The next side slam

From bedroom wrestling with his brother to matches with big names in Japan. MARIANNA CALLEJA meets wrestler Owen Gomez Blanco, the Prince of the Mediterranean

Owen Gomez Blanco in a match with Koto Umeda
Owen Gomez Blanco in a match with Koto Umeda

A young Maltese wrestler is making waves in the domestic professional wrestling scene with his first tour in Japan ending only a month ago.

From watching wrestling on television as a child, to now stepping into the ring himself, Owen Gomez Blanco is determined to carve out his own path to success.

“My earliest wrestling memory is receiving two wrestling figures and having playful fights with my brother at home... We broke quite a few things,” Owen tells me as laughs at those early memories. “We used to see who would get a nosebleed first.”

As he grew older, his curiosity about the world of wrestling grew as well. Captivated by the larger-than-life personalities on his television set, like John Cena, Owen found himself enthralled by wrestlers like Jeff Hardy.

“He was different from everyone else, always the underdog. For some reason, I saw a reflection of myself in him,” he explains with a glint in his eyes as we sit inside the studio for this interview.

After a brief hiatus from watching wrestling, 16-year-old Owen rekindled his love for the sport, this time appreciating the techniques, storytelling, and moves involved.

“I stumbled upon flyers promoting Pro Wrestling Malta at the gym, and my curiosity led me to learn more. After researching, I felt confident that I could do what they did... maybe even better,” he says confidently.

Attending the next show, Summertime Madness, he approached Gianni Valletta, a seasoned wrestler in the Maltese scene.

Blanco in a match with Genkai
Blanco in a match with Genkai

Four days later, on 24 June 2017, just shy of his 18th birthday, his wrestling career began.

Coincidentally, on the same day, Romario Parnis, better known as The Evil Genius RENIK of Pro Wrestling Malta, commenced his training as well.

RENIK, recognised for his deep unique voice, sneaky stunts during matches, and his commentary on TVM’s broadcast of PWM matches, served as Owen’s manager for a period. The duo dominated the Maltese ring, but their reign was cut short after RENIK fractured his collarbone during a match and has yet to return.

When faced with scepticism about the authenticity of wrestling, Owen firmly states, “anyone who tells me wrestling is fake, I invite them to a training session with us.”

He continues: “They will wake up bruised, in pain, and unknowingly, they will gain respect for the business.”

Owen himself also experienced several injuries; the worst was when he slightly fractured his elbow.

Keep in mind, a wrestling ring is nothing, but an elevated steel beam and a wood plank stage topped by an inch or two of foam padding and a canvas cover, he explains.

While executing a side slam, a move often associated with WWE’s Randy Orton, Owen landed on his elbow first, resulting in an excruciating sensation like hitting one’s funny bone but way more intense and prolonged.

“If you are injured during a match, you must push through it and keep going. The show, LITERALLY, has to go on,” he emphasises. He recalls how one time in Japan, he got hit badly in his groin: “I couldn’t get up from the pain, but I had to... [pausing to think] I had to.”

Wrestling in Japan was a dream come true for Owen, but it required enduring sacrifices beyond battling through injuries. According to him, the most difficult sacrifice was missing his graduation ceremony. Owen spent five years studying economics at the University of Malta, completing his master’s degree just before departing for Japan.

“I hated it. I always wanted to pursue a career in wrestling, but let’s face it, in Malta, nobody knows of my existence,” he admits.

When former WWE wrestler Tajiri spotted him in a PWM event in Paola, and offered him a job, Owen didn’t need to think twice. But this also meant leaving his job.

Owen with former WWE superstar Tajiri, who eventually played a crucial role in his development in Japan
Owen with former WWE superstar Tajiri, who eventually played a crucial role in his development in Japan

“I only felt sorry because I kind of disappointed them. I graduated in September, got the job in October. They invested their time training me and all. But listen, if I hadn’t left then, I would have never left.”

For four months, Fukuoka on the Japanese island of Kyushu, was Owen’s home.

“I started in singles matches, then I moved into six-men-tags. I think that is when I learnt most, like timing and footwork. In my final days I went back to single matches.”

Owen explains how in Japan, wrestlers are seen as celebrities.

Tajiri played a crucial role in Owen’s development, teaching him how to enhance his gimmick through subtle footwork and posture.

In professional wrestling, a gimmick encompasses a wrestler’s in-ring persona, including their character, behaviour, attire, distinguishing traits, and even their mannerisms and speech.

CM Punk was the Straight Edge Messiah, John Cena was the Rapper, Undertaker was the Lord of Darkness. Owen Gomez Blanco in Japan was, the Prince of the Mediterranean.

Owen’s determination and commitment left a lasting impression on his friends and colleagues. While his family may not have initially supported his wrestling career, he acknowledges the invaluable support he received from them in terms of financial assistance and unwavering love.

As Owen continues to evolve as a wrestler, he remains grateful for the opportunities that the sport has afforded him while eagerly anticipating the future and the next side slam.