411’s Larry Csonka had the chance to sit down with the current NWA World Junior Heavyweight Champion and man behind CHIKARA Wrestling “Lightning” Mike Quackenbush. Mike discusses growing up a wrestling fan, tape trading, his early influences, breaking into wrestling the wrong way and the irony that he now trains wrestlers. From there Mike discusses how 2007 was the most fulfilling year of his career, explains what exactly CHIKARA wrestling is, discusses the wacky gimmicks, the serious side of the promotion, whether or not they plan to expand and then goes into what exactly the King of the Trios Tournament is and why it will be the biggest wrestling tournament ever held. The CHIKARA King of the Trios Tournament will feature 28-teams and 84-wrestlers battling over three days! A great 40-plus minute interview!
Larry: All right, we are back and I am joined by Mike Quackenbush from CHIKARA wrestling. How are you, Mike?
Mike: I’m doing quite well thanks.
Larry: Excellent. So Mike, I’d just like to start with when did you begin watching wrestling?
Mike: Well, a lot of kids in the neighborhood where I grew up were really big into wrestling and they would get together for the pay-per-views and stuff when we were in grade school, and I got to see one of the early Wrestlemania’s at a friends house and I thought “Man, this is terrible, this is absolutely boring.” I couldn’t understand why my friends were into this. It really wasn’t until several years after everybody else I knew got into it that I kind of started to watch. If I was attracted to any one character I think I really was just kinda drawn in by Jake “The Snake” Roberts. I thought his promos were so engaging and he had such a magnetic personality that that kind of sucked me in at an early age.
Larry: What did you mainly watch, you grew up in Pennsylvania correct?
Mike: Yes, that’s correct.
Larry: Did you mainly watch WWF then growing up?
Mike: If we had NWA or something else like that on TV when I was a kid, I wouldn’t have known where to find it. You know, it might have played on a smaller station up on the far end of the dial or something like that, but as far as I was aware of, or any of my friends were aware of, the WWF was the only wrestling on television. It really wasn’t until, you know, we got a little bit older and in the 90’s when we all had pretty advanced cable systems and things like that, that we knew WCW was on TBS and that sort of thing.
Larry: Right. Did you ever start to get into the tape-trading aspect of it as you found that there was more wrestling out there?
Mike: Yeah, definitely. When I first kind of ventured out onto the Internet, I got a free account in 1994 and I started to find things like, what I think at the time was called Newsgroup.
Mike: It discussed wrestling and found a guy who had these immense collections of tapes from foreign countries and things like that. I really had no idea how you could go about obtaining it, especially since I had nothing to trade, but you know, I managed to buy something here or swap for some magazines or things that they didn’t have there and I started to kind of accrue a collection, at first, almost exclusively of Japanese stuff because I didn’t know anyone that traded or collected Mexican stuff or European stuff, or like Calgary or older stuff like that. Initially, for me, I was just so overwhelmed by finding someone who could provide me with Japanese stuff, so for years I kind of overdosed on Japanese tapes as much as I could get my hands on them.
Larry: When you started getting the Japanese tapes, who was the first personality from Japan that really struck you, like Jake Roberts did in the WWF?
Mike: Well I was lucky in that before I stumbled onto the internet, I’d seen Jushin Liger, and Great Muta in WCW. And you know, I just thought that they were fantastic characters and they really captured my attention, but when I first started actually tape trading, the people I became most enamored of at the time were personally The Great Sasuke and Manami Toyota, because I had never seen either of them before. I’d never seen Japanese women’s wrestling whatsoever and I was lucky that the very first compilation tape that I ever got from a fellow tape trader had a Manami Toyota tag match on it and I thought “This is the most incredible stuff I’ve ever seen.” So those two especially, I would just gobble up all the tapes that I could get of them.
Larry: That’s great. As far as the current TV product goes, I know that you’re awful busy, but do you follow any of the current TV product right now?
Mike: Well, I follow it, but I preface that by saying that I don’t really watch a lot of it. I try to stay up to date with what all the angles are, what the trends are, and the behind-the-scenes stuff. I pay cursory attention to things like what does well in the ratings. The ratings certainly don’t seem as important as they were for those of us that followed religiously during the Monday Night Wars era, but I try to stay abreast of all that stuff without watching it because sometimes I feel like you can inadvertently become derivative of what you watch and having a big role to play in the way things go at CHIKARA, I want to make really certain that we don’t come across as being derivative of something else. I think there are so many independent groups out there that are just aspiring to be like the B-list version of Monday Night Raw or they want to be the next closest thing to the X-Division, other examples like that. I want to make very, very certain, to the best of my ability to control it, that we don’t become derivative of things like that. So I want to be aware of things, I want to know what’s going on in that regard, but I try not to watch.
Larry: Yeah, I understand. Even though you’re kind of watching without watching, is there anything that really interests you these days, as you’re flipping the channels? Is there any one that’s sticking out to you or is it just kind of all one big mess for you?
Mike: As it relates to the WWE’s television product, I find a lot of the characters that they’ve really tried hard to build up are guys that I find incredibly uninteresting. Their new crop of guys being groomed for the main event status, I think they’ve all been pushed there way too soon and I find them really uninteresting and not entertaining in the least, and if I’ve tuned in to anything as of late, I’ve watched ECW, only because a fellow CHIKARA-ite, Colin Olsen who is Colin Delaney on ECW, has had a gig there for the last month or two which has been kind of entertaining for all the wrong reasons. But I’m only tuning in to see who’s going to beat him up next, so at least it got me to watch. So if I’ve seen anything lately, I’ve seen ECW as I’m kind of waiting to see Colin’s face come on TV.
Larry: Yeah, many of us here at the site are big fans of young Colin. We think he takes his beatings well. So you grew up, you started getting into the tape trading, and the Internet. At what age did you realize that “This is something I might want to do.”?
Mike: At a younger age, I mean even before I got into tape trading actually. I would get together with my friends and we would kind of wrestle around at the park or after school or things like that because once you kind of get the bug you’ve got to find an outlet for it and I realize that a lot of people are quick to frown upon that kind of wrestling and things like that, and they do so with good intentions because obviously it can be rather dangerous and it presents a health risk and injury risk and things like that. I’d like to think, or at least in my romanticized view of my youth, that what we were doing was fairly innocent. I think people when they think of backyard wrestling these days they’re quick to call to mind images like kids jumping off their parent’s roofs through burning tables and into tumbleweed made of barbed wire and things like that. Somehow I don’t think my friends and I putting each other in the figure-four leglock after school had anything to do with that, but we really got bit hard by the bug at some point, and this was when we knew you know, that you could watch WCW on this night, and an hour later you could tune in and a rerun of WWF would be on, and then Sunday morning All-American Wrestling would be on and all this kind of jazz and the more I did it, the more I realized you know that this is something I really would want to do. It ate up so much of my time and it just sort of became an obsession. It took over my life. I think Roddy Piper once described it as a sickness, and I think that’s farily apropos. There were several years of my life where really was like a sickness that I had, it was like I was addicted to it. I just had to be doing it, I had to be talking about it, I had to be watching it all the time, and that was the only way that my appetite for it could be satisfied. Really by the time that I had gotten to college, when I went to the University of Pittsburgh, I was already starting to poke into the independents a little bit. I would show up places where I knew independent guys trained, or I would take along an outfit and go to a show, just to see if someone wouldn’t show up and maybe I would get an opportunity to be put on because I had very little guidance in terms of the etiquette of the business and the protocol, you know, this is what you do and then you do this and then maybe if you’re lucky one day you get a shot. I didn’t know how any of that worked, I was kind of flying blind. I really would, I would just kind of show up places and hitch a ride with someone, you know, the promoter or the booker or a backstage hand who’d say “who the hell are you and what are you doing here?” “oh I’m just here in case you need me” cause I didn’t know how it worked, which I think goes a long way to explain why I think things like me training my own training facility, CHIKARA Wrestle Factory and ones like it are important because you really don’t get anywhere going about it the way I went about it. You really need guidance, you need someone to share that this is the way things are done and this is way you behave and this is the way you conduct yourself, or you’re going to tick people off and you’re not going to make friends and you’re not going to network correctly and I spent a lot of years really languishing in obscurity, partially because I deserved to, but a lot of it was just because I didn’t know any better and I think that there’s a wealth of people out there that have tremendous passion for the business, they have a lot of dedication, and a lot of heart, but they just need some guidance to go somewhere, and I was definitely one of those when I started poking around the Pittsburgh independents in the mid-90’s.
Larry: At least now, with the CHIKARA Factory, you can right some of the wrongs you made through your students now, teaching them the right way.
Mike: Definitely. You know, I think some people see it as being a little bit ironic that the guy who got years worth of independent bookings before actually training ended up running a training facility but it gives me a greater appreciation for the need for good training I think. I really come from and I got into the business in a very backwards way but it gives me a real appreciation for what good training can do in terms of career trajectory and momentum.