Shanghai WWE 1
Meet China's first WWE wrestler
01:51 - Source: CNN

Story highlights

WWE is investing heavily in China

It's training eight local wrestling wannabes

John Cena is known and loved by Chinese fans

Shanghai CNN  — 

With a flash of a smile Wang Bin will charm you. With a furrowed brow he’ll have you fearing for your life.

At 6-feet 3-inches tall, with 220 pounds of lean muscle, 22-year old Wang is a giant among his Chinese countrymen.

His handsome, expressive face and impressively imposing physique is why World Wrestling Entertainment (WWE) wants to make him one of its “superstars.”

Wang is the first Chinese pro-wrestler to sign a developmental contract with WWE.

He’s spent the past three months training at its “Performance Center” in Orlando, Florida and was back in China last week to have his first match at a WWE live show in Shanghai.

“I’m having my debut WWE match in my motherland. I’m so excited and very happy,” Wang, a native of Anhui province, told CNN a day before his big match.

“My family and friends will come to the arena and watch me compete.”

Wang had his first show at the weekend.

China strategy

WWE’s shows are a lively mix of athleticism, drama and comedy.

Wrestlers with over-the-top personalities punch, kick and throw each other around a 20 x 20-foot ring to settle scripted storyline feuds, or compete for a coveted championship belt – all before thousands of screaming fans who cheer for their heroes and heckle their villains.

The company has millions of fans around the world, but a combination of regulatory restrictions and an obvious language barrier have been challenges to growth in China, where it has a fiercely loyal but comparatively small following.

Over the past six months, WWE has made some big moves to expand in the world’s biggest marketplace – home to a massive and increasingly wealthy middle class.

In April it hired Jay Li, its first vice president and general manager for China. In June it signed Wang as a performer and announced a deal with Chinese streaming service PPTV to carry its two premier weekly programs, “Raw” and “Smackdown,” live with Mandarin commentary and Chinese subtitles.

“Our strategy is fairly consistent,” said George Barrios, WWE’s chief financial and strategy officer. “We come into the market. We’re really consistent to building the brand. We bring the video in. We localize it in the language.”

Chinese fans of WWE are growing in numbers.

Stars in training

Last week, WWE announced it had signed seven more Chinese nationals to developmental contracts. They’ll be joining Wang in Orlando and begin training next year.

“I think its super important,” Li said. “Signing a Chinese superstar generates additional interest for the casual fans who’ve just heard about us. Now they all of a sudden have a reason to log on and check it out.”

Li said he’s found the best way to explain WWE’s product to Chinese people is by comparing it to Kung Fu novels. “And they get it immediately,” he said. “It’s scripted entertainment that’s full of action.”

John Cena, arguably WWE’s most popular active performer, is known and loved by many Chinese fans for being able to say his catchphrase “You can’t see me” in Mandarin. Although he admits, he doesn’t say it correctly.

After his first visit to China in 2010, he started studying Chinese to connect with his fans.

“Shanghai is a beautiful city and it’s the most massive city that I’ve ever visited,” Cena said.

“I figured if I could learn to speak the language, even in its most basic form, I could communicate with the culture better and be able to describe what we can do.”

There’s no guarantee that Wang Bin and the seven other Chinese signed to WWE will actually become fully-fledged superstars like Cena, and perform on its weekly televised shows and monthly pay per view events.

Not only will they have to learn and perfect wrestling moves like bodyslams and suplexes, but they’ll need to develop characters that connect with a global audience – a process that could take years.

“We believe that to be a WWE superstar, you have to be able to transcend your own culture. You have to speak to everyone,” George Barrios explained.

John Cena learns Chinese to appeal to his Chinese fans

Uphill battle

For Wang, who speaks minimal English, communication has been an uphill battle. “My trainers and I cannot directly communicate in words. We express ourselves in body language,” he told CNN.

In addition to the hours of physical training, Wang also has to study English as part of his daily routine.

On Saturday night, he got his first chance to show fans what he’s learned.

Debuting his new ring name – Tian Bin – he pinned established WWE wrestler Bo Dallas after a powerful running slam – and celebrated along with several thousand excited Chinese fans.

Wang knows as WWE’s first Chinese performer he’s got a lot to live up to.

“I definitely feel the pressure. We have so many fans in China,” Wang said.

“But gradually, through my training, my opportunities, and my progress that comes from that, I’ll take this pressure and turn it into power.”