Monday, June 28, 2010

CHIKARA spells rasslin

The above title is with all apologies and credit to the one and only Gavin Loudspeaker who sang a song with the very same title at a CHIKARA show last year.

So lemme ask all of you out there something... would you drive 6 hours to watch an independent wrestling show with a bunch of wrestlers 99.9% of the population has never heard of in front of a crowd of between 150 and 250 people? I'm going to guess that the answer for most of you is, "What? No. Are you nuts?" Well, I have done just that - three times in fact. I've driven from Pittsburgh all the way out to Easton, PA, to watch a fledgling indy wrestling company known as CHIKARA. If you haven't heard of CHIKARA, don't worry. It's a small company run out of the eastern part of PA that runs 2, sometimes 3, shows a month, mainly in PA.

Yesterday afternoon, I traveled to Ohio to see CHIKARA at the West Park Party Center in West Cleveland. It was pretty much like most venues indy feds run - a Knights of Columbus hall that wasn't that well lit, was bordering on sweltering thanks to a packed house and shaky air conditioning and was about as far from a venue that WWE would run as you can get. Yet I was in heaven.

I found out about CHIKARA strictly by accident about a year and a half ago. Though Pittsburgh supports two thriving indy wrestling promotions, I haven't been to one of their cards in years. However, I haven't been to a WWE event in well over 5 years. Why? Well, money for one thing, and I'd much rather watch RAW on TV so I have easier access to food and the bathroom. So why the heck would I drive more than half way across the state to see a wrestling show with guys who will most likely never make it to the big time? The answer is very simple: I enjoy the hell out of it.

I've been a wrestling fan for 25 years now, and my interest in the "sport" has ebbed and flowed over the years. Yeah, I still watch Monday Night RAW without fail every week, but I almost never see Smackdown. I can't/won't watch TNA. So, with ECW (the real ECW, that is) long since gone, I needed an outlet for the pure wrestling geek in me, the one who marks out at crazy ass moves and stiff kicks and lots of near falls. Let's face facts: WWE has become a very watered down product since it went all PG on us (more on this later). As a result, many of its matches just aren't that good anymore. Oh sure, you'll get some good matches on PPV, but your average TV match is at best a two star affair.

When you go to a CHIKARA card, you're going to see a bunch of young, talented wrestlers putting on a great show for all of the fans in attendance. It's a family-friendly show - no swearing, no rude chants. Most shows have tons of kids in attendance, and the majority of the wrestlers (even the rudos) will sign autographs or take pictures with them. And you know what? They seem to be happy to do it. That's an added notch in my book.

CHIKARA was founded in 2002 by Mike Quackenbush (the company's head booker and one of its top technicos - go look him up on YouTube for some kick ass matches). Most of the roster consists of wrestlers who were trained at CHIKARA's Wrestle Factory, so there's a lot of familiarity with the competitors, most of whom have grown up in the business together. The result is a very professional product despite it being an indy promotion. Is it as polished as your average WWE show? Of course not, but that's one of the reasons I like it. It's raw (no pun intended) and fast-paced and athletic. You'll see moves in your average CHIKARA match that most WWE wrestlers wouldn't (or couldn't) dream of doing.

The real hook of CHIKARA (for me anyway) is that it's very based in lucha libre wrestling. The majority of the wrestlers wear masks and the lost arts of tag team and trios wrestling is embraced by the promotion. Trios matches can be especially chaotic since there don't necessarily have to be tags for wrestlers to come into the ring. On last night's card, The Colony (a trio of masked wrestlers all named after ants) wrestled a group out of Chicago known as Da Soul Touchaz. At one point during the match Willie "Da Bomb" Richardson (who runs at least 350) hit Green Ant (who might be 175 pounds) with a running side shoulder block that nearly launched Green Ant into the back row. I kid you not - if the ropes hadn't gotten into the way, Green Ant would have been launched into the crowd. It was awesome. You'd never see that on Monday Night RAW.

And lest you think that CHIKARA doesn't have storylines. On the contrary, the booking of CHIKARA is intricate and thought out well in advance. Do yourself a favor and go look up BDK on Wikipedia. It's the name of the new super rudo group in CHIKARA that was formed at the end of last year in an angle that took close to two years to come to fruition. Let's see WWE pull something like that off.

Don't go to a CHIKARA show expecting to see a bunch of heavyweights and super-heavyweights. Oh sure, the promotion does have some of both (Claudio Castagnoli and Tursas fall into the respective categories), but most of the wrestlers are less than 6 feet tall and under 200 pounds. But who cares? WWE has gotten it so drilled into our heads that you have to be 6'3" and built like a body builder to be taken serious as a wrestler. Well, I'm here to tell you that isn't even remotely true.

Some of you may be aware of the situation of Bryan Danielson a/k/a Daniel Bryan of WWE NXT season 1. He was fired from WWE for choking the ring announcer using a tie during the NXT invasion angle, something that just doesn't happen on PG rated RAW (ostensibly because of the Chris Benoit tragedy, but I'm skeptical). Danielson has been called "The Best in the World" by many of his fans. The validity of that is up for debate, but there's no doubting that he's one of the best mat wrestlers in the world today, and he's built like an average guy. In other words, he doesn't have that "look" that WWE loves its wrestlers to have. Look or not, I'll pay to watch Danielson wrestle every day before I plunk down whatever it costs to see John Cena wrestle in person.

Danielson chose CHIKARA to make his return to the indy circuit this past weekend. Check out the promo he cut at Saturday's show in Michigan about the WWE's PG product:

Danielson's point is a valid one - you can be PG and family-friendly while still having competitive, athletic, hard hitting matches that are entertaining. Somewhere along the way, WWE stopped caring so much about wrestling and focused more on entertainment. Frankly, I think if they improved the in-ring product, their stagnant ratings would come back to life, but instead they focus on things like celebrity guest hosts that are mostly Z-listers no one gives a crap about. Lemme put it to the powers that be at WWE in simple terms: more wrestling = better ratings.

I can't say enough about how much I enjoy CHIKARA and how well they treat their fans. So, if you get a chance, hop on over to Smart Mark Video and find yourself a CHIKARA DVD to buy. I'd recommend the Best of 2009 in which you get 22 matches for only 20 bucks. And if you live on the east coast, do yourself a favor and check out a CHIKARA show. If you're a wrestling fan and you long for the days of ECW and are disenchanted by the current WWE product, then CHIKARA is what you're looking for. They also have a weekly podcast on Facebook you should check out, too.

Okay, I'm done being a shameless plug for all things CHIKARA. Just check it out if you have a chance. I promise you won't be disappointed.


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