Here at Two Falls, Two Submissions Or A Knock-Out, it's pretty obvious that we love British wrestling, but that's not all. We're passionate about all aspects of this wacky sport, and one promotion that has long since captured our imagination is Philadelphia's CHIKARA.
The brainchild of Mike Quackenbush, CHIKARA is a colourful, family-friendly celebration of all that makes pro-wrestling great; combining Lucha Libre, Puroresu, Lancashire Catch and American style pro-wrestling with an atmosphere of fun seldom seen in today's wrestling scene, and in-depth, sweeping, and often convoluted storylines that owe more to the world of comic books than anything found in wrestling's history, and all propped up by a colourful cast of characters including wrestling ants, ancient Egyptian snakes, demons, goblins, and old-timey baseball players!
Not least among CHIKARA's familiar faces is the great and devious Ultramantis Black, one of only four men to have wrestled on CHIKARA's inaugural show and remain with the company today, and whose dabblings in the occult and desires for world domination, have driven many of the promotion's most compelling stories.
Writing for The Shooting Star Press, our very own "Bomber" Pat was lucky enough to get this interview with the Devious One recently;
2Falls: Traditionally in American pro-wrestling, a masked man has been seen as having something to hide, some reason to conceal their true identity, whilst in lucha libre it could be said that a luchadore's mask IS his true identity, and the latter seems to be true of CHIKARA. What does the mask mean to you? What does the concept of the mask mean to CHIKARA as a whole?
Ultramantis: You are exactly right - to me, the mask IS my identity. It goes beyond being simply one piece of a "gimmick" or costume. Were there no mask, there would be no UltraMantis. I think the mask, in general, is symbolic of the CHIKARA brand as a whole. Some might say that is a bad thing, that it stereotypes the company as being solely a lucha libre promotion or one based exclusively on characters - thus downplaying the actual wrestling. But I believe the entire iconography has lent itself to part of what has made CHIKARA such a recognizable entity within professional wrestling today.
2 Falls: At CHIKARA's first iPPV, High Noon, you actually put your mask on the line - what goes through your mind to when you agree to take a risk like that? What would losing the mask mean to you?
Ultramantis: No wrestler puts their mask on the line unless there is a legitimate blood feud to settle. I didn't take the stipulation lightly when it was first proposed. Again, losing the mask would have meant destroying my identity within the sport itself. For me, quite frankly, that would have meant the end of my wrestling career. I simply would not and could not continue with my persona torn asunder.
2Falls: As someone who's been with CHIKARA since the beginning, you've seen countless guest stars pass through - from the 123 Kid to Johnny Saint, and from The Great Sasuke to Demolition - who, for you, was the most memorable, or the one you were most excited about working with?
Ultramantis: That is difficult to answer. It is certainly humbling to be able to share a locker room with some of the names that have passed through CHIKARA - men and women I watched in awe both before and after getting into professional wrestling. Certainly the first time I was able to watch Johnny Saint perform in person, the first time Manami Toyota performed in the States, etc. Many people don't remember this, but JJ Dillon once appeared on an early CHIKARA show and I wish he would have been able to perform on a larger scale at some point later in the company's existence. I've always been a great admirer of the men and woman who made their marks in wrestling primarily as managers. Such a crucial, and difficult to master, role.
2Falls: Growing up as a young supernatural evil insect overlord, which wrestlers had the biggest influence on you? Particularly, which masked wrestlers?
Ultramantis: My primary influences in wrestling were Eddie Gilbert, Kevin Sullivan, and Art Barr. However, I've been fascinated by masked wrestlers since the first day I ever started watching the sport. Mr. Wrestling II, Masked Superstar, The Bullet, Santo, Mil, Sweet Brown Sugar, Mr. X, Kendo Nagasaki (UK), Lazer Tron, Stagger Lee, Midnight Rider, Sasuke, Tiger Mask, The Interns, The Machines, The Spoiler, Cruel Connection! I could go on forever - so much awesomeness when it comes to the legacy left by the masked men (and women) of the sport's past.
2Falls: Staying on the topic of masks - over the years we've seen the mask evolve from the basic, yet iconic, designs of the likes of El Santo and Blue Demon to the more elaborate, the likes of Jushin "Thunder" Liger, and beyond. What have been your personal favourite masks?
Ultramantis: I'm a fan of both - the old school minimalism of hoods like The Destroyer. As well as the more elaborate ones that we see in both Mexico and Japan today. I enjoyed some of the more outlandish masks and ring attire of some of the wrestlers in early Osaka Pro and that certainly played a role in my own early mask designs. Currently, besides the work of my own maskmaker Jun of MJ Factory in Hawaii, I most admire the mask work of Mister Cacao of Fukumenmania in Japan.
2Falls: It is the distant future, and aliens or highly evolved mutants have uncovered a DVD with five wrestling matches on it, the only wrestling matches to have survived the ravages of time, so therefore they are all that is left to define what pro wrestling was. If it were up to you (as any apocalyptic scenario I assume would be), which matches would they be?
Ultramantis: The original Tupelo Concession Stand Brawl, KOTDM 95 Funk/Cactus, any Tiger Mask vs Dynamite Kid, SD Jones/King Kong Bundy from Wrestlemania I, & the main event in Santo Gold's Blood Circus.
2Falls: Stepping away from wrestling for just a moment; music seems to be quite important to you - with the design of your T-shirts mirroring that of classic albums by the likes of Black Flag, Bad Brains and The Smiths, and the name of your new "Best Of" DVD borrowing from The Smiths' "Strangeways Here We Come". What's been on the Ultramantis stereo lately?
Ultramantis: It constantly changes. In the past week I've been listening to a lot of Billy Bragg, Give, Low, the 4 Skins, Youth of Today, Spoon, Redskins, Ghost, Floor, Grimes, Angelic Upstarts, Obituary, Sleep, Daughn Gibson. Weird mixes. One thing I don't get to do as much anymore as I'd like to since wrestling consumes many of my weekends is attend live shows. Makes it more difficult to keep on top of what's going on within the various music scenes.
2Falls: Speaking of The Smiths - I recently purchased the Ultramantis "Meat Is Murder" T-shirt, which, as well as reflecting your love for the band, doubles as a reference to your veganism. Between maintaining muscle mass, sourcing vegan materials for ring attire, and just finding good vegan food while you're on the road, is it difficult to maintain the Vegan lifestyle in your profession?
Ultramantis: Well all of the things you mentioned all present challenges in their own way. But they are all just little obstacles that you find your way around. I've embraced the lifestyle for so long that it all just becomes second nature and you learn to adapt. I love professional wrestling but I've never even considered sacrificing my principles in order to better fit into some pre-conceived notion of what is or isn't expected of a wrestler to excel in the sport. I don't need to eat animals and neither does anyone else. More and more, we're seeing athletes prove that a vegan diet doesn't make you weak or inferior. Its not even taboo in wrestling anymore.
2Falls: You bill yourself as the Mayor Of Parts Unknown - that seems like it would be a difficult position to maintain. What was your electoral platform, and how do you keep the notably unruly citizens placated?
Ultramantis: I actually came into power after a bloody coup so no electoral politicking was necessary. The good people of Parts Unknown seem to appreciate my Great & Deviousness so its been relatively problem free.
2Falls: What can fans expect from CHIKARA in 2012, and what does Ultramantis have in store for us?
Ultramantis: BIG things that will surely shock and awe! Another iPPV is on the horizon in June so humans on every corner of the globe can check out UMB and CHIKARA streaming live in all of its technicolour glory. I myself plan to finally bring Reagan, Thatcher, and Brezhnev together and bring peace to this cold, cold world. Many thanks for the interview!