Tuesday, August 2, 2011

The Queen Has Arrived: The Night Sara del Rey Became a Heroine among Heroes

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Sara del Rey kicking Mike Quackenbush at Chikara's The Germans last year: Moments like this helped pave the way
for her crowning moment at Chikarasaurus Rex this past Sunday.

When Sara del Rey rolled up Claudio Castagnoli at the end of Chikarasaurus Rex weekend Sunday, the roar from the hundreds of fans who'd packed into the iconic indie wrestling mecca nearly tore the roof off the building. Compare that to the reaction she had gotten fewer than 24 hours prior, sound boos from a crowd that had some overlap, and you'd be surprised that it was the same wrestler. What happened between those two events that made the Queen of Wrestling the queen of the hearts and minds of Chikara faithful?

The easy answer would be to say that she went up against Claudio, the leader of the most hated group in the promotion, perhaps in its history. Wrestling against him in a Chikara ring would make anyone a favorite in the eyes of the crowd. However, I'm not sure that was wholly the case. There were some story elements going on here that really enhanced the atmosphere and really made del Rey's ascension that much more special.

First, del Rey has a legitimate case for the respect she feels she hasn't been shown by Claudio and the rest of the males in the BDK. This runs a lot deeper than "David vs. Goliath" or "Billie Jean King vs. Gerald Bobby Riggs" if you wanted to play battle of the sexes. If being a woman in a man's world was enough to make someone a babyface, then Sara and Daizee Haze would have gotten raucous cheers their first match as members of the BDK, a tag affair against the Osirian Portal. The cold truth is that del Rey has been a dominant force, holding her own against the men for the most part, imposing her will on a gender that is supposed to be superior to hers in every way when it comes to all things physical. Audiences, especially indie ones and especially indie ones that are as keen to storytelling as Chikara crowds are, pick up on this. It's not like Sara is a damsel in distress. She's the exact opposite, and that's why she commands respect. So when big, bad Claudio treats her like she's Kelly Kelly in a sea of Randy Ortons, then that's a major party foul. If there wasn't so much equity built up in Sara del Rey before this angle began, then there'd be no way that she'd command that kind of fan support for her to prove her "superiors" wrong.

And while I don't think that the whole "woman in a man's world" metric is the only or even the biggest reason, it certainly plays a part. Again, Kelly Kelly is the Divas Champion in WWE, and she's for the most part feeble. No one would buy her if she were to switch divisions and wrestle the men. Sadly, this is the archetype for the mainstream female wrestler, no matter how many Beth Phoenixes or Kharmas have come along. Even then, the trope is that a woman has to be of a certain build to compete, and often, that build is unflattering.

Only recently, and by recently I mean in the last 10 years if that, has the Joshi ethic of women of all shapes and sizes being asskickers caught on here in the American underground. It's obvious why del Rey would attract such a female fanbase, because hey, identification with a strong character is not solely a male trait. However, she's also getting props from male fans. This is not an accident. Again, Chikara attracts a much smarter, much more socially progressive crowd. That isn't to say that we've been itching to root for a woman, but if the right one comes along and kicks ass, you had better believe that she's going to get a massive amount of support.

Sara del Rey is the right woman.

The way that main event theater played out, it was no surprise that del Rey got the loudest reactions all weekend in that singular match. She was a true feel-good story without really pandering to the lowest common denominator. Yeah, Claudio overpowered her at times, but she more than held her own. It didn't matter if it wasn't "realistic" (as if 100% realism is even in the top 5 of things when it comes to a great story in pro wrestling); the crowd collectively bought it as if it were Mike Quackenbush the night before or Tommy Dreamer, Chris Hero or UltraMantis Black at events past. It was clear she was the underdog though, but at the same time, when she hit those three koppo kicks in succession, it worked. That's a testament to all parties involved.

I think that's what made the finish work as well as it did. Sure, the whole "pick up your beaten opponent at 2 only to get flash-pinned" is a tried-and-true story mechanism that works in all situations. It would only make sense that a chauvinistic man would do that to a defeated woman to prove a point. However, the fact that Claudio was doing it to del Rey? I don't know about the rest of the crowd, but in the moment, I felt insulted. It was because del Rey had proven herself worthy, not like some fluky über-underdog who gets the flash pin at the right time because of cockiness alone. There was a feeling that del Rey used guile and technique to counter Claudio's hubris, hubris that was unwarranted from get-go one because del Rey had earned the respect she demanded, at least with the crowd.

So that brings us back to the beginning of the post. del Rey rolled up Claudio for the win, and the place exploded. You now know the reason why the reaction was so magnified, and when I say that this was a true coronation of the new Queen of Chikara, it's not trite or cliched. It's real.

Whether del Rey goes on to win the Campeonato del Mundo from here is irrelevant. I think she'd be a terrific choice to win (and I've said so on two separate occasions now), but the real story here is that she's made it, at least in Chikara, she has. No other woman has really made this much of an impact in an indie fed that wasn't already dedicated to female wrestling excepting maybe Rachel Summerlyn and Portia Perez down in ACW, where men and women also wrestle each other on the reg. And she didn't do it by flaunting her tits or anything that would have made her rise cheap.

She earned it, every last bit of it. That's why this is so impressive, and that's another reason why Chikara is so much better than most other wrestling promotions out there.

Photo Credit: Scott Finkelstein - Please visit his site to view the plentiful amounts of pictures he's taken for DGUSA, ROH and other indie feds: Get Lost Photography

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