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.

chikara_first_time

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.

RaeSignature

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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?

RaeSignature

Happy New Year!


Hello! How the devil is 2011 treating you so far? Excellent? Awful? Meh? Here at Wrestlegasm.com we’re refusing to answer that question. We’re just not quite ready to embrace a new year yet. So we’re easing ourselves in by looking back at 2010 and giving our much-coveted awards to our favourite wrestle people. OK so it’s the first year we’ve handed them out so they’re not that sought after, but they’re important to us.

We pondered holding a glittering awards ceremony full of fake grins, dazzling ladies dressed in vintage couture, gentlemen in black-tie attire, champers on tap and the kind of canapés that look like they should be behind glass at Tate Modern, but that’s just not our style.  To be truthful, we’d have been more than happy to lie around in our Christmas pyjamas and chink our mugs of tea together when we decided who was best at wrestling in 2010. But that’s no fun for anyone but us, so we’ve settled on a happy, homely medium.

The Wrestlegasm Best in Show Awards will take the form of a very British country show. There’ll be livestock parades, we’ll be judging the produce of regional vegetable growers, there will be family events in the crafts tent and an opportunity to sample locally made cheeses, cakes and ales.

Between me and you, I've got my eye on that purple cauliflower. Phwoar!

Oh yeah, and we’ll be handing out rosettes to our favourite wrestlers too. Yep, rosettes. No two-pound statue made of solid gold for us. So jump in your wellies, pull up a haystack and I’ll grab my megaphone. Incidentally, there’s only one award we disagreed on, so even though I’ll announce these first four awards, you can be sure that we discussed each category thoroughly and agreed on each winner unanimously. Let us begin……

The first foals to pass through our paddock are the newcomers; the young whippersnappers who just want you to remember their name. There was a fine crop of youngsters on the scene this year. We swayed back and forth over the thorny issue of what ‘Newcomer’ truly means, but we eventually settled on Wade Barrett.

Yes, he’s British and yes we’re very proud of him, but we genuinely couldn’t think of anyone who’d come so far or had made such a massive impact in such a short space of time in 2010. This time last year he was puttering about in FCW with nobody but the diehards able to pick him out of a police line-up.

That's him, officer. The one with freckled chest, ravishing curls and a curved nose.

But that all changed when Wade got called up to NXT and was mentored by Chris Jericho. Admittedly, his first sartorial attempts dampened our spirits, but it soon became apparent that with superb mic skills and solid wrestling ability, he was a sure-thing to win series one of NXT, which he did. Fast forward just a few months and he’s headlined Pay Per Views with John Cena, he’s lead a brood of reprobates to world (WWE) domination and has everyone watching knowing exactly what his name is. You’ve come a long way, kiddo. Enjoy that rosette. Wear it with pride.

VERY BRITISH NODS OF APPRECIATION also go to Kaitlyn and Alberto Del Rio. OK, yeah, we know that Kaitlyn isn’t the most fabulous wrestler in the Divas locker room. She needs a lot of ring time before she’ll even get close to being great. But we recognise ace comedy timing when we see it and that’s enough to get us through for the time being. And the thighs. Oh the thighs.

We really wanted to give Alberto Del Rio a rosette. He’s one of the best things to happen to Smackdown in ages, especially since CM Punk departed for pastures red. But he’s not technically a newcomer. He’s something of a legend south of the US border, so he might be a newbie in the WWE, but he’s certainly not just learning his craft . We needed to mention him though, just to say how much we love him and how much we enjoy pretending to honk our horns on our plastic steering wheel every time he drives to the ring.

JUSTLIKETHAT

Our second rosette goes to……..

This award didn’t really need much debate. CM Punk’s ability to hide the fact that he has a heart, berate his friends in public, run a dictatorship in several guises and stand in the centre of a packed arena without flinching while a 16,000-strong angry mob boo and jeer all makes him top-dog in the villain stakes.

We particularly enjoy when he breaks the hearts of the innocent and unassuming, like when he gate-crashed Miss Mysterio’s birthday party several months ago and delivered a menacing rendition of a happy birthday to the poor child. It was the stuff nightmares are made of.

But all is well. No need to hide behind your sofas and be afraid, kiddies. Dastardly as Punk is, we know that as soon as he steps out of character he’s a thoroughly lovely guy.

PROOF! By the way, that Make-a-Wish video makes me weep every time. Damn you, wrestling. Stop being nice. It makes me love you more.

And that’s what makes a great wrestling villain. You want them to be horrible people on your TV, then glorious human beings in real life. We salute you, CM Punk. Enjoy your hand-made rosette and treasure it the way Miz treasures his Blue Peter badge. I made it with own fair hands with floristry ribbon, PVA glue and glitter.

VERY BRITISH NODS OF APPRECIATION go to Wade Barrett and Claudio Castagnoli. Both displayed a significant amount of menace this year, but they didn’t quite get us to believe they would genuinely kick us in the head and smirk while they left us bleeding the way Punk would.  Maybe next year fellas.

Our third award goes to…….

We spent quite some time reminiscing over this year in wrestling, considering which storylines stood out in our memories and trying to decide whether we should choose a WWE story or something from an indie promotion. Then we had one of those Oprah lightbulb moments. There was one story which started in the WWE, seeped out into the indies, then found its way back to WWE again – the Nexus invasion story.

The first series of NXT had drawn to a close. Interspersed with half-decent matches and a handful of boys who looked like they could be real stars, they’d had to take part in silly beer-barrel carrying contests and obstacle courses which involved a pop-drinking section. They were made fools of, but hey, they were rookies. What did they expect? Then on Raw everything changed. The downtrodden newcomers invaded Raw and attacked everyone in sight. It was authentic enough to be truly shocking. How often does WWE genuinely surprise you to that jaw-dropping level?

The real story came when Daniel Bryan/Bryan Danielson was fired for choking Justin Roberts with his own tie. Nobody knew whether it was genuine or a work and it was the first time in a long time that everyone seemed to have an opinion. Andrew and I are never normally ones to jump on the rumours and lies bandwagon, but even we felt like it was big enough that we needed to comment on it.

Bryan Danielson returned to the indies a conquering hero, where he was revered for being the boy who broke the WWE. He made countless appearances in smaller promotions, including a CHIKARA show where he was showered in neck ties. We Must Eat Michigan’s Brain was actually one of the most enjoyable shows of the year for me.

Anyway, he resisted the urge to sign with TNA and as if by magic, Bryan Danielson morphed into Daniel Bryan again and made an even more triumphant return to the big-time at SummerSlam to damage the now dominant Nexus faction. Was the whole thing one very clever story? There are various opinions and one day we’ll get all the details, but either way it was certainly the most defining story of the year. If you manage to mix script and reality to the point where nobody’s sure where one ends and the other begins, that’s dynamite.

I’m going to ask Bryan to accept the rosette on behalf of everyone involved. Round of applause everyone.

The final rosette to be awarded during the first installment of this three-post event is……

I tried hard to think of someone else to take his place this year. I tried not to make it predictable and obvious. But it’s still CM Punk. We’ve had a tough ole year, me and Punk. His ever-changing appearance, particularly during those dark ‘long-beard and lucha mask’ days, really shook my faith. The whole Straight Edge Society, megalomania, shaving the heads of his followers stuff was a challenge. And when he disappeared to Raw and got injured I did a big, sad face, the likes of which I hadn’t done since the end of MasterChef.

But we got through it. He lost the hobo-beard. He got himself a lovely little haircut. (I am of the opinion that there isn’t a man alive who can’t be improved by a short-back-n-sides. Take note HHH.) Even though he was injured he did some brilliant commentary on Raw and actually made Raw cool. Then just as he started slipping into face territory, he took over the Nexus. Genius child. Never change again.

GIRL CRUSH OF THE YEAR: Layla. I do truly love Beth Phoenix and if she told me to switch teams with her, I’d be too afraid to say no. But I also love a girl who knows how to make people laugh. Layla was tasked with making Michelle McCool likeable and she succeeded. She’s the girl I’d most like to swap bodies with, she’s improved significantly in the ring and she has that kind of comic timing you just can’t learn. You either got it or you ain’t. One of my favourite things of 2010 is still when she planted a big snog on Kaval and “Took one for the teeeeeam.” Big kisses to you, dear heart.

Now, my section of this awards event is over. That’s a good thing because speaking through this megaphone for some 1500 words has been quite tiring. The next four awards will be presented by Andrew within the next week and the final ceremony will be a joint effort after that.  Before I go though, don’t think that because our awards ceremony is quaint and small-fry that we don’t have celebrity guests to provide a musical interlude like all the fancy award ceremonies. I’ve invited an old friend to sing a song I’m dedicating CM Punk. Sing along if you know the words. It’s a classic! Don’t forget to stick around after she’s done for the junior gymkhana and the pig parade. Jars of my home-pickled ginger are also available for purchase in the food tent.

(Click above for awesome tunes)

Something happened to me a few months ago and I just have to share it with someone, Diary. I lost my King of Trios virginity and it was AMAZING!

When I met WWE, I was just a kid. I was seduced by its bad-boy attitude and dazzling good looks. In fact, back then it was called WWF, but it ran into som

e trouble with the law and had to assume a less contentious identity. It was loud, offensive and I fell in deep, passionate love. Over the years, we had an on-off relationship. We shared some wonderful moments, but there were also times where I wondered why I was wasting my time with this loser. Things got so bad at one point that we broke up. I swore off wrestling altogether. But 2007 rolled around, Triple H made a memorable, heart-stopping return from injury at Summerslam and we were back together, snuggly as we were at the beginning, but with a little more wisdom on my part.

Another few years ticked by and we drifted into the comfort of always knowing the other would be there, no matter how much effort we made (or didn’t make). But then, Diary, I met CHIKARA. It was a somewhat accidental meeting, but one which has lead to intense happiness. We didn’t understand each other at first. Where were the bright flashing lights and huge arena screens? Come to think of it, where were the huge arenas? To put it mildly, I wasn’t entirely sure there were enough fireworks between us for anything to happen. Not long-term, anyway.

The storylines seemed bizarre and…well….. STRANGE!

This new way of doing things was intriguing and the more I learnt, the more I wanted to know. What a geek this CHIKARA was. But geeks are cool, right? All I had to do was give in to my inner geek and I was smitten. Before I knew it I was wearing CHIKARA’s t-shirts to bed and begging to know every tiny detail of its past. We could only see each other sporadically, so we figured we’d meet up every few weeks, have some fun, then just look forward to the next date. Times were good.
But CHIKARA had something new to teach me. Something different to introduce me to…..King of Trios! I was apprehensive. Singles matches, easy. Couples, no problem. But three in a team? Three nights in a row? So many threes? Hmm. I won’t lie, Diary, I was a little daunted. I mean, sure, I had the stamina, but CHIKARA promised me we’d take it slowly…. one match at a time, one move at a time. I was in love. How could I say no?

Did we go slowly? Did we hell! The first night was something of a blur and went by so quickly I’m not sure I I fully absorbed what happened. Thank God Sara Del Rey made me laugh toward the beginning to break the tension. The welcoming faces of the CHIKARA regulars certainly helped. I gripped tightly to the stuff I was familiar with to ease me in while I navigated the new and strange world of female referees, the Japanese boys and Mexican midgets dressed as butterflies. It seemed a little wrong, yet, I loved it. Like REALLY loved it. It was way too fast for me to keep up with and in places I had to idea what was going on. But I wanted more and as soon as possible.

The second night was a little easier to follow. I knew what I was letting myself in for and with half the number of trios competing, the pace was more manageable for my novice self. The three-on-three action was punctuated with Brodie Lee’s leisurely open challenge, a jaunty Christopher Daniels vs Hallowicked match and a couple of Rey de Voladores qualifying matches. My poor Spanish skills meant that I translated that as something akin to swinging from the chandeliers, which sounded mildly terrifying and yet very intriguing. There was no need to worry though. I got the hang of it pretty quickly and my penchant for jumps and kicks was beyond satisfied. Diary, I almost was annoyed that I’d spent so many years without knowing it existed.

Night two did bring about something of a conflict though. The Bruderschaft were taking on Team Perros De Mal and I was torn between  lavishing attention on the cute ones and the bad guys. You know what it’s like, Diary. You know the cutesy ones not afraid to show their feminine side are the best option, yet when some big, angry Claudio Castagnoli type starts flex-bumping in front of you, common sense flies out the window.  Sweet as Team Nursery Rhyme were, you can’t beat this. You can’t beat it in any way:

By the third night I was a King of Trios pro. I was enjoying it so much I just wanted to tell everyone else how great it was. Everything started falling into place. The Bruderschaft and my now-beloved Colony eliminated all traces of Japanese competitors, Hallowicked and Frightmare sent a whole gauntlet of people to have a nap in Sleepy Hollow, Eddie Kingston shared the ring with Tommy Dreamer, the boss-fella won and Ophidian became King of the Chandelier Swingers. If that final King of Trios match were to happen now, I’d be in quite a state. I love my Ants dearly. But it is something of a new romance. During KoT I was all about Castagnoli and……OK we’ve already covered him earlier. It was an easy explosion of happiness when this moment ended three nights of new and exciting competition:

Thanks for listening, Diary. I feel so much better now I’ve shared this with someone. Of course, CHIKARA and I have been spending time together for quite a while now, so it all feels like a long time ago. But it’s still nice to share. Now CHIKARA wants to introduce me to something called the Baby Lion Cubs or something? Don’t know what that is. Is it something like this maybe?

I certainly hope so. As soon as I’ve experienced it, I’ll tell you all the juicy details, Diary. Promise.

Love……

 

 

 

 

N.B. In the hope that this post has inspired you to watch King of Trios 2010 or any other CHIKARA show, DVDs can be purchased from Smart Mark Video.

never kneel at the altar of conformity – a (brief) introduction to CHIKARA

As part of your all-new look Wrestlegasm.com, we will be covering a lot more in the way of independent wrestling on the blog, rather than solely covering the usual WWE product. Now, we have mentioned CHIKARA and some of the other independents on occasion, but we are aware that some of you might not be aware of just how awesome CHIKARA is. This will only be a very brief introduction to the company, but hopefully I can get across some of the spirit of CHIKARA and at least give you a basic grounding.
CHIKARA (Japanese for “strength”) are a promotion based in Philadelphia and have been running shows since 2002 (featuring a main event including future WWE-stars CM Punk and Colt “Scotty Goldman” Cabana.) Using a combination of Mexican lucha libre, Japanese puro resu and Lancashire catch wrestling styles, the brains behind CHIKARA and the original trainer at the attached wrestling school is Mike Quackenbush, also known as the Master of a Thousand Holds and regarded by many to be one of the best wrestlers on the independent scene. A self-avowed comic book geek, Quackenbush is partly responsible for the DVD covers that ape comic book covers from throughout the years (a subject covered in far more depth and with far more knowledge by Gavok over at 4th Letter.)
In fact, during an interview with Gavok, Quackenbush was asked to explain CHIKARA for someone who was completely unfamiliar with the product, and his answer is worth repeating in full, because it explains a lot:
“CHIKARA is a group of pro-wrestlers/luchadores/ninjas/ would-be-super-heroes that get together and enact the age-old struggle of ‘good vs. evil’ within the context of a wrestling universe that permits elements of science-fiction and fantasy beyond what is currently considered ‘acceptable’ or ‘mainstream by wrestling fans at large.”
Now, describing your wrestlers as “ninjas” or “would-be-super-heroes” might seem like a stretch, but when you realise that the roster has included time-travelling medieval knights, dragons, pharoahs and pirates, not to mention anthropomorphic representations of goats, ice-creams, ants and a straight-edge chipmunk named CP Munk you can get an idea where he’s coming from.
L-R Chivas II, El Hijo del Ice Cream, Dragon Dragon, CP Munk, Carpenter Ant
That’s right, CHIKARA isn’t the most serious promotion in the world. However, you’ll be hard pressed to find consistently better wrestling anywhere on the planet. The combination of genuinely entertaining and amusing personalities, gimmicks and promos with some of the best active independent wrestlers today makes for truly addictive viewing. Incidentally I choose the word “addictive” carefully; as Ray will attest, once you “pop” you can’t stop and you will find yourself living for the next SmartMarkVideo.com sale to add to your collection.
Don’t be fooled into thinking that CHIKARA are only focussing on comedy characters, a quick scan of the Alumni section of the roster reveals a who’s who of WWE, TNA and ROH stars: CM Punk, Matt “Evan Bourne” Sydal, Colin “Delaney” Olson, Al Snow, Alex Shelley, Sonjay Dutt, Amazing Kong, Glacier, Chris Hero, Claudio Castagnoli, Jay Lethal, Matt “Max Buck” Jackson, Nick “Jeremy Buck” Jackson, Bryan “Daniel Bryan” Danielson, Chris Sabin, Christopher Daniels, D’Lo Brown, as well as classic WWE stars Ax, Smash and One Man Gang. Believe me when I say that CHIKARA’s slogan of “Wrestling Done Right” makes perfect sense after you’ve watched a few matches. In fact, one of my favourite matches of all time (and certainly one of my favourites from 2009) was a match from the King of Trios tournament (available on the incredible value for money CHIKARA sampler.) but if you’re too impatient or too much of a Scrooge McDuck to spend money, there is a highlight video on YouTube…
Now, if you watched that video and managed to avoid smiling enough that your cheeks hurt, then admittedly CHIKARA might not be for you. But, and I think I speak for Ray as well, when a match helps you to forget breathing for the last few minutes they must be doing something right.
There’s only so much I can explain here about a company with such convoluted comic-book style storylines. For example, the current major story, an NWO/Nexus/Invasion style story involving a group known as the BDK (Bruderschaft des Kreuzes) has it’s origins back in 2004 with the formation of the Dark Breed stable. I think you’ll agree that six years is a long time for a story to evolve, certainly putting the WWE’s “oh bugger, best come up with a reason for these two to have a match” policy to shame. However, there are a few basic tenets that are worth explaining quickly, to give you a grasp of how the company works.
Matches are loosely based on Mexican lucha libre rules, the most important of which is the “lucha tag” – meaning that a wrestler only needs to leave the ring and touch the floor to make a tag to their partner. This allows for much faster and more fluid matches, something which is important in the multi-man tag matches that CHIKARA specialise in. Other lucha-influenced rules include a 20-count outside the ring (as opposed to the US standard 10 count) and immediate disqualification for any wrestler removing the mask of their opponent.
CHIKARA has no main singles title, instead focussing on the Campeonatos de Parejas (tag team championship) which a team must first achieve 3 points before challenging for. Points are awarded for winning tag matches, but should they lose a match they lose all their points. Therefore, to win the titles a team must win 4 matches in a row. The only other championship in CHIKARA is the Young Lions Cup, a yearly tournament for wrestlers aged 25 or under. There is also the Rey de Voladores, or King of the High-Flyers (the semi-finals of which is featured in the highlight video up there… it’s OK, you can watch it again… I understand, just pop back down here when you’re done.) This is more akin to the King of the Ring in that it’s a title given to the winner, but it isn’t one that can be challenged through the year.
I wish I could tell you more now, go into more detail about exactly why I have such a crush on Ultramantis Black, why Vin Gerard transforming from Equinox was one of my favourite storylines of the last few years, why Frightmare is one of the most exciting wrestlers in any promotion at the moment, and why Bryce Remsburg is the only referee that I would specifically watch a match to see – but this is early days for us… we need to keep a little mystery in the relationship still. Trust me, as we move forward and you get to know more and more about CHIKARA’s past and future, you’ll fall in love with them just as hard as Ray and I have fallen.
For now, I’ll leave you with 3 videos: the first two will recap the main events of the last year, while the third (from the Fan Conclave at the King of Trios 2010 tournament) will give you a taste of just how different the interactions between wrestlers and fans is at the independent level. Enjoy…
PS. Did I not mention they’ve a video game coming out? Oh yes…

announcement: ch-ch-changes

Happy Sunday!  We’ve been having a little chat in the Bunker about how to take Wrestlegasm forward and how to manage it better. We’ve decided that from now on we won’t be writing regular, weekly recaps of WWE programming. We’re not abandoning WWE at all, just pulling away from the way we’ve been writing about it. There are two reasons for this.
Firstly, we’re busy. We’ve got full-time jobs, families to look after, college study to focus on, non-wrestling projects that require our time and Ray’s been tackling a very tricky illness for over seven months now, which is mega energy-zapping. Bottom line…. we’ve only got so many hours every week to devote to writing about wrestling and they’re being sucked up by WWE recaps. We’ve got a whole list of editorial-type posts that just never got written because we only had time for the recaps and it annoys us. If you’re going run a blog for the love of it, it should never annoy you.
Which brings us to our second reason for the change. Much as we love WWE and watch it religiously, we also love indie wrestling. We’re both borderline obsessive about CHIKARA (although admittedly Andrew may have crossed that line some time ago) and we’d love to help spread the gospel by writing about it. So, we’d like to use the little time we have to cover some indie stuff too. We’re huge fans of wrestling as a whole and we’re not doing it justice by ignoring everything that isn’t touched by the hand of Vince McMahon.
So there you have it. We’re looking forward to providing you with a little more creative variety over the coming months, which should be more interesting for us to write and for you to read. Thanks a million for your support over the last year and a half. We truly appreciate it. Oh and just in case you’re wondering, yes, we still hate TNA with a passion.
Lots o’ love……

playing with boys: in search of the elusive intergender match

A few weeks ago, Michelle McCool was billed as being in an intergender match on WWE Superstars. I was excited. This would have been real progress for the WWE. When I asked which male Superstar she’d be opposing, I was unfortunately informed that it was a match against Beth Phoenix. It was billed as an intergender match to fall in with the Glam-a-Man moniker that Team LayCool had attached to Beth Phoenix. I was disappointed. I love Beth Phoenix, but the dashed promise of the elusive boy vs girl match was a slight letdown.

I got to thinking about why the WWE are so afraid of pitting women against men. On the surface, it’s obvious. This is the PG era, where all WWE programming is produced to be child-friendly. The mere mention of violence against women, even a choreographed wrestling match, would be unacceptable. It would be wholly hypocritical of a company so geared towards entertaining younger viewers to be seen to condone men hitting women.

At Christmas I began playing the Smackdown vs Raw 2010 video game. It doesn’t have the facility to allow intergender matches. As in the shows themselves, mixed tag matches are the closest you can get.

When a male competitor is in the ring, you have to make sure your female competitor tags her male partner in. If you’re playing as a male Superstar and strike one of the Divas, even accidentally, you lose immediately by disqualification. Though, curiously, if you’re playing as a woman and hit a man, you aren’t disqualified. On the 19th April episode of Monday Night Raw, while Luke Gallows and CM Punk beat Triple H down to have his head shaved, Serena was encouraged to kick him. But in no way could Triple H have retaliated against Serena.

Even on TNA, which likes to suggest that it is anti-PG by having half its roster spill their own blood on a weekly basis, there is still a certain awkwardness towards men and women fighting each other. During TNA’s tour of the UK this February, guest writer Toni reported on how Hamada had practically begged Amazing Red for a match, which he seemed loathed to give her. Amazing Red eventually fought and beat her, but only after displaying an obvious conflict of conscience at being in a match with a woman.

IMG: Property Wrestlegasm.Com

I fully understand why the WWE would be nervous of pushing the matter in the current litigation climate. Wrestling struggles to maintain a respectable reputation at the best of times. It doesn’t need an over-zealous parent filing a lawsuit against the company because their son broke their daughter’s sternum copying a move he saw Chris Jericho put on Gail Kim, for example. Bad publicity indeed. But the real contradiction is not Violence Against Women vs PG Programming; it’s Reality vs Unreality.

Professional Wrestling is something of an alternate universe. Wait. That’s putting is mildly. Wrestling is a complete alternate universe where the rules of real life do not apply. This is a world where Rey Mysterio can take on the Big Show and win. A place where seemingly random people run up to CM Punk in the middle of a show and demand that their head be shaved to rid them of their toxic sins. A universe where people are carried out of arenas on spinal boards and carted off in ambulances, only to reappear an hour later with a sledgehammer in their hand to finish the job they started earlier in the show. It’s a world where you can physically and verbally abuse your boss and still have a job in the morning.

If we all have enough sense to understand kayfabe, why should the rules be different for intergender matches? Can’t John Cena’s ‘Don’t Try this at Home’ video cover all aspects of the content?

Ok, so my brother never listened to such advice when we were kids. I was regularly the victim of a Stone-Cold Stunner. But if it’s an adequate disclaimer for anything that happens during the show, why not let it be a disclaimer for intergender matches too? If reality played any part in wrestling, Rey Mysterio would win less matches, the police might like to speak with Mr. Punk to ensure that he’s not taking advantage of vulnerable members of society, Triple H would still be in traction permanently and The Hart Dynasty would have been fired the day after Wrestlemania 26.

Women and men fighting each other should be no more of a concern than placing a 5’6″ man in the ring against a 7’0″ man. It’s not like when Annika Sörenstam asked to play in a Bank of America Colonial golfing tournament on the Men’s PGA Tour, and there were genuine concerns as to whether she would be at a physical disadvantage playing against men. Wrestling is a scripted form of entertainment without the need for real world logic.

Just yesterday I was watching a 2007 CHIKARA match where Icarus, Gran Akuma and Brodie Lee took on Cheech, Cloudy and Sara Del Rey. Sara Del Rey did not seem out-of-place in any way. She was just another performer who played an incredible part in the match. She was not treated any differently because she was a woman. In fact, Brodie Lee won the match by lifting Sara up to his 6’7″ shoulders and slamming her into the canvas for the pin. Nobody thought of it as a guy beating up a girl. Nobody feared that Sara had been abused in any way when he rolled her over and shouted in her face. She just happened to be the competitor who lost the match.

This is the fundamental difference between mainstream, primetime wrestling and independent wrestling. Assumed social responsibility and feared lawsuits aside, women in the WWE and TNA aren’t valued in the same way that women are in independent wrestling. The Divas match at this year’s Extreme Rules Pay Per View was so incredibly insulting that I only continued to watch it because I knew I would have to recap the PPV for this blog. The prospect of a Women’s Title match on a Pay Per View should have been thrilling. Instead, I just peeked from behind a cushion while Beth Phoenix and Michelle McCool fought it out in an ‘Extreme Makeover’ match. This was basically a standard extreme rules match but in place of trash cans, chairs and tables, the ladies had to hit each other with ironing boards, mops, brooms and buckets. They also sprayed each other with hairspray and were allowed used of a large table of make-up akin to that laid out for a grooming challenge on America’s Next Top Model.

I’m amazed they didn’t send Beth Phoenix out dressed as Rosie the Riveter and Michelle McCool dressed as an aproned 1950s housewife. If Creative were concerned about placing the Divas in a match requiring an extreme stipulation, couldn’t they just have gone with a LumberJills match or, even better, a ladder match? They certainly could have ditched the idea of a dumbed-down extremes rules match. The only good thing to come out of this was that Beth Phoenix went away the new and very deserving Women’s Champion.

I’m all for irony. It can be fun. But for this match to have been ironic, it would have needed something opposing to be compared to, and there is very little in the WWE which doesn’t pander to outdated stereotypes. The Raw brand is particularly guilty of this – sending the ladies out to compete in ballgown matches etc. I’m not even saying that women shouldn’t have feminine gimmicks. Strong characterisation is key in all professional wrestling. But when one of the few women in the WWE who looks slightly different to the rest has her face plastered in lipstick because she doesn’t fit the standard physical mold, there isn’t much hope of any genuine intergender matches any time soon.

At least Beth Phoenix was allowed to enter the Royal Rumble this year. I’ve mentioned before that while her dalliance in the ring with CM Punk during the Rumble match was short, it was truly exciting and especially memorable.

It seems to me that intergender matches, when done well, are the sign of a confident and respectful franchise. Until WWE begin respecting and trusting the women on their roster to pull off quality wrestling matches and allow them to be more than just supplementary to the male stars, I can’t see women being pitted against men. I was informed last week that Creative are discussing ways of strengthening the division. Whether this is true or not is anyone’s guess; especially a week after they released both their poster-girl in Mickie James and one of their edgier female wrestlers in Katie Lea. It’s difficult not to be cynical, especially when people like Jim Ross have their reservations about a positive future for the women of the WWE, but I’ll hope for the best. Once you start expecting less than the best, there’s no impetus for those in charge to change anything.