Chikara: family-friendly wrestling minus steroids

Wrestling superstar Brett “Hitman” Hart once said that professional wrestling is a form of entertainment in America, tradition in Canada, art in Japan and the way of life in Mexico. Chikara is a Philadelphia-based pro

Wrestling superstar Brett “Hitman” Hart once said that professional wrestling is a form of entertainment in America, tradition in Canada, art in Japan and the way of life in Mexico. Chikara is a Philadelphia-based pro wrestling promotional company that draws influences from each of these four nations’ styles.

Created by “Lightning” Mike Quackenbush in 2002, Chikara is a colorful brand of wrestling that pits masked characters against each other in epic battles of good versus evil.

Because Vince McMahon’s WWE – arguably America’s last major pro wrestling promotion – is saturated in negative press amid a growing steroid scandal, Chikara may find itself at the forefront of a vacant wrestling market. Part of the organization’s growing popularity stems from the niche that Quackenbush has carved out for it. He created a comical form of wrestling that focuses on family-friendly entertainment and showmanship instead of steroid-bloated muscles.

“[WWE] is like U2 on television and Chikara is like the weird indie band that no one has ever heard of,” said ’05 BTMM alumnus Bryce Remsburg, a commentator and referee for Chikara.

Chikara may be a little more popular than that indie band, though. Four hundred people attended Chikara’s “Cibertinico & Robin” event, a high-flying Lucho Libra form of wrestling, at the former South Philly ECW Arena Fri., Sept. 28.

“Cibertinico & Robin” featured an energetic 16-man tournament with quirky wrestlers who imitate celebrities like Cheech and Chong and the Olsen twins.

The exaggerated stereotype of juiced-up pro wrestlers was absent at the event: size does not matter in Chikara. Instead, rather normal-looking wrestlers demonstrated their athletic prowess by executing technical, acrobatic and high-flying maneuvers that were met with the thunderous applause of a diverse crowd.

“We’re very proud of the fact that there are people of all ages at our show,” Remsburg said. “Older people, college kids, hipsters, comic book geeks . . . there is something for everyone. It’s definitely psychological and it definitely plays on one’s emotions.”

One of the most electrifying moments of the night was the “teacher vs. student” match, where Quackenbush locked horns with Tim Donst, a prospective young wrestler who previously trained under Quackenbush’s original Chikara school. It’s safe to say that most professional wrestling matches are predetermined, but the fluid exchange of bridges, headlocks and reversals between teacher and student was far too spontaneous to be choreographed.

For Donst, 19, it must have been overwhelming to finally wrestle in the fabled ECW arena against Quackenbush, who is an inspiration to him as a wrestler, trainer and friend. Donst represents one of the fresher faces who will inevitably be the future of Chikara. Since making his debut in April 2007, Donst has maintained both his pro wrestling persona along and his studies at East Stroudsburg University. It made for an easy gimmick, at least – his ring attire includes nothing more than his high school wrestling team uniform and headgear, fittingly symbolic of his passion towards the sport and eager-to-learn attitude.

“I found Chikara through a friend and began training there routinely as a sophomore in high school,” Donst said. “This typically meant driving to [Chikara’s training school in] Allentown, Pa., two nights a week with a buddy of mine while studying flashcards for exams, only to get bruised and beaten.”

Despite the simple nature of his story, pro wrestling is still not for the weak of heart or will. Donst is portrayed as a lovable underdog, a title that usually entails taking serious beatings. In his third match, Donst got a concussion after being on the receiving end of a clothesline, which gave him migraines for the next three days and temporarily rendered him incapable of driving.

It was not enough, however, to keep him from finishing the match.

“[The pain] would return whenever I exercised and I was extremely scared that not only my pro wrestling career but [also] my athletic career was over,” Donst said before adding that he would get his chance for revenge at Chikara’s “Bruised” event in Reading, Pa., on Oct. 26.

With Chikara’s season coming to an end and its last show before 2008 taking place Nov. 18 at the ECW Arena, the future looks bright. DVD sales are at their peak, their Web site receives more worldwide hits each day and major retailers will release a new DVD Nov. 6.

Chikara’s happy-go-lucky approach toward pro wrestling makes it hard for even the most cynical person to find anything seriously wrong with it. After all, as Donst would say, who doesn’t love an underdog?

Jimmy Viola can be reached at

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