Monday, December 14, 2015

2015 Year in Review/2016 Year in Preview: Chikara

The season-capper
Photo Credit: Zia Hiltey
The Year-End Blowout begins in its new, changed form that will last past the new year with a look back at the fun and funky Americanized lucha-libre extravaganza, Chikara Pro Wrestling.

Promotion: Chikara Pro Wrestling

What Happened in 2015: The waters of the Flood had receded quite tidily after Icarus used the Estonian Thunder Frog's hammer to dispatch Deucalion at the 2014 season finale. With the behemoth and his hype man, Jimmy Jacobs out the picture, Chikara was left in a state of flux, albeit a happy one given the ragtag band of masks had been granted a new lease on life. Still, the way the Flood was beaten back left many with a bitter taste in their mouths. Deucalion killed many Chikara stalwarts, but was fighting death with death the best path to go down?

Hallowicked and Frightmare got scary new looks
Photo Credit: Zia Hiltey
The season premiere in Philadelphia gave some answers to that question and others that were posed in the prior finale. Kevin Condron, the former Kid Cyclone who unmasked and destroyed Eddie Kingston with a pipe wrench, debuted in dazzling glory, having acquired the services of the Lithuanian Snow Troll (formerly under the lock and key of The Flood). Hallowicked and Frightmare, done in by the Eye of Tyr as Delirious' parting shot from Chikara, got a macabre makeover in service of a new master, the demonic Nazmaldun. The Princess Kimber Lee showed enormous fighting spirit against the formidable Wrecking Crew, but ended up faltering under their immense power. And the Grand Champion showed signs of reversion to his "Worst in the World" state with questionable tactics against former FIST stablemate Chuck Taylor. Just as Kingston was poisoned by the Grand Championship, Icarus started to show signs of becoming mentally unstable thanks to the hardware's power.

The post-Flood skirmishes didn't last too long before the company funneled its focus into a season-long endeavor in the Challenge of the Immortals. The ten-team round-robin divided the roster via a fantasy draft. Right away, the Osirian Portal was split up as Amasis and Ophidian were team captains. Lee, Max Smashmaster, Hallowicked, Dasher Hatfield, Juan Francisco de Coronado, Chuck Taylor, UltraMantis Black, and Jakob Hammermeier were the other captains charged with divvying the roster up. The teams fell as one might have expected with a few surprising exceptions. The Colony was rent asunder as Silver Ant was taken by Hallowicked's Nightmare Warriors while Fire and Worker were snapped up by Amasis' Battle Hive. Even furthering the formiciform strife, Hammermeier's BDK team selected the nigh-invincible Soldier Ant. The Batiri and Wrecking Crew were apparently split up too in the draft, as the Crew drafted Obariyon while Mantis, in retaliation, selected both Flex Rumblecrunch and Jaka. Sidney Bakabella drove a hard bargain and made the difficult choice to sacrifice Oleg the Usurper in a trade to reunite the other teams. The Challenge itself was to be a double round-robin tournament, where each team faced each other in various matches, from singles to relevos atomicos. Early on in the season, the Wrecking Crew jumped out to the early lead, and looked to be easily in line for the prize, three points to whatever title the team member wanted to challenge for at the end of the season.

But the Challenge was not the only thing driving the narrative. Chikara reinforced its status as a worldwide promotion, making its return to Europe and its debut in the United Kingdom with a tour in the spring. Icarus' descent into madness was interrupted as Hallowicked claimed the Grand Championship in the fourth and final show across the pond. Under the spell of Nazmaldun, his mind was already dark enough and best-equipped to hold the Championship. His powers grew stronger and stronger, as he started to gain an unholy grip over Silver Ant. Even though he resisted his partnership with the evil Warriors, he slowly slipped further under their power.

Silver wasn't the only wrestler to acclimate to his new team more than his older one. Oleg the Usurper's association with the Batiri and UltraMantis Black started making him more popular by association. Even though Bakabella still managed him in non-COTI action, that bond grew more and more tenuous as Oleg soaked in approval from the fans. He began to act more and more like a tecnico, which strained his already burdened relationship with Bakabella and the others in the Wrecking Crew even further. Even though the Crew kept tearing through Challenge bouts, their grip on the formidable Viking warrior was loosening.

Outside the Challenge, Condron kept waging his crusade against the hypocrites and murderers in Chikara. He felt he was unjustly kept out of the COTI, so he started assembling his army of misfits that he dubbed Battleborn. First, he freed the former Flood acolyte Volgar of his mask and allowed him to be the man he wanted to be, which apparently was a bluegrass singer and dancer named "Juke Joint" Lucas Calhoun. He then gathered Missile Assault Ant, who had abandoned the rest of the Colony: Xtreme Force for lagging behind him. In the summer, Condron convinced the heavy artillery-carrying member of the group to lose his mask and become Missile Assault Man. With the Snow Troll still on a leash, the Battleborn petitioned to get into King of Trios. Director of Fun Mike Quackenbush granted that request, and Battleborn went into the tournament with the ten COTI teams, the Bullet Club, Blue World Order, two English guest star teams, and the Lucha Underground-inspired team from AAA, Drago, Fenix, and Aerostar.

Goodnight, sweet pay window
Photo Credit: Zia Hiltey
The tournament played out with some key developments. For one, the previous year's finalists, Hatfield, Mark Angelosetti, and Icarus, were knocked out in the first round by Condron's Battleborn. They could not, however, overcome the Young Bucks and AJ Styles the next night. Meanwhile, the Arcane Horde, with Oleg the Usurper in tow thanks to an injury to UltraMantis Black, did battle with the defending Champions, the Devastation Corporation. It was a raucous affair that saw the beefy Wrecking Crew emissaries take out senior referee Bryce Remsburg. However, Oleg would make his final decision, answering interference from Bakabella by taking him out for good with Off With His Head. Although the Horde fell in defeat, the craftiest manager in the game had been compromised to a permanent end, and Oleg had chosen his lot.

Night three saw the Devastation Corporation fall in defeat to Team AAA. While it could hardly be considered an upset seeing as Team AAA had a legit dragon on the team, but for over a year, Max Smashmaster, Blaster McMassive, and Flex Rumblecrunch had been nigh unbeatable. Was it a fluke? Either way, their hold on the Challenge had been ironclad to that point, but Princess Kimber Lee's Crown and Court, featuring Jervis Cottonbelly and perennial sad-sack losers Los Ice Creams made a late surge, getting more momentum with a win over the Gentlemen's Club. Team AAA ended up defeating the Bullet Club in an all-time classic to finish the tournament, but the biggest happening didn't involve the three-man slate at all.

Condron's Battleborn team of Calhoun and Missile Assault Man were embedded in the Tag Team Gauntlet, a Gauntlet that helped show that despite their adversarial positions in the Challenge, the Osirian Portal was still as unified as a tag team as ever. Anyway, the Battleborn were in the ring waiting for the penultimate duo to emerge, and to their shock, Orbit Adventure Ant and Arctic Rescue Ant emerged. They dosey-doed for a bit until the Battleborn got the win. However, Condron didn't just want the win. He saw his WrestleFactory peers lost to Deucalion's chokebreaker. Calhoun saw Kingston decimate his fellow acolyte. Condron ordered Missile Assault Man to end his former running buddies. MAM refused, so Condron took it into his own hands, shockingly lifting Orbit Adventure Ant into the chokebreaker and ending him, like Deucalion ended so many wrestlers, including the Estonian Thunder Frog. It would be revealed later on that Condron's body had been inhabited by a dark spirit what called itself Snowflake.

Speaking of the Thunder Frog, while he was ended in horrific fashion late last season, a frog bearing a sash with his logo on it was found in the fields of Minnesota in a vignette at the conclusion of the '14 finale. Shortly thereafter, a wrestler known as the Estonian Farmer Frog started wrestling in the Upper Midwest. He had the same look, mannerisms, and even voice of the departed Thunder Frog, but he denied any association with the mythical hammer-wielding amphibious demigod. Still, the fact that someone highly resembling the fan favorite froggy appearing put him on Chikara's radar, and he debuted (some would say returned to Chikara on a tour of the Midwest in the fall.

But his return, if you want to call it that, was not the most dramatic. Sadly, Mantis' injuries were announced to be career ending, and he could not fulfill the rest of his commitments in the Challenge. However, he did fulfill a promise to his teammates, the Batiri. The demons from Bled Island lost the most fecal member of the group at the return show in 2014. Kobald was the first victim of Deucalion's chokebreaker, and he was thought to be lost forever. But through dark magic, Mantis raised the dead, and the Batiri was whole once more.

The Challenge wasn't so kind to other teams, however. Feeling badly for Hatfield after he lost his Grand Championship opportunity to Hallowicked, Angelosetti thought he'd make it up to his teammate by attempting to cheat his way to some victories for Dasher's Dugout. His teammates, Hatfield, Icarus, and Heidi Lovelace, did not appreciate it, and they ostracized him from the group to the point where he joined against Hatfield's team at cibernetico at the finale. Nazmaldun's grip on Silver Ant loosened, and the former resilient rookie broke free from the Nightmare Warriors to reconnect back with his Colony brethren. Fire Ant was in the midst of his own war to help reclaim the mind and soul of his brainwashed friend, Soldier Ant. They were on a collision course.

But no group was hit harder after Trios than the Wrecking Crew. Without Bakabella, the team went into a tailspin. Smashmaster and McMassive lost los Campeonatos de Parejas to the rookie team NRG. Their grip on the Challenge itself loosened and loosened to the point where Crown and Court was able to surge into second place slot after the double round-robin was concluded (with a little help from the aforementioned falling out between Hatfield and Angelosetti - Hatfield vacated Dasher's Dugout's points due to the cheating). Lee had willed her team into contention for all those points. The stage was set for the finale.

Finally, the Colony is whole once more
Photo Credit: Zia Hiltey
And boy, what a finale Top Banana was. In an appeal for mercy against fellow WrestleFactory grad Argus, Condron claimed that he was "Kevin" and not "Snowflake" before the mythic turtle being put him down. Was it a ruse? Did Snowflake leave him? Can he turn "Snowflake" on and off? In cibernetico, Angelosetti kept apologizing to Lovelace and Hatfield, but Juan Francisco de Coronado used him to keep Hatfield out of the ring to be eliminated by countout and then got the easy win himself to take the crown. It's unclear whether an "I'm sorry" across the ring is enough to mend that friendship. Fire Ant was finally able to make Soldier Ant snap out of it, and their match was ruled a no-contest. Instead, the reunited OGs of the Colony chased off Jakob Hammermeier and reunited once more.

And the Challenge of the Immortals was finally paid off. The Wrecking Crew could not finish its hot start, and Kimber Lee was a house on fire, throwing German suplexes and pinning the statuesque McMassive with the alligator clutch. In the madness, Cottonbelly even got his own personal reward, a kiss from the fair Princess. Each member of the team received three points to go towards the title of their choosing...

...and Lee did not waste any time cashing hers in. Hallowicked defeated Kingston and Icarus in the first ever three-way match in Chikara history to retain his Grand Championship. But his night was not over, as Nazmaldun's chosen warrior had to face Lee, battered and bruised from her own war earlier in the night. Hallowicked threw everything he could at Lee, but she kept kicking out. The other Nightmare Warriors came down to try and save the title, but they were thwarted by Cottonbelly and the Ice Creams. Finally, Lee hooked in the Chikara Special. Hallowicked tapped. Season 15 ended with a surprise new Champion, a royal Champion, a Princess who can save herself.

Condron was ruthless
Photo Credit: Zia Hiltey
2015 MVP: Chikara's year could be described as a team effort. A lot of energy went into the Challenge of the Immortals, and thus, a lot of stories were played out within the context of the tournament. It would be easy - and justified - to give the nod to Kimber Lee. Oleg the Usurper probably deserves a look as well. Dasher Hatfield, Hallowicked, and even Chuck Taylor all had great campaigns too, but the glue that held the company together was outside of the Challenge. Kevin Condron is my pick as Chikara's MVP for how hard he came in from debut through his personal season's end, as underwhelming as it may have seemed. Still, he had such a flair in-ring. He carried out his narrative to a tee, which is huge, but he also had me believing at times that he was the truth, even if his whole oeuvre was supposed to be hypocrisy incarnate. And the ring gear was, in a word, fabulous, which can't be discounted. Condron was everything one could have wanted from a pro wrestling heel, and it was only his first full year as a member of the narrative. He's wrestling's Mike Trout.

What's Going to Happen in 2016: Kimber Lee is the Grand Champion, which is insanely cool for a myriad number of reasons. However, Eddie Kingston's mind was warped by "her" as he termed the belt. The Championship started to show signs of ghoulishly possessing Icarus later on in his reign. Hallowicked was already evil when he won the belt, so it's hard to gauge how much the belt moved him on the insanity meter. Can Lee's royal blood help her withstand the curse? If one can remember back to her beginnings in Wrestling Is Fun!, she had her divaesque qualities, so it's not hard to see the Grand Championship moving her towards a less courteous path. As for her first challenger, all signs point to Oleg the Usurper, who has three points. However, Jervis Cottonbelly also has the points thanks to the Challenge of the Immortals. How awkward would that match be if it happened? I doubt Cottonbelly would use his golden opportunity now, especially since he got his long-awaited kiss. However, things have a habit of changing in wrestling, especially Chikara, in sudden fashion.

Take for example the relationship between Dasher Hatfield and Mark Angelosetti. The Throwbacks were once one of the most indomitable forces in Chikara, but now, Angelosetti is in the doghouse for his rudo tactics. He came up through Wrestling Is Fun! and his initial Young Lions Cup run as a bearer of malfeasance, so it's possible a leopard is unable to completely change his spots. That being said, the dynamic between the two, especially since Mr. Touchdown cost Hatfield a shot to continue in cibernetico in his mind, will be interesting to observe in the open of the upcoming season. That relationship seemed fine enough even at Trios, but now, they could be on the outs for good.

AS for the man (pumpkin demon?) Lee defeated for title, Hallowicked's loss may come as a blessing in disguise for him, at least from a narrative standpoint. The Grand Championship may have been holding a fuller story dealing with his master, Nazmaldun. Is that master an actual, corporeal being, ready to debut in Chikara, or is it more a spiritual guide that always remains off-camera? Either way, I doubt his dark work is finished. Conveniently enough, Hallowicked and Frightmare have three points towards a shot at los Campeonatos de Parejas. One might think they could make quick work of NRG, but then again, the spunky Champs have taken out the Devastation Corporation. Also, they've improved by leaps and bounds since last year at this time. The title bout should be pretty slick at least.

Kevin Condron's house of cards seems to be on the verge of falling apart. He's already on thin ice with Missile Assault Man, who clearly wasn't ready to see Orbit Adventure Ant "die." Arctic Rescue Ant may still be out there, waiting for his chance to strike. Additionally, the emergence of the Estonian Farmer Frog might point to a conflict over the continued captivity of the Lithuanian Snow Troll. Perhaps if someone were to help him remember his past life, a battle may be imminent.

Will the happy times stay for Cottonbelly?
Photo Credit: Zia Hiltey
Five Wrestlers to Watch in 2016: Jervis Cottonbelly - Cottonbelly's life is content right now. He's a member of the Challenge of the Immortals-winning Crown and Court, his overtures of affection towards Kimber Lee have finally been returned, and he has three points to use towards any title he so pleases. He's too old to win the Young Lions Cup by about a century, and he has no partner with whom he can challenge los Campeonatos de Parejas without splitting up Los Ice Creams. So he sits at a crossroads. Does he dare wait until Lee loses the Championship, or does he realize that true chivalry and sportsmanship means giving his beloved a fighter's shot for her title?

Kevin Condron/Snowflake - Cracks in his slick facade are starting to show, but Condron, or Snowflake, if you will, has to have another trick or two up his sleeve. Besides, he's only started to annoy those whom he feels have weathered the good name of Chikara. The list of people who want cracks at him are numerous and powerful, so he has no shortage of battles to fight in the coming year. The biggest question of them all, however, remains whether it's really Snowflake, or whether Condron has been in control all along.

Hallowicked - Nazmaldun's Army heads into 2016 on a downward trend. Even though Frightmare scored a victory over Silver Ant at Top Banana, the fact is that Hallowicked almost certainly wanted him as an ally and not an enemy. All signs point to a clash with The Colony now, a reunited and healed Colony with four members strong. Hallowicked will have his lieutenant Frightmare and foot soldier Blind Rage by his side. Will he summon forth the corporeal form of Nazmaldun and rain a more vicious destruction upon Chikara than he has in the past year?

Argus - His rookie year has had its up and downs, but the Master of Gecko-Roman Wrestling ended the year on the solid upswing. He's got to be the favorite to win the next iteration of the Young Lions Cup once Heidi Lovelace relinquishes the trophy at the end of her year-long run. What other entanglements will the feisty mat amphibian have in his future? I see big things for him early on in the year.

Kobald - The joy in the air when Kobald returned to action was palpable, but at what price did his return cost? He has talked about wanting to dine on brains in the recent past, but even if those pangs have subsided for now, how much longer will they be staved off? UltraMantis Black has played with fire before, and it burned more than just himself. Will Kobald's return be too good to be true? Will the undead rise and turn the feelgood ending of Season 15 into a zombie apocalypse in Season 16? Only time will tell...

Why not Thunderkitty?
Photo Credit: Zia Hiltey
What I Want to See in 2016: 1. More female competitors, please - Bill Bicknell's Twitter spiel from Top Banana is absolutely correct. While Chikara should be absolutely lauded for integrating women enough that they now hold the two top singles Championships, the company needs more women on all levels. The unintended implication is that women can only compete in Chikara if they can absolutely win titles, which feels like a barrier. Several women have history with the company. Thunderkitty and Veda Scott could fit right in again (unless Scott has barriers via her Ring of Honor contract which could be the case). Cherry Bomb has links to the Grand Champion and would fit right in once she recovers from her current injury. Chikara would be a great place for folks like Brittany Blake or Penelope Ford to get some reps in as Young Lionesses. Women on top is great, but let them permeate the entire card structure.

2. Please come back, Lucha Underground guys! - My dream is for the King of Trios medals held by Drago, Fenix, and Aerostar to have mystical powers in The Temple, but that's a dream, a pipe dream at that. However, Lucha Underground and Chikara fit together like peanut butter and jelly. All three of those guys would be welcome back, obviously, but what about some fresh faces? Pentagón, Jr. is a no-brainer, and a match between him and, say, Eddie Kingston in a Chikara ring would be hot fire. King Cuerno making an appearance would melt faces too. Hell, imagine if MATANZA went face to face with the Devastation Corporation? The possibilities are endless, and I want them to be explored.

3. Something for Jakob Hammermeier to do - Condron and Juan Francisco de Coronado have come off as major stars this year, and they plan to figure in strong for the next year. However, I hope that Hammermeier still parades around with his BDK in the future. His purpose of being Soldier Ant's handler may have finished at Top Banana, but the dude is such a naturally annoying villain that it would be stupid not to feature him prominently.