Everybody has a different story about the first wrestling shows they ever watched, along with how they went on to discover different wrestling products later on as their fandom grew. Of course, it’s something that’s very much dependent on the time period that you started watching wrestling. A person who saw their first wrestling events during the age of the territories or during the rise of the WWF and Hulkamania will have a different experience from someone whose first exposure to pro-wrestling was in the 1990s when wrestling in the United States went through a major boom period. Everyone’s entry into the world of pro-wrestling and how their fandom gets shaped from there, changes from era to era.

I started watching pro wrestling in 2004 when I was ten years old, which means that I’m firmly in the generation of fans that started watching in the years immediately following the end of the Monday Night Wars and the closure of WCW. At that point, WWE was the only promotion that was easily accessible on television. As I became more interested in wrestling, I slowly started to discover more and more promotions over time. In late 2006, I discovered TNA on Spike TV (mainly thanks to kids that I sat with during lunch in middle school talking about Kurt Angle making the jump), and then in 2009, I discovered ROH on HDNet (I don’t believe I would’ve stumbled upon ROH when I did had my family not had DirecTV, which was the only service that carried that channel). While I’m sure there are exceptions to the rule, I believe that most people who started following wrestling around the same time that I did went down a similar path of discovery, where they started with WWE, and then later found TNA, then ROH, and so on and so forth. From there, I would say that my next stage of pro-wrestling discovery occurred in 2011 and 2012, when I became aware of three more promotions that (at the time) were part of that next level down from ROH….Dragon Gate USA/EVOLVE (the Gabe-verse, essentially), PWG, and a little promotion known as CHIKARA.

The first time I really heard about CHIKARA was in late 2011, right around the time of the High Noon iPPV, which was (of course) a major event in CHIKARA’s history. Not only was it the promotion’s first live iPPV, but it also featured a huge main event, which saw Eddie Kingston defeat Mike Quackenbush to become the first CHIKARA Grand Champion (I specifically remember seeing YouTubers like Truthslayer talking about the show at the time). I then got further exposure to CHIKARA in 2012, when they started a partnership with Ring of Honor that would last for most of that year. Now I had become a little familiar with a few of the CHIKARA names that I was seeing at this point, as some of them had worked matches for ROH in the past, and I got to see them on some of the ROH DVDs I had picked up by this point (guys like Jigsaw, Eddie Kingston, Mike Quackenbush, and Hallowicked). However, seeing them again in 2012 in ROH was the push I needed to give CHIKARA a shot. At the first ROH show I saw in person, the 10th Anniversary Show in the Hammerstein Ballroom, getting to see The Colony hit some huge dives (at the tail end of an Eddie Kingston/Kevin Steen segment that had predictably gone south) was so cool, and getting to watch guys like UltraMantis Black, Ophidian, and Los Ice Creams make appearances on ROH TV was pretty wild.

Looking back on it with the benefit of hindsight, I became attracted to CHIKARA in 2012 because I became so attracted to the original incarnation of NWA Powerrr over seven years later. It was a product that was totally different from anything else I was watching or following at that point. While that first run NWA Powerrr in 2019 gave us a throwback to studio wrestling (something that nobody else was doing in the United States scene at that time), CHIKARA in 2012 had all sorts of colorful characters, along with storytelling that borrowed a lot from comic books (which I thought was pretty cool as an eighteen-year-old that was on the verge of graduating high school), and….of course….a very solid wrestling product which had a very unique overall style. It was completely different from what I was getting in WWE, TNA, and ROH, which I appreciated. Now was CHIKARA the type of promotion that would shoot up to the top of my list, in terms of being the one I paid the most attention to? No, because while I did like CHIKARA on the whole, it was mainly a nice diversion from the promotions I was primarily focused on. I felt the same way about NWA Powerrr during that aforementioned first run. It was a nice diversion from AEW, ROH, and New Japan, but I was never going to divert more time to the NWA over those other promotions.

That being said, I did start to pick up some CHIKARA DVDs in 2012….primarily shows that involved ROH talent or were connected to ROH in some way (like the show that ran in the Frontier Fieldhouse in Chicago Ridge the same day as ROH, or the Cibernetico event from later that year which had a HEAVY presence of ROH guys). Unfortunately, this was also around the time that some….weird stuff started happening in CHIKARA from a storyline standpoint (mainly revolving around the then-Director Of Fun Wink Vavasseur). All of this culminated with the now-infamous Aniversario: Never Compromise iPPV in June 2013, which saw the end of the main event for the CHIKARA Grand Championship between Eddie Kingston and Icarus….who was now a tecnico after being one of the biggest rudos in CHIKARA for many years….cut short just before the finish by Condor Security, on the instruction of Wink Vavasseur (this coming after former CHIKARA referee Derek Sabato had come out a little earlier in the night and released some “damaging” information about Wink, his family, and Titor Conglomerate…the company that, in storyline, controlled CHIKARA). This was followed by the scenes of Condor Security dragging away the wrestlers in the match and the referee, forcing all of the fans to leave the building, and completely tearing down the set. The chaos even led to a fan breaking one of the glass doors at the Trocadero (the venue in Philadelphia where the show was taking place) after being kicked out by Condor Security.

CHIKARA Shutdown

Now at the time, I had absolutely no idea what to make of all this. I remember hearing rumors about the company possibly shutting down in the days leading up to the event, but I would’ve never guessed what ended up happening. It was definitely one of the strangest things that I had ever seen in my (at that point) nine years as a wrestling fan. A shutdown angle that was complete with fake dates for the second half of the year that never came to pass (including a show in Reseda, California). It was so bizarre….yet I was intrigued enough by it that I kept up on the angle and followed it from afar. I didn’t participate in any of the super hardcore elements of the angle….like that scavenger hunt or the one pop-up wrestling show they did in a park that ended with one of the wrestlers getting kidnapped (I did not make that up). I remember reading an absolutely massive PDF (which is still available to read, by the way)that a fan put together which went into great detail on all of the elements of the storyline and the theories behind everything that had happened. While I was no stranger to some of the more fantastical elements of the CHIKARA universe (I knew enough about mystical items like the Eye Of Tyr and understood the Archibald Peck time travel story well enough), but reading through some of the stuff in that document was a whole different level of CHIKARA lore.

When I started following CHIKARA, I also discovered the various “Wrestling Is” promotions, which were splinter promotions that presented the same type of wrestling we saw in CHIKARA, but on a much smaller scale. When you put all of their names together, they did spell out CHIKARA (Cool, Heart, Intense, Art, Respect, and Awesome…with Wrestling Is Fun! being an exclamation point at the end while Kaiju Big Battel was supposedly meant to be the K), and after the shutdown angle, they served as a sort of refuge for a lot of the CHIKARA talent. I honestly have no idea how I discovered them, but I ended up watching a lot of shows from most of these promotions (I believe Heart and Intense were the only ones I never actually saw). Now I know that the Wrestling Is promotions garnered a bad reputation, some of which was deserved (I know our own Rich Kraetsch talked about this a bit in his CHIKARA piece on the Flagship Patreon), but some of the shows were relatively solid wrestling events. I found Art and Respect to be the two that generally had the best in-ring, mainly because they booked a lot of very good talents (such as AR Fox, Colt Cabana, Chuck Taylor, Drew Gulak, and Biff Busick under the name of Frank O’Rourke), along with the better in-ring talents from the regular CHIKARA roster at that point. Wrestling Is Fun! was the one that was the closest to regular CHIKARA, and Wrestling Is Cool had its fair share of interesting matches….including The Osirian Portal vs. two SUPER young British wrestlers named Mark Andrews and Pete Dunne (believe it or not, the very first time I saw a match from those two was on a Wrestling Is Cool show that took place in Deptford, New Jersey, in front of maybe fifty people….max).

Eventually, all of those Wrestling Is promotions were shut down by various villainous groups (the one that always stands out is the GEKIDO group killing off Darkness Crabtree on a Wrestling Is Intense show in Carbondale, Illinois, in front of an audience of MAYBE ten people, which was very funny), and everything culminated in a big angle at National Pro Wrestling Day 2014, where the forces of CHIKARA….including Archibald Peck, who made his grand return along with 3.0 in a Delorean….finally united and won their first fight against the group that became known as The Flood (which featured Jimmy Jacobs as a main figurehead). I’m not going to lie….watching this angle in real time excited me for CHIKARA’s return. The angle obviously excited a lot of its fanbase, as it led to a huge crowd for their official return show a few months later.

I should mention as well that at some point during the shutdown, I signed up for something related to angle (maybe it was a petition put out by Icarus, I don’t remember) that, once the CHIKARA return was announced, resulted in me getting sent a care package that included, among other things, a random CHIKARA T-shirt that featured the logo of one of the wrestlers (in my case it was Amasis, and it’s a shirt I still use occasionally as a gym shirt), and a signed note from Bryce Remsburg, which was….kinda cool.

I kept close tabs on CHIKARA for the rest of 2014. This several-month period followed the forces of CHIKARA as they battled The Flood and their new leader….a very tall guy by the name of Deucalian. He would come out to the ring wearing a mask very much inspired by the Batman villain Bane, and he had the ability to (and I kid you not) kill off other wrestlers with a choke breaker (he used this move to kill off several wrestlers in CHIKARA’s canon, including Archibald Peck if I recall correctly). During this time, I also discovered Voices of Wrestling and, more specifically, The Flagship Podcast. Ironically, one of the very first episodes I ever listened to featured Rich and Joe burying the 2014 King Of Trios lineup (can’t say they were wrong!). I watched the 2014 season finale in December, and while I still kept an eye on CHIKARA here and there, my desire to follow the promotion started to fade. They would occasionally catch my attention with some noteworthy matches or big names they would bring in (the 2015 King Of Trios comes to mind, with the AJ Styles and Young Bucks team from BULLET CLUB facing the AAA/Lucha Underground trio of Aerostar, Drago, and Fenix), but for the most part, my attention slowly shifted elsewhere.

It was really the culmination of A LOT of different things, such as me getting into New Japan, ROH picking up a lot of steam in 2014-2015 (which was partially fueled by the New Japan partnership), PWG continuing to raise the bar, the arrival of Lucha Underground, EVOLVE going through the next stage of its….um….evolution (pun not intended), and the independent scene in the UK and Europe gaining a lot of traction. Within WWE, you also had the rise of NXT, which had garnered so much praise for their TakeOver specials that they started moving them to areas (and for the next few years, the TakeOver specials would become the safest bets in all of wrestling). So to put it simply, during the time of the shutdown angle and then the next year or so after CHIKARA’s return, the wrestling world outside of main roster WWE had gotten so exciting and so interesting to follow (most of it in a good way, though TNA’s trials and tribulations through the mid-2010s as they scratched and clawed for their very survival was too fascinating to not pay attention to). CHIKARA still could occasionally catch the attention of myself and others, but for the most part, they had gotten lost in the shuffle.

Another aspect of my shift away from CHIKARA was the fact that it….just didn’t feel like classic CHIKARA. While I wasn’t a longtime fan (again….I didn’t even know about CHIKARA until 2011), the magic that was still there from the classic era of the promotion had begun to fade not too long after I started paying attention to them on a regular basis. I could also tell that the promotion just wasn’t the same based on what others (who had been there during the golden years of CHIKARA) had said. I’ll once again direct you to Rich Kraetsch’s article on The Flagship Patreon, where he talks about that more in-depth. I did get the chance to go to a CHIKARA show in 2018, when they ran an event in the Poconos, which was about a forty-five-minute drive from where I live (I figured, hey, it’s close enough, so why not?). I enjoyed the fact that I got to check CHIKARA off the list of promotions that I had gotten to see live, and it was cool seeing some of the classic CHIKARA characters that I was familiar with (Fire Ant, Mike Quackenbush, Dasher Hatfield, Hallowicked, among others), the rest of the roster….didn’t really bring that same type of excitement. It was a roster full of Wrestle Factory trainees with horribly cartoonish gimmicks that didn’t have nearly the same charm as the classic CHIKARA guys, or independent wrestlers that just didn’t capture the imagination in any way. Don’t get me wrong, I don’t regret going at all. It was fun to experience CHIKARA at least once….it just wasn’t the same CHIKARA that grabbed my attention several years earlier.

The tenth anniversary of the CHIKARA shutdown angle brought back a ton of memories (as anniversaries that end in a zero or five often do) from the time that I watched the promotion, and the glory days that I missed in real-time. Part of me wishes that I was born five years earlier, as maybe I would’ve been able to discover CHIKARA right in the middle of its peak. It was truly a unique company that delivered something totally different compared to everything else that was happening on the independents at that time. Once I discovered CHIKARA (again, relatively late in the game), it didn’t take me long to understand what made it so special. I just know that, from the last year/year-and-a-half of the original run that I experienced, I would’ve LOVED to have watched CHIKARA when it was at its best, in real-time. Would I still have been primarily attracted to ROH? Yes. Would I have fallen in love with Dragon Gate USA had I discovered it around the time of its launch? Probably. Would I have still dabbled with the occasional CZW show like I did in 2013/2014? Most likely. CHIKARA presented a wrestling product unlike anything else we had seen on the American independent scene….and we’ll likely never see anything like it again. The closest we got to that was Lucha Underground (which I saw jokingly referred to by some as CHIKARA West), though it was much grittier and flamed out much quicker than CHIKARA did after reaching its peak. When CHIKARA did come back, it still had some elements of what made its original run so much fun, but as we got further and further removed from the return, that magic that was left over from the original CHIKARA gradually faded away.

CHIKARA officially died in the summer of 2020 after allegations against Mike Quackenbush during the Speaking Out movement led to him shuttering the promotion for good. However, the CHIKARA that most of us knew really died on that fateful evening in June of 2013 inside the Trocadero in Philadelphia. Much like ECW, CHIKARA was very much a “time and place” promotion that had the right mix of ingredients that just made it work (an underrated ingredient was having an incredible combination of great independent wrestlers and super talented trainees from the Wrestle Factory that were given gimmicks and personas that only they could make work). The 2000s and early 2010s were the only time in history that the CHIKARA that we remember fondly could have existed, just like the 1990s was the only period in which the ECW that so many people loved could have thrived. Ironically, both companies would run into similar problems when their respective rebirths took place (ECW was officially revived as a third brand by WWE in 2006 after the success of the One Night Stand event in 2005). Some of the magic was still there, but it soon faded over time until it reached the point where it was almost an entirely different entity. WWE’s ECW still had some of its original names, much like CHIKARA did, but it simply wasn’t the same.

There’s no denying that the angle at the end of Aniversario: Never Compromise was one of the most memorable angles in the history of modern independent wrestling. The fact that it’s still talked about ten years later is a testament to that.

Would CHIKARA be remembered much more fondly had it actually died in 2013 and never returned? It’s a fascinating question to ponder, but that doesn’t change the fact that it did come back, and unfortunately, it was never able to truly recapture the mojo that made it work for nearly eleven years.