Wednesday, December 10, 2014

2014 Year in Review/2015 Year in Preview: Chikara

The Titan and his prisoners of war
Photo Credit: Scott Finkelstein
It begins!

Promotion: Chikara

What Happened in 2014: Chikara had not yet come back into existence when 2014 started; furthermore, of the Wrestling Is... family of promotions, only half were left standing: Heart, Kaiju Big Battel, Respect, and Fun! Wrestling Is Fun! experienced an onslaught early on in the year, but thanks to a bat-wielding Icarus and a roster at his back, the forces were turned back. However, Wrestling Is Respect did not turn out as lucky, as the assembled groups that wanted Chikara eradicated for good spoke to Sidney Bakabella with money louder than the loyalist forces spoke with words. The Devastation Corporation, Oleg the Usurper, and Jaka interrupted the final main event and claimed the Elk's Lodge for the forces of evil. As National Pro Wrestling Day in Easton approached, things looked dim for the survivors of the Chikaraverse.

As fate would have it, the Wrestling Is Heart La Copa Idolo match between Joe Pittman and Heidi Lovelace appeared to be the final match on the card, and as Lovelace locked the Chikara Special in for the apparent win, everyone who had shut down a Wrestling Is... promotion in the past - the Gekido, the BDK, Sinn Bodhi and his goons, the Wrecking Crew, and Dr. Cube's Laboratory - all filtered in led by three men in plague masks, the leader of which was none other than Jimmy Jacobs. They rushed the ring and shut down Wrestling Is Heart for good before promising to squelch the last burning ashes of Chikara's spirit. Then, from the entrance diagonal to where the rogues entered, The Submission Squad announced that the only way Chikara was being shut down was over their dead bodies. Their rallying call brought out Icarus, and with those five wrestlers leading the charge, the entire locker room spilled out to beat back the villains and proclaim the company to be back in business. The return date was set for Memorial Day weekend, but the victory wasn't conclusive.

A new Grand Champion
Photo Credit: Scott Finkelstein
While Chikara would reopen, the forces of evil looking to keep them closed gave themselves a name, The Flood, and looked to finish the job they started when the Gekido closed Wrestling Is Intense. Jacobs promised a fearsome leader above him who would personally destroy each fighter, one by one. After Icarus finished the job he started back at Aniversario: Never Compromise by beating Eddie Kingston for the Grand Championship, that leader, a mammoth piece of solid granite with Bane headgear known as Deucalion, emerged and started his onslaught with a vicious, "deadly" finisher known as the Chokebreaker. His first victim was Kobald, the diminutive fecal goblin of The Batiri, laid out in the aftermath. Several combatants would soon fall on both sides, as Deucalion's rage claimed deviANT, Archibald Peck, the Latvian Proud Oak, the Shard, and most tragically, the Estonian Thunder Frog along the way. Thunder Frog

Additionally, The Flood picked out members of the Chikara faithful to use against the side of good. Along with Deucalion's emergence, The Flood revealed that it had prisoners of war that it had brainwashed in Soldier Ant and Delirious. Additionally, Jacobs used Kingston's lust for the Grand Championship to lure him into doing his bidding. Kingston, whose Gollum-like fixation on the Grand Championship bordered on obsessive before his loss, became slavish to his devotion to Jacobs and his promises of getting "her" back. The lure was so great that Kingston was enlisted upon Jacobs' team at King of Trios, alongside his young boy acolyte Volgar. However, a new force arose from the Chikara side known as the Greenhorn Militia. The group of WrestleFactory grads began their offensive by attacking deviANT at the premiere. Although their tactics were rebuked by Hallowicked, they continued to mount a grassroots offensive that led to them calling Deucalion himself out.

The hosses take over
Photo Credit: Scott Finkelstein
All roads led to King of Trios, where major upheaval marked the three day event. On night one, the BDK portion of The Flood was transformed as Ares was booted out, thanks to an Eye-of-Tyr wielding Dr. Cube siccing Nøkken on him. Immediately after, Cube revealed himself to be none other than Jakob Hammermeier, who was last seen flipping off Tim Donst at Aniversario: Never Compromise. Then, on night two, the Greenhorn Militia's leader, Kid Cyclone led his troops out and even removed Deucalion's mask. In response, the Titan of Titor unleashed his deadly Chokebreaker on 3quinox and Create-A-Wrestler II. Cyclone went back into the shadows, frightened for his life. The tournament would conclude with the Devastation Corporation winning the richest total prize in the company for The Flood. In the aftermath, the group threatened again to shut the place down, using Kingston's lust for the title as its pawn. Jacobs ordered Icarus to hand over the Grand Championship or else face the wrath of The Flood. Icarus initially relented, but he appealed to Kingston's history. The War King threw down the title and fought for his home once more, setting up the stage for the finale.

Kingston and Jacobs would have one final battle in their war, but what happened after the War King claimed victory was the most interesting. Kid Cyclone came down with a pipewrench and belted Kingston across the head. Afterwards, he unmasked, rejecting his lucha name and adopting his birth name of Kevin Condren. He chided the fans for taking Kingston back so easily after his actions helped lead to the "deaths" of so many Chikara battlers, including his Greenhorn Militia brethren. Meanwhile, the Devastation Corporation added another pelt to its wall, as Blaster McMassive and Max Smashmaster took home Los Campeonatos de Parejas. UltraMantis Black was able to rid Chikara of Delirious, but on his way out, he'd have the last laugh by using the Eye of Tyr on Hallowicked and Frightmare, turning them against their Spectral Envoy cohort. While Hammermeier led the Cibernetico team for The Flood, it was a visibly enhanced, mentally-changed Soldier Ant who ended up taking out his former partner and co-founder of The Colony Fire Ant for the win.

But in the main event, Chikara would have its biggest victory. The final warrior would be Icarus having the final triumph. Revealing he was the one worthy enough to carry Thunder Frog's hammer, he rode into battle against Deucalion inside a steel cage. In a hard-fought battle, Icarus made the Titan pass out in the Chikara Special. Jacobs emerged from the back with the rest of The Flood, but he only gave the message that Deucalion made his bed and that he had to die in it. Icarus gave the final blow with the hammer, Deucalion was "dead," and The Flood ended the season down one leader and symbol of power.

The defining moment...
Photo Credit: Scott Finkelstein
2014 MVP: Icarus, nominally, was the heroic focus of the season, but make no mistake, the action ran through Eddie Kingston. He was the one who had to drop the belt to Icarus to set off the main thrust of what would happen at King of Trios. While Icarus faltered at times to command being the main focus of the company, Kingston excelled both as the obsessive puppy being led by the nose by Jimmy Jacobs and as the redemptive figure battling for the soul of his home in the home stretch. He also served as a symbol for what will become one of the top stories for 2015. While Chikara was the company that could be considered most an ensemble in 2014, Kingston was the clear lynchpin.

What's Going to Happen in 2015: While the finale, Tomorrow Never Dies, gave a clear resolution to one part of The Flood's story, I doubt the group will go away. While a Jimmy Jacobs-led faction may not have the killer instinct that the one led by Deucalion did, its remnants will remain a formidable group for Icarus and company to deal with in the early parts of the season. Much in the same way HYDRA stuck around for the first part of this season of Agents of SHIELD, I expect the Flood to be a minor nuisance at least through Aniversario. The splinter groups within the coalition, however, may have longer shelf lives, especially The Wrecking Crew. I expect the Devastation Corporation to run unabated through the promotion until at least King of Trios, where their bid to repeat will end at the hands of some enterprising group of tecnicos for a huge pop.

However, I see less of this upcoming season's driving force as an external evil as I do with fractured bonds within existing groups. The Colony and The Spectral Envoy both are going through crises that need more exposition, plot advancement, and eventually resolution. Kevin Condren's story has the most potential to blossom, as he could bring about another much larger narrative much in the same way of the Marvel Civil War event. Condren already has a bunch of followers among the fans who agree that Kingston's actions should not have been forgiven so easily, and that Icarus' finishing of Deucalion was only a continuation of the death and suffering the Greenhorn Militia wished to end.

The biggest thing on the Chikalendar in the early season has nothing to do with any kind of stories being told. The company will return to the international arena as it is set to visit England for a four-show tour in the beginning of April. The company has booked more than a couple English wrestling standouts over the last few years, and it has a secure foothold already across the pond. If any one thing suggests that Chikara is slowly returning back to the normal it had attained from 2010-12, this tour is it.

Five Wrestlers to Watch in 2015: Kevin Condren - Condren threw off his hood and declared himself as a symbol of truth and peace. His message on the surface sounds both good-intentioned but awfully similar to that of the Gekido. It is unknown yet if he is a true rudo or just a tecnico with a rough way about him. Either way, he picked a tall order going after Eddie Kingston. His 2015 will see him hit the ground running, that's for sure.

Soldier Ant - When Soldier reappeared at Tomorrow Never Dies, he sold like the Undertaker and hit like Vader. The Flood did something to him to enhance his physical properties and push his limits, but the group also erased a piece of his humanity (humanity? or is it more antity?). His path of destruction seems to have his former partners Fire and Silver Ants right in his crosshairs. Additionally, he might be an early favorite to take the Grand Championship away from Icarus, especially if the endgame is to get it on Silver Ant at some point.

Yeah, Heidi!
Photo Credit: Erik Dixon
Heidi Lovelace - Lovelace captured the Young Lions Cup, which makes her an official part of Chikara lore going forward. She will be tasked with picking up the mantel held by Sara del Rey of continuing to prove that the gender doesn't matter as long as you can hit hard and compete. The question is, however, will she have more of a role than just as the vanguard for the under-25 crowd?

Jakob Hammermeier - Hammermeier's return to Chikara sent shockwaves across the company. His endgame doesn't appear to be related only to the Flood's, but will his return draw a certain former mentor of his out of hiding? Furthemore, could Hammermeier, under the Dr. Cube hood, have been the one to make Soldier Ant the way he is right now? Is he controlling Nøkken?

Juan Francisco de Coronado - Coronado has made a name for himself coming up from Wrestling Is Fun! and occupying the angles away from the main Flood story. He's getting more and more comfortable as a main event level rudo that I would not be shocked to see him put in feature matches not unlike the one he had against Rockstar Spud at King of Trios. Watch for him to be the star of the UK tour, and perhaps, he may be a dark horse candidate to come away with the Grand Championship by year's end.

Three Things I Want to See in 2015: 1. Diverse roster for National Pro Wrestling Day - While the venue for the third annual free celebration of pro wrestling is more intimate than might suggest, I hope that the roster for the coming year's show more resembles the one in 2013 rather than 2014. Granted, the sprawling variety of wrestlers brought in in '13 will be unfeasible, I would like to see more than just Colt Cabana and Sonjay Dutt as the name guests this year. The logistics of bringing in a bunch of expensive guys for a show with no gate might seem implausible, but at the same time, I can't imagine the cost of running the Girls and Boys Club in Norristown is even close to that of taking The Arena. I know I'm acting presumptuously and maybe even a little ungratefully since it's a free show right in my area. However, the name on the marquee, National Pro Wrestling Day, suggests a grander feel than just having it be another Chikara show. As much as I love the place, it's but one wrestling promotion in a vast sea of great options that all should be celebrated.

2. A gradual return of guest stars, making Chikara an indie hub once more - The intensive focus on the native roster in 2014 was great, especially since the story being told demanded the near-full attention at the main event level. Now that the Flood seems to be receding and different, individualized stories are coming into play, the time to bring in the odd guest star for non-King of Trios events is coming back. I don't want the roster to be completely deemphasized, as it is unique and has a lot of concurrent narratives compelling the action to move forward. However, bringing in guys like JT Dunn in New England, Da Soul Touchaz in Chicago, Kyle Matthews in the South, or Portia Perez in Ontario/Quebec would supplement the cache splendidly.

3. King of Trios at The Arena - Trios in Easton was fun, no doubt, but that weekend was made to be held at The Arena. The cards are in play. LET'S GET IT DONE.