Malaysia’s relationship with sports can be likened in many ways to an abusive relationship. We often merry and join in on celebrations when our national athletes bring home glory, but the conversation can quickly turn toxic the second they stumble.
Beyond our country’s obsession with football, not many sports can lay claim to be a “national” sport. Hockey and badminton are in the mix, while squash and cycling can be said to be ones to watch for in the future, but none has such universal appeal as of current.
Meanwhile, the prospects of one under-looked sport was recently raised in Parliament, by perhaps the unlikeliest of sources.
Maszlee Malik, the MP for Simpang Renggam, is known for his unorthodox initiatives during his short-lived tenure as Education Minister. Indeed, his schemes often elicit groans instead of adulation, as the fallout of his ‘black shoes’ policy announcement can attest.
However, when he recently proposed that Malaysia start a professional wrestling circuit in earnest, it was more a moment of ‘eureka’ than huh?.
In a parliamentary question to Communications & Multimedia minister Annuar Musa, Maszlee asked that the government help boost the fledgling Malaysian pro wrestling scene. He cited the example of World Wrestling Entertainment (WWE) – specifically the Wrestlemania series of competitions – which he says is also public-backed.
“We have local talents who are known internationally, but they get no attention from the ministry,” said Maszlee.
“We have Phoenix, the hijab-wearing wrestler who is well known internationally. I suggest that RTM and other government channels help kickstart this industry.
“We can help them to lift the name of Malaysia, while entertaining Malaysians.”
Phoenix, birth name Nor Diana, made international headlines when she won the 2019 Malaysia Pro Wrestling (MyPW) Wrestlecon championships, beating four men in the process. Indeed, her trailblazing story has been hailed as an inspiration for a generation of Muslim athletes, despite Phoenix herself only just turning 21.
She has also been honoured as a 2020 Forbes 30 Under 30 inductee, and even gotten a shoutout from the first Muslim WWE star Mustafa Ali (real name Adeel Alam).
Phoenix is mentored by none other than Ayez Shaukat Fonseka Farid, a legend in the local scene. Since founding MyPW in the early 2014 after a sojourn to America to learn from the greats, he has overseen the development of the community from the fringes to the cusp of the mainstream.
He is also no stranger to the Malaysian silver screen, appearing in cameo roles on high-profile blockbusters such as Sangkar, Jagat, and the Juvana sequels.
Besides wrestling full time, Shaukat also runs MyPW’s Development Centre – modelled after the WWE’s own Development Programme – which seeks to unearth wrestling talents of the next generation.
Watching a few of these comps on their official YouTube page, you can see that the production quality has gone from strength to strength with every passing year. There is a distinct eye for the theatrical, true to the roots of the genre, yet the Malaysian flavour shines through without being tacky.
Many budding wrestlers are also steadily building followings on their own off the ring, with the leather jacket-clad Gotham, femme baddass Luna Rift, and up-and-coming actress Aqilah Abas, as just some of the standouts.
Unfortunately, Maszlee’s calls were guffawed by members of the government, with Annuar stating plainly that he was not in the know regarding the Malaysian wrestling scene. And you know what they say, “tak kenal maka tak cinta.” Perhaps somewhat redeeming, the minister at least offered to meet the wrestlers at Maszlee’s introduction.
I must admit, before writing this piece I too thought that the suggestion was another one of his signature ‘hare-brained’ schemes, but after spending a few days watching the wrestlers in action, even I gotta say “give me a hell yeah!”