Interview with Grapple MAX Dojo Co-Founder Dennis "The Ladykiller"

Pro wrestling...it's like a real life cross between a fighting game and an RPG where you control a character and navigate the open world universe of opponents and arenas.

By STYLEGUIDE

April 27 2018

Many of us have grown up enraptured by WWE on the edge of our seats, thrilled and exhilarated by the sheer drama, cussing and brutal scenes when wrestling just seems all too real and visceral. Heck, some of us have even tried to pull off iconic finishing moves on our friends, so imagine if you now have the opportunity to put yourself in the ring and learn pro-wrestling moves for real while keeping fit! STYLEGUIDE finds out more from co-founder of Grapple MAX Dojo, Dennis "The Ladykiller" on their journey in setting up a pro-wrestling themed fitness school. 

What made the team decide to start Grapple MAX?

My business partner Greg and I were looking to create a fitness programme in the niche of pro wrestling, which we thought would be unique and novel. There was not much else in the market like it, and we felt pro wrestling had the potential to help people achieve personal goals such as confidence building, and fitness.

Pro wrestling is a means of self expression contextualised in a fight setting. It's like a real life cross between a fighting game and an RPG (Role Playing Game in computer/video game parlance) where you control a character and navigate the open world universe of opponents and arenas. 

What were some of the challenges faced in starting Grapple MAX?

Because the concept is so unique, we had a difficult time convincing investors without a proof of concept. We were told in our face repeatedly by many parties that this was going to fail because no one would be interested in our product. 

Therefore, the challenge we identified was that the market wasn't ready for this - which meant that savvy marketing was the solution.

We once organised one of our wrestling events in a bar, and we themed it to feel really dingy and underground. The event was called Fight Club, a reference to the 1999 Brad Pitt movie. 

We also put a very aspirational spin to our brand voice, giving our trainees a unique experience of becoming a wrestling superstar when we hype our matches. 

This has always enticed some spectators to convert to become trainees themselves by signing up with us!

What were some memorable experiences?

As it turns out, despite the negativity, our pro wrestling fitness school did in fact attract a loyal clientele after all, with people from all walks of life signing up to train with us. 

We organised many wrestling shows featuring us and our trainees, and the largest one was at last year's Singapore Night Festival, where the audience was more than a thousand strong. Our trainees became rock stars. It was an experience our trainees thoroughly enjoyed.

What was the biggest achievement since starting Grapple MAX?

The achievements come in many forms. On a personal level, Greg and I have won many international championships together (Malaysia, Hong Kong, India) since we started the school. 

But we look beyond ourselves, realising the real achievement is in the fulfilment that coaching brings. Seeing progress and personal development in our trainees is a huge reward, and the trainees who are more serious and committed to this newfound wrestling career, have started to tour overseas, which is something they never imagined they could do. 

On a business level, surviving past the first year of operations is a great milestone for any company!

What is something unique about pro wrestling that makes it different from other forms of martial arts?

We consciously protect our opponents, which is a stark contrast to the objectives of combat sports such as MMA or boxing - which is to damage your opponent. Pro wrestling is a form of physical theatre set in the context of a fight. Your opponent is your co-star. We spend time developing charisma and body language, in order for performances to look convincing. The goal is to entertain the audience, while only looking like we're beating each other up.

How can people benefit from pro wrestling, in terms of fitness and health?

Our programme involves a lot of cardio and strength conditioning. A typical match lasts anywhere from 8-12 minutes, at high intensity. 

In terms of physical health, we've seen some trainees shed over 10kg since they've started training with us.

In terms of mental health, the locker room community that is integral to the experience at the dojo has helped one of our trainees overcome depression.

In your team’s opinion, why should people take up pro wrestling over other forms of martial arts?

Take pro wrestling up if the performance element appeals to you. We wouldn't really consider it as a direct alternative to other martial arts, even if on the surface we may have similarities.

Pro wrestling is a highly customisable experience. We craft our entire wrestler character from scratch, from our ring name, to our persona, to our wardrobe, to our wrestling moves and antics. The ability to control your entire image is a creative exercise that never ends. You are limited only by your imagination.

Wrestling fans in the region know me as The Ladykiller. The Ladykiller is a smooth operator known for being charming and ruthless. He finishes opponents off with a high speed rugby tackle called a Spear.

My business partner goes by Greg Glorious. With an illustrious international career and multiple championships to his name, Greg Glorious is a visionary and trailblazer. He is known for his superior technique and intellect. His finisher is a throw called the German Suplex. 

One of our standout trainees, Jeff Ederer, is a chiropractor by profession. Since there's actually a pro wrestling manoeuvre known as the Backbreaker, we encouraged him to adopt that as his signature move because of the ironic humour. 

Who would you recommend to take up pro wrestling?

Wrestling fans are the ones that understand our product offering immediately. One glance and they can see their childhood flash before their eyes, throwing siblings on the bed or tackling friends into the swimming pool. If it has always been a dream to do it safely and under supervision, we're the gym for you. 

If you are not a wrestling fan but you are looking for a new physical activity to reboot your life, we're also the gym for you. We've trained people who have never watched a single wrestling match in their life, to do something refreshing and extraordinary. 

What would you say to people who have yet to try out pro wrestling?

While we try to make it as accessible as we can, we understand that it may not be everybody's cup of tea. But if it is, there is nothing else in the world like it. It's like a computer game RPG in real life. 

Are there any mentors or people whom the team would like to say thanks to throughout the journey in starting Grapple MAX?

Our trainees are the reason we even exist. We'd have shut down a long time ago if we didn't have a steady stream of sign ups every month. Without their constant participation, we couldn't create the community that we have today. Also, because wrestling is performed in front of fans, our supporters also deserve a shoutout, because what fun is there if there was no one to cheer or boo our characters!

What’s up for Grapple MAX in the year 2018?

We're looking to land our trainees more performance opportunities overseas. We're looking to expand our schedule so that our clients get more options to fit wrestling training into their calendar.