Before I get to talking about NECW's huge weekend next weekend featuring the 5th Annual IRON 8 Championship and the 19th Annual Hot Dog Safari, I want to share the experience I had this past Friday night at the venerable Framingham Civic League to see the Pennsylvania-based Chikara promotion, run by the current NWA Junior Heavyweight Champion, Mike Quackenbush.
There are lots of different ways to promote wrestling. Some base their events on booking big name talent. Some stick to local stars. Some run their live events off a school using primarily students. In my experience, I find that most wrestler led promotions ultimately fail because the wrestler loses perspective and books what they have around them rather than what is good and will actually draw.
Chikara was a breath of fresh air on a lot of levels.
The best way I can describe Chikara to you is that it is an Americanized lucha libra styled promotion that takes the pageantry and working framework of the Mexican style of lucha libre and adds some over the top character and smart humor. It's sort of like a Harlem Globetrotters of pro wrestling.
To accomplish something like this, you need to train students to be able to do the style. Mike Quackenbush is the trainer, promoter and working wrestler in his company - a pro wrestling auteur who has managed to create "the perfect storm" of style, talent and creativity.
Chikara is the student-based wrestling promotion that gets it right. These students are completely respectful and 100% behind the promotion. They deliver a product that is fresh, colorful and superbly entertaining from top to bottom. Mike Quackenbush has done something that takes a lot of vision and patience, as well as great intelligence and impeccable leadership. Chikara takes pro wrestling and adds numerous creative twists to where it almost surpasses the genre as art. In fact, they even had a match from Kajiu Big Battel, which is a company that puts on "wrestling cards" with actors dressed up as anime type monsters - a perfect fit in the tweaked world of Chikara. He also had some real veteran luchadores - Jorge "Skydae" Rivera and Pantera - who worked a classic lucha match and worked out with the students. They bring a credibility to the style that is part of what keeps Chikara from veering into parody.
Their business model functions a lot on DVD sales which are conducted through Smart Mark Video. This doesn't work for every independent, but the Chikara product is so unique, you can see why it would develop a following among independent DVD buyers.
While Chikara is not without its flaws (too many matches on the show for one), it's imperfections are minimized by good booking. I'm not sure Chikara is something that could succeed as a monthly type of promotion, but a series of bi-annual tours, like the analogy I made with the Harlem Globetrotters, would probably work like crazy.
Hats off to everyone involved with Chikara, and most especially Mike Quackenbush, who could very well be one of the most creative men on the independent scene in America.
Of course, the real lesson of Chikara is that being different is important. Quack could have easily followed every other independent company doing the same basic American pro wrestling approach and it would never have gotten out of their home in Pennsylvania. It is always easier to make your own tracks than to try and retrace the steps of others.
Speaking of things that are unique, this coming Saturday night we have our 5th annual IRON 8 Championship Tournament at the Armory in Quincy, MA. This could very well be the best field we have ever presented for this annual classic, which is a real twist on the typical 8 man tournament you see many independent companies run across the country trying to emulate promoter Jim Kettner's ECWA Super 8 Tournament. The Super 8 is - as Jim Crockett Promotions used to say about Starrcade - "the granddaddy of them all."
One of the things I am most proud of with NECW is that we managed to develop this event over time to where it is a truly original athletic event. Eight men start, paired into 4 singles matches. The 4 winners then go on to face each other in a 4 way, 45 minute iron man match. Whoever scores the most pinfalls or submissions in the 45 minutes is the winner and that year's IRON 8 Champion. To compete in this event, you have to be able to wrestle for an hour against a high caliber of opponent. The final 4 way is guaranteed to be a match filled with great athletics and great drama.
This year's tournament features: "Die Hard" Eddie Edwards (who has won the last two tournaments), Gran Akuma from Chikara, "The Exotic" Kristian Frost, "The Real Deal" Brandon Locke, "The Golden Greek" Alex Arion, "The Natural" Scott Osbourne, former ECW & TNA star, Julio Dinero and from Florida, "The Japanese Nightmare" Kahagas.
In addition to the tournament, we have a special mixed tag team "Champion's Challenge" with NECW Triple Crown Champion, "The Mohawked Enforcer" Max Bauer teaming with "The Gorgeous Greek" Elektra Arion taking on the team of former Triple Crown Champion, Big Rick Fuller and World Women's Wrestling Champion, "The Portuguese Princess" Ariel.
New England did not have any kind of top flight annual independent event that local fans and others from outside the area could make into a high point of the year. The IRON 8 is our attempt to do that and in recent years, particularly since we turned into a one night event rather than something spread over two nights, it has gelled into a real jewel of our promotion.
The following day, NECW heads to Suffolk Downs in Revere, MA - a horse racing track - which is the site of one of the most unique charitable events in the country - Eddie Andelman's 19th Annual Hot Dog Safari.
What is a "Hot Dog Safari" you ask? Eddie Andelman, who is a sports talk radio legend in Boston is noted for being one of the nation's great connoisseurs of hot dogs. 19 years ago, he created this event where he got a group of people together to search the area for the best hot dog. The proceeds from the event went to the Cystic Fibrosis Foundation's The Joey Fund, which funds medical research seeking to cure this horrible disease. The event grew to where dozens of vendors supply a variety of hot dogs, sausages, ice cream sundaes and other treats. For a small admission price ($12 in advance, $15 at the gate, with kids under 6 free) you can eat as much as you like (no extra charge for the food) and the entire gate proceeds go to The Joey Fund.
The event draws tens of thousands each year, and for the past three years, New England Championship Wrestling has presented the featured entertainment at the event - a live professional wrestling card. Our matches are free as part of the event. The gates open at 9 am. Wrestling starts at 11 am and continues until somewhere between 3 pm and 4 pm, when the event closes.
This year, we will be presenting a 16 man tournament to crown a new NECW Television Champion, plus other bouts including the stars of World Women's Wrestling and the top stars of NECW, including Triple Crown Champion, Max Bauer.
We are absolutely thrilled and proud to be a part of this terrific one of a kind event for a very worthy cause. Last year, this event raised over $200,000 and I hope this year's beats that figure handily.
My thanks to Eddie Andelman for having myself, Max Bauer and Elektra Arion on his Sports Huddle show on 96.9 WTKK FM last night to help promote the Hot Dog Safari.
A quick note about upcoming DVD's: This Saturday night, we will be selling not one, but TWO new releases - NECW Best of 2007 (a deluxe 2 disc set) and Best of NECW TV 2007. I really enjoyed putting these together as they contain a treasure trove of great matches and mayhem. I am really proud of these DVD's and hope you pick them up at the IRON 8 on Saturday or online the following week.