And Khayl didn’t care.
It happened as Khayl stood over me in my front row seat at the UP Bahay ng Alumni. He didn’t even need to say anything as he harassed me, the crowd was already upset. His standard heel antics of railing against the crowd, breaking every rule possible in the ring, and talking trash to anyone who heckled him made him public enemy number one to the KapaFeds in attendance at MWF 3: Republika. Add to that the presence of the Kakaibros, tossing chairs around ringside and interfering on Khayl’s behalf, and there was a real sense of dastardly danger emanating from Khayl that night.
It was this chaotic atmosphere and Khayl’s constant rushing into the crowd to confront the fans that must have gotten to my friend sitting beside me that night. That night, Khayl captured something truly unique in wrestling: genuine raw emotion. It might have been a hateful connection he forged but it was a connection nonetheless. Emotion like that is a priceless commodity in wrestling.
Khayl didn’t back down from the man who spat at him.
He looked him dead in the eye.
Khayl Sison’s gimmick was clear before I even saw him in person. As Lil Pump’s repetitive, mindless droning of “Gucci Gang” rang out ad nauseum through the arena, the image formed in my head of the person who could match that music matched Khayl Sison exactly. The sight of the skinny young man walking out in a hoodie, snapback cap, and shades brought no surprises.
The term “hypebeast” comes from the world of streetwear culture where it refers to someone who obsesses over expensive branded clothing and the status that it brings. They aren’t product connoisseurs that base their purchases on quality and value. Rather, they follow the trends, they reach for the most popular brand because it’s popular. Supreme, Gucci, Billionaire Boys Club–the markers of wealth and clout that hypebeasts strive for.
In the Philippines, however, the term hypebeast has a far more specific meaning. Here, the term almost exclusively refers to the poor. The term “hypebeast” in Manila brings to mind images of swaggering young men moving in groups in malls clad head to toe in knock off designer clothing.
This is what Khayl Sison represents.
And much like the hypebeasts of the real world that Khayl is drawing from, he has been greeted with hatred and venom from the MWF audience. From the moment that his character achieved its full form at MWF 3 (changing the spelling of his name from the more traditional “Kyle), Khayl has been one of the most over acts in the company despite not having quite the same polished and impactful ringwork as many of his contemporaries. For much of 2018, the hatred for Khayl was so strong that chants of “Sison sucks!” were known to spring up during matches that didn’t even feature him at all.
This reaction from the crowd should be no surprise to anybody. The stereotypical hypebeast that Khayl represents already draws a lot of ire and he has supplemented this with all the traditional trademarks of heel wrestling: insulting the fans, a reliance on low blows, an almost deluded sense of self-worth. Khayl (and by extension, the creative team of MWF) used the tropes of the wrestling genre to create a character so deeply hated that someone actually spat in his face during a live performance.
And yet something happened at the start of 2019.
After defeating Fabio Makisig in the first MWF match of the year, Fabio took on Khayl as his protege and partner. Fabio, a much beloved member of the roster, siding with Khayl served to blur the reactions that Khayl received. His proximity to arguably the second biggest babyface on the MWF roster in Fabio made it so that Khayl tended to receive some cheers by proxy. He still drew boos but they felt almost routine at that point, lacking the same venom as 2018.
His association with Fabio allowed Khayl’s character to develop more dimension. This all came to a head at MWF 9: Oras ng Liwanag when Khayl addressed the crowd before his scheduled match. During his promo, Khayl called out the crowd for hating him just for doing his job: attempting to win. He painted a picture of someone who’d been dealt a bad hand in life just doing what he could to get on an even playing field with the rest of the world.
And that’s when I realized why Khayl’s character drew so much hatred.
The crowd hated Khayl’s success because Khayl was never meant to succeed.
In a September 25, 2019 post on his page The No Chill Wrestling Booker, William Elvin Manzano, one of the key creative figures behind MWF, wrote that “One of my dreams for MWF is to elevate its power for social commentary…” This is made incredibly clear by MWF’s approach to storytelling which often draws from the woes of the Philippines both past and present.
Whether it’s a championship belt designed to look like a jeepney fender or a stable of nameless cronies meant to evoke the oppressive Philippine Constabulary from the Martial Law era, MWF does not shy away from provocative stories and imagery. And as hit and miss as those attempts at commentary may be, I find that Sison might be one of the most effective examples of this attempt at speaking to a larger societal truth.
Khayl Sison is easy to hate, with the superfluous H in his name and his tacky knock off clothes, because I come from the upper middle class. Most of the MWF fanbase come from the middle to upper middle class: wrestling fans with the access to the Internet who go out of their way to support local wrestling shows. Khayl’s hypebeast gimmick is specifically made to draw irritation from the middle class crowd.
Because that’s what hypebeasts are. They’re irritants, reaching for a level of success and prestige that we have deemed unworthy of them. We bombard the people in the lower classes with a certain image of success in overpriced designer clothing, then we deride them for daring to conform to that image.
No, Khayl, you don’t get to wear Supreme. You clearly can’t afford it.
Khayl Sison as a character, represents the underprivileged parts of society that irritate us for their refusal to stay in their lane. His character clearly comes from a tough background, and these limitations are personified through Khayl’s time with the company. At the start of MWF 1, Khayl and fellow wrestler Ashura are both under the tutelage of Mr. Lucha.
Mr. Lucha, clad in his blue, red, and yellow, is a walking symbol of the Philippines as a whole. He takes Sison under his wing and attempts to teach him the right and honorable ways to become a wrestler. Follow the rules, train harder, focus on your ringwork, display a sense of honor. Mr. Lucha wants Khayl Sison to become an upstanding, law abiding citizen. A useful and contributing cog of our society.
Unfortunately, those rules and systems aren’t made for Khayl Sison to succeed. He’s a street kid who grew up fighting on the streets. While he has certain skills, he just doesn’t have the same set of tools as others to make him a successful pro wrestler. As such, he spends most of his first few months losing at every turn. The system fails Khayl Sison because the system is not made for Khayl Sison.
Only when he breaks away from the expectation of him does he begin to find success. He breaks the rules, and ends up winning in the end. He gets so good at it that he goes on a six show run of consecutive victories, culminating at MWF 9: Oras ng Liwanag when he defeats the man who attempted to box him into those restraining rules to begin with: Mr. Lucha. He defeats Mr. Lucha and attains his highest level of success yet: an opportunity at the MWF Championship.
But even at his most victorious, the system holds down people like Khayl.
By this point, the systemic oppression that had only been hinted at previously by MWF has been given physical form: MWF Commissioner Gus Queens. Gus Queens as a character has come to represent a long history of corrupt, vile, tyrannical Filipino leaders that abuse the underprivileged to cement their position in society.
Despite having earned his opportunity at the MWF Championship, Khayl Sison’s title match is delayed, given instead to returning wrestler Ho Ho Lun. Khayl Sison is overlooked because he was meant to be overlooked.
Khayl is not supposed to succeed.
It would have been nice if Khayl defeated Ho Ho Lun for the championship at MWF 11. The crowd had finally turned to love Khayl and his antics and wanted quite badly for him to leave Resorts World Manila with the title that night. It was easy to love Khayl Sison that night especially if you understood where he was coming from. He was someone that dared to dream big and reach higher than he should.
Even my friend who spat in Khayl’s face cheered for him that night.
But success doesn’t come easy to people like Khayl. The whole world is against them. And that’s why I find there’s still something to be celebrated about his loss. Khayl Sison is an irritant, someone who dared to dream big and reach higher than expected of him. On his own, on that night, the world got the better of him.
The world spat in his face.
But Khayl won’t back down. He’ll look it dead in the eye.
Photo credit to Cholo Gonzales of Fight Sports Manila