Former WCW announcer Chris Cruise talks his love for CHIKARA Pro



On a whim, I attended a Chikara show in Philadelphia, PA in July, 2011. At some point during that show I fell in love with pro wrestling again after decades of being away from the sport that had defined my childhood and had provided me with a good living as an announcer at World Championship Wrestling. Watching Eddie Kingston vs. Jigsaw and Sara del Rey vs. Claudio Castagnoli (known now as Antonio Cesaro in the WWE) at that show (called “Chikarasaurus Rex: King of Sequel - Night 2”) brought me back to the sport I have loved since I was 9 years old. Eddie Kingston defeated Jigsaw in 19:43 with an “Arm Capture Backdrop Driver” in a brutal, believable and memorable match. And Sara del Rey defeated Claudio Castagnoli in 13:15 with a crucifix after both participants battered one another so badly I had to hold myself back from screaming at them to stop the match. I was so impressed with the event I waited like a mark outside the dressing room door to talk with Jigsaw and Kingston.

I am so much of a Chikara mark (second only to the promotion I announce for now – Traditional Championship Wrestling) that I arranged my recent summer vacation to my home state of Maine around two Chikara shows: this past Saturday night in South Portland, Maine and Sunday afternoon in Everett, MA. I brought seven people to the South Portland show and saw their interest in pro wrestling rejuvenated. Chikara was kind enough to comp me for the Everett, MA show. Because I had to get back home to Washington, DC for work Monday, I left the Everett, MA show at intermission.

I took extensive notes, but I am not familiar with all members of the Chikara roster, so I have not provided names of all participants in the matches, and Chikara has not yet posted the results. I encourage Chikara to send in the results and quickly post them on their website, and include all match participants in their online roster.

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The South Portland show was in an out-of-the-way arena, too small, but packed. There were about 200 fans there Saturday night, 155 paid according to the promotion. Ninety percent of the fans were males, mostly 22-26, wearing the requisite cargo shorts, flip-flops, graphic tees and caps turned backwards, proving with their conformity how non-conformist they are, or at least that is what I imagine they thought. There were almost no children, which was not the case in Everett, which had a lot of kids, although not as many as one sees at a typical independent show or a WWE event. Chikara didn’t sell a program in South Portland or Everett, which seems to me a missed income opportunity, as well as a missed opportunity to educate fans about the participants, although that may be my old-school perspective at work in a digital age. There was also no publicity about the event in the area, disappointing to me personally since I offered to help the promotion with publicity – I was a reporter in the area and know the players. But perhaps they feel like they are going to attract a certain number of fans regardless of how much advertising they pay for or free publicity they attract. But the group and its performers deserve a much bigger crowd. 

The fans at both events were appreciative and informed; they clearly knew the talent and were educated about the promotion’s personalities and angles. The workers are almost all too small to ever have a shot at going to the WWE but may be able to carve out long careers on the indy circuit and in Mexico; as Jim Ross said in Las Vegas a few weeks ago at the Cauliflower Alley Club annual convention, one can have a successful pro wrestling career without being in the WWE.

There were chants of “This is awesome” in the first match, which featured The Green Ant.

In the second match we heard chants of “Yes, yes, yes, yes!” It was a four-way eliminator, with lots of stiff shots. Kobald was particularly impressive.

The third match featured a wrestler with a snake theme. There were lots of stiff shots and near falls.

The fourth match featured Icarus (the fans chanted “worst in the world” at him) against The Mysterious and Handsome Stranger, who got a huge pop and a standing ovation, accompanied by a “we don’t know you” chant. All of the fans seemed delighted by The Stranger and a good time was had by all. The Stranger won with a leg drop off the top rope at about 8 minutes. The fans chanted “Please come back” to The Stranger.

A trios match followed, featuring literally non-stop action and ending with a standing ovation. Soldier Ant got the most attention from the fans.

Intermission

Match six was a tag team match.

Match seven featured Sugar Dunkerton, who has perhaps the best entrance music I have ever heard. He used some small basketballs from a game in the corner of the arena and the fans chanted “Balls, balls, balls,” which was delightful.

Match eight was a four-on-four match, featuring The Heartthrobs. On the other side were Mike Quackenbush (who got a lot of “Quack, quack, quack” chants), Hallowicked, UltraMantis and Jigsaw (who got a standing ovation). All of the participants got a standing ovation at the end of the match.

The main event featured Sara Del Rey against the Chikara Grand Champion Eddie Kingston. Each participant was greeted with a standing ovation. Eddie can tell a story. He can sell. His facial expressions communicate more than any words ever could; they’re phenomenal, as are Sara’s. She really knows how to bring the fans into the ring with her. She superplexed Eddie, drawing a standing ovation after a 2 7/8 count. She even piledrove Eddie! They smacked the daylights out of each other but, in the end, Eddie pinned Sara, a finish that made sense but that legitimately angered and disappointed the crowd. Sara is a real talent; let’s see how the WWE manages to screw this one up. (At the close of the Constitutional Convention at which the American system of government was hashed out, a woman asked Benjamin Franklin what kind of government the delegates had decided upon. “We have given you a Republic, if you can keep it,” he said. In that spirit, I would say to the WWE, in Sara Del Rey we have given you a star, if you can keep her.) 

An acquaintance said a number of things throughout the night that I found interesting, including “these guys have lots of original moves,” “most of this stuff doesn’t look contrived,” and “you can’t take your eyes off it for a second – you gotta watch it.” 

As the fans left the arena, the workers were standing at the doors, thanking them for coming. Classy.

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In Everett, MA on Sunday afternoon it was SRO. I counted around 275, but the promotion is claiming 336 paid, which doesn’t seem out of the realm of possibility. At this show, as in South Portland, there were no guardrails, and the performers are accessible during intermission and before the action begins. In Everett, champion Eddie Kingston posed in the ring for free pictures with the fans during intermission. The ring announcer and the referee got pops in Everett. The fans in Everett were older, and there were more children there than in South Portland, but most of the fans were men in their early twenties. I was only able to stay for the first five matches, leaving at intermission.

The first match was a trios match, featuring Soldier Ant.

The second match featured Sugar Dunkerton, who was “left unconscious” in a submission hold. As noted, he has great entrance music. He sells well and takes great, believable bumps. In South Portland his opponent ran across the ring and planted both feet into his chest, which sent Dunkerton flying backwards and caused all of us watching to cringe and grab our chests - it was one helluva bump.

The third match featured The Stranger, who got a great ovation as he did in South Portland. At one point he brought out a hobby horse!!! This caused the entranceway to collapse, because he caught it in the curtain. When he brought the hobby horse back through the entranceway at the end of the match, the fans helpfully chanted “Please be careful!!!”

The fourth match featured good, solid action, almost nonstop. Grand Akuma, Obariyon and Kodama were among the participants.

The fifth match featured Icarus vs. Sara Del Rey. Sara got a standing ovation as she entered the ring. She has great facial expressions and sells well. And she takes great, stiff shots. She also delivers great, stiff shots. I was taken aback by the depth of anger and the loudness of the boos when Icarus kissed Sara on the mouth during the match. That tells me the young men who paid to see Sara have a real emotional investment in her; they were legitimately pissed that Icarus kissed her. They chanted “Sara’s gonna kill you, Sara’s gonna kill you.” And they chanted “Yes, yes, yes” when Sara had Icarus in a submission move. Icarus pinned Sara using a handful of tights, angering the crowd. Strange finish. The fans gave Sara a standing ovation at the end of the match and chanted “Thank you Sara.”

At intermission, some fans entered the ring for free pictures with Eddie Kingston, the Chikara Grand Champion.   

If someone else was at the events and can provide a more-thorough report with names of the participants, I would appreciate it. I hope Chikara posts the results soon on ChikaraPro.com      

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Random notes:

Ring announcer Gavin Loudspeaker is a real asset to the promotion, but hearing him say “Ladies and Gentlemen” about every 15 seconds is more than a little irritating. I get that it is retro, but you can take retro too far. I also understand that most fans who attend a Chikara show already know the names of the workers, but quickly screaming the names over a tin-can public address system keeps new fans like me unable to discern the name of the worker. That issue can be easily addressed by upgrading the PA system and having the ring announcer slow down and speak more-clearly.

The other fault I have with Chikara – and it is a minor one – is the low-rent entranceways. My feeling is the setup should be either great or nonexistent. Fake bricks and two-by-fours, along with flimsy extensions, simply do not make for a good look. The entranceway fell down in Everett; that looked bad.

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Chikara will be in Reading, PA on August 12th, Milwaukee, WI on August 17th and Indianapolis, IN on August 18th. If you are within reasonable (or even unreasonable) driving distance, go to the shows – especially if Eddie Kingston and Sara del Rey are there. I promise you will not regret it. And if you are anywhere near Arkansas or Tennessee or Missouri or Oklahoma, come to a TCW Wrestling show. I can promise you will not regret coming to our shows, either. Our shows are scheduled through December, and include the debut of TCW in Memphis on September 15th. For more information go to www.TCWWrestling.com

Other upcoming Chikara events:

Chikara’s 5th Annual “Fan Conclave” is September 14 - 15 - 16, 2012 at The Palmer Center in Easton, PA. All children 12 and under are admitted free with a paying adult.

The group will be in Piedmont, AL on October 6; Burlington, NC on October 7; Chicago, IL on November 10; Cleveland, OH on November 11 and Manhattan on November 18.