Thursday, June 25, 2020

The End of Chikara

Pictured: A Monster
Photo Credit: Scott Finkelstein
In many ways, The Wrestling Blog has been inextricably linked to Chikara over its history. It used to be something I could hang my had upon, being able to speak with an expert's tongue about a pro wrestling company that was near and dear to my heart. I valued live experience and artistic output over access. You could say that was my first mistake, but I always wanted TWB to be more a critical outlet than a news hub. Maybe it was a mistake after all. The Speaking Out movement exposed some seedy details about the company, how people who were supposed to nurture trust of young aspiring wrestlers betrayed it in order to run a hellish grooming operation. Mike Quackenbush was less a genial and avuncular wrestling maven and more a cruel, oversexed nerd, twisted after gaining a modicum of power over a group of people he could view as subordinate. The trainers he allowed to harass and abuse young wrestlers, especially female ones, made the Wrestle Factory one of the least safe spaces in all of wrestling. You can read for yourself the graphic and lurid details of misconduct and malfeasance perpetrated by the power structure of the company by going to @CZWiggy's feed. I don't want to post anything directly here because I don't want to unnecessarily trigger anyone.

Quackenbush responded to the allegations with a brusque and inadequate apology and by closing Chikara and resigning as head trainer of the Wrestle Factory. In the blink of an eye, a company that had nearly two decades of rich experience had disappeared with nothing more than a whimper because of the malice, lust, and greed of a few people. One could argue he had no choice, and I would agree at least superficially. So many people on his roster, from wet-behind-the-ears wrestlers like Frey Nassar to the most stalwart of veterans like Hallowicked, all tendered their resignations at the revelation of this reprehensible misconduct. You can argue over how much anyone quitting right now knew about what was going on when it was going on, but drawing from my personal experience, you can't push blame on anyone other than the people who made it happen.

Part of why the Chikara experience is so tainted is because I went to a lot of shows with Brandon Stroud. He has also been implicated in the Speaking Out movement as a manipulator and a rapist judging by stories that have been given anonymously to others who wanted their stories to be heard but not face the inevitable misogynist blowback. I didn't know him well enough to see his blatantly abusive tendencies manifest, apparently. Those who did? Can you cast blame on them? When you have someone like Stroud, who wielded a considerable amount of professional influence at UPROXX, acting tyrannically and abusively, people, no matter how close, can feel the crunch of calling out someone with so much influence, especially if they so happen to write for his vertical. Even then, those who remained silent for reasons of intimidation still ended up feeling the professional brunt; there have been stories told about him lobbying to get people fired from UPROXX if they even mentioned any of the then-whispers surrounding his malfeasance. Something as insignificant as opinion writing and review about pro fucking wrestling can foster that kind of hostile environment. So what does that say about the next step up, the actual wrestling being reviewed? Unless you can prove that Hallowicked was complicit in the cover-up, I'm not sure how much heat you can put on him and not the people who were named, like Quackenbush, Icarus, and Kobald.

The truth of the matter is that all the wrestlers who have quit have one thing in common. They have all, almost in unanimity, proclaimed that Chikara was a family to them. Quackenbush had a choice to make when co-founder "Reckless Youth" Tom Carter stepped away from the company. He could have continued on or closed the doors without the person with whom he started the venture. He chose the former. He didn't have to close Chikara. It didn't belong to him alone, and one could argue that after all the shit he pulled, it probably didn't belong to him at all. As long as they too weren't involved in the systemic abuses that were happening, there were wrestlers like 'Wicked, like Ophidian, like Dasher Hatfield, all of whom could have taken the mantel of steward over for the company. Even after he'd been found out, Quackenbush took the coward's way out, even if the Chikara name may now be irrevocably poisoned by his actions and the actions of people he either endorsed directly or indirectly by turning the other way.

I thought Chikara would be the paragon of what wrestling should be, and I always imagined that when it eventually closed, I would write paeans to the wonderful memories I gathered from attending and watching shows. Now it has ended in disgust and abuse, and I am both sad for the victims it left in its wake and for the wrestlers who did nothing more wrong than unknowingly sign up to train under a demented and perverted taskmaster who didn't care if they were violated, physically or sexually, and also happy now that this scourge on wrestling is closed. Granted, Chikara isn't the only place where this shit has happened, but that's what the Speaking Out movement is about. It is about tearing down every single institution that has allowed the systemic abuse of innocent people who just wanted to fucking wrestle, burning the debris, and building a new wrestling scene with no trace of the horrific architecture that housed all those abuses beforehand.

When wrestlers like Rory Gulak, Thomas Sharp/Blaster McMassive, and Juan Francisco de Coronado were jettisoned from the company after whispers about them were spoken into a megahorn, I thought they were isolated incidents at the time. Now I know they were part of a systemic culture of sexual misconduct and abuse, and that they were only sent away in order to hide what was really going on behind the scenes. You could've been a creep all you wanted in that fucking company, but if you got caught, you had to pay the price for everyone. Well, that's not going to happen anymore. As much as it hurts me to say it, Chikara was a blight on the wrestling community, and its end is a cause to say "good riddance." I will never forget the good times I had at shows or all the friends I made there. Some things you just can't taint. That being said, it'll be hard to look back at them fondly through anything but lens of sadness and anger because of the people that were being hurt to provide the canvass for those memories to be made.

In the meantime, until the wrestling community can burn down the current superstructure and build one safer for wrestlers and fans alike, the need to question everything is imperative. Given how deep the rot was in Chikara and other places that put on a happy face and said "wrestling should be for EVERYONE!" maybe it's for the best that if one company has more than one wrestler accused of being a creep, you might want to start treating them as a place that's rotten to the core. If that means no wrestling companies are safe spaces, the problem isn't with the fans calling it out, that's for damn sure.