Hey folks, Glenn Walker again. Here’s my buddy Terry Willitts, a huge wrestling fan, a terrific writer, and attendee the two recent Florida Chikara events. He talked about the Tampa matches here, now he looks at Chikara Orlando.
Orlando, FL has long centered in the history of Florida pro wrestling. Back in my formative years, the Eddie Graham Sports Stadium was where I saw my first live wrestling event – the promotion was Championship Wrestling From Florida, and I got to shake the hand of my childhood hero, Dusty Rhodes that day. In later years, World Championship Wrestling held many shows during the Monday Night Wars at Universal Studios, which has been the home of TNA Wrestling’s weekly show Impact Wrestling since 2004.
In recent years, it seems the independent wrestling scene has gravitated away from Orlando – in many cases further south to Tampa, or east to the Space Coast. Walking to the Orlando Downtown Recreation Center (mere blocks from the Amway Center, home to the Orlando Magic, as well as the venue of many WWE wrestling events), I found myself excited at a new promotion visiting. This was the first independent wrestling promotion I’d seen in Orlando in a decade. Would it live up to the previous night? Find out after the jump.
The line outside of the Orlando Downtown Recreation Center wasn’t as long as the one for the Tampa show, at least not when I arrived half an hour before the listed door opening time. When former Director of Fun Leonard Chikarason came out to pass out tickets, he apologized for their running behind, saying it was something they “are wont to do,” but before long we were heading inside.
As the night before, Chikarason was the man running the ‘gate’, taking our tickets and cash. I ended up seated in the second row in front of the bleachers that the stationary camera for SmartMark Video was located. Before the show started, they decided to merge our section with the other two groups of chairs (the $20 tickets were seated in the bleachers – I considered sitting there, for the better view, but decided against it. I wanted the chance to be up close to the wrestlers.)
At the first night, I’d bought a Chikara logo shirt; in Orlando, I knew I wanted another shirt, but wasn’t sure whose shirt I was going to get. And I was already 90% sure that I was going to buy a replica mask. Sadly, I hemmed and hawed too much and missed out on buying AssailANT’s mask, but I did end up getting UltraMantis Black’s (leader of the Spectral Envoy. His character started out as a heel, a cult overlord set upon conquering the Earth and subjugating all of us. Now he’s a face, a cult overlord set upon… well, you get the picture.)
We were informed by Brendan and Gavin that Eddie Kingston had not been able to make the event, and the main event where he defended his title against Green Ant was not going to happen. The offered to refund tickets to anyone who wanted to leave, but nobody did. Gavin opened with a medley of songs, all based on Disney World tunes like “It’s a Small World” and the Mouseketeers theme song, but about Chikara.
The opener was a match put on by a local promotion called QWEST – Quality Wrestling Every Single Time. I’ve not yet had the pleasure of attending a QWEST event, though I hope to do so soon. I’d seen one of the wrestlers on a double iPPV event from February and he was a lot of fun and I was looking forward to this match.
Oliver Grimsley, whom is billed as being part of a traveling circus, came out to carny music, passing out balloons to several ladies in the seats. (Stay tuned for the shenanigans later involving one balloon.) His opponent was Eddie Graves, whose gimmick is that of a rock star – a jerk rock star, as he was obviously the heel.
Graves spent a lot of time interacting with the fans, for the most part trying to get everyone riled up. He did a great job, and the crowd was solidly behind Oliver. It was a great start to the show.
There were some great matches and one of the things I really enjoy about Chikara is that the finishes aren’t very predictable. AssailANT pulled out a surprise victory over Mr. Touchdown (who had an amazing year in 2012 and is the current Young Lions Cup champion) in what I found to be the best match of the evening.
The Colony: Xtreme Force wrestled again. This time, the three new ants were so completely infatuated with crowd responses that they spent more time yelling out their names to elicit applause than actually spending time in the match, leaving poor Soldier Ant to almost single-handedly fight all four members of the Batiri faction.
Now for the balloon story. When the Batiri came out, the goblin prince Kobald stole the orange balloon from one of the fans. He brought it into the ring and tried to pop it, but failed. Ophidian, the field commander of the Batiri, held the balloon in place on the ring mat while Kobald climbed to the top turnbuckle and leapt off, attempting a Demon’s Toilet (where he lands on his opponent’s upper torso butt-first) on the balloon!
The balloon refused to be defeated and managed to escape death at the hands… er, rear… of Kobald, and floated to the ceiling. There was even a “balloon” chant, and it was awesome.
There wasn’t a bad match in the bunch, from Tim Donst vs Archibald Peck to a ten man main event pitting Green Ant, Dasher Hatfield, Gran Akuma and 3.0 versus the heel team of the Devastation Corporation and F.I.S.T. In a highly anticipated match, Jigsaw and The Shard took on Mike Quackenbush and Fire Ant – the Quack/Jigsaw feud is a big angle and is one that is heating up rapidly.
Great wrestling and fun characters and storylines aside, one of the best things about Chikara is the effort they make to show the fans how much they are appreciated. Before the event, during the intermission, and after the final match, the stars were accessible. The joy one young man in a wheelchair had when the tag team champs not only took their picture with him, but placed their tag belts on him for the photo was so amazing and heart-warming. In fact, seeing the effort 3.0 made was what swayed me to buy their shirt that night.
Walking out after the final match, we were greeted by a handful of the wrestlers, waiting so they could thank us for coming. It was great, being able to shake the hands of several of the stars and one of the company’s founders, Mike Quackenbush, much less look them in the eye and thank them for such a great experience.
I’ve always appreciated independent wrestling for the connection it has with the fans, and Chikara is one of the best when it comes to that.
Terry Willitts has been a geek for over four decades and isn’t stopping soon. He lives in Florida, where he works at the West Volusia Humane Society, a non-profit no-kill animal shelter, and spends his free time reading, writing, role-playing and watching TV, movies, and yes, pro wrestling. You can follow him on Twitter here: @cr8dv8.