Mike Quackenbush gets the upper hand on Buck Hawke from the December12 CHIKARA show in Easton PA. Photo courtesy Lyle C. Williams.
As the saying goes, "Nothing in life is certain except Death and Taxes." A third thing is that one or twice a year, we're going to a sit-down interview with CHIKARA founder "Lightning" Mike Quackenbush. This time, it's a look back at an adventurous 2008 CHIKARA season, which saw the company run shows around the world and a look ahead to the start of their upcoming eighth campaign. This interview was conducted via email in early January 2009.
Q: How would you category 2008 for CHIKARA, both as a company and as a
product? It was undoubtedly your biggest year, but was it also your "best"
year (however you would rate that)?
A: I think when the book is closed on CHIKARA, people will look back on
Season 7 as a real high point for us. We've really shown the diversity of our
performers, the diversity of our brand, and we've brought a whole new type of
storytelling to the table that no other American wrestling company has ever
come close to touching. Creatively, it was a real success, even if our
accountant has contrary feelings on the matter.
Q: With a number of trips to New England, the Midwest tour and Tag World
Grand Prix in Germany, CHIKARA did a lot of expanding. How would you judge
running out-of-market in 2008?
A: The out-of-market experiments, by and large, were not successful. As a
result, it is fair to assume there will be less experiments along those lines in 2009.
Q: You went through a number of venue changes in 2008, losing Hellertown
(which some would say was CHIKARA's best-ever venue), gaining Easton and
now apparently losing Framingham. Have you scouted a new Boston-area
location for 2009? Might there be any new Pennsylvania venues coming up?
A: No and No.
Q: 2008 saw a number of "theme" shows for CHIKARA, including King of Trios,
Loteria Lethal and the return of Tag World Grand Prix. Will we continue to see
these types of events in 2009?
A: I think we've cultivated a fun group of sign-post events over the years,
from the Young Lions Cup (which began back in 2002) to the Global Gauntlet we
introduced just a few months ago. Some might get put away in the creative
attic for a while until we're ready to dust them off again, but for the most
part, I think you'll see the same amount from year to year.
Q: Tangentially, 2008 saw CHIKARA's first cage match and 2009 will see its
first ladder match. Can we look forward to more "first time" stipulations
A: I think you can always count on us to defy expectations and deliver
pleasant surprises. Apart from that, who can say?
Q: You just announced King of Trios for 2009 and it's a smaller version than in
2008. Was this an economic decision mainly or do you think the tournament
last year might have been a little too big, with all the participants?
A: The decision was purely financial. The two biggest measurable jumps
CHIKARA has ever made in terms of notoriety are directly tied to the first
giant-sized Tag World Grand Prix (in 2005) and the first giant-sized King of Trios
(last year). So I wouldn't say "too big." That sort of thing, to many fans, is
our calling card.
Q: One of the highlights of the CHIKARA calendar year in 2008 was the Fan Conclave
held during King of Trios weekend. Is this likely to return in 2009, either at KOT
or some other point during the year?
A: This was just finalized. There will be one this calendar year, and it will be free
admission for members of the CHIKARMY. We're working on the details
and the regular admission price this month.
Q: Another highlight, particularly for the long-time CHIKARA fans, was the
"legends" Battle Royale in Easton. Could this become an annual tradition
or is there a danger of mining nostalgia once too often? As entertaining as
the match was, there were certainly people who weren't in it that many
people were hoping to see come back for the match.
A: Wow, even in a business where the prosaic is often described as
"phenomenal," that might be the most liberal application of the term "legend"
ever. That being said, we don't exactly ignore our past. We tend to celebrate it.
With due modesty. Our retired performers have all retired with good reason, and
none are in a position to entertain the idea of a comeback, no matter who
"clamors" for it.
Q: There are shows this year in January and February, months that used to
be part of CHIKARA's off-season. What made you decide to run shows this
year and not take the time off?
A: The consensus is that we have really built a great deal of momentum
throughout Season 7, and there was some question as to whether or not we might
lose that momentum with our traditional holiday break. You can see which side
won that debate.
Q: There were some old faces that left CHIKARA during 2008 and some new ones
that debuted. A fluid roster is always going to be part of the wrestling business.
re there any roster change in 2008 that pleased or saddened you more than another?
A: I'm very glad to have my friend Jigsaw back at my side, obviously. We have a great
chemistry together, and I think if not for a terrible concussion that derailed our
momentum in Ring of Honor a year or so back, more people would have had the chance
to see that firsthand.
Over the last 2 years, our roster has really been galvanized into the strongest core
crew we've ever had. There have been people on the CHIKARA roster that really
weren't team players, and now, in January of 2009, you don't see those people on
our roster pages any more. If you want to put forth the kind of cutting edge product that
we do, if you want to take the challenge of shattering the status quo in independent
wrestling seriously, if you want to show real character evolution, real transformation,
and do it with a continuity and style that is typically reserved for broadcast or print
mediums, you need a group of people that understand the value in being a team player
to do it. I travel up and down the independents, not just in the US, but everywhere,
and I'm entirely sincere when I tell you that I am part of the best crew working today,
and that crew only comes together under the banner of CHIKARA.
Q: CHIKARA made some waves today [January 5] with the announcement of
a new ticket structure, taking effect at King of Trios. A number of people have said
they have no problem with the increase in prices (given the economy the way it is),
but felt that they bought/renewed their CHIKARMY card under the assumption
that things would continue under the old system. Should the new price structure
have been announced before the CHIKARMY renewals, so people knew what they
were buying? Or did this decision come after the renewal period had begun?
A: To be frank, the number of complaints we've received about this is two, as
far as I know. Two out of 107 members of the fan club. And all the renewal
members have been given the option of a refund if they feel put out by the
change in ticket prices. Things change rapidly in our business. Sometimes you
have to be able to make lemonade from the lemons life serves you. If you look at
our track record, CHIKARA practically specializes in that.
Q: CHIKARA has always been known as a fan-friendly promotion that has
avoided being lumped in with notoriously "indy sleaze" companies that seem
to gouge their fans for every last dollar. Again, a small promotion like CHIKARA
needs to do what it has to in this economy, but are you worried that people might
see the company as stooping to the level of those other companies?
A: What sets us apart from these other companies, is that we always do right
by our fans. It's that simple. Independent wrestling is a strange universe,
wherein you might find companies drowning in their own stupidity, mired in
ignorance, clinging fast to outdated precepts and obsolete rhetoric, or in the
middle of an unending "con" on the dumb marks of the world. But CHIKARA is not
one of those companies. The very suggestion of it is rather irritating to me, honestly.
One thing we do not usually discuss publicly is the work we do, and have
done since 2003, with dozens of non-profit organizations. Even today,
CHIKARA makes donations on a monthly basis to 19 non-profit organizations that help
the mentally and physically handicapped, as well as disadvantaged children,
in all the communities where we regularly perform - Philadelphia, Easton, and
to a lesser extent these days, Reading. The way our company is incorporated,
we don't even see a tax benefit from doing this. Whether the economy is good
or bad, we do it every month, and have, for more than six years.
Some groups think they should milk this type of charity every chance they get -
they splash it all over their press releases, some even make TV specials about it to
toot their own horns and pound their chests for all to witness. That's not us. We don't do
it to be thanked, we don't do it to "babyface" ourselves. The positive changes we
bring about - in our communities, and in the influence we are having on the wrestling
industry - occur quietly. Anyone who really sees CHIKARA for what it is, and what it
does, would find it laughable that we'd be "stooping to the level of those other companies,"
or deserving of the label "sleaze."
CHIKARA Pro Wrestling returns to action January 25 in Philadelphia,February 20
in Reading PA and February 21 in Easton PA. For ticket information,check out
www.chikarapro.com. For CHIKARA talk, head to www.chikarafans.com.