RING KA KING





RING KA KING: Wrestling Comes To India!

By Dr. Abner Mality

Forget baseball and horse racing...the most purely American form of sport is professional wrestling. Born in the USA and reaching its greatest heights here (though some in Japan might disagree), pro wrestling seems to be one of the most dyed-in-the-wool American exports there is.

But other countries have taken to it as well and added their own unique flavor. Of course, Japan has a long and storied "puroresu" tradition with great stars like Kenta Kobashi, Antonio Inoki and Rikidozan. In Mexico, masks and outrageous aerial antics have transformed wrestling into lucha libre. Even England has gotten into the act with their more technical version.

One nation that hasn't really gotten into the rasslin' act is India...until now. This hugely diverse land, bursting at the seams with nearly a billion people hungry for Western-style entertainment, has become a kind of frontier for professional wrestling...a brave new world somewhat like pre-Columbus America, awaiting the arrival of a new form of culture. They've got fast food restaurants, annoying call centers, big-time Bollywood movies with lots of singing and dancing...but no wrestling yet. Who will be the first to take the plunge?

America's TNA wrestling has answered the call. The perennial #2 promotion in the U.S., often criticized by wrestling "smarks" for poor decisions, made a bold and gutsy move to start an Indian-centric promotion to cater strictly to the teeming throngs of that giant country. Corporate wrestling colossus WWE had done a few small tours there to great reception, but for a potential market numbering in hundreds of millions, not much else.

TNA teamed up with big Indian TV network Colors and the Endemol company to take the plunge with Ring ka King (which means "King of the Ring" in Hindi), a limited series of weekly wrestling shows featuring a combination of known TNA stars, free agent American wrestlers and young, developing Indian grapplers. The promotion would have its own titles and be completely separate in terms of booking from TNA. TNA, Colors and Endemol sunk millions into the filming and promotion of Ring Ka King...one of the biggest gambles in the sport since WCW went head to head with the then-WWF.

I have now seen virtually all of the Ring Ka King episodes in sequence on Youtube, without the benefit of English translation. And the result?


It is truly fascinating for a fan used to traditional American wrestling see this exotic take on the form. The ring action is pretty variable, because the Indian wrestlers with a few exceptions are very green and untested, but the overall impression is that it's exciting and fun. The Indian crowd is animated and into every match, unlike the crowds you see for TNA and WWE in the States, where only the very biggest names get reactions. It is super refreshing to see a crowd that REALLY hates the bad guys and loves the heroes with no sense of irony. In a way, Ring Ka King is a trip back in time to the pro wrestling of America in the 70's, before kayfabe became a joke and booking secrets known to all.

At the time I write this, it's not yet clear if Ring Ka King will continue. The inaugural season ran 26 weeks, which were taped into two sessions of 13 episodes each. Starting a large promotion from scratch in a foreign country creates a fascinating scenario. Since India has very little wrestling history and no real native promotions, Ring Ka King would start storylines from absolute zero. The promotion has no history to draw on...no legendary champions or famous feuds from the past to add depth.

The promotion presents wrestling and angles in very simple format, unlike the torturously complex soap opera antics of WWE and TNA. The plots are basic and revolve around the all-important championship belts...the Ring Ka King World title and the World Tag Team titles. I like the way the titles are emphasized and made into prizes worth striving for. The more seriously the promotion takes the titles, the more seriously the fans take them. They are not mere props.

Any real wrestling promotion relies on its in-ring talent to succeed. Ring Ka King came up with a very intriguing mix of talent...known TNA workers, experienced non-TNA wrestlers and the real wild cards: the inexperienced Indian wrestlers themselves. I have to say that Ring Ka King did a great job in coming up with a large and interesting "cast". Exactly who was picked to make the show? Here's a list, broken down into sub-categories:

ESTABLISHED TNA WORKERS

Scott Steiner (since resigned from TNA in one of the nastiest spats in memory)

The Monster Abyss

Jeff Jarrett

Brutus Magnus (here called SIR Brutus Magnus)

Matt Morgan

Zema Ion

NON TNA WORKERS FROM AMERICA

Chavo Guerrero, Jr.

David Hart-Smith, aka "Bulldog Hart"

"Hollywood" Joey Ryan

Nunzio, aka "Tony Broadway"

Trevor Murdoch, aka "Roscoe Jackson"

Luke Gallows, aka "Isaiah Cash"

Jimmy Rave

Shawn Daivari, aka "Sheik Abdul Bashir"

Arya Daivari, aka "Sheik Mustafa Bashir"

Chris Masters, aka "American Adonis"

Nick Dinsmore, aka "Dr. Nicholas Dinsmore" aka "Eugene"

Sonjay Dutt (native Indian)

INDIAN WRESTLERS

Jwala

Mahabali Veera

Barood

Romeo Rapta

Maxx B.

Deadly Danda

Shera

Bollywood Boys

Pathani Patthe (tag team)

Pagal Parinda

Zoravar (midget)

Mumbai Cats tag team

Aghori Saaya

Yamamotoyama (real life sumo star, suspended for fixed matches in Japan)

WOMEN WRESTLERS

Mickie James

Angelina Love

Alyssa Flash/Raisha Saeed

Now that's a strong line-up of talent even taking into account the untested and unknown Indian wrestlers. So how does the show look and play out on TV?

In terms of set, lighting, camerawork and direction, Ring Ka King is every bit as impressive as a TNA show. In fact, the set for the show is awesome looking...100% modern, high-tech, full of lights, pyro and video screens. I would go far enough to say it is the best indoor set used in wrestling today.

You can't really judge the commentary here unless you speak fluent Hindi, which I don't. The commentators Joe Bath and Siddarth Kannan occasionally toss in English descriptions of wrestling moves, such as "back body drop", "DDT", and "flying elbow drop" and they keep a constant stream of excited verbiage going. Once in a while, you'll hear Joe say "Oh my God!" after a big move or maybe "I like it, baby!", which is kind of cheesy.

There are two ring announcers...TNA veteran Jeremy Borash, who does English introductions (and probably helps run a lot of the backstage segments) and female Indian announcer Kubra Sait, who frankly is extremely hot and can speak both Hindi and English. There are times when the American wrestlers have to be translated into Hindi by the Indian personnel, which results in some odd timing issues.

Every wrestler gets his own entrance theme and video display. Known TNA performers like Abyss and Jeff Jarrett get the same music they have on the American show. If anything, music is much more important to Indian fans than Americans and that's something Ring Ka King can play up in future programming.


Since pro wrestling American style is pretty much new to India, the whole idea of Ring Ka King is to give the Indian fans a basic vocabulary of wrestling. That means that matches and angles are kept simple and easy to understand. There's none of the twisted "is it real or is it a shoot?" type of storytelling which has been the rage in America for the last 12 years, much to the detriment of the product. Although there is an ongoing "battle for control of Ring Ka King", which has been a hugely overused cliche since the NWO days of the 90's, it seems fresh to Indian audiences and plays out in a much more direct fashion.

There's a great scene in the  very first episode of Ring Ka King where all the wrestlers involved in the tournament to be the first World Champion are brought out and introduced to the fans. That's an incredibly simple and effective way of setting up the first few episodes of the program. The same thing is done with tag teams a few weeks later, after the singles tournament is completed. The babyface wrestlers are put on one side of the ring and the heels on the other, for easy identification. And believe me, there's noting subtle about the heels in Ring Ka King. They go out of their way to turn the fans against them and the super enthusiastic Indian fans are only too glad to give them their hate. The interaction between heels and fans is a huge part of what makes the show entertaining.

The first few episodes revolve around the tournament to crown the first singles champion. The belt is prominently displayed ringside, giving the wrestlers and fans both ample opportunity to ogle the prize. From the very first episode, we have a clear heel faction vying for control of the company, composed of Scott Steiner, Brutus Magnus and Sonjay Dutt, who take orders from a mysterious "boss" who contacts them by phone. Dutt's role in Ring Ka King should be mentioned. He was a long time worker in TNA who was unceremoniously dropped from the company during a major heel run. Dutt's a great aerial wrestler who speaks perfect Hindi and acts as a very necessary translator for the English-speaking heel group. I would imagine his role behind the scenes was probably huge.

The world title tournament comes down to huge TNA star Matt Morgan and arrogant British wrestler Brutus Magnus. It kind of baffles me that Morgan is not one of the most well-known wrestlers in the world. A true 7 foot giant, he's built like a Greek God, moves extremely well for a man his size and speaks well. As for Magnus, it looks like 2012 was his break-out year both in Ring Ka King and TNA. A former participant in the British version of American Gladiator, he exudes a lot of charisma and possesses the best off the top rope elbow drop since "Macho Man" Randy Savage. At the conclusion of their championship match, Morgan walked away as the first Ring Ka King champion.

There are some Indian "authority figures" who are integral to the show. Harbajhan Singh is a hugely popular cricket star
in India who acts as a "goodwill ambassador" on screen and a co-promoter behind the scenes. He's the cricket equivalent of an Alex Rodrigues or Albert Pujols and helps draws a lot of mainstream Indian interest to the promotion. However, the guy who really catches your eye is the "Commissioner", who goes by the name Jazzy Lahoria. Although he's a fan favorite "good guy", Jazzy would make a perfect James Bond villain. A bald-headed, well-dressed Hindu with a droopy moustache, a fancy cane and a twinkle in his eye, you can tell he enjoys every minute of being a pro wrestling character.

The wrestling on Ring Ka King tends to be very fundamental and would no doubt disappoint the "smarks" in the US who demand a ton of complicated gymnastics and counter-wrestling, which they call "work-rate". In India, though, that basic wrestling vocabulary needs to be established first. Moves such as body slams, clotheslines, drop kicks and arm wringers form the foundation of the ring work. The Indian crowds are so enthusiastic that they ooh and aah even over clotheslines and bodyslams...which makes those moves seem important. This is the way wrestling was before the 90's and it's a lot of fun to kind of go back in time and relive that style in an exotic setting like India.

The entire 26 episode show revolves the battle for control of Ring Ka King. On the side of good are most of the Indian wrestlers under the command of Jazzy Lahoria and Harbajhan Singh, aided by some of the foreign wrestlers. On the nasty side is the "RDX" faction, which is revealed by be controlled by veteran heel Jeff Jarrett, aka "The Boss". The other members of RDX are Scott Steiner, Brutus Magnus, Abyss, Sonjay Dutt and Jazzy's former bodyguard, Deadly Danda, who was bribed by Jarrett to jump ship.

There are plenty of twists and turns until the conclusion of the series. Matt Morgan is defeated for the World title by Magnus and the first tag team champions, Chavo Guerrero Jr. and "Bulldog Hart" (Harry Smith, son of the British Bulldog Davey Boy Smith), are upended by the RDX team of Scott Steiner and Abyss. Perhaps the most entertaining scenes in the entire series revolve around how the Indian crowd fears and detests Steiner and Abyss. This is real throwback stuff!  The massive and crude Steiner literally wades into the crowd looking to start a fight...the fans flee from him while taunting him all the while. As for Abyss, the Indians are so afraid of this grotesque looking giant that they cringe from him like he was King Kong come to life. This is the way Abyss used to be booked in the U.S....a raging and uncontrollable beast.

There's also some ladies wrestling on the show, but with only 3 competitors, it's pretty limited stuff. TNA stars Mickie James and Angelina Love strut their stuff, while Alyssa Flash plays double duty as both herself and her Middle Eastern alter ego, Raisha Saieed. A truly bizarre match occurs when Alyssa wrestles "Raisha", who is obviously someone else. In fact, it's probably Tony Broadway dressed up as a woman! In India, they can get away with this nonsense.

The Indian wrestlers are a real mixed bag. The only real smooth and experienced competitors are the Bollywood Boys, who come to the ring with dancing girls and come across like an Indian version of The Rockers. These guys are excellent high flying wrestlers who could easily compete with American teams, but they are far ahead of their countrymen in terms of skill.

By the time the last episode of Ring Ka King rolls around, the Indian wrestlers have wrested control of the promotion from Jarrett and his RDX boys, with native muscleman Mahabali Veera beating Brutus Magnus for the world title and the Bollywood Boys knocking off Steiner and Abyss. Although it's not a recognized title, Sonjay Dutt was given a pair of golden wings for being Ring Ka King's best high flyer, but he was beaten by the masked Indian wrestler Pagal Parinda for that honor. At the end of the series, Mother India looks like its on top of the wrestling world...exactly the impression the promoters wanted to create.


Veera looks the part of a superstar wrestler and is clearly a huge favorite with the hometown fans, but is greener than a shamrock shake. He was almost embarassingly inept in his early matches, but by the time he beats Magnus, he put forth a pretty passable effort.  As far as the other Indian wrestlers go, feisty and pudgy Barood plays the eternal underdog really well. "Loverboy" type wrestler Romeo Rapta tries to woo Angelina Love but is beaten for her affections by the ridiculous Indian midget Zoravar, who provides a lot of slapstick shenanigans ala Hornswoggle.

One Indian singles competitor who made a big impression on me was the fierce looking Jwala. This big bushy haired wildman from the hills has a real dangerous aura to him, like an Indian King Kong Brody. You can see that he has a lot to learn as well, but he definitely has the charisma of a menacing lunatic. Over the course of Ring Ka King, he played a "wild card" wrestler who seemed to be heel but who worked against RDX. Jwala is a guy I'd like to see more of, either in Ring Ka King or in an American ring.

The promoters of Ring Ka King did a pretty good job of putting in a whole mess of "specialty" matches for the Indian fans. There are cage matches, arm wrestling matches (between Jazzy and Jarrett), ladder matches (pretty good stuff featuring Zema Ion, Pagal Parinda and Chavo Jr) and a wild parking lot brawl between nasty biker Isaiah Cash (formerly Luke Gallows in the WWE) and crazy cowboy Roscoe Jackson (Trevor Murdoch, who looks like the son of Stan Hansen here). Again, this is all designed to give the fans a basic vocabulary of American pro wrestling.

I like the focus on tag teams, which is becoming a dying art in America. Chavo Guerrero Jr and Bulldog Hart make a good "fast and strong" team,, Steiner and Abyss are absolute monsters, the Bollywood Boys are smooth and the tag team of The Sheiks (the two Daivari Brothers) are just plain nasty villains. If you want to be an instant heel in Hindu India, just announce yourself as a Muslim! Joey Ryan and Tony Broadway make for a good mid-card team as well. A real strange Indian tag team is Patthani Pathhe, a couple of big bald headed wrestlers who I think are playing truck drivers? Their strange mannerisms almost make them an Indian version of the Bushwhackers. To top it off, we've got an oddball masked team called the Mumbai Cats, who spend most of their air time imitating felines. Ring Ka King actually has a far better tag team division than WWE or the current TNA.

Is Ring Ka King worth catching for American fans? I think so. You get to see American favorites used in a fresh way that you don't see in the States and you get a peek at grappling with an exotic foreign flavor. The show does resemble TNA in many ways, but with fascinating differences and more of an emphasis on basic wrestling. If you are the type who would be interested in checking out foreign takes on wrestling such as Mexican lucha libre or European "catch" wrestling, this promotion is definitely worth a look. Even if you don't understand a word of Hindi, the shows are easy to follow and figure out.

I hear the ratings for Ring Ka King were good but not oustanding. The show has a strange time slot for a sport-based program and it may take a while to catch on. I think TNA made a really smart and gutsy move to create an Indian wrestling promotion and here's hoping we haven't seen the last of Ring Ka King!!!!