Former WWE star and model Zeda Zhang shines spotlight on Chinese wrestling scene with OWE
- Chinese-American is now starring in Oriental Wrestling Entertainment
- Zeda on a mission to hone her craft learning new styles from around the world
For most, the disappointment of losing your dream job would be tough to recover from. But Chinese-American professional wrestler Zeda Zhang has not looked back since leaving WWE.
Former model and singer-songwriter Zhang – real name Julia Ho – finally made it to WWE after also trying her hand at mixed martial arts, but was released from the giant US professional wrestling company’s developmental brand NXT last June, just a year on from making her debut in the groundbreaking all-female “Mae Young Classic” tournament.
“I’m sad I’m not in NXT but I’ll be OK,” she told the South China Morning Post the next day. “I’m gonna explore the indie scene.”
Fast forward seven months and Zhang has been more than busy on professional wrestling’s independent promotion circuit in the US – and now she’s going global.
“As soon as people heard of my release, a bunch of promotions hit me up and then I just got referred by promoters to other promoters, referred by wrestlers and coaches,” she says.
“There’s been a lot of travelling and wrestling. The indies have treated me well so far. I have been very lucky.”
Born to Chinese parents in Charlottesville, Virginia, Zhang was not content to just learn her craft in the land where she grew up, and embarked on a tour of Asia in December.
“The trip has been amazing but hectic,” says Zhang, who is now in China performing for Oriental Wrestling Entertainment (OWE). “It’s been nonstop back-to-back but very welcoming people, and it’s nice to finally meet my fans from the other side of the world.
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“Since my ethnic background is Chinese, I felt it would be good to wrestle in China and also visit Asia since I have fans here and want to be able to be there for all of them and get a chance to meet them.
“It is the least I can do for them for following and supporting me all the way across the world.”
Those fans – the “Zhang Gang”, as she terms them – have got to watch her between the ropes for other promotions in Taiwan and Singapore, with Shenzhen, Macau, India, South Korea and Japan up later this month.
It’s all part of a process, she says, to improve her game and increase her experience.
By working with OWE, Zhang has also got the chance to learn from legendary Japanese wrestler CIMA, who is the Chinese promotion’s head trainer. CIMA has also brought in Luchador coach Skayde to work with OWE’s wrestlers.
“It has definitely helped me expand in my wrestling,” she says. “I’ve been fortunate enough to train under WWE and learn the American style, but now I am able to learn the Japanese style as well as the Mexican style from people who are straight from there.”
“Having a mix of styles only broadens my knowledge and skills,” she adds.
Zhang was also tempted by the chance to help wrestling grow as a form of entertainment in Asia, where, outside Japan, it is still developing.
“The US is very prominent in pro wrestling but it is also very saturated,” she says. “There are a lot of shows out there and unfortunately more bad ones than good.
“Whereas in Asia, it’s newer and going to a show or seeing entertainment is usually for a more wealthy crowd, so they take the time to focus on production. All the shows have great production and look very professional.
“Asia, especially China is really growing in sports entertainment and I believe it will be something big. I expect in a few years it will be on the world map.”
Learning how to play to a much different live audience is also a valuable tool.
“The crowd in Asia is different compared to the US. It’s more quiet here because of the Asian culture, how it is seen as disrespectful to be loud,” she says.
“This is why a lot of Japanese shows, the crowd is silent and will clap. Same with sporting events. It is just a different culture but because of the popularity of WWE and UFC, the hyped rowdy fans of the US has made the Asian fans more willing to cheer.
“In China though, they just cheer for you all the time since they don’t understand yet to ‘boo’ a bad person and cheer a good person.
“They see booing someone as rude so they cheer for both to show respect of their work in the ring or they stay quiet when the heel comes out.
“There is no right or wrong. It’s a different culture and either way, if it’s an interactive crowd who is loud and rowdy versus a quiet crowd.
“So long as I’ve entertained them and made them smile or feel a certain way and remember that show, then I’ve done my job as a sports entertainer.”
Zhang is determined to continue learning as much as she can, and her goal is to work with any major wrestling promotion that she can.
“I definitely had a lot of great experiences in WWE – training, going to shows together, making history together. I still keep in touch with people there,” Zhang said.
“Most of the wrestlers have had worldly experience before going to WWE and I want to be able have that and be in control of my own growth.
“Everything I’ve learned there of course will help me. I am lucky to have experienced wrestling at one of the highest levels but everything else is up to me – just getting out there and wrestling as much as possible and really learning from experience from more wrestling styles around the country and the world.”