“If it weren’t for his kicks, literally nothing about Kim Ray would stand out.”
I said these words about two years ago when I first started watching wXw. I was astounded by the level of talent in wXw’s roster despite so few of the wrestlers being known outside of Europe. Guys like Walter, Bad Bones, Absolute Andy, and Axel Tischer (now Alexander Wolfe in NXT) all stood out as extremely well rounded performers that any crowd could appreciate. Then there was Kim Ray. While he was far from the worst guy on the roster, he still did absolutely nothing for me throughout all of 2014 and most of 2015. Fast forward to now, and my perception of Kim has changed significantly. This piece will not be a burial of Kim, but I have to show honesty in my writing. In order to do that, I must tackle the highs and the lows. Kim recently announced his retirement from wrestling this year, and I thought it was only fair that I take you on a journey through his career and examine the slow, nuanced process of Kim’s improvement, as well as my maturation as a wrestling fan. You see, Kim Ray helped refine my definition of a “good wrestler.”
Kim Ray began his wrestling career in 2009, under the training of “Bad Bones” John Klinger and Daisuke Sekimoto who were the head trainers of the Westside Dojo at the time. Prior to becoming a wrestler, Kim had a legit Taekwondo background which helped him a lot in the striking department. Considering the level of discipline required to train in the BJW dojo in Japan, it’s likely that Kim became, or already was, a very disciplined wrestler under Sekimoto’s training regimen. Kim’s in-ring style has been relatively the same his entire career: a low key technician that implements Taekwondo in the form of some nice looking kicks. By “low key” I mean some catch wrestling sequences and the occasional suplex, nothing that immediately makes you go “this is the technical guy.” For six years, Kim’s finisher of choice was the Jet Kick, a roundhouse kick to the head, which was fitting considering his shoot background. In 2015, Kim started implementing a new finisher. It was basically an Impaler DDT with a Bloody Sunday set-up. He called it the Inception, which disappointed me because I wanted so badly for it to be called the Kimpaler, but I digress. So if Kim’s in-ring style remained the same for most of his career, how could he have improved? Two words: Refinement and focus.
For a while, Kim Ray’s execution of his moves weren’t anything special. Not the cleanest, not the sloppiest. His kicks looked decent. Nothing breathtaking. As he gained more experience, however, Kim slowly started to become more crisp. Not the crispest wrestler on the planet, but noticeably smooth. This became most noticeable in his matches against Jonathan Gresham and Black Fire. The match against Gresham was a well-worked technical battle, with Kim working his diabolical heel persona to perfection. The match against Black Fire was almost surprisingly smooth considering Black Fire was a luchador who at the time had little experience with non-lucha styles. Kim’s performances in those matches let me know that he indeed had something. Even before those matches, I didn’t lose hope for Kim. As far back as 2013, Kim was having great matches against Walter. The quality of these matches surprised me as well since nothing really made me go “you know, these guys would have great chemistry with each other.” The thing that always made those matches great was the character work between Kim and Walter, which is where Kim’s focus comes into play.
You see, for a while Kim never had clearly defined character. For years, he was just one of the pawns of Keel Holding, a now disbanded stable led by Sasa Keel. However, the thing that was always consistent throughout Kim’s matches was pure, unadulterated hatred from the crowd. Whether it was his look, demeanor, or in-ring style, something about Kim made people’s blood boil. Nowhere was this more evident than in his match against Walter in the 2013 World Triangle League. Walter was a beloved babyface at the time, while Kim was a dirty, sinister heel. Walter was good at destroying people. People wanted to see Kim get destroyed. You can imagine what the crowd reaction for this was like. The crowd erupted in cheers every time Walter landed a strike on Kim. The crowd booed their hearts out every time Kim got the upper hand. Kim and Walter’s character work here was masterful, with Walter seeming disgusted to be in the same ring with Kim, and Kim seeming to hate the fact that Walter hated him. When Walter finally won after a flurry of lariats and a powerbomb, you could hear the raw satisfaction in the crowd. While this was a great match, I thought it was lightning in a bottle. None of Kim’s other matches at that point captured my attention as much as that one, so I thought he could only have good matches with Walter. This mentality changed in 2015, when Kim fully embraced the hatred from the crowd and won both the Shotgun Championship and the DTU Alto Impacto Championship. The thought that Kim Ray, who the crowd considered to be the lowest of the low, was now a DOUBLE champion in wXw made people grit their teeth in outrage. Kim started coming to the ring, both titles in hand, wearing a shirt that said “Success is the Best Revenge” with an awful smirk on his face. It was at that point that I realized, Kim Ray’s character had now been realized. His character can best be compared to the Miz in that he’s an extremely devoted heel with delusions of grandeur, as well as understated yet solid in-ring ability. Kim Ray was the German Miz, and not many people can be compared to The Miz. Quite an accomplishment if you ask me.
For me, Kim Ray’s career peaked at wXw’s 15th Anniversary Tour Finale in late 2015, when he put his Shotgun title on the line against former stablemate Sasa Keel. Keel was the face going into the match and I was a bit worried how the crowd would receive a face Sasa. For a while, Sasa seemed like a natural heel, so I was wondering if he’d be able to effectively make the transition into a babyface. The moment the match started, my worries were lifted. The crowd treated Sasa like a national hero and Kim like some sort of dictator. The dynamic was similar to Kim’s matches with Walter in that Sasa wanted to do no less than destroy Kim, much to the crowds appraisal. The match went just over eight minutes, but it might be one of my favorite sub 10 minute matches of last year. The match built up drama wonderfully, having Kim empty out his bag of dirty tricks and Sasa overcoming them all. Sasa’s stiff, brutal, unforgiving offense provided the crowd with much satisfaction. The counter wrestling and near-falls had people on the edge of their seats. When Sasa got the three-count, the crowd celebrated like there was no tomorrow. The most hated man in wXw finally got his just desserts, and a new hero to the wXw fans was born. It wouldn’t be ridiculous to say that Kim played a huge part in getting Sasha over as a babyface. Kim’s heel work was so on-point that the crowd cheered loudly for literally anyone he was wrestling. A good heel is arguably the most valuable asset a wrestling promotion can have for that exact reason. Towards the end of his career, Kim played his role perfectly.
Kim Ray’s evolution as a wrestler helped me learn what a “good wrestler” actually is. A good wrestler isn’t someone who puts on classic, high workrate matches day in and day out. A good wrestler isn’t someone who cuts electric promos and oozes charisma. All of those things certainly help, but essentially a good wrestler is someone who knows how to get the crowd to care about them. Crowd connection is the most essential aspect of a wrestler and his matches. Without it, promos and match quality don’t mean anything. Kim Ray remembered what so many other wrestlers forget: the crowd needs a reason to care about you. For Kim, the reason was he was the most diabolical, delusional, and slimy individual on the wXw roster bar none. This is why Kim Ray was a good wrestler, and why I will remember him for many years to come.