Singapore's pro wrestling shows pull in crowds

The Statement (Andruew Tang), 26, leaps into the air and finishes off Arsenal Affi (Muhammad Affi Aidat Othman), 25, at the main event of the recent SPW show, Prove 5. Storylines often pit a good guy against a bad one.
The Statement (Andruew Tang), 26, leaps into the air and finishes off Arsenal Affi (Muhammad Affi Aidat Othman), 25, at the main event of the recent SPW show, Prove 5. Storylines often pit a good guy against a bad one.
Dr Gore (Caleb Tan in blue doctor's scrubs) tackles opponent Mister Consistency (who wants to be known only by his initials,MK), 25, in a dramatic fashion with both displaying exaggerated expressions of pain, much to the delight of the audience.
Dr Gore (Caleb Tan in blue doctor's scrubs) tackles opponent Mister Consistency (who wants to be known only by his initials,MK), 25, in a dramatic fashion with both displaying exaggerated expressions of pain, much to the delight of the audience.
At the end of Prove 5, The Statement (Andruew Tang) is declared the new South-east Asian Championship winner and is presented with the title belt (right) while he holds his Hong Kong Championship belt (left) which he won last year.
At the end of Prove 5, The Statement (Andruew Tang) is declared the new South-east Asian Championship winner and is presented with the title belt (right) while he holds his Hong Kong Championship belt (left) which he won last year.
Greg Glorious (Greg Ho), 32, throws The Ladykiller (Dennis Hui) off the top rope. Pro wrestling matches are carefully choreographed and the results are pre-determined.
Greg Glorious (Greg Ho), 32, throws The Ladykiller (Dennis Hui) off the top rope. Pro wrestling matches are carefully choreographed and the results are pre-determined.
The Ladykiller (Dennis Hui, centre), 29, makes a big display of machismo before executing a move during a tag team match in Prove 5. Theatrics form a large part of pro wrestling entertainment.
The Ladykiller (Dennis Hui, centre), 29, makes a big display of machismo before executing a move during a tag team match in Prove 5. Theatrics form a large part of pro wrestling entertainment.
A week before the Singapore Pro Wrestling (SPW) show, Prove 5, Caleb Tan (left), practises with SPW co-founder Andruew Tang on Oct 17. SPW has a school which trains its wrestlers, and prepares them mentally and psychologically.
A week before the Singapore Pro Wrestling (SPW) show, Prove 5, Caleb Tan (left), practises with SPW co-founder Andruew Tang on Oct 17. SPW has a school which trains its wrestlers, and prepares them mentally and psychologically.
Sergeant Nick (Nicholas Lee), 23, riles up the crowd after grounding Australian wrestlers Renegade (Toby Kiddle, in black shirt), 21, and Lynx Lewis Jr (Sam Bradley, right), 22, during the SPW show, Prove 5, last Friday.
Sergeant Nick (Nicholas Lee), 23, riles up the crowd after grounding Australian wrestlers Renegade (Toby Kiddle, in black shirt), 21, and Lynx Lewis Jr (Sam Bradley, right), 22, during the SPW show, Prove 5, last Friday.
A member of the audience reacts to the action in the ring, while others have fun wearing lucha libre (free wrestling, in Spanish) masks while they watch the show. Currently, SPW draws an average of 400 people per show.
A member of the audience reacts to the action in the ring, while others have fun wearing lucha libre (free wrestling, in Spanish) masks while they watch the show. Currently, SPW draws an average of 400 people per show.
Caleb Tan (right) chats with Danielle Faith Chao, 29, who is dressed as a corpse bride, while Mohamad Taufik Ali, 23, acting as Shrek, stands in the background. Pro-wrestling involves theatrical skill as the shows often have a storyline.
Caleb Tan (right) chats with Danielle Faith Chao, 29, who is dressed as a corpse bride, while Mohamad Taufik Ali, 23, acting as Shrek, stands in the background. Pro-wrestling involves theatrical skill as the shows often have a storyline.

Sports entertainment pioneers see attendance rise from 60 to average of 400

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."

AN EVOLVING IDENTITY

I was initially self-conscious about my physical look and the character's outfit allowed me to cover my body. 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.

MR CALEB TAN, on the essence of his character, Dr Gore

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.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on October 29, 2015, with the headline 'Singapore's pro wrestling shows pull in crowds'. Print Edition | Subscribe