"Lightning" Mike Quackenbush has been wrestling since 1994. In his fifteen years as a professional wrestler, he has wrestled all over the world, captured numerous championships (at one time holding six different championships from three different countries at once), written three books, started a wrestling school, founded a wrestling company, trained over 30 wrestlers, mastered one thousand holds, and become one of the most popular independent wrestlers in the world. He is the current NWA World Junior Heavyweight Champion, and his title reign is the second-longest in history for a title dating back to 1945. To date, his current title reign is second-longest only to Danny Hodge, who held the belt from 1960-1964.
Mike is viewed as a mentor and innovator in wrestling, and is never afraid to speak his mind. He was kind enough to take the time to talk to us about his career, his home promotion CHIKARA, his views on the current state of professional wrestling, and CHIKARA's partnership with the new Dragon Gate USA promotion.
What was the moment or event that made you decide that wrestling was what you wanted to dedicate yourself to?
I think when the match I was wrestling on May 20, 1994 in my own high school gym was over, and I looked out at the sea of classmates and friends there enjoying it, that really sealed the deal.
CHIKARA has been gaining popularity, fans, and buzz very quickly over the past couple of years. Can you tell us a little bit about what it’s been like to watch the promotion grow from the ground floor into what it is today?
It's like having a roommate that gets fat. If you see them everyday, you don't notice the change. You're too close to see it. But if you looked at a picture of your roommate from a few years before, and then compared that to how fat he got, you'd realize it. That's how I feel about CHIKARA. I don't notice the weight gain.
In the past, you’ve spoken about promotions reaching a point of stasis where they are "too big to be small, and too small to be big", like the current Ring of Honor. What do you foresee in the future for CHIKARA? Are there goals that CHIKARA as a promotion has yet to achieve?
I hope to avoid the pitfalls I've seen Heyman's original ECW, and now the Pearce-era ROH fall into. I suspect it often happens without any conscious effort. You just keep making your company grow as best you can until you realize this weird stasis you're in. If anything, it's a testament to the success of those people, not a failure of some kind. Our biggest unfulfilled goal right now is to get those ice cream bars like the WWF sold in the 80's with pictures of the guys on them. I so want an Ice Cream, Jr. popsicle. Deliciously ironic. You can't imagine.
Is there a different type of wrestling fan signing up for the Wrestle Factory in 2009 as compared to when the school first opened?
Definitely. For a while, the people that came to the Factory came because they were fans of mine, or fans of Reckless Youth. Now, the CHIKARA brand name is more important as a sales tool.
Do you make any adjustments to your style or preparation when you’re wrestling for different companies, or in front of different crowds?
Certainly. You have to be able to customize depending on the wants and needs of the company and crowd. Anything other than that is really just contempt for your job, or laziness.
What do you think is the most vital thing for new wrestlers to learn?
How to chain wrestle, and be able to chain in all styles.
You recently took some time off for a back injury, but came back earlier than expected for Aniversario. Were you able to keep to your timeframe for recuperation?
Actually, my surgery was about a week after Aniversario. So I had a window of time to recover before Dragon Gate USA. Still, I kind of cut it short, and I'm sort of paying for that now. I was at the doctor's on Monday, and had another less-than-favorable post-op visit. My recovery is far from over, but I'm working through it.
Several CHIKARA wrestlers were featured on a short tour of Japan recently. How did that come about? Are there plans to have more CHIKARA talent featured overseas on non-CHIKARA shows?
These kinds of things just sort of drop from the sky, it seems. We've made good friends, and allies, in a lot of wrestling offices around the world, and maybe they don't realize when they say "hey, you should come visit" that we're probably going to take them up on that. At the end of the day, the priority must be what makes up the live events of each Season of CHIKARA cards, and the evolution of the characters and stories. Overseas vacations and such have to take a backseat to that.
You recently were involved in a heated war of words with a traditionalist in the form of Les Thatcher. Do you feel that the current state of professional wrestling is one that must be continuously evolving and adapting? If so, do you feel as though traditionalists like Thatcher are harmful to professional wrestling as it exists today?
I do think constant evolution is the key to survival. If you really know what you're looking at, you can observe things like TNA (as one example) and see that it's just another less-affluent interpretation of the McMahon model of sports entertainment. And spare me all your weak rhetoric and transparent hype that points to the contrary. There is so much more to the pro-wrestling performance genre than what's been invented since the 80's. It's time for fresh ideas. New spins on classic concepts. Something out of left field. There will always be those that romanticize about and cling to obsolescent ideals and dated concepts. In and of itself, that's not harmful. Failing to realize that an industry has to evolve to remain vital and relevant is another thing.
Recently several wrestlers, such as B-Boy and Colt Cabana, have expressed a great desire to come in and wrestle for CHIKARA. How does it feel to have popular wrestlers clamoring for a chance to work with your promotion?
On an average day, we hear from 6 - 8 wrestlers looking to come to CHIKARA. Famous guys, guys emerging now, guys you've never heard of, guys you would never pay to watch wrestle. The whole gamut. We don't have a big bank account, and we don't have cards with 12 matches on them. There's very few spaces, and very little money to work with, and still, that doesn't ebb the tide of wrestlers that inundate us every day looking for work. If it's any one thing, it's overwhelming.
How did you come to be working so closely with Dragon Gate USA?
We're fans of Dragon Gate. Several of their guys are fans of ours. With the opening of the US office, they needed to find a partner Stateside to help get things rolling. Luckily for us, the man in the middle, Gabe Sapolsky, is a recently converted CHIKARA fan himself. It was a natural progression from that point.
Is it exciting for you to see a wrestler like Gran Akuma fulfilling his dreams of working a Dragon Gate show?
Of course. Everyone that comes out of the Wrestle Factory has a goal they want to accomplish, and it's rewarding when we get to play a part in making that happen.
Who do you feel are the most underrated wrestlers in CHIKARA?
Is it too easy to say all of them?
Anyone who follows CHIKARA knows that just about everyone on the roster is a big comic book fan. Are you a Marvel or a DC guy?
I grew up on Marvel books, especially team books - Avengers, Champions, Defenders, X-Men and X-Factor. In high school, I really grew to love the Flash book, especially the days of Mark Waid and Mike Weiringo on that title. Flash was my gateway drug to becoming a big DC guy later in life.
Are there any current comics you read regularly? What are some of your all-time favorites?
For the last 18 months or so, I've been really out of touch with comics. Even my subscription to Wizard has lapsed. I love the old Justice League International/JLA/JLE stuff. One of my all-time favorite storyarcs is the first five issues of the Grant Morrison-penned JLA series, which I think is called "New World Order." I also love the crazy 80's limited series Marvel cranked out: Falcon, Hawkeye, Vision & Scarlet Witch, Black Panther, Iceman, etc.
What was it like to team up with Johnny Saint at this year’s King of Trios?
Are there any wrestlers that you would love to work with or against?
If I felt like I was back in good health again, I'd love to wrestle Christopher Daniels. Right now though, I know I'm not in top shape. It'd be great to wrestle the likes of Ultimo Guerrero, or Averno, or one of those guys. Someone that really gets what being a rudo is all about. Because not many actually do.
Your stance on WWE is well-documented, but what are your thoughts on the current TNA product? Would you consider signing with them?
Not in a million years. Not for a million dollars. Y'know how, after you eat a lot of Girl Scout cookies late at night, and then go right to bed, you have weird, disjointed, illogical dreams that make no sense? In these dreams, you drive to your office naked, or you have friends in the dream that don't exist in the real world. You're chased by a giant kangaroo. Imagine having a dream like that but it's all about pro-wrestling. That's what watching an episode of TNA Impact feels like to me. "That doesn't make sense. That shouldn't be happening. Those guys aren't friends. No one is that stupid. My brain is starting to ache. What channel is Law & Order: SVU on?" That's my TNA experience.
What are your ultimate goals in the business? When all is said and done, what will you have wanted to accomplish?
There's nothing I could put here that doesn't make me sound even more pompous, so let's move along.
What is your favorite match you’ve ever wrestled?
Probably against Claudio Castagnoli at the 2006 Ted Petty Invitational. When friends or family ask if there's a match I could show them, to illustrate what I do, that's what I pull out.
What is your all-time favorite match (or matches) as a wrestling fan?
The 10-man tag from Michinoku Pro's Sumo Hall show on 10.10.1996. It was Super Delfin, Gran Naniwa, Tiger Mask IV, Gran Hamada and Masato Yakushiji vs. Dick Togo, Shiryu, Men's Teioh, TAKA Michinoku and Shoichi Funaki.
What milestones do you see yourself reaching in 2010?
Answer unclear. Ask again later.
Thanks to Mike for his time! Check out www.chikarapro.com for more information.