If Mike Quackenbush sent postcards home to West Lawn about his career, the messages would go something like this: “Traveled the world, met all my heroes, had some pastry in a quaint cafe;”
“Revived interest in niche dialects of wrestling from Mexico and Britain, teaching them to everyone I know;”
“Hi everybody, went to Florida to reshape storytelling for NXT. Love, MIKE.”
Fact is, the man known across the globe as “The Master of a Thousand Holds” doesn’t write postcards. He writes tomes.
Since the summer of 1998 with the arrival of Fantastic Finishers from London/Kappa Publishing, Mike’s written a total of 8 books and about 500 magazine articles on the topic he’s most passionate about: professional wrestling. His most recent book, 7 Keys to Becoming a Better Performer - A Book for Fellow Pro-Wrestlers has been touted by some of the most powerful players in the business, like Alexa Bliss and Sasha Banks. The influence he’s amassed in the last 25 years isn’t limited to the written word, though.
As a public speaker, he’s opened minds to the beauty of the craft, and being present for one of his locker room speeches is akin to going to wrestling church. Actually trading holds with him in the ring is a rite of passage in and of itself. The biggest influencers on the independent circuit today, like David Starr and Joey Janela, campaign for the chance to lock-up with Mike, pleading their cases both publicly and privately. His body of work though, once centered on his live performances, has shifted focus in recent years.
For a period of 37 months, he didn’t perform at all, walking with a cane until he was physically able to do without in 2016. During that time, his landmark oration at Ignite Philly 16 crystallized the state-of-the-art for a new generation of wrestlers, and the “downtime" saw Quackenbush collaborate with artists from outside the genre. He functioned as a dramaturge on the ballet piece "Takako vs. 9 Lives," he wrote an original song that was recorded by an Emmy-award winning artist, and later trained Charlie Cox’s stunt-double for the Netflix series Daredevil, just to keep busy.
And for anyone else, that would be a resume suitable to retire upon. But that doesn’t really scratch the surface of what Wrestling’s Renaissance Man has achieved, because it completely misses his most fascinating creation: CHIKARA.
The creative risk-taker of wrestling; CHIKARA is the immersive, addictive universe that sprung up in the barren wasteland of 2002. When the popular trend was to try and ape the infamy of the recently-deceased Extreme Championship Wrestling by being gratuitously edgy, Mike zagged the other way. He celebrated nerd culture and comic book tropes with CHIKARA, naming live events after Talking Heads albums and creating pro-wrestling’s equivalent of the classic Alan Moore graphic novel, Watchmen. His famously secretive methods have introduced time travel into the overly-serious world of wrestling, produced alternate reality games and at least one movie that we know about, to say nothing of the feat wherein he coordinated a single, long-form saga that tiptoed between 9 different organizations. (For the record: CHIKARA, Wrestling is Cool, Wrestling is Heart, Wrestling is Intense, Kaiju Big Battel, Wrestling is Art, Wrestling is Respect, Wrestling is Awesome and Wrestling is Fun!) When I asked him why he took on writing and producing Kaiju for a period of 2 years, Quack quipped: “I needed one that started with K.”
This morning, over cold brew coffee, I asked Mike if he regretted any of the offers he turned down through the years, keeping his career entirely off the “big stages,” and firmly at the independent level. Curiously enough, at the end of the 90’s, both WCW and ECW came calling. “Those weren’t right for me, and if I’m going to rearrange my whole life, or uproot and move to Atlanta…the deal has to be right. I have no regrets about that.”
In 2019, a few new opportunities from “bigger stages” have presented themselves as well. “I’ve had a number of fulltime offers of late that would require me to relocate. That’s not the right thing for me at the moment, either. Maybe soon, it will be. But not right now.” Is it conceivable that a CHIKARA series finale is coming? “Without a doubt. I already know exactly how it ends. I can tell you what the final four minutes contain, pretty precisely.” I asked if he would tell me. He politely declined.
And what’s right now, on the 25th anniversary of his debut? A curated playlist of some matches he’s hand-selected from his career that's just gone live, here:
And what’s next, I asked Wrestling’s Renaissance Man? “I might try that vanilla scone.”