The double lives of Philippine wrestlers

(Kara Ortiga)

Last June, the Philippine Wrestling Revolution staged their fourth show in a shoddy boxing arena at the top floor of Makati Cinema Square. They did takedowns, body slams and chokeholds like their entertainment-wrestling heroes.
As 500 people filled the arena with cheers, the amateur wrestlers who took the stage gave it their all. It was a low-budget production complete with stunts, Grade-A audience engagement, and all the pizzazz that their meager savings could afford: smoke machines, hand-sewn costumes, and ordinary face paint.

But in the corner of a coffee shop one Saturday morning, when the traffic was really bad, these young men agreed to strip off their masks, capes and robes, and allowed us a peek into the double lives that they live.

Behind their put-on personas, they juggle school and actual jobs. They pay taxes, study for high grades, make time for girlfriends, and sit through horrible Manila traffic. Whereas a real professional wrestler like AJ Styles—google him—would travel business class and get paid $5,000 for each match, these boys wrestle for nothing. So, who are these people? Amateur wrestlers Jake de Leon, “Classical” Bryan Leo, and Mayhem Brannigan talk about their personal lives and what it’s like to wrestle for a living.

“Classical” Bryan Leo, 22

Bryan Leo is a name I came up with when I was in grade school. I remember there was a wrestler named Austin Aries and when people asked him how he got his name, he said, “Oh that’s easy. It’s my favorite wrestler’s last name plus my zodiac sign.”I’ve been to several countries as a kid growing up. I’m Arabic-Filipino. I was born in Bahrain, but I was raised in London by my father. I eventually went back to Bahrain, lived in the UAE, moved to Dubai, and then finally I went to high school here when I was 13 years old.

I went to a private Catholic school in the South for about four years of my life. I hated everything about it, because I realized just how close-minded the country really is, to be very honest with you. My classmates would tell me, “Oh, you’re Arab, you must know Saddam Hussein. You must know Osama Bin Laden.” They would be like, “Oh, do you have a bomb in your bag?” They hated me for being a wrestling fan, too. That really bothers me because in many places, like when I lived in the UAE, they would say, “Oh you’re Filipino…Well, your mother must be a house maid.”

My mother was the wrestling fan growing up. She always wanted to watch wrestling. I got into it when I was around eight or nine.

I’m in college now, my fifth year in a medical course. I hate everything about it. I’m suffering! I come from a family of doctors. In my country, my uncle is one of the most prominent doctors in the Middle East. My auntie is the head psychiatrist in my country. So it’s a lot to live up to, but it’s not my thing.

Everything that happens in the ring is a lot of fun. But it’s so hard to balance everything. You lose sleep but then you have to focus in school and wonder if you’re going to graduate. Then you have to deal with business partners and find a way to get the company rolling.

I’ve had a few concussions from falling down the wrong way and slipping and hitting my head. Once I was getting hit with a stick in the arm, and because I was so sweaty, it slid and ended up hitting me on the forehead. I started bleeding. Aside from accidents like that, there’s the occasional sprain.

At first my dad was like, “Okay, if he wants to get hurt go ahead.” But now he’s like, “Good. But there’s one problem: You don’t look like a wrestler, you need more muscle.” Yet he’s always saying, “Focus on school, you motherfucker.” But he’s happy that we’re getting the publicity. His concern now  is: “Are you making millions yet?”

The way I see it, a wrestler has to believe in his character for everyone else to believe it. It has to come from the heart. If the character is successful, there is a lot of that real person in that character. I was bullied in school and I hated it. So that’s where my character gets his “hate for the Filipinos.” The idea is my character, [a villain], comes form a First World country and calls these Filipinos pokpok and everything, just to be mean. I exaggerate what I hate about the country. I don’t really mean everything I say.

We wouldn’t be serious about wrestling if we thought it wouldn’t work out. We know it will work out. It’s not a matter of If, it’s a matter of When.


“The Senyorito” Jake De Leon, 24

A lot of people say it’s bootleg wrestling. But you have to see a show to truly enjoy it.

I was always a big wrestling fan. Back in high school, I remember I used to look for wrestling universities, but there’s no such thing in the Philippines. After I graduated college, I was looking up these wrestling groups on Facebook. And that’s when I found the Philippine Wrestling Revolution. They wanted to start a scene here.

It was a childhood dream. Watching wrestling growing up, everyone sort of had that dream. But in January 2014, the people in that Facebook group wanted to do actual training. I was hesitant at first because I had no idea who these guys were. I didn’t know anyone at all.

I was born and raised in Bacolod. My dad has a farm there. So I am like the son of a haciendero, which is what my character is also about. I learned all about hard work and respect from my father. There are usually negative connotations towards hacienderos, and my father always strived to change that, which is also what my character embodies.

So basically, I’m just wrestling as myself.

The character of the rich haciendero was always a back-pocket idea that I had. It’s really close to home. And they said the best characters in wrestling are the ones who are true to themselves.  No one had a probinsyano character yet as well, so that’s when I decided to put myself out there.

I wanted to get out of Bacolod and learn new things and gain experience, that’s why I moved here to Manila. I wanted to experience the everyday struggles of someone who goes through everyday life, even if I come from a privileged background. That’s also where my tagline, “Minimum wage, Maximum rage” comes from.

I always had this knack for picking up moves right away. My background is a brief stint in break dancing. I just mix a lot of styles.

I work in corporate marketing now. How do I balance my schedule? Passion. My job is basically a classic 9-5. And so I leave my weekends free for my passion. It’s an itch you can’t scratch. So every Sunday, I train with PWR. I rest on Saturdays.

I’ve gotten a lot of sprains, but nothing major. It’s scary, that’s why we train every week.

My family knows I’m a wrestler. Initially they were scared for my health. Now they’re fine with it. They’re happy for me because I’m chasing my dreams.

Also, I don’t really care that I have love handles.


Mayhem Brannigan, 20

I’m my third year in an arts course in university. I grew up in Parañaque, was born and raised there. My mom said that when I was a kid, I always wanted to become mature; I never wanted to hang out with children. When I was a teenager, I never hung out with teenagers. And until now I don’t hang out with my peers.

I was a pretty hyper kid, and apparently, I was violent, too. I was loud and I’d get into fights everyday, coming in and out of the principal’s office because I was a very energetic kid. I was very much into music as well.

I actually rap, and it’s one of the reasons why I wear a mask. I’ve been rapping like four or five years of my life already.

I’ve been into wrestling my entire life. Even during the phase when it wasn’t cool. It’s literally been the most irrational dream for me. Early in my teens, people asked me, “What do you want to be when you grow up?” And I would say, “I want to be a pro-wrestler.” My teachers would be like, “What are you talking about?!” And I’ll be like, “No, what the fuck are YOU talking about!”

I was always in trouble. I was a problem child. My parents have spent more money getting me out of trouble than they have getting me into school. And so I just thought that I needed to get my life back on track. So one day as I was scrolling through my Facebook feed, I saw a friend posting on a wrestling group. There was an open call for people to go and train. The group was already two years old, but the very week I joined was the week when they finally decided to start training. We didn’t know each other, but we started training or beating each other up right away. It bonded us.

My family has no choice but to be supportive. They created and fed this monster.

I always wanted to have a rebel character, because I’ve always been a rebel myself. It’s not even ’cause of how I dress or how I look. This whole rebellion thing is not even directed towards my family—more of… I don’t like how this generation acts. They come up with all these terms like “basic bitches” to put other people down or to act edgy. But by doing so, they also just become so cookiecutter! They’re trying to be unique, to fit in…But what do they end up doing? I just hate that shit.

Some people are too artificial or too pseudo-organic for the wrong reasons, and that’s what I’ve always been against. So I’ve always wanted that rebel character. “Mayhem” sounds cool and “Brannigan” is actually Irish for mayhem.

Concussions are common. I had this really bad concussion where I lost my hearing for a while. I was out for two and a half months. I took a chair shot to the head. There’s a certain way to do it but I didn’t do it the right way. Recently, I got my neck cracked in a match. My ears were ringing for a good minute.

I never expected to have this kind of brotherhood. When you go backstage here, it’s a fucking family. I never expected it here. We found love… in a hopeless place.


Follow Classical Byran Leo, Senyorito Jake de Leon, and Mayhem Brannigan on Facebook.

PWR’s next live match will be on August 15, 2015. Check out this page for more details.

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  • Alvin Balce

    Erratum: It was last May. ?

  • Gerald Mangotara

    How can I Join?