An absolutely awesome experience was had at the Logan Square Auditorium on Kedzie Avenue in Chicago last night, as Chikara returned to the Chicagoland area for the first time in a few years. It had to be considered a success on many levels, as it was a great show in the ring, they drew a reported 350 fans (no matter what the number was, it was standing room only by belltime) and I didn't hear one person leaving the building who wasn't completely psyched and whose love of Chikara wasn't increased.
First off, the Logan Square Auditorium is an AWESOME building for wrestling. It's very similar to Pro Wrestling Guerrilla's building in Reseda, California, where the ceiling is just low enough to shove the sound down and the crowd's all shoved together, so the crowd noise goes directly to the center.
They sent out a fellow before the show to explain some of the storylines going on in Chikara and the 12 Large Summit (round-robin title tournament) concepts in case they had any first-time fans (he was also in the crowd throughout the night in case anyone needed to ask him questions), but from what I saw, the vast majority of this crowd knew every single character and most (if not all) of the storylines, judging by the reactions in each match.
Gavin Loudspeaker then came out to play a song and open the show. Gavin is proof that there's an exception to every rule. Calling himself "wrestling's only rock 'n' roll ring announcer", Gavin is a character. He's the ring announcer, a role that most think should be some generic dude in a suit who doesn't stand out. On most shows, that'd be what would work, but in Chikara, Gavin's role as the party host absolutely works and adds to the Chikara live experience. Plus, he's one of a few guys on this show who have a commanding presence in person that needs to be seen to be appreciated.
1) The Batiri (Obariyon, Kodama and Kobald) defeated The Throwbacks (Sugar Dunkerton & Dasher Hatfield) and Matt Classic. I loved how much this crowd (which was standing room only, by the way) seemed to recognize, know and be completely familiar with all of the characters. Throwbacks were the first good guy act of the night to be incredibly beloved. Your regular Chikara mid-card trios match with the physicality and the humor all brought together. Way more of Hatfield and Dunkerton than Classic, but Matt got his moments (such as getting really confused over Chikara's lucha tag rules).
2) Ophidian d. Isais Velasquez via cobra clutch Cattle Mutilation. This was one of two matches to cover for the representatives from GALLI Lucha Libre not appearing at the show. Velasquez is a local Chicago guy (I believe he wrestles for the VWAA group out of Midlothian). Like I said on Twitter, this was the best possible "2004 IWA Mid-South unannounced undercard match" where both guys worked hard and looked good. Velasquez didn't become an overnight sensation, but he looked at least good enough to probably lose in the first round of Young Lions Cup. The finishing submission hold looked REALLY neat and I hope Ophidian uses it more often.
3) Team FIST (Johnny Gargano & Chuck Taylor) defeated The Colony. Really darned-good 2011 indie-style big spot-big spot-big-spot type of match. Gargano and Taylor looked tremendous together as a team; that time in Dragon Gate as Ronin has seemingly helped them a lot. Green Ant is already really good for his experience level, but in six months to a year, it'll be scary to think how good he'll be at the hold-for-hold catch style that's similar to how his maestro (Mike Quackenbush) wrestles. They pulled Chuck Taylor's "grenade" (he pulls out an imaginary grenade, drops it on his opponent's chest and blows it up with an elbow drop) out of mothballs, but this time, Soldier Ant avoided the elbow and blew it up with a saluting roaring elbow. The last six-to-seven minutes of this match was gold if you love the move-heavy, fast-paced double-team modern tag team style.
4) Non-Title Bout: Young Lions Cup Champion Frightmare d. Hieracon. This was the second replacement match for the Osirian Portal bout. Hieracon (who's awesome to begin with) really needs to be seen live to be appreciated; he looks so ridiculously silky-smooth. These two had a decent little bout; really hope to see a rematch in the future.
5) 12 Large Summit: Sara Del Rey d. Icarus. I said on the site this past week that I expected this to be a bit of a spectacle where Del Rey would kick Icarus a lot and he would howl. This was maybe the most pleasant surprise in pro wrestling this year. In no other circumstance, this probably wouldn't have been nearly this good. However, the moon and the stars aligned just right (the crowd hated the dastardly Icarus SO much that they treated the top heel group BDK's Del Rey with a queen's welcome, they figured a way to wrestle a perfect match for this crowd, the nearfalls were just right, the finish came at the perfect time off of the perfect spot) that this is, by far, the best Icarus match I've ever seen (up with his Young Lions Cup final with Shane Storm in 2005) and possibly one of the best Del Rey matches I've seen. Icarus went for his Pedigree, but Del Rey powered into a cradle pin for the win to a standing ovation. Mindblowningly great.
Intermission. They must've done some good business since the line for pictures with Mike Quackenbush in the ring was insanely long as there was a mob around the merchandise table.
6) 12 Large Summit: Claudio Castagnoli defeated Hallowicked with crotch-related shenanigans. These two looked so great just trading holds and counter-holds. It started off slow to bring the crowd back up from intermission, but ended up with some hot maneuvers (including a gorgeous-looking sunset flip reversal out of a powerbomb, which I imagine must've been more difficult than usual considering these are two tall, lanky-looking dudes).
7) 12 Large Summit: Ultramantis Black defeated Fire Ant. People like to refer to all independent wrestlers as "indie geeks" who have no presence or superstar aura; they're just regular bums. There are unfortunately a LOT of guys out there like that, but Ultramantis Black is NOT one of them. I don't even think it's the persona or the unique look; he just commands attention from the second he walks out of the curtain. Really awesome match, this was. If you're a big fan of the dramatic near-falls off of big moves, this is for you. These guys took a LOT of big moves, such as Mantis giving Fire Ant a British Bulldog-style powerslam ON THE APRON. Just absolutely ridiculous. The finish came when Mantis spiked Fire Ant with a Michinoku Driver #2, Ant kicked out, then Mantis immediately pulled him up for a Praying Mantis Bomb (double-underhook piledriver) for the victory. Huge reaction for the finish.
8. Eddie Kingston defeated Colt Cabana. Not nearly the styles clash you'd think, considering Kingston is really intense and often has the hard-hitting, punishment-heavy matches and Colt Cabana is, well, Colt Cabana. They did the Cabana comedy before the match, a lot of which was based off of how silly Cabana perceived a spinning backfist (Kingston's finisher) to look. They settled it down, had a serious match where Kingston beat down Cabana (whose selling is INSANELY underrated; he's really good at reaching out into the crowd and helping you feel his pain all the way into the back row), then they came back up for the finish, which was poetic justice as Kingston blasted Cabana with his "Backfist To The Future" for the pin. Cabana, like Mantis, has a commanding presence live and, like many, it blows my mind that World Wrestling Entertainment isn't employing him at this moment.
9) The Soul Touchaz (Acid Jazz, Willie "Da Bomb" Richardson and Marshe Rockett) defeated the BDK (Tim Donst, Jakob Hammermeier and Tursas). I feel like a broken record at this point, but this match was AWESOME. Again, this maybe wouldn't have been so incredible in front of another crowd, but this was Chicago. This is the Soul Touchaz' crowd. The crowd knew that the BDK had laid out the Touchaz' manager C-Red and valet Dimond in Philly (it was explained before the show, but I doubt the reaction would have been so emotional had it just been people being told over the P.A. system before the show) . Huge brawl to open the match with lots of fisticuffs flying, then the BDK settled it down and got their heat. Tim Donst really might be the most improved wrestler of 2011; the guy has gotten SO good. In terms of pure work, he was on the top end of guys on this show. Really, really hot finish to this match, as Claudio Castagnoli tried running out of the crowd to interfere, but C-Red (looking positively svelte; a lot thinner than I remember him ever being) blasted Claudio with a pipe. Tursas tried getting at C-Red, but Willie Richardson used his girth to pounce the super-heavyweight Tursas out of the ring. Marshe Rockett gave Tim Donst an Ace Crusher, then Jakob got blasted with the pipe by Acid Jazz, leading to Willie (who, like I said, is a thick fellow) going up top and giving Jakob the legdrop (stalling before jumping to let the crowd rise to their feet in awe) for the win. INSANE, insane reaction for the finish, as the crowd were all up on their feet, hooting and hollering like a hometown pro sports team had just won their given championship. An absolutely incredible ending to what I have to assume Chikara has to think is a perfect re-entry into the Chicago market. The match and its ending renewed my love in wrestling; it was exactly how storytelling is done and showed the magic that can be created when you just stick to the basics and let the heroes triumph over their dastardly foes at the end of the day and blow up the proverbial balloon until it has to pop. The crowd was so hyped after that match that they wouldn't stop chanting "PLEASE COME BACK!"" and Gavin kept having to delay his goodbye speech.
I really, really hope this translates to DVD, as it was an awesome live experience. I haven't been to a ton of shows since 2006, but this was easily the best live event I've seen since the 2006 Ted Petty Invitational and only rivaled by the 2004 and 2006 TPI's (which were incredible live events in their own rights). You couldn't ask for a better indie wrestling experience; the staff runs the show like clockwork on a level you NEVER see on independent wrestling shows, they try and give every venue a little bit of a "Chikara" look on the shoestring budget they have (with banners and such), it's an insanely fan-friendly experience, all of the wrestlers know their roles and play them to perfection, and every little touch that every other group seems to miss is one that Chikara makes sure is covered in spades. I cannot recommend this show and the Chikara live experience enough.