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    Tuesday, October 17, 2017

    Why Kavita and Shadia Matter: WWE's Relationship With Asia and Women

    Editor's note: This op-ed on the signings of Kavita Devi and Shadia Bseiso was written by the elusive and slightly charismatic enigma known only as KP.

    On Monday morning (Philippine time), the WWE announced the official signing of Kavita Devi and Shadia Bseiso, the first Indian and Arab women to receive a WWE contract.

    Devi's signing is a no-brainer; though she was passed over in the opening round of the Mae Young Classic, her performance against Dakota Kai generated enough support for the fresh graduate of the Great Khali's wrestling school for the WWE to take notice.

    Those with a keen eye on signing news wouldn't be too shocked at Bseiso's new pass to Orlando either, as the WWE announced tryouts in Dubai—where Devi was also scouted—as early as May in addition to launching localized weekly TV shows for India and the Middle East.

    If neither sign-ups were surprising, why take notice of just another “first” that, for some, was long overdue?

    Asian (dollars) represent

    Chris Harrington of Indeed Wrestling, a pro wrestling analytics website, identified India, China, Mexico, Brazil, Turkey, Saudi Arabia, and the UAE as “key emerging markets” for the WWE in 2016.

    This sentiment holds true in 2017, as the WWE cited India in their Business Partner Summit in April as the “largest social region in the world” for the company and an emerging market along with the Middle East and Latin America.

    Unique weekly TV shows—WWE Sunday Dhamaal in Hindi with Sony Pictures Networks and WWE Wal3ooha in Arabic with OSN—that resemble Afterburn and Bottom Line, recapping RAW and SmackDown in a one-hour show format, kick-started expansion plans for both countries.

    In terms of merch, WWE-branded brick and mortar retail stores are planned across the Middle East and major cities in India through The Souled Store, which powers the company's online store.

    These figures may not necessarily reflect the effects of aforementioned ventures yet, but it does show why the WWE wants in on these countries so bad: $36.6 million of the company’s net revenue as of June 30 this year came from the region of Middle East, Europe, and Africa, while $15.5 million came from the Asia Pacific (APAC) region, making each the second and third highest-earning regions for WWE.

    While the Philippines isn't a substantial market for the WWE, and may pose similar difficulties compared to India in terms of monetizing its fan base due to unfavorable economics, it's one of the few Asian countries with enough of a pro wrestling fanbase to merit live shows in the past decade.

    It's also one of the few countries in Southeast Asia with an active local pro wrestling scene, a fact the WWE acknowledged when Philippine Wrestling Revolution was scouted for talent alongside with Singapore Pro Wrestling (SPW), Malaysia Pro Wrestling (MyPW), and Gatoh Move Pro Wrestling (Thailand) earlier this year.

    Having a wrestler of Indian descent—a woman, no less—triumph in the tryouts become one of the most buzzed about talent in the MYC and one of the few to earn a WWE contract could just be a strategy to encourage spending in India, but it could also mean tryouts a little closer to home.

    This isn't as farfetched as it sounds; WWE's corporate office in the APAC region is located in Singapore. And as said above, there are enough wrestling promotions in Southeast Asia, and the APAC region in general, for a tryout in our neck of the woods.

    In terms of having more merchandise and shows in the Philippines, the WWE gained profits from their live show last year as they managed to attract an estimated 11,500 fans to the Mall of Asia Arena even with ticket prices ranging from P1,500 to P15,000.

    Prohibitive shipping expenses probably contributes to the WWE's coffers by some amount as WWE's online store is the only secure way of obtaining licensed WWE merchandise, other than the odd specialty store with limited selections.

    It may take a while, but it's not inconceivable to dream of having a brick-and-mortar WWE store somewhere in the country in the future, ala-NBA Stores around Metro Manila, just to consolidate merch and earnings.

    It's kinda cool seeing someone of your color and gender on screen, my dudes

    Whether it's a dude from the hood pretending to be a sumo wrestler, or a Canadian of [insert minority here]-descent, Asian representation almost always meant East or West Asian men, rarely women, in various stages of parody and eventual, if not outright, villainy.

    If we look at the WWE from the Noughties to the New 10s alone, approximately 26 Asians or persons of Asian descent have passed through or remain their locker rooms: Funaki, Taka Michinoku, Tajiri, Batista, Akio/Jimmy Wang Yang, Keiji/Ryu/Ryan Sakoda, KENSO/Kenzo Suzuki, Ultimo Dragon, Gail Kim, Takeshi Morishima, The Great Khali, Yoshi Tatsu, Hideo Itami, Asuka, Shinsuke Nakamura, Tian Bing, Zeda, Xia Li, Big Boa, Jeet Rama, Leo Gao, Ming, Wang Xiaolong, Yifeng Yuxiang, TJ Perkins, and Kairi Sane.

    Wrestlers of Middle Eastern descent have it tougher, as brothers Ariya and Shaun Daivari, Sami Zayn, and Mustafa Ali are the only persons with Middle Eastern heritage to have nabbed a WWE contract from 2000 to 2017.

    And the only Middle Eastern representation in the WWE in the mid-'00s was Muhammad Hassan, played by Italian-American Mark Copani, whom Shaun valeted for until the PR disaster that was Hassan ordering masked men to beat the Undertaker on the same day as the London Underground bombings in 2005 happened.

    I wouldn't presume to talk about the Middle Eastern experience, but there have been countless of thinkpieces, and even interviews with wrestlers like Mustafa Ali, on the history of racism in the WWE and wrestling in general.

    What I will talk about is the fact that only five of the 26 Asian wrestlers the WWE employed in the past decade are women and only two are "from" a Southeast Asian country, i.e. Batista and TJP.

    It's always nice to see Pinoys and Asian women kick ass, win titles, and get featured prominently on screen. What would be cooler is seeing a Filipino woman dethrone a current champion and give people a what-for.

    I imagine it's the same for female Indian and Middle Eastern fans, whose only representation before 2013 were a seven-foot dude who can barely wrestle and an Italian-American posing as a generic Middle Eastern man.

    Perhaps I should've cut everything above and start—and end—the article with this: Kavita Devi and Shadia Bseiso's signings matter because more Asian female wrestling fans, old and new, will get to see more representation of themselves in the WWE.

    Let's face it: Gail Kim, Asuka, Kairi Sane, and the rest of the pack are phenomenal, but they also don't represent everything Asian. Neither do Devi nor Bseiso, but the fact that we can see more diverse representations of the largest continent in the world – starting with them – means a whole damn lot.

    Imagine what seeing an Indian and Jordanian woman can do for children fortunate enough to watch WWE in their respective countries, where misogyny is a daily struggle onlinein the streets, and in sports.

    Imagine taking a break from seeing women portrayed as inferior to men or reduced to negative stereotypes to fit an agenda, so one can watch women display their self-earned power in the context of the id-tastic power-fantasy that is professional wrestling.

    Now, think about how good it'll feel for Filipino female wrestling fans of all ages to see their own represented on screen.

    Is it too much to expect pro wrestling, known for wrestlers being booked in shows despite having records of spousal and sexual abuse and putting known murderers of female partners in Halls of Fame, to be a positive driver for female empowerment?

    It certainly has a long way to go, but independent promotions and the WWE itself have pushed for better treatment of its female wrestlers in the past few years. Flawed as they are at certain points, the Women's Evolution and the Mae Young Classic are proof that they are taking steps to make up for their borderline-illegal history with women.

    As for inspiring future wrestlers, relatively new talents such as Bayley and Sasha Banks have been on record saying that female and POC (person of color) wrestlers in the 2000's inspired them to lace up their boots, so it wouldn't be a stretch to say that there is a possibility for these new signees to one day inspire the next generation the same way.

    With Devi and Bseiso's signing, I humbly believe that we'll see a Filipina or Filipino-descended female wrestler—or at least more Asian women—in regular WWE programming soon.

    Photo from WWE
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    Item Reviewed: Why Kavita and Shadia Matter: WWE's Relationship With Asia and Women Rating: 5 Reviewed By: Smark Henry
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