American Legion Hall, Hellertown, Pennsylvania, United States
Before anything else, I sadly have to announce that this is the last Chikara show in the American Legion Hall sometimes affectionately known as the Hellertown Starlanes. It’s been their primary venue since their expansion in 2005 but now they’re beginning to outgrow it, as they’ll soon transition to a larger, somewhat similar building in Easton when they’re not touring around the world. With its unique layout, good lighting, and intimate atmosphere, this place in Hellertown was perfectly suited to Chikara shows and I think of it as among the best indie wrestling venues ever, right up there with Korakuen, the Rex Plex, the Markthalle, Fete Music, and the recently-demolished Reseda Legion Hall. Real sad to see it go but I’m glad it went out on one of the best matches in Chikara history.
Da Soul Touchaz open up the show with a promo in the back. C-Red says they don’t fare so well in Young Lions Cup but they’ve got one match left this weekend and they’re finna touch some souls and do what they do best.
Da Soul Touchaz (Willie Richardson, Acid Jaz, & Marshe Rockett) vs The Fabulous Three (Larry Sweeney, Mitch Ryder, & Shayne Hawke)
Big silly opener that makes the best use of these characters. The rudos cry foul at every little thing, the Soul Touchaz milk the crowd for what they’re worth, and eventually the Three are able to control the pace of the match by way of all sorts of dirty tricks. Everybody’s constantly running their mouth much to the delight of the Hellertown faithful. The shtick wears a little thin toward the end but they do well to go for the finish soon thereafter. Jaz, nicknamed “Hot Chocolate”, carries a box of Swiss Miss to the ring with him and often uses the powder in his matches. Mitch sees it coming and ducks out of the way when Jaz runs over, meaning that Hawke is treated to a faceful of the stuff instead. The veteran attends to his young partner, leaving Sweeney alone in the ring with three opponents, and unsurprisingly he soon falls victim to Willie’s signature top rope legdrop.
Hawke immediately begins pointing to Sweeney, looking to avoid taking the blame for another Fabulous Three loss. Exhausted in more ways than one, Mitch grabs a mic and asks what Sweeney’s problem is. Sweeney cites being legdropped by a 500 pound gorilla as probable cause for the loss and Mitch murmurs that it’s always something with him. Legdrop this week, body slam last week, small package the week before. Him and Hawke just earned themselves a shot at the tag titles but the only time they’re coming up on the short end of the stick is when they’re teaming with Sweeney. Mitch confesses that he’s not the sharpest knife in the drawer but deductive reasoning has proven one thing and it’s that Larry Sweeney is a loser.
Sweeney again gets a big babyface reaction but it’s clear that things aren’t over between the former Fabulous Three.
Jimmy Olsen vs Lince Dorado
Lovely little sprint here. Lince tries to apply his highflying skills to get ahead but Jimmy’s got an answer for everything on top of some heavy hands. Eventually the masked man’s able to make a break but he can’t control the match the way Jimmy is able to, resulting in a back-and-forth affair. Looks like Lince’s got it made when he’s able to transition from a standing Spanish fly into an Anaconda Vise but Jimmy chucks referee Bryce Remsburg out of the way, yanks off Lince’s mask, and cradles him in as he covers his face instinctively to steal the victory.
Bryce finds the mask afterward but Jimmy hightails it out of there before he can do anything about it, clearly torn about his actions.
Continuing the bad vibes, Mike Quackenbush heads to the ring to explain what went down yesterday between him and Shane Storm:
So, long story short, Quack found out that Storm had sold out the tecnicos and their reversal to the Chikara Special and couldn’t stop himself from seeking revenge. One way or another, whether it’s in the ring or at his house, Quack’s gonna get an explanation.
F.I.S.T. (Icarus, Gran Akuma, & Chuck Taylor) vs Ultimo Breakfast, Steve “the Turtle” Weiner, & Sami Callihan
What a group this tecnico team is, good lord. They overstay their welcome a bit here but this is still a fun, fast-moving match for the most part. Callihan plays ball with the Chikararific goofs and makes sure to throw some hands and take some huge bumps when he gets the chance. Breakfast feels the brunt of F.I.S.T.’s assault, which is a fair bit more effective here than in recent months. Weiner gets the hot tag and runs wild with pointed use of his shell and a few clotheslines (which he calls Weinerliners, bless his heart) while Akuma and Callihan really murdalize each other with all sorts of strikes but it’s a big F.I.S.T. flurry culminating with the Falcon Arrow that ends it.
In the back, Tim Donst scolds UltraMantis Black for falling for the plan Quack cooked up. He’s back to being the All American athlete everyone knows and loves after two months of feeling like the lion tamer trapped in the cage. Still, he earned himself a title shot, forged a friendship with Hydra, and learned a few new tricks along the way, so after he wins the Campeonatos de Parejas he’s coming back for the man who dropped him on his head.
Tim Donst vs Ethan Page
Man, Donst is facing all sorts of AIW regulars this weekend. Next it’ll be a surprise match with Josh Prohibition. This one’s alright, playing to Donst’s renewed popularity and Page’s abilities as a stooge heel along with a slow motion spot I wouldn’t have expected from the Canadian. It’s nothing remarkable but it’s perfectly acceptable midcard fodder. Hydra is in Donst’s corner here, which warms my heart to no end, but before too long UltraMantis Black storms out and drags him to the back.
YOU CAN’T COME BETWEEN THEIR LOVE, MANTIS. LOVE TRUMPS HATE. Donst wins with a fireman’s carry slam, which quickly becomes known as the Donstitution.
The Osirian Portal (Amasis & Ophidian) vs Sweet n’ Sour, Inc. (Sara Del Rey & Bobby Dempsey)
The Portal don’t take these opponents seriously but before long SDR and Dempsey prove their worth, both as wrestlers and as dancers. The masked men are speedy and slippery but the SNSI team bring a level of firepower the rookies can’t match, stopping them in their tracks whenever they find an opening. Ophidian pulls a neat trick in escaping SDR’s Royal Butterfly by way of the Ophidian Death Grip but he’s no match for Dempsey’s size when the big man comes crashing down on him with a seated senton. Against all odds, two points for our intergender duo!
Eddie Kingston vs Soldier Ant
Awesome, awesome match, delivering exactly what you want from these two guys. Kingston beats the snot out of his man, throwing all manner of chops, forearms, and slaps that echo across the entire city of Hellertown. Soldier Ant stays with him every step of the way even if he’s pretty far out of his depth, throwing hands when he can and relying on bits of highflying and grappling when he needs to. This isn’t quite as brutal as Kingston’s best beatdowns from 2008 but I’d say it’s structured better and doesn’t suffer from any dips in the action. Those lulls are part of what made Shane Storm’s comebacks work so well back in January but this match hums along at a pace I prefer without sacrificing much—if any—intensity. Kingston applies the same submission that choked out Storm last time around and when Soldier Ant makes it to the ropes to break it up, he just lays him out with the spinning backfist instead.
HOW DOES THIS COMPARE TO SHAWN MICHAELS VS THE UNDERTAKER FROM WRESTLEMANIA 25: Easy choice here. One of these matches is a perfectly paced, hard-hitting match that makes no real mistakes in playing to the strengths of these performers. The other is Shawn/Taker.
VERDICT: Better than Shawn Michaels vs The Undertaker from WrestleMania 25
Backstage, Brodie Lee’s stewing about Claudio Castagnoli. He says Drake Younger’s getting caught in the wrong place at the wrong time.
Brodie Lee vs Drake Younger
Drake dashes to the ring and they go right at it, initiating one of the best little bangers Chikara’s ever seen. Brodie’s huge and all but Drake’s tubby, well-meaning, and eh doesn’t afraid of anything so I know who to cheer. Cheering don’t stop Drake from being killed, though:
He manages to keep trucking after that somehow, showing off his incredible skill at believably firing up after big offense, but when Brodie slips free of the Vertebreaker a massive boot to the face sends the lovable Hoosier down.
HOW DOES THIS COMPARE TO SHAWN MICHAELS VS THE UNDERTAKER FROM WRESTLEMANIA 25: Listen man, I think quite highly of short, effective matches wherein people wallop the holy hell out of each other. I like ‘em even better when they feature the most endearing, eye-grabbing babyfaces around. That’s just what this match has. A match that I find to be messy and off-putting simply can’t compare to something as perfectly condensed as this.
VERDICT: Better than Shawn Michaels vs The Undertaker from WrestleMania 25
BIG “please come back!” chants for my man afterward and blessedly this is not his last weekend in Chikara.
The adorable Super Smash Bros. chuckle about some stuff backstage before declaring that all their previous tag matches in Chikara were training for their eventual Campeonatos de Parejas push. Tonight they finally earn their first point.
Super Smash Bros. (Player Uno & Stupefied) vs Incoherence (Delirious & Hallowicked)
This one opens with a pretty famous sequence of video game bits:
The goofs continue for a while but from there they actually build into quite a good tag match, probably the best Incoherence has had since becoming champs. SSB take advantage of Delirious tweaking his ankle at some point, really controlling the pace of a match for the first time in their Chikara career. Hallowicked manages to make a hot tag eventually but there’s only so much he can do on his own when his frantic partner has been painfully slowed. It’s only by taking advantage of some brief squabbling that Hallowicked can turn the tables by turning the Bros. on each other, shoving Stu into Uno before laying out the highflyer with a yakuza kick, softening up Uno with the Rydeen Bomb, and tossing him to Delirious for the Chemical Imbalance II. Great stuff.
This is a big match so Fire Ant busts out a new look here, debuting a bright orange version of his gear as well as new theme music, Asia’s “Heat of the Moment”. Vin Gerard’s still got the duds he debuted six months ago, which probably haven’t been washed since.
Vin Gerard vs Fire Ant
Young Lions Cup VI Finals for the Young Lions Cup (vacant)
A lot of people think of this as the best match in Chikara history. I’d put it closer to third- or fourth-best myself but I totally know where those folks are coming from with their appreciation of this thing. In so many ways this is the best possible version of a typical Chikara match, highlighting the tropes and values that have come to define this promotion over the years and doing so in a way that is utterly unforgettable.
For starters, this match accomplishes that by pitting these two specific guys against each other. Fire Ant and Vin Gerard are arguably the most popular tecnico and most hated rudo in the company, respectively, but I think it goes even deeper than that. As his name suggests, Fire Ant is a real energetic, passionate young guy, someone you’re naturally drawn to cheering despite never seeing his face or hearing his voice. Even after matches from his fellow ants and Drake Younger, he delivers the most fiery performance of the night, getting these people on their feet simply by refusing to go down to anything Vin Gerard throws at him. Vin, too, is perfectly suited for this situation. In this, the peak of his career, he’s the biggest villain Chikara’s ever seen. He’s not funny in the way Larry Sweeney or UltraMantis Black often are. The fans can’t get under his skin like they have with Icarus or Chris Hero. Depending on how you want to look at it, his origin story or whatever of pretending to be a luchador is either actively antagonistic toward everything Chikara stands for or bitterly emblematic of their misguided appropriation. In being so despicable on so many levels, Gerard is unlike any rudo Chikara’s ever had before. Everyone in this building wants to see him get beat and everyone wants to see Fire Ant be the one to beat him.
Structurally, they also succeed in ramping up your usual Chikara singles match in a huge way. They start hot and stay hot, playing perfectly to the intimate nature of this amazing venue as well as the people who simply had to be here on its last night. They keep this fairly short at 15 and a half minutes and don’t make the mistake of trying to overstuff that brief timeframe, giving a few big spots plenty of time to breathe before building to a crescendo. They make use of a few big moves from Gerard’s personal history without getting all maudlin about it. They keep things moving at a good pace the whole time, never losing momentum and never really dropping the ball on any particular spot. There’s a gif of this match that makes the rounds on Twitter every once in a while of Gerard firing up out of a burning hammer and I don’t love that (nor do I care for people using that move in general) but it’s literally the last spot of the match and I think it works perfectly fine in the moment.
And that’s sort of the key thing here, as well as the key thing about a lot of big Chikara matches. As the man’s theme implies, it’s about the heat of the moment. Chikara does such a great job of crafting these shows that are breezy and earnest and magnetic and it’s what allows people to so wholly invest themselves in these clunky students doing goofy spots as part of these convoluted storylines. When you’re hip-deep in a high stakes main event and you’ve been having a great time with all your friends watching this show full of kooky characters that you like, you don’t care so much that some guy is no-selling this move that probably shouldn’t have been done in the first place. You care about the feeling you’ve got because of everything leading up to that moment. You care about the good guy coming out on top because it’s something that the rest of the world doesn’t give you. You care about taking all of this in with the few dozen people who are just as crazy as you are and in the same ways.
There’s this moment late in this match, when all the masked tecnicos are celebrating Fire Ant having beaten the referee’s count after Gerard left him to crawl back to the ring following an STF on the floor. As the crowd is losing it and the good guys are cheering on their man and the rudo is furiously pacing around the ring, Worker Ant shouts this innocuous little phrase that I’m sure he meant nothing special by: “You can’t beat us, Vin Gerard.” I think us is the key word there. Above all else, Chikara’s greatest success is in establishing something that is intimate, that is personal, that is inclusive, that doesn’t challenge your gender performance or your knowledge of this insular community or whatever else. It’s not like the rest of the wrestling world that is constantly, needlessly, unabashedly malicious. Chikara is far, far, far from perfect but goddamn man, I think it’s better than most everything else out there. In its best moments, it’s a place where people like me can feel like they belong as opposed to someplace where they’re just passing for something they’re not.
Doing this series of reviews over the last few years—and particularly in revisiting these matches from guys like the Colony and Hydra—I’ve come to understand more and more why I gravitated to this promotion so much as a deeply closeted teenager ten years ago. The thing I love about these goofy ants and scrawny sea creatures is that they’re so sincere in everything they do. They show affection for one another without couching it in a dozen layers of irony and thinly-veiled homophobia. Whether I realized it or not, Chikara became a place where I could watch people care about each other and I could openly care about that without being ridiculed or alienated or attacked.
When Worker Ant says you can’t beat us, it doesn’t feel like he’s just talking about the guys in spandex standing around the ring. It feels like he’s talking about me, the me I wanted to be when I was 16, the me I’ve now grown to be at 26. Thank God matches like this gave me the opportunity to be that, if only for a few moments at a time.
HOW DOES THIS COMPARE TO SHAWN MICHAELS VS THE UNDERTAKER FROM WRESTLEMANIA 25: Come on.
VERDICT: Better than Shawn Michaels vs The Undertaker from WrestleMania 25