Friday 30 October 2015

Singapore's pro wrestling shows pull in crowds

Sports entertainment pioneers see attendance rise from 60 to average of 400
By Mark Cheong, Photojournalist, The Straits Times, 29 Oct 2015

In front of a full-house crowd, under the glare of red and blue stage lights and dressed in doctor's scrubs and a surgical mask, Dr Gore struts onto the stage and enters the ring.

After the music dies down, the first match of the night begins. Minutes later in dramatic fashion, Dr Gore parades around the ring and stands on the top rope after beating his opponent, Mister Consistency.

The menacing Dr Gore is played by Caleb Tan, a 25-year-old illustrator who has been wrestling for the past two years, and is part of Singapore Pro Wrestling (SPW), an organisation and promotional company which pioneered pro wrestling in Singapore back in 2012.

He picked up wrestling by chance, after getting invited to a training session by a former army mate. Since then, Tan has wrestled in 10 shows as the character of Dr Gore, which was given to him by wrestling coach and SPW co-founder Vadim Koryagin.

"I was initially self-conscious about my physical look and the character's outfit allowed me to cover my body," said Tan. "Since then, it has evolved into an identity that (is portrayed by) my wrestling style, which is very calculated, manipulative and over-zealous, and gives the impression that I am slowly taking my opponents apart."

Pro wrestling, which is considered sports entertainment, is a combination of physical prowess and theatrical skill.

Matches are carefully choreographed and the results are pre-determined. Each match also closely follows a storyline, often pitting the good guy against the bad. The challenge is to rile up fans and make sure they go home satisfied.

"I want them to feel like the time and money they spent was worth it, and they would want to come back again and spread the word to their friends," said Tan.

The local pro wrestling promotion company was founded in 2012 by Andruew Tang and Koryagin, and was the first of its kind in South-east Asia.

Tang was fresh out of national service then, and Koryagin, the co-founder of the Independent Wrestling Federation in Russia, was looking to expand the business in Singapore. Starting out with $40,000 at a rooftop terrace in Kampong Ubi Community Club, the company has since organised 12 major shows, the first one attended by a mere 60 people.

Attendance has since sky-rocketed to an average of 400 people per show, the biggest being their gig at the Singapore Night Festival last year which pulled a 1,000-strong crowd.

The local outfit moved into a private space in Joo Seng Road last year, and the number of its wrestling students has doubled since the beginning. 

Like Tan, the majority of the wrestlers were influenced by watching World Wrestling Federation (WWF) matches on television while growing up. Recalled Tan: "Each time I saw the Undertaker (a scary-looking wrestler) appear on screen, I would scream and hide behind my mum." WWF is now known as WWE, which stands for World Wrestling Entertainment.

So far, five Singaporeans from SPW, including Tang, have had the chance to wrestle in places such as Russia, Hong Kong and Australia.

The future seems bright for the nascent local scene. "The primary aim of SPW is to be the main promotional company for pro wrestling around South-east Asia, and to eventually have a regular slot on local television," said Tang.

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