Monday, February 6, 2017

Chikara's LOST Season

The new Champion? But how?
Photo Credit: Zia Hiltey
Chikara is a wrestling company known for taking risks, some of which pay off, while others, like shuttering for eight months, well, did not. Its next big risk was rolled out starting at National Pro Wrestling Day, its season 18 opener. The season numbering itself should let one know what that big "risk" was from jump. Last year's season was the 16th, which concluded in December with a doubleheader in Chicago that ended with Drew Gulak's emotional farewell to the company. Obviously, 18 isn't the next sequential ordinal number after 16, and those in attendance at NPWD noticed several changes. For example, Race Jaxon came out for a singles match without Hype Rockwell. Commentary noted things about wrestlers that hadn't seemed to happen yet. In the biggest shock, UltraMantis Black appeared in the ring, in his gear, in possession of the Grand Championship belt.

The reason why is that Chikara, in secret, filmed nine shows at the Wrestle Factory in the gap between the two seasons as its 17th season. The first three shows have been released on the Chikaratopia streaming service. With the show titles coming straight from the titles of an episodic science-fiction television show that, like Chikara, featured heavy elements of time travel, one could say that season 17 is truly the company's LOST season. Much in the fashion of that same television show, the 18th season has kicked off with a daunting amount of blanks left to be filled in.

Auteur, Wrestle Factory headmaster, and lead announcer Mike Quackenbush has called it "wrestling's first binge-able content." While Jeff Katz swindled people into believing he'd produce the first over-the-top, all-at-once wrestling show with the still unreleased Wrestling Retribution Project, and while Lucha Underground follows television norms as much as it does wrestling ones more than any other promotion, Chikara is the first company to really implement the marriage between wrestling and television, namely the newest ways to consume TV. For an industry that's so dependent on live results and scheduled, serialized, "current" consumption, releasing shows in big bloc format is a risk.

Granted, I doubt this risk has as much downside compared to paltry upside that closing the company in 2013 did. That move tried to create artificial demand through scarcity and diversification but only ended up draining interest from the core audience. This move theoretically adds more intrigue and viewing material. Chikara is still promoting shows live, including King of Trios, which this year will be in Birmingham, England instead of the Lehigh Valley. I was a little bit miffed at that, but after careful reflection, I am but one paying customer, and maybe the paying fans in England deserve to have one of the big events once in awhile instead. That's at least what I tell myself to soothe the raging Hulk inside.

Regardless, banking shows during secret tapings for binge-watching seems to be the next logical step for wrestling distribution, and I'm not surprised Chikara is the first promotion successfully to pull this off in terms of actually getting a product available for consumption. Whether or not it catches on will be a wholly different story. Still, while nothing will replace the live experience of being at a wrestling show, having actual footage that's new to mostly everyone that has a certain quality of mystery and "working backwards" and theorizing has the capacity to freshen up the art more than just a bit.