In the last handful of years, the formerly rigid and unbroken barriers of professional wrestling have opened up to reveal new markets, new regions and most importantly, new wrestlers. Starting with the United Kingdom’s breakout earlier in the decade, we’ve seen Australia/New Zealand (PWA, Underworld, etc.) and now China (OWE) join the fray as not only as regions with untapped talent development but actual sustainable companies in previously underutilized and underserved areas.
If Greg Ho—owner of pro wrestling training school Grapple MAX—has anything to say about it, Singapore will be next.
“Pro wrestling in Singapore still has a long way to go to reach maturity,” said Ho. “But my dream is that someday in the near future we’d be able to establish a unique Singaporean style of pro wrestling too.”
In September 2015, Ho quit his full-time corporate job and pursued wrestling training. The first thought for Ho was to find a way into a Japanese school but that was easier said than done. Luckily, one of the legends of Japanese pro wrestling had set up shop close by.
“I discovered that Dick Togo had set up a school in Vietnam (New Vietnam Pro Wrestling),” said Ho. “I reached out to Togo on Facebook and several discussions later I was off to the beachside town of Da Nang.”
What Ho encountered in Singapore was a full immersion into Japanese-style professional wrestling training drills, sometimes up to six hours per day, six days a week.
“I began to realize that there was a massive gap in Singapore for professional coaching standards,” said Ho of Togo’s intense training. “And I wanted to find a way to bring this level of training to Singapore.”
Ho learned much from Togo in just four weeks and wondered what other talents could emerge with similar training techniques. When Ho returned to Singapore he met his eventual Grapple MAX co-founder, Dennis “The Ladykiller” Hui.
Ho and Hui set out to create not only a pro wrestling training school but a pro wrestling culture in Singapore.
A challenge that wouldn’t come easy.
“Singapore is a really small country and nearest lifestyle activity is less than half an hour away,” said Ho. “Attention spans are short-lived and gravitate towards the latest trend, so your product needs to really stand out to survive here!”
Soon, Ho and Hui were able to establish a solid enough school and the students started coming in slowly but surely. A few months into the school’s opening, Ho called upon an old friend—Dick Togo—to lend his expertise. Togo became the school’s exclusive Head Advisor.
“Together we would go on to establish a fixed, progressive syllabus and a grading system,” said Ho. “And with only $15,000 we formally opened Grapple MAX in November 2016.”
Now the question many have when a new or undiscovered region of the world starts producing pro wrestling talent: where do the wrestlers come from? Are these lifelong fans? Other sports stars that eventually find their way into the school? Basically, who are these guys and where did they come from?
Grapple MAX, of course, is no exception to that question.
Ho says typical Grapple MAX members range in age from 16 all the way to 40 and come from a variety of backgrounds including entrepreneurs and performers to students and corporate folk.
“Naturally, our initial clientele comprised people with an existing strong interest in pro wrestling,” said Ho. “In recent months, though, we’ve seen an influx of athletes with backgrounds in gymnastics, MMA and Muay Thai,” said Ho.
Grapple MAX sounds like your typical pro wrestling school at this point, right? Well… it’s not. Here’s a clip from a recent match at the company’s Showcase 9 show:
Notice anything missing? A ring? Ropes? Good eye. Grapple MAX describes itself as “No Ring, No Ropes, No Boundaries” and Ho believes it helps enhance not only their training but their product.
“I love wrestling in a traditional wrestling ring as much as any other wrestler but our ring-less performances bring an entirely different dynamic,” said Ho.
Attendees, as you see from the video above, are as close to the action as you can be, some with feet even on the mat.
“The spectators being so close makes the performers more relatable,” said Ho. “It reduces the barriers for our spectators to take that first step into maybe eventually joining in on our pro wrestling training.”
Whatever you may think of Hui, Ho and Togo’s methods, it’s undoubtedly working. Grapple MAX officially launched in November 2016 running two classes per week with four-to-six attendees per session. Today, the school is running 10 sessions per week with each class seeing up to 15 attendees. Overall, over 40 members train regularly at the school.
The Showcase shows have grown successful as well with most selling to capacity. In November 2018, Grapple MAX became the first promotion from Singapore to run a show and training tour in Japan.
Grapple MAX goes to Tokyo!!!Shin-Kiba 1st Ring26 Nov 2018 (Mon)It's been an incredible 2-year struggle for survival….
The tour was a collaboration with Michinoku Pro, DDT and Gatoh Move and the reception was so positive that Ho and Grapple MAX are planning a follow-up in 2019. The company even got the attention of the King of Strong Style Shinsuke Nakamura who stopped by the school back in May.
Ho and Grapple MAX are not only trying to grow in the pro wrestling universe but also become more a part of Singapore’s entertainment offerings. Starting in 2017, the company has been a mainstay at the annual Singapore Night Festival including an arcade-inspired pro wrestling show where the audience controlled the action in real-time.
The work is paying off big time for Grapple MAX. The Hong Kong-based Fighting Spirit Awards awarded the company a Promotion of the Year award and that was followed shortly thereafter by another Promotion of the Year award from Singaporean-based SHP Awards.
Besides our regular pro wrestling shows, one of our strengths is challenging ourselves to present pro wrestling in brand new ways. Since 2017, we’ve become a mainstay at the annual Singapore Night Festival – last year we ran an arcade-inspired performance where the audience could control the action in real-time – and also collaborated with a literary collective on a live poetry-pro wrestling mashup.
“It’s great to know that our 2-year-old company has been making strides in the right direction,” said Ho.
For more information about Grapple MAX, visit their website grapplemax.sg and follow them on Facebook, Twitter, YouTube and Instagram. Grapple MAX’s upcoming event Showcase 10 takes place July 27 and will feature DDT talent Masa Takahashi. For details on Showcase 10, visit their event page.