Through the Savage Progress Cuts the Jungle Line
CHIKARA Pro Wrestling DVD
Reviewed by Joe Babinsack
September 19th was a pretty cool day for CHIKARA and its roster and its fans, and anyone who was a fan of All Japan Women Pro Wrestling from the 1990’s. So cool that the promotion busted out a Joni Mitchell lyric for its DVD release, to trumpet the arrival of the one and only, Manami Toyota; so cool that the Eastern Pennsylvania promotion made a spectacular stop at The Warsaw in Brooklyn (Eddie Kingston in the house!); so cool that CHIKARA continues to shine forth as a beacon of sanity in an otherwise moribund industry.
We can talk BDK (Bruderschaft Des Kreuzes), we can talk F.I.S.T. (Friends in Similar Tights), we can talk Da Soul Touchaz, or we can just roll into the matches. And since I’m penning the words, that’s exactly what we’re going to do.
“Through the Savage Progress Cuts the Jungle Line” opens with everyone’s favorite heel faction, F.I.S.T, coming out with Orgy’s Blue Monday, which of course is a rather metalized version of New Order’s original song, with New Order of course being the remains of Joy Division after Ian Curtis tragically took his own life. But enough about English quasi-melancholy groups and on to the real action.
F.I.S.T. is comprised, today, of Icarus, Chuck Taylor and newer member Johnny Gargano. While F.I.S.T. will always be associated with Gran Akuma to me, the Trio in the ring is a solid faction, with Icarus the long time heel, Taylor being a potential break-out star, and Gargano earning his experience in a number of Northeastern promotions.
To the ring comes a decimated Ant Colony (no Adam jokes, please), with Green Ant sporting a sling, and Fire Ant (as the green one proclaims) out of action, yet in the ring, with multiple broken bones in his face. Apparently The Colony took it to BDK Campeonatos de Parejas Cladio Castagnoli and Aries. The Colony failed, ever so closely, and paid for it in broken bones.
And so Soldier Ant, well, soldiers on, to be joined by 3.0 (Scott Parker and Shane Matthews). I like 3.0 better than the Badd Brothers, but that’s just me.
It’s a solid opener, with that typical atypical CHIKARA blend of lucha (with some overly choreographed spots), old school comedy, heel and face psychology, high-flying of a daredevil variety, and to be honest, some guys who will be leading the next generation of the industry, notably in Taylor and Gargano.
Next up is my all-time CHIKARA favorite, UltraMantis Black, taking on Hallowicked, in a match that is more backdrop for the storyline of UMB forming an army to take it to BDK. OK, OK, enough with the abbreviations. Short background as follows: Ultramantis Black and Hallowicked were the Dark Breed way back when, and are two of the CHIKARA originals. UMB is the guy who (inadvertently) launched the whole Bunderschaft Des Kreuzes storyline by using the Eye of Tyr on Delirious, and, well, the rest is not so much history, but one of the most layered, complex and well fashioned storylines in professional wrestling history.
And I mean that sincerely.
So what’s going on is that UMB is vainly trying to form an army, of which Hallowicked (one of CHIKARA’s heavy hitters) is a main target. With Ultramantis Black on commentary elsewhere on the DVD, that storyline gets more time, but for this match, UMB is in the ring, at first not wanting to fight, and then taking it to Hallowicked, and then pleading afterwards.
UMB, with the shorter Druids, the zany skull staff, and a voice and demeanor that MUST BE SEEN AND HEARD to truly enjoy, is light years ahead of that dead man guy on SyFy these days.
The segue from Ultramantis Black and his storyline to the next tag team match is pretty straightforward.
Daizee Haze leads Delirious (true life romantic couple, I’m told) to the ring to take on recently technico-ed Osirian Portal. I mean, really, how long can a guy named The Funky Pharoah be a rudo???
So the guys straight out of an Egyptian Time Warp (Ophidian and Amasis) take on BDK’s first couple (that isn’t CC and Sara Del Ray) and it’s a very strong battle, with lots of wrestling action. I’m not one for mixed tags, but this isn’t the DVD to complain about that. Daizee Haze, then again, can hold her own in any fight, and Delirious is that keystone to the promotion that really makes sense in the swirling comic book fantasy world that drives the dynamics here, albeit one that sees a team earning three points earning a shot at the Campeonatos de Parejas.
Dynamics are in the house with Da Soul Touchaz.
For this match, Da Soul Touchaz consists of Marshe Rockett, Acid Jaz and Willie Richardson (otherwise known as ‘Da Bomb). There are rumblings of interest concerning Da Soul Touchaz, especially coming off a really great trios match with the BDK previously. But what intrigues me here is the booking and the introduction of the new team. The layers to the whole BDK versus CHIKARA are evident in force here, and the opportunity to showcase new talent doesn’t get overwhelmed.
While it is tempting to label the Touchaz as a sort of African American Spirit Squad, that would be grossly unfair. What impresses me about the group (and their flamboyant manager) is that they have a drive, a variety of sizes and while their experience (or lack thereof) is evident, I get the distinct impression that they have “it” and will be a force on the indy scene.
The BDK here is Tim Donst (looking a little too soft, to be honest) and the giant Tursas (still looking huge and still looking like his beard is made of yarn) and the seeming weak link of Lince Dorado. Donst promo-ed before the match about Dorado being able to bounce back from a poor showing at the Young Lions Cup, but that’s not exactly how it played out.
Along the way, we’ve got big guys battling, athletic guys wrestling and thinner guys flying all over the ring. It’s ten minutes of action, culminating with an interesting series of rather typical indy level finish after finish spots, but looking at the big picture, it progresses an underlying storyline of the BDK perhaps crumbling, and introduces a faction for the future.
Leading into the next match, we have an awesome promo by Eddie Kingston.
Kingston just exudes credibility, and his feud with Claudio Castagnoli, referenced by the announce crew, built up in part because Ultra Mantis Black thinks Kinston to be a loose cannon, adds a cool dimension to the whole CHIKARA vs BDK story. You know Kingston will be a part of the big picture, but he’s just enough of a hothead that you know he’s more self-interested and seething with hatred, rather than simply siding with the faces. What’s cooler here is that the history of the feud is certainly one that will keep Kingston angry with everyone.
CHIKARA bounces around storylines with such a precision and an eye to detail that it makes cable wrestling today laughable.
Which isn’t a joke.
And so, Eddie Kingston can’t get Claudio, but he can get the second-from-the-top of BDK, the enigmatic Ares. The Swiss heel brings Delirious to the ring on a chain, which we all should expect. Is it a wrestling match? With Eddie Kingston involved, it realistically devolves into a brawl, but turns back into the ring and focuses on the sheer determination and abilities of the man from Brooklyn. Great match for the story and the talent showcase and telling stories on multiple levels. Distraction abounds, but heels winning with distractions is the natural way to go, and Eddie Kingston is a time bomb ready to go off.
Just when you think CHIKARA can’t top itself, and cannot possibly balance another storyline on top of everything that came already on the DVD, we’ve got an unexpected development in the mid-card.
The UnStable is the wild rudo faction, with Incoherence, Vin Gerard and Colin (don’t call me an Olsen Twin) Delaney. The Future Is Now is a somewhat bland even though masked technico faction, with Helios, Equinox/Jimmy Olsen, and the very enigmatic man known as Jigsaw.
This midcard faction war, between a heel faction seemingly ready to implode, and a bunch of faces that seem to be holding Jigsaw down, has been going on for a while, before and since an awesome match over the Equinox mask between Jimmy Olsen and Vin Gerard.
The promo at the beginning foretells some sort of something going on, but it’s only after about ten minutes that a series of events unfold, with Colin draping his “brother” over Gerard, setting up for all intents and purposes a devastating “OVERBOMB”. The reaction of the UnStable’s remaining members is a typical lucha low blow finish.
What was CHIKARA-licious was how the ‘turn’ and the end played out. Just enough of crowd interaction and question of if it’s going where it seems to be going, before they “talk it out”.
Those unfamiliar with CHIKARA may be confused why the penultimate match is for the Young Lion’s Cup, with Frightmare defending his hard-won tournament victory and Cup against the BDK’s most intriguing and most insane member, The erstwhile Pink Ant, Pinkie Sanchez (which is telling, considering that Delirious is part of the group!)
But there’s a reason for this, beyond the ongoing theme of BDK versus CHIKARA, and beyond the elevation of new talent to headliner status. And the reason is obvious once these guys tear into each other. Both are smaller and in the vein of MMA, can go at a fast pace. Both can mix in a technical style with high-flying antics producing OMG moments. And both have developed characters and a history to flesh out their wrestling characters.
There’s an interesting interplay between two guys portrayed, and portraying, off-the-wall insanity, and a sense that Pinkie Sanchez has met his match on both levels: wrestling and sanity.
And then, we have the main event.
For those who need to know who Manami Toyota is, it’s not possible to do her history justice here. She’s a wrestling goddess, a Japanese superstar during the era when Japanese Wrestling was all about heavy hitting big guys, high-flyers light years ahead of American counterparts, and technical displays between veterans and newcomers that took the industry to huge heights.
And yet, in the midst of that all, and in a culture that would likely, otherwise, give a cold shoulder to a woman, Manami Toyota was readily considered among the best. Many felt she was the best. It would be hard for me to not agree with that sentiment.
Anyone who saw Toyota on tapes, and that was the heyday of internet tape trading, saw a daredevil without peer, an innovator par excellence, and a wrestler who put on displays of talent that were gasp inducing, even if she wasn’t flying through the air or flipping her (or someone else’s) body into contortions.
Manami Toyota in the United States?
Unimaginable. Not in that it is happening, but why did it take 15 years to happen?
Which is to the fundamental credit of CHIKARA, because for one, they obviously respect the wrestler, and for another, they built up the match and built up the match inside the ring to hit all the right notes of nostalgia.
No one could watch the match and readily believe that they were watching a Japanese Legend in her prime, but from the opening glimpse of her in a classic, glamorous red robe of epic proportions, to hitting all her signature spots (the Ocean Cyclone Suplex a little sloppy, a little difficult to bear; the dives and moonsault impressive), this was an appearance to mark out about.
Round Trip from Tokyo to New York? $1500
Great seats to watch Manami Toyota in action? $100
Watching a Living Legend in action? $20
Seeing Toyota apply the CHIKARA Special? Priceless.
I’m sure the opponents (BDK’s Claudio Castagnoli and Sara Del Ray), and her partner, Mike Quackenbush, were the most nervous wrestlers in the building. But the match was excellent, building to the right spots, featuring the talent in the ring, and booked impeccably.
By the way, Del Ray looked awesome, and Quack was just beaming at the opening, and it was a Very cool match.
Joni Mitchell also sings, in The Jungle Line, that “They’ll eat a working girl like her alive.”
Check out the DVD for all the matches above, plus various bonus features and promos, plus a Clash to the Future match between J. Miller and Tommy Treznik, that was good, but way to typical of the indy scene with too many kick-outs and too much overblown announcing.