Interview with Mike Quackenbush
August 8, 2003 - by PhantomlordLarz
1. Well for the benefit of fans who don't follow the indy scene, can you give them a good idea of who Mike Quackenbush is?
I've been on the independents now for quite a while, I've traveled the country, wrote some books, I contribute a column to every issue of THE WRESTLER, train new wrestlers at my school in Allentown, PA and own and operate a promotion called CHIKARA.
2. What made you decide to get into the wrestling business and how did you go about getting into it?
I saw a match between Jushin Liger and Brian Pillman on TV in 1990 or 1991. That was what made me want to be a wrestler. I snuck in the back door shortly thereafter, but didn't get serious about it until 1995 or 1996.
3. You've wrestled for quite a few independent promotions, what have been some of your favorite place to wrestle and why?
In the past, I really enjoyed wrestling for the PA-based (now defunct) FWA group, which was my home for several years. Right now, I most enjoy the audiences we attract in Allentown for CHIKARA events, and the fans in Essen, Germany that come to the Roxy to see wrestling are probably the most appreciative fans I've ever worked for.
4. Who are your favorite wrestlers to work with and why?
I always have a lot of fun working with my old pals, Reckless Youth and Don Montoya. Two guys I've wrestled of late, Double C and Ares of the team Swiss Money Holding, are excellent all around, and a pleasure to work with. I also really enjoy wrestling my students, and watching as they evolve in the ring.
5. You've obviously been influenced a lot by lucha libre and the puroresu styles of wrestling. What got you into these styles?
I like the variety. When I first started watching American wrestling religiously, the guys I liked the best were the ones with exotic or unique moves. I always wanted to have a repertoire that was unlike anything anyone had ever seen, so I felt like I had to really learn all the styles to be able to accomplish that.
6. You are one of the top lightweights on the indy circuit, and you've been consistently rated on the PWI 500 list. How did you feel the first time you were ranked on the list, and how important do you think the PWI 500 rankings actually are?
The PWI 500 has always been very kind to me. The first time I was in there, which was long before I deserved to be, I was overjoyed. It meant something to see my name in print. Its probably much more important to independent wrestlers because of the recognition factor. In terms of how accurate the ratings are, that's the subject of much debate every year, because ultimately, they still have to sell magazines, and that's any publisher's priority.
7. Do you prefer wrestling in singles or tag matches and why?
Right now, my favorite thing is the multiple man tag, like the 6, 8 or 10 man tag team match. I really feel like there is room to be creative in that format, more so than anyone has ever explored.
8. In the past you've been apart of the most prestigious lightweight tournaments on the indy scene like the ECWA Super 8, Jersey J Cup and the Shane Shamrock Memorial Cup. Do you prepare for a tournament any differently than you would a regular night of singles or tag work?
I watch my diet more closely, for sure. I do more cardio if I expect a long night at the office. Some tournaments, I've wrestled three times in a night, so the week leading up to the event, my life style changes a little bit, just so I can be sure to have enough gas in the tanks when bell time arrives.
9. In your opinion, what goes into making a good tournament? Is it all about finding the right match-ups, or offering the fans a match-up they've never seen before etc?
Tournaments are tricky. I think giving the fans fresh match ups, or dream matches can make a tournament really stand out from the pack.
10. You've innovated several moves over the course of your career. Which move, do you feel is your best accomplishment, and how do you come up with ideas for creating new moves?
I like to mix elements of existing moves and try to come up with something new. The Black Tornado Slam, for example, is derived from a Mexican submission hold. I sort of added the powerslam element to the stretch hold, and there it is. A little bit of the old, and a little something new to spice it up.
11. Speaking of moves and innovations, one of your first published works on the world of pro-wrestling was the magazine "Fantastic Finishers" (which I myself have a copy off). Can you describe what kind of work went into writing this and how you got the opportunity to do so?
The gang down at PWI was putting together "Fantastic Finishers" in the spring of 1998 and they picked out what they felt were the 29 best moves in wrestling at that time. I got a call because one of my moves, the Quackensmash, had been picked. They needed some detailed information about it. Then, they asked me if I could help them assemble information about the Texas Cloverleaf. Well, about a week later, the whole project was given to me, and that was that. I did about two months of research, made a lot of phone calls, read a lot. The finished product hit newsstands in the summer of that year.
12. In 2001, your autobiography "Headquarters" came out and described life on the indy scene. What can fans expect from Headquarters, and how do you feel it holds up to other wrestling related books on the market?
"Headquarters" is, in a nutshell, the way my private life and professional life basically collide and corrupt one another at every turn. Half of the book is about wrestling, and half is not. I think its the most honest look at indy life you'll find anywhere, not that there are many. Publishers sort of shunned the book because there isn't enough of the content that sells wrestling books in their opinion. Not enough lurid sex and wild drug stories. Well, that's not my life. So the book never got distribution, and the only way to land a copy is through my website.
13. You and Reckless Youth started CHIKARA Pro-Wrestling back in 2002 I believe. What made you decide to start your own promotion/school and how did Reckless become involved.
There was a building that housed a wrestling school that more or less fell into my lap at an opportune moment, and I knew I lacked the business sense to make it happen alone. I asked my BTS teammates to join me, and Montoya declined while Reckless accepted. We agreed that there was a shortage of sound wrestling schools that could teach a varied curriculum, and we decided to give it a go. Once our first class of students were ready, we launched CHIKARA as a showcase for the grads of the Wrestle Factory.
14. Is Reckless still involved in CHIKARA?
No, Reckless stepped down in August of 2002, after our battles with City Hall concluded. He's probably the most overworked guy out there, between his regular job, his bookings and now, his baby daughter. The commitment of time CHIKARA required became a bit much. When the stars align though, he still appears on our cards.
15. What can the fans expect when they go to see a CHIKARA show and how do you feel your product holds up to other indies out there?
I really feel like our mission is to show people the outer limits of what is possible within the context of a wrestling show. We are very kid-friendly, and the influence of foreign styles, especially lucha, is perfectly evident. We go out there and wrestle hard, we put as much imagination into our product as we do heart, and we really try and break down certain creative restraints that have made wrestling stale. Every show's primary goal is to be fun for the audience, and fun for us. We're not trying to be the most insane, or most hardcore, or stiffest, or grossest group out there...just the most fun.
16. During the course of running CHIKARA you had some trouble with the zoning board in Allentown, can you describe the trouble you had and how you overcame it?
We did run into some trouble with City Hall and the Zoning Board last summer. Basically, the building which houses our school is not zoned to hold live events, and we fought a long, stressful battle against the city, which we ultimately lost. Our plight, however, brought us a lot of local attention, and that helped land us our new homebase, the auditorium at St. John's Church, just 8 blocks from the school itself.
17. What goes into running your own promotion and school?
-A whole lot of time, effort, understanding, compassion, insanity, tolerance, patience and hard work. And sometimes, I run short on all those things, except the insanity. That I have plenty of. CHIKARA is my life now, not a day goes by that I don't dedicate hours to something related to CHIKARA.
18. A lot of the gimmicks in CHIKARA remind of the sort of gimmicks used on the Japanese indy scene. How do you come up with the ideas for gimmicks and ideas like "Random Booker Night?"
I have a lot of strong ideas for gimmicks, that sometimes work wonders, and sometimes fall flat. I try to give my guys room to make their gimmicks their own, to give them their own life, or else it can come off like a guy in a bad high school play cast in the wrong part. Its hard for me to say exactly where the ideas for gimmicks come from, because sometimes I'll just work from a name, or an idea, and spend weeks brainstorming, only to get nowhere. Then I'll be in the car eating a Frosty and everything pops into my head at once.
The theme shows, like "Fans be the Booker," are little experiments. I had seen something like it done before, but it was clear the whole thing was rigged to force certain match ups. Well, I wanted to see if we could do it for real. Just randomly pick people from the audience to book a match, and then put that match on. What would happen? Would we get better pairings if the crowd got to choose exactly what it wants? There's more of that sort of thing coming from us down the line. I want to take the basic things that bind a show together, and toss them out the window.
19. As a trainer what do you think of the way candidates are trained on Tough Enough?
Al Snow is an incredible trainer. How much anyone can digest in a microwaved, 10 week course (or whatever the exact length is) remains a mystery.
20. Any advice for inspiring wrestlers out there?
Don't be discouraged when everyone, from your friends to your family, tells you that you can't be a wrestler. I am the proof that anyone can make this dream a reality.
21. Have you ever met a wrestler whose personality surprised you?
I was pleasantly surprised to find that Eddie Guerrero is about the nicest guy on the planet. Sometimes if you see his work as a heel, he's so convincing that you can't imagine him any other way.
22. In the past you've had a chance to work with "big names" like Eddie Guerrero, La Parka, and Rey Misterio, Sr. What did it feel like to be able to work with such people?
Always a great learning experience. I try to learn from everyone I wrestle. Billy Kidman was a learning experience. El Hijo del Santo was a learning experience. Minoru Fujita was a learning experience.
23. Recently you've had the chance to wrestle in Germany. What are the fans like there and what's it like to wrestle overseas?
I was very concerned that the fans would not know what to make of me. I had been told that the audiences over there are groomed on ECW primarily, and my style really is about as far removed from the latter day ECW stuff as anything out there. So I approached my first matches in Germany with some trepidation. To my surprise though, the fans there were incredible. They were so appreciative, and so respectful. Before I left to go home, I had one final match there, and I wondered if I would ever be back to wrestle again in Germany. At the end of the bout, which I lost, the fans chanted "Please come back," and I was genuinely moved by that. The response they gave me really got me the job there, and I think they are responsible for my return trips to Europe. It was a tremendous experience for me.
24. Any funny or amusing stories from your career that you'd like to share?
I have seen La Parka without his mask. Pray he never loses it.
25. Who do you think are some of the up and coming stars on the indy scene?
I have an obvious bias, but there are a lot of guys on the CHIKARA roster right now that are ready to break through. All they need is experience now, and in time, they will take the scene by storm.
26. What in your opinion is your best match, and why?
I get asked that a lot, and it's still a very hard question to answer. The match of my own that I like to watch the most is "Break the Barrier" from the ECW Arena in 1999, against both Lou Marconi and Don Montoya. On 5/24/03, CHIKARA hosted a 10-man tag that I really felt was a stylistic tour de force for us. It's not a perfect match, spot for spot, but I do feel like its a bold creative statement that says "look what we are capable of."
27. What is your favorite wrestling match in general, and why?
I really enjoy old Johnny Saint matches. I love the Tiger Mask/Dynamite Kid series, and just about anything from 1996 or 1997 Michinoku Pro. I will always be partial to Jushin Liger matches, specifically the Naoki Sano and/or the Wild Pegasus stuff.
28. If you had to pick one CHIKARA event that you feel offers the best viewing experience, which event would you pick and why?
I'd recommend the Aniversario tape we just put out. That's the 10 man tag I was just describing, and really, our strongest card up and down to date. Everyone came through on that show. Its also a great showcase for the current roster, as opposed to the 2002 tapes.
29. What's the worst injury you've ever had?
I fractured my skull in 1995 and had a seizure in the ring where I went about 3 minutes without oxygen. I came very close to serious brain damage (insert your own joke here). That one was pretty nasty. I had a TBI from that, permanent nerve damage, you name it.
30. Is there any specific indy promotion out there that you would like to work for?
The ones with the big money paydays. Yes. I feel certain about that. ;)
31. Who are your best friends in the business?
Ace Darling, even though we aren't tight like we used to be, will always be like my big brother. I owe him a debt that can never be repaid. He looked out for me when I didn't have a friend or ally in the business, and he just did it because he was a good guy. The only thing he got out of the deal is my friendship. All the members of the CHIKARA family are very much my friends as much as they are my proteges. I have a deep rooted affection for them. As much as we work on each other's nerves sometimes, I really miss traveling with Reckless and Montoya. Every trip together was like a crazed Cheech and Chong type adventure. Except without the marijuana and bad accents. I'd be remiss not to mention two of my dear friends, Robbie Ellis and Chris Hero, who are both stellar, stand-up guys.
32. What are your goals in the business?
My goals have really changed over the years. I used to be really hooked on the idea of going to Japan. Now, that doesn't seem as relevant. I really feel like my goal now is to affect some change in the way we tell our stories, the way we function as storytellers within a wrestling context. CHIKARA is my laboratory. What new things can we create before we a) run out of money or b) alienate our entire audience? Only one way to find out!
33. In general has the indy scene become better quality wise or worse?
It certainly strikes me as a lot more boring than it used to be. Its all the same now. Everyone is trying to be somebody else. One group wants to be mid-90's All Japan. One group wants to be 1998 ECW. Well when will it be time to do something original?
34. How can the fans keep up on your career?
Drop by mikequackenbush.com for periodic updates on my occasional successes and frequent failures. You can visit chikarapro.com when you are bored.
35. Any last plugs you want to throw out?
I hope more people will take a chance on CHIKARA. I can assure you it is as different as anything you have ever seen in wrestling.
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