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    Monday, May 13, 2019

    The Smark Henry Hip Toast: Ralph Imabayashi

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    Welcome, ladies and gentlemen, to Smark Henry's recurring series, a little something we would like to call the Smark Henry Hip Toast—our happy place where we interview various personalities in pro wrestling, shoot from the hip, and raise them a toast. We will be looking at the men and women behind the personas and giving you an intimate look at the wrestlers who are helping build this wonderful sport and turning it into something really special in this country.

    In time for his second consecutive championship defense at Wrevolution X against QUATRO, the current Kampeon ng Pilipinas, Ralph Imabayashi, looks back at his historic PWR Championship reign, and everything that happened since the beginning!


    The Philippine wrestling scene is relatively young, with Wrevolution X 2019 marking the fifth anniversary of its resurgence. When you think about how young the scene is, compared to its more established counterparts in the US, UK, Japan, and even Singapore and Malaysia, it's fascinating to see how far the luminaries of the local wrestling scene have gone since the beginning. And when you look at current PWR Champion Ralph Imabayashi, this rings more true than ever.

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    Since PWR Live: Kingdom Come, he has become the focal point of the company, holding the championship at more than 475 days with many championship defenses in his name. In his second reign, he became the longest reigning PWR Champion in history as well as the champion with the most number of defenses, further solidifying his place in the growing sport at a tender age of 23. And for the second straight year, he will defend his championship in the main event, the first wrestler in PWR to achieve this. These feats, by all accounts, are crazy impressive for a guy navigating the world of professional wrestling at such a young age.

    Looking back at his first title reign, the differences between these reigns are clear as day. When we asked about his first championship win at the iAcademy Auditorium a few years back, Ralph had mixed emotions, to say the least.

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    The 2-time champ recounted, "The moment itself felt really good, but I always had doubts on whether or not I really deserved it. I had no qualms about dropping it immediately because even I felt it was too early. But even then, believe it or not, I LOVED babyface moments. And to give that babyface moment to the iAcademy crowd felt amazing."

    Fast forward to Kingdom Come, so much has changed from the Ralph of back then. Now equipped with his "Respect Pro Wrestling" mentality, a heel turn that was a long time coming, and a change in mindset, he had a renewed focus going into his second and current reign. As Ralph recalled, "There was not much pressure this time around. I was more prepared to carry the task of being champion. This win was more personal for me, to have no doubts in myself holding the title."

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    Starting with his successful defense against Panzer, Ralph showed that he's a champion with a mean streak, a far cry from the plucky underdog wrestler he started out as. His string of successful defenses took out the likes of Bombay Suarez, Zayden Trudeau, Main Maxx, Mike Madrigal, Vlad Synnsyk, Evan Carleaux, and even his former on-screen best friend, Rederick Mahaba. But when pressed to give out his favorite match and moment of his historic title reign, Ralph could think of two particular individuals in mind.

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    "It's hard to pick a favorite match because so far, I've yet to have a bad experience with anyone. If I had to choose a favorite opponent, however, it would have to be Koto Hiro," Ralph shared, "I never felt more like a wrestler than in my match with him. We barely talked about the match beforehand—we called it mostly on the fly. As for favorite moment? Probably the QUATRO fakeout (from PWR Live: Homefront). Nothing beats a good babyface moment."

    For a guy who arguably isn't even in his prime, to be able to utilize a unique and cerebral style during his main event bouts for more than a year is quite an achievement. It's been quite an an evolution of the Ralph Imabayashi character: from an underdog babyface to a champion that became jaded through the years because of the fans.

    But as it turns out, things could have actually been extremely different for Ralph's historic championship reign, had things gone differently. In fact, his reign could have ended way sooner. This, as you may have predicted correctly, had something to do with the hottest wrestler in PWR during that time: "Ruthless" Miguel Rosales.

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    Ralph spoke to us candidly about the genesis of his historic reign: 

    "Probably the biggest factor of the reign in terms of length would be the feud with Miguel Rosales. They gave me the title with the intent of me dropping it to him at Holding Hands While Wrestling, and it was something I disagreed with. I'm a bit old school, and to me, the championship isn't a reward, it's a responsibility. I always hated the idea of the 'thank you' title run and to have one in this company is something I wouldn't allow. I would have had no qualms about dropping it had he stayed. I was eventually going to win it back at Wrevolution X 2018, which would have made me a 3-time champion, but with 150 days shaved off this reign."

    This is an interesting revelation to what could have been had things turned out differently as The Ruthless One had to retire and say goodbye to PWR, a case of when kayfabe bowed out in favor of real life circumstances. But as unfortunate as it was, as the old saying goes, "one door closes, another one opens", and that other door the historic reign we are seeing right now. 

    As if that wasn't enough, he pulled off another historic feat recently. He became the first current reigning PWR Champion to ever be booked outside of the Philippines, and the first to be booked in Japan. This was made possible with the help of a certain DDT Pro Wrestling star who made an appearance in the Philippines, Masa Takanashi.

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    "I wasn't expecting to get booked, but I brought my gear to Japan just in case. Masa-san told me to contact him when I got to Japan so we could train together. We trained at Gatoh Move, Emi Sakura's promotion, but she wasn't there as she was in the UK (at the time). Masa led the training. Mei, Yuuna, Mitsuru, and Riho of Gatoh Move were there to train with me and they helped me a lot. So after the really tiring training session—they have insane stamina—Masa and Emi told me I'm booked for their show the next day. I was ecstatic!."

    It has always been a matter of when, and not if, Ralph would have an opportunity to compete outside of Philippine soil given his experience. But thankfully, not only did he get a training session in the country as PWR Champion, he also had the chance to compete in the country, something he can now cross off his bucket list.

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    Ralph continued, "The show itself was unique. They had an anime-esque opening number, a heart-to-heart talk, and tea time with the audience to finish it off, during which I told them I wished to come back soon. My opponent, Tetsuya Izuchi of Pro Wrestling HEAT UP, was really talented. Even though there was a language barrier, it was really easy to work with him. I didn't understand much of what he said after our match, but I understood that he wanted a rematch on Philippine soil. The crowd was very receptive."

    As a bonus, given his being a huge fan of Japanese puroresu, he got one other thing crossed off his bucket list.

    "I finally experienced the random 'IMABAYASHI' screams and the reactions my submissions got were a good surprise. Shoutout to Baliyan Akki for helping me with the translations during the visit!  I also thanked Emi and Masa for giving me the chance to compete in Japan. Pretty amazing experience overall."

    Given the impressive whirlwind championship reign he had since Kingdom Come, from having main event bouts with a varied cast of opponents to his first ever opportunity in Japan, as well as all the achievements noted during this piece, it's hard to think what career goals Ralph has left as far as Philippine wrestling goes. His answer to this question was short and sweet.

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    "I want to set a foundation for the future. I think this reign will be the measuring stick for future title reigns. Better performances lead to a healthy future for pro wrestling here and that's enough for me".

    No one knows what the future holds for Ralph. But if we've learned anything in the crazy, wacky, and unpredictable world of pro wrestling, it's that nothing is permanent and anything can happen. One thing is for sure: when people look back at the history of Philippine pro wrestling, no one can deny what the Best Pure Wrestler has done to help the scene thrive, and his second championship reign is a testament to that fact. 

    Photos from "HUB-I-SU-KI" Hub Pacheco, Rappler, Ralph Imabayashi's Facebook Page 

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

    PWR Wrevolution X takes place on Sunday, May 26, 2019, at 2 PM, and will be held at the Power Mac Center Spotlight, Circuit Makati. 

    Tickets are at PhP 399 each and are also available at PhP 1099 for a barkada bundle of three (3) until Saturday, February 16. Tickets will be at PhP 450 at the door on Sunday.

    For ticket inquiries, visit ticket2me.net or email PWR at pwr.tickets@gmail.com.
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    Item Reviewed: The Smark Henry Hip Toast: Ralph Imabayashi Rating: 5 Reviewed By: Lance Tan Ong
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