Dispatches from the Wrestling Underground: Dare to be Stupid — A Brief Overview of Chikara Pro

To many outsiders wrestling represents the nadir of human intelligence. It’s a wasteland of rednecks, jocks, and common idiots proudly chanting in unison for neanderthal-looking men to beat each other senseless; a bizarre ritual feeding base urges for violence free of consequence; and, a uniting point for some of the most universally absurd displays of the male ego ever witnessed.

And to be fair, wrestling is an inherently silly form of entertainment, a pseudo-sport built around play-fighting in which grown men pretend to be super heroes. Because of this, many fans hang their head in shame when wrestling is mentioned, or entirely disavow any sort of attachment to it like it’s some strange sexual fetish they’ve only ever heard of in books or on TV. The majority of modern wrestling promotions also tend to distance themselves from the actual label of wrestling. In the past decade alone, World Wrestling Entertainment has made great strides to rebrand itself as an entertainment company as opposed to a wrestling promotion. It’s figurehead, Vince McMahon, consistently refers to the company as such when promoting it. Even its competition, TNA, a company that once branded itself with the tag line “We Are Wrestling,” has begun to place less of an emphasis on its wrestling and more on the entertainment side of things by featuring more skits, more sex, and more talking to the point that they have almost literally transformed into an action-oriented soap opera.

The only companies that seem to welcome the association of wrestling today are independent wrestling promotions. Many have found a niche in promoting wrestling as a legitimate sport, such as ROH, but they too occasionally fall into the trap of confirming outsiders’ worst assumptions. While many seek to blend in elements intended to give fans reason to see wrestling as a real athletic competition, they still rely on stock aspects of the entity to incite fans: xenophobia, stereotypes, etc. So while their intention is to bring a level of respect to wrestling similar to “real” combat sports like MMA, they hamper their efforts by relying on the very things they seek to rebel against.

There is one promotion, however, that has completely avoided these pitfalls, and did so by actually embracing them. The company in question has taken everything daft, dim, and dumb about wrestling and used it as a means to both celebrate and parody its contradictions. That company is Chikara Pro.

Started initially as a wrestling school by wrestlers Mike Quackenbush and Reckless Youth, Chikara has evolved over the years into a hybrid of matches showcasing Mexican lucha libre, Japanese puroresu, and the American cruiserweight style. And where most independent promotions rely on name talent to draw fans, Chikara has chosen to create characters that highlighted the sillier aspects of wrestling. Instead of serious superstars with real names, the company’s featured stars are a hodgepodge of characters ranging from a colony of wrestling ants to evil ice cream cones. In some cases, the characters have both embraced and parodied the absurd nature of wrestling; drawing on ideas like wrestling’s tendency to create stock foreign villains, characters like the Communist Bovine Moscow (emphasis on the cow) emerged. Naturally, his adversaries could only be an American hero in the form of the Patriotic Primate U.S.Ape or a terrorist cow named Moo-hamed. The most extreme, and popular, example of Chikara embracing the absurd would be Dragon Dragon, a man costumed in a barely mobile dragon suit, who draws some of the biggest reactions by merely swinging his tail and managing to keep his oversized headpiece from falling off.

The matches too highlight a mostly post-modern outlook on wrestling where both the wrestlers and the fans acknowledge the falsity of the contest, but intentionally disregard it out of sheer enjoyment. As has become a staple in modern hardcore wrestling, the bag of thumbtacks is a ubiquitous image instantly recognizable to fans the moment it’s pulled out. In Chikara, however, the rudo (or heel) confectionery duo of Los Ice Creams have, in keeping with their characters, substituted a bag of sprinkles to achieve a similar, if infinitely more bizarre, effect. Characters too take on odd quirks that should seemingly distance fans from the matches but instead offer a form of entertainment of their own, as in the case with the wrestling video game tag team the Super Smash Brothers, one of whom, Player Uno, is prone to freezing mid-match either because the control pad on his tights has been manipulated by opponents or because his cartridge has stalled like an old NES/SNES game.

This sort of meta-awareness has existed for decades in other forms of entertainment such as film or music where parody is common place, but American wrestling has never experienced anything quite like Chikara. Its use of humor and disregard for conventions can be seen as a way to subvert many of the criticisms wrestling has unfairly been saddled with. Chikara chooses to turn its characters into literal super heroes where companies like WWE only flirt with the notion; instead of a mostly invincible John Cena trying to play both sides of the fence, a group like the Colony can sustain inhuman amounts of punishment without a disconnect in the audience taking place. The absurdity of seeing a wrestling ant already destroys any sort of believability that may have once existed allowing an observer to get lost in the spectacle of what’s on display.

What’s most odd about all of this is that Chikara never strives to be more than a wrestling promotion highlighted by a post-modernist and surrealist sense of humor. Where companies like WWE and TNA would downplay their wrestling in favor of skits, Chikara places most if not all of its attention on its matches. Even its humor only crops up in matches with few skits taking place between them, and never to overshadow them. The company openly accepts the mantle of wrestling in its oddly costumed arms. And while wrestling has always been a silly form of entertainment that takes itself far too seriously making it ripe for criticism and attack, a promotion like Chikara exists beyond most conventional forms of criticism by reveling in everything an outsider could criticize wrestling for. By daring to be stupid, Chikara offers both fan and outsider an opportunity to reengage wrestling without its traditional limitations.

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