Let’s Go Home

To steal, paraphrase and then alter the wisdom of Frank Skinner and David Baddiel like the Instagram inspirational quotes I both despise and covet, “It’s coming home. It’s coming home. Wrestling’s coming home.”

The announcement at this year’s National Pro Wrestling Day that CHIKARA would be back in action in just a few short months was a massive sigh of relief. In the butchered words of Joni Mitchell, “You don’t know how great the wrestling promotion you’ve got is until it’s gone and sliced up into so many pieces you can’t keep up.” And just like everything they do, the only predictable thing about the return was that the way it played out was entirely unpredictable.

The last time I wrote about CHIKARA, back in June of last year, I opted not to theorise on what might be happening next. I read and listened to others muse over possible next steps, each more complicated than the last. But I only knew two things for sure: that the dedication put into making the company’s apparent demise seem genuine was equally unnerving and beautiful, and that CHIKARA had never done me wrong, so I trusted that whatever they were trying to do was worth whatever came next.

Watching Archibald Peck – in his full marching band regalia – leading 3.0 out of a smoke covered DeLorean and into the arena to join newly-good Icarus and his army of CHIKARA natives, my faith that all would be right in the end was rewarded. That slightly juddery internet stream made me smile more than any form of wrestling has in months. It made me love it again. The whoosh of the pilot light it lit in my stomach was almost audible. It made my shoulders rise up to my ears, like only the very best things do.

When Andrew bought me the 2009 sampler DVD and introduced me to CHIKARA, I had no idea what I was getting into. Despite learning how to appreciate small-scale, non-McMahon brands of wrestling some years before, I didn’t have anything indie that regularly excited me. I’ve made no secret of my loathing of TNA and have explained my reasons clearly. Ring of Honor was something I dipped in and out of but couldn’t get a full grip on. The American indies seemed so sprawling I didn’t know where to start and, if I’m honest, I didn’t have much inclination to plunder their depths until I had a knowledgeable teacher.

Then there was CHIKARA. The first time I sat down and watched it, the pace was so fast I kept holding my breath waiting for the action to abate. It never seemed to. I often post the photo of me watching them for the first time with the reminder to breathe as a joke. But I genuinely needed that reminder. I fell in love. And when you’re first in love you just can’t breathe. Your heart races. I hadn’t really seen anything like it before and I was utterly mesmerised.

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This was all before I got filled in on the story. Oh blimey. The story. Everyone comes to wrestling for different reasons. If you’re only there to fill your mental wank bank with oily silhouettes, fine. Knock yourself out. Knock one out. Knock several out. If you most appreciate a highly technical match, there’s plenty out there for you. If you’re not so concerned with a long and involved grapple but love the glossy pomp and pyro of a big production, Vince has got you covered. Personally, I like to take slices from all those pies. But most of all I want to care. I like things that make me tap into my emotions. I want there to be a story that makes me think. I want to have to work for the rewards. CHIKARA is the unequivocal king of “to be continued…” Nobody else cares enough to give the narrative such pride of place. Nobody else trusts their audience enough not to patronise them by dumbing down the cleverness.

It’s not just that CHIKARA tells a tale, it’s that the yarn it spins is so indubitably geeky along with it. I’m amazed no Pennsylvania college has taught CHIKARA Legend 101 yet. It reads like the backstory to a lengthy comic book series or a fantasy novel anthology. The history behind Ultramantis Black alone is enough to make your head spin, but that’s kind of why I love it.

This stuff isn’t just unbelievably nerdy within wrestling. It resides in the upper echelon of all nerd world. I like that not everyone gets it.  I love that being a CHIKARA fan is a little like when motorcyclists nod at each other when they ride past each other. Just by claiming it as your own you immediately say something about yourself to other CHIKARA fans. And it’s been by far the most warm and welcoming exclusive club I’ve found. How something so niche manages to be so friendly to all remains a mystery. Maybe that’s the point, though. We’re all a little weird in this troupe. I’m definitely weird. It’s just a lot of people being weird together. Where else could a few bars of a Dave Matthews song and some adults-sized ants instigate such glee? In a recent Nigel Slater documentary on the British love of biscuits, an expert in biscuits suggested that people who love the dark chocolate digestive over the sweeter, sicklier milk chocolate version think themselves a little more discerning than the masses. CHIKARA is my dark chocolate biscuit.

I’m aware that my experience of this odd corner of professional wrestling is a very British one. It’s one that’s lived from behind a screen, in a different timezone. It’s felt more inclusive since those painful weeks waiting for King of Trios DVDs to pop through my letterbox were replaced with iPPVs and a streaming service. But I know I’m experiencing something a little different to those sitting in the front row. The live show is a beautiful thing. It’s thrilling to know that the people you’re watching leap from the top rope could land in your lap at any moment. But it’s not the only thing.

There’s nothing like singing your favourite song when the person who wrote it stands on a stage right in front of you. But I’ll still get a rush from putting my headphones on and belting it out with the same vigour. A stand-up comedy show is made up of the same jokes whether you’re there in person or watching the DVD. Your laughter is just a little less cosseted.  I adore settling down in front of my TV or computer to watch CHIKARA. It makes me happy to put my pyjamas on, gather some drinks and snacks and watch something I undoubtedly know will send me to bed smiling. I’d love to be there in person, but I love my own experience because it’s mine. I’m excited to do it again.

CHIKARA was my gateway to indie wrestling. I hadn’t realised how little I understood before it came along. It was both an education and confirmation that wrestling really is what I think it’s supposed to be – fun. Wrestling has been a poorer place since the family fractured and the shards splintered out into alternate Quackenbush promotions. Ironically, even ‘Wrestling is Fun!’ felt like less fun than CHIKARA. That’s because CHIKARA boils up a special brew that doesn’t taste right when you mix it with other things. It gets diluted. You just can’t argue with chemistry.

CHIKARA makes me feel like a kid in the best possible way. It opens up my imagination in a way that few other things manage to. It’s proper escapism. The idea that anything could happen at any time should be the building blocks of every wrestling promotion. After all, it’s not any more the real world than any soap opera, pantomime or cartoon. But when you look closely, it isn’t the main focus in many places. So many just go through the motions and empty the cash tin at the end of the night. There’s something to be said for running your ship so tightly that the backstage politics and the finances aren’t your primary public topic of discussion. There’s something to be said for playing the game and for kayfabe.

Few things have felt more like going home than when Bryce Remsburg’s trademark, octave-jumping screech tried to make sense of the brawl that took place to make the CHIKARA return at NPWD a real thing. Who knew that a squeal could feel like a hug? I’m ready to add a brand new chapter to my favourite story. In the unadulterated words of those great 1970s philosophers Emerson, Lake & Palmer, “Show me! Show me! Show me the road that leads home.”

 

You can watch the announcement here from 1:57:00

You can catch up on the story here.

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That Was The Week That Was: 27th May – 2nd June 2013

TWTWTW_CHIKARA

Seven days is a long time in wrestling. Each week Rachel will cast her eye over the landscape and handpick the stuff that stands out. Sometimes they’ll be the most obvious events, but often more subtle shifts in the business. They’ll always be written from her own unique point of view. Unlike the original That Was The Week That Was, she won’t be singing the news. 

The Death of CHIKARA?

Last week I was playing the Related Artists Game on Spotify. You pick a song, then your next tune must be by one of the listed related artists. I found myself faced with Noah and the Whale. I’m not a particularly big fan of theirs, but there is one song that will forever justify their existence – Tonight’s the Kind of Night. I was rushed with a flood of heart thumping nostalgia.

This song happened to find my ears during the week leading up to CM Punk’s immortal will-he-won’t-he story at Money in the Bank 2011. Through sheer coincidence, the lyrics were so close to summarising Punk’s journey, it gave me shivers. It really was the kind of night where absolutely everything could change. To date, I have never been more invested in how a wrestling tale was going to work out. I have certainly never had such an explosively emotional reaction to a show.

The thing about those few months of change was that the events were rooted in reality. That’s what made the difference. How much of it was written and how much was Punk just not giving a damn will only ever be known by a handful of people. If you watch his DVD, it was all legit. He was off. In actuality, it doesn’t matter. The fact that we didn’t know where the boundary was made it all the more compelling. It made it categorically wrestling.

Last night the CHIKARA: Never Compromise iPPV reminded me of Money in the Bank. For all that the matches were brilliant, there was a strange, electrically charged cloud hanging over it; the cloud that had the potential to rain on CHIKARA’s parade and put it out of action for good. Rumour’s had it for some time that real life, highly personal matters threatened the company with extinction. At least, under the branding as it stands. It was an unsettling discussion. If there’s one thing CHIKARA fans love it’s that it’s a complete break from the everyday. Unlike with Punk, though, I wasn’t torn between someone doing what was right for them and doing the thing that made me most happy.

The show was running later than we expected and it was getting late in the UK. We debated whether to stay up for the main event or not, but decided that the big announcement promised for the end of the show had to be worth losing a little sleep over. The announcement never came. Icarus and Eddie Kingston’s main event match was interrupted by a team of men in dark suits. They trashed the stage. They shut the show down. They turned off the feed. They threw all the fans out of the building and locked the doors. It didn’t feel good. It didn’t feel very CHIKARA. It felt kind of real.

There were reports that someone had thrown something through a door in anger and smashed it, before being dragged back into the Trocadero. According to Twitter this was the start of a riot. Those at the scene quickly closed that idea down. Even the legitimacy of the furious protestor has been called into question today, because of the way he was swiftly pulled back into the building. A real fan? A plant? Who knows? One thing I do know is that I don’t want to hear about Bryce Remsburg – happiest man on the planet – leaving in tears. It messes with my head.

The manner in which the show was halted was, of course, staged. But the reality behind it is yet to come to light. CHIKARA may very well have huffed out its last breath, ready to morph into something new. But one thing I’ve always placed in CHIKARA is trust. There is no cleverer promotion in operation. I’ve lost count of how many AH-HA! moments there’ve been, where various easter eggs dotted around the internet suddenly make sense. Was this a story they took too far and made too dark? Possibly. But they haven’t steered me wrong yet and you don’t build the best pound-for-pound wrestling promotion in the world only to let it disperse for the sake of paperwork.

Just like when Punk  (temporarily) kissed his tenure goodbye, I have never been more eager to know what happens next, while at the same time never more unsure about which parts of wrestling are fooling me. But isn’t that the point?

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Report from the Fort: Best Wrestler (Female)

As Rae mentioned in her previous post we have split the “Best Wrestler” award into male and female categories. Not because we feel that female wrestlers are in any way inferior to male wrestlers, but due to the way they are portrayed. For the most part, they are very different entities. It would be lovely to think that this won’t be the case by the time next year’s awards come around, but I’m not that hopeful. In my “Best Match” award I explained how the idea of “gender free” wrestling is becoming more prevalent on the independent scene, but in the world that WWE occupy, it’s not going to change much soon I’m afraid.

With that said, on with the show and our final look back at 2011…

If you’ve read any of the previous awards this year, or for that matter, anything else we write on the blog or Twitter, then this winner should come as no surprise. We are unabashedly in awe of Sara Del Rey. In a year in which we were cautiously optimistic in the WWE Women’s division, only to be let down with Beth’s (hopefully forced) “we’re just giiiiiiiiirls…” whining and Natalya’s inexplicable losing streak, Del Rey has gone from strength to strength.

A wrestler rather than a model (although Rae would like to point out that her thighs are the stuff of legend and her own training aspiration) Sara managed to have a banner year in CHIKARA, beating the likes of Claudio Castagnoli, winning the annual Cibernetico match and wrestling her idol Aja Kong. Add to this her continued appearances for the likes of SHIMMER, her ROH run as part of the Kings of Wrestling, and appearances for a number of other promotions and 2011 certainly stacked up as the year that everyone finally agreed she is one of the best wrestlers in the world.

One thing that Rae and I both find admirable is that Sara has always been very vocal about the end goal of her career. In an age in which many fans, wrestlers and promoters are incredibly dismissive of the WWE’s output (particularly the Diva’s division), Del Rey has continuously stated that she would like to be signed to a WWE contract. As a fan of the intimacy independent wrestling affords, it’s easy to be selfish and hope this doesn’t happen. You can imagine the cries of dismay as her FCW name is revealed to be Stephanie Queen and she jobs to Kelly Kelly after a few weeks. But let’s be honest, financially the WWE is as good as it gets. Not only that, but the worldwide exposure is second to none. Sara knows what she wants, and it’s admirable that she hasn’t succombed to the easy elitist route of “Indie > WWE.”

With the likes of Kings of Wrestling teammates Claudio Castagnoli and Chris Hero already in FCW, as well as fans and friends such as CM Punk, Daniel Bryan, Beth Phoenix, Awesome Kong and Natalya, it will hopefully only be a matter of time before the call up comes. When it does, I’ll look forward to seeing her on my TV every week.

Report From The Fort: Best Major Shows

I know, I know… bloody Andrew going on about bloody CHIKARA again. But there’s a reason for this, and it’s pretty simple. Are you ready? Here it is…

…CHIKARA are just that good.

There, pretty simple isn’t it when you see it typed out like that. CHIKARA are, by far, my “desert island” wrestling promotion. The one company I would choose above all others if I was inexplicably stranded on a desert island and somehow only given access to one company’s back catalogue. The wrestling is of a standard that has caused both Rae and myself to forget to breathe on more than occasion. The storylines are complex and spanning a matter of months, if not years in some cases. The characters are well rounded, funny and captivating. Most importantly of all, CHIKARA (more than any other large-ish promotion) has a real family feel to it. Not just “family friendly” but “family.”

Outside of the blog, I do some design work for a couple of small UK indie promotions. Promotions that are getting decent buzz both here and abroad, but still pretty small compared to CHIKARA. Despite “working” for these companies, and being on speaking terms with the promoters and some of the wrestlers, I still feel a closer bond to CHIKARA than to any other promotion.

They were the promotion that got me through the post-Benoit period when, as a father of two young children, I felt that the WWE wasn’t something I was sure I could watch. They helped me convert Rae to the joys of indie wrestling, and provided some very happy memories of her joy at discovering the likes of Claudio and his tiny trunks. They were the company that, as a blog, made us promise to visit Philadelphia for King of Trios one year (rather than rely on the kindness of guest writers.) In short, the only thing that could have made CHIKARA better for me would be for them to be within travelling distance.

And then, towards the end of last year, they announced that their season finale would be available to watch live on iPPV. Finally, a chance to watch a CHIKARA show live, and not just any CHIKARA show. This was the season finale, the show to wrap up all the stories from 2011, and to finally crown the inaugural CHIKARA Grand Champion.

I’m not very good at writing about emotions on here, Rae is much better at that than I am (being a girl and everything) but it really did mean a lot to me to be part of that family for those few hours. With great match after great match, and one of the most important main events in CHIKARA history, even without the emotional impact this would be a show I would recommend to anybody. You can buy the DVD obviously, but even better (and keeping in theme with the whole “bringing CHIKARA to you worldwide” ethos of this show) it’s available for only $9.99 as a digital download.

Do yourself a favour and at least check out the trailer below. If the wrestling appeals to you, buy the show. Once the storylines, promos and, yes… emotions, all kick in you’ll be hooked and my work here will be done.

I know, I know… bloody Rae going on about bloody Money in the Bank again. But there’s a reason for this, and it’s pretty simple. Are you ready? Here it is…

…it was fucking amazing! 

We’ve spoken at great length about the WWE Money in the Bank Pay-Per-View, and we’re conscious of avoiding repetition. But the steady build towards that main event during this show was palpable. A frond of electricity crept through every single match in anticipation of the finale.

It touched the then professional nice-guy Daniel Bryan’s blue briefcase win in the Smackdown match with even more fairy dust than it would have without that looming last match. The indie kid did good. What was in store for their main eventing indie kid? I was one of the first to criticise removing the MITB match from the Wrestlemania card and plonking it into another gimmicky PPV. But somehow, it seems to have worked.

Randy Orton and Christian were at full throttle, Orton continuing on his transition from villain to hero. Lest we forget Randy’s loopy announce table tongue work. At this time too, Mark Henry’s star was ascending, Alberto Del Rio had properly arrived and this all taking place with the bristling undercurrent of ‘is CM Punk really leaving for good?’ Magical.

Report from the Fort: Best Match (Rae’s Picks)

Andrew posted his favourite matches of 2011 yesterday. Here are my two awards winners….

Winner: CM Punk vs John Cena (WWE’s Money in the Bank: July 17th 2011)

What exactly do you want from the perfect wrestling match? Hitting the right balance for one viewer is tricky enough. Trying to cultivate a match that speaks to the masses is quite another. What CM Punk and John Cena managed to do at the 2011 Money in the Bank Pay-Per-View was truly remarkable.

If the Rock’s reappearance at last year’s Wrestlemania was designed to engage the casual fan who largely turned its back on the WWE once corporate branding turned the sex and violence soft, Punk and Cena’s match came about to mobilise current fans becoming complacent with the product. And, oh, did it succeed!

I wrote about the match the day after it took place in such a state of emotional, sleepless exhaustion that I had no idea whether what I’d written was brilliant or complete dross. Trusting my colleague’s wisdom, I took Andrew’s advice that I should post it immediately. Thankfully, to lovely feedback. By Tuesday there were whole sentences I had no recollection of writing whatsoever. There are events where a level head are mandatory when putting fingertips to keys, but the impact this match had was so strong, only stream of consciousness ramblings would do.

I rewatched Punk and Cena’s match a little over a week ago. I wondered if I would feel the same way about it now, knowing how the tale was punctuated. I wondered if the months of following stories would have washed away all those flailing emotions. I pondered this right up until a couple of minutes before the match started. Then I stopped. My heart started beating faster and I felt a rush of slight breathlessness as that incredible Chicago crowd noise assaulted me through my speakers.

When wrestling first drew me into its fold, the most intriguing thing of all was that grey space between reality and fiction; where you’re not fully convinced that what you’re watching is real, but it feels liberally speckled with truth at the same time. This match wasn’t the most technically precise display of wrestling that ever was, and I do love repeated nearfalls and cartoon-like “Why don’t you just DIE?” grimaces. Technically accurate does not a great story make. It didn’t need to be perfect because it had intense passion. In Punk’s possibly real contract ending and in John’s threatened firing, the story had potentially cataclysmic, game changing consequences that stretched way beyond just the two of them. When that’s your base, everything else takes care of itself.

Winner: The Throwbacks + Matt Classic vs Team Osaka Pro (CHIKARA King of Trios 2011 – Night One: 15th April 2011)

The morning after I watched this year’s Royal Rumble, I was in the back of a taxi chatting with the driver about the previous night’s TV, as you do. On finding out that I had spent three hours of my evening watching professional wrestling, he was stunned. “You? YOU!? Really? What a dark horse!” He also went on to joke that wrestling was not my hobby, but my downfall, and looked blankly as I responded to his question about my favourite wrestler with ‘CM Punk’. Apparently, in loving wrestling, I am a walking contradiction. Maybe I should have been offended. But hey, how often do you get to appear enigmatic in the company of strangers?

Explaining a love of wrestling to non-fans isn’t easy. I often wonder how I might convert them if I just had one match to do it with. One match, where they have a lightbulb moment and come over to my side of the fence. You might expect me to select that much discussed CM Punk vs John Cena at Money in the Bank match.  But I happened to watch a large chunk of it with non-fan company last week and either had to explain the storyline in great detail, which I didn’t actually mind, or had to suffer the ridicule of just loving it to begin with. I minded that rather a lot.

I’m paraphrasing slightly from the second Kayfabe Comedy podcast here, but if we accept that wrestling is ultimately very silly, and that CHIKARA do silly better than anyone, a CHIKARA match is the perfect introductory match. At King of Trios 2011, The Throwbacks and Matt Classic vs Team Osaka Pro had the ultimate newbie match. Before the action even gets under way, enough grin inducing, beautifully timed, slapstick comedy has taken place as to make everything that happens during the actual match feel like gravy. There’s competitive running of the ropes, makeshift basketball and Matt Classic’s in-match yoga moves. By far the most engaging character is Sugar Dunkerton, currently absent from CHIKARA for very personal reasons. Here, he shines.

There are some brilliant spots from both teams and there’s no complex story to explain, apart from maybe Dasher Hatfield’s stitch-face. No crowd sells silliness like a CHIKARA crowd and if this match doesn’t make you proud to pay wrestling forward, you might be needing a break. As well as being a great introduction to wrestling for novice fans, it’s also an effective antidote for when seasoned pros like ourselves get a little jaded. I recommend keeping a copy in your medicine cabinet.

Report From The Fort: Best Match (Andrew’s picks)

We were struggling to narrow down our award to just one match. One of the many things we enjoy about wrestling is that it’s so varied, and there are many contenders for best match, all for different reasons. As such we have picked two matches each, both of which meant a lot to us for different reasons. Rae will be posting hers shortly, but in the meantime…

Winner: Sara Del Rey vs KANA (CHIKARA’s Klunk In Love: Oct 8, 2011)

We’ve declared our undying affection for Sara Del Rey on the blog before, and those affections are indeed unwaning. Not only one of the best female wrestlers in the world, she is arguably one of the best wrestlers in the world full stop. Other than the all female promotion SHIMMER, possibly no company has done more to reward Del Rey’s skill than CHIKARA. In a company featuring wrestling ice creams, temporally displaced Egyptian snake gods and evil (yet devilishly attractive) insect overlords, something as petty as human gender is unlikely to be an issue to success.

When I first took it upon myself to introduce Rae to CHIKARA, one of the matches I showed her was a 2007 bout between Icarus, Gran Akuma & Brodie Lee and Cheech, Cloudy & Sara Del Rey. I don’t think it would be an overestimation to say that Del Rey played a pivotal role in her indoctrination, inspiring not only a love for indie wrestling, but also a typically insightful post on intergender wrestling

KANA on the otherhand, is maybe less known to a wider audience, although 2011 was undoubtedly her “breakthrough” year in the west, with a successful tour of the US taking in CHIKARA and SHIMMER. Having trained and shared a room together early on on their careers, the idea of the two wrestling each other was thought of by many as a dream match.

Then...

...and now

That they were having a match at all was great news. That CHIKARA had the courage and the belief (not only in the wrestlers but also the fans) to make this match the main event of one of their shows gives an indication of just how highly they are thought of. And that faith was more than rewarded with what was easily my match of the year. Not just for the quality of the match (which was amazing) but also in what it stands for. In a year in which the female division in the WWE has often dropped down to levels that can only be described as “risible,” it’s important to remember that there is excellent female wrestling out there.

From SHIMMER’s continued successes to CHIKARA’s Joshimania weekend, from Anarchy Championship Wrestling’s gender-neutral shows to the growing popularity of Quebec’s NCW Femme Fatales, from the UK’s Pro Wrestling EVE to their Japanese partners in Ice Ribbon, there is more female wrestling of a quality that puts many male wrestlers to shame than ever before. Yes this stuff is harder to access than WWE or TNA, and yes you might have to brace yourself for accusations of slightly ulterior motives (believe me, I know) but you will be rewarded with some of the best wrestling that’s out there at the moment… from wrestlers who are possessed of dedication, talent, determination and, coincidentally, ovaries.

Skip to about 4 minutes in the following video for a clip from the match

Winner: Mike Quackenbush vs Eddie Kingston (CHIKARA’s High Noon: Nov 13, 2011)

I’ll be writing more about how much I enjoyed CHIKARA’s first ever iPPV later, but this match is one of the reason’s why the show worked so well. I know I’m coming across as an unabashed fanboy, but one of the thing’s CHIKARA do so well is create emotion through stories and this match, the culmination of their 12 Large Summit tournament, was no excecption.

The tournament was held throughout the 2011 season to finally crown the inaugural CHIKARA Grand Champion, and was dedicated to the memory of CHIKARA alumni Larry Sweeney who took his own life early in the year after a long history of mental illness. In one corner was Mike Quackenbush: founder and head trainer at CHIKARA, and one of the most talented technical wrestlers currently in the US. In the opposite corner was Eddie Kingston: one of my favourite wrestlers and a close personal friend of Larry Sweeney. Kingston is by no means a technical wizard, but he is an amazing brawler, and his promos are second to none – including this gem he released in the run up to the show…

That promo would probably be enough to earn this award by itself to be honest, but the match more than lived up to it. With nearfall after nearfall, a teased Quackenbush heel turn, and the entire roster surrounding the ring by the time the final bell was rung, it was an amazing match, and an honour to get to watch live. I realise this might sound like hyperbole, but it’s true – I genuinely felt like part of something special watching live from my bedroom over in the UK that night, and it’s thanks to moments like this that I love wrestling. Thank you CHIKARA

Report from the Fort: Best Commentary

After a week of deliberation we have finally decided on who should win our illustrious awards covering the last 12 months. They’re based on our own opinion and on the wrestling we were able to watch during 2011. There is no science or points system. It’s just stuff we liked more than other stuff.

Last year we invited you to join us at the Best in Show Awards. It was a jolly affair taking the form of a country show; complete with baking competitions, large vegetables and home brewed beer. This year we’re just a little too weary for all that. We’re still crawling out of our December hibernation nest. So this year we’ve built a pillow fort in the Bunker and we’re not moving until we’ve handed over every award. Basically, if you won something and actually want the trophy, you’ll have to pop by and pick it up. Just make sure you take your shoes off before you enter the fort.

We’ll be releasing these posts gradually throughout January. Starting with…

If you think about it, wrestling commentary is a curious thing. Unlike sports commentators, wrestling announcers already know the outcome of the matches they illustrate with words. Done badly, it can seem as pointless as the voiceovers on Total Wipeout. But done well, commentary can be as integral to the brilliance of a match as the action in the ring.

We’re all in on the game. We all know the theatre that is professional wrestling means that everything that takes place before us has been predetermined. What we want from the announce table are words and delivery that make the story infinitely more exciting. For that reason, we can only give this award to Bryce Remsburg.

He may consider himself a referee first, but Bryce’s CHIKARA commentary is so exciting, I defy anyone not to feel completely involved in the matches he announces. He already knows how the match will play out, and yet you wouldn’t know it. What comes across more than anything is that he’s a fan loving what he’s watching. That kind of enthusiasm is infectious and we think a lot of the mainstream announcers could learn something about engaging an audience from Bryce. We bloody love you, Mr. Remsburg.

Honourable Mention: goes to Matt Striker. You might be forgiven for wondering if he’s still employed. Especially if you live in a country where WWE Superstars no longer broadcasts on television. But he’s still there, plugging away, begging to be heard, winning our hearts.

We don’t know why Matt was so swiftly relegated to the locker room. It doesn’t seem that long ago he was at the Wrestlemania announce table rocking his tux. Matt was originally sidelined to make way for Booker T’s return after last year’s Rumble. Somehow, he never made it back to a big show. We’re pulling for you in 2012, buddy.

A Song for Whoever: CHIKARA High Noon Special Edition

Boss Lady Rae: CHIKARA fans generally fall into two camps – those who can go to the shows, and those who clamour for DVDs the second they’re released. We all love each other dearly, but the envy generated by the DVD dwellers gives off enough heat to melt an ice rink. Trust me. I’m one of them. My King of Trios envy might just be what’s responsible for the whole polar ice cap situation. When Andrew gave me a sampler DVD a couple of years ago and suggested I watch it, I never thought I would love it like I do. Actually, what he really said was “No pressure, but if you don’t like this I may sob like a baby!” I didn’t make him cry.

On Sunday night, something shifted. CHIKARA’s first live iPPV, High Noon, brought us all together. I don’t know how it felt at the venue, but it felt pretty special to those of us watching online. Everyone in the arena in Philadelphia watched the same show at the same time as fans around the world. It made a difference I wasn’t expecting. I was definitely excited at the prospect of watching CHIKARA live, but what I hadn’t anticipated was the sense of community that permeated my laptop screen. If being a wrestling fan means being part of one big dysfunctional family, being a CHIKARA fan is like joining a special sub-division of cousins with a secret key to the entrance. Except, all you need to do to get a copy of that key is ask someone for it. They’ll share it with you and welcome you into the fold.

On top of the fact that High Noon made me ultimate totes emosh (I’ve been dying to type that somewhere), how wonderful it was to be able to watch a pay-per-view live and at a sensible time of the day. North Americans won’t understand why this is so important at all, but High Noon started at 9pm (UK time) and I was in bed before midnight. Admittedly, I spent an hour staring at the ceiling trying to absorb the main event and wondering how long my hair would have to grow before I could execute Jacob Hammermeier’s bitchin’ side-pony. But I was asleep before the time I’m usually getting up from a pre-show nap for a WWE PPV and I didn’t have to book a day off work to recover from the up-all-night hangover. Everyone’s a winner! Well, apart from Australians, who had to get up a few hours earlier. They’ll manage.

In honour of this lovely group people I’m proud to be associated with, here’s my carefully selected tune. (I’m definitely going soft in my old age!)

Sidekick Andrew: Last Sunday marked the 6 year anniversary of the death of Eddie Guerrero. Rather fittingly, it was also the date that Eddie Kingston became the first CHIKARA grand champion. Rae has already written how great an experience it was for us in the UK to be able to join in and watch live, and I echo her sentiments exactly. Hell, Rae will tell you I’m a flint-hearted northerner who doesn’t do emotion, but even I had something in my throat during the main event. I don’t think I’ve seen a more emotional title match aftermath since Wrestlemania XX. OK, it might be soured slightly by the Benoit connection in retrospect, but seeing two friends that happy in the ring showing true emotion is pretty rare in wrestling

Or at least it is unless you watch Eddie Kingston’s work. Like Guerrero, Kingston has fought through personal demons throughout his life. Like Guerrero, Kingston has never hidden his faults and flaws. Most importantly, like Guerrero, Kingston has never lost his love and passion for wrestling. I’ve spoken before of how much I love Kingston’s promos. The way he can make you believe every word he says. The way he can mix real life and the “fake” world of wrestling with such skill and passion. Every single time… I know for a fact that this promo in particular sold a number of High Noon purchases…

Now I am admittedly biased as Eddie Kingston is one of my favourite wrestlers. Yes I love his promos, but I also love his brawling wrestling style and the way he sells moves like they actually hurt rather than “wrestling hurt”. Kingston has been a mainstay of CHIKARA (which just happens to be my favourite promotion) and was part of one of my favourite matches ever. All in all, I’m pretty much an unabashed Eddie Kingston fan and as such I love the fact that he was the winner in the biggest match in CHIKARA history, and the fact that I got to see it live means a lot to me. Thank you CHIKARA, and thank you Eddie. This one’s for you…