Chikara “You Only Live Twice” Review

livetwiceIntroduction
-May 25, 2014. Palmer Center. Easton, Pennsylvania.
This is why I love professional wrestling. You should probably read this so you understand my wrestling values, if you will.
This is why I love Chikara.
-I didn’t plan on reviewing Chikara’s 2014 shows. However, it’s been a week and Googling “Chikara Diamonds Are Forever Review” returns zero reviews. I like doing things that no one else seems to be.
-You’re not going to get star ratings or hold by hold replays here. I’m going to focus on match quality and how it works with the characters and the stories Chikara is trying to tell. If it sounds good, buy it and watch it! You can find pretty much everything Chikara has ever done on Smartmark Video. They are good people.

ashes-of-chikara-movieThe Ashes of Chikara
The Ashes of Chikara is a feature-length film that tries to bridge the gap between “Aniversario: Never Compromise,” where Chikara was “shut down” by evil Director of Fun Wink Vavasseur, and National Pro Wrestling Day, when Chikara was reborn, repelling The Flood, a group of rudos bent on destroying the last remnants of Chikara.

It’s incredibly ambitious and had the potential to be great. After all, the story of a bunch of evildoers slowly destroying the things we love seems like a great blueprint for drama. Unfortunately, it suffered from horrific execution.

As great as the Chikara roster is in the ring, almost none of them felt natural in front of these cameras. Only Chuck Taylor and Robert Evans, to the surprise of no one, were convincing. The sound mixing was distracting. It jumped months ahead without indication or orientation. Threads were introduced in the beginning and resolved in the end without doing any of the work in between. The Flood never seemed like a threat, despite video footage of them shutting down nearly all of the Wrestling Is… promotions.

I love Chikara, but this was a terrible, terrible movie. It could have been great, or at least passable, but needed far better filmmakers to execute the ideas. I didn’t get anything from it that I didn’t already get from watching the Wrestling Is… shows invaded by The Flood.

Pre-Show Notes
-Leonard Chikarason and Gavin Loudspeaker welcome us back! Gavin is a tiny, tiny man.
-The member of the Colony known as Green Ant became Silver Ant somewhere around this show. I was initially against the name change until I learned that there is actually a silver ant. They live in Saharan Africa. Thanks, Google! Also, his new uni is pretty sweet.
-A Gun barrel-style introduction with a please-don’t-sue-us version of Monty Norman’s Bond Theme is a thing you didn’t know you needed to see until you see it.
-This was probably the hottest crowd I’ve ever seen.
-The lighting at the Palmer Center was not very flattering for anybody.

SEBDKBruderschaft des Kreuzes (Ares, Nøkken, & Tursas) defeated Spectral Envoy (Frightmare, Hallowicked & UltraMantis Black) via Pinfall
Sadly, I missed the BDK’s original rampage through Chikara. However, I caught enough to appreciate the sheer impossibility of cheering for them, as well as their wonderful knock off of Ramstein’s Engel. Manager Milo Schnitzler and Nøkken are the newcomers. Schnitzler was an awkward beat or two behind in the BDK’s trademark taunts. Nøkken has the size of Tursas and deceptive quickness and athleticism. He’s no Claudio Castagnoli, but then again, no one is.

Starting the show with the reigning King of Trios was a brilliant idea, especially against the BDK. The already crazy crowd blew up when the Envoy was jumped by Tursas, former BDK enforcer and “The Mountain If He Let Himself Go A Bit,” whom no one even knew was back. I’m usually not a big fan of ringside brawls. They’re usually just walking around while weakly clubbing each other’s backs. However, this one played off of a burning rivalry and a red hot crowd, so it definitely worked to the benefit of the match.

Everything was fresh and crisp. The action never quit and kept the crowd’s attention. The BDK won with a Ragnarok at 8:00. The match was shorter than I expected, but that’s probably the right call with a long, emotional night ahead for the Chikarmy.

tumblr_n69m2d79Lu1rj7fgso1_500“Smooth Sailin’” Ashley Remington defeated Chuck Taylor via Submission
Next was “Smooth Sailin’” Ashley Remington’s Chikara debut. He seems to have the gimmick of laid-back guy who owns a yacht. He immediately won over the audience by loudly assuring referee Jonathan Barber that he “breaks on one, my friend.”

Remington could have no better opponent than Chuck Taylor, whose massive personality hides how hard he works to make his opponent look good. Whether it’s Chikara, PWG, or Dragon Gate USA, Chuck Taylor is usually the best thing on the show. No one combines humor and wrestling better than Chucky T.

Remington picked up the win at 7:35 with Anchors Aweigh, a hold that looked like some sort of Trailer Hitch/Haas of Pain.

Sorry, I’m only the Master of about 100-200 Holds.

Mike Quakenbush Promo
Mike Quackenbush was introduced as the new Director of Fun. He introduced the new owner of Chikara, Robbie Ellis, before thanking everyone for sticking with Chikara.

As sad as I am that Quack is done wrestling, I get it. The guy’s 38 and has suffered multiple injuries. He’s accomplished a ton and he’s stepped in the ring with all his idols.

This segment wasn’t must-see, but it did a nice job of establishing the new administrative positions in the company. It’s also a little weird to come out and say “Thanks for not bailing on us while we did all this weird shit that no one could participate in unless they lived in Pennsylvania!” That’s weird for them to say, right?

tumblr_n55lmpbVTN1qe2ybqo1_400The Batiri (Kobald, Kodama, & Obariyon) defeated the Odditorium (Oliver Grimsly, Qefka the Quiet, & Sinn Bodhi) via Disqualification
These two teams have a long history. The Batiri were once minions Sinn Bodhi created to be part of UltraMantis Black’s schemes. However, Bodhi decided to use them himself, beginning a huge rivalry between Bodhi and the Batiri and the Spectral Envoy that finally ended in a ten-man tag match at “Under the Hood.”

This match didn’t seem to flow quite as well as the rest of the evening’s matches. Both Oliver Grimsly and Qefka the Quiet were better than expected and if “mime” isn’t the perfect heel gimmick, I’ve don’t know what is.

Kobald is one of numerous Chikara performers who benefitted tremendously from a year of training. In 2012, he was so green (no pun intended) that even Sara Del Rey couldn’t carry him to a decent match. By 2013, he was still the Batiri’s weak link. Tonight, he was RING GENERAL!

This leaves Sinn Bodhi as the most likely suspect for a sub-par match. Man cannot live by stomps and chokes alone, but Sinn Bodhi tries. Nothing he does feels like it has purpose or urgency. I get that it’s a “heel” thing, but a person can do both.

Bodhi kicks one of the Batiri between the legs at 9:45 for the disqualification. I’m not thrilled about the finish on a night where the Odditorium needed to look strong. Instead, they came off as cowards.

Also, Booooooooo, Bryce Remsburg for not knowing his Bob Seger. He better get his ducks in a row before “Goldfinger” in Detroit.

JCJFDCJervis Cottonbelly vs. Juan Francisco de Coronado
Both of these Wrestling Is… stalwarts were also making their Chikara debuts. Jervis Cottonbelly is the gentleman grappler (he handed out roses during his entrance!) and de Coronado is an arrogant Ecuadorian who takes advantage of handshakes.

This was a solidly wrestled match, which de Coronado won at 5:09 with a Bridging German Suplex after spinning Jervis’ mask around. They didn’t get much time, but this one was more about establishing their characters. If that was the case, mission accomplished.

Bonus hilarity for Remsburg and Chikarason discussing how terrible de Coronado is at bowling.

10303771_638079909594392_7274567616735834149_nThe Throwbacks defeated the Pieces of Hate (Jigsaw & The Shard), 3.0 (Shane Matthews & Scott Parker), and Gekido (17 & deviANT) in a 4-Way Elimination Match
No one does multi-man tag matches better than Chikara. WWE got in on the act when they realized they could get a great match by taking any three guys and throwing them against The Shield. However, Chikara uses lucha tag rules where exiting the ring is the same as a physical tag, meaning that Chikara tag matches only slow down when they need to for storytelling purposes.

This match was no exception. 3.0 is always entertaining, the Throwbacks are great, and the Pieces of Hate have been quietly burning the house down since Jigsaw turned rudo. In addition, we get the return of 17, master of seventeen forgotten holds, who was last seen eating all four Quakendrivers at 2012’ s “The Ring of Wax.” This match was a ton of fun with some great spots, fast action, and some nice Chikara vs. Flood storytelling to boot.

17 eliminated 3.0 after a Jigsaw Double Stomp to Scott Parker at 8:20. The Throwbacks battled the four-on-two odds until Dasher eliminated deviANT with a springboard Oklahoma Roll at 13:45. After their elimination, 17 was attacked by some of Hallowicked’s students. Dasher got the tar kicked out of him for several minutes until Mr. Touchdown connected with a Stalling Superplex on Shard at 19:35 for the win.

Their two eliminations gaves the Throwbacks two points, one win away from a shot at the Campeonatos de Parejas. Pieces of Hate are still our reigning and defending champions, but Princess Kimber Lee and Knight Eye for the Pirate Guy own the physical belts. We’ll see how this plays out…

Intermission Promos
During intermission, we were treated to promos from Jimmy Jacobs, Icarus, and Eddie Kingston. Jacobs alluded to some sort of higher power and having seen horrors that can’t be unseen or explained. I hope Cthulu is secretly the leader of the Flood. Icarus says he’s going to beat Eddie Kingston for the Grand Championship and this time, no security forces are going to stop him. Kingston, meanwhile, assured us that he was not about to tap out to the Chikara Special at “Aniversario: Never Compromise” and wonders what has changed that Icarus thinks he has a chance to win the Grand Championship.

The Jacobs and Kingston promos were good pieces of character work and it was particularly nice to get some motives from the de facto leader of the Flood. However, both wandered and repeated themselves. A little more focus in both would have done wonders.

APJJJimmy Jacobs defeated Archibald Peck via Pinfall
Jimmy Jacobs attacked Peck during his entrance, kicking off the second half of the show with as much intensity as the first.

This was as fresh a matchup as we’ve seen in Chikara for a long time. I never get tired of the Chikara roster battling each other in different combinations, but it was cool to see an established indie wrestler join the Chikara roster. Usually, it’s the opposite with guys like Claudio Castagnoli, Brodie Lee, and Sara Del Rey headed to WWE or guys like Johnny Gargano, Chris Hero, and Ricochet headed to “greener” indie pastures.

Both of these guys know how to expertly tell a story in the ring, so the match was quite good until the finish. Unfortunately, one of Jacobs’ plague doctor goons mistimed a weapon shot, leading to a sloppy finish after a diving Ace Crusher at 9:37.

Also, if I ever see a guy kicking out of ten consecutive DDTs again, it will be too soon.

tumblr_n5vjgooiLI1qe2ybqo1_400Colony: Xtreme Force (Arctic Rescue Ant, Missile Assault Ant, & Orbit Adventure Ant) defeated The Colony (Fire Ant, Silver Ant, & Worker Ant) via Pinfall
We’ve seen these teams clash plenty before in what felt like an angle that was never properly resolved. So, the massively popular stable and the team created to crudely capitalize on their popularity seem like a natural starting point for both teams this season.

The problem with their 2013 matches was that Xtreme Force was clearly not in the Colony’s league. Xtreme Force did some good character work, but none of them were good enough in the ring to believably beat, well, just about anyone.

The good news is that the gap has closed tremendously over the last year. Worker Ant is still no Soldier Ant, he’s gotten a lot less awkward in the ring and his power makes up for the rest. Missile Assault Ant tossed Worker Ant around with ease, caught Fire Ant like Michael Elgin, and generally looked as polished as we’ve ever seen. Orbit Adventure Ant debuted some new power moves. Arctic Rescue Ant, however, felt like the weak link in this one. He seemed constantly out of position, almost like he couldn’t mentally keep up with where he was supposed to be.

Silver Ant and Fire Ant are so effortlessly good that I didn’t understand what the big deal was when I started watching Chikara. Add in a year’s worth of improvement from the other four participants with just a dash of pathos and you’ve got a recipe for what I’m calling THE MATCH OF THE NIGHT! Xtreme Force picked up the win after Missile Assault Ant connected with a Lawn Dart into an exposed turnbuckle at 14:38.

I also loved the mini-brawl after the match that saw the Colony get back the King of Trios medals wrongly awarded to Xtreme Force by Wink Vavasseur. Bonus points go to Worker Ant for gingerly holding Soldier Ant’s medal with body language that screamed “this is great, but I didn’t earn this.” The three-pronged story of the Colony/Soldier Ant/Worker Ant is clearly not over yet.

IEKIcarus defeated Eddie Kingston(c) for the Chikara Grand Championship via Submission
It’s pretty cool that history was made and that we crowned a new Grand Champion. However, this match just didn’t do it for me.

I think the biggest problem is that Icarus is not the sort of guy who has great matches with Eddie Kingston. This is no dig on Icarus. His work with FIST, particularly his crowd/tattoo interaction, is some of the best heel work I have ever seen.

However, Eddie Kingston’s best matches are ones in which he can convincingly get the crap beaten out of him. This isn’t to say that he needs to be the underdog, but he does need to be dealt convincing damage.

His best title defense was against Brodie Lee. I was in hossfight heaven. Brodie beat the hell out of him. The next tier contains more hosses: Sara Del Rey, Tadasuke, Kevin Steen. Vin Gerard could believably work that knee injury. Jigsaw, Hallowicked, and Green Ant could use their quickness and technical ability to keep him down.

For all his strengths, Icarus doesn’t have any of those things.

The less said about the finish, the better. Icarus couldn’t keep Kingston up for the Blu-Ray, sending both to the mat. It’s no big deal. It’s bound to happen. In fact, it’s crazy that it doesn’t happen more often given the improvisational nature of professional wrestling. However, one of my biggest pet peeves is when wrestlers ignore what happened and just go right back into the spot. If a guy narrowly escapes a finisher, is he going to immediately stumble right back into it? It’s just one of those things that reminds the viewer that they are suspending their disbelief.

All complaints aside, the match wasn’t bad. It just wasn’t great, which is what you want from a match of this magnitude. Icarus became the second Chikara Grand Champion when Kingston passed out to the Chikara Special at 16:40. Congrats to Icarus!

Rare thumbs down to the Chikara crowd for going along with the douchy “Burger Kingston” chant. Eddie is better at his job than you are at yours and could tear your face off. Shut the heck up.

QYQJ5TAPost-Show
Icarus celebrated before the Flood comes out, seemingly lead by the massive Titan of Titor. The Flood and Chikara brawl, Soldier Ant and Delirious are unleashed on the tecnicos, and Kobald bravely stared down (up?) the Titan.

Unfortunately, I had seen a “Vengeance for Kobald” sign on an episode of Raw, so I had the feeling something bad was going to happen to him. I was incredibly relieved when he survived the Odditorium match. Then I saw him challenge the Titan of Titor in the middle of the ring. DON’T DO IT, KOBALD!

The Titan channeled his inner Bane and snapped Kobald over his knee with a Chokebreaker that storyline killed “Kobald.”

VENGEANCE FOR KOBALD!

Overall
“You Only Live Twice” was exactly what it needed to be. It hit all the right notes, explained what it needed to explain, and did everything it had to do, including wins over two Kings of Trios winners, to get the Flood over as a threat.

Throughout the show, however, you got the idea that it would be a pretty even fight. Sure, the Flood won their matches, but the Batiri stood up to the Odditorium. The Throwbacks seem poised to reclaim the Campeonatos de Parejas. Archibald Peck and the Colony may have lost, but there were shenanigans involved.

Despair is a strong word, but the ending gave us little reason to believe the Flood could be stopped. Dammed? Staunched? There’s an awful pun in here somewhere…

If things were even by the end of the main event, the return of Delirious and Soldier Ant, both of whom have great reasons for joining the Flood, had to tip the scales in the favor of the Flood. Delirious lost two years of his life to the BDK thanks to UltraMantis Black and the Eye of Tyr. Soldier Ant was abandoned by his Colony teammates and replaced with Worker Ant. We’ll see if that’s the angle or if it was some sort of “broken in a POW camp” story, but either one will work.

And if that wasn’t enough, there’s a monster that LITERALLY MURDERS tecnicos as easily as Mr. Touchdown kills feral pigeons. (RIP: Sapphire. Also, that crowd reaction tells you everything you need to know about Chikara’s relationship with their fans. And the fact that I’m tearing up should tell you everything you need to know about me.)

The deck seems impossibly stacked against Chikara. I watch wrestling because it can be a beautiful medium for storytelling and this one could be a doozy if done well.

Should I Buy It?
For the Wrestling? Yes. Only one match fell flat and a sloppy finish hurt another. The other seven were at least enjoyable.
For the History? Yes. The return of Chikara, the “death” of Kobald, the reveal of Delirious and Soldier Ant, and a Grand Championship title change make this one heck of a historic show.
For the Storytelling? Absolutely. This show is essential viewing for the rest of the Chikara season.

*************************

More Chikara

I Am ChikaraYou Only Live TwiceQuantum of SolaceDiamonds Are ForeverGoldfingerThe Living DaylightsThe World Is Not EnoughPermis De TuerVivre Et Laisser Mourir – King of Trios 2014 (Night One)(Night Two)(Night Three) – Thunderball – Moonraker – On Her Majesty’s Secret Service – For Your Eyes Only – Tomorrow Never Dies

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