Wednesday, September 1, 2010

Wrestling Wednesday: The Rise of CHIKARA!

Independent wrestling offers many great things to the common wrestling fan. Accessibility, talent, and often a much higher workrate than you see from top WWE or TNA stars. But it often fails on other levels. Monthly or semi-monthly booking means less storytelling potential. Workers that set their own gimmick as they work a half dozen different promotions (or more) a month often end up rather generic as well. Ninety percent of indy wrestlers have a character best described as “edgy athlete dedicated to beat the best opponents” or “shady weirdo willing to take the win at any expense”. Some wrestlers have excelled at the first (Bryan Danielson, Low-Ki), others have excelled at the second (Jimmy Jacobs, Austin Aries), and a few do both with amazing credibility (Chris Hero, Nigel McGuiness).

It often leads to great wrestling, but it doesn’t offer much in the way of solid storytelling pre- and post-match outside of the “I don’t like you” and “I want my revenge”. Both key features to wrestling storytelling, but not the only features to wrestling storytelling.

Which brings me in a roundabout way to the promotion I want to talk about today: CHIKARA.

Founded in 2002 by independent wrestling stand-out Mike Quackenbush (a good example of the “edgy athlete” gimmick back in the day) and the soon-to-step-aside “Reckless Youth” Tom Carter, the promotion slowly built a fan following around the Pennsylvania area. Eight years later it has expanded operations to much of the northeast, from Michigan to New York.

Built around the talents coming out of the CHIKARA Wrestling Factory as well as Quackenbush’s friends, the promotion brought elements of Lucha Libre in to the United States full-time for the first time. With the Mexican element of pro wrestling came a lot of high-flying maneuvers, innovative rules changes, and masks, a lot of them.

And with those masks came characters and comedy. Some of the earliest masked wrestlers were comedy gimmicks at best, but over the years the company proved to be able to make its fans take even silly gimmicks seriously.

Some of the top technicos (faces) in the promotion include the team of the Osirian Portal (the serpentine Ophidian and the dancing “Funky Pharoah ” Amasis), old school baseball player Dasher Hatfield, and the ever-growing ant team of the Colony.

Tag teams and trios also play a major part of CHIKARA wrestling which adds another layer of action to an already solid format.

The levels of storytelling have varied over the promotion’s history but over the last two or so years a lot of effor has went in to forming a coherent ongoing narrative for the program.

The driving force behind this narrative, a new group known as Der Bruderschaft Des Kreuzes. More on them in a future column.

CHIKARA DVDs (over 145 of them) are available from their distributor Smartmark Video, including several best of DVDs. But the fine folks at CHIKARA won’t make you buy a DVD without ever seeing anything about their promotion. Every week they bring an episode of their Podcast-A-Go-Go, a ten minute show focused on what’s happening in CHIKARA today. It is available free through ITunes, on Youtube, or through the CHIKARA Podcast-A-Go-Go website.

If you are a wrestling or comic fan, I highly recommend you check them out.