A fighter bursts through a flimsy tarpaulin curtain and bounds into the ring wearing a helmet and the unmistakable bright orange jacket of a Bangkok motorbike-taxi rider – it’s Thailand’s take on WWE wrestling.
The 25-year-old wrestler with the stage name “P’Suchart” was one of almost 20 individuals slapping, slamming and smacking one another at SETUP Thailand Pro Wrestling.
The part-sport, part-show has been slowly gaining popularity in the country and co-founder Pumi Boonyatud hopes to carve out a space for local wrestlers using distinctively Thai characters.
A crowd of about 250 in Bangkok suggests it could take off.
“We try to put some of the Thai fighting background… together with professional wrestler training,” the 32-year-old said, in order to create “what we call the real Thai version of wrestling”.
“P’Suchart”, real name Tanapol Mahavong, was first captivated by wrestling when he played video games as a child. He believes that “character-building is more important than wrestling skills”.
“Wrestling skills you can train for, build them up, if you put enough energy into it then you could become a good wrestler,” he told AFP.
“But to have a good character is a whole different story,” he said, adding his motorbike-taxi wrestling persona was inspired by a character in the Thai film “Heart Attack”.
Like many on the stage Saturday evening, he trains and performs around his nine-to-five job as an editor.
“When I train hard and my body gets beaten and bruised up, the manager of my office would tell me to go home and rest,” Tanapol said and although he ultimately lost his bout, the spectacle in the ring definitely struck a chord with the crowd.
“They won me as a fan,” said American tourist Jerry Massey, who had stumbled across promotions of the show and pitched up to see how it measured up.
“This is something different for me,” said the 45-year-old, a fan of pro-wrestling in the United States.
“We saw chairs shattered tonight, we saw paint shots tonight, you could really feel it in your body being so close to the action,” Massey added.
“I was absolutely impressed.”
As Tanapol puts it: “Anyone can become a good wrestler, but not everyone can be an entertaining wrestler.”