In a business where fans are constantly seeking a true “alternative” product, hitting a brick wall is a constant. World Wrestling Entertainment is the top dog in the business, and quite frequently fans grow tired of the “Sports Entertainment” style of professional wrestling, focused more on spectacle and cutesy drama than the gritty, rugged form of entertainment that wrestling used to be. When you look at the companies that call themselves “alternatives”, you’re left with either TNA or Ring of Honor on a lesser scale.
TNA is a carbon copy of WWE for the most part, and when you watch it, the struggle to make sense of what you’re watching is like a bizarre magnetic force, pushing your finger into that button on your remote to escape the horror. Ring of Honor provides the best pure workrate and simplistic storylines of the three major North American wrestling companies, but at times the elitist, at times uninviting mentality of the hardcore fanbase can turn the casual viewer off.
Then there’s Chikara Pro, Mike Quackenbush’s Little Engine that Could. Without a doubt upon first viewing the Chikara product, you’ll very quickly note that it’s nothing like any other product out there. It’s flashy cartoon characters, quirky commentary, and fast-paced (and at times bizarre) action can’t be found anywhere outside of Mexico. I once said years ago that Ring of Honor is basically a Japanese-styled promotion in America. l the same can be said for Chikara, except you can replace Japanese with Mexican.
In an effort to get the name out there, Chikara Pro has released their first commercial DVD, aptly titled: The Best of Chikara, a DVD that definitely highlights the positives of the company, but can leave a new fan scratching their head. Chikara Pro is basically “American Lucha Libre”, with hordes of armdrags, hurricanranas, flippy-doos, and submissions that you can never fathom. The characters are easy to follow, if a bit bizarre, and unlike a lot of other companies, it is very easy to separate the “faces” and the “heels”, or in this case, the “tecnicos” and the “rudos”.
The Best of Chikara is a compilation of nine matches throughout the short tenure that Chikara has been around featuring some of the companies’ most memorable characters. Claudio Castagnoli, the rich Swedish giant, who has gone on to become one of the most recognizable names in the indy circuit, made his name in Chikara first. Before being a flipping guy with baggy pants that teamed with Ruckus, Jigsaw (with Mask) was “wrestling’s mystery, wrapped in an enigma”. Chris Hero has always been Chris Hero, and anybody who’s seen him work knows that. Los Ice Creams manage to simultaneously make you hungry as well as entertain (which probably explains the huge portion of fat indy wrestling fans). Shane Storm is a former traffic regulator-turned-tecnico, and once he hits “That Japanese Move”, you’re out for the three second tan. From the rugged Puerto Rican Eddie Kingston, to the charismatic showman Larry Sweeney, Chikara brings wrestling back to what it was during it’s embryonic era (lots of unique, larger than life, characters) while mixing it with the comedic feel of Mexican Lucha.
The Best of Chikara is an awesome compilation of tremendous matches at a great price, but that’s really all you are getting – matches (and a bunch of trailers as extras). One thing I wish they included is an edition of the Chikara Podcast-A-Go-Go or something similar with Mike Quackenbush or Chikara Commish Leonard F. Chikarason where they would introduce the matches or have a segment introducing the talent and explaining a bit of their background. From the minute you press play you are flung immediately into a six-man tag match and unless you’ve got your laptop next to you or an experienced Chikarian to guide you, there’s a good chance you will be turned-away. The workrate itself is on a complete other level and may hook fans of that, but this release doesn’t really allow a brand new fan (who saw this at Best Buy or whatever and bought it due to the awesome boxart) to digest everything. You really don’t get an opportunity to get behind certain characters, but of course this is something that can be mended with future releases and perhaps even get people to pick up some of the full shows at SmartMarkVideo.
Regardless, Chikara never ceases to push the envelope of creativity, providing a true alternative in every sense of the word. Quite simply put, no other wrestling company in North America is anything like Chikara. There are dozens of companies where you can get great workrate in 2008 and literally thousands of DVDs avaliable on the internet and now in retailers, but none truly have the innocent comic book characters and scientific workrate that Chikara includes in their package. You can catch Claudio, Kingston, and Hero on many other indy promotions, but guys like Shane Storm, Los Ice Creams, Icarus, The Colony, and Mike Quackenbush find Chikara as their home. So if you’re looking for something totally different in your wrestling that you won’t get from the big three, Best of Chikara is certainly worth it, but if you’re unfamiliar with the product – you may need a translator.