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    Wednesday, July 18, 2018

    Way Of The Champion: Making Sense Of The PWR Championship Scene

    The second half of 2018 is here, and that means that after its Season Five kick-off with PWR Live: RE5PETO, Philippine Wrestling Revolution is kicking it into high gear to prove it deserves its self-anointed status as "the premier pro wrestling promotion in the country."

    The Revo-Nation is still reeling from the fall-out of RE5PETO, with reigning two-time PWR Champion Ralph Imabayashi escaping by the skin of his teeth against the up-and-coming Zayden Trudeau, while the first round of the PWR Championship #1 Contender Tournament left a formidable roster of semifinalists lined up to take on whoever is Kampeon ng Pilipinas after this Sunday's PWR Live: Way of the Champion.

    With a PWR Championship scene at its most chaotic in ages, it's time to throw some order into the game.

    Can Ralph Imabayashi Keep Things Professional Against Koto Hiro?

    You can't say Ralph Imabayashi has been anything less than clinically dominant throughout the first half of 2018. Since putting fellow two-time Kampeon ng Pilipinas Chris Panzer away at PWR Live: Kingdom Come to regain the gold, he's been impervious to competition so far. Just ask the all-star cast of wrestlers who have tried to take him down since then; in the past few months, he's retired Miguel Rosales, survived Trudeau, embarrassed Bombay Suarez, and flattened Chris Panzer, all with his cruel offensive repertoire of Senketsu piledrivers, Sonic Crushers, or deadly submissions. Throw in even more big names he's taken down in the past, and you know that the Fil-Japanese grappler is as legit as they come: The Apocalypse. "The Senyorito" Jake De Leon. John Sebastian. You don't get past wrestlers like those without packing some serious heat of your own.

    Some days, it seems like there's nobody in the company who can put a stop to his deadly reign. And perhaps that's why PWR is looking to the outside to find a new, worthy challenger to the Age of Imabayashi: the returning Koto Hiro, who was last seen in a PWR ring at PWR Live: Resbak and #UnFathersDay at Eastwood City.

    Koto Hiro may have been clunky and uneven in his two outings against SANDATA and Ken Warren back then, but he's been touring the globe in the past year, honing his craft across North America to grow into a truly world-class talent to build up a reputation as a major threat on any continent.

    But more than the wrestling credentials involved, this will also turn out to be a championship challenge with a huge personal stake lined up as well: in Koto Hiro's corner will be his real-life girlfriend, the newly-returned Nina, who also happens to be Ralph Imabayashi's former best friend—and someone who supposedly spurned his feelings for her.

    Imabayashi may be an absolute machine in the ring, but it's a huge question mark if he can keep his bloodlust in check against a man who has everything he has yet to claim for himself—an international reputation, a killer set of abs, and the hand of the girl he lusts for.

    If there was any question about how real the emotions behind this insta-feud are, then you need to check the realness in the in-ring promo both Nina and Imabayashi cut against each other at RE5PETO.

    Wow. So much tension.

    As the "Best Pure Wrestler in PWR," Imabayashi usually has a huge margin of error going into his matches; you won't see him beat himself, it's up to his opponent to beat him. But with this much emotion potentially clouding his judgement, can he stay as clinically-focused on his typical strategy against Koto Hiro?

    We don't know the answer for sure, but one thing we do know is that Koto Hiro will be absolutely locked in against Imabayashi. We hear he's been training at full blast the past month for this impending clash, not to mention studying endless reels of Imabayashi matches to craft the perfect gameplan. His soaring dives and crazy springboard moves make him unpredictable and hard to catch. Ralph will have to have his head on a swivel to keep up. If there's anything that worries us about Koto Hiro, it's that we don't know what sort of effect jet lag is going to have on him. He's not actually flying in to Manila until Friday night, and will have less than 48 hours to get his body clock attuned to our time zone. And there's no ignoring that he's lost nearly 70% of his matches around the world.

    If Koto Hiro is even just a beat late or a second too slow, that's all Ralph Imabayashi needs to bring the end-game to him. His Sonic Crusher literally comes out of nowhere, and his vicious arsenal of knee strikes would send even a 300-pounder reeling. He'll be out for blood and will be all too happy to humiliate the man who stole Nina's heart away from him.

    This match can only go two ways, mga ka-smarkada: either both men wrestle the hell out of this match and put on an absolute classic, or they could both let emotions get the better of them and turn this into a bloody brawl.

    We don't mind, either way. This will be wildly entertaining, and a viable potential candidate for Match of the Year. All that's left to find out is whether Ralph Imabayashi will be in the zone—or if he'll stay trapped in the friend zone.

    Our prediction: Ralph Imabayashi retains the PWR Championship—but loses Nina as a friend permanently.

    Will We See A New Face In The PWR Championship Scene?

    The first PWR Championship Contender Semifinals will put two familiar faces against each other: "The Senyorito" Jake De Leon and "The Motor City Angel" Chris Panzer. Both men have squared off in the past. Both are two-time PWR Champions. Both would be certified first-ballot Hall of Famers should the Philippine pro wrestling scene ever come up with one. But that's where their similarities end.

    De Leon is perhaps the finest all-around homegrown pro wrestler the Philippines has ever produced. If you were building a wrestling promotion from scratch, he'd be your first pick—not just for his wrestling skill, but for the legitimacy he brings to each match, the natural charisma he radiates to the crowd, and the genuine passion he brings to the ring.

    It's just sad to see how much bitterness has swarmed the heart of "Mr. Philippine Wrestling" lately; gone is the springy, boyish fan favorite that had early PWR crowds rocking, and in his place is a paranoid, irritable powder keg who talks a big game about elevating everyone to "The JDL Level," but has fallen to wrestlers like SANDATA or Trudeau—men he's trained and brought into the scene himself. He's been out of the championship scene lately after multiple failed attempts.

    Could JDL's era have passed him by? Perhaps nobody defined early-generation PWR like the Bacolod native, but the past two years have seen an influx of talent like never before. More than a battle for championship pride, it's a battle for relevance.

    Chris Panzer, on the other hand, has no such fears. He may have underperformed in the first two years of his career, but he's been absolutely red hot since finally breaking into the main event scene. His record-setting eight-match winning streak stands as the gold standard for consistency in the company, and he's destroyed the highest level of competition he's faced.

    And let's not forget: Panzer has unfinished business against Ralph Imabayashi. He hates that he got eliminated from the 10-man Ubusan ng Lahi match at Vendetta due to the Sonic Crusher, and hates even more that he couldn't help save former PWR General Manager Mr. Sy's job. But obviously, what he hates the most is that Imabayashi is the man who stripped him of his beloved PWR Championship.

    Panzer wants to be three-time PWR Champion so bad he can taste it, and we're pretty sure that he wants to get some serious payback for all the uncharacteristic stumbles he's had in the past year. If anyone in this tournament is hungry, it's him.

    Jake De Leon, beware. A hungry Panzer is the most dangerous one. You're just a Panzerschreck and Eagle Splash away from being knocked to irrelevance. But having said that—we've got to ride the Senyorito bandwagon this time around. He's been gaining exposure around the Southeast Asian circuit the past few months, and has been finding small ways to improve each time out. JDL, we're in.

    Our prediction: Jake De Leon outwrestles Chris Panzer to make it to the Finals.

    On the other side of the semifinals bracket are two potential new names to become PWR Champion: The brooding, surly Apocalypse, and the resurgent former Philippine Excellence Champion, Main Maxx.

    We'll be up-front: We're completely against The Apocalypse making it into the Finals. As a character, he's as stale as can be. As a championship contender, he's been plagued by being the generic monster challenger that gets slotted in as a placeholder challenger when we're in between storylines, but chokes every single time. We're pretty sure nobody buys him as the 6'2", 280-pound behemoth he claims to be either; just check how shaky he is any time he tries to get anyone up for his old Death Bell finisher.

    The man behind the mask is obviously talented. He's actually decent in the ring, and has his signature over-the-top-rope tope to get the crowd roaring. He's just badly in need of a character refresh, and even his recent run as inaugural All Out War Champion didn't do the job. Let's get him out of the scene for a while, please.

    Now let's talk about Main Maxx.

    Remember that time that he completely annihilated The Apocalypse in a vicious no-disqualification match? No? That's because it didn't happen. For all his size and credentials, Maxx got destroyed in that match—a costly one that actually left him sidelined for months with a pectoral tear. If there's one guy in PWR he knows he can't intimidate, it's The Apocalypse.

    But we have a hard time getting behind him in his return from his devastating knee injury. Critics have called his matches slow and clunky, and he indeed looks to have lost that awesome mobility that made him such a tank in his run as PHX Champion. Hell, he's the reason the KakaiBros were finally able to pick up their 1st 1th win!

    There's also no getting around that fact that even with Mr. Sy now acting as his agent, Main Maxx just looks like a genuinely nice guy. It's hard to buy him as a beast with a demeanor as gentle and calm as his. Plus, his t-shirt and shorts ensemble screams KAB Scout more than it does juggernaut.

    We do have to pick one winner in this match, so we'll just go with Main Maxx by default. At the very least, we need to make sure Mr. Sy gets as much mileage out of his fancy suits as he can.

    Our prediction: Main Maxx outlasts The Apocalypse. Sigh.

    Tournament Finals are happening on the same night, so between Jake De Leon and Main Maxx—a relatively fresh match-up we haven't seen since the Royal Flush heyday—we'll have to go with whoever has the proven cardiovascular endurance, unstoppable motor, and overall ring wiliness to outlast an eight-man field as strong as this tournament's was.

    Our prediction: Jake De Leon is crowned #1 Contender to face Ralph Imabayashi for the PWR Championship.


    What do you think of our predictions, mga ka-smarkada? Do you think Ralph Imabayashi can stay focused against Koto Hiro? What role will Nina play in the PWR Championship match? And are you looking forward to "Mr. Philippine Wrestling" becoming #1 contender?

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


    PWR Live: Way of the Champion is happening on Sunday, July 22, at the Power Mac Center Spotlight in Circuit Makati. Show starts at 2 PM. Tickets can be purchased in advance for major discounts directly through the Philippine Wrestling Revolution Facebook page or through accredited partners. Alternatively, you can book them in advance through Ticket2Me.

    Disclosure: Smark Henry is owned and operated by a group of Filipino pro wrestling fans, but includes members affiliated with the Philippine Wrestling Revolution.

    Photos by "Hilarious" Hub Pacheco.
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    Item Reviewed: Way Of The Champion: Making Sense Of The PWR Championship Scene Rating: 5 Reviewed By: Smark Henry
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