All Elite Wrestling (AEW) has become, without a question, the biggest rival WWE has had since 2001. While most of their biggest, flashiest, and well-known stars are former stars of major promotions like WWE, New Japan Pro Wrestling (NJPW), and Ring of Honor (ROH), there’s an almost indisputable narrative that while the meat on the bones of AEW is strong performers from TV wrestling from around the world. The actual skeleton of AEW itself is firmed entrenched in CHIKARA. One of the original renegades in the early days of the indie revolution following the collapse of WCW and ECW. CHIKARA was founded in 2002 and for 18-years developed some of the most insane, cult classic, B-movie-esque wrestling events. Beneath the Muppet meets Sid & Marty Krofft presentation was a fluid roster of some of the best pro wrestlers of the past two decades. Not just in the U.S., but from around the world. Many of these alumni grace most major promotions – in the WWE Universe, names like Cesaro, Ricochet, Drew Gulak, Johnny Gargano, and Sami Zayn had big runs in CHIKARA. ROH’s Dalton Castle initially debuted as Ashley Remington in CHIKARA. IMPACT’s Kimber Lee was the first woman to win a major indie’s top prize only previously held by men when she won the CHIKARA Grand Championship in 2015.
During its 18-year run, it’s understandable why CHIKARA wasn’t for everyone. It was kid-friendly – true PG-rated wrestling. Swear words were outlawed – during a period where the U.S. indies were getting grittier, and with a cast of characters that included a never-ending series of ants in The Colony, spooky demon worshippers (ALL GLORY NAZMALDUN), Boars, Thunderfrogs, princesses, and much more. It was perceived by many as being simply too campy for pro wrestling. But at the heart of it, the cast was usually some of the best-trained pro wrestlers, and, as noted previously, saw many of their alumni become huge stars in bigger promotions once they’d “moved on”. Throughout its near 20-year history, many of the top stars from multiple generations prior also made time to appear for the company. Usually in their tournaments, such as their flagship tournament, the King of Trios. Over the years, names like X-Pac, Jazz, Mickie James, Johnny Saint, and more made appearances for the promotion. Many of its last classes of trainees are currently making waves in the U.S. indies as well. With names like Edith Surreal, Travis Huckabee, Boomer Hatfield, Shea McCoy, and others coming through the CHIKARA system.
Following allegations of abuse against founder Mike Quackenbush during the summer of 2020 during the #SpeakingOut movement, CHIKARA closed down. Its rainbow of characters was unleashed into the world beyond CHIKARA’s narratives. As noted by the thriving of a multitude of CHIKARA alumni throughout the world of pro wrestling, from WWE to the indies, it’s become apparent that CHIKARA’s legacy vastly overshadowed a vilified singular person. It was bigger due to the personalities and passion displayed by the many men and women who made up its roster. And in AEW, those alumni have formed the true backbone of what is driving AEW today. With a regimented passion to compete at the highest level without taking the business more serious than it needs be, offering both comedy and tragedy, and helping give AEW a unique niche in the world of television wrestling. While many are saddened by CHIKARA’s sudden demise (despite it being warranted due to the allegations against Quackenbush), perhaps we can take solace that perhaps CHIKARA’s greatest legacy. The people who helped make it what it was – are now helping push AEW into the strongest opponent to WWE in 20 years. AEW is now the final chapter in the story of CHIKARA. Here’s a look at the CHIKARA alumni that are not only thriving in AEW but helping push the company to bigger and better heights.
CHIKARA in AEW: The Principal Players
Orange Cassidy (Fire Ant), 2005-2019
Easily the greatest success story in AEW to come from CHIKARA has been the emergence of Orange Cassidy as one of AEW’s most bankable stars. Originally a strictly comedic wrestler in CHIKARA (he would routinely fall asleep during matches). He was brought into AEW as a manager for Best Friends before a chance conversation between Tony Khan and The Young Bucks led to a big reveal. Khan discovered that Orange Cassidy had a far more athletic persona in CHIKARA. That of the high flying technician Fire Ant. “I was much more familiar with Fire Ant than I was with Orange Cassidy. Fire Ant’s a great wrestler. And so I knew what he could do,” Khan told PWInsider last month. “And then we sat there [and talked]. From when I first saw him, I didn’t know what he was going to be, but by the end of this first conversation, I thought he could be something so special…I think he’s a great example of someone who’s come really far in AEW and somebody who the first time I’d ever seen them. I hugely underestimated.” Orange Cassidy has become somewhat of a mascot for AEW, appearing in commercials, video games, and peppered throughout the roster. Facing indie talents on AEW Dark to competing for the AEW World Championship at AEW Double or Nothing this past May.
Eddie Kingston, 2002-2016
While many AEW fans only discovered Eddie Kingston since his debut last year in AEW, Kingston was a long-time heavy hitter in CHIKARA. He started with the company in 2002 and in 2011, he won the inaugural CHIKARA Grand Championship, the company’s top title. Kingston, at the time a former CZW World Heavyweight Champion, held the Grand Championship for an astounding 924-days, before finally losing it in 2014. He was also part of multiple factions in CHIKARA. Including The Roughnecks alongside Brodie Lee and Grizzly Redwood from 2009 to 2011. In just over a year, Kingston has proven to the world the talents he has, not only as one of the greatest brawlers in the game but one of its most passionate speakers. His every-man persona, the brokeback veteran, resonates on multiple levels. Making Kingston one of AEW’s greatest utility players – he can fit into a lower-level feud or the main event in the blink of an eye. Eddie Kingston recently released a heart-wrenching essay on his often painful journey in pro wrestling the past two decades on the road to AEW, and 14 years of that adventure went through CHIKARA.
Ruby Soho (Heidi Lovelace), 2013-2016
CHIKARA has always had plenty of talented women on their roster. Right from day one, CHIKARA employed intergender rules. Women such as Sara Del Rey, Daizee Haze, Kimber Lee, Solo Darling, Willow Nightingale, and more have competed throughout the years. From 2013 until she signed with WWE in the fall of 2016, one of AEW’s newest signees, Ruby Soho – then competing as Heidi Lovelace – was a frequent fighter in CHIKARA. In 2014, she won the CHIKARA Young Lions Cup and for years, competing against both women and men in some huge battles under the CHIKARA banner.
Brodie Lee, 2007-2012
While he’s sadly no longer with us, there’s no denying the monumental presence having Brodie Lee in the AEW locker room was for the entire roster. Not to mention the moments he gave to his fans on television, before tragically passing away on December 26, 2020. For five years, just before he himself signed with WWE and became Luke Harper, Brodie Lee was a frequent terror in the CHIKARA ring. His final match in CHIKARA was in March of 2012, just months before his NXT debut. He faced his former Roughnecks stablemate Eddie Kingston in a failed bid to dethrone Kingston as CHIKARA Grand Champion. Brodie Lee proved to be the difference-maker in uniting the Dark Order – a stable that is actually comprised mostly of CHIKARA alumni, plus a few young talents that Brodie Lee picked for the team.
Chuck Taylor, 2006-2019
“The Kentucky Gentleman” Chuck Taylor, for many, burst onto the scene when he debuted as Trent‘s new tag team partner in Ring of Honor back in 2017. For many indie diehards, he was already a national treasure, having been a mainstay in CHIKARA since 2006 (he and Trent had actually been teaming together as far back as 2013 on the West Coast in Pro Wrestling Guerrilla (PWG)). One of the greatest comedic wrestlers of the past two decades, Chuck Taylor’s innovation for comedic offense is unmatched. Winning the CHIKARA Young Lions Cup in 2007 and two reigns as CHIKARA Campeonatos de Parejas (Tag Team) Champion. Taylor also performed under a mask as Mr. Azerbaijan in CHIKARA, and for years was one of the company’s head trainers. As the current veteran leading Best Friends, alongside CHIKARA alumni Orange Cassidy and Wheeler Yuta, Taylor continues to be a strong presence in AEW’s mid-card and provides comic relief as well as veteran leadership.
When Ever-Rise was released by WWE/NXT earlier this year, they were quickly signed by AEW and debuted as 2point0. The duo behind young star Daniel Garcia. But long before they appeared on WWE programming, they were a tag team in the Canadian indies as 2.0 and then 3.0, including a ten-year run as part of CHIKARA. They soon became one of the top tag teams in the company, capturing the CHIKARA Campeonatos de Parejas twice (in 2012 and 2013), and for several months from 2011 into 2012 they formed a trio, 3.Ole!. With another French-Canadian indie star (by way of Mexico) in the masked El Generico (now better known as WWE Superstar Sami Zayn).
Evil Uno & Stu Grimson, 2006-2010
Due to copyrights, Evil Uno & Stu Grimson debuted in AEW in early 2019 as the Dark Order. For decades, they competed on the U.S. and Canadian indies as the Super Smash Brothers. As the Super Smash Bros., they had a solid four-year run in CHIKARA from 2006 through 2010, winning the CHIKARA Campeonatos de Parejas in 2008.
John Silver (The Shard), 2012-2014, & Alex Reynolds (CombatANT), 2012-2013
While the team of John Silver & Alex Reynolds is best known to most indie fans as the indie tag team The Beaver Boys, former PWG and CZW World Tag Team Champions, both men also competed in CHIKARA in their earlier days. Although they were both masked characters and part of The Colony storyline, the same ant-based unit also featured Orange Cassidy as Red Ant. Silver played the mysterious character The Shard. Who originally debuted in the tag team GEKIDO with 17. GEKIDO soon joined with the splinter Colony group The Swarm, which featured Soldier Ant (WWE Superstar Drew Gulak), deviANT (2x Freelance World Champion Isaias Velazquez), assailANT (who became Worker Ant), and combatANT, who was Alex Reynolds. This would prove to be one of the earliest team-ups of Reynolds and Silver, although they would soon begin teaming up in EVOLVE and New York Wrestling Connection (NYWC) more frequently after. By the end of 2012, The Shard left the group and joined Jigsaw in Pieces of Hate, winning the CHIKARA Campeonatos de Parejas in June of 2013 and holding the titles for 413-days.
Wheeler Yuta (Sylverhawk), 2016-2018
Wheeler Yuta is one of the newer faces in AEW this year, where he’s become the protege for Best Friends. In 2016, he started out with CHIKARA as the masked superhero Sylverhawk in the tag team Xyberhawx2000 (and winning the CHIKARA Young Lions Cup in 2017). Competing in the tandem until departing in 2018 and switching to his Wheeler Yuta moniker. Over the past few years, he became a staple on the U.S. indies, including a 155-reign as the IWTV Independent Wrestling World Champion earlier this year.
CHIKARA in AEW: The Dark Horses
While many of CHIKARA’s other alumni are still quite active in the independent circuit as well as other top promotions like IMPACT Wrestling, ROH, NWA, and MLW, a few have even found their way into working matches on AEW Dark and AEW Dark Elevation. The Batiri (2010-2016) was a demonic duo who did all kinds of nefarious never-do-well deeds in CHIKARA for years. Over the past two years, the two men have worked many dark matches for AEW. Kodama made multiple appearances in 2020 and 2021 under the name Louie Valle before Obariyon joined him earlier this year as Chris Peaks. This past September, the duo finally wore their CHIKARA gear and officially competed on AEW Dark Elevation as their CHIKARA characters, facing Santana & Ortiz. The last CHIKARA Grand Champion was Dasher Hatfield, who went on to compete in the indies as A Very Good Professional Wrestler after CHIKARA’s collapse. He made his AEW debut this past September, competing now as Avery Good. One of the top tag teams in the U.S. indies is The Sea Stars (Ashley Vox & Delmi Exo), and the duo also began in CHIKARA in 2016, competing until 2019. The reigning SHIMMER Tag Team Champions made three appearances for AEW this year, although Ashley Vox made her own AEW debut last December in singles action against Thunder Rosa.
CHIKARA in AEW: The Recurring Characters
While not entirely known for their CHIKARA runs per se, there are a few other names who had some solid runs in CHIKARA. Although they were infrequent, The Young Bucks themselves competed in CHIKARA quite often between 2009 and 2015. In tournaments and regular tag team action, but their work in PWG, ROH, and NJPW often overshadowed their CHIKARA stuff. Colt Cabana also competed semi-regularly in CHIKARA from 2011 through 2013, and Darius Martin – then competing as Air Wolf – was an exciting young competitor for CHIKARA in late 2018 through 2019.
CHIKARA in AEW: Bryce Remsburg
One of the biggest hearts of CHIKARA easily belonged to longtime CHIKARA referee Bryce Remsburg. Who began training as a wrestler in 2002 before realizing it wasn’t quite what he was built for, transitioning first to a ring announcer, before finally a referee later that year. Since 2002, he became CHIKARA’s senior referee and his balance of old-school reffing with a fantastic sense of comedic timing made him the perfect maestro to officiate many a CHIKARA masterpiece. He refed throughout many a promotion in his long career, but it was in CHIKARA he seemed most himself. And when he was announced as joining the upstart AEW, his fans around the world rejoiced at him finally getting the big-time recognition he so richly deserved.
CHIKARA ran from 2002 to 2020, creating some truly magical moments in time, for both wrestlers and fans alike. And when it ended abruptly under terrible circumstances and allegations, it seemed like CHIKARA’s legacy would be erased from history. Thanks to the love that the performers of the company are getting on the indies and the exposure they’re getting on television, there is a nostalgic yearning for the souls that made CHIKARA so special. With such a fierce backbone of talent and passion from the CHIKARA alumni now serving in AEW, perhaps AEW will ultimately create the final chapter and happy ending that CHIKARA deserved.
— Bryce Remsburg (@dabryceisright) September 16, 2021
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