Strangeways, Here We Come: The Ultramantis Black Adventure
Smart Mark Videos
Reviewed by Joe Babinsack
This is a review of a DVD so potentially awesome that I had to buy it.
Ultramantis Black is one of CHIKARA’s most interesting wrestlers, one of CHIKARA’s most unique wrestlers, and for a promotion filled with colorful characters, that is saying a lot.
I had to buy this DVD not just because of who Ultramantis Black is, but what he may become in the development of the Ring of Honor/CHIKARA war. On the CHIKARA side, there are lots of characters, lots of great and unknown wrestlers, a few significant faces like Eddie Kingston, but a limited number of talkers. Sure, there are guys who can bring it and guys who can finish it and guys who can bust out a few debate points.
But in the end, if CHIKARA does war with Ring of Honor, there’s only one man devious enough, dangerous enough, talkative to the extreme, and with a legacy in the business worthy enough to provide a distinctive voice to the battle.
That man is, of course, Ultramantis Black.
With an accent as unique as his style, his mask and his name, the masked wrestler provides a two-and-a-half hour interview to compliment the eighteen matches spanning a career that runs back to the turn of the millennium. The first match on the three-disc set is from 2002, in a classic battle against the always erudite Mr. Zero. (Mr. Zero being a progenitor of the Throwback’s Dasher Hatfield.) And the compilation concludes with an epic clash against the monstrous Tursas of the BDK.
That’s the Bruderschaft des Kreuzes, the ultimate heel group of CHIKARA’s most recent seasons.
UMB, Ultra Mantis Black or Ultramantis Black – he’s got one of those names that defies consistency – began as a rather thin and high-flying type, but emerged over the years into a diabolical figure in the family friendly CHIKARA promotion. Today, his mask is vastly different, his body more chiseled and inked, and his work a whole lot superior to those days where CHIKARA was all about goofy vestiges of Lucha Libre and less visual about the working of that serious pro wrestling style.
And yet the depth of UMB comes through in both the interview session and the early matches.
One can hardly imagine a CHIKARA wrestler working in the IWA of Ian Rotten fame, but from Tracy Smothers to a crazed “Lightube board/Lightube Table/ Barbed Wire Board/Barbed Wire Table” match against Sexxxy Eddy and also against Scotty Vortekz, we see conclusive evidence of Ultra Mantis Black in action in a mostly garbage wrestling league.
But UMB is not about the trash, he’s all about the development.
While there’s distinct and jarring visual effect of a masked man like UMB sitting in front of a fireplace, shooing away his cat, and otherwise speaking eloquently and pensively about his career, there’s also a distinguished realization that this blurring of shoot and work is no mere act, and yet seamless in delivery.
If you’ve not heard him talk, UMB sound similar to the character Rajesh Koothrappali from The Big Bang Theory, or perhaps Seth McFarland of Stewie/Family Guy fame. Being masked, it’s not easy to presume ethnicity, but there’s a strong, strong dialect that is either the result of a master craftsman, or an indelible cultural imprint.
Masks do enhance the mystery, don’t they?
The reality emerges that UltraMantis Black is incredibly engaged in the artform of professional wrestling, and is consummately engaged in delivering that artform. There is no wonder that he became fast and furious friends with Larry Sweeney, and there is no wonder that there is an immediate connection between his personality and any sense of appreciation for professional wrestling.
The discussion of Mr. Sweeney are deep on many levels, and there’s a distinct impact on the man that is Ultra Mantis Black, and the depth of spiritual and emotional turmoil resonates to this day.
Whether the early years with comic book store references and wrestling magazine reading and collecting, to the connections to the indy wrestling scene, the growth from wrestling fan to wrestling talent is an interesting one, and while two and a half hours seems long, they are intriguing.
But UMB is clearly not just ‘one of us’ or ‘one of us’ that succeeded.
He’s all that and more, and has a distinctive character forged in knowing what wrestling is all about, and crafted in such a fashion that there are few guys in the business that can pull off a long interview session like this – and still maintain mystery, character and an even greater marketability afterwards.
Ultra Mantis Black talks the talk and walks the walk and displays both and more on this DVD.
He’s just that good at it.
My main criticism of the package is a lack of chapters, as no one is going to sit through this long an interview, and there were no ‘natural’ stops and if you start swapping DVDs on a cheap player, it’s not so easy to find that spot where you left off.
UMB talks up several of the CHIKARA stalwarts, especially Hallowicked, and walks the viewer through the evolution of his character and the various wrestlers he worked with as allies and adversaries, including Delirious, Hydra and Crossbones, as well as … Hallowicked.
There is a lot of talk about IWA and Death matches…. And considering the style of the man, I’m intrigued to see more of the Ultra Mantis Black effect in that particular genre of pro wrestling.
There remains so much more to the man and his abilities, that watching the matches has to be the best place to start. One of the best is the battle he had with Ares – the leader of the BDK – and that is a masterpiece of CHIKARA action and the purity of the product.
While UMB has almost always been a heel, the storyline that developed around the BDK invasion was anything but simple, and the acceptance by the fans of UMB’s efforts to right his wrongs and combat the BDK culminated in the big battle with Ares, in a “falls count anywhere” encounter.
The audience is truly a part of this match, and the family friendly atmosphere is tested and stretched but even that one climactic high spot elicits “Holy Crap!” chants, showing just how possible it is for a promotion to educate its fans and bring about proper reactions with well crafted action and programming.
For the hardcores, Strangeways is a series of interesting matches. Against Shane Storm, against Jaki Numazawa, against Helios and The Colony and several times with the most awesome of Tag Team partners, Crossbones.
Actually, there’s a tag match from Japan that pits Ultra and Crossbones against The Colony that takes comedic professional wrestling to new heights of both enjoyment and hilarity. It may be foolish to put UMB in the same breath as Danielson or Punk or Misawa, but the range of his work is impressive, and the consistency and development of his talent is awesome.
Few guys can do comedy well, can do garbage wrestling well, and can then pull out the stops and put on a truly awesome match like the one he put together with Ares – combining in-ring, emotion and a story telling that raised the bar from ‘just another indy match’ to a blow-off match of epic proportions.
Perhaps that experience will come in handy in the upcoming year. Perhaps the distinct voice will raise the stakes and make any ROH/CHIKARA war all the more interesting. Perhaps, just perhaps, Ultra Mantis Black may continue to ply his trade and display his talents to the CHIKARA faithful and continue to be one of the most unsung talents in the indy business.
No matter what, this is one guy who any hardcore wrestling fan needs to learn more about, and Smart Mark Video’s three disc DVD set is a great place to start, CHIKARA Pro Wrestling the place to keep seeing him, and again, if things develop as I would expect, you may want to be the first one on the block to tell your ROH friends yeah, I know that dude, and he’s just as good in the ring as he is on the stick.