How I Set Out To Recap A Chikara Show And Wrote An Invitation To Independent Wrestling Instead

06.24.14 2 years ago 81 Comments

Anyone who knows me knows that independent wrestling is my passion. It’s what I want to contribute to, to support, to promote, and most of all, make better for everyone involved. Writing about Impact doesn’t give me a lot of wiggle room to just say hey, this garbage, let’s ignore it and watch this other thing instead. Well, unless that thing is cats on treadmills, my second greatest love.

Initially I set out to do a quick recap of a show. Here are the matches, here’s what happened, here’s why they’re important to the current storyline. That…is not exactly how it turned out.

As always, we encourage to like and share tumbl and tweet this. Follow me on Twitter here, With Leather here, and UPROXX here. I think a thing happened with Lebron James. You’ll wanna be up on that. Protip: I am not up on that.

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Chikara Pro’s Goldfinger, June 22nd, 2014
Detroit, Michigan

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.

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Scary Hands, 2012

Via me

Scary Hands, 2012

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.

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