“Not like this.”
Jenna Antonelli said that to me as we stood on Arch Street in front of the Trocadero Theatre last Sunday, still reeling from what we had just witnessed. Sitting here, staring at a blank Word document, waiting for the right words to come, those are the only words still ringing in my ears. We knew it was going to happen, but…not like this.
In 2011 I fell head over heels in love with Chikara. I have traveled hundreds of miles for a few hours of wrestling. I have sat in the basement of a golf clubhouse in the middle of nowhere Ontario, being the only person cheering for Tim Donst, and basically one of the only people cheering in general. I have witnessed grand spectacle, intimate venues, title changes, breathtaking victories, and heartbreaking losses. And with one wrench of a curtain, I watched it all crumble and fall away.
My first live show was in Vaughn, Ontario at the Green Ice event. My birthday was the next day, and all I wanted to do was go see Chikara. I wasn’t yet to the point of being able to convince my boyfriend to drive to another country for a show, so the timing of their first appearance in Canada was almost serendipitous. I’ll never forget my very first introduction to the way things were in Chikara. Entering the arena part of the sportsplex, I nearly stumbled (and if you’ve ever spent time with me you know how literal the use of that word is) headlong into Bryce Remsburg. Taken aback at seeing someone from the company so immediately, and obviously not knowing that fan interaction was de rigeur for any show, I managed to stutter “Oh…uh..hello!” Without skipping a beat, Bryce responded with “Hey! How are you?” like he had known me forever. He had zero idea who I was, but made me feel comfortable and welcome immediately. Like I was supposed to be there.
By my own admission I have a terrible memory. I would love to run down the card, tell you exactly what happened, who won and lost and what stories were told, but to be frank I was so lost in the experience that there’s no way I would be able to. I remember thinking that Kobald was just about the most adorable and hilarious little thing. I remember the way my stomach clutched when Brodie Lee did a running sit-out power bomb to Fire Ant, and power-bombed him so hard I was sure he was dead. I remember the excitement at seeing personal favourite at the time, Marchie Archie, hug it out in the ring with Dasher Hatfield, my personal favourite of basically forever. UltraMantis was enchanting. 3.0 won the Campeonatos de Parejas, and even though I was rooting against them (sorry guys), getting entirely caught up in the emotional celebration afterwards. But most of all I remember the feeling that I was now a part of something special. This wasn’t just a wrestling show. I was invited into a world Chikara had created for us, and I never wanted to leave.
A short while later, Matthew and I drove two hours in the opposite direction to a speck of a town outside of London – Strathroy ON. I think the less that’s said about the show the better, because try as they might, that venue, that crowd…it just wasn’t happening. What did happen, however, was me becoming a forever fan of Jakob Hammermeier. We instantly bonded over having the same hairstyle, and even though I was willing to part with my money, I still let him give me the sales pitch for a Team Jakob shirt. If you’ve never had Jakob try to sell you something, run, don’t walk. It’s pretty incredible. I had an amusing if not slightly un-family friendly conversation with El Generico. I called Veronica a hussy, then we talked about shoes. Sugar Dunkerton sat down behind us at one point, and was so lovely he turned Matthew into a Sugar fan despite only ever having seen him in one match. Mr. Touchdown made fun of me. It was wonderful.
I’ve only ever written about King of Trios 2012 once. As I’ve said before, it’s hard to distill the emotion and intensity of that weekend into mere words. Nothing feels adequate. I don’t think it ever will. But King of Trios was singlehandedly one of the most important weekends of my life.
By September my fandom was in full swing, and convincing Matthew to take a week off of work to drive to Pennsylvania was suddenly nothing at all. By then he understood how much it would mean to me, and lo, there we were, packing up the car and on our way to Easton. Now, if I should be thanking anyone, really, it should be David Otunga. Had he not inspired Brandon Stroud to want an argyle travel mug, I would have never made one, missed my chance to give it to him at WrestleMania, and then jumped at the chance as soon as I recognized him in the crowd. One simple little gift given at the start of a weekend of independent wrestling changed my life. But I digress.
Trios itself was magical. One of my most treasured memories came on day two. As I rounded the corner of the Palmer Community Center for the Fan Conclave, the first thing I saw was Jervis Cottonbelly out on the lawn teaching a handful of children about the “fine, gentlemanly art of croquet.” Such a simple thing, but it struck something inside of me. Something clicked. Such a small, seemingly innocuous moment in time, but in that moment I knew. I knew that I was exactly where I was supposed to be. And it only got better from there.
You know, I still don’t really have the capability to describe the events of that weekend. You can watch the DVDs or mp4s, and you can read results and reviews, but at the risk of sounding hyperbolic (and I use hyperbole literally 7000 times a day), you well and truly had to be there. Soldier Ant letting little kids cheat and beat him at Battleship. Icarus stealing half of a pizza, then later complaining because when he went to eat it, it was already cold. Talking to UltraMantis about the Smiths, and then making scary hands with the whole Envoy. Tsubasa Kuragaki being the sweetest lady, even though she could shoot murder anyone in the room. And the wrestling – oh, the wrestling. Wrestling so good it made more than one person shed a tear. The heart (and pele kicks) of Meiko Satomura singlehandedly made every person in the room (except for two, you know which ones) despise Team ROH with every fibre of their being. During the Spectral Envoy’s winning celebration, UltraMantis, the crowd in the palm of his hand, shushed us all before triumphantly shouting “We DID IT.” The cheer that erupted…I have never experienced anything like that feeling. I doubt I will again. At Never Compromise I brought it up in a conversation with Billy Kumohara prior to the show. He held up his arm – actual goosebumps. Yet again, words are meaningless when you’ve been a part of that kind of experience.
I’ll always love the performers for giving me the gift of those experiences. Jakob remembering us from Strathroy and getting on Matthew’s case for not buying a shirt was touching and surprising. I met Dasher for the first time that weekend, and had one of the warmest, most genuine conversations I’ve had with any wrestler. But that about sums up any conversation with Dasher Hatfield. If Jervis Cottonbelly hadn’t already laid claim to being the World’s Sweetest Man, I’m pretty sure that moniker would rest solely on the capable shoulders of our dear King of Swing. Icarus constantly made fun of me, but hey, it’s what makes him the best in the world at being the worst in the world.
It was the most perfect weekend a fan could ask for.
Luckily, I got to experience it with a brand new group of friends. I’m happy to say some of these people have become some of the best friends I’ve ever had. I knew I’d come away from it with fond memories, but I didn’t know I’d come away with a best friend. A friend who pushed me to start writing again. Who gave me a place to put it. My passion for Chikara ignited something I had previously thought to be long gone, and now here I am at 5:00am pouring my heart out for you all to read. This would not be possible had I stayed at home.
When Robert and I started doing the Chikara podcast that still doesn’t have a name, I had no idea it would start something. The more we talked, the more we read, the more we researched…everything started to unravel. But I loved every minute of it. The more excuses I had to watch Chikara promos and videos and shows, the better really. But the more we talked, the more we read, the more we researched…it all led to this sinking feeling that we were going to have the rug pulled out from us at any moment. I don’t pretend to have all, or any, of the answers as to what has been happening over the past year. But I know that feeling of dread in the pit of my stomach. It’s that feeling that made me buy a ticket for Aniversario, get on a bus the next day for 11 hours (thanks to Matthew and his understanding of how important this was), and sit in the balcony of the Troc waiting for it to unfold.
Whether it was the heat, the sheer exhaustion of sleeping three hours in two days, or just that I was waiting for the other shoe to drop, I felt a little disconnected during the first half. The show was still great, but I knew something was coming and didn’t want to acknowledge it. After intermission, I was a whole lot sweatier but a little more comfortable, and found myself getting lost in the show. The same familiar feeling that made me love King of Trios. Being able to forget about everything and immerse myself completely in the match playing out in front of me is something that’s pretty rare in other companies, but it’s one of the things the performers in Chikara do best. They make you care. I may have been disgruntled over Jigsaw’s behavior (because he’s very good at his job of making you dislike him), but I wanted nothing more than to see The Shard be a Campeone. I yelled and jumped and cheered like it was the most important thing in the world. To be able to make someone do that – that’s special.
I’ve long doubted the possibility of anyone taking the title belt off of Kingston, and firmly believed that if Tim Donst couldn’t do it at Under the Hood, no one could. But the moment Icarus locked in the Chikara Special, I believed. I believed that we were about to witness something momentous. I had forgotten that knot in my stomach. I was completely taken out of everything that was going on and living on the cusp of a moment that, sadly, would never come.
Wink Vavasseur came out on stage, angry and disheveled, and then, well, everything gets a little fuzzy. Again, my memory is poor, and but I can tell you that as soon as Condor Security tugged at the stage curtain I had a sharp, visceral reaction. I had no idea what was waiting behind the curtain, but I knew that would be it. The end of the show. The end of everything I hold so dear in my heart. Stop. Not now. Not like this. I just got these guys. Don’t take them away. I’m not ready. Not like this.
I don’t have to tell you what happened next.
While some use the term “mark” as an insult, something to look down on, I tend to revel in it. I’m never happier than when I’m at a Chikara show. “Getting worked” isn’t always a bad thing. It means someone is doing their job, and doing it well. At it’s very core, wrestling it kinda dumb, guys. Stretching our suspension of disbelief enough to understand that they’re not really hurting each other (most of the time) is about as far as some are willing to go, but it takes true talent to make you invest yourself in a character or a story. I was welcomed with open arms into a world of living characters and stories and embraced it with all of my heart. We can spend all day talking about the importance of kayfabe and lucha traditions, but at the end of the day Chikara built something that made it easy to go beyond “dude with a baseball face” and “rad promotion-specific submission hold.” You could connect with performers you admired, and you could interact with them on a level that most companies don’t bother with. No matter the venue, everything was the same – always friendly, always familiar. For some people it was just wrestling, but for so many more Chikara was something special. Something more than all of this.
I know a lot of you are angry at how things played out on Sunday. A lot of you are disappointed. So many of you are shocked and deeply saddened. I know. Chikara gave me so much: friends, a burgeoning career, once in a lifetime experiences, and it turned my love of wrestling into a true passion. I will never be able to sum up all of the things Chikara has given me, but I can say thank you. And more importantly, I can continue to support the people who made it so special for me in the first place. Chikara is not greater than the sum of its parts. Hold onto the people who gave you these feelings. Hold onto them and don’t let go. Tell them how you feel. Tell them how they’ve made you feel. Don’t forget, fans aren’t the only ones who lost something on Sunday.
I don’t need to know what’s going to happen next, because I know that the next time I see him, Dasher will have a hug waiting for me. I know Jervis will always make me smile. I know Green Ant is still going to give me a damn good match, and I know at some point Icarus is going to make fun of me. Tim Donst will, sadly, still probably be bald. UltraMantis will still have smashing taste in music, and the joy of shouting FLEX RUMBLECRUNCH will be the same. I know that the personal friendships I’ve made will last far beyond what happened on Sunday. Even if everyone isn’t in the same place, there’s a common bond we all share. That bond will endure the hurt and anger and sadness and confusion. That bond is what I will treasure. Always.
Danielle Matheson is the curator of The Mandible Claw, and spends every Thursday night trying to prove that TNA isn’t as bad as you think it is for With Leather. When not writing, Danielle can be found painting fat dude wrestlers, utterly failing at having an adult sleep schedule, and dreaming of returning to Philadelphia for vegan sesame beef at New Harmony.