Part Two: My Relationship With Chikara Pro
I am Chikara.
I don’t think I’ve ever really said that before. This past year, the #IAmChikara hashtag filled the timelines of the Chikara faithful. T-shirts were made. Rallies were held. When the then 11-year-old company shuttered it doors, to say that fans were devastated would be an understatement. I’ve been a fan for a few of those years, and believe me, what turned out to be their final show ripped my heart in two. But I still couldn’t say it. I didn’t want hashtags and teaser videos and scavenger hunts and conspiracy theories. I wanted Chikara back. I wanted my friends. I wanted my favourite wrestlers all back in one place. I wanted the place in wrestling that I felt safest and most comfortable. So I waited. I visited other cities, mostly in another country, for a chance to see just a few scattered members of the roster. I sat in gyms and community centers and whatever the heck that place was in New Hampshire with its crowd of maybe twenty people (a generous estimate at best) to support these same wrestlers. I twittered and podcasted and tried to force as many people as I could to pay attention. But mostly, I waited.
On February 1st, 2014, I was still waiting. See, I had been podcasting and analyzing and overanalyzing enough of what Chikara had left in its wake, and I knew something was going to happen at National Pro Wrestling Day. I got wrapped up in Eddie Kingston vs. Dasher Hatfield, as emotionally charged as any Chikara Grand Championship match before it, even if the belt was meaningless, and nothing was at stake. I watched Hallowicked vs. Mike Bennett (always at his best when he’s away from Ring Honor), a throwback to the most meaningful wrestling weekend of my life. And I waited. We all waited. The anticipation of what was going to happen was palpable, even if none of us knew just what that was. And then it happened. Rudos (heels) flooded the room. Tecnicos (faces) were outnumbered. It was Aniversario all over again. But then the Submission Squad appeared. I heard them before I saw them (I’m short and they were on the other side of the ring), but I knew the wait was finally over. Archibald Peck showed up in a DeLorean. Rudos ripped off their masks and before us stood an army of Tecnicos, ready to take back what was theirs. What belonged to all of us. In that moment we were all Chikara, but I still couldn’t say it. Not really.
As Icarus, newly outfitted as a conquering hero informed us, Chikara was set to make its official return on May 25th. And return it did. Walking into the same room that held so many memories from past wrestling shows was nothing short of overwhelming. It was really happening. People were hugging and greeting each other as old friends, wrestlers and fans alike. Some people I knew very well, some only from shows, some only from the internet, but we were all there, united by the same thing. The atmosphere of a Chikara show is something I talk about at great length to whoever will listen. It’s the most interactive company possible. There’s nothing quite like it. It welcomes you into the universe they’ve created wholeheartedly, and makes you want to come back again and again. The shows are great on DVD and mp4 and the whatnot, but there’s a little bit of magic when you’re actually there. For me, and I think for a lot of people there, it was like finally coming home. The mood was celebratory, and once again the Palmer Center was full of the positivity and jubilant spirit that is so unique to Chikara.
I readily admit that holding back the tears when Gavin Loudspeaker finally took the mic to start the show was by no means an easy task. While ring announcers tend to be background players, a necessary enhancement to the grander purpose of a wrestling show, Gavin is an integral part of the Chikara universe. Known for its outlandish personalities, Gavin is by no means the exception. As beloved as any wrestler, our host for the day was in rare form, both visibly relieved and moved at being back in a Chikara ring once again. It’s hard to pretend it’s just another wrestling show when there’s already so much emotion happening in front of you. The crowd responded in kind, hungry for more, their patience throughout the previous eight months finally paying dividends.
Later in the show, we were introduced to the new Director of Fun (think Commissioner Nick Bockwinkel if he were in charge of wrestling ice cream men and anthropomorphic ants), replacing the previous administration that brought the company down. Mike Quackenbush – Chikara founder, wrestler, trainer, master of a thousand holds, potential real life human cartoon – came down the aisle to thunderous applause. He gave a speech about a lot of the things I believe to be important in wrestling, especially the sense of support and community in wrestling. “We are all Chikara,” he said, and it was never truer than in that building on that day. But then he started looking around, and naming people in the audience. He paused. “Danielle Matheson – you are Chikara.”
As much as I had tried to keep my emotions from bubbling to the surface, in that moment it become impossible. I had waited so long, sometimes much more obstinately than I care to admit. But it was real, and it was back, and the architect of the thing I love the most made me feel more appreciated than I can even describe. I’ve given my heart to this band of crazy characters, and in return received more special moments, friendships, and incredible wrestling than I can explain.
Even if these names mean nothing to you, and you’ve never seen a Chikara show in your life, know this: I am Chikara, and you can be too.