Sunday 1 June 2014

CHIKARA You Only Live Twice review

Last June CHIKARA embarked on an experimental wrestling storyline. The closing moments of their Anniversario: Never Compromise show saw the company shut down. In the weeks that followed all announced events were cancelled and equipment was sold off through eBay. After several months a movement was started to bring the company back that mixed the promotion’s comic book approach, its wrestlers and the growing recreational activity of alternate reality gaming.

I am not well-versed enough in everything that happened to succinctly and accurately recap it here. In fact I pretty sure there isn’t a way to succinctly recap everything that Mike Quackenbush’s pencil has thrown at us over the last year. The plotting and planning has been impressively dense. I’ve followed most of the developments and enjoyed doing so but it’s not feasible to try and cover it all here. Instead I’d direct you to these recaps: the first written by Vince Morales of Ole Wrestling and the second written by Gavin Jasper for Den of Geek. For the record I’m writing about this show because I watched it, enjoyed it, and feel it’s a good place to jump in with CHIKARA.

There was no video package to open this show. That threw me. I'm used to videos opening wrasslin' shows. They did have Gavin Loudspeaker though, which was a plus. He did some talking to get the crowd amped up and then introduced commentator Leonard F Chikarason. FYI that's not Lenny Leonard under a different name, which is what I spent about six months thinking several years ago.

The show opened with a trios match, chosen not because WWE have made them trendy but because trios matches are something of a CHIKARA speciality. The Bruderschaft des Kreuzes team of Ares, Milo Schnitzler and newcomer N√łkken were out first. Schnitzler bears an uncanny resemblance to mid-00s bald-headed psycho Kane. The audience chanted "No one missed you!" The Spectral Envoy of Hallowicked, Frightmare and Ultramantis Black were their opponents. They got a more positive reception.

Ultramantis talked in the aisle for a moment before being attacked by what I'm pretty sure Chikarason described as the ghost of Tursas. Ghost or not it was Tursas. He replaced Schnitzler in the match, relegating Schnitzler to a ringside role. It was a fun opener. The Spectral Envoy took big bumps and did a spot of flying while the BDK concentrated on power moves. The rudos won with Ragnarok on Frightmare.

After the match Schnitzler screeched unintelligibly into a microphone. The crowd weren't fans of whatever he said.

Match two saw Chuck Taylor take on 'Smooth Sailin'' CHIKARA newcomer Ashley Remmington. He's a sailor who looks a little like a less attractive version of Adam Cole. The audience broke out into duelling chants of "Let's go sailing!" and "Chucky T!" before the bell.

Remmington was pretty good. He turned being slid into the ring into a hurricanrana to the floor, sold Chuck's offence like a trooper, and performed a particularly good-looking power bomb. He won with a Haas of Pain type move dubbed Anchors Away. After the match he handed 'The Kentucky Gentleman' a bushel of fruit. A sailor that hands out fruit to people he defeats is exactly the level of gimmick I enjoy. It's what makes wrestling fun.

New CHIKARA owner Robbie Ellis was up next. He was introduced to the ring to loud cheers. He said CHIKARA's a work of art and he's glad to own it. Then a new Director of Fun was introduced. It was company-founder (and presumably still real life owner) Mike Quackenbush. He thanked everyone for supporting CHIKARA and said the company loves wrestling as much as fans do. It was a nice little segment designed more to establish the new status quo and get some cheers than anything else. It accomplished both. So we should probably consider it a success.

That was followed by Sinn Bodhi, Oliver Grimsly and Qefka the Quiet, who have great music and are collectively known as The Odditorium, taking on The Batiri (Kobald, Kodama and Obaryon) in the evening's second six man tag team match. The former Kizarny got his team disqualified when he kicked one of his opponents in the groin right in front of the referee. Disappointing end aside it was very good. Qefka was particularly enjoyable as a mime.

An advert for the returning Podcast-a-Go-Go was followed by the introduction of the debuting Juan Francisco de Corona. His promo was drowned in loud, continuous boos. All I got was something about making history. This being wrestling I assumed he intended to do that by winning a match. His opponent was Jervis Cottonbelly. He's a man who wrestles in a yellow mask and who wears a bowler hat to the ring. He also dishes out roses before he wrestles. For Brits reading who haven't seen it I'd describe the character as the sort of thing Harry Hill would do if he inexplicably decided to become a wrestler.

This was another fun match. It was also another match that was not overly long. They wrestled for no more than seven minutes but packed a bunch of stuff in. De Corona won with a rollup after spinning Cottonbelly's mask around. What shady, unscrupulous tactics! What a fiend!

A four corners elimination tag bout came next. 3.0 (Scott Parker and Shane Matthews) took on deviANT and 17, Pieces of Hate (Jigsaw and The Shard) and The Throwbacks (Dasher Hatfield and Mark Angelosetti). The match was noticeable for being the best of the show until that point. Eight men being in the match ensured there was plenty going on and there was always something to interest.

It was also more of an eight man tag than a four corner affair for much of the early portion, the faces and heels working together in blocs. 3.0 were the first guys to fall to a barrage of offence from their heel opponents. From there The Throwbacks weathered the storm until Hatfield managed to pin deviANT for the second elimination. There was a brief scuffle at ringside as Kid Cyclone showed up to rough up fellow Wrestle Factory student 17. Hallowicked showed up and put a stop to it. Apparently Cyclone wanted to know what's happened to Private Eye Jr (another student) and believes 17 has the answer. Future storyline building and all that. The match finished a few minutes later. 'Mr Touchdown' scored the pin after a stalling brainbuster from the second rope.

After an intermission, during which an informative video played recapping the last year of CHIKARA storylines, Jimmy Jacobs was introduced for a match with Archibald Peck. In the parallel world that is CHIKARA Jacobs heads up a conglomeration of rudo factions from CHIKARA’s history. It was that conglomeration that was revealed as responsible for shutting the promotion down to begin with. Despite this lofty title he still wears wrestling gear that makes him look like an S&M Peter Pan. Also, Archibald Peck is emphatically not RD Evans. He just happens to really, really look like him.

'The Zombie Princess' jumped Peck before the bell and gave him a battering at ringside, gaining an unfair advantage before the match officially started. That said it didn't take 'Marchie Archie' long to make a comeback and regain control. Peck floored Jacobs with ten straight DDTs and then went to the top rope but got distracted by one of the Condor security staff who'd accompanied Jacobs to the ring. A second security worker took that as a chance to sneak in and KO Peck with his shoe, handing Jacobs the victory.

The penultimate match of the night was not only the third and final trios affair but also a grudge match. It pitted The Colony: Xtreme Force, consisting of Arctic Rescue Ant, Missile Assault Ant, and Orbit Adventure Ant, against The Colony, consisting of Fire Ant, Green Ant, and Worker Ant. The Xtreme Force managed to isolate their opponents at various points during the match but the original Ants would always make a tag before they could be beaten. It was another good match, the best trios offering of the night, with some good high-flying flip-based spots and smooth triple team moments. Xtreme Force won, which seemed odd considering this was the big comeback show and The Colony are one of CHIKARA's most popular acts. Missile Assault Ant pinned Fire Ant after a shove into an exposed turnbuckle. Yeah, it was that simple.

After the match The Colony sent Xtreme Force packing and posed with the King of Trios medals the rudos had worn to the ring (won by The Colony (the real Colony in 2011). That went some way to combating the dodgy finish that had just been seen.

The main event was for the Grand Slam championship. Eddie Kingston was defending against Icarus in a rematch of the Anniversario: Never Compromise headliner. There Icarus had been the heel facing the popular champion. Things were reversed here, with Kingston going full on bad guy and Icarus wrestling with the backing of the audience that he’d earned with his transformation into a pro-CHIKARA activist and quest to bring the company back. At ever Compromise ‘The Winged Ring Warrior’ had had the championship won before Condor entered and shut the show down. Here things were to be fair with no interference from Condor.

They started out with technical exchanges. Icarus got the better of that, frustrating 'The War King' and prompting him to leave the ring to chuck a bin and a chair about before confronting a woman in the audience. When he got back into the ring he blasted Icarus out of the ring and weakened him with slams onto the hard floor. Back in the ring Icarus managed a brief comeback with a German suplex but Kingston regained control by driving his kneecap into Icarus's head.

Icarus came back with a body block from the top rope to the outside and then fought off a northern lights suplex. He connected with a top rope elbow drop as the tecnicos left the locker room and surrounded ringside to watch the match for themselves. A frog splash attempt was met with Kingston's knees, a spike power bomb and a dragon sleeper. Icarus slipped out dropped 'The King of Diamonds' with a northern lights bomb for two.

Icarus was dropped with a standing enziguri, a fall away slam and a lariat. Moments later he kicked out at one after taking a middle rope Ura-nage suplex. Kingston immediately floored him with the Backfist to the Future for a convincing near fall, which got a "You can't beat him!" chant. How did Kingston go about trying to prove the fans wrong? He gave Icarus some chops and then instigated a strike exchange.

The match briefly fell apart when Icarus struggled to hoist the lardy frame of Kingston onto his shoulders. They got it on the second attempt, Icarus fireman's carrying the champion into a turnbuckle and then applying the CHIKARA Special. There was no tap out. Instead Kingston passed out and Icarus won after the referee ruled Kingston couldn’t continue. The crowd loved it, telling him he deserved it. The show went off the air with the new champion being paraded around the ring on the shoulders of his fellow tecnicos.

Or so we thought. The stream started back up a minute or two after that triumphant shot of Icarus disappeared to reveal the rudos emptying out of the locker room. A tall man with a gas mask on his face (or perhaps it was his face, who knows) followed them out with two men wearing hoods. He stood in the ring opposite Icarus, Ultramantis Black and Hallowicked before revealing the hooded fellas to be Delirious and Soldier Ant. They attacked Ultramantis and Hallowicked as Jimmy Jacobs clambered into the ring to assault Icarus.

A massive brawl erupted as the tall man in black (I think he was modelled on second tier Batman villain Bane) stood in the ring shaking. Kobald got into the ring and tried giving him a spear but it was no sold and Kobald crumpled into a heap at the giant’s feet. He was hauled up and smashed with a choke slam onto the knee. The tecnicos surrounded the fallen Kobald as the bad guys left. The show went off the air (for real this time) with Kobald being carried backstage as fans chanted for CHIKARA.

There are two questions to ask about this show. The first is “was it good?” The second is “was it a fitting end to the eleven months so storyline since June 2013?” As far as quality goes it was a fine show. There were no matches I’d go back and watch twice, but that’s not the point with CHIKARA. It’s more about wild inventiveness and the mingling of characters than it is excellent wrestling.

As for whether it was a successful payoff to CHIKARA being away for nearly a year, I thought it was. But then I’m not the most invested follower of the promotion. I like their approach to wrestling and what they do but I can’t quote endless backstory like scripture as I’m sure many can. People who really know their CHIKARA would have had high expectations of this show. I suspect it probably met them. I personally thought it was very good. There was a positive vibe to the entire effort and the show closing angle set up plenty of possibilities for the coming months (and, knowing CHIKARA, years) of storylines. If you want a jump-on point for Mike Quackenbush’s celebrated creation I don’t think you’ll get a better one for quite some time.

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