The Curse of Sulit Bayad: Thoughts on PWR Vendetta 2019

Match Reviews

Money matters to a Filipino. In an atmosphere of constant political and economic distress, the average Filipino is always trying to get the absolute best value for their money. That’s why we have sulitxt promos, all you can eat samgyupsal, and a mega sale for every occasion on the calendar. More is more and more is good in our world. 

It comes as no surprise then that the ultimate compliment that local wrestling fans have for an independent Philippine wrestling show is “Sulit bayad!” It’s the highest validation: confirmation that a viewer’s money has been well spent. It’s a uniquely Pinoy take on the “This is awesome!” chant that found its way from rec halls and high school gymnasiums to the largest stadiums in the world on WWE television.

It’s that chant that comes to mind when I think of PWR’s final show of the decade, Vendetta 2019. Intentional or not, the show seemed designed to make good on the promise of sulit bayad by ascribing to the idea that more is more and more is good. 

PWR Vendetta 2019 had a runtime of five hours, starting their pre-show at roughly 2 PM before their main event ended at 7 PM. Hidden in those five hours, a brief intermission, and a promo segment with Mr. Sy Group. But otherwise, it was wall to wall wrestling, the pinnacle being two five-on-five Ubusan ng Lahi elimination tag matches (a send up to this weekend’s Survivor Series) that each went upwards of forty minutes.

I will repeat that. Two five-on-five Survivor Series style matches that each went upwards of forty minutes. 

Turning to Ubusan ng Lahi’s historical predecessor, the Survivor Series match, we find that the last time a Survivor Series match went upwards of forty minutes was 2016 when the five-on-five elimination tag between Team Raw and Team Smackdown went 52:55. In fact in Survivor Series’ long history dating all the way back to 1987, only four of the traditional elimination tags have surpassed the forty minute mark. That’s right, only four matches in the thirty-two year history of the event.

And PWR Vendetta 2019 had two on the same night.

The length of these matches did not go unnoticed. In PWR, it’s standard procedure for the ring announcer to call out every five minute interval that has passed since the opening bell. Each time that the Ubusan ng Lahi matches drifted north of twenty and thirty minutes, I could hear audible complaints from people in the crowd about the match’s length. It may be easy to forego these whispered complaints when compared to the thankful ovation that each match received at match’s end but I do believe that neither match could really achieve its full potential because of the extended runtimes.

Let’s take a look at the first Ubusan ng Lahi match. The Naughty Boys of Trian dela Torre, Evan Carleaux, Camus, Jhemerlyn, and mystery partner Cali Nueva took on Koponan Tutan captained by Kapitan Tutan with Bolt, Dax Xaviera, Gantilyo, & John Sebastian. The match started off hot with all ten competitors breaking out into a wild brawl throughout the Power Mac Center. The heat was off the charts with the crowd eagerly cheering on the babyfaces, jeering the heels, and getting an up close view of the action as the brawl spilled out of the ring. 

This momentum carried forward with Cali Nueva’s spectacular high flying offense that continues to win the crowd over. Nueva was easily the most over competitor in the whole match, probably getting the most shine and love from the crowd. That powerful connection with the crowd made Nueva’s elimination at roughly the twenty minute mark incredibly deflating. 

Natural babyface Jhemerlyn’s elimination continued to lower the energy of the crowd with none of the remaining competitors capturing the same lightning in a bottle that Nueva did. While Camus’ iron man run to become the final survivor did win back the crowd to an extent, the match missed its peak by about fifteen or twenty minutes. 

Yes, the match told the narrative of Camus enduring against the overwhelming numbers as well as the clock. Shawn Michaels told a similar story in 2003 in under thirty minutes. I’m not saying that Camus needs to put in a Shawn Michaels-level performance but past precedent is there to show that the same story can be done and done better in much less time.

The main event between Team Philippines vs. Team Malaysia suffered near identical issues. The match started off hot with all ten competitors breaking out into a wild brawl–man, I feel like I’ve heard that before. Unlike the earlier Ubusan ng Lahi, I do feel that the main event sustained its energy for much longer. 

The individual interactions between members of each team made this match. Mike Madrigal’s brash cockiness, Quatro’s stubborn pride making him avoid tagging in Mike, Mh4rckie’s extended role as Ricky Morton putting his selling and rope break psychology on full display. There was a lot to love about this match including Serigala’s awe-inspiring presence and power spots.

But the match just wouldn’t stop. I do feel that this fell apart somewhere around the thirty minute mark especially when we got down to just the final four. Exhaustion had definitely set in with the competitors and the ringwork just wasn’t as smooth and clean as it had been previously. It’s frustrating because the highs of this match were so incredibly compelling but they were separated by large swaths of waiting around during extended heat segments. An hour is a lot of time for things to go wrong and to lose a crowd.

As I mentioned, however, the fans left happy at the end of these matches. I do wonder, however, at the potential of these matches. Trimming off ten or fifteen minutes from either of them could have given us classics while also creating a punchier experience that compresses the peaks together to leave a better impression. 

It’s strange to express these frustrations when other matches on the card displayed a brilliant sense of pacing and time management. For me, the PWR Championship match between Chris Panzer and Idol Martinez was a brilliant utilization of a shorter amount of time to tell a concise and effective story of an underestimated midcard babyface nearly getting the job done against the company’s top heel. Crystal and Nor “Phoenix” Diana created a simple showcase title match that escalated steadily and climaxed with a championship win to pop the crowd. The workers of PWR are talented enough to take limited amounts of time and make them great.

Contrary to what all of this might lead you to believe, I thought Vendetta 2019 was a good show. With that much content, the law of averages dictates that just enough of it will likely please the crowd. At show’s end, however, Vendetta felt like a show that shined in spite of itself. Imagine Icarus’ wings melting off only for him to crash into a pile of down pillows. An overreach that stumbles into success.

But I suppose it’s become a habit for wrestling companies in general to reach for that sense of “epic.” In our era of 60+ minute New Japan epics breaking Dave Meltzer’s star scale and two WarGames matches on one show, we find ourselves in a wrestling landscape constantly in competition with itself. 

More is more and more is better. Value for money.

Sulit bayad.

It is worth noting that the “Sulit Bayad” chant came up only once during the show (that I recall). It took place during the entrance of Rederick Mahaba & Ralph Imabayashi’s tag team reunion. Their mere presence together drew the chant from happy fans who had invested in their story. 

Their match didn’t go much longer than ten minutes.

Photo credits to PWR

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