Wednesday , 17 September 2014

First Time Ever: Front Row at Chikara Pro

It was already supposed to have happened, all the way back in 2008. For Ring of Honor’s first of two WrestleMania weekend show in Orlando, “Dragon Gate Challenge II”, I held in my possession two front row tickets. This wasn’t just to be my very first time front row, oh no. This was my first big independent show, my first ROH show and my first experience on Mania weekend. Back in twenty oh eight, Naruki Doi, BxB Hulk and Kevin Steen were still best friends forever with Masato Yoshino, Shingo Takagi and El Generico. Forever indeed. Nigel McGuinness was in the midst of a very memorable championship reign, Davey Richards was a lower-tiered, frenetic bundle of rage that even disillusioned fans like me used to actually enjoy, and Jigsaw was wrestling mask-less for the first time, and hopefully last time, in his career. When I arrived at the event with my now ex-girlfriend in tow, I found that our seats were simply not there. I kept counting the number of chairs hoping to find an error before finally concluding that a terrible mistake must’ve been made. When I approached ROH’s head honcho Cary Silkin on the matter, he smiled, placed a comforting hand on my shoulder…and brushed me off, telling me to grab some chairs and park in the back. Don’t get me wrong; Row 8 was more than fine. I couldn’t fume for too long as Steenerico and Speed Muscle soon set the building on fire and made me completely forget about being so royally ignored. Later on, ROH would more than rectify the mistake to me and I thank them for that. Still, I can see the look on Cary ’s face in my mind to this day: vacant and uninterested. Here I was, a customer who paid front row to see a product I loved and I found that its owner didn’t see fit to give me thirty seconds. He didn’t even look me in the eye. Like I said, Ring of Honor more than made it up to me later, so this isn’t some column of vengeance. This isn’t even really about being denied the first row. This is about that look I received back in 2008, and about the one I received in 2011 at the end of my first Chikara Pro show…which was, finally, my first time front row at a wrestling show.

The day after “DGCII”, I witnessed what I consider to be the greatest live event Ring of Honor has ever put on: “Supercard of Honor II”. I would also witness that year’s WrestleMania with my fellow nose-bleeders, another first for me. Three years after that, Mania came to my home in Atlanta. While choosing to skip every WWE festivity, I couldn’t pass up the chance to catch Ring of Honor again, as well as catch Dragon Gate USA for the very first time. However, I could not financially do all four without sacrificing front row. So, reluctantly, I decided four tickets were better than two. It was an exhausting weekend I shared with one of my best buddies and my current girlfriend, and it’s one I will always remember fondly. You can read about the entire amazing experience by clicking here! After that final DGUSA show I thought, “Well, that’s it. That’s the last great live wrestling I’ll see for some time.” After all, nobody EVER runs Georgia . ROH and Chikara have run Carolina on occasion but that’s still way out there. The WWE…eh, never mind. I’m not shelling out more money for less product. That’s bananas, as Pat Patterson might say. The point is that the weekend had an air of finality to it. So when I heard that Chikara Pro would be running Tennessee in early October as a companion show to their latest North Carolina excursion, I thought nothing of it. Kingsport is 5 hours away from me, and after gas, ticket costs, hotel, food and the copious amounts of merchandise that I wouldn’t be able to pass up, I’d ring up quite the bill. I thought it over and decided that I couldn’t manage it. However, about a week after this decision, my grandparents called and said they’d be back in their Tennessee home by then. This offered absolutely no advantage whatsoever: they’re just as far away from me as Kingsport , four hours to the West. In fact, they’re not even in the same time zone. For whatever reason, this served as an instantaneous catalyst. Within ten minutes of talking to them, I had bought tickets and was trying to figure out how it’d all work, if it could work at all.

 Many of you who are reading this might be saying, “All this for Chikara?” or “What the heck is Chikara?” or probably even, “I don’t know any of those Japanese guys you named at the beginning.” For those that don’t know, CHIKARA Pro is a Philadelphia-based professional wrestling company known for having strong, engaging storylines and a wide variety of wrestling styles whist not taking themselves too seriously. Where some naysayers see “dumb gimmicks”, I see a vibrant, diverse roster full of men and women, Nordic Gods, high-flying ants, brawlers, technicians, men from parts unknown, band leaders, sea monsters, knights, bunnies, dragons, pirates and just about anything else you can think of. If you can dream it, chances are something resembling it has stepped foot in a Chikara ring. Just as diverse as its character are the styles of wrestling you’ll witness. Whether it’s Mike Quackenbush & Hallowicked putting on a mat clinic, Eddie Kingston and Sara Del Rey trading stiff shots to the face, Jigsaw and Frightmare soaring through the air or The Throwbacks and March Madness putting smiles on everyone’s faces with their antics, there’s something for everyone at Chikara. The company also prides itself on being family-friendly, so the atmosphere is very different from other indys. As for their storylines, I can only speak for myself when I say that they are my absolute favorite in wrestling today. With ROH, it’s all about the championships. With PWG, it’s all about not being about anything. With DGUSA, it’s action and factions. Chikara sets itself apart with its deep respect for its own continuity. A great television show can start a story in Season 2 and pay it off in Season 5 without trampling on its own history in Season 9. That’s how Chikara operates: purpose at a surplus. Almost everything, even the tremendously absurd, could come back and turn out to be an important moment in company lore. It rewards its fans just for paying attention, and that “silliness” that many have criticized keeps the smile on my face as I decipher the madness. With my CHIKARMY Insider column here on PWP, I’ve had the privilege to write about them for over two years…but I’d never seen them live. Never been in the front row of ANY wrestling show. Well thanks to my grandparents, some extra cash, a supportive girlfriend and the last drop of my youthful impulsiveness, “Operation: 2 Birds, 1 Stone” came to fruition.

Though they undoubtedly love me, my parents, grandparents, aunts, uncles, cousins, brother and most friends don’t understand “the wrestling thing”. Well, okay, my dad gets it. He loves Chikara, too. But he’s it. Everyone else is confused but supportive, so it’s easy to talk to them about it. However, my grandparents were even more perplexed than usual when I showed up to their house the night before the show with my girlfriend, who was going with me. Not only was she going with me, she was actually pretty excited for it. She had seen the WWE Diva’s and was fairly disinterested in women’s wrestling. I explained that while many aren’t exactly technical wizards, the ‘E handcuffs them quite a bit and that women’s wrestling is much stronger in federations like Ice Ribbon, SHIMMER and Neo. She was already well familiar with Del Rey thanks to me buying her a “Death Rey” t-shirt for her years ago. I told her about her opponent that evening, the ever-deadly Kana, and she seemed genuinely enthused. After a great night’s sleep and a crazy delicious lunch of pulled pork stuffed in a loaded baked potato, we set out for Kingsport and the Eastern Time Zone once again.

We made it to the Kingsport Civic Auditorium and lined up with several other fans. We shuffled in and found our places with our backs to the hard camera. There’s a good chance you’ll be seeing my ever-expanding bald spot for the duration of this show. My girlfriend talked up a lovely woman next to her about all things Doctor Who while I made friends with a fellow Atlantian named…Dustin. Small world, folks. At intermission, I would meet a nice guy named Shawn who recognized my melodious voice from The J&K Fun Hour. He was from Jersey and we talked a lot about the frustrating nature of Philadelphia crowds. He was a really nice guy and you should definitely check out his YouTube page. I’m getting ahead of myself here. I was (finally) front row at a wrestling show. I was so focused on what I was seeing that my girlfriend thought I was in some kind of trance. It was like a dream I was desperately trying to hold on to. Here’s what went down on the actual show, what will make the DVD:

.

CHIKARA Pro – October 8, 2011 – “Klunk in Love”

The first contest saw Chase Owens, a local worker who also competed in this year’s Young Lions Cup tournament, tackle the unenviable task of trying to gain support facing the hottest wrestler on the Chikara roster, Archibald Peck. Though “Marchie Archie” is a nefarious nogoodnik, fans chant his name and roar with laughter at his ridiculous antics and expressions. He was a guy I was really looking forward to seeing, and he didn’t disappoint. Early on in the match, a missed boot from Archie actually broke the bottom rope! For the rest of the contest, Peck used the broken rope as a weapon against Owens. He and the rest of his March Madness cohorts, Veronica and Colt Cabunny, made for a memorable opener, while Chase once again looked very strong technically for someone his age.

There was a brief intermission where some technical guys tried to fix the bottom rope and…they couldn’t! So the rest of the first half was wrestled without a bottom rope!

Next up was a contest in Chikara’s 12 Large: Summit tourney to eventually crown the very first Grand Champion. Ophidian, who had found no success in the tournament, faced off against Hallowicked, who had a strong tournament run but was already mathematically eliminated by this contest. For that reason, this was basically for bragging rights. The match was fantastic and had EVERYTHING I look for in a great wrestling match: genuine emotion, intelligent limb work, crazy nearfalls and a finish that completely paid off the story they told. Wicked was great playing the wounded animal and Ophidian was deadly, breaking out venomous headbutts, lethal kicks and even a 360 Double Stomp off the top rope.

Next up was a six-man tag match featuring Icarus, Chuck Taylor & Johnny Gargano, together known as F.I.S.T., taking on Obariyon, Kodama & Kobald, The Batiri. Both squads are evildoers, so this match was an epic battle of bad dudes…a hysterical battle at that. Both groups kept trying to out cheat one another. At one point, all six men were locked in a rudo ring of deviousness, pulling at each other’s hair, thumbs eyes and much worse stuff than that. In the end, they went full on action and delivered an amazing cont

est, my girlfriend’s favorite match of the show.

The last match of the first half featured two of Chikara’s longest-tenured partners, Fire Ant & Soldier Ant of The Colony, taking on one of the hottest tag teams in all of Japan, Osaka Pro representatives Atsushi Kotoge & Daisuke Harada. This started with some nice comedic moments and kicked into high gear, with both teams flying all over the place. Kotoge and Fire both brought some slick kicks while Soldier and Harada traded stiff elbow shots. The pacing was frantic at the end of the contest and all four men received standing ovations for their efforts.

Back from intermission, the bottom rope was back! It received a huge ovation for its shocking return, too. Jigsaw took on UltraMantis Black in the penultimate 12 Large: Summit match of the tournament. (The final match is on October 29th) Mantis needed a win here to stay alive in the tourney but Jigsaw warned Black before the match that, since he was already eliminated from contention, that he had nothing to lose. The cheers for Mantis were some of the loudest of the night. Jigsaw was absolutely brutal to UltraMantis in the early going, hitting some hard kicks and quite a few disgusting double stomps. Mantis was locked in a submission and the end seemed near, but the fans chanted for the bottom rope and Black managed to reach it! He turned the tide on Jigsaw, unleashing an unholy assortment of head drops to try and put Jig away. The finish came out of nowhere and some people were disappointed, but I thought it came off fine and couldn’t sully the work both men put in before that.

Next up was The Bruderschaft quartet of Tim Donst, Tursas, Delirious & Jakob Hammermeier taking on Chikara’s Justice League of Mike Quackenbush, Eddie Kingston, Sugar Dunkerton & Green Ant. This promised to be a VERY heated match, as The BDK has been at war with Chikara Sekigun for a while now. Though his other three teammates have had higher-profile matches this year, it was Dunkerton who earned the most cheers from the Southern crowd. However, he was quickly isolated and given a mammoth beating from Donst & company. After he finally tagged out, Green Ant brought a fight to the 300 lb Tursas, and a drop toe hold into the middle rope completely tore it from the posts! Tursas went tumbling to the outside through the gaping hole between the top and bottoms ropes as we all looked on in shock. They fought the rest of the match without the middle rope, and I can’t emphasize “fought” enough. This was a mad brawl with some crazy dives and brutally stiff exchanges. The ending involved some miscommunication between the JLC squad, which will no doubt serve as an emotional catalyst for a future confrontation.

Once again, a few guys came out to try and salvage the ring ropes. They decided the best course of action would be to, no joke, move the bottom rope to the middle. So once again we were without a bottom rope!

The main event saw Chikara’s own Sara Del Rey take on one of the hardest female strikers in all of Japan, Kana. The match was absolutely BRUTAL. They both exhibited some strong mat work in the beginning but it soon devolved into what they do best: kicks. Del Rey unleashed several hard strikes while Kana, who wrestles barefoot, also came at all angles with her fast feet. Both looked absolutely beat on their feet when Kana unload on Sara with a spinning roadhouse kick to the jaw and Del Rey used her last breath to deliver a stunning abisegiri to Kana’s face, knocking both women to the canvas for quite a while. Both sustained quite a lot of punishment, and after the match was over both received just as grateful a standing ovation as The Colony and Osaka Pro guys received prior to intermission. Overall, it was one hell of a show with several matches contending for my favorite match. Colony/Osaka was the most electric, SDR/Kana was the stiffest, Ophidian/Hallowicked was the smartest, BDK/JLC was the craziest and Batiri/F.I.S.T. was my girl’s favorite of them all. The truth is that there wasn’t one bad match on the entire show. Everything just worked…except the ring ropes, of course.

So I tried not to give too many results away here as A) you could just go to their site’s Past Results section for that and B) the event is available on DVD right now! Click Here or on the DVD image below to grab yourself a copy of “Klunk in Love”!

.

As much fun as watching the DVD again will be, I truly can’t stress enough how amazing it was being there live. It’s the difference between a movie in your home and one on the big screen: your senses are heightened, as is the adrenaline. I also had a blast experiencing some things that won’t make the DVD. First and foremost, I want to issue a heartfelt “my bad” to one Gavin Loudspeaker. I didn’t really dislike Gavin, but I had been critical of him in the past as both a commentator and whether his presence was really necessary on Chikara shows. After experiencing the company live, I can tell you the answer is a resounding YES: he is as much a part of Chikara as anyone else. His energy and enthusiasm were so vital throughout the copious breaks. He was very personable and added a totally unique wrinkle to the entire affair. All the little things Bryce Remsburg does are indescribable, too. The crowd interaction, the jawing with rudos, his facial expressions mimicking the exact intensity and shock of the crowd…amazing. My favorite moment of the whole weekend happened between matches 1 and 2 after the ring broke. Once they realized it couldn’t be fixed and they moved on, he had to come out to ref match two. He ran out to the ring and, with an insane look of resolve on his face, Superman dived through the humongous opening into the ring, pausing for a second to look back and notice that the rope that should’ve strangled him to death mid-dive was nowhere to be found. Like I said, basically indescribable.

I yelled a lot during the Peck/Owens match and I’m not sure why. When Archie went to the top for a headbutt I screamed, “THINK HAPPY THOUGHTS!” When he hit a big move and it failed to get the victory, I yelled, “GIVE HIM SEVEN MORE!” Again, not really sure why. I yelled encouragement throughout the rest of the event, but seldom a snarky comment outside the opener. Oh, and literally EVERYONE was making bottom ring jokes. Taylor remarked how easy it was to enter and exit the ring now. Kotoge kept kicking at it, thinking it to perhaps be some Colony ploy. He also just…sort of hung on it a while, not unlike a sloth. I forget who, but someone wondered aloud why they don’t wrestle like this all the time. Heck, Peck tried to stab Owens to death with the hard metallic portion that broke off.

At intermission, my girl picked up some chibi Chikara stickers, a Chikara Autobot shirt, Del Rey’s new shirt (which is awesome) and got it signed. I grabbed the Chikara Thundercats ringer and that slick animated poster of theirs. I took the swag and dropped it off in the car, but not before shaking Chase Owens’s hand, who was wearing a Chikara jacket with his name on the back. He really did have a tough job out there. Ophidian was just sort of wandering and hanging out with fans at intermission. He effortlessly danced from person to person, just hanging out and entertaining folks. That was very cool. Jigsaw and UltraMantis really did beat the crap out of each other. I mean…seriously. Wow. If that wasn’t heated enough, the palpable loathing between the BDK and the Chikara guys was incredible. I thought the hatred between the Blood WARRIORS and Ronin was strong at the Mania weekend DGUSA shows, but this might have been even more insane. Some of the things Kingston muttered to himself in the match were priceless, especially the trash talking with Tursas. Speaking of the big Nordic galoot, he and Green Ant brawled into our row. Tursas decked Green Ant and decided to take a breather in my seat…and his mammoth backside BROKE the chair. It wasn’t like he dove into it or anything…he gently sat down and it immediately made a snapping sound.

I sat down in it and almost fell over. Luckily, my girlfriend is quite lithe so she found a way to sit in the chair while I totally stole hers. After the main event, we headed for the door and I noticed that there was a mob of some kind forming in the entranceway. As we drew closer, I saw that most of the Chikara tecnicos, including Mike Quackenbush himself, and formed an alleyway of sorts for people to pass through and shake their hands. A big dumb smile washed over my face as I shook hands with Quack, Hallowicked, The Colony, Sugar Dunkerton and several others. As I walked away from the scene, two things popped in my head.

The first was that I really wanted to stick around and chat these guys up. I wanted to thank Mike Quackenbush for this glorious company, for creating something absurd and abstract in a social environment that not only requests the banal but demands and rewards simplicity at every turn. I wanted to tell him how I’ve wanted to be a wrestling booker since I was about 12. I wanted to tell Sugar Dunkerton that he’s the most undervalued indy performer I know of, and that his daily Tweets of the mental and physical obstacles in his life are greatly appreciated and a genuine source of inspiration. But I didn’t do any of those things. I have this thing about famous people: I prefer to leave them alone. I’ve run into a fair share of famous folk in the past and, whether they’re a multi-millionaire or just a guy I recognize from a television commercial, I have this impulse to just let them be. If I were them, I’d want to be left alone a lot. So I didn’t say anything to either guy, and part of me regrets that a little bit.

The second thing that popped into my head was that look Cary Silkin gave me three years ago:  uninterested and unappreciative. He didn’t care I was there and certainly didn’t care that I had a problem. Three years later and another company owner is looking me eye to eye. Yes, actually looking me in the eye, not wandering looking for somewhere else to be. He’s there, shaking my hand, and that’s exactly what’s important to him. Every single one of those Roster members who gathered at the entrance looked me in the eye and shook my hand. They made points to do exactly that. That’s a company that cares. That’s a roster that foster’s a company’s reputation. They seemed, without being too cheesy, much like a family. That’s the atmosphere you get at a Chikara show, too. It’s like you’re watching a live show with a couple hundred of your friends.

I can’t put over the live experience enough. It’s addicting. I don’t know if Chikara will be coming back the The South™ anytime soon, but I sure hope they do. If they ran in my area, I’d be front row every show. Ring of Honor and Dragon Gate USA were both really fun live, but both had a lot of fans hell-bent on becoming bigger than the show itself. I’m sure Chikara has fans like this; heck, every company suffers and prospers from those crazy devoted few. However, it’s really tough to take attention away from a giant bunny cheering on a band leader while he tries to hang someone with a ring rope…so fewer men dare attempt. I can only honestly speak for the Tennessee crowd, but they seemed like I was: in awe of the spectacle and just looking to have a good time. If anyone from Chikara reads this, I can’t thank you enough just for existing. Thank you for challenging your audience. Thank you for reigniting my father’s love of wrestling and bring us closer together than we’ve been in years.

And thank you for taking the time to thank us fans just for showing up.

.

.

zp8497586rq
Help Support PWP When You Buy From Highspots

About Justin Houston

Justin Houston, born in a place many years ago, had parents who did stuff. He was raised in a house with a dog. He went to school and had friends probably. Then he moved because of a bridge or something. The boardwalk had a nice pier and a cockatoo that said "pretty bird!". Then he moved. All the water in the lake dried up and the fishes learned to dance. Then they forgot how. He ate lots of fish. Then he moved. Now he lives near Atlanta, GA, where he has been featured in the Atlanta Film Festival and recently did a tasteful spread for Maxim. He discovered puroresu in late 2005 and began a prolonged physical relationship with it. He then found out about Chikara Pro in early 2006 and fell in a smelly, brown puddle of love. He writes Pushing Puroresu, CHIKARMY Insider, and does Chikara DVD reviews because he enjoys the creative freedom, the melodic, ego-fueling sound of his own words, and because he was very politely asked to write them. He hopes this will lead to a full-time gig as one of the Fly Girls, but seeing as In Living Color has been off the air for over a decade, he's not sure how well that'll work. He'll probably be moving soon.

7 comments

  1. Actually had a tear in my eye at the end of this… planning my first trip to the US in April next year and I would be lying if I said KOT wasn’t a big part of what I’m looking forward to

  2. Thanks for the kind words, buddy. It means a lot. I actually got around to making a video finally haha. I’ll make more now that I saw this.

Scroll To Top