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.
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.
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.
Part Three: Motor City Mayhem
After a double-shot in Chicago for their second and third shows since coming back, most everyone in the company made their way to the Majestic Theatre in what appeared to be an unreasonably nice part of Detroit, though we did see a dude getting arrested on the side of the highway. Seeing as it’s only three hours away from me (and the rich old white-people city of Burlington, ON in which I live), driving down was kind of a no-brainer. Driving to Easton usually takes a lot longer, and as someone who has driven from here to Miami for wrestling, three hours is pretty much nothing. I’ve only ever crossed the border in Sarnia once, the time we drove down to The Big Chill at the Big House, because I can only attend events with ridiculous names, I guess, so that was interesting. This year, Chikara shows are named for Bond titles (this one was called Goldfinger). Last season they were Watchmen-themed. When I say Chikara is pop-culture driven, boy howdy I am not kidding.
After running a bit late, and a slightly longer-than-anticipated border wait (including the requisite “Wrestling? Really?” response from the border guard), we finally made it to the show. Somehow we managed to park right in front of the doors (bless you free Sunday street parking), and get inside with a few minutes to spare before the show. I even got a stamp that ended up looking like an off-center prison tattoo.
I found my friend D, handed off an UltraMantis painting to the great and devious one himself (spoiler alert: I adore him), said a few more hellos, and then made my way to the seats next to the entrance ramp D had saved for us. I make getting to the show sound all breezy, but it wasn’t. I cannot overstate the immediate change in me when I get intothe building. I often say that you’ll never see me happier than when at a Chikara show, and it really is true. I had terrible social anxiety for pretty much my entire life (some of which still lingers), but there’s a visible boost of confidence whenever these guys are around. Even seeing any of them outside of Chikara will immediately put me at ease. Invariably when I go to other shows (ROH, I am hella looking in your direction), I am stuck next to some sexist goon, and then it becomes more about ignoring/dressing down these jerks, or just being made to feel awful in general by what’s happening in the ring (again, ROH man, you guys do not have a great track record). But knowing one of these wrestlers is around means that even for a few minutes I will get a brief respite from the things I am “overreacting to” in other companies. When I talk to them about wrestling, I don’t have to prove anything. I’m treated like a peer, which is sadly unbelievably rare for a female wrestling fan/writer. These are my guys. This is my house.
Brandon, my dear editor, has asked that I go match by match in my retelling of what happened. Before I do, however, I would like you to know that as a rule I don’t “review” indie shows. It’s my belief that wrestling fans can sometimes take too much at face value, and if a good wrestler had an off day, I would never want to be complicit in someone having a negative view of them, and prevent them from seeking them out in the future. Obviously if you’ve read my Best and Worst columns, if you’re on TV all bets are off. But independent wrestling is different. It is also my passion, and it’s my article and I can apply my lofty ideals all over it consarnit. There are plenty of quick and dirty results and recaps of the shows out there. If anything, this is talking about a show and why you should have been there.
I’m also not going to attempt to explain too much of the backstory of each situation. Know that Chikara was owned by an evil corporate conglomerate, they shut it down, Chikara battled back and returned after an eight-month hiatus, and now a super group of villains past and present called The Flood are trying to do it all over again.
Match #1: 4-Way Elimination Match ft. The Throwbacks (Dasher Hatfield & Mark Angelosetti) vs AC/DC (Arik Cannon & Darin Corbin) vs Die Bruderschaft des Kreuzes (Tursas & Nøkken) vs The Odditorium (Qefka The Quiet & Oliver Grimsly)
Okay. You want complicated? Let’s get complicated. Dasher Hatfield is my very favourite. I even named my cat after him (Dasher Catfield!). He is an olde tyme baseball player who has the best socks ever (the powder blue are the best), is old enough to have been around for the election of Abraham Lincoln, and might literally be the nicest person in the world. Mr. Touchdown is a big jerk football player who used to be a bad guy, but through the power of friendship, family, and sportsmanship has come around. He is also a Young Lions Cup winner, fond of Tebowing, once rescued a kitten in minus degree weather, and will absolutely do a Heisman pose in a photo should you request it. Got all that?
AC/DC are two mid-west wrestlers who make irregular appearances in Chikara, usually when they’re in Chicago. Often times they will cause everything to go into slow motion, a bit of a tired schtick, but always delightful the first time around.
Qefka the Quiet is the creepiest mime you will ever see, and I kinda sorta love him? I mean, he terrifies me, but also he can create a locked door from thin air between him and his opponent, preventing any of their offence from making its way to him. For a smaller guy his arms are pretty developed, assumedly from fighting his way out of boxes he gets constantly trapped in. He also only tweets in emojis. Seriously, I kinda love him. He and Oliver Grimsley (the OG version of TNA’s Crazzy Steve but with reasonable use of consonants) are members of the Odditorium, the stable of Sinn Bodhi, a Big Bad from Chikara past.
Tursas and Nøkken (or Baby Tursas) are part of the BDK (read this, I’m not even gonna try to get into that history), its current form led by Ares, another Big Bad from days gone by. They were accompanied to the ring by Milo Schnitzler, maybe the most infinitely punchable looking person in all of wrestling. While he makes me miss Jakob Hammermeir like crazy, he is really, really good at making you hate him. He looks like a mini bald!variant Kane, struts like D-Lo Brown, and with one look you can tell he is not a good guy whatsoever. As I said, infinitely punchable. Tursas and Nøkken are hella hosses, and brought back the Ragnarok finisher at You Only Live Twice. It looks a million times more devastating in person.
The most important part of this match was actually discovering that the kid seated directly behind me had never been to a wrestling show before. D gave him an Amasis mask because she takes being the Mom Friend to a whole other level (something I love about her), and to say he was immediately hooked was an understatement. I’ll talk more about him later, but I will say that a lot of my enjoyment of the show came from him progressively falling deeper and deeper in love with what was playing out in front of him.
The second most important part of this match was The Throwbacks earning points for their victory. Getting a shot at the tag titles, or Campeonatos de Parejas, isn’t just a thing handed out willy nilly. In order to get a shot, a team must accumulate three points by winning three matches in a row. Once these points are earned, they can challenge the current Campeonatos for a shot at the belts. It makes tag matches mean something, but also creates a logical progression towards earning them.
But here’s the thing: The Campeonatos de Parejas are currently in possession of Jolly Roger (a wrestling pirate) and Lance Steele (a time-traveling knight). Kimber Lee purchased the tag belts when Chikara’s items were auctioned off after Aniversario and awarded them to Knight Eye 4 The Pirate Guy, but technically the last winners were the Pieces of Hate: Jigsaw (a dude who looks suspiciously like TNA’s Rubix), and The Shard (a tiny broken glass man who does tiny superkicks and tiny grapevines and also I am his biggest fan and I will fight you in real life if you say he doesn’t deserve his belt back). So now I’m pretty much in a blood feud with the pirate, who will defend the tag titles is kinda up in the air, and the Pieces of Hate have a grudge match against KE4TPG this Sunday at Wrestling is Fun and I am the saddest tiny Shard fan because I don’t get to be there.
So yeah. Complicated.
Match #2: Ophidian vs Movado
One of the things Chikara will do when on the road is utilize local wrestlers during their shows. This gets the local wrestlers more exposure to a wider audience than they may be used to, and gives us a chance to broaden our knowledge of independent wrestlers, or pop hard for a local guy if we ourselves are familiar with them. Movado is one half of the Bump N’ Ugly tag team, and outside of this one instance I had never seen him before. I learned that he’s definitely well-known to the locals, and can also do the worm. See, Ophidian’s a pretty good dancer, and often times he’ll get to bring out his breakdancing skills. This was a quick match, wherein Ophidian got to show off his more acrobatic side. Also, sometimes when the arrows on Movado’s mask folded, they kinda looked like dongs, and I am a bad person for giggling.
Match #3: Jaka vs The Estonian Thunderfrog
Jaka is a “savage” who wrestles barefoot and headbutts stuff who is mainly known from being part of the Wrestlings Are. He’s part of a rudo stable led by Sidney Bakabella, a territories-era transplant (time is wibbly wobbly in Chikara, you see) and one of the two best managers in wrestling today (Chris Trew is the other). His Wrecking Crew includes the Devastation Corporation and Oleg the Usurper, but we’ll get to them later. The Estonian Thunderfrog debuted in Wrestling is Fun, and I pretty much loved him from the moment he walked through the curtain. I got it in my head that I was going to make him everybody’s favourite wrestler, a mission to which I’ve remained steadfast. He had a Hammer of Peace (which got destroyed by the nefarious Bloc Party), and now has a way bigger Hammer of War. Much like Mjölnir, only those worthy can wield it. In the interest of full disclosure, his accent makes me a bit swoony. He loves buttermilk and princesses and discos and seriously why aren’t you googling his matches and pledging your love to him already?
This match had some really fun spots (suplexing Jaka while he tried desperately to lift the Hammer of War is one of my favourite Thunderfrog moves), and Jaka is always a brutal opponent, but what stands out for me is how far the Thunderfrog has come since his debut. One of the best things about independent wrestling is watching wrestlers grow and evolve their talent and abilities. Fans get so caught up in botches and negativity, and forget that wrestlers are still learning and honing their craft every day. When you dedicate yourself to following an independent wrestler, there’s something immensely satisfying about watching them get better and better with time. I get a real sense of pride every time I get to see my favourite froggy wrestle, especially since I know he’s only going to improve from here.
Match #4: The Devastation Corporation (Blaster McMassive & Max Smashmaster) vs 3.0 (Shane Matthews & Scott Parker)
The Devastation Corporation (including a sporadically present third member FLEX RUMBLECRUNCH) is a hoss team of the hossiest proportions. Max Smashmaster is a secret favourite of mine, even if he is a big mean jerkwad, and when you talk about guys getting better with time, he’s it, man. Every time I see him he’s bulked up and leaned out, and he might also be one of the most physically intimidating people I know. I apparently missed a moonsault in Chicago the day before (!!!), and I definitely missed him wrestling one of my best friends – and one of the best-kept secret on the indies – Jojo Bravo. He squished poor little Jojo, but I had no time to hold it against him since he was wrestling 3.0. I’m not generally one to boo the tecnicos unless I’ve got a real good reason, like that dumb pirate jerk I mentioned earlier. 3.0 are a pretty beloved tag team in Chikara, but unfortunately Shane Matthews is an asshole. Should you ever venture over to his Twitter, you’ll see that he really is the exception to the “guys in Chikara rule” rule. Misogynistic to a fault, while I’m told it’s gimmick, I don’t really care. If you think a good gimmick is to be a total dickbag to women, then bucko, you are the most wrong.
My joy at booing Shane Matthews is infinite, so much so that at one point, the newbie kid behind me leaned over to his dad and asked who the bad guys were because I confused the heck out of him. Guess what, kid? The bad guy is the patriarchy.
Intermission! Maybe! It was somewhere around here!
Intermissions are great. Everyone gets to mingle, talk to the wrestlers, and get yelled at by the Devastation Corporation. It’s the best. I got Froggy hugs, bought his new shirt, took a selfie with Silver and Fire Ant after having to duck repeatedly so as not to photobomb a bunch of other people’s photos, and got a wave from Frightmare. I hung out at the rudo table for a bit, got moony over The Shard, introduced Dasher Hatfield to his kitty namesake, and man, it’s all such a blur. Intermissions are a flurry of hugs and catching up and buying merch and trying to sell people Fire Ant shirts whenever I’m near his table. Seriously, they’re the most comfortable shirts in the world. I can say this with all authority having worn every shirt in the world so just trust me, okay? I also got to talk to Dan Yost. According to SnapChat we’re best friends, so, you know. Be jealous.
Match #5: Chuck Taylor vs Jervis Cottonbelly
Jervis is another wrestler I loved instantly and force everyone I know to love as well, and much like the Thunderfrog, has improved a hundredfold since he first started. The way he turns in mid-air on outside dives is a thing of beauty. His submission holds are killer, he’s somehow jacked all to heck, and if push came to shove I believe he could technically stand up against any indie wrestler you could throw at him. Jervis is also the World’s Sweetest Man. Legitimately. He’s another time-displaced wrestler, so he brings with him all of the trappings of gentlemanly ideals from another era, without all of that pesky sexism and prejudice. He’s the antidote to toxic attitudes towards outlandish characters. The lousiest of “smarks” can be won over with a simple in-person conversation. He’s just that delightful. He is sunny days and kittens and your favourite song personified. This season he hands out roses to audience members as he comes down the aisle. I mean really. He is also a master of the comedy match. While people who haven’t met him might dismiss him for daring to be *gasp* a nice guy, it’s evident when you watch his matches that he’s an intelligent dude, from his wrestling to his sharp wit. Being that deft when it comes to both physical and comedic timing is a feat in and of itself, and isn’t something you get to see often. Treasure him, folks. Treasure him like there’s no tomorrow.
Chuck Taylor, on the other hand, is the World’s Biggest Meanie. My favourite feud in wrestling remains Chuck Taylor vs Small Children, one that popped up immediately as he made his way from the stage. Sometimes I feel like I get so nutted up over all of these other guys that I forget to talk about how great Chuck Taylor is. I just kind of take it for granted that everyone knows he’s one of the very best working today (and that guy works eeeeverrryyywherrre). I also love that his gear looks like the wrestling version of a Sexy Mob Lady Halloween costume, and I mean that in the most affectionate way possible. He took this opportunity to teach Jervis how to cheat, and poor Jervis, well, he got a little too enthusiastic about it. Taylor, ever the scoundrel, was able to still the win by showing Jervis a dirty pin, and Jervis learned a hard lesson when it comes to trusting a Kentucky Gentleman.
These two are a match made in comedic wrestling heaven, and the only bad thing I could say is that it felt way too short. I know too much of a good thing is bad for you, but if these two don’t square off again in the future we’ll all be the worse for it.
Match #6: 8-Man Tag Team Match ft. The Spectral Envoy (UltraMantis Black, Hallowicked, Frightmare, and Blind Rage) vs The Gekido (17, The Shard, Jigsaw, and Missile Assault Ant)
Oh boy. If I start trying to explain the history of all of these guys, we’re gonna be here for 5000 more words. Here’s what you need to know: The Spectral Envoy are great. Hallowicked is maybe one of the most underrated wrestlers in Chikara, Frightmare is luchadorable and the most flippy but also gets murdered a lot because he’s little, and UltraMantis, well…like I said earlier. I love him. He’s kind of everything I could hope for in a wrestler: He’s a vegan straight-edge guy who has Christmas tattoos and loves the Smiths and has the best merch and is also in a band and is an activist and is genuinely sweet and isn’t super great at the internet but is super great at hugs and is just kind of the coolest? Like, if I could will a wrestler into existence, it would be him. If I were in high school my locker would be plastered with pictures of him (instead of hockey players and punk bands like it actually was). It is really, really difficult not to get into these guys if you see them in person. The kid behind me jammed out to their entrance music (which might also be the ringtone on my phone that I wake up to every day), but when they all made their way to the stage he was in awe. It’s kinda hard not to be.
The Gekido are a tough thing for me. On the one hand, they’re bad guys who do bad things and are strictly anti-Chikara. They destroyed Wrestling is Intense. 17 has funny puckered lips but he’s a real jerkwad. When Jigsaw turned on Mike Quackenbush at the Cibernetico it was a tough thing to take, even though the signs were there if you were willing to see them. The Shard, however…well, I’ve already gotten super goofy about him, but whatever, he’s awesome. If UltraMantis would be up in my locker, I’d be doodling RUDOS 4EVA and broken pieces of glass all over the margins of my math textbook. Missile Assault Ant is an evil ant who has a missile launcher on his back, can only say the words Missile Assault Ant, and is part of a team of bad guy ants called the Colony: Extreme Force that the similarly evil previous administration introduced to seemingly replace The Colony – the good guy ants. Colony: Extreme Force also includes the snowboarding Arctic Rescue Ant, and Orbit Adventure Ant, who may or may not be from the moon. They aren’t to be confused with the other bad guy ant team of assailant (now a tecnico after much soul-searching after being teamed up with Colony Classic), deviANT, and combatANT.
That sounds like too many ants, so for now I’m not even going to mention the troubling and slightly heartbreaking story of Soldier Ant.
The point is that despite my conflicting feelings towards Shard-on-UltraMantis violence, this was one of my favourite matches of the night. For Chikara faithful, the Envoy are beloved entities. For me, they’re like David Bowie’s The Man Who Sold The World. I waver on my favourite Bowie song from time to time, but Man Who Sold The World is always there, always loved. I guess technically that should be my favourite, but I am a complicated gal with complicated Bowie and Spectral Envoy feelings, okay? The match itself didn’t disappoint, and it was maybe the most engaged the crowd was the whole night. The Envoy have a presence that demands your attention, and outside of the Colony Classic are probably the easiest trio to fall head over heels for.
Match #7: Eddie Kingston vs Shynron
As intermission is where I turn into a rabid social butterfly, I kinda forgot to go to the bathroom. The neat thing was that the rudos and tecnicos had separate entrances and locker rooms, a small detail that lends to the grand story happening around us. The not-so-neat thing was the the hallways the rudos entered from was also the hallway to the bathrooms. I had to execute some real good timing not to interrupt an entrance, and thankfully got caught up in a conversation with amazing photographer/human Zia, preventing me from going out of the bathroom and headlong into Eddie Kingston.
I give Shynron a lot of shit. I do. He’s talented, but physically his moves make no sense most of the time. Everything is “with theatrics.” Unnecessary flippity dos that don’t add anything, but in reality hinder the physics of the move being executed. The terrible job he does at being ersatz ACH. I think he could be really good if he could find something that’s his own and works for him and just makes sense when he does it, but until then he just kinda makes me mad and frustrated when I see him wrestle.
When Eddie Kingston vs Shynron was announced, there was a small part of me that got really excited in a pretty mean way. I love seeing hosses murderize unreasonably flippy guys, so I was looking forward to this match for all of the reasons that make me not a great person sometimes.
Eddie Kingston is someone who has the one of the most complicated histories in Chikara, but is the easiest story to tell. In a world of fantastical characters and creatures, it is Eddie Kingston’s humanity that keeps them grounded. To watch him wrestle is to know his heart. It’s been beat up and broken, but he’s still there. Still trying. The inaugural winner of the Chikara Grand Championship in 2011, Kingston held onto the belt until Chikara’s return in May of this year. With every defense Kingston became more and more attached to the belt, his obvious sadness overtaken by his obsession. When Chikara split in two, for every bad guy stable and evil corporation, and with all of these returning bad guys joining up with the current rudos to form The Flood, he didn’t put himself on one side or the other. The only thing that mattered was him keeping the championship. I didn’t want him to win the belt, not just because I don’t trust Icarus’s motivations, but because I too have long associated the belt with Kingston, to the point it makes me worry how he’ll be without it. We’ve seen his rages grow more and more intense and manic in the last year, so what will he do when he no longer has that crutch?
Eddie Kingston was defeated, not just for the belt, but in spirit as well. Dressed in jeans instead of his gear, Kingston wandered out with complete indifference. He could not have shown less interest in wrestling Shynron. And why should he? His belt is gone. Shynron’s not a threat to him, nor is he going to get that belt back. He’s just a nuisance, a gnat. But then out came Jimmy Jacobs, and the tides turned.
Jacobs is the leader of The Flood, but is also the first person to seemingly sway Kingston from his preoccupation with the Championship. He approached Kingston, exchanged hushed words, and then a change came over Eddie. And Shynron, well…let me say this: Shynron fought valiantly, Shynron fought nobly, Shynron fought honorably. And Shynron died. Jimmy Jacobs stood and watched from the stage, a sadistic look twisted on his face, as Eddie Kingston decimated that poor flippy spirit dragon.
For a casual fan, hoss-style beatdowns are pretty easy to get into, and Eddie’s feelings towards Shynron were obvious. For someone who pays strict attention to Chikara lore and is familiar with what has brought Eddie to this point, this match is fascinating. The problem with The Flood is that it’s got all of these guys doing rudo things and beating people up, but it’s…a lot of guys. Stables like the BDK and the Gekido are familiar to fans, but they don’t have the same gravitas when they’re lumped in with all of these other guys. It feels more like a well-constructed distraction than a legitimate threat to Chikara’s existence. Now, I have my own theories on why, but I’ll save the conspiracy talk for another time. The point is that if you’ve been waiting for the return of Chikara to really feel like Chikara through a match itself, this is it. This is the one. This is the intrigue. This is what makes you wonder, and excited to see what happens next.
Match #8: The Colony (Silver (formerly Green) Ant, Worker Ant, and Fire Ant) and The Batiri (Kodama and Obariyon) vs The Flood (Jimmy Jacobs, Ares, deviANT, Oleg The Usurper, and some other guy)
Now, when I said great wrestlers can have an off night, this is one of those times. This is a lot of people to have in a match, a lot of clashing styles, a lot of differing skill levels, and also Ares looks like my Uncle David and I can’t take him seriously. No, really.
Even though I know what he’s done before, and I know he’s never actually been mean to me or my mom and I’m projecting and disliking him for all of the wrong reasons, Ares still comes off as a little silly. I should be seething with disgust, but he leaves me cold. They all do. Jacobs, Sinn Bhodi, even Tursas. But especially Some Other Guy. Jimmy Jacobs has minions who accompany him, dressed in plague doctor masks and shiny dress suits and the look is cool and effective, but letting one of them wrestle? Nuh uh. Once you strip all of that away you’re left with a schlumpy guy wearing what looks like a combination SCUBA/gimp suit.
The match itself was kind of a mess. Too many wrestlers outside of the ring, scattered in every part of the theatre, complete and utter mayhem. When Silver or Fire Ant are in a match, I wanna see them. They’re two of the best wrestlers going (especially since Silver acquired these sudden creative ninja skills in Japan), and I want to see them be the best they can be. I will say, however, that while it was scattered and uncharacteristic of a Chikara main event, there were some little moments that still made it pretty okay for me. Oleg was almost all of them.
Brandon has a fierce, almost unreasonable hatred of Oleg since he beheaded Dragon Dragon, but I can’t stop loving him. Yet another time-displaced fellow, Oleg’s past isn’t quite known, but his present is magical. He doesn’t quite fit in with the truly mean rudos, but he’s a warrior and beheaded a dragon and he’s just not a good enough guy to be a tecnico. His smile is infectious. His confusion at technology is adorable. He can eat onions like apples, which is so gross but so impressive. He once ate a whole chicken during the longest wrestling show on the planet. He tried to usurp me. During the main event, I noticed Oleg sitting with a fan, completely enraptured by the fan’s phone, oblivious to everything happening around him. He’s one of those wrestlers whose character is immediately broadcast as soon as you see him. Like Juan Francisco de Coronado. That dude walks through the curtain to the Titantic theme, takes forever to get to the ring, and by the time he gets a mic in hand it doesn’t matter what he says because you can barely hear him over the boos. Knowing what kind of person a wrestler is on sight takes a level of commitment and talent that not everyone has. It’s the difference between Antonio Cesaro and, say, Roderick Strong. Both wrestled in ROH, but one is a Swiss superman who can basically do anything and has character and charisma for days, and the other is a wrestling leg. It’s why Luke Harper can say so much without saying a word. It’s Chikara, man.
I know some of the wrestlers weren’t happy with how the main event turned out, but I want them to think about this: At the finish of the show, the kid behind us wasn’t disappointed. He wasn’t talking about botched spots or workrate or pacing. Instead, he was shouting I’M GONNA REMEMBER THIS DAY FOR THE REST OF MY LIFE. When asked who he wanted to get a picture with, he answered Fire Ant without hesitation, a look of pure admiration and joy on his face. I’ve always called The Colony the gateway stable for getting into Chikara, and that kid continues to prove me right. His very first wrestling show gave him all of the happiness that wrestling is capable of. We get jaded as we watch more and more wrestling, and our priorities change. I want things to make sense and people to not be stupid assholes. That kid just wants fun. Somewhere in the middle is that sweet spot that Chikara is so adept at hitting.
After the show was over (and Deucalion claimed another victim similar to how he ended Kobald), we all made our way to the merch tables. Somehow, I got to meet that kid’s brother. He’s ten years old, legally blind, and autistic. He sat with his mom close to the ring so he could get a better sense of what was going on, which is why he wasn’t close to us before that. Throughout the show his dad kept pointing him out to his little brother, so happy and so proud of how much fun both of his kids were having. I got the sense that for the older one, that didn’t get to happen often. But he was a rad kid, and responded to walking by the Spectral Envoy as “ohh, those cool zombie dudes?” I’m telling you. Everyone loves the Envoy.
After the show I tried to stay as long as possible, and talk to as many people as I could. I got an updated Scary Hands photo with the Spectral Envoy, a thing I haven’t been able to do since 2012. I got the most UltraMantis hugs. I finally got to talk to Bryce Remsburg, the guy who puts every referee in the business to shame. I tried not be sad that I won’t see them again until September, and just revel in the fact I am lucky enough to go to these shows, and have the experiences that I do. I lingered with Dasher Hatfield until the last possible minute. Saying goodbye to them was made even harder by saying goodbye to my friend D. She lives way too far away, and as one of the friends I’ve made through Chikara and only get to see there, going to shows with her is a rare and special treat. I don’t have a lot of people I’m close to anywhere near me, which is another reason these shows mean the world to me. Sure, it’s a crazy universe full of weirdos, but it’s also the place I get to see the people I love, and really be myself.
After the show my boyfriend and I headed to Seva, a vegan/vegetarian restaurant that came highly recommended by lovely people at the show who didn’t actually introduce themselves (Hey! You two! Get at me!). I had a sautéed tofu side, and the General Tso Cauliflower appetizer. It was insane, and if you’re ever in that nicer part of Detroit, I highly recommend it.
In 2012, and especially in 2013, Chikara was firing on all cylinders. The matches were killer, everyone seemed to gel, there wasn’t really a bad show to be found. JoshiMania, King of Trios, Cibernetico, Under the Hood, the Florida shows, WrestleCon, Tag World Grand Prix, Aniversario…practically unimpeachable. I think a lot of people are waiting to get back to that same feeling, and it’ll take some time to be sure. It’s not there yet, and I’m not going to pretend it is. But it will get there.
I know not everyone is going to have the same relationship with Chikara that I do. I know they’re not going to get as attached to the Palmer Center in Easton, or treasure Frightmare hugs quite like I do. And that’s okay. We all have different things we love, and different approaches to wrestling. The most I can ask of you is to give it a chance. Know that when you’re watching Chikara, you’re getting to know a big piece of what helps make me who I am. It can be intimidating and confusing (god, so many ants), but there’s something there for every kind of fan, and just like jumping into any show in media res, you’ve got some catching up to do. I promise it’s nowhere near as hard as it sounds.
If you can go to a show, do it. If you have the time and money to buy to mixtapes or any of the shows I mentioned, do it. Jump in, ask questions, talk to the wrestlers. If you like time travel stories, or comic books, or lucha style, or joshi, pausing in the middle of a show to run around taking frantic selfies with as many wrestlers as possible, or just want to know what it is about these folks that inspires so much devotion, get into it. If you want an alternative, a place to bring the kids, or a place to feel comfortable in your own skin, get into it. We are Chikara, and we’re not going anywhere.