It was a special night for pro wrestler Andruew Tang. The wrestling promotion and school which he co-founded in 2012 with Russian wrestler Vadim Koryagin, Singapore Pro Wrestling, was throwing a live show in a dormitory for Singapore's migrant workers that was just for its residents. It was two days before Diwali, and the timing was intentional—he wanted to give back to a population that helped grow of the country. Tang has performed all over the world in his career, but still, he was nervous.
“The thing about being both a performer and the event’s organizer is that I will always feel stressed, not only about my own match, but also to ensure that the entire show runs smoothly,” Tang told VICE. "Every pro wrestler worth his or her salt will experience a burning desire to outperform their peers, leave a statement for fans watching in attendance and make them want to come back for more."
There was plenty of excitement at Singapore Pro Wrestling: Night of Daredevils, but there was a lot of pressure to put on a particularly good show. Their audience was some of Singapore's close to 1.4 million foreign workers (Singapore's total population is 5.6 million). And they weren't the skilled and professional minority, they were part of the bigger chunk of the population who are either construction workers or unskilled or semi-skilled laborers. And despite their significant contribution to Singapore's infrastructure and economy, these workers are often paid very little.
"Some of them collect basic monthly salaries that are as low as $400 SGD to $465 SGD," said Ou Ningfei, the co-founder of Labour Arty, a non-profit that aims to bridge the societal segregation between migrant workers and Singaporeans, through various forms of art. "Many of them pay as much as $3,000 SGD to $15,000 SGD to their agents in home countries like India and Bangladesh, in order to secure jobs in Singapore that are no walk in the park.
“They live in cramped conditions, subsist on spartan meals and are sometimes the victim of criminal injustices committed by their employers. However, art, and performance arts like pro wrestling, are interests that both parties might share and can relate to. When foreigners are not discriminated against by their adopted community, injustices against them too will become a thing of the past.”
Tang, and the other performers, wanted to leave a good impression.
“Tonight, we managed to win over a very different crowd and give them a night to remember,” he said. "Our trustworthy crew ensured that the whole event ran smoothly, which let all of SPW’s male and female performers concentrate on having good matches."
Among others in attendance in the ring was Aiden Rex, an adept gymnast and pro wrestler. A graphic designer by day, Gavin brings his audience to their feet at every SPW event with feats of superhuman athleticism. That night was no different.
“Before each show begins, I find myself thinking about putting on a good performance for the audience, executing every manoeuver smoothly and with proper form and technique," Gavin told VICE. "Sometimes I think about the risks and potential injuries too, but I try to block that out.”
Danie Dharma, a national bodybuilding repeat champion, also felt honored to be part of this one-of-a-kind show.
"Speaking the same language and being the same ethnicity as many of the audience members, I got a really warm reception from them," Dharma told VICE.
It's true—the audience screamed and cheered every time he lifted and threw his two opponents around the ring. "I’m glad that I was able to really connect with them, and that they were able to relate to the show and its variety of characters.” After the event ended, the dormitory’s residents swarmed the performers, asking for pictures together and kissing the wrestlers’ hands as signs of gratitude. The show, lively as it was, wasn't going to solve the problems that Singapore's migrant laborers face every day. But that night, there was a lot of joy. And that's enough for now.