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🎙️How has China's pro wrestling scene changed, according to Adrian Gomez of Middle Kingdom Wresting | Following the yuan

🎙️How has China's pro wrestling scene changed, according to Adrian Gomez of Middle Kingdom Wresting | Following the yuan

Before Covid, WWE and UFC were key to push the envelope of MMA in China, now, independent promotion companies like Middle Kingdom Wrestling are left to pick up the momentum.

[You can also stream this episode on Spotify 🥊]

Every business sector has its pre-Covid and post-Covid story, and wrestling is no exception. However, the sport seems to be experiencing a more prolonged recovery period in China, especially at the mass audience level.

From the public’s perspective, there are two types of wrestling: one is wrestling as an Olympic sport, and the other is for entertainment purposes, such as events organized by the Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC) and Singapore-based ONE Championship. Today, we will be discussing the latter.

Tang Kai won the world champion at One Championship Featherweight match in Aug. 2022 as the first Chinese MMA fighter. Image: One Championship Weibo

Despite the booming fitness sector in China, wrestling remains a niche market with under-tapped business potential. In 2016, World Wrestling Entertainment (WWE) held an open tryout and recruited seven Chinese athletes, and the first UFC event in Shanghai in 2017 drew in 15,000 spectators. Unfortunately, Covid-19 disrupted the strong momentum that typically revolves around live events. (UFC and WWE merged in Sep. 2023.)

MMA fighter Zhang Weili is working closely with Italian luxury brand Prada, among other brands, these days. Image: Zhang’s Weibo

In late 2023, UFC announced to stage a major game in Shanghai on Dec. 9, only to cancel it around three weeks before the start date without disclosing specific reasons.

Other combat sports such as Taekwondo, and freestyle fighting already have a much bigger training population in China than MMA because of the latter’s technical difficulties, said Zhang Lei, a director at the National Sports Administration’s Wushu Sports Management Center last month. “MMA’s complex technical system involving kicking, striking, throwing, and ground fighting, requires exceptionally high levels of comprehensive skills and qualities from athletes,” he said.

“Certainly it is not mainstream,” said Adrian Gomez, the founder of China-based professional wrestling Middle Kingdom Wrestling since 2015, talking about the changes of the industry in China over the last decade. “However, we have come to some progress, where people see a maneuver or see a MKW match, they associate it with pro wrestling or WWE style, that is a huge progress.”

Adrian was inspired by the late TV personality Anthony Bourdain and came to China as an English teacher in 2010. After meeting a group of diehard fans on popular streaming sites like Youku and Tudou, he ventured into the wrestling business in 2015 with the assistance of a grassroots wrestler known as ‘the Slam.’

On Jan. 27th, MKW is set to hold “Bash at the Bay 3” in Shenzhen.

Wrestlers at China's Middle Kingdom WrestlingWrestlers at China's Middle Kingdom Wrestling
A few wrestlers in MKW's “Bash at the Bay 3” match on Jan. 27. Image: courtesy

Listen to our conversation that includes:

  • The story behind Middle Kingdom Wrestling

  • The reception and misconception of wrestling in China

  • Why did Chinese wrestlers incl. Zhang Weili and Li Jingliang become popular?

  • Who is the existing and potential audience?

  • Why are their needs to localize the sport?

  • Behind-the-scenes of MKW’s upcoming event in the Greater Bay Area

🤝 Connect with Adrian: MKW Website | LinkedIn

(Music: Leah Dou’s Monday; The regular weekly consumer news column will return on Thursday)


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Following the yuan
Following the yuan Podcast
One deep conversation about a fast-growing sector/trend in China every month