King of Trios (Finals) Night Three
CHIKARA Pro Wrestling
Reviewed by Joe Babinsack
If someone told me to watch a pro wrestling DVD with intergender matches, a huge comedy match and a spotlight on former WWF talent, I would have loudly refused. If someone told me to watch CHIKARA Pro Wrestling, I would have loudly accepted.
If someone told me I’d be watching a DVD that had all of the above, I’d have mixed feelings.
But after watching CHIKARA’s culmination of their yearly Trios (six man tag matches for you American pro wrestling purists) Tournament, I have no mixed feelings at all.
CHIKARA once again revives my faith in this crazy, misunderstood and almost always misguided-by-mainstream-minds artform, and they do it with approaches that I’m not always on board with. The cumulative effort of it all, however, takes this zany portion of the industry and makes it the shining example of the entertainment value of the sport.
Sure, ‘when done right’ is the qualifying phrase, but when talking CHIKARA, that’s a given.
Where else can wrestling tradition combine with a fun atmosphere, an often less-than-PG rated approach, and enough less-than-serious aspects that would make any traditionalist cringe.
Yet I watched what was at the same time one of the most egregious examples of a comedy match and laughed more about the antics of this match than almost any DVD I’ve ever watched. Even the commentary – mockery of ‘this is awesome’ and ‘match of the year’ and this site’s reputation for observing excellence – were beyond just funny and exceptionally entertaining.
CHIKARA continues to sport a roster of unique talent, both home grown and imported, both exceptionally comedic and exceptionally talented (and sometimes both at the same time, especially with Colt Cabana and Ebessan involved), and manages to intermix some guys who had prominence in the late 1980’s and early 1990’s.
And on any other DVD, with any other promotion, I’d be quick with calling those guys lumbering giants, WWF has-beens and a waste of my viewing time, but here…. here, I’m nostalgic in the right way.
One quick aside: a big positive with CHIKARA is the “Featuring” aspect of the match line up on the back of the DVD. Sure, it’s nice to see a match list, but there’s something always cynical to me when I see the matches spelled out, and realize how so many of my peers on the internet (yeah, the same ones that can’t verify rumors) use match lists to create a quick review.
Ironically, CHIKARA is one of the few promotions that match lists wouldn’t replicate themselves on every other DVD.
Enough with the generalizations, I can hear Ultra Mantis Black screech/growl, and get on with the review. And so I will.
PRO: King of Trios Tournament
The Tourney is very much established and CHIKARA has established an ability to bring in teams from different Japan, nostalgic American names, other indie promotions and notably a Ring of Honor contingent this year (Young Bucks and Mike Bennett, with Maria!)
What’s cool about the Trios tourney is that it’s not exactly something that impacts CHIKARA’s more ‘normal events (as if CHIKARA can be called normal), but adds an accomplishment and an event and a gathering that builds upon itself.
One of the underlying themes of this year’s Tourney is the quest of Ultra Mantis Black in earning an accolade, and the mockery of the CHIKARA rudos in their promos (especially F.I.S.T.). Those are the oft-overlooked aspects that CHIKARA doesn’t just do well, it does amazingly well.
It may be considered quaint that CHIKARA fans use terms like “crap” and “heck” and “messed up” instead of their crude or very crude mainstream/extreme alternatives, but what’s interesting to this critic is how the fans buy into the CHIKARAverse and line up as the CHIKARrmy.
Sure, there may be some editing involved, but I’m not that cynical.
What I see is an audience buying into the promotion and adhering to the established expectations. It took less than a heartbeat for the crowd to laugh at one of the Young Bucks (Matt or Nick or was it Nate Jackson?) who all but ‘crotched’ himself during the Trios Semi-final match against the Sendai girls.
“You messed up” was the fabulously funny turn of a phrase, by a crowd forged on JT Smith and vulgarities.
That’s not just clever, that’s a level of respect and a level of crowd participation and crowd response that millions of dollars cannot buy.
What’s more awesome is the effect of the promotion and the crowd on the guests. Manami Toyota returns for more action, Sean Waltman apparently had a great time, and how CHIKARA not only got Demolition and the Powers of Pain to appear is interesting.
The point is, CHIKARA is such a positive promotion on all levels that you can’t watch without participating in the fun, no matter how cynical or jaded you feel about the industry.
I’m probably one of the last guys to ever praise a comedy match – I get that having a match on the card for entertainment purposes is possible. I get that blowing off some seriousness and changing up the styles makes for a more interesting event. I get that some talent is vastly capable of taking professional wrestling to another level of entertainment.
But 99 times out of 100 I just don’t get comedy matches.
This was an exception.
Even with Colt Cabana leading an utterly preposterous four man technicos team, I was not dismayed. Even with a Swamp Monster, a knock-off of the KFC icon called Yernal Sanders, and a guy that combines Mixed Martial Archie with “age in the cage” and is called Darkness Crabtree.
CON: Darkness Crabtree working a heart attack seemed a bit insensitive
Even though the Red Bull was very, very clever.
But beyond the old age/falling asleep/need for CPR in the end, the match was hilarious.
On the rudos side, 3.0 (Parker & Matthews) teamed up with Ebessan & Takoyakida (aka Unique Gundan). Even with Ebessan giving me flashbacks to the first CHIKARA DVD I reviewed, he brings a level of comedy on the level of Cabana – as in so good it’s great, so talented it blows away expectations.
The spots here are vast and pathetically funny despite being amazingly hilarious at the same time. I would have never … ever laughed at a game of ‘duck, duck goose’ in a wrestling ring, but I did. I would never have thought I’d laugh at a ‘smelly’ Swamp Monster, but I did. I would hardly want to admit to a guy in a white tuxedo making me laugh out loud, even when badly working a badly timed badly worked block-a-chop-to-the-head spot.
Hugging it out, making opponents sad, and capturing the zeitgeist of the modern era without making any of the mockery negative… wow, how is that possible?
I laughed my rear-end off, and nominate this for Intended Comedy Match of the Year.
Sometimes watching older talent and known names on promotions pretending to know how to make the most out of nostalgia is unintended comedy and an exercise in futility. Wins and losses with nostalgic figures work best when worked against ‘conventional wisdom’.
But CHIKARA has never been faulted with doing things foolishly, and when they bring out a series of WWF guys, they are positioned well, put over the right kind of guys, and are thus appreciated for the right reasons, and not put over to destroy the atmosphere, talent or expectations of the roster.
Similarly, we have an awesome match with Manami Toyota & Kaori Yoneyama vs. Commando Bolshoi & Tsubasa Kuragaki, ending in the typical Japanese fashion, but also with the sense of putting over the newer talent, not diminishing the same.
Figuring it out: Man vs Woman matches
I’m still the traditionalist, and still find it difficult buying into matches where it is clearly guys against gals. And yet…. we have a Semi-final where the ‘rudo’ ROH group takes on the Sendai Team, with the Joshi girls looking waay too small, and in the end it plays out to expectations with a lot of very solid action in between.
One of the Jacksons said “Those broads can really work” going to the locker room, and truer words could not be spoken.
Another intergender match was Saturyne vs Ophidian, which was a backdrop to the vastly evil characterization of Ophidian (now leading the Batiri!) against a game rookie who is very, very good.
Would I rather see ladies against ladies, guys against guys?
Was it a turn-off?
Nowhere near as much as I feared.
PRO: All that and more?
Haven’t mentioned the developments with Tim Donst, the revolving door of announcers (and the screaming calls of Denver Colorado) or the opening/closing matches of the 10 Team Gauntlet, which were vastly interesting in their own different ways.
And then there’s Gavin Loudspeaker, one of the best ring announcers around.
And then… there’s Jigsaw versus Tadasuke, with a match meant to educate the fans to accept a knockout finish, and wow, adding a dimension to finishes to expand expectations.
A couple of different count-out scenarios could also help. But the concept of a KO from punches, if legal in pro wrestling, is definitely a positive development that should be copied by others.
And then there’s the reality that neither Eddie Kingston nor Mike Quackenbush were featured on one of CHIKARA’s best events ever. How is THAT possible?
Off the Charts!
Trios matches are easily spot-fest at best, and often far too much of too much to begin with, but the three matches of the King of Trios Semis and Final were great, great in their own distinct ways, and the overall buildup was beyond expectations.
Team ROH was great as the invading heels, and while there are so many things ‘wrong’ with Maria Kanellis in a CHIKARA ring, including her taking a bump and landing quite … awkwardly … for a PG audience, there was something devilishly fun about Maria here that went beyond her ‘eye candy’ appeal in ROH. She was interactive, doing the heel manager stuff, and involved in the right ways in the matches.
The Young Bucks have played heels in CHIKARA, and were obviously on the ball. What was great with Mike Bennett was doing the heelish things that don’t always happen in ROH.
I’ve said it before, and will say it again, ROH can learn a whole heck of a lot from CHIKARA.
Running a Tournament properly should be the first lesson. Here, the brackets pretty much played out to expectations, but getting there was important. Team ROH playing up the arrogance card. Team Sendai playing out the underdog card. Team F.I.S.T. (oddly aligned with Sugar Dunkerton) playing out the heel card. And Team Spectral Envoy (Ultra Mantis Black, Hallowicked & Frightmare) trying desperately to win the big one for UMB, despite Frightmare’s knee injury.
Storytelling, based on the roles and characterizations above, was fully on display, not just indie matches and everyone getting their 7.5 minutes worth of fair interplay.
It’s not only fun to get caught up in the emotions, but to mark out despite seeing the simplicity of the booking involved. This is what CHIKARA brings to the professional wrestling table – a sense of understanding and appreciation for the talent in the ring and what the fans at ringside need to see, not just what they want to see.
And of course, delivering on all cylinders.