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.
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.