By Joseph L. Garcia, Reporter
The smell of sweat and the collective breath of about a hundred or so cheering fans seemed to waft from my screen as I watched YouTube clips of Philippine Wrestling Revolution’s Wrevolution X, held last April in Pasig. Wrestler Jake de Leon, also called The Señorito, in a shirt that said “Bacolod Bred” and a black robe, went up to the ring against Billy Suede, with long flowing locks and a leather jacket. Mr. De Leon grappled with Suede, winning the match while the crowd chanted “JDL! JDL!”
Amid the noise and the physical violence of the show, what remained in the air was the testosterone and adrenaline fermenting over the years in the dreams stored in the hearts and minds of young boys who turned into men. These boys saw guys like Kane, The Undertaker, Stone Cold Steve Austin on WWE (World Wrestling Entertainment), and made them into gods. Now here, in the small rings in Makati and Pasig, they turn into gods themselves.
Fair and slightly slim Eco Matutina, a designer of social media content for various brands, wouldn’t strike one as a guy who gets beaten up for a living. Once a month, during Philippine Wrestling Revolution (PWR) shows, he turns into Evan Carleaux, a wrestler in tights. As in acting, every professional wrestler takes on a different persona in the ring, combining combat and sport with elements of the stage. “It’s me! He’s basically me times a hundred,” said Mr. Matutina during a phone interview with BusinessWorld. “Evan Carleaux is basically a snotty, arrogant version of myself.”
Mr. De Leon, meanwhile, is really Mark Javellana, who also works in social media. Mr. Javellana describes his alter-ego, JDL, as a haciendero from Bacolod, and, according to him, serves as “the face” of PWR. It should make sense, as the 25-year-old currently sits as president of the organization. Mr. Matutina describes his character as his naughtier side amplified, and it’s basically the same for Mr. Javellana, except De Leon represents his good side. “Technically, I am the son of a haciendero,” he said. Perhaps with a touch of noblesse oblige in mind as he crafted his character, Mr. Javellana describes his wrestling persona as, “He goes into every match with respect, loves wrestling, loves the fans, and always thanks the fans.”
Ring personas are crafted in their bootcamp, located in Bicutan. The bootcamp began in 2014, though PWR as a loose organization has existed since 2012. According to Mr. Javellana, the wrestling impresario company began as a Facebook group of wrestling fans who would post about fantasy matches and started crafting their own personas on their computer screens.
“It just started out with just a group of guys in the same group who wanted to train. Our trainer was actually pretty much just a guy like us.” Except this guy, now a wrestler in the PWR roster called Bombay Suarez, had a stash of professional wrestling DVDs. Moreover, according to Mr. Javellana, Bombay Suarez had already put up wrestling shows on his own: albeit they were set up in his lawn, for a couple of friends. “Out of everyone, he had the most experience, technically,” said Mr. Javellana.
Thanks to Suarez’s connections, the guys were able to use a gym within the AFP compound as the initial bootcamp, where the guys trained for three to four months. “Pretty much trying to learn as much wrestling as we can.”
After the four months of training, the guys were able to set up a show later that year — for friends and family numbering about 12. “That test show was actually our foot, to feel what it is to be a wrestler,” said Mr. Javellana. In that same year, they put up their first real show, PWR Renaissance, and since then, the audiences in the shows have increased (about 300 to 500, according to Mr. Javellana’s count).
In calling something a renaissance, it implies that something great has come before. Mr. Javellana said that in the 1980s, a show called Pinoy Wrestling was on the air on PTV-4, the program shored up by businessman Ramon “RJ” Jacinto. The show was eventually killed off in the 1990s. Calling its first show “Renaissance” was a way of paying tribute to this first attempt at Philippine pro wrestling.
While there have been attempts to get PWR in the mainstream, the most the guys have been able to do was to get spots on news segments on TV networks, as well as a show on the sports web site of a TV network. “[What] we need is, really, a sponsor. It’s kind of hard to sell wrestling. It’s a really new concept in the Philippines,” said Mr. Javellana. “Our main issue is to show these sponsors, these brands, that wrestling can go mainstream… we take it as motivation to keep getting better. I can really say that each and every show we have, we do keep getting better.”
In any case, representative from the WWE swung by a PWR show earlier this year to scout for new talent, and, most importantly, enjoyed the show.
“From what I am seeing right now, a lot of our guys are also really happy here. That’s why [we] keep working hard[er] to try to make this as lucrative as we can,” said Mr. Javellana.
Since opening the bootcamp in 2014, the training has been streamlined. Mr. Matutina said that during the first part of the day, the wrestlers undergo conditioning exercises and drills, with a focus on cardio and body weight training. After lunch, they train in more tactical moves such as holds and maneuvers, and the day ends with a few practice matches.
One enters the bootcamp when they make an announcement on the Philippine Wrestling Revolution Page for vacancies, and one can submit an application. The initial process takes three days, where a potential wrestler can pitch an alter-ego, after which they go into training. While one thinks that this is like a reality show format where a panel plucks off “unworthy candidates” (like America’s Next Top Model, but with more sweat), it doesn’t really work that way.
“After the first three days of trying out, people feel like it’s not for them, or they quit because it was too hard,” said Mr. Javellana. Requirements, physical or otherwise, are surprisingly minimal. “What we’re looking for are people who really love wrestling, who are passionate about it, and not looking to get money out of it.” After all, surely there’s a better way to make money than getting kicked in the face for fun.
“Obviously, we’re just starting out, and there’s not a lot of money in wrestling in the Philippines.”
Otherwise, if you’re 18 and up, willing to sign a waiver, and have no serious medical conditions, you’re in. “There are a lot of guys who are kind of overweight in training,” noted Mr. Javellana. “They’re the guys who don’t want to quit, who really love wrestling.
“We train you to the point that we know you can go on that ring. If you can’t handle that, why are you here? We don’t make people do anything that they can’t.”
Like any physical activity, the organization knows better than to take care of physical concerns. During every match, paramedics and an ambulance are on standby, and the wrestlers are checked after every bout. “If you get injured on the show, we’ll have you kept safe,” Mr. Javellana assured. Mr. Javellana does not recall too many inshow injuries, save for a recent one, where a wrestler stomped on a guy, and his leg buckled, perhaps due to the strains of training, or a previous condition. Otherwise, nobody’s lost too much blood or teeth: a wrestler on the roster called Chris Panzer is still pretty enough to do commercials.
“That’s why we train, to make sure that we [do it] right. If you do it right, it’s going to hurt. If you do it wrong, it’s going to hurt more,” said Mr. Javellana.
“We just deal with pain,” said Mr. Matutina, and that after a whole day of wrestling, “Eventually, it becomes tolerable. It doesn’t bother you that much.”
Since this is pro wrestling, there’s also a focus on crafting your ring persona, with Mr. Javellana citing trainers for speaking and character. “We don’t focus on the character first, we just want them to get better in the ring. Once they progress, we give them the chance to explore what kind of character they want.”
Of course, the character has to be somewhat plausible: Mr. Javellana cited an instance where they had to talk a wrestler out of his character — he wanted to be a demon, but ended up looking like a cat, and decided to keep the character anyway. “Why do you want to be a demon-cat?”
Perhaps the Demon-Cat wrestler was fulfilling some childhood dream (or nightmare), for the men BusinessWorld interviewed both described wrestling as their childhood dream. Mr. Javellana still remembers his first brush with pro-wrestling: “When I was four years old, I was not allowed to watch wrestling,” he recalled. He would sneak out of his room to watch it on RPN-9 (at 9 p.m., he remembered clearly). “The first thing I saw was Stone Cold with a bloody face being stepped on by Kane, or The Undertaker. After that, all right, I’m hooked.” Mr. Matutina encountered wrestling at about the same time, and followed professional wrestling programs since.
Both described the feeling of being onstage, and how making a childhood dream come true changed them. Before shows, Mr. Matutina gets jittery, but then, “When I get out of the curtain, the feeling just goes away. Just like that. Once you step out from the curtain, you’re not you anymore.
“Before I joined wrestling, my confidence level wasn’t where it is right now. I had a hard time speaking — at least, in front of a crowd.”
As for Mr. Javellana, he said, “The best feeling in the world, really, in my opinion, is when you get out from that curtain, and then everyone cheers for you.
“For some reason, my mind is clear. Nothing else matters except wrestling in that moment in time. After that match, it’s euphoria.”