The biggest fallacy about ECW is that it was all about the violence, about hardcore and extreme. Granted, the “Extreme” part of the name showed through in the no-DQ atmosphere, but I feel like it gets overplayed. ECW was never really just about the hardcore stuff.
There was a great buffet of different styles, from lucha libre to Japanese junior heavyweight to classic tag team wrestling. There was comedy and tragedy. There were heartfelt tales and edgy feuds. There were colorful characters. If anything could summarize ECW in a neat little box, it would be the moniker of being a promotion that always pushed boundaries.
The entire lineup, top to bottom, was fresh and impactful. Each match engaged the crowd in its own way, whether it was the comedic brilliance of Archibald Peck against Colt Cabana or the pure emotion and competition of the main event between Eddie Kingston and Mike Quackenbush. The match that I think exemplified this spirit was the lucha de apuesta match between the Spectral Envoy of UltraMantis Black and Hallowicked against the BDK contingent of Tim Donst and Ares.
The term “lucha de apuesta” literally translates to “fight with a wager”. Both teams staked something personal in the match, which right away speaks to the kind of feud this match was ending. It’s a lucha libre staple, and it makes sense since Chikara is the most prominent American lucha libre promotion. Mantis and ‘Wicked risked their masks, a HUGE deal in lucha. Ares put his Eye of Tyr on the line (a mystical artifact at the center of their issue), while Donst wagered his hair. This match also ostensibly ended a feud that has lasted for almost three years. Long feuds ending in matches with high stakes? Yeah, that’s definitely an ECW thing.
The match’s no-DQ rules made it very much a relatively violent affair for the promotion. Everyone went through a chair at one point, there was plentiful action on the outside of the ring, and the air of brutality was palpable. All that being said, no one bled, they didn’t need barbed wire or light tubes and the big bumps were limited to one or two per each participant. While ECW was known for the barbed wire and the preponderance of weapons, they also had several matches that pushed the limits of physicality without going the 10 extra miles that other supposed inheritors of their spirit go without any provocation.
The thing about Chikara is that it’s tried and true family entertainment. Unlike WWE, which has a PG rating and still does its best to fit as many veiled dick and poop jokes into RAW as they can, Chikara really does have a family-friendly atmosphere. It’s their oeuvre, and they don’t compromise it for anyone or anything. Even with that trope in their arsenal, one that some people wrongly label as a crutch, they still are able to channel the far edgier ECW in all respects. This tag match exhibited the extreme attitude of ECW without compromising Chikara’s mission statement. That’s more than admirable, and it shows that good storytelling beats out excess anytime.
Meanwhile, Chikara, the company that has made the ECW Arena its home, has tapped into that spirit without compromising its own identity. That is why of any promotion that calls that arena home, it is the most deserving heir to the crown of “best indie wrestling promotion” that ECW established in 1994 and held until Heyman stopped caring about paying the bills somewhere between 1999 and 2001.
Tom Holzerman is a lifelong wrestling fan and connoisseur of all things Chikara Pro, among other feds. When he’s not writing for the Camel Clutch Blog, you can find him on his own blog, The Wrestling Blog.