Smacking down the myth about local professional wrestling industry — Maszlee Malik

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OCT 15 — “What in this blue world is he talking about???”

“Not enough controversy heh?”

“Wrestling and education? How leh?”

“Who cares about wrestling? Fake and Violence some more!!!”

Those were amongst the remarks I read on the comments section in most of the news portal reporting my speech in the parliament to the minister of Communication and Multimedia, Tan Sri Annuar Musa suggesting RTM to air Malaysian own professional wrestling matches series on October 11, 2021.

Nor ‘Phoenix’ Diana with her Wrestlecon Championship belt. — Picture by Mukhriz Hazim
Nor ‘Phoenix’ Diana with her Wrestlecon Championship belt. — Picture by Mukhriz Hazim

The reality is, majority of Malaysians, even professional wrestling fans in this country, are still unaware that our country have our own pro wrestling heroes of its own. Two of the most known, are Nor “Phoenix” Diana, a 21-year old petite young lady who is billed as the “World’s First Hijab-Wearing Pro Wrestler”, as well as the honorary nominee in the Sports and Entertainment category for the Forbes 30 Under 30 Inspirational list. Next up, we have the founder, creator and pioneer of professional wrestling in Malaysia himself – Ayez Shaukat Fonseka Farid, who is known with his stage name of Shaukat – who had been touted by two times WWE Hall of Famer Booker T, as the future of the pro wrestling industry, and someone who is capable of making it big.

But when we mention that we have our own professional wrestling promotion like APAC Wrestling, as well as our own pro wrestling superstars, Malaysians would often brush aside and make fun of this growing industry.

In fact, professional wrestling in Malaysia had often been ridiculed and laughed at for being a “fake sport”. Newsflash: It is the year 2021, and everybody in this world knows that professional wrestling is Sports Entertainment, which is essentially a form of performance arts that combines elements of simulated combat, athleticism, stunts and acrobatic maneuvers along with showmanship, charisma and live performance.

Despite being Sports Entertainment, pro wrestlers deserve the respect for mixing strength, endurance, athleticism, together with showmanship, confidence and charisma. Which other sports combine all of these aspects?

Professional wrestling in Malaysia had its humble beginning in 2014, when it was founded by Ayez Shaukat Fonseka, who according to many interviews wanted to pursue his dream of becoming a professional wrestler. Ayez graduated with a diploma in Medical Lab Technology with a CGPA of 3.82. Interestingly, instead of pursuing a degree in the medical field, Ayez decided to pursue his childhood dream of becoming a professional wrestler. We have to admire dream chasers of our own like him.

Before 2014, anyone who wanted to become a pro wrestler, like Ayez, would often get ridiculed and laughed at for having an outlandish dream – but now in 2021, the idea does not seem too distant and impossible now.

Fast forward to 2020, the nation was shaken when Nor “Phoenix” Diana, a student of Ayez since 2016, made headlines when she was the honorary nominee in the Forbes Asia 30 Under 30 list for the Sports and Entertainment category. She is known worldwide as an inspiring women empowerment figure, for breaking boundaries and not sticking to the norm. Even many WWE wrestlers know her, or at least have heard about her.

In 2021, in an interview with a private TV station, WWE Superstar Booker T tipped Shaukat for having a future with the WWE, and being successful in the pro wrestling industry, calling him “such an artist, as far as his mind goes, as far as the business goes”. Today, Shaukat had trained over 50 students in Malaysia, preparing them for the bigger stage.

Ayez recently opened up APAC Wrestling, in hopes to give a bigger platform to his students – and give them an opportunity to make a career out of professional wrestling in Malaysia. Other efforts to help grow the industry, APAC Wrestling co-produced its first feature film titled “Gila Gusti” to try and bring local pro wrestling to the mainstream mass audience in Malaysia.

“But it is ‘fake’ sports! Why should we support professional wrestling, when there are other sports out there that requires attention too!” – this is one of the biggest cries Malaysians would utter every time a government official tries to highlight Professional Wrestling.

That aside, as aforementioned earlier, professional wrestling is sports entertainment. The WWE itself is viewed over 900 million television households each week, and they are a multi-billion-dollar industry. To have our own Malaysian on such platform would be such a feat, and would make our country proud. Remember that proud feeling you felt at the end of Train to Busan 2 when you saw the Malaysian actress, wearing the Malaysian flag on her UN uniform? Remember how happy you feel every time a Hollywood production mentioned Malaysia in its dialogue? This is the same case. Our talents here in Malaysia are talented enough to be on these platforms – we can have our own Malaysian heroes on international TV screens. They have such bright futures and the closest opportunities compared to the rest, and this is the very reason why we should support them and push them to succeed.

These individuals are making Malaysia proud when they are known world-wide, and should be as famous and well-paid as our industry celebrities and actors. At least they are bringing the name of our country outside. The government may also assist in promoting professional wrestling in Malaysia, just as how professional wrestling is one of the biggest form of mainstream entertainment in the USA, Mexico and Japan – making them million dollar industries.

You would be happy if Zul Ariffin were cast in a Marvel movie – it is the same as watching Shaukat and Phoenix, and others too, on a bigger platform like the WWE. At the end of the day, these passionate individuals have such a big chance in turning it into a reality. Maybe then our Malaysians who watch WWE can be proud to see our own born and bred Malaysians on WWE TV, rather than feeling secondhand proud watching our neighboring wrestler comes out on NXT.

* This is the personal opinion of the writer and does not necessarily represent the views of Malay Mail.

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