country's first top-rope 450 splash ever.
We're not about to declare the pair as among the Philippines' best wrestlers just yet; they still need to improve their fundamentals and ability to build a flow, while Lucha's selling of Sane's offense was puzzling, considering the near-100-pound size difference between the two. But hell, it was fun, and deserved to headline the card.
But going back to the Manila Rules format, it wasn't terrible. The two wove an ambitious arc throughout the five rounds, with Sane baiting Mr. Lucha into expending all his energy with multiple high-wire acrobatic exchanges in rounds one and two, with the likely intention of having a gassed, wheezing Lucha to deal with for the remaining rounds. Lucha certainly looked wobbly heading into the back-end of the match, but seemed to have done enough damage to end the match early—there was actually some nice suspense heading into the fourth round, with Robin Sane looking like he'd be unable to come out and answer the bell after all the massive suplexes and shoulderbreakers he'd absorbed up to that point.
Pro wrestling is also one of the rare areas that a moral victory is just as good as a real one, and Sane actually came out of this match with a fair claim for being Lucha's equal; his 450 splash could have earned him a three-count at the end of the fourth round, if not for time running out before the referee could slap the mat a third time.
The final round was frantic and frenetic, with both men just opening up a torrent of pain on each other. It was almost anti-climactic to just see Lucha muscle Sane up for the DVD X finish, but you could pretty much see the end coming. The size gap between the two ultimately proved to be the difference-maker, with Sane's breathtaking flips and dives falling just short against his stouter opponent.
|Mr. Lucha shows off some impressive strength on a shoulderbreaker.|
The match wasn't perfect, but it was downright entertaining. MWF needs to figure out how to really tell a more compelling story under the Manila Rules format, but there's certainly some promise. Some seasoning will do both warriors some good, and we imagine that a year from now, Mr. Lucha could credibly stake his claim as the best big man in local pro wrestling, while Robin Sane will be a legitimate viral sensation with his daredevil moves. If these dudes are gonna be the backbone of MWF, they couldn't be in a better place than they are now.
Winner: Mr. Lucha defeated Robin Sane in round 5 of Manila Rules via DVD X.
2. "That dude is a great athlete... now what?"
Here's the most obvious fact from the show: the trash-talking, loudmouthed Fabio Makisig is a grade-A douchebag. From running down the audience for being fat and out-of-shape—shades of Jesse Ventura and Rick Rude!—to refusing to pull off more flamboyant dives unless we shelled out extra bayad, he clearly established himself as the most unlikable character on the roster.
|Fat people have feelings too!|
He's clearly one hell of an athlete. His standing Shooting Star Press deserved a bigger ovation than it got, and he's probably the one guy who can give Robin Sane a run for his money in the battle for who the best high-flyer in the company is. But beyond that, we're not quite sure where the Fabio Makisig character goes from here. He's a big-mouthed bully who hates fat people—so what? If the man is going to be a bigger star, he'll need to find more ways than cheap heat to establish himself as a premier heel. Otherwise, he just may crash and burn as MWF's ultimate one-trick pony.
The structure of his match with Ninja Ryujin was almost non-existent; three or four times, we got the feeling that the two were spamming the same QuickTime sequence over and over again—run the ropes, roundhouse kick, dodge, legsweep, jump, rinse, repeat. We'd love to see some depth in the future matches of both men, because they clearly care deeply about what they're doing.
We're also hungry for some characterisation behind the Ryujin character. Just about the only thing we know is that he's from the streets, he likes Japanese culture, and is a fan of the color green. Sooner or later, a better story needs to be told. He probably put on the weakest performance on the show, which is a shame—we know Ninja Ryujin is capable of a lot more in the ring than what he's shown so far. Let's hope the future is kinder to him.
|More of this, please.|
Could the weight of history been too much for the two men? As the pair who had to come out and wrestle the first formal match in MWF history, expectations were sky-high. Some panic pauses, sloppy strike exchanges, and repetitive sequences should be forgiven, but we need both men to up their game in the future. Fabio Makisig may have won their match with a thudding Primera Klasika Sipa after Ninja's knee buckled on an attempted Asai DDT, but he's not exactly setting the wrestling world on fire yet.
Don't get us wrong. We believe in both men. Six months from now, we'll be happy to eat our words.
|Lol, you thought Ninja would win.|
Winner: Fabio Makisig defeated Ninja Ryujin via pinfall with the Primera Klasika Sipa.
3. The Birth of Filipino Strong Style: A Blessing Or A Bane?
We're big boys here at the Smark Henry offices, but we'll be the first to say we'd most likely get our asses handed to us in a real street fight. That's probably why we've got no problem saying Rex Lawin—especially in his role as designated Destroyer for Chief Financial Officer Gus Queens—is one hell of an ass-kicking machine who'd crush us easily without even trying.
|Seriously, the dude is built like a tank.|
The only problem is that the self-declared innovator of "Filipino Strong Style" couldn't actually get the job done against "Action Star" Gigz Stryker, MWF's moustachioed throwback to the glory days of FPJ and Robin Padilla. How strong is strong style if it can't actually win a match? Lawin may have rocked Stryker with his unrelenting onslaught of roundhouse kicks and strikes, but didn't quite have the motor to keep up with him when the real wrestling started.
Stryker, for his part, was a quiet revelation in the ring with his easygoing magnetism, and we thought that after a clunky start, he actually put on a fine showing. His gimmick is also incredibly easy to get behind—how can you not love FPJ's trademark ratatat getting co-opted into a wrestling match?—and we loved his Shoot To Kill step-up enzuigiri.
|Bigote style > strong style|
It took some timely interference from Queens to save the burly Lawin from a humiliating tap-out defeat after Stryker locked him in Asintado, his trademark leg grapevine submission hold. But even then, a quick burst was all it took for Gigz Stryker to knock Lawin out for the three-count with a jaw-jacking Ace Crusher variant he calls "Kalibre 3:16."
We think Rex Lawin will certainly be a player, even if his sense of sportsmanship sucks. His post-match beatdown of the victorious Stryker was both convincing and thorough. He may not have won his debut match, but he'll definitely bring the pain as Gus Queens' big-fight superstar.
|Getting pikon is not a good way to win friends, Rex.|
But what's the deal with Queens? With his smarmy, shit-eating grin and head-to-toe tan ensemble, he obviously wields some serious power and polish in the company. But his face-heel-face-heel flip-flops were confusing to the live audience; if he was so committed to crushing Stryker under his heel, then why did he call off Rex Lawin's beatdown of him? And what exactly is the authority dynamic between him and Commissioner Mike Shannon? These are questions that fans will demand answers to in the future, and there better be a good payoff.
We're intrigued as to where the Gus Queens arc could be going, but we hope for some clearer, simpler, more innovative storytelling in the future. After all, the "evil authority figure" is such a tired trope in pro wrestling, and it will be easy for Filipino fans to zone out if they feel they're just getting more of the same. Here's a tip for MWF creative: sometimes, less is more.
|"Antonio Inoki was not my father!"|
Winner: "Action Star" Gigz Stryker defeats Rex Lawin via pinfall with the Kalibre 3:16.
4. The House of Wrestling Has Its Ups and Downs
MWF was honest from the start about two of the matches on the five-match card featuring work-in-progress students from their House of Wrestling developmental program. But you know what? The modesty was unfounded. While there's a lot of obvious rawness in the in-ring skills of their four D-leaguers, we think there's a lot of potential to get excited about in the future.
Aspiring cult leader Moises Liwanag may not look like much, but he was engaging as hell in the ring. His gimmick as the "Son of Light" who will use the teachings from the Libro ng Liwanag to bring salvation to the masses could actually have the most upside on the roster, depending on how brave MWF wants to be in pushing the character. He may have lost his match, but showed off some good stuff in a post-match ambush, including a rib-crushing uranage he calls Liwanag sa Dilim.
|Best case scenario: Filipino Bray Wyatt. Worst case scenario: Brod Pete.|
His vanquisher, Hanzello Shilva, probably has the longest way to go among the young boys in terms of building a compelling character we can all get behind. Seriously, how many more "feisty young warrior who wants to prove himself" characters does the wrestling world need? He's active and enthusiastic, and the Shining Wizard variation he's dubbed "Bel-Earth" was sufficiently crisp. We'll be kind since we do know he's been in training a much shorter time than his counterparts, and hope he takes the time to develop who he wants to be in MWF. Identity matters, and we have no idea what he stands for, either as a character or as a wrestler.
|Shilva hates teeth.|
Winner: Hanzello Shilva defeated Moises Liwanag with Bel-Earth.
The gangly six-foot-tall Frankie Thurteen may have earned a "Daddy Long Legs!" chant from those in attendance, but we believe there are the makings of a decent performer here, even if we're not sure if his character is that of a brooding 90s alt-rock refugee or a brooding millennial. Whatever character he wants to be, he needs a clearer grasp and heightened commitment. But his spirit even after legit tweaking his knee mid-match was admirable, and Thurteen clearly is a student of the game, cribbing many of his moves and offensive sequences from top stars of indie wrestling. It's also entirely apt that a guy with legs as long as his would use a double stomp as his finisher; the Angel Bullet could take him a long way in MWF.
|Frankie Thurteen comes in for a landing with bad intentions.|
Morgan Vaughn is annoying and exasperating as hell, continually asking the crowd "Do you wanna see something cool?" before his big sequences. Buddy, if you have to describe something as cool, it probably isn't all that cool after all. But perhaps that was all by design. Vaughn has the swagger and face that makes you want to knock him the eff out, and it's no surprise that the loudest chant of the night was aimed at him: "We don't like you! /clap clap clapclapclap" This guy could low-key be the biggest natural annoying heel in the mold of Bo Dallas if he commits even more to the character, and that's a compliment.
|Seriously, you just want to wallop him.|
Winner: Frankie Thurteen defeated Morgan Vaughn with the Angel Bullet double stomp from the top rope.
5. Commissioner Mike Shannon Just Threw Down The Gauntlet—But Can He Deliver?
People say Mike Shannon is either the prophet of Filipino wrestling or its maddest mad scientist, and as the visionary behind the Manila Wrestling Federation, he's shown that both could possibly be true. He's laid it all on the line by declaring the company's goal as nothing short of being the greatest wrestling promotion in all of Southeast Asia, and that's a damn fine ambition. Why be in the business, after all, if greatness isn't the agenda?
Whether MWF can actually follow through is still up in the air. Some innovations, such as his Manila Rules brainchild, are interesting enough to both grab attention and differentiate themselves from competition. And as the man with the balls to sign such talents as a legit shoot fighter, an itinerant preacher, or a masked cartoon caricature to his roster, he's obviously committed to assembling a colourful, diverse base of talents to fulfil the MWF dream. This is, after all, a company that defines itself as "Performance Art" on its official Facebook page.
It took Shannon three years to build up MWF into launch phase; now it's entirely up to him if he can keep the momentum going, even with the sinister machinations of Gus Queens casting a shadow on the company's operations.
Conclusion: A Worthy Challenger
A lot of what we've said sounds like unfair nitpicking for a company still going through birthing pains. But we'll go back to what we said right at the start: MWF puts on a unique product with a lot of promising characters, an authentic desire to please, and tons of upside. We were damn entertained at their debut show, flaws and all.
The talents obviously need a lot more polish, and the creative direction to find its footing, but all in all, the company is right where it needs to be at this stage of its development. Robin Sane and Mr. Lucha are both excellent building blocks to start with, and hopefully it's just a matter of time until the rest of the roster rises to their level.
The company needs bigger stakes for its wrestlers to fight for, and we hope that some sort of championship scene is established sooner rather than later. Grudge matches are all well and good, but the sport is best defined by a race to the top, and there's no better way to do that than with some good old-fashioned gold to fan the competitive fuel.
Can MWF ever become the best wrestling promotion in the region? It's really too soon to say, but the ambition and hunger are there. We're glad to see the boys and girls behind MWF finally pull through after a year of start-and-stop promises, and have enough reason to come back for a second show—if only to see Fabio Makisig finally get put in his place, or to see what nifty stunt Robin Sane has cooked up.
We spotted Commissioner Shannon with tears in his eyes after the show; his passion is impossible to hide, and that's going to be invaluable for a company unafraid to punch above its weight.
Consider us fans. We're in this for the long haul.
Overall grade: Solid B-level outing. Too many flaws to call it a perfect performance, but with enough upside to aim for a B+/A the next time around.
Manila Wrestling Federation is a Manila-based sports entertainment group, specializing in professional wrestling. The MWF offers a colourful cast of wrestlers and exciting, competitive in-ring action the whole family can enjoy!
For more information, kindly contact:
+63 916 418 9334
All photos are by "Handsome" Hub Pacheco.