Three years ago I was in Wolverhampton. I’d never been before and I haven’t been back since, but it felt like a trip worth making for a special occasion. And as special occasions go, Chikara bringing the King of Trios tournament to the UK seemed like solid justification for the three-hour journey.
That weekend had a profound impact on me. I remember the standout matches and I’m still kind of mad that Team Sendai lost in the final, but the real achievement of those shows was a sense of community and the sheer joy of sharing the graps. I left energised and inspired and wanting more.
I’ve spent most of the time since then feeling proud of the article I wrote in a flurry of exhaustion and happiness the night I got back. If you weren’t in love with wrestling when you got to King of Trios, you were by the time you left. Trying to describe how much richer my life felt for that experience, I called the article “Wrestling that loves you back”.
Clearly, it didn’t.
It would not be fair to say that by 2017, the rot had set in at Chikara. Thanks to everyone who has shared their stories during #SpeakingOut, we know that the rot was in the foundations. (I’ve linked directly to the Twitter hashtag, because the vast majority of news outlets had men cover the story and they’re not really the voices to amplify here.) While I was cheering for a tag team of sentient ice creams there were people living with trauma or worried that they weren’t safe at work.
The same company, the same people who have brought me so much joy caused indescribable pain for others. Now, like everyone else who has realised the extent of the wrestling industry’s culture of abuse and complicity, I’m looking back on King of Trios and every wrestling memory I have, trying to process just how many people were denied the same happiness.
Those memories are tainted now. If wrestling can’t love all of us, it doesn’t love any of us.
The sheer scale of the exploitation that has been going on for years in virtually every promotion is hard to understand. Looking back on every dark joke and off-hand comment you heard in the pub is equally difficult; it tells you just how much abuse was an open secret. But, “that’s wrestling, innit”?
As fans, we are left confronting issues that we might have suspected or feared but can no longer ignore. It’s one thing to be wary about who and what you support in the future, but imagining what your money might have already helped to perpetuate is entirely different. Can you take anything positive now from those formerly happy times?
Now I’m looking back on King of Trios, I’m re-evaluating what really made that weekend special. Yes, you go to wrestling shows because you hope the matches will deliver. But what makes the best ones special is the overwhelming sense of passion that comes as much from the fans as from the talent.
A room full of people who wanted to dive into a shared universe where a woman can jump off a castle and play Uno with a hawk from the year 2000 in the same weekend. People I barely knew whom I’ve chatted to at every show ever since. Eagerness to join in and be friends, even for a night. We could have been watching Troll 2 and as long as we all wanted to be there we could have had just as good a time.
It wasn’t wrestling that loved me back – it was the community we brought to it. No promoter, no predatory trainer can take that from us, nor can any one person save it. If we want to salvage anything from those times, it’s our job now to take care of that community and shape wrestling into an industry that is worthy of it.