bill bodkin gets in the ring with the wild world of Chikara, an independent wrestling promotion that will be holding a huge show this Saturday afternoon, April 6th, at the Meadowlands Convention Center in Secaucus, New Jersey …
Pro wrestling fans are a tough crowd.
Let’s be blunt … it takes a lot to impress us.
And yes, this writer proudly includes himself in the weird and wonderful family of grown-ups who watch pro wrestling every week. We’re a jaded bunch. We’re not easily impressed. Very often we grumble and gripe about the latest story lines and in-ring performances and why Wrestler A is getting a bigger push than the more talented Wrestler B.
Yet, we come back for more, hoping beyond hope that something, anything will reignite the spark of childlike awe, wonder and purely honest excitement we get from watching the titans of the squared circle.
And that’s all we want: to return to the days of childhood innocence, when our mouths were agape at the poetry in motion, when we stood in awe as the the irresistible force met the immovable object.
And that’s exactly what Chikara does.
Chikara (which means “strength” in Japanese) is an independent wrestling promotion that was founded around 2002 by seasoned indie grappler “Lightning” Mike Quackenbush. It has grown from a small, local Northeastern-based wrestling school to a national touring company that has gained a rabid, cult following the world over.
It blends elements of Mexican lucha libre with elements of Japanese, American and British wrestling styles with ample amounts of comedy. The result is a high-energy, fast-paced, hilarious and surprisingly family-friendly show that leaves mouths open from death-defying feats of aerial artistry and ribs sore from the brilliantly-timed hilarity that ensues in the ring.
The concept was, and still is, very outside the box in the wrestling world. And that was a major concern for the founder of the promotion as he presented his creation to the masses.
“[Being so different] was the prevailing concern in the first three or four years, when we could barely afford to keep the lights on. It was anything but an overnight success. Even now, I doubt our accountant would call what we do a ‘success.'”
Yet while the founder jokes about Chikara’s financial success, where this promotion been extremely successful is with its ability to connect with the audience. The in-ring work of the wrestlers in this promotion is the stuff that major companies have only highlighted. The nearly inconceivable rotations and contortions these wrestlers get in mid-air is mind-blowing. The creative submission holds are head-scratchingly unique. And the execution of all these moves incites fans to loose their minds with uproarious excitement.
Also, the list of competitors that have stepped through the curtains of Chikara is just as impressive as the in-ring work. Chikara cards have seen the likes of wrestling luminaries like Johnny Saint, Tommy Dreamer and Sean “X-Pac” Waltman, current WWE superstars (but then indie icons) CM Punk and Antonio Cesaro and rather unusual characters like Dr. Cube (a wrestler in a doctor’s coat and a box on his head), Los Ice Creams (two masked wrestlers that have ice cream cones protruding from their masks) and, this writer’s personal favorite, Dasher Hatfield (a wrestler with a ’20s baseball player outfit, complete with handlebar mustache on his mask).
It’s this one-two punch of pure wrestling and outlandish comedy that has made Chikara so different, so special to wrestling fans. In terms of comedy, it’s not just visual gags like two wrestlers with ice cream cones stuck to their masks that make fans laugh. Oh no, let’s talk about improvised dance-offs, invisible grenades, wrestlers pushing pause on a TV remote to stop in-ring action and just random, off-the-cuff comments wrestlers make during a match. Those are just the tip of the comedic iceberg in Chikara.
“It’s very organic. A natural extension of who we are. The fans know when something is being forced, and when it comes from some place real — when it is genuine. That is the difference between our type of humor and what you might see elsewhere,” says Chikara’s founder.
Among his personal favorite moments, he pointed out this one, which if you’re a lifetime wrestling fan, you’ll get a complete kick out of.
This promotion is for a wrestling fans who long to return to to the days of when you ate, drank, breathed and slept pro wrestling. Remember those bygone times when you body slammed your pillow and followed it up with a quick elbow drop? That’s exactly where the men and women who compete in this beautiful independent wrestling promotion bring you back to — those pure, innocent and uncontrollably excited days.
That is why, this weekend, this writer will gladly cram himself into a room full of sweaty, mask-wearing wrestling fans and scream till his lungs hurt, laugh till his ribs are sore, and completely lose himself in the magic of professional wrestling as presented by the competitors of Chikara.
Editorial Epilogue: If you feel inspired to check out weekly doses of Chikara wrestling, we highly recommend you subscribe to the promotion’s Youtube Channel so you can view their weekly “Podcast-A-Go-Go” which features a exciting match highlights from recent Chikara events. The company also has DVDs available through Smart Mark Video.
Finally, the promotion will be running a huge iPPV (Internet PPV) on June 2nd at The Trocadero in Philadelphia, tickets and information will be available soon and will also be published on Pop-Break.com.