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AN ILLUSTRATED ADVENTURE
by Robbie Ellis

I
n April 2003, I went to Pennsylvania to the Chikara Wrestle Factory, where I worked out for three days and then did a show at the promotion’s then-primary venue at St. John’s in Allentown. [Its primary venue now is the New Alhambra in Philadelphia, previously the now legendary ECW Arena where I would wrestle a few years later.] Founded by Mike Quackenbush and Wreckless Youth and now run by Quackenbush, Chikara is a place where grace, creativity, and skill in all forms of wrestling are a reality. Although in today’s world it may seem like a contradiction, it is also quite possibly a place where the future of professional wrestling lies.

At the age of twenty-seven, Mike has wrestled and given clinics all over the world. That we have become friends still seems something of a miracle to me. It happened when Mike came to Maine for several shows for Maine Event Wrestling this past winter. Right off, I was thrilled by his wrestling and later by his remarkable book, Headquarters. The title is something of an in-joke, but not much of a mystery to anyone who is a fan of superhero comics. This autobiography is more full of colorful anecdotes—and, more important, passion for this crazy indie life—than I have ever found anywhere else.

In his book Mike had put into words what I have felt all my life but had never been able to express so eloquently or explain so well to my friends outside the pro wrestling world (truthfully, they don’t really want to hear much more about it anyway)! His wrestling students, who came with him to Maine, admired him and trusted him as I soon did as well. I knew from the start I’d have to go to Pennsylvania. Headquarters was a gift, but it was first given to me as a practical example of its author’s writing because he wanted to do a piece about me for The Wrestler magazine. He writes a regular column for the magazine about his experiences on the road. He did a great piece for which I hereby humbly thank him; but it pales by comparison to how he and Chikara have affected me. I have in fact since been to the Chikara Wrestle Factory where I learned far more in two days from doing a show, from his instruction, and from his guys than I had expected, a statement which doesn’t approach the reality of the experience. I have to go back if only to get it more firmly cemented in my head. But I can’t wait to go back! [I did, in fact, go back some three or four years later for a week-end as part of a new and highly successful tournament, “King of Trios,” created and developed by Quackenbush. Three nights of a three-on-a-team tournament, which forever changed my life once again. I had been fearful of not being equal to others in the tournament from around the world - and I wasn't. But I learned how important booking is — that is, the way matches are put together. Mike was able to position me with two extraordinary partners, Mitch Ryder and Larry Sweeney), and matches that showcased my strengths, which by comparison were few, but where I was, therefore, received with a whole new level of appreciation I had never known before from the fans. This one week-end was to change my credibility more or less around the world, from Maine and New England, to Minneapolis, to New Brunswick, to Italy. Mike and I would still later do a highly successful weekend tour with Italian Championship Wrestling in northern Italy, performing to a highly responsive crowd shouting our names — in my case “Row Bee A Leese, Row Bee A Leese” for “Robbie Ellis”...].

If there is a future different from the WWE for pro wrestling, I think it’s emerging in Allentown, Pennsylvania. It’s a very creative place—one has only to surf the Chikara home page to know that once you’ve met the real characters, the terrific cartoons on the page drawn by one of the most accomplished trainees (namely, Gran Akuma—Mysterious Mythological Warrior from Afar) seem even better because they are both funny and accurate, the latter in part thanks to the former. Chikara has its detractors, very loud ones in some small, “green” quarters—anything really good and different always does; but that all just adds to the mystique. I get an extraordinary level of interest here in New England from those who have seen Mike work or teach and who know I have had this opportunity. When I find my name listed on the roster of wrestlers on the Chikara home page and among the top ten wrestlers at Chikara, which I don’t deserve, in the most widely read pro wrestling magazine, Pro Wrestling Illustrated, I feel my pulse rush and my chest swell. Mike seems to have little awareness of the impact he leaves behind.

The book is fantastic. I had some trouble with the early chapters: a little sketchy and too predictable (I don’t want to sound like a Quackenbush “mark” after all—pro wrestling terminology for, well, let’s just say that it’s not a compliment) and it needs some professional editing and polishing later on as well; but in my opinion, it’s just sitting there waiting for some smart publisher to come along.

Ultimately, it’s the best of all the pro wrestling books out there, at least from the point of view of wrestlers themselves and therefore of equally great interest to fans who couldn’t get this unique point of view (written so well) anywhere else. It is self-published, and that’s why you may not know it, but it is much too good to write off. More than any of the other books, the author puts into words, as I stated earlier, what my experiences in the ring feel like in a very real as well as philosophical, almost mystical, way—and, importantly, without pretensions. He also succeeds in getting a real sense of the rush that’s possible when something special is happening inside the ring. Or even just what it’s like to be a pro in general.

The enthusiasm of the Allentown fans, whose numbers, unlike bigger promotions, is growing every month, is the kind performers dream about. They are loud, happy, sincere, and supportive. Let it not go unmentioned that the six-man tag team match in which I participated was scrappy, hard-hitting, and high-flying. No one loves Maine or his life and home in Maine more than I do; nevertheless, I felt very much home in Allentown. 

[Today, Chikara is extremely popular both among so-called “smart” fans, or marks, and the general public. It was voted one of the top ten promotions in the world for the year 2008 by the readers of the Wrestling Observer, a prestigious honor in pro wrestling. On the rare occasions I have been able to work on a Chikara card since the first time — one in Framingham, Massachusetts and several in Pennsylvania — the houses have been full and wildly enthusiastic. Those few occasions produced receptions by fans that shocked me but seem to have given me a credibility in the pro wrestling world I had never enjoyed before. They ultimately resulted in my getting hired by a number of first rate promotions around the world. Trust me: my talent is not at that level. I’ve been accused of false modesty in this regard. Trust me again: it isn’t false. Although the promoter of the show wouldn’t know it, Chikara is in retrospect one of the reasons, perhaps the most important and certainly the earliest reason, that I have been invited to participate in the 2009 wrestling show open to the public held each year during the Cauliflower Alley Club convention/reunion for pro wrestlers and fans in Las Vegas. The trailer for the upcoming documentary, Canvas: The Robbie Ellis Story will be shown at the same time. That’s a different story for another time. Obviously, I owe a lot to Chikara. Thanks, Mike.]

P.S. If it looks to you from the images as though I won these matches, I’m certainly willing to let you believe it! In the end, though, it really doesn’t matter at all. —RE

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