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    Tuesday, January 16, 2018

    #RespectProWrestling: Can Ralph Imabayashi Steal Chris Panzer's PWR Championship at Kingdom Come?

    Just how far is John Sebastian willing to go in his "cleansing" of PWR as its 50% part-owner and General Manager?

    This Sunday's PWR Live: Kingdom Come should provide tons of insight into what the Philippine wrestling landscape will be like under the self-professed "Wrestling Lord & Savior" who's fresh off dismantling Mr. Sy's reign over the company for the second time at last year's PWR Vendetta. And no match should be more insightful than the PWR Championship defense by Chris Panzer against a former PWR Champion—and more importantly, Team Sebastian supporter—Ralph Imabayashi.

    The outcome of this match is far from cut-and-dried. Panzer may be a two-time PWR Champion who's dispatched a murderer's row of top contenders throughout his career: Sebastian himself, Asia Wrestling Entertainment star Billy Suede, two-time champ "The Senyorito" Jake De Leon, and former PHX Champion Ken Warren, to name a few.

    But Imabayashi is as dangerous as they come. Not only is he the youngest Kampeon ng Pilipinas in history, he's felled quite a roster of top-tier stars as well, including former All Out War Champion The Apocalypse, JDL, and "Classical" Bryan Leo.

    This is too close to call, mga ka-smarkada.

    Both men know what it's like to pin the other one cleanly. Panzer, of course, eliminated Imabayashi at last year's Path of Gold, while the Fil-Japanese star was single-handedly responsible for knocking the champ out of Ubusan ng Lahi with a single Sonic Crusher.

    "Don't underestimate Ralph Imabayashi," demurs Chris Panzer. "He's smart and will do whatever it takes to get what he wants. The thing is, I know how to beat him. I've beaten him on some occasions, but they were never one-on-one."

    Panzer is right to be cautious; Imabayashi may be small in stature, but he's like a rabid pitbull who's out to rip out his opponent's throat in a heartbeat. There's a reason he calls himself "the best pure wrestler in PWR."

    "I am focused on nothing but beating Chris Panzer by any means necessary while he's more focused on pandering to his fan girls," barks Imabayashi. "And, you know, fan boys. His early elimination at Ubusan ng Lahi was no accident. I made it happen once, and I can make it happen again."

    When informed of this statement, Panzer remains unfazed. In fact, the reigning kingpin shows nothing but quiet confidence in clapping back against the challenger.

    "He may be loud with his opinions or act like a tough guy especially when he's with his partner," he chuckles. "But deep down, I know he's scared. He knows in a second I can knock him out and take the win. He might have some tricks up his sleeve, but I just might have some as well."

    Fighting words indeed.

    You can't blame Imabayashi for his seeming arrogance, however. It's been ages since he was a player in the PWR Championship scene, after failing in his attempt to claim the PHX Championship for himself. It's fair for the guy to feel overlooked—not just by management, but by the Revo-Nation in general.

    "In 2016, it was the management who tamed my passion in wrestling," he explains simply. "But that was okay because, at the time, I could still get it back. The final straw was the entire stretch from Path of Gold to Wrevolution X last year when the fans all turned their backs on me."

    No wonder his crusade to #RespectProWrestling means so much to him. He's coming from a place of loss, of being thrown by the wayside, of being the forgotten man from PWR's early history.

    "I no longer have any passion for pro wrestling," he rumbles, a steely gaze filling his eyes. "All that's left is respect. The discipline of continuing something I am the best at. You took away my passion? I'll take away everything you love about PWR and that includes all your favorites."

    From stealing fan favorites away, he has one goal in mind: to steal the biggest prize in local pro wrestling all for himself.

    "I already took Rederick and Jake De Leon from all of you. Now I'm gonna take the PWR title off Chris Panzer too."

    Panzer isn't just taking Imabayashi's assertions at face value though.

    "The fans didn't turn on Ralph; Ralph turned on the fans," he rebuts. "Yes, [Imabayashi may have] respect for pro wrestling, but without passion for Pro Wrestling and for the fans, you just took away the whole essence of wrestling. But no worries, at PWR Live: Kingdom Come, I'll be teaching Ralph a valuable lesson. And then I'll proceed to winning the match."

    But let's take a couple of steps back to address a larger narrative. Panzer has got to be feeling the pressure. He's twice cost Mr. Sy, PWR's firm but benevolent ringmaster, his job as General Manager. If there's anyone who can rightly be blamed for John Sebastian's impending reign of terror, it's him. Is the pressure getting to the champ?

    "Of course it does," sneers Imabayashi. "It's a blast to the past of the Chris Panzer who always chokes," he says, reviving memories of early PWR days when the Detroit native just couldn't seem to blast through the company's glass ceiling, falling short at multiple championship opportuities.

    It's impossible to discount the looming shadow of John Sebastian over this match. Surely PWR's new head honcho has got some sort of agenda in getting the strap off of Chris Panzer's waist—after all, it was against him that Sebastian's own reign came to a screeching halt last year.

    Imabayashi is quick to brush that off, however.

    "There was no abuse of power in play when I took Panzer out at Vendetta. It will be the same at PWR Live: Kingdom Come."

    Whatever the agenda is—and whether it even exists—is inconsequential to Panzer. The man is a fighter who's not about to cast blame on others for his own stumbles.

    "More than ever, I'm not the type of guy who will complain about getting cheated on by his opponent," he says earnestly. "That's life, there are jerks like Sebastian and Imabayashi. The pressure for me is wanting to be one step ahead of these guys. Me not seeing through their tactics just cost a man his job. I'm sure John Sebastian and his friends are brewing something up for Kingdom Come. But I'll be ready."

    Hang on to your seats, Revo-Nation. The bad blood between these two men is sure to come to a boil, and could quite possibly lead to an early contender for Filipino match of the year. In terms of proving their own personal worth, and in advancing the craft of Filipino pro wrestling in general, there's a lot at stake for both men.

    "It's always about being a better wrestler," says the gritty Panzer. "If I would give it my all, create that magic with my opponent while getting the crowd on the edge of their seat, then I've already won. I want the Philippine pro wrestling scene to have a bigger following, get recognized more here and abroad. Philippine pro wrestling is young, hungry, and has the potential to get out there and hang with the best."

    Imabayashi agrees, surprisingly.

    "I just want to do my best, whether I become champion or not," he confesses, in a rare moment of humility. "The most important thing right now is that the Philippine pro wrestling scene creates buzz and be known in the whole country. #RespectProWrestling comes from something personal. I want pro wrestling to be accepted here in the Philippines."

    Don't you dare take a bathroom break during this match, fans. Both men hint strongly at some spectacular new highlights to speckle their match.

    "I'm here to fight harder and fly higher," says Chris Panzer. "Sometimes I surprise even myself with the things I do, so just watch out!"

    And it looks like he's found exactly the right dance partner in Ralph Imabayashi for this classic-in-the-making. Both men will be out for blood, but they'll also be out for pride.

    "It wouldn't be pro wrestling if we didn't try something new all the time, right?" he asks. "Stay tuned. We're about to blow your minds this 2018. 2017 was just a preview of the things to come."

    Winner AND NEW PWR Champion: Ralph Imabayashi with a jumping Senketsu


    Who do you think is taking the PWR Championship home, mga ka-smarkada? Can Chris Panzer successfully overcome the deck stacked against him in John Sebastian's first show as PWR's new head honcho, or will Ralph Imabayashi finally earn the respect he believes in his heart he deserves?

    Let us know your thoughts in the comments, and we'll see you at the show!


    PWR Live: Kingdom Come is happening on Sunday, January 21, at the beautiful Power Mac Center Spotlight at Circuit Makati. Tickets sell for P400 and can be purchased at the gate, but early bird and barkada discounts can be secured if you message the Philippine Wrestling Revolution directly on their Facebook page.

    Disclosure: Smark Henry is independently run and managed by a group of Filipino wrestling fans and enthusiasts, but includes members affiliated with the Philippine Wrestling Revolution.

    Photography by "Ang Himala" Hub Pacheco.
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