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Pro-wrestling: Performance and Artistry - A Conversation with Greg Glorious, Grapple MAX

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PRO-WRESTLING: PERFORMANCE AND ARTISTRY
- A Conversation with Greg Glorious, Grapple MAX

By Carolyn Oei, 10 May 2018


Cover photo: Marc Nair

Photo: Marc Nair - Causeway Jam, 16 March 2018, Grapple MAX dojo

If you’ve never watched a pro-wrestling match ‘live’, it’s probably because you watched a few WWF (not the panda) bouts on TV and decided, “Nah.”

Or not.

By no means the land of The Rock or The Undertaker, Singapore has still managed to squeeze in on the pro-wrestling action thanks to groups like Singapore Pro Wrestling and now Grapple MAX, co-founded by Greg Glorious and Dennis “The Ladykiller” H.

We experienced our first ‘live’ Grapple MAX collaboration showcase at the Sing Lit Body Slam on 6 October 2017. We wouldn’t ordinarily voluntarily watch a ‘live’ bout but this event threw spoken word poetry into the mix. We couldn’t resist. Much to our satisfaction, it was complete and utter genius.

And like tattoos, we couldn’t stop at one and found ourselves ring-side, or rather mat-side because this dojo doesn’t do rings or ropes or boundaries, at their Causeway Jam event on 16 March. It was a classic Malaysia-Singapore bust-up with the wrestlers hamming things up, much to the audience’s delight.

Photo: Marc Nair - Causeway Jam, 16 March 2018, Grapple MAX dojo. Two things: the wrestler holding this up was Singaporean (he proceeded to tear it in half) and Malaysia really boleh judging by their 9 May elections results.

In our opinion, the Grapple MAX style of showcases and events are right up there with underground raves, indie music gigs and poetry readings in terms of entertainment and soul value. Many Singaporeans whine about not having enough “fun” things to do in the city. If they took their noses out from their own Instagram pages and stepped out of the bingsu and hotpot restaurants for a bit, they’d be amazed at what they’d find.

One of the things they would find is that there is definitely much more to pro-wrestling than foldable chairs flying through the air and sweaty underpants. It’s like witnessing a renaissance; carefully crafted narratives are woven into movements that are feats of athleticism by any measure.

We had a quick chat with Grapple MAX’s Greg Glorious to find out a bit more about this clever person’s sport.

Mackerel: How is wrestling an art form to you?

Greg Glorious: I always refer to pro wrestling as improvised physical theatre. Just like theatre, our performances are intended to convey a narrative to an audience, except in our case we tell that story through a fusion of acrobatics, simulated combat, showmanship and spandex. Where it gets really fun is how within the story, pro wrestling’s improvised nature allows for creativity and input for self-expression. At Grapple MAX, we encourage our performers to inhabit characters that reflect their real-life personalities, but turned up to 11 (on a scale of one to 10).

Just like any other art form, pro wrestling can be presented in myriad ways. As a performance, not a competitive sport, we have the benefit of setting the rules. The Grapple MAX “No Ring, No Ropes, No Boundaries” fully embraces that.

Every two months since April 2017, we convert our training facility (by day a circuit training gym) into a mini arena housing up to 90 spectators per performance. We’ve transformed Lepark at People’s Park Complex into a “Fight Club” and taken over the SMU Amphitheatre at the Singapore Night Festival 2017.

We also collaborated with literary organisation, Sing Lit Station, on a sold-out NAC-supported event, combining live poetry recital with pro wrestling performance for the very first time.

Regardless of the medium, the end product of a wrestling show can be a comedy, tragedy, action movie, and usually a combination of all three, all designed to elicit an emotional, vocal response from a live audience.

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“I want our performances here to attain a consistent level of quality that raises the perception of pro-wrestling in Singapore as a reliably entertaining art form, akin to a night out at the movies or watching a ‘live’ band over drinks.”

Photo: Marc Nair - Causeway Jam, 16 March 2018, Grapple MAX dojo

Mackerel: What drives or motivates your curation of shows or bouts? 

Greg Glorious: Through our shows, Grapple MAX has 2 immediate goals – increase the pool of performers in Singapore and increase the demand for such performances here.

From my experience, everyone’s first pro-wrestling performance can be incredibly nerve-wracking! What we do is create a welcoming environment that gradually eases newbies into what we do; sort of a “My First Pro Wrestling Match Experience”.

One thing that drives me is watching the thrill these first-timers get out of performing in front of a relatively small but encouraging audience at our dojo shows. In fact, at almost every show to date, we’ve debuted a new performer who turned out to be the evening’s surprise breakout star!

To achieve that goal, our students undergo a combination of carefully structured, progressively challenging training, frequent performance opportunities, and exposure to experienced full-time pro-wrestlers from other countries. To date, we’ve hosted guests from as far as Japan and Chile, and are working hard this year on building partnerships with these overseas pro-wrestling companies. In fact, our Head Advisor, Dick Togo, is one of the most accomplished pro-wrestlers in Japan, with over 25 years of experience.

On that note, we’re always challenging ourselves to take on new cross-disciplinary collaborations as well. At the Sing Lit Station collaboration (Body Slam), we were pleasantly surprised to see an audience of whom probably over 75% had never attended a pro-wrestling show before, but were getting vocally involved in (show-style) chants by the end of the night! Some of these attendees even returned for our more traditional shows as well. We’ll be announcing another first-ever collaboration later this year, so do stay tuned to our social media! 

Photo: Marc Nair - Causeway Jam, 16 March 2018, Grapple MAX dojo. Dennis "The Ladykiller" H flooring his opponent in balletic style.

“One thing that surprises newcomers to our training is how much preparation they’ll have to go through before even learning their first wrestling move! As a performance, form is essential to the execution. As such, the first third of our average training session is focused on cardio, flexibility and body control – stretching and basic gymnastics.”

Mackerel: Grapple Max is essentially a fitness school that uses pro-wrestling as a key learning medium. What artistry do you impart to your members/students?

Greg Glorious: We see ourselves as a pro-wrestling experience provider, through which we teach confidence, stage presence and fitness. Once up and running, our students are trained to not only execute manoeuvres safely, but also to communicate their characters through body language, facial expressions, eye contact and voice. As pro-wrestlers, our sole KPI is to connect with every single spectator, telling them why they should be cheering you (as a good guy) or jeering you out of the room (as a bad guy).

I lived in Tokyo for several months to train in the pro-wrestling dojos there. When I was there, I learnt first-hand how pro-wrestling requires discipline and a respect for the craft. In my first week there I had my own “wax on, wax off” experience. I was only permitted to do one move – a “basic” front tumble – over and over again until I had honed it to a satisfactory level for my sensei to allow me to move on!

With that experience, I helped to develop the Grapple MAX syllabus and training style which has created a culture that educates newcomers that they won’t be throwing piledrivers and suplexes* off the bat – they’ll have to learn to do the basics consistently and safely first! (*Editor’s note: We had to look up the word, “suplex”. It’s an offensive move that we see all the time in bouts and it looks painful.)

In addition, although we’re in the business of performing physical conflict, the performers must first learn to trust one another and work together to ensure one another’s safety.

At Grapple MAX, we’ve built a community where the students motivate and encourage one another to excel. Even at our closed-door grading sessions, a large number of our trainees show up, just to support and cheer on the few being graded. Ultimately, pro-wrestling’s very much a team game and we let that mentality dictate most of our customer experience decisions.

Photo: Marc Nair - Causeway Jam, 16 March 2018, Grapple MAX dojo. "We wrestle without a traditional wrestling ring or ropes. This creates an immersive, intimate environment that puts the audience mere feet from the action."

Mackerel: What is the state of wrestling in Singapore?

Greg Glorious: Pro wrestling is Singapore’s still at an early stage of development and definitely not at the level of market penetration I’d personally like it to be at. Like most cosmopolitan cities, Singapore has a latent pro-wrestling fanbase. Most are aware of the WWE and the bigger Japanese / UK players and there’s a slow but growing demand for more pro-wrestling content here, ‘live’ or otherwise.

Grapple MAX’s goal is to reach beyond this existing fanbase and bring in new audiences through a high frequency of bite-sized shows. Since our first show in April 2017, we’ve put on nine events, most of which sold to capacity. Our gig at the Singapore Night Festival (in 2017) saw over 1,000 fans turn up over two days, which was very encouraging!

Of course, for us to maintain frequent performances, we also need to grow interest from budding performers. One of the biggest hurdles is addressing the common misconceptions about pro-wrestling training – that it’s painful, there’s going to be blood, it’s only for “muscleheads”… the list goes on.

To address that, we’ve positioned pro-wrestling as a lifestyle recreation activity, open to people from all walks of life, pro-wrestling fan or otherwise. Our training values safety above all else, and “fighting through the pain” is strictly a no-no. Since launching in November 2016, we’ve grown our student base to almost 50, coming from a wide variety of backgrounds – from entrepreneurs to doctors to actors, and range in age from 17 to 40+.

Photos: Marc Nair - Causeway Jam, 16 March 2018, Grapple MAX dojo

Mackerel: Is it wrestling for the masses that you're after? Why?

Greg Glorious: Pro-wrestling for the masses is the means to an end. Though we currently have plenty of talented performers here and in the region, living the life of a pro-wrestler can’t be financially sustainable without sufficient demand. 

When I lived in Tokyo, wrestling there was truly ubiquitous – there were wrestling shows in shophouses, food festivals, wedding parties, you name it! I see the potential for pro-wrestling here to reach those levels, especially given how much demand there is for unique new entertainment. But we’re not going to get there without daring to rock the boat and reach out to new markets.

The goal is to develop a culture of pro-wrestling in Singapore such that it’s recognised as a mainstream form of entertainment. If you can have stand-up comedy, rock bands, dance performances in a bar or a theatre, why not pro-wrestling?

"Wrestling, as in the sport practised at the Olympics and other sporting events, is a competitive sport. Pro-wrestling however, is a performance, where our KPI is entertaining the spectators. Having said that, there are pro wrestlers with backgrounds in wrestling – these guys often incorporate elements of their experience into their performance. Incidentally one of WWE’s top performers in the early 2000s was a former Olympic gold medallist!"

Mackerel: Wrestling themed parties? Please elaborate! 

Greg Glorious: We’re pretty proud of this one. To date, we’ve conducted a handful of private parties, for both bachelor nights and birthdays. Typically, the request takes the form of “we want to make XX look like The Rock, can you do that?” And crowd-pleasers that Dennis and I are, what the market wants, we aspire to give.

What we usually do is evaluate the fitness level of the participants, then brainstorm with the client to determine what we can do within the time allocated. After an hour or so of training, we put the participants through several rehearsals before getting the final take on video. We’ll edit the video in-house (Instagram-sized of course) and send it over to you, and there’s your #YOLO souvenir right there.

This is also the one time that alcohol in the dojo is strongly encouraged!

We’ve also received requests for corporate team-building training, which we’ll be launching later this year. Tying this back to your earlier question, we strongly believe that efforts such as these help to accelerate the push of pro-wrestling into the mainstream.

Ultimately, we want to be remembered as the pro-wrestling company that dares to try.

Photo: Marc Nair - Causeway Jam, 16 March 2018, Grapple MAX dojo. Singapore's GST hold on to their title.

** There’s still time to get your tickets for Grapple MAX’s “Fight Club II: CBD Edition” event tomorrow (Friday 11 May 2018). Use this promo code – gpmaxmackerel – for a special 10% Mackerel discount on advance sales.