WWE cult hero Ho Ho Lun reflects on his journey in NXT after returning to Hong Kong
Former WWE star opens up on his sudden release from the company and his plans to make professional wrestling mainstream in Asia
The day before his debut with American giants World Wrestling Entertainment, Ho Ho Lun barely had a butterfly in his stomach.
Recruited for WWE’s global “Cruiserweight Classic” tournament in June 2016, there was a lot of pressure resting on the Tai Po-native’s shoulders, being the first performer from Hong Kong to ever wrestle for the company.
“The morning of the match, I still felt normal,” the 30-year-old recalls. “And then when I got to the backstage I thought, ‘Oh my god, is it me next?’
“I was a little bit upset afterwards, I felt it’s not the best match I’ve done. American style is totally different, so that first match is very nervous for me.”
He wanted the ground to swallow him up.
“I see it on my Twitter – ‘Ho Ho sucks’. I said, ‘Yeah, I know’. It breaks your heart but I know it’s true. If I’m reviewing that match, I’d type the same thing on my Twitter.
“But if they criticise me, that means they watched me. It’s better than people not watching me. It motivated me to get better.”
Now 14 months on from that match, Lun is constructing a makeshift wrestling ring out of blue gymnastics mats on a squash court inside the Pei Ho Street Sports Centre in Sham Shui Po.
Lun is preparing to coach a class of Hong Kong Wrestling Federation (HKWF) hopefuls where he will put them through brutal physical drills and training exercises.
It’s a far cry from the state-of-the-art facilities of WWE’s Performance Centre in Florida, where Lun trained for 12 months on a developmental deal with the company’s next generation of stars before he was suddenly released from his contract earlier this month.
“Ho Ho fired himself,” he says, laughing.
— 何顥麟 Ho Ho Lun (@hoholun719) August 12, 2017
“I didn’t want to come back to Hong Kong because my job in WWE was surely the best job in the world but then in July, I found out my mum is ill.
“She cannot walk, she started losing her memory. I asked if I could quit to take care of her.”
Lun admits the timing of his exit from WWE is unfortunate, given they are returning to China for a show in Shenzhen on September 17.
A large part of his role in America was also to help WWE’s growing number of Chinese recruits, including Shanghai’s Tian Bing, adapt to life away from home.
“When Tian Bing first got there, he cannot even say: ‘How are you?’ in English,” Lun says.
“But he’s getting a lot better now. They signed seven other wrestlers from China in January, most of them did not have any experience to live outside China.
“Sometimes it’s quite painful to work with them, because the culture is a lot different. You have to explain to them. But I wanted to help.
“That’s my job, babysitting,” he adds, laughing. “We always make fun of me, ‘I’m the babysitter. Do this, don’t do that. Put your garbage in a bag! That’s recycling!’
“In China they just do things different, but they’re learning really quick. Hong Kong is much more British, you know, the way I grew up.”
Lun performed at around four NXT live events in Florida each month but did not get the chance to wrestle on NXT’s weekly WWE Network programme as much as he would have liked.
“Other than the Cruiserweight Classic, every NXT match I do the guy is one foot taller than me, I can’t do much,” the 1.7 metre-tall Lun says with a hint of frustration.
His final match on NXT programming was a defeat in July to an American wrestler named “The Velveteen Dream”, who stands at 1.88 metres.
“Most of my matches in NXT are like five minutes. If there’s a chance, I wanted to do more matches with smaller guys.”
Lun was actually announced as part of the initial roster for WWE’s “205 Live” programme, which debuted on the WWE Network late last year featuring performers from the Cruiserweight Classic.
“I never got a chance to wrestle there. I don’t know what happened,” he says. “Maybe they want me to stay in NXT for a while first. I wanted to go there – the crowd is always 5,000 or more.
“That would be a lot busier though. It’s not that easy to come back here to Hong Kong while I’m on the roster, so I’m not upset at all.
“I always missed Hong Kong. I came back every three or four months for a week, just to eat food. American food is no good.
“In America, oh boy, I actually eat Chinese food. But American-style Chinese food is fake Chinese food. But that’s the most familiar taste. It’s not 100 per cent, it’s 50 per cent, but it’s OK.”
Also playing on Lun’s mind for the last few months of his time in WWE was the booming pro wrestling scene in Southeast Asia.
“There was a lot happening, I felt like I was missing out,” he says. “One year for me in America, it was so far, so good.
“But my next step is to build pro wrestling in Asia, and make it a mainstream sport as popular as it is in America.”
He’s already booked for shows in Singapore in October, as well as Thailand for November, and is a committee member for a new wrestling project in Macau.
“Here, my map is a lot bigger,” he says. “I love to see different things, different cultures, meet different people. In NXT we meet the same people every single day.
“I would wake up, train, eat lunch, get in the gym, eat again, go home, relax. Promo classes once a week, show every Thursday, Friday, Saturday.
“It’s really busy, six days a week. Sometimes when you go to a show you don’t come back home until 3am. You got Sunday off, Monday you wake up at 7am again to start this routine again.”
It means Lun has come full circle after first leaving Hong Kong seven years ago.
In 2010, he closed up the Sha Tin training centre where he and his friends started what would become HKWF, Hong Kong’s first professional wrestling company.
“I did a promo at the last show. I said I promise to everyone I’m gonna bring Hong Kong wrestling to the world,” Lun recalls. “So that’s one of the goals achieved.
“I thought now is the time, when I come back, I can use my reputation from WWE to help these small promotions to get better.
“Even the wrestling promotions in China – the Chinese government is not going to help with Chinese things. But if you’ve got a reputation from America, maybe they’ll like it.
“I’m gonna use that reputation, not to market myself but pro wrestling as a whole everywhere in Asia. This will be my mission for the next 10 years.
That reputation has certainly been enhanced since his first match on American soil in Florida 14 months ago.
“My Twitter is full of nice messages now,” he says. “‘Oh, Ho Ho, I miss you’ ... yeah, you should say that earlier. Maybe I won’t decide to leave! But it’s happened, it’s all good.
“The last few months, I did a few matches in NXT and they say, ‘Oh, Ho Ho lost, I’m sad’. That’s a good comment too. It’s good progress.
“I didn’t tweet a lot while I was there, Twitter is just not a Hong Kong thing.
“But since I have my new mission now, I will start to tweet more, so the wrestling fans from around the world can see what happens here in Hong Kong.
“I’m very excited.”