Wrestling: the other side of pro sports
THE GAME OF MY LIFE - Bill Velasco (The Philippine Star) - August 19, 2019 - 12:00am

Professional sports have always had its own cross to bear. Pro sports audiences often carry a subconscious belief that everything is not exactly on the up and up, that there is something quite arbitrary about how decisions are made, match-up decided, the game is tweaked to maximize the business side. Unlike amateur or varsity sports which are more tightly governed, professional sports have varying degrees of unbelievability to them. There always seems to be some doubt about the integrity of the game, especially internationally. How many times have fans expressed doubt – and even suspicion – about the outcomes of matches in boxing, mixed martial arts, basketball and even cycling?

That is because pro sports are sports entertainment business, and there are times you can’t tell which of those three words carries the most weight. Loose regulation, mismatches, game-fixing, doping, these are just some of the accusations lobbed against pro sports entertainment.

That is what makes pro wrestling so fascinating. It turns everything upside down. It tells you up front that everything is an act. But unlike the cheap fakery of, say, a carnival, there is effort, expense, danger and thought invested in it. In the case of the fledgling Manila Wrestling Federation (MWF), it has taken great pains to be relevant and specific to a Filipino audience.

“I think what sets us apart from not just the WWE but from a lot of independent promotions all across the world is that we look at the Philippines as a whole and we like to take what is topical, what is current about Philippine society,” says MWF senior analyst Tarek El Tayech. “It’s what you really see in the streets, what everybody sees there. Any of these people could be inserted into a Manila Wrestling Federation ring and they all have stories to tell. So it’s incredible how we’re able to sit down and look at everything that’s going around the zeitgeist of the Philippines right now.”

“The dream for Manila Wrestling Federation, for me, the way I interpret it is the dream is to create national awareness, that there is wrestling in the Philippines,” adds MWF co-founder Mr. Luchs. “Not the stigma that it’s for kids. Yes, it’s a bit cartoony, as you can see, but I want them to see that what we’re doing as a form of entertainment can tell stories. Just like movies, TV shows, you know, that make people want to do it themselves.”

MWF is doing a lot of things right: rich characterization, pertinent storylines (rich vs. poor, Philippines vs. China, Ateneo vs. La Salle), real training, working with experienced groups from Hong Kong, Malaysia and other countries. But there are still challenges.

“They treat me equally, pretty much,” says artist and female wrestler Luchadonna. “So I don’t mind wrestling other guys, but as much as possible, I’d like to wrestle other women, other women wrestlers.”

Luckily, MWF is spearheaded by innovative, creative, artistic people from diverse backgrounds united by a love of the spectacle of wrestling. Its creative director is composer and musician William Elvin Manzano, who is now based in Hong Kong. Many of those involved went through UP’s theater group.

“Sir Tony Mabesa was kind enough to lend his talents to us and perform in one of our opening billboard segments. And that particular segment actually won an award over in Hong Kong called The Fighting Spirit,” reveals El Tayech. “Our ring announcer Sig Pecho and our poster designer Manuel Mesina III are from Dulaang UP. All of these artistic juices, all of these people with such tremendous artistic vision generosity, we’ve been able to form these relationships with all these people, me particularly, just working in theater and film and TV and in the industry that we are in.”

The growing attention MWF is getting also serves as a platform for its hard-working wrestlers to live out their own dreams.

“I’ll take my shot, okay? I want to be an actor, I want to be in front of the camera,” says student-athlete Khayl Sison. “Cause I’m pretty good-looking, right? But wrestling for now. But down the line, I want to be like Alden Richards, Daniel Padilla, like that, don’t you think?”

The public has already accepted the Manila Wrestling Federation and the universe it has created. They’re in on the stories, insiders on the jokes, part of the fun. They know it’s entertainment. And they love it.

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