A few months ago I wrote a brief article about how my love of pro-wrestling was eclipsing my love of comic books. I had planned to write more in depth articles since then but a recent event knocked me for a loop. My favorite wrestling promotion, Chikara, had their iPPV and the events were a shock to all Chikara fans and had the hardcore wrestling fans and even dirt sheets (phrase for wrestling “news” websites) buzzing. You see I missed the iPPV and got home afterwards only to hear that the main event was interrupted by Director of Fun Wink Vavasseurs Condor security (a fake security firm) who then forced everyone was out as they tore down the set. Chikara was closed. Chikara was over. One of the top independent wrestling promotions in the US was done.
Quickly after this rumors buzzed the company founder/owner Mike Quackenbush was in a heated divorce revolving around an inappropriate relationship with one of his wrestling students. Soon after that a press release came out saying the company had financial troubles since a three night event they half a year and half prior. It brushed off the rumors of a divorce having anything to do with it. This press release was slightly confusing. It could be true Chikara had troubles but then what was up with all the new Wrestling Is promotions popping up that featured several Chikara regulars including Mike Quackenbush. Also, the press release seemed to be done by a corporation and did not acknowledge Quackenbush as owner. In the Chikara Universe Quack was not the owner/founder/booker. He was recognized as the patriarch of the company but other than that he was just a wrestler and the head trainer at the school. No, Chikara was owned by the mysterious Worldwide Media Development Corp which was in turned owned by a mysterious Titor Conglomerate. As the next days rolled in it became clear-Chikara was so dedicated to their long term storylines they shut themselves down to further the angles.
Wrestling has long had storylines and angles but Chikara took things further into the realm of scifi and fantasy, with a heavy dose of superhero comics. Where else in wrestling would you see tough guys like Eddie Kingston and technical mat machine like Tim Donst mix it up with Ants like the Colony or demons like the Batiri? Chikara was filled with larger than life characters and the stories reflected that with Time Travel and magical amulets. Chikara, free from the demands of other wrestling promotions, took their story telling to a level wrestling had not yet achieved. Utilizing the internet and the fanbase to their advantage. Condor security got a Twitter account sometime after the iPPV. Icarus, the once hated man turned underdog on the verge of winning the Grand Championship, is now posting videos and starting petitions. Fans who signed SaveChikara soon saw the website seized and people who signed getting mysterious phone calls. Through the various Wrestling Is companies small strands of storylines have popped up such as the reformation of the Osirian Portal, the once and future tag team who battled one another at that very iPPV. Kingston being dogged by chants for Icarus. The Colony battling their rivals in the Vavasseur created Colony Extreme Force. Chikara wrestlers continuing forth. While Quackenbush, fired after one of their last events, makes his own plans for the future. While Colony members Green Ant and Fire Ant search for their once teammate who was ripped from the team and eventually fled.
This, this storytelling is one of the reasons I love wrestling. I did not even get deep into the details that span years. Chikara elevated the possibilities of what you can do with story for a wrestling company. Of course, its not wrestling without wrestling. Chikara definitely can bring that. A number of excellent men and women who have worked for the company including WWE’s Antonio Cesaro who made Chikara a home and even worked as a trainer at the Wrestle Factory. Chikara can put on top notch matches but to be fair, Chikara develops a lot of their talent so sometimes you have wrestlers who are still a bit green. Chikara also will push story over competition when it serves its purpose. When it comes to the actual in ring action, there are other US companies you can say are better.
Pro-Wrestling Guerrilla seems to top most fans list. Took me a while to check them out. I saw a show years back and thought it was too similar to Ring of Honor. Last year I had the need to check out more El Generico (WWE’s Sami Zayn, currently in developmental) so I found a compilation and paired it with a recent show. I was happy and have been picking and choosing what shows to get. PWG has gotten a reputation for putting together talent who may have never faced off, pulling the trigger on wrestlers who may not get the push from other indy promotions, and just in general given their fans what they want. PWG is pretty pure, basic, and cut to the bone. The storylines deal with the basics of feuding for titles or just not liking each other. It may not be as violent as other promotions can get (like CZW) but the in ring action is exciting and intense.
Guerrilla portrays the physicality of wrestling so well. The athleticism and competitive nature bleed out and the atmosphere of the fans-all drinking and having a good time, it shines through so well. PWG crowds eat it up and it effects the person viewing the DVD and helps engage them. People look down at wrestlers thinking it must be easy but to do what they do you need to be athletic. Ask anyone whose shown up at a WWE training camp with little experience, let a lone an athletic background and they will tell you its not easy. The movements, whether grounded with holds or big complex throws or the high risk maneuvering. A wrestling match is a stage performance that has a lot of risk. Another aspect to wrestling, one that can elevate ones stock is personality. Watching a larger guy like Kevin Steen, PWG’s biggest name and one of the top indy wrestlers, do flips while engaging the crowd with poses and taunts shows why people love him. Seeing guys like Rich Swann, Ricochet, AR Fox or the Young Bucks fly around is amazing. Seeing their reactions, poses, and body language separates them from the rest of the high flyers. PWG delivers on the hype and feeds the fans want. They took Adam Cole, a wrestler whose shown his talents in the controversial CZW but gets regulated mostly to the mid-tier in the larger Ring of Honor, and put their top belt on him. Make him the big bad guy and the fans love to hate him. His ex-tag partner, Kyle O’Reilly, still bouncing in ROH tag teams but PWG has turned him into a buzzworthy singles star.
Promos, the art of speaking, is also an important aspect in the world of wrestling. These can be a make and break. It can take a wrestler who may not be the best in the ring and make them more engaging. It cam take a talented wrestler and make them a bigger star. In the world of WWE a wrestler who can cut a good promo is more of a draw then a great wrestler. WWE’s biggest, most popular segment of all time, is a in ring promo with Dwayne “the Rock” Johnson and Mick “Mankind” Foley doing a This Is Your Life bit. Promos have helped wrestlers cut through. CM Punk, a fan favorite who had troubled times with the backstage politics in WWE, got the right to say what he wanted as his contract was a month from ending. CM Punk went for the jugular and his stock rose higher. Stayed with the company and eventually held their top title for over a year-the longest modern day run with the WWE belt. Sometimes its not the promo-its the combination of elements. The catch phrase, the in ring work, the willingness to pursue the story, and the right timing have turned indy darling Bryan Danielson into WWE main event superstar Daniel Bryan. Navigating the politics, working hard to rise in the rank where there are 50-60 other wrestlers trying to do the same thing, its a hard business. WWE may not be the best in ring action or have the best written storylines (hell, a lot of WWE stories are short sighted and generally basic) but WWE is spectacle and no one comes close to them.
There are dozens of wrestling promotions in the US, hundreds worldwide. Some of the are really good at what they do and I honestly believe there is a wrestling promotion for everyone. You want tough ladies, well I like Shimmer. Many excellent female athletes like world traveled and second gen wrestler Ayako Hamada or Australian born bad ass Madison Eagles. Maybe the Latina Sensation Mercedes Martinez or the intimidating foul mouthed Knight Dynasty matriarch Saraya Knight (mother of WWE’s NXT Womens champ Paige, both pictured above). Plus the many visiting Japanese women who kick heads in. Wants something more bloody? CZW balances good technical wrestlers (the awesome Drew Gulak) and crazy high flyers (the before mentioned AR Fox who is incredible) with a dose of the ultra violence. Not as bloody as it once was but you can still expect to see death matches including their yearly Tournament of Death. CZW has a mixed reputation because of their violence but have been on the cutting edge of talent for a long time. Maybe you want something from outside the US. In Mexico CMLL and AAA do big business if you like the lucha style. For some hard hitting action New Japan Pro Wrestling dominates Japans wrestling scene and deliver the goods. Some of my fave wrestlers work for them like Jushin Thunder Liger or Satoshi Kojima. You can find a lot of NJPW stuff on Youtube.
Wrestling is fine art. It’s athletic, its style, its competition, its story telling, its all those things. If you have not tried it-find someone to help introduce you. maybe you saw a little WWE and was not interesting, believe me-there are more options other there. Check it out.