In April 2015, for the first time in the company's history, Chikara toured the UK. As dedicated wrestling fans, or indeed members of the 'Chikarmy' will know, the promotion takes its name from the Japanese symbol meaning strength and it was in London that we witnessed first-hand, just how strong Chikara is.
Following an excellent pre-show (reviewed here), Chikara hype-man Gavin Loudspeaker took the stage, entreating us not to swear and building excitement levels.
The great thing about Chikara is that it helps you remember why you fell in love with wrestling in the first place. It is a family show and so entertainment comes not from extremity - not that the feats aren't daring - but from colours, character, crowd contribution and ultimately very good storytelling and use of humour.
The first match was the embodiment of that approach, pitting the Battle Hive against the United Nations. This 'trios' match was one in a series-long event, a wrestling league as it were, entitled the 'Challenge of the Immortals' because the winners, it transpires, gain immortality.
Even the introductions in Chikara bring a smile to the face. Referee Bryce Remsburg lay down during a particularly slow entrance and Loudspeaker reeled off UN's Mr. Azerbaijan's multiple 'sexiest man of the year' titles to loud cheers. The match itself contained equally amusing spots, be it Azerbaijan failing to identify his corner, Prakash Sabar inflicting pain through Fire Ant's antennae or Fire Ant retaliating by holding onto Sabar's tongue! We had a hilarious mid-match dance challenge, a caterpillar of head scissors and moves unexpectedly cut short for comedic effect. Wrestling matches are about telling a story and Chikara appear to be the masters. Of course, the comedy might get boring if the in-ring talent wasn't so good. Be it Fire Ant's agility or Mr. Az's power, a twice-round head scissors or a tilt-a-whirl DDT, there was much to admire. Having won, the Battle Hive held aloft a sign boasting 'Eat, Sleep, Ruin Picnics, Repeat'. They should have just held one up saying 'that was brilliant'.
There was a short intermission as Mike Quackenbush, Chikara's founder and 'Director of Fun' addressed the crowd, paying a gentlemanly tribute to the legendary Johnny Kidd who was in attendance. However, what most struck us was that Quack embodies the 'Kayfabe' or the true storytelling aspect of wrestling, which runs through the fan base and has been lost elsewhere in wrestling.
Ther next match was Blind Rage against Ultramantis Black - a rematch 13 years in the making. This nicely counterposed the comedy of the previous match. Highlights included Black taking a barrage of punches before landing a hard-hitting Full-Nelson slam. A cheeky intervention from Frightmare gave Blind Rage the win and left Ultramantis remonstrating with the ref.
Another trios match followed in which Mr Touchdown, 'The generator' Race Jaxson & Obariyon faced a mixed bunch of their tag-team partners, Dasher Hatfield, Hype Rockwell and Kodama. Again, Chikara had demonstrated a flare for engaging booking and added ingenuity with a 'magic move' tombola. The 'Running Powerslam' was the move that, if performed, would win everyone a prize. It didn't happen but what a lovely touch. Again, the match itself was good fun with Obaryon and Kodama's playful alien naivety, Hatfield's crowd participation and Rockwell's funny narcoleptic gimmick. Again, the in-ring action and easy to follow stories didn't disappoint.
Next we saw Oleg the Usurper against Silver Ant which again, was a sign of Chikara's diverse in-ring product. The story of the plucky ant attempting to saddle the beast was worked well by both. This was followed by a third Trios match, in which we witnessed a roar-off between Drew Gulak and Max Smashmaster and the awesome Swamp Monster (whoever wrestles under that costume is a genius!) giving a satellite head scissors.
Audience interaction is at a premium at Chikara events and so the main event was introduced by fans slapping the ring-apron to create a homemade drumroll ("the heartbeat of Chikara"). The evil Hallowicked made his way to the ring followed by Chikara Grand Champion and golden boy Icarus. Both men, 'Chikara originals' are accomplished performers with a distinguished in-ring record. Hallowicked was a perfect heel and all-in-all, the two delivered a flowing, serious and skilful bout. It was Hallowicked that triumphed using the 'Chikara Special' submission and bringing to an end a story two years in the making.
The referee, Bryce Remsburg has said elsewhere of Chikara that "It's performance art of the most entertaining degree". That's spot on. Check out their website where you can download the London event and many more. Let's hope they'll be back soon...