CHIKARA made their return to WrestleMania weekend with a good show that was full of familiar faces and very on-brand: fun!

There’s a wacky opening video with CHIKARA asking us to dump wrestling that “comes off a corporate conveyor belt”. Hmm… This show’s from the White Eagle Hall in Jersey City – the home of the Collective – and we’ve a wacky jump cut in the replay as all of a sudden we’re into our opening match! Mike Quackenbush and Doug Diamondfire are on the call.

CCK (Chris Brookes & Kid Lykos) vs. Cornelius Crummels & Sonny Defarge
Lykos and Defarge start us off, and you can tell there’s a few folks who know CCK because there’s unison as the wolf went for (and lost) a brainbuster attempt early on.

Crummels comes in as he threatened to sneeze on Lykos, who ducked and tagged in Brookes. There’s a stomp and a low dropkick for a one-count, before he went into the bag of tricks and struggled to give Crummels a wet willie… which ended when Cornelius sneezed on him. All the gross! Brookes hits back as he slingshotted Crummels into Defarge’s groin, before Lykos tagged and again failed on a brainbuster as he ended up having his knee taken out instead. There’s a Lykos comeback as he kicked and kneed away on Defarge, before Brookes came back in to land some chops. The dropkick/back senton combo from Brookes has the former tag team champions on the mat, but he can’t hit a dive as they dragged him outside first.

It’s Lykos who dives though, as his tope suicida hits the mark… back in the ring a Diamond Dust from Lykos and a stomp from Brookes gets a two-count, but the former champs hit back with some nice double-teaming that ends with a clothesline for a near-fall. Brookes turned it back around with a slingshot cutter to Defarge, before a Lykos brainbuster almost won it… A Praying Mantis Bomb attempt on Defarge is blocked, as Crummels came back with a sweet slingshot piledriver before he powerbombed Brookes onto some knees for another near-fall, with Lykos keeping the match alive. Lykos’ split-legged corkscrew moonsault nearly ends it, before he was caught on top with an assisted monkey flip off the top rope for the win. A hell of an opening match, with the former tag team champions getting a statement win here. ***½

Apparently CHIKARA’s naming a new Director of Fun later on. They’ve got a new ring announcer too – those roles seem to change on a disturbingly regular basis…

Missile Assault Man vs. Boomer Hatfield
The former ant is one win away from a title shot – and with Dasher Hatfield currently holding the Grand Championship, he’s sending his son out to try and end the streak.

Missile Assault Man has a big size advantage, which he used early on to drop Boomer… and it’s all one-way traffic here. A floating Northern Lights suplex gets a near-fall, then a pop-up uppercut… and he’s going beyond what the fans thought were acceptable in his pursuit of a win. Somehow, Boomer fights back with the Fast Ball Special – a running cannonball – before he took MAM outside for a baseball slide dropkick. A satellite DDT through the ropes doesn’t help as MAM had his legs in the ropes… and seconds later Boomer is put away with an inverted crucifix bomb. Well, Daddy won’t be proud of you, son. **

Arik Cannon, Cam Zagami, Hallowicked & Hermit Crab vs. Jigsaw, Razerhawk, Stokely Hathaway™ (Chuck Taylor) & The Estonian ThunderFrog
This was a “Golden Dreams Atomicos” match… with everyone being a former Young Lions Cup holder… including “Stokely Hathaway”, who was just getting his own back on the former “Chuck Taylor”.

Razerhawk and Zagami start us off, but Cam can’t get going as some headscissors led to both men tagging out. It’s going to be one of those, eh? Stokely and Cannon come in, as I get flashbacks to Herbert Powell in CHIKARA’s co-commentator. Cannon pulls Stokely into an armbar, but Stokely escapes as tags bring in Hallowicked and Jigsaw, with the latter quickly being forced to escape a Butterfly lock before he worked a wristlock. Some flying headscissors takes Hallowicked down ahead of a stomp for a near-fall, as we complete the set with Hermit Crab and the ThunderFrog, who came in with his hammer. ThunderFrog hits an airplane spin, then a Thunderball into the corner, before he took too long on a Vader bomb as the bad guys rushed the ring to mug him in the corner.

Zagami comes in when ThunderFrog was on the defensive, landing a neckbreaker for a near-fall as the ThunderFrog was kept isolated in the wrong corner. Hermit Crab goes for a back suplex but the ThunderFrog escaped before he threw Zagami into the Crab. An eventual tag brings in Jigsaw, who goes flying with a tope as Stokely returned to drop Arin Cannon with a Falcon Arrow for a near-fall. A slam drops Cannon by the corner for a double stomp, but Stokely rolls away and ends up landing Sole Food on Hallowicked… who respond with a Raideen Bomb (or Sky High, if you loved D’Lo Brown back in the day). Cannon quickly jumps in with an assisted neckbreaker in the ropes to nearly put away Jigsaw, before we broke out into more dives.

Zagami spikes Razerhawk with a snapmare driver as a Parade of Moves broke out, which led to ThunderFrog getting his hands on his hammer, ahead of a hammer blow to the ring that shook Zagami off his feet. That leaves him vulnerable for a senton bomb, and Razerhawk gets the win! This was a fun multi-man tag – one you’d probably dig more if you were more into CHIKARA, but in a bubble this was perfectly fine. ***

Air Wolf vs. A-Kid
Big pop for Air Wolf being called “Big Poppa Pup”.

The pair start off on the mat, with A-Kid keeping Air Wolf grounded with headlocks and armbars, before another side headlock led to a lucha armdrag and a dropkick from the Spaniard. Air Wolf responded with a dropkick of his own for a near-fall, before a double armbar ended when A-Kid managed to get into the ropes for a break. Kicks from Air Wolf seem to fire up A-Kid, who finally catches one and begins a fight back with palm strikes, only to get rocked with a European uppercut. A headkick stings the wolf, before A-Kid flipped out of a German suplex and rolled his foe into an armbar. The escape quickly followed, but both men end up pump kicking each other to their dooms as a standing ten count broke out.

A-Kid gets caught in the ropes for a 619, before Air Wolf clipped the ropes on a plancha to the outside. A springboard elbow drop back in doesn’t quite go to plan as the youngster was havign a rough go of it… but he recovers… and gets dumped with a baseball slide German suplex, then a massive missile dropkick from A-Kid for a near-fall. Another rolling triangle armbar from A-Kid looked to force a submission, before he countered Air Wolf’s counter into a Destroyer, following up with an attempted Spanish Fly… only to get caught with a spin-out butterfly superplex for a near-fall! From there, Air Wolf heads up top… but he’s stopped by a gamengiri from A-Kid, who finally landed his Spanish Fly for the win. Both these guys are perhaps a little rough around the edges, but the hype is real. Give Air Wolf a little longer, and he’s going to be a huge name… but considering the lack of experience here, this was both guys’ breakout matches. ****¼

Juan Francisco de Coronado comes out next… he’s quickly in the ring, so we’re spared his long entrance. He’s got a message for us: his name wasn’t Juan Francisco de Coronado… and he’s had his Ecuadorian citizenship revoked to boot. He thinks of quitting, which some of the crowd cheers, especially because nobody travelled here to see him. However, he’s taking that as a sign he needs to show his worth… as he signed off under a new name: John Francis of Coronado. Huh.

CHIKARA Young Lions Cup: Still Life With Apricots And Pears (c) vs. Carlos Romo
Still Life is a one of CHIKARA’s latest avant garde characters, complete with a “non-binary” character to boot.

The opponent for Still Life here was Carlos Romo in an inaugural title defence, before we got a cheapshot from the opening handshake. Romo’s met with an elbow drop to the knee as he was taken down, before the Spaniard came in with a leapfrog and a dropkick for a near-fall. Romo jams his knee on a leapover, which opened the door for Still Life, who followed in with a modified toe hold to force Romo to the ropes. Romo finally got some offence in, chopping away on Still Life, only to get caught in the ropes for a dropkick to the bad knee. A small package from Romo counters a Figure Four, before he ran in with a Shining Wizard…

A series of strikes and a forearm has Still Life loopy, as Romo followed in with a twisting lucha cutter off the ropes, ahead of a moonsault that saw him crash and burn. Still Life quickly capitalises with an Indian deathlock, dragging Romo into the middle of the ring as the Venus de Milo eventually forces Romo to tap. I liked how Romo’s injury playing into the match – I’d have liked to have seen more out of these two, but with the story they had, this was pretty great. ***½

The Whisper vs. Princess KimberLee
This match pitted the tag team champions against each other, and KimberLee threw aside her tag title belt to go straight after the Whisper with a series of German suplexes.

The crowd counts along with the German suplexes, but Whisper finally comes back with an ushigoroshi-like move for a one-count. Another German suplex took Whisper down again, as commentary noted how they’ve got a tag title defence in three weeks… so those rolling Germans perhaps would cause a problem down the line. UGGG! Whisper hits a German suplex of his own, folding KimberLee in half, but she comes right back with a bridging German… and that’s all folks. Not much of a match, but a nice display of aggressive German suplexes. **

FIST (Icarus, Tony Deppen & Travis Huckabee) vs. The Colony (Fire Ant, Green Ant & Thief Ant)
These are staples of CHIKARA, albeit with different lineups as the Friends In Similar Tights took on a new set of ants.

It breaks down into a brawl at the bell as FIST quickly took over, with Travis Huckabee dropping knees on Green Ant, who replied by trying to work a submission hold, only for Tony Deppen to break it up. We’re under lucha rules, as Thief Ant and Deppen trade chops before Deppen went crashing into the third row with a wild tope. In true CHIKARA style, that drew “holy poop” chants. Never change.

Green Ant lands a twisting plancha to the outside as the dives stopped with Icarus and Fire Ant trading blows… but Icarus misses a charge and ends up outside as the Ants launch Fire Ant into an assisted cannonball to the outside – the Antepault, as they call it here. Back in the ring, Deppen’s worn out as Green Ant looks for a CHIKARA Special… but that’s quickly stopped as Huckabee wants in. That led to a trio of kicks to Green Ant in the corner for a near-fall before the Ants return with a trio of shotgun dropkicks to Huckabee. An attempted Air Raid Crash from Fire Ant ends with a Stretch Muffler from Huckabee… but true to his form, Thief Ant broke it up and tried for the same move before he hit Icarus’ Pedigree finisher for a near-fall. I like this Thief Ant gimmick…

There’s a quite fortuitous roll-up as Green Ant’s headscissors nearly pinned Deppen… but Green Ant instead went for a CHIKARA special that Icarus broke up with a Blu-ray into the corner. A Pedigree to Thief Ant gets Icarus a near-fall, before he withstood some palm strikes from Fire Ant… who rebounded from a rebound German to spike Icarus with a Beach Break (air raid crash) for a near-fall in among Thief Ant’s broken antennae. In the end, Huckabee ate a top rope ‘rana from Fire Ant, then a big splash from Green Ant who again goes back to the CHIKARA Special… but Huckabee counters into a Stretch Muffler, locking him in with body scissors for the quick tap. I really enjoyed this one – FIST get a win on their way to their title shot, and I have no idea how they’ll play this with the numbers game. ***¼

Before the main event, Bryce Remsburg took the mic to address him resigning as Director of Fun with CHIKARA… before he introduced his replacement: it wasn’t “Smooth Sailing” Ashley Remington, as they trolled us with the music of the man now known as Dalton Castle… it was Sidney Bakabella. Ah man, that’s not fun. No man should be wearing thigh high boots, I don’t care what you’re doing.

Ladder Match for CHIKARA Grand Championship: Dasher Hatfield vs. Mark Angelosetti
Angelosetti, otherwise known as “Mr. Touchdown”, went into this looking to regain the title title he’d originally handed over to Dasher Hatfield – his Throwbacks tag team partner – while recovering from a broken leg last year. When Angelosetti returned to the ring earlier this year, he tried to recover his belt… only for Dasher to refuse.

This one started as a fight as Mr. Touchdown tried to brawl around the arena, eventually taking Hatfield into the ring apron before getting thrown into the ring. Hatfield brings in a ladder, but Touchdown dropkicks him through the ropes as he looked to set up the ladder… but slow wrestler climbing kicked in as Angelosetti dropped down.

A jawbreaker from Hatfield stunned Angelosetti (a kayfabe “step cousin in law”, which is a very tenuous relation if I do say so!), before he got caught with a shotgun dropkick into the ladder in the corner. Touchdown does a bodysplash onto a ladder that was on Hatfield, which didn’t look smart. Touchdown looks to climb the ladder, but Hatfield just pushes him into the corner, then out of the ring as commentary instantly surmised about a leg injury, before he hit a “Grand Slam”, targetting Angelosetti’s legs on the edge of the ring. A back body drop from Touchdown sends Hatfield crashing to the floor, while the former champion went under the ring for a ladder – a much bigger one to boot.

Touchdown props it up against the ropes, then flung Hatfield back-first into the turnbuckles. Hatfield tries to fight back, throwing a ladder at Touchdown… but he gets out of the way before a slingshot sent Hatfield nicely onto the ladder, ahead of a back suplex that dumped both men off of it. Slow Wrestler Climbing costs Angelosetti as he tried to scale the ladder, allowing Hatfield to wear him down on the mat, but a belly-to-back suplex drops Hatfield with force. Hatfield comes back round as he ran Touchdown’s shin into a ladder after having blocked a tornado reverse DDT… and there’s the opening Dasher needed, as he hung Touchdown in a Tree of Woe before plastering him with kicks and a baseball slide kick that sent the ladder into him.

We’ve a quick shot of Boomer Hatfield in the front row as Dasher climbed the ladder and had a hand on the belt… but Touchdown throws a second ladder at him to break it up. The second ladder’s set up as they ended up pushing each other off the top and down to the mat. Dasher tries to thread a ladder between the ropes, before he whipped Touchdown into the trapped ladder. A second one’s placed directly opposite it, but Hatfield’s thrown into that as the two went back and forth POUNCING each other into ladders. CHRIST.

They continue the madness as a legdrop from Dasher sends a ladder into Touchdown’s head in the ropes, before Dasher tried to coerce his son into getting involved, as the little Hatfield got a chair and threw it into the ring. A Jackhammer drops Touchdown as Boomer quit looking for plunder… so Dasher just grabs a bunch of chairs himself… and ends up taking a spinebuster onto the back of a chair. OW. Touchdown untangles the top ladder as he tried to climb up again, only for Hatfield to throw his leg into it, then try and Pillmanise Angelosetti as he was on the ladder. OOF. You’d think that’d be it, but Hatfield lands a second Jackhammer, then scales a ladder to tease an elbow drop… but Angelosetti gets up and climbs with him before bringing him down with a superplex.

Big Ladder’s set up again as Touchdown avoids another swinging ladder strike, catching Hatfield with a Flea Flicker – an inside-out flip into a gutbuster – which looked to give Touchdown time to climb… but Hatfield catches him and powerbombed his distant relative through a ladder bridge. The holiest of poops… and it’s all elementary from there as Dasher Hatfield became the undisputed champion. In among all of the wackiness on the show, this was a relatively “safe” ladder match with some invention (I’d never seen the trapped ladder spot before), which led to perhaps the better of the ladder matches that weekend ****½

I don’t know whether it was because I don’t watch CHIKARA, whether it was because they brought the cream of their crop, or whether it was because I watched this straight after Blackcraft, but this was a really fun show. Yeah, Mike Quackenbush and his cast of zany characters may wear you down if you watch it too much, but as a one-off show that went a shade over two hours on a packed weekend helped.

With some cracking matches, Once Upon A Beginning ended up being a good show to ease back into CHIKARA, as their content now appears to be dropping regularly on the IWTV.live service.