PWR 2014: From My Side of the Fence [No Curtains Needed #3]

By William Elvin Manzano

I wanted to write a long-form article about dirty, controversial finishes and its place in today’s modern wrestling landscape, but unfortunately, a question from Martin Vicencio derailed that plan. Also, since this will be a very long one, I will only be able to answer one question for now. I’ll save the other ones for next week.

Martin Vicencio: Since CBL did give a shout out to Mr. Elvin and Mr. Litton, any chance to hear your side of that story that happened back in 2014?

Obviously, this would be a more interesting topic. So, the thing about controversial finishes would have to wait.

Alright, here is the PWR story from my perspective, the way I remember it. You can ask the people involved for more details, but here is my account from when I got involved to when I quit the promotion in 2014.

And just a bit of a heads up, if I may make one. These events happened four years ago. The story I will tell involves younger, inexperienced, naïve and immature versions of ourselves – way different from the characters you now know, love or hate. We’ve all changed since then. We are all different people now from when we first knew each other, for better or for worse. But regardless of what happened to us, whatever hurtful or painful memories we may have caused each other along the way, I will always be proud of the fact that I was among the ones who first built the dream. Yes, the Philippine wrestling dream that we are all living in today.

Beginning

I’m not sure about a lot of details on the earliest days of PWR’s foundation, and a lot of this article’s segment may be told in the wrong order. All I’m sure of is that it started with a Facebook group of wrestling fans in the Philippines. For reasons I really can’t remember, I was already friends on FB with Ace Victor (you may know him now as PWR’s Kanto Terror), who I believe was the one who added me in.

I also do not remember much about how I ended up being in the core group of the PWR founders. I remember that we all had a lot of ideas on the group’s name, and finally settled with PWR – Philippine Wrestling Revolution. I recall Enoch (now known as MWF Frankie Thurteen) and a graphic artist named Kirk Castillo had a lot to do with this name, along with the contributions of the others in the group.

One thing I can remember is that the first guy in the group I met in person was Bombay Suarez. We spent hours talking about wrestling over cigarettes (and coffee, maybe?) over at the open area near the cinemas of the Shangri-La Mall.  We then formed a core group of 9 members to start building the promotion: myself, Mike Litton, Yusuf Meer (Classical Bryan Leo), Nelson Aman Jr, Ace Victor, Ouel Babasa, Bombay Suarez, Emjay Lapus, and a guy named Jay Alfonso who dropped out of the group early on.

But, being inexperienced and naïve people we were back then, energies and ideas were all over the place. There was no clear leader, and everyone was just voicing out their opinions and insisting on them. This was when we decided to elect officers within us, in a meeting I sadly wasn’t able to attend. Around this time, I was also in the creative development of “Maxie The Musical”, a stage adaptation of the film Ang Pagdadalaga ni Maximo Oliveros, and we had a meeting the night of the PWR election.

I was driving home when Emjay Lapus called me up, informing me that I had been elected as Vice President to Yusuf, who was elected as the group’s leader. I am not sure how true this was, but Emjay told me that I was getting a bit of push to be the president, but reasonably, they opted not to because of my busy schedule. So from there, Yusuf was President, I was the VP, and Mike was appointed to be the head booker, with Ouel also working with us creatively. Nelson Aman was our trusted secretary, Emjay took care of the early legal inquiries, Bombay was in charge of training, and Ace was put in charge of logistics (if I remember this correctly). In that group, it was myself, Yusuf and Mike who grew the closest. 

I’m not sure if most of you are aware of this one, but the real public debut of PWR was when we made up about 95% of the very small audience at REINA and Wrestling New Classic’s Joshi+Jam Manila in January 2014, held at the Ynares Gym in Pasig, which featured Tajiri, Mia Yim and Filipina-Japanese Syuri Kandou. To this day, I am baffled by the lack of effort by the producers to promote this event. According to Mike, he was friends with the promoter on FB, and passed the details to Nelson who got in touch with the contacts in the Philippines – a housewife and her daughter.

We met with the contact persons a number of times in Seattle’s Tomas Morato, with the understanding that they wanted to work with us. We inquired about if we can have the ring they will use after their show, in exchange with our help in promoting it. Ouel got a good promotion deal with one of the top local pop stations, but aside from that, the producers themselves never really did a thing, as far as I know and have observed. The housewife and her daughter were very nice and sweet to us, but they seemed like they didn’t care about the venture at all. 

Anyway, all we got from that deal were free tickets, a commentary spot for Yusuf and Mike (which no one heard), a quick spot for Bombay doing a Northern Lights Suplex and getting choke slammed during intermission, as well as great pictures. To us, that night seemed like enough motivation to really start getting serious about the promotion.

It was around that time when more people were becoming aware of PWR’s existence, and talent started pouring in, including Josh Bauserman (a trained wrestler who helped teaching the basics to the early PWR wrestlers), Jake de Leon, Ken Warren, Robin Sane, Rex Lawin, Mr. Lucha, etc. Tarek El Tayech also started helping out, and the group just grew bigger and bigger.

Perhaps the most notable character to come out of this batch — at least for purposes of this story – was Jason Dimayuga, a Fliptop rapper that goes by the rap name of Ice Rocks, and who gave himself the ring name Mayhem Brannigan.

PWR Revolution Now

Because we really had no clue what we were doing then, we were ready to get and take advantage of all the help that was being offered to us. It was around this time when I co-wrote a musical in Ateneo de Manila, which included Tarek El Tayech and veteran sportscaster Bill Velasco in the cast. Bill said he wants to check PWR out, and maybe even feature us in his sports show in the ABSCBN News Channel. I introduced him to Yusuf, leading to that fateful meeting in Xavierville Avenue where I was food poisoned and was sent to the hospital by Yusuf and Bill. (You can ask Yusuf for stories about my misfortunes and unfortunate incidents with him, he can tell you quite a few)

Anyway, Bill asked us for a proof of concept, one where sponsors can see the wrestlers and the wrestling product. That was how PWR’s first show, Revolution Now, was conceived.

It was only when we were booking Revolution Now when creative differences between Yusuf, Mike and myself became apparent. I won’t go into details, but I was forced into being the middleman between two of my closest friends at that time, and believe me, it really did not feel good at all. I got non-stop calls from Yusuf about how the guys are complaining about Mike’s booking, and I got Mike to defend his ideas often, causing more stress for all parties. It was very tiring, and contributed to a lot of stress I was already dealing with from my theater career and personal life. Not to mention, I was already thinking seriously about permanently moving to Hong Kong during this period. It was just negativity from all aspects of my life.

We were able to overcome all the differences and worked well together in booking Revolution Now, but the friendship between Yusuf and Mike were going downhill from there, and me being their third best buddy just made it worse. Apart from all the creative disagreements, I could say that our younger selves also got overwhelmed with the real world responsibilities of actually putting up a company, so our efforts and energies only became more scattered.

Wendy’s Glorietta – the meeting from hell

As a 13-year theater arts veteran, I have dealt with and got involved in a lot of backstage drama and heavy politicking. But to this day, nothing compares to that Wendy’s Glorietta meeting PWR had, which had one specific purpose: to get rid of Mike Litton in front of the whole roster, without him even expecting it. The worst part of that day, which still makes me kinda sick of it until now, is that I knew everything that was about to happen but chose to not even warn Mike. From what I remember, the two leaders of that cause were Ice Rocks and Yusuf.

Before that fateful meeting, I remember gathering up with Yusuf, Ouel, Ice, JDL (not sure but I remember him being there), and Tarek at a nearby Family Mart to discuss the afternoon’s proceedings. We were about to put Mike on the spot by asking him to book one whole show right then and there, and compare it to what Yusuf came up with. This was going to happen in front of the whole roster, seemingly designed to totally embarrass Mike. Unfortunately, I went along with it.

But damn, when I saw Mike in that long table at Wendy’s – one of my very few true friends – being in that horrible situation, I had a sudden change of heart. With the help of a few members of the PWR talent pool, including Mr. Lucha, we were able to maneuver the conversation to save Mike’s spot as PWR’s booker for at least one more day, and made Yusuf and his group more frustrated. Ice saw this as us being “spineless”, but in that situation, personally, I was saving Mike from further embarrassment while still trying to hold on to Yusuf’s friendship.

The end of my PWR run

Needless to say, Mike’s and Yusuf’s friendship, as well as Mike’s grasp in the PWR roster, grew thinner quickly ever since. Me, I knew I was almost done. Emotionally beat up with my life’s drama around that time, I decided to just leave the country and build my life here in Hong Kong, away from all the negativity.

A day before I left the country in August 2014, I visited the PWR training for the last time at Fitplus Gym Bicutan. I was approached by Ice and JDL. “Ok, so now that you’re leaving, we’d like to take the VP spot,” Ice said. Take note that it was all Ice speaking, and JDL was just there. JDL was always nice to me, and I have nothing but good memories with him during my time in PWR. I told them to call Yusuf up, to make it official. Yusuf agreed.

“First order of business, we’ll get rid of Mike,” Ice continued. There were many reasons given as to why they wanted to totally get rid of Mike, but none of them ever warranted such hostility, at least in my opinion. I just told them to call up Mike and tell him their decision in person. I was tired of all the drama. I was willing to let go.

I was still part of the booking team for PWR Renaissance 2014 with Ouel and Yusuf, which I remember to go smoothly. I remember Tarek being in charge of putting together some of the angles, too. Aside from booking the show, I was away from all their affairs at that time, and was just happy to be writing wrestling from Hong Kong.

However, that all changed when we were booking Terminus 2014. It was the last straw that broke the camel’s back, as the saying goes. Leading up to it, we were encountering difficulties in running ideas with Ice, who often insisted on his own ideas regarding the Mayhem Brannigan character. If I remember it correctly, we were running a storyline where Mayhem, an anarchist, was suspended by PWR management. To continue this story, I pushed for him to not have a match at Terminus just yet, and instead do angles throughout the show. I called the idea for the series of angles “Brannigan Brigade,” where a number of PWR bootcampers were to invade the show wearing the Mayhem mask and gear. The show was meant to end by having him featured heavily in a big angle.

He insisted on having (and winning) a hardcore match against The Apocalypse, and, as told to me by Ouel, was refusing to do what was being asked of him. I tried talking to Yusuf about it, but he told me to just adjust the plans according to what Ice wanted. We had our last stressful argument about the script and the details he wanted me to change. I was totally spent and done dealing with PWR.

I remember just telling Ouel that I’m quitting the promotion, which he took with much respect. He thanked me for all the things I’ve done and the memories we shared, and we agreed to go on separate ways. However, Yusuf basically giving Ice the key to just change his booking according to what he wanted really frustrated me. Call it an attack to my ego, or a bit of jealousy because a friend chose another guy over my ideas, but I admit, it really felt like I was betrayed. So I chose to attack Yusuf back.

I talked to the other guys in the PWR talent pool who I know were also frustrated with what was happening in the promotion,  and fed their disappointments. I was among the ones who riled them up against Yusuf and in effect the whole of PWR, which, from what I remember, was the first real division in the Philippine wrestling scene.

I own up to that. It could have been dealt with much more peacefully. I could have just walked away and left the whole thing. But, I didn’t. I was among the ones who built the dream, and was also among the ones who first fanned the flames, hoping to burn it down. All the negativity just piled up, and exploded into one big ball of anger and more ugly emotions.

Epilogue

After a few months, I sent a personal message to Yusuf, with Ouel and JDL as witnesses, and apologized for all the trouble and ugliness I helped create. We forgave one another, and patched everything up. After that, Yusuf was giving me updates on PWR’s success, and I have been genuinely happy for the promotion ever since.

Around the same time, Mike was setting up Manila Wrestling Federation with Mr. Lucha and Robin Sane. Mike would message me from time to time, and we exchanged some ideas about wrestling. This opened up the doors to where we are now, with me and Mike working together again to establish MWF in 2018.

So here I am, running wrestling shows with dear friends again. And happy.

***

 

That’s it for now. I would imagine all of this would take some time for all of you to digest. Here’s my side of the truth, now, if you can, ask the other people for their take, and for them to fill in the details.

Thank you for reading. Thanks for your question, too, Martin V.

 

Special thanks to Nelson Aman Jr., a.k.a. THE Nelson Jr., for the photos. 

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