McGinnis: CHIKARA returnsWritten by Jeff McGinnis | | email@example.com
In the summer of 2010, the independent wrestling company named CHIKARA ran several shows in the Midwest, including its first appearance in Michigan. Speaking then with Toledo Free Press Star, the company’s co-founder and owner, Mike Quackenbush, said expanding to new areas was always a gamble for a small promotion like his own.
But the gamble paid off, and now CHIKARA will return to the Midwest starting on June 24 with a show in Chicago, followed by stops in Taylor, Mich., on June 25 and the greater Cleveland area June 26.
“I don’t know that the Midwest would humor us more than once a year, but an annual visit doesn’t seem to hurt,” said Quackenbush in a recent interview.
Last year’s shows had the added benefit of appearances by former-and-future WWE star Bryan Danielson, who had been controversially released just days before. But Quackenbush said that he felt CHIKARA’s brand of wrestling was more than capable of bringing in audiences even without Danielson on this year’s cards.
“I think people come to see our brand because they like what we do. I don’t doubt that many people gave us a look thanks to the fortunate timing of that, but people come back to see us again and again because they grow attached to our overall aesthetic, more than to a single performer,” he said.
With gleefully over-the-top characters, an emphasis on being family-friendly and more, CHIKARA’s unique product indeed sets it apart from much of modern wrestling, and has led to the company drawing an increasingly devoted base of fans. Major events like this April’s “King of Trios” have been some of the company’s most successful to date, with “KOT” becoming CHIKARA’s best-selling DVD ever.
“It’s a great vote of confidence from the fans out there,” Quackenbush said of “Trio’s” success. “This is their stamp of approval. Those numbers don’t lie. People really, truly enjoyed this event, maybe more than anything else we’ve done in 10 seasons.”
But for all the highs CHIKARA has seen in the past 12 months, there has been one tragic low. Alex Whybrow, who trained with the company and performed as “Larry Sweeney,” tragically passed away in April. Whybrow had appeared for CHIKARA as recently as last November.
“We’ve never weathered something quite like this. But the CHIKARA family is stronger for having to face this down together,” Quackenbush said of Whybrow’s passing. “We’ve lost a brother. And we all wrestle with the sadness, the guilt, the anger, all those crazy emotions that come with it
, and we face it down together. We cherish each other a little more these days, because we all see how fragile our existence is. And we all hope to never suffer something like this again.”
The company’s major storyline event of 2011 — a months-long tournament to determine the first CHIKARA champion — has been dedicated to Whybrow’s memory. The company has existed for nearly a decade, which seems like a long delay before finally crowning its first champion, but Quackenbush said the wait was by design.
“For me personally, I always find it laughable when a wrestling company crowns a champion on its first card. What are you the champion of then? An organization that is three hours old? Show some longevity. Evince some tenure first. This is our 10th season. We’ve built a global bra
nd with an identity and vision uniquely ours. It’s time for one person to emerge as the champion of what we’ve grown into.”
That identity is often at odds with the expectations of “mainstream” wrestling, which suits Quackenbush and his company’s fans just fine. “I tried to watch some WWE a few weeks back, to see if Mistico would be on, and I wanted to claw my eyes out before the first commercial break,” Quackenbush said.
CHIKARA definitely does not present the same product as WWE — nor does it want to. “We are a lot like college radio,” Quackenbush said. “There are ideas out there, maybe just outside the mainstream, worthy of attention. Worthy of experimentation. Not everyone listens to Top 40 FM radio. Not everyone listens to the same band, over and over and over.
“That’s like watching WWE and nothing else. It’s bland, it’s middle of the road, and maybe, it’s a little played out. But there’s something fresh waiting just down the dial, if you dare to turn it. There is more than one approach to the pro-wrestling performance genre. If we can open people’s minds to that, then we are doing something of real value.”
Email Jeff at PopGoesJeff@gmail.com.