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

GUEST POST: King of Trios – A journey into the heart of hilarious high-flying wrestling

Sidekick Andrew: As we may have mentioned in passing briefly (here, here, here, and here for example) it was CHIKARA’s annual King of Trios tournament this past weekend. Now, being based on the slightly more civilised side of the Atlantic, it wasn’t possible for us to attend personally; but we did manage to secure the services of a special reporter for the weekend. Matt Jones (follow him on twitter, like him on Facebook and buy his t-shirt… something like that.) Enjoy the article: feel free to comment and be nice, or there’ll be trouble. Oh, and don’t forget to click the link at the bottom of the article and buy the DVDs – I’ve a feeling you won’t regret it

PS. Images are Matt’s own, unless otherwise stated

Riding in a cab through dingy South Philadelphia, it looks like somewhere to go if you had a deep-seeded desire to get mugged. For someone who hasn’t been to a major city in a while it looks like something out of a Batman comic.

But in this odd location a throng of very friendly strangers line up outside the reformatted bingo hall that was the ECW arena (now called the Asylum Arena). Walking in, the place is almost unrecognizable if you’ve only seen the dingy 1990′s videos of Tommy Dreamer or the Dudley Boys throwing each other off balconies, or of Chris Benoit breaking Sabu’s neck. Actually, given the claustrophobic camera work usually employed, the Arena is bigger than I expected.

Nonetheless, once the passionate fans of a promotion like Chikara file in, the atmosphere becomes absolutely electric. And make no mistake, Chikara’s fans are extremely passionate, and this is their biggest event of the year. To fudge a Hunter S. Thompson quote – In some circles, King of Trios is a far better thing than the Superbowl, the Kentucky Derby, and the lower Oakland roller derby finals all rolled into one.

The show opens with the lights going low and Chikara’s roster coming out around the ring- a tribute to the recently deceased “Sweet n Sour” Larry Sweeney. Some wrestlers like Mike Quackenbush and Eddie Kingston weep openly as the bell tolls ten times. Then the lights go out and a Sweeney video package plays on the big screen. When the lights come back on, a pair of Sweeney’s trademark sunglasses are in the ring, and the fans chant his name. A bittersweet beginning, to be sure, but absolutely necessary. Sweeney touched the hearts of fans and wrestlers alike in his time.

The mood picks up immediately as we’re thrust into the bizarre world of Chikara, where anthropomorphic ants have kickass wrestling matches with old timey baseball players and marching band leaders.

The contest between Team Osaka Pro (Atsushi Kotoge, Daisuke Harada and Ultimate Spider Jr.) and The Throwbacks (Dasher Hatfield, Sugar Dunkerton and Matt Classic) is almost strictly comedy. Kotoge and Dunkerton have a race which ends with the referee ordering free throws for Osaka Pro on an improvised hoop made of Dunkerton’s arms (Kotoge sinks his first, but misses the second). Classic, a send-up of old school wrestlers, admonishes his teammates for their comedy, insists they join him in Hindu squats and spends much of the match performing the Harvard step test à la Bob Backlund. Not to be outdone, Ultimate Spider Jr. gets into the act, using invisible spider webs to perform Irish whips on Dunkerton and Hatfield. Maybe not the most coherent wrestling match ever, but certainly one of the most entertaining spectacles I’ve ever seen.

On the other hand, the match featuring Mike Quackenbush, Jigsaw and Manami Toyota taking on The Maximos and TNA’s Amazing Red is almost all action. It’s a little odd seeing a female wrestler like Toyota battling men if you’re not used to it, but she fits right in and performs as well as, or better than, any of her male counterparts. After ten minutes of fast paced wrestling, Jigsaw scores an emotional win for his team with Larry Sweeney’s “12 Large” elbow drop.

The main event of the evening brings it all together in match featuring, unquestionably, the most mainstream performers of the weekend. Team Michinoku Pro is comprised of legends in the industry, particularly in their native Japan- The Great Sasuke, Jinsei Shinzaki and Dick Togo. Their opponents are Team Minnesota- Chikara regulars “The Anarchist” Arik Cannon, North Star Express member Darin Corbin and, in some ways the oddest name in the event, Sean Waltman, better known as X-Pac and performing for the first time since 1996 as the 1-2-3 Kid.

The knowledgeable Chikara fans give every participant a great deal of respect (which visibly moves Kid, who is seen wiping away tears). The match features not only exciting high-flying wrestling and solid mat action, but also some great comedy. In what stands as one of the most surreal moments ever, The Great Sasuke and Corbin engage in perhaps the first ever bout of slow-motion hardcore wrestling.

Corbin is well known for breaking out slow-motion in his matches, but seeing a legend like The Great Sasuke partake defies description. The effects are not limited to Corbin and Sasuke, either. Referee Bryce Remsberg and all the wrestlers on the ring apron get in on the act (Togo’s exaggerated, slow-motion cheering is a highlight), as well as the fans who chant veeeeeeeeerrrrrrryyyyy sloooooooooooooowwwwwwlllllyyy. Soon, Sasuke sets up Corbin on a chair and ascends to the top rope. Upping the ante on the comedy, Corbin’s teammate Cannon suddenly shakes off the slow-motion and screams “Darin, stop screwing around!” to huge laughs from the crowd. Corbin complies, and Sasuke crashes through an empty chair.

Slo-mo wrestling is the best wrestling.

In the end, Togo performs a beautiful flying senton on Corbin and scores the win for his team. The fans give a standing ovation to the participants, chanting all of their names at various times. An amazing match to end a top-notch night of wrestling, but the weekend is just getting started.

Saturday afternoon sees the Fan Conclave, Chikara’s equivalent of WWE’s fan festival Axxess. It’s here where it becomes clear what King of Trios really is- the Woodstock of independent wrestling. Legends rub elbows with relative rookies in the industry and all are available to the fans for pictures and autographs. They are unfailingly friendly, and happily chat with fans in an incredibly positive atmosphere (the exception being F.I.S.T.’s Icarus, the most hated wrestler in Chikara, who wanders through the crowd insulting everyone he sees).

There are numerous heart warming scenes. As my girlfriend takes video of the Ant Colony roaming through the fans, Ophidian of the Osirian Portal limbos in front of her and drops to the ground. He begins reading a note written on nice stationary that I notice begins “Dear Ophidian.” He sits and reads for a few minutes before dropping all of his serpentine movements and wrapping a nearby girl, presumably the author of the note, in a big hug.

And even aside from the chance to meet your favourite ants, snakes and (Ultra)mantises, there’s a lot going on. There’s a chance to commentate on matches, a contest where fans and wrestlers attempt to bodyslam Tursas (and the Colony’s Green Ant begins his transformation into Lex Luger), a dance contest hosted by the Osirian Portal, and a concert by Stan Bush. Nobody enjoys it more than “Rock and Roll Ring Announcer” Gavin Loudspeaker, who dances and thrashes around when Bush plays “The Touch.”

A few hours later, the second night of action begins, which sees surprises, thrilling victories and bitter defeats.

One of the most engaging contests of the entire weekend is the first qualifier for the Rey De Voladores, which features El Generico, Zach Sabre Jr, Marshe Rockett of Da Soul Touchaz and the BDK’s Pinkie Sanchez (who sports both some of the funniest facial expressions I’ve ever seen and some incredibly gnarly back acne). The referee for the match is BDK’s Derek Sabato who’s biased officiating allows Sanchez to eliminate Sabre and Rockett. Sanchez has the victory in hand when Chikara’s Director of Fun, Wink Vavasseur enters the arena. Wink forces Sabato to wear a standard Chikara referee shirt, symbolically stating that the BDK will no longer have their own referee. The crowd bursts into the biggest cheers of the weekend, so far, when Generico then drills Sanchez with his BRAINBUSTAAAAAAAHHHHH!!!!! (picture a top rope brainbuster, driving the opponent head-first into the top turnbuckle). Sabato begrudgingly counts a slow three, but he could count to 100 – Sanchez is out cold.

The BDK’s night doesn’t get any better as their team of Tim Donst, Jakob Hammermeir and Delirious, accompanied by Tursas, face off against the Colony. In a thrilling, come from behind victory, Green Ant completes his transformation into Lex Luger as he finally succeeds in bodyslamming Tursas (causing Gavin Loudspeaker to literally leap into the air with excitement) and forces Hammermeir to submit to a torture rack backbreaker.

Other notable contests include a heart-wrenching and hard hitting tribute bout to Sweeney by Eddie Kingston and Arik Cannon, a sensational main event where Team Michinoku Pro defeat Quackenbush, Toyota and Jigsaw, and the 1-2-3 Kid winning the other Rey de Voladores qualifier, setting up a match with Generico for the final day.

The crowd seems a little thicker on the final day, with more little kids. Or perhaps it’s simply that a new vendor is here selling a wide variety of wrestling masks, making them much more visible. In addition to the handful of youngsters with Fire Ant, Jigsaw and Osirian Portal masks from the first two days, there’s now a cadre of kiddies running around in brightly coloured Rey Mysterio masks. The cutest, though, is a father and son both in El Generico masks.

No time is wasted as the semi-final matches are held immediately. The match between fan favourites The Colony and The Osirian Portal conflicts the crowd. When the standard duelling chants of “LET’S GO PORTAL!/CO-LO-NY” begin, many fans are chanting both names. The Colony picks up the victory (via a spectacular top-rope neckbreaker) and advance to the finals.

The crowd is remarkably respectful and sympathetic. Handshakes before and after matches, clean breaks and stalemates are all met with cheers. The fans get into the show and cheer their favourites after losses as would little kids- they want to let them know its okay and that they still support them. Chikara is also likely the only place you’ll ever hear wrestling fans chant “SAY YOU’RE SORRY!” as they do during the Colt Cabana vs. Archibald Peck match. Hell, the fans even chant “Holy Poop!” instead of “Holy Shit!” because of the kids present.

The Colony’s opponents in the finals will be F.I.S.T., the 2009 winners, who manage to eke out a victory over Team Michinoku Pro. Chuck Taylor blinds Sasuke with baby powder and rolls him up for a pin (which one imagines was a real “mark-out” moment for Taylor). Icarus hate is at an all time high. One spirited fan in particular screams at Icarus to tap out every time he’s in a submission move, as well as when he’s performing a submission, or is just standing at ringside. He also earns several chants of “PLEASE RETIRE!”

The Rey De Voladores final is a hard hitting and exciting affair that has fans on their feet as Kid and Generico exchange deadly manoeuvres and nearfalls. After kicking out of a top rope version of Kid’s X-Factor, Generico hits the BRAINBUSTAAAAAAAHH!!!!! for the win, and the roof nearly blows off the arena. Kid is completely overwhelmed as fans chant his name. He takes to the microphone and pays tribute to Generico, Chikara itself and the fans. He notes some of the questionable things he’s done in his career, and the fans chant “WE FORGIVE YOU!” He announces that this will likely be his last year in wrestling, and that this may have even been his last match. If it was, he says, he couldn’t think of a better opponent or better fans to go out on. He’s given a long and loud standing ovation from the crowd, and then another from the wrestlers in the back that can be heard all through the arena.

For Sean Waltman, King of Trios meant redemption. After all, he doesn’t exactly have a great reputation among fans. It wasn’t long ago that he was so hated in wrestling that a term was invented to describe it (“X-Pac Heat” – when fans hate the performer, as opposed to the character, and don’t want to see him anymore; some fans say Icarus has the same sort of heat). He’s been seen as a talented performer who pissed it away with drugs and other poor decisions. He was that guy from the sex tape with Chyna, who politicked his way to the top of the industry with his Kliq buddies and never gave anything back- a selfish failure. Some fans were speculating, based on past behaviour, that he wouldn’t even show up for the event.

But at King of Trios a strange thing happened: the man became the Kid, and the kid became a man. Waltman busted his ass in three great matches. He put over his opponent in the ring and on the microphone. He paid tearful tribute to the fans and the company. And if that was Sean Waltman’s last wrestling match, he certainly went out with a lot of class.

That’s a hell of an accomplishment for someone who’s name has so often been used in the same sentence as “Chyna’s gigantic clitoris.” Well done, Kid.

Speaking of redemption, that’s what the King of Trios final is all about. After losing in the finals of the tournament last year, and then losing Green Ant to an arm injury, 2010 was a dismal year for the Colony. The crowd (other than a handful of 3rd row, die-hard F.I.S.T. loyalists) desperately want the Ants to win this one.

After all the comedy and Lex Luger parodies of the weekend, the main event is old school wrestling booking at its finest. F.I.S.T. ground the Ants early on, with Chuck Taylor bashing Green Ant’s arm with a chair during a fracas. That arm becomes the target and F.I.S.T. pound on it mercilessly. The Ants rally, however, and take advantage after Taylor’s baby powder to the face backfires and hit his teammate Johnny Gargano. The match goes back and forth many times, manipulating the crowd with multiple false finishes, bringing their excitement to a fever pitch. Finally, after twenty minutes of tremendous action, the Ants unleash unheard-of offense – a top rope version of their Antapault move. They launch Green Ant ludicrously high into the air for a splash on Icarus that wins them the match and the tournament.

The crowd explodes into cheers: justice has been done. But it’s about more than that. The fans have been feeling the wrestlers’ pain all weekend. As mentioned, they’ve offered sympathy to favourites like Team Quackenbush, The Spectral Envoy or Team Michinoku Pro after their in-ring losses. Moreover, they’ve offered their sympathy for real life losses, as in Kingston and Cannon’s tribute match. After all that, it’s not just the Colony (and Generico, for that matter) who deserve this victory- the fans do too.

After the show is over, there’s one thought that sticks out in my head- Monday Night Raw is going to suck in comparison to this. I’ve been to a show that was family friendly, yet engaging for fans of all ages. A show that saw long suffering heroes finally vindicated as they faced impossible odds. I saw one of wrestling’s pariahs redeem himself, and several legends put over the next generation as they wind down to retirement.

For fans like me, watching the WWE can be an angsty experience. We fret and we fuss over who deserves better, who’s holding the young generation down, who could help the whole company out if they would just be booked to show more weakness, etc etc. These concerns are miniscule, if they exist at all in Chikara. It’s a whole different animal. It’s ridiculous and fun and over the top, but very old school as well (not just Matt Classic either).

Wrestling fans, you owe it to yourselves to check out Chikara. There’s no better wrestling product for kids, but between the humour and the action they can appeal to anyone. Give them a chance. Maybe we’ll see you at King of Trios next year.

Sidekick Andrew: All three nights of King of Trios 2011 are available at www.smartmarkvideo.com – in just another example of awesomeness, the DVDs were released within 24 hours of Sunday’s final! We’ve ordered our here in the Bunker, we suggest you do the same.

A Song for Whoever: Edge & Larry Sweeney Edition

BOSS LADY RAY: There isn’t much I can say about Edge and his shock retirement that hasn’t already been said this week. We can’t, however, let it pass without comment. The outpouring of love for Adam Copeland over the past seven days has been astonishing. I’m not for a second suggesting he doesn’t deserve it. Quite the opposite. I just mean it’s been a long time since I’ve seen such universal affection for a single wrestler.

At 3:00am on Tuesday morning, the wind blowing through a forgotten, open window woke me up. I was suddenly struck with insomnia. To entertain myself I opened Twitter to see if anything interesting was happening on Raw. Edge was retiring. I assumed it was a story. There have been so many false goodbyes in the WWE lately and there were no signs of injury at Wrestlemania. But the more my Twitter feed refreshed, the more it became apparent that it was a very real farewell. I resisted the urge to turn on the television. Feeling sleepy again I went back to bed. When my alarm woke me up I returned to Twitter to find it awash with mournful messages tagged with #ThankYouEdge. Clearly I hadn’t just dreamt it.  Before I’d even got up I navigated my way to YouTube on my phone and watched the speech North Americans had been reeling over four hours earlier. I had a little cry.

.....as did he.

One of the things I’ve really been taken aback by this week is just how well respected and very much needed Edge is backstage. Curt Hawkins’ video tribute was especially lovely.

It must be an incredible feeling to make the difficult decision to take your ship to shore for the final time, knowing that not only your audience are going to miss you, but that your peers will miss you even more. The extended send-off WWE sprung on Edge on this week’s Smackdown was even more touching than his big announcement on Raw. And yes, I definitely cried.

The thought that keeps coming back to me is that Edge can’t possibly retire because he’s one of the new guys. But he isn’t. He’s 38 this year. He was already established in The Brood when I started watching some thirteen years ago. He’s one of the most decorated Superstars in the WWE. So why do I keep thinking of him as one of the new guys? I’ve come to the conclusion that it’s because Edge’s retirement feels untimely. We’re not used to wrestlers being given medical advice to quit and actually listening. We’re not accustomed to seeing wrestlers retiring without their bodies and faces looking twenty years older than they really are. Sad as I am to see Edge go, I’m thrilled I won’t be seeing him dragging a broken carcass around the ring ten years from now. I’m happy he gets to go hiking in the mountains with his good lady and a couple of dogs. Live the dream, make your money and get out while you can still enjoy it.

This is the first generation of wrestlers who have the sense and the future prospects to retire when their body tells them to. It’s a relief to me. This is why Hulk Hogan’s comments that there is somehow something weak about retiring before dropping dead in the ring are infuriating. Hogan’s generation haven’t retired because they don’t know what else to do but wrestle. They had no options of second careers so they just kept going. Is this ideal? No. It’s terrible for them and embarrassing to watch. So why on earth would Hogan feel the need to denigrate Edge’s very sensible decision? Maybe envy, but probably just irresponsible stupidity. I could not despise that man more.

This new generation of educated and media savvy performers have something to fall back on at the end of their careers; whether that’s at the end of an illustrious career or one cut short because of injury as Edge’s has been. Once he’s finished being off the radar, I have no doubt he’ll be back in some way, shape or form. I only realised this week that Edge had been part of the creative team during the time he was recovering from the spinal fusion surgery he underwent seven years ago. My guess is that the door is very much open to him whenever he decides to walk back through it again.

Regardless of the fact that professional wrestling results are predetermined, what they do in the ring requires real physical effort. Wrestlers are athletes in every way apart from the fact that they know when they’re winning and when they’re losing. How many professional athletes do you know who continue in their sport beyond maybe their late thirties? A lifetime of athletic exertion takes its toll. In the words of that esteemed philosopher Kenny Rogers “You gotta know when to hold ‘em, know when to fold ‘em, know when to walk away, and know when to run.” Edge is declaring himself out and walking away from the table with his body and his dignity fully intact. I couldn’t be prouder. Thank you, Edge. This one’s for you…….

SIDEKICK ANDREW: