Wednesday, December 13, 2017

Promotions To Watch: Chikara

Was Coronado's title reign a positive or negative for Chikara?
Photo Credit: Scott Finkelstein
Welcome to the beginning of the YEAR-END BLOWOUT, where The Wrestling Blog takes a look back at the previous year and ahead to 2018. Usually, I do a comprehensive year end review for several promotions, but this year, I fell pretty much behind following anyone except WWE adjacent companies, and let me tell you, even that was rough. I won't get into the reasons, but still, wrestling is hard to totally ignore. So I'm going to take a cursory look at some of the promotions I think were worth checking out last year and may make some waves in the coming year, starting with, you guessed it, Chikara.

The year 2017 was tumultuous for Chikara to say the least. It experienced a lot of roster turnover, exported King of Trios not only outside of Eastern Pennsylvania for the first time, but out of the United States altogether, and it crammed two seasons into one year, including a secretly-taped one that was released as "binge-worthy" content. It was met with mixed expectations, but honestly, Chikara has come out of this year as strong as it's been in most other years outside of its best. I don't know if it'll ever reach the zenith year of 2011 again, that year was so good that it wasn't sustainable. It happens.

So the first and foremost thing to note is the swath of young wrestlers upon whom expectations were yoked. Chikara has experienced roster turnover before, but the brain drain from 2016 to 2017, whether caused by WWE signings (Drew Gulak, Kimber Lee, Heidi Lovelace) or other reasons that may or may not have to do with negative-connoted things (Silver Ant, Blaster McMassive, Flex Rumblecrunch, Amasis, Eddie Kingston, Jakob Hammermeier, Argus, Jigsaw, Jaka... I mean, it's been a lot) felt staggering. It was on the veterans who remained, sure, but Chikara leaned on the youth and inexperience. Honestly, the kids proved they were alright.

First and foremost, the Xyberhawx 2000 proved that they could be a worthy inheritor of The Colony's mantel of "anthropomorphic high flying masks." Razerhawk especially showed that he was ready for prime time, which is important. Chikara is and hopefully always will be a family-friendly promotion. Having colorful, exciting avatars at the head of the class is paramount, and they have to be proficient at what they do. The Hawx have gone a long way to proving that they can fill the enormous shoes (antennae?) of the Colony, who have been pretty much the standard bearers of the company since I came aboard as a fan in 2009. Another standout has been The Whisper, who in the span of a year has filled the role vacated by Juan Francisco de Coronado when he ascended to the main event level of "midcard baddie who can generate animosity and also wrestle." Solo Darling, Travis Huckabee, Merlok, the Sea Stars (who for some reason are now on the alumni page, weird), Officer Warren Barksdale, Race Jaxon, Hype Rockwell, and Rory Gulak have all done well this year too.

It's definitely odd to say, however, that the biggest weakness may have been Juan Francisco de Coronado's title reign. He's a strong worker and a heat magnet, and honestly, this reign should theoretically still be hot. However, it felt like when he retained over Dasher Hatfield at the finale that the buzz around Chikara dissipated. A lengthy heel title reign doesn't have the same cache in 2017 that it did in 1985 for obvious reasons, namely, everyone can see you and what you're doing. Coronado not dropping the belt to Gulak was understandable, especially given that Gulak has seemingly gone rudo, setting himself up for another run at the title next year, this time at a tecnico champ. But the time to strap Hatfield was now, and it only was half due to Hatfield being ready to take the mantel.

Mike Quackenbush has one of the best reputations among bookers at least for creativity, but he's suffered a lot of the same pitfalls that others have, namely, he's great at starting stories, but when it comes to paying them off, he's hit or miss. Part of that has been due to departures to greener pastures but at the same time, a great booker can work around these things. He has to have an ending to Coronado's title reign that packs enough of a punch to get his promotion's mojo back. I'm not sure if he has an ace up his sleeve like he did with Lee at Top Banana at the end of 2015.

Still, pitfalls aside, Chikara had a fine 2017 with a bright 2018 ahead of it. A slate of shows in Philadelphia throughout most of the year has already been announced, and one can almost guarantee road dates will follow in the coming months. Aside from a satisfying end to Coronado's title reign, I'd like to see the native roster grow and strengthen further, but I'd also like to see more guests come in. Perhaps a return to 2011 levels of influx and outflow isn't in the cards, but I quite liked what Chikara did over the last year, starting with the Johnny Kidd Invitational and sprinkling in other guest stars on road stops. Letting Hatfield continue to work in the Eddie Kingston Feature Guest Star Worker role would be a huge plus. He acquitted himself well against Moose and Keith Lee last year. Perhaps this year, he can hold court on tour.

I also hope King of Trios returns home, whether to Philadelphia or Easton, but that might just be speaking out of hurt of missing it for the first time since 2009 last year.