Chikara Pro’s Goldfinger, June 22nd, 2014
Part One: A Primer
So. How do you get caught up on a storyline six years in the making for a 12-year-old wrestling company? And oh god, why did I say that out loud before attempting to figure that out?
For those of you new to Chikara, getting started can be the most daunting. Believe me, I’ve been in your spot, and it is intimidating as heck. The Chikara community, or Chikarmy, is about as close-knit as you can get, but don’t let that deter you. Like any family we’ve got some real jerks, but for the most part it ain’t such a bad one to be a part of. And hey, if that’s not your immediate experience, then you just come sit by me.
Chikara was founded back in 2002, but a cursory glance at its Wikipedia page can give you all of the boring details. It is a family-friendly promotion (kids under twelve are always free), meaning if you’re looking for swears and calling ladies bitches and graphic violence, this is not the promotion you’re looking for. However, if you’re looking for long-term sequential narratives, stories steeped in pop culture inspiration (especially comics), crazy good wrestling, and wrestlers with actual personalities, guess what friendo? This is the place.
One of the great things about Chikara is that like any smart promotion, they’ve provided you with enough free content to get you caught up without busting your bank account. Since the website relaunch, they’ve posted three blogs that give as much backstory as you can fit into a reasonable amount of words, a thing that I am super not good at (you will learn this should you keep reading). There’s even a downloadable beginner’s guide. Their YouTube channel features a metric buttload of free matches, including a match so good that it made me (and some others) cry. Ramping up to Chikara’s return, roster members chose their favourite matches from Chikara’s past. There’s a playlist here should you want to know what they consider the best. There are inexpensive Mixtapes, themed downloads to give you a brief overview before you commit to any shows. Volume 10 features three Wrestling is Awesome shows I was at, including a delightful Duchess of Fairfield match between Juan Francisco de Coronado and one of my very favourite grapplers, Jervis Cottonbelly. I am entirely biased when I say buy that one.
Speaking of, it’s important to note the existence of the Wrestlings Are. During Chikara’s eight-month hiatus, most of the wrestlers were scattered throughout smaller offshoots, like Wresting is Fun, or Wrestling is Awesome. Much like the NXT to Monday Night Raw, there are still people learning and growing as wrestlers, but also some killer matches. The then-Green Ant tore the house down on numerous occasions in Wrestling is Respect, and Mike Quackenbush vs. Drew Gulak from one of the earliest Wrestling is Art shows remains one of my very favourite displays of technical wrestling to date.
Here’s a quick breakdown of some things you need to know going into this:
1. “We believe pro-wrestling should be fun! That’s why we make it for everyone!” This is Chikara in a nutshell.
2. Swearing isn’t allowed, kayfabe is revered, silliness is encouraged, and children always, always come first. It’s not uncommon to see people helping kids pound on the apron (as is the tradition before a main event), step out of line to let a kid get their mark photo or buy a mask first, or encourage kids to take their place next to the entrance for coveted wrestler high-fives. These kids are the future of our fandom, and when they say they’re a family-friendly promotion, they aren’t kidding.
3. Female wrestlers are treated as equals, if not respected and revered. From visiting joshi to former roster stalwart Sara Del Rey, the place of a woman is in the ring as an equal, not a prop or someone to be jeered because of their gender. If you ask Drew Gulak who his favourite wrestler is, he’ll barely take a breath before responding “Meiko Satomura.” Joshi legend Manami Toyota is held in as high regard as someone like Jushin Thunder Liger (who has also stepped into a Chikara ring). If a female is booed, it’s because her character has done enough rotten things to deserve it, and not just because she’s a lady and is there. This is also treated as the norm, and never a spectacle or fetishized or a play to be lauded as an ally. Wrestlers are wrestlers. End of story.
4. A lot of familiar faces have passed through Chikara: Liger, Daniel Bryan, Cesaro, Luke Harper, Sara Del Rey (aka our lady and savior of the Divas division), and even a guy with a similar looking torso to Sami Zayn. There have been crossover and special appearances with some now big-time players, and if you wanna know how some of these people got so good, Chikara is your answer.
5. Chikara is extremely character-driven. These characters are vital to the kind of sequential storytelling Chikara does during a season, but it’s more than just a mask and some promos. A rudo (heel) can walk out and immediately broadcast that you are to boo him through his look, his carriage. If you’re a fan of people like the Vaudevillains, Bo Dallas, or I guess NXT in general, Chikara is for you.
6. Wrestlers are there to interact with. While a lot of promotions will send out wrestlers to shill their wares and generally be carny as f-ck, Chikara wants to engage you. Sure, they’re gonna sell merch. I mean, they’ve gotta make a living after all. But meeting and talking to a Chikara wrestler is more than that. These are people who will happily talk to you about most anything. Try talking to Ophidian about horror movies, or UltraMantis Black about Morrissey. Ask Silver Ant about his time in Japan. Maybe never ever talk to the Batiri. Rudos are still gonna be mean, because that’s their job, but not all of them are so bad. You might even get a free onion from Oleg the Usurper. And they’ll remember you next time. For the most part, they’re just really great guys who want you to be there. They want you to come back. They want to see your fan art and take mark photos with you and make you as much a part of the experience as they are.
7. Chikara really is for everyone. As my friend D once pointed out, if you go to a Chikara show, you’re probably going to see a lot of people who don’t necessarily look like you. It would be great to pretend that we’re all a bunch of socially well-adjusted, not-awkward-in-any-way cool kids, but in no way is that a thing. Kids, people with both visible and invisible disabilities, the deeply shy – literally none of this matters. Much like how wrestlers are wrestlers, fans are fans. End of story. I’ve seen so many wrestlers go out of their way to accommodate special needs, and be patient and enthusiastic towards those having a hard time overcoming their anxiety over being at a show, and intimidated by talking to performers. If you’re uncomfortable, they’ll help you get there. I know I’m making them out to sound like saints, but trust me when I say some of these dudes are really some of the best people I’m lucky enough to know.
8. All of that said, Chikara is really complicated. As I mentioned earlier, there are years of backstory that have led to this point. The best thing, however, is that the storytelling in the ring is good enough that you can understand what is happening, and enjoy the show. There are smaller stories told that sometimes don’t have anything to do with the overarching narrative, as is the case with the show I’m about to write about, but the characters are obvious, and if you’re not interested in anything else happening, the wrestling is almost always worth it anyways.
9. Commentary matters. When you’re watching a wrestling show for a promotion you’ve never seen before, one of the most frustrating things is having commentators talk about everything else in the world besides what is happening in the match and what it is relevant to. Leonard F. Chikarason, usually joined by one of the working roster or administration, is at the helm of the commentation station, and the difference is immediately noticeable. Wanna know what’s going on? Wanna know why it’s important that that one masked dude is wrestling another masked dude? Wanna know what those moves are actually called and why they’re physically damaging? And do you want all of that to be delivered in an impeccably delightful way? Oh. Oh man. You are gonna love Chikara.
10. I love Chikara. You don’t really need to know that to get into it, but you will need to understand where I’m coming from before you read about the show I attended. If you can say one thing about me, it’s that I am a through-and-through fan. This is not an objective piece in any way.
Actually, you know what? Let me tell you a bit about it on the next page.