The fire of The Crucible was ignited by Ophidian after his lifetime passion – and his home – continually became a target for insurrection.
By Michael Melchor, Executive Editor
The storied past of Ophidian has led to the formation of his anti-invasion strike force known as The Crucible. But the pieces of his past that had remained hidden play just as big of a role.
The men that Ophidian has trained and recruited – Matt Makowski, Tunku Amir, Frey Nassar, E.M. DeMorest, Lance Steel, Devantes, and The Whisper – have greatly shifted the paradigm of CHIKARA since they were brought out into the light. The sudden and decisive physical domination of The Crucible over all of their adversaries has made the wrestling world stand up and pay attention to Ophidian’s army.
“We never intended to leave the shadows,” Ophidian said. “That was definitely something I did not want to happen to The Crucible. But we were exposed and we have to deal with the ramifications of having a light shone on us.”
Just like with his “resource” E.M. DeMorest, a hobby turned into a passion, which then begat a crusade. For Ophidian, the passion started more than two decades ago.
“I can’t say that I remember any part of my life that didn’t have professional wrestling,” Ophidian recalled. “My first visceral memory of wrestling was The Undertaker battling ‘The Undertaker’ at SummerSlam. I think that’s what draws everybody in – there’s this moment, especially when you’re younger. WWF, WCW, ECW, those things made me love pro wrestling.”
The environment Ophidian grew up saw to it that he would be a part of the sport he loved.
“I was lucky enough to be partially raised by the ECW Arena,” Ophidian chuckled. “Me and all of my friends grew up as wrestling fans. We would religiously go to shows at the arena, never missing anything from IWA-MS, CZW, RoH, Velocity Pro, PWEU – we went to everything. There’s that more personal, 1-on-1 connection on the independent level. When you have that kind of access to pro wrestling, when you’re in that environment, I feel like that breeds pro wrestlers.”
Ophidian took to the underground circuit where he first learned the art of professional wrestling. Accompanying him would be childhood friends, including one that would be very closely tied to him in CHIKARA and elsewhere.
“Me, Amasis & Lince Dorado backyarded together in PWA,” Ophidian said. “We all went to the same high school. When you’re 13 or 14 years old, your parents don’t necessarily want to take you to Combat Zone Wrestling where they’re smashing each other with light tubes. So you do it with your friends in the backyard before you get your license to drive yourself to shows.”
After several years, Ophidian would be pointed to the school what would come to define his professional career.
“We met up with Joe Gacy’s group and they had a ring,” Ophidian said. “Joe Gacy and his brother ended up inviting Lobo to one of our backyard shows. Lobo watched our show and talked to all of us and gave us the speech, ‘You are all good – look at what you are doing without an audience and the risks you are taking. Go. Get. Trained.’ There was a school at the ECW Arena which, at the time, was a joint CHIKARA-CZW school. We joined in 2006.”
Names such as BLK OUT – Ruckus, Eddie Kingston & Black Jeez, The Kings of Wrestling – Claudio Castagnoli (the modern-day Cesaro) and Chris Hero (Kassius Ohno), Nick Gage, Kevin Steen, El Generico and many others had wrestled and trained in the building he was beginning his proper training.
Ophidian recalls his first impression of the Wrestle Factory and the history that it holds – and how that would go on to impact him both personally and professionally.
“I’m beyond grateful that’s where I got my start at,” Ophidian said. “Very few wrestlers can get that kind of beginning or are offered that kind of opportunity to start their careers in a building that legends in wrestling have helped make famous. It’s been an experience I wouldn’t trade for anything else.”
As the Wrestle Factory evolved and saw its share of trials and tribulations, Ophidian evolved alongside it.
“I’ve seen the Wrestle Factory go through all kinds of ups and downs with attendance, the loss of buildings,” he remembered. “We’d gone from seeing full classrooms to one or sometimes none during the rougher years when CHIKARA was shut down but the school was still going. I’ve seen it go through its ups and downs and now to see it in a position where we have this great venue with a permanent setup and classes that are sometimes beyond capacity is a wonderful thing. I’m glad I could be a part of the ride and it sometimes blows my mind that I’ve become a trainer in the place where Cesaro and Kassius Ohno were former trainers. It’s something that I’ll never be able to wrap my head around.”
As Ophidian first began wrestling for CHIKARA, an unwelcome pattern that would become all too familiar had already started. And seeing those had idolized turn their backs on their principles made an early impression.
“When I made my debut [in CHIKARA], the Kings of Wrestling [Mitch Ryder, Claudio Castagnoli, Chris Hero, and Larry Sweeney] were running roughshod,” Ophidian said. “I got to witness that almost from the inside. I wasn’t involved in what was going on, I was too new to really understand what was happening. But that ended with the formation of the UnStable, then leading to the BDK invading CHIKARA. I started to realize that we were no strangers to these outside forces to take away or to change what we have.”
While watching these early incursions from a distance, Ophidian painfully experienced the onslaught of the Bruderschaft des Kreuzes firsthand.
“I was the main event of the show that [the BDK] invaded,” Ophidian said. “When you’re in the ring experiencing that firsthand, being thrown around by men the size of Tursas and Claudio and Ares, you don’t forget that. There’s a clip that constantly makes its rounds on Twitter of me taking the Ragnarok, which was the BDK’s finisher. It was the worst impact I’ve ever experienced in professional wrestling. When we went head-to-head in trios action, I clearly wasn’t a threat in any capacity because they took me out with ease and tried to end my career with the Ragnarok. Those things stick with you. That deep, internal soreness that doesn’t bruise or show on the surface but you feel internally like a heartbreak of some sort from being thrown on the mat. That ache, that pain, that internal suffering sticks with you. You remember that kind of pain.”
Though CHIKARA successfully turned back the Bruderschaft des Kreuzes occupation, the war had taken its toll. The valiant soldiers, weakened by the constant intense battles, had to overcome cracked mirror reflections of themselves in the form of Gekido before a corporation ultimately closed the company. After resurging and returning, the invasions continued as an amalgamation of prior threats known as The Flood united in an attempt to destroy CHIKARA once and for all.
However, CHIKARA founder Mike Quackenbush had a plan to infiltrate this newest menace and destroy it from within.
“Mike trusts me with a lot of things, most notably was the invasion of The Flood,” Ophidian revealed. “During that time period, we abducted 17 and, upon doing so, I stole his identity and infiltrated The Flood. I was able to learn who they are, what they do. I saw how they trained, I saw how they coordinated attacks on CHIKARA. There was no greater threat to CHIKARA than The Flood. They were successful in shutting us down even if it was temporary. I was a part of that. That’s not necessarily something that I’m proud of but I got to see how they did it, what they did, the method in which they used to do it.”
The plan that would successfully turn back CHIKARA’s biggest invasion would evolve into a preemptive measure to secure the company for the future. But it would also have serious unforeseen consequences on those involved.
During another battle with outside forces, Ophidian was forced to witness a personally horrific incident. The loss of a friend would have a huge personal impact on how Ophidian would carry out the mission given to him by Quackenbush.
“One of the most important people to me in my life was Amasis,” Ophidian quietly choked. “And I couldn’t do anything to save him. I couldn’t do anything to keep Frightmare from taking his mask and ending his career. At the end of the day, even if we won the war against Nazmaldun, we lost a lot of battles leading up to that end result. We lost quite a few of our friends along the way but none as close to me as Amasis was. These wars that we fought, these invading groups have always taken something from us. They took that specifically from me.”
The loss of a dear friend. A lifelong love of pro wrestling. Gratitude toward the Wrestle Factory and CHIKARA for making his dream a reality. All of these – as well as other factors from Ophidian’s past – played a part in shaping The Crucible.
“There are some things that not many people know about Ophidian,” he said. “I’ve spent 12 years training in martial arts – Goju-ryu, Tae Kwon Do and Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu. I’ve also spent time in the military. All these years of martial arts, military training, time spent destroying myself in backyards for fun. These are all experiences that I feel have carried over in the way that I train not just in the Wrestle Factory, but specifically in The Crucible. After experiencing what I did with The Flood, experiencing how they trained and the methods they used to plan, I decided to take bits and pieces of that and incorporate it into how I teach and train in The Crucible. You can’t defeat the enemy unless you understand how they work, understand the ins and outs of what they do and why.”
In studying many enemies and constructing the plan, Ophidian came up with one of the basic requirements for the resources he would recruit. A swift, overwhelming response to a threat became paramount in those he would scout.
“The longer a threat looms, the more likely you might be to lose to it,” Ophidian reasoned. “I think the most effective path to stopping an outside enemy is to stomp them out as quickly and as thoroughly as possible. Do I expect you to be able to do it step one? No. But you’re going to show me in 2 minutes or less what you’re capable of. I’ll know right away whether or not you’re worth keeping around or if you’re not worthy of the training that I’m offering.”
Ophidian also recognized that overcoming exigency quickly and decisively can happen many ways. Another set of criteria that he put in place was to ignore the backgrounds of his fighters and concentrate on their heart and toughness.
“Every resource in The Crucible offers something different,” Ophidian said. “They were all asked before they were allowed anywhere near The Crucible, ‘Why are you here?’ I didn’t ask if you had a fighting background. I didn’t ask you what your life experiences were. My job was to find the untapped potential out there in the universe and make it something. To take a worthless lump of carbon and turn it into something precious.”
In addition, the less immediately recognizable a combatant could be to outsiders, the better. This gave Ophidian the freedom to build the army he wanted at the front lines.
“I wanted to build something from the ground up,” he said. “I wanted people that the world didn’t know about. Occasionally, a guy like Matt Makowski, while he has experienced the world – he fought in Bellator and EliteXC – guys like him may have had some life experiences but they were still lost causes. Some of the others in The Crucible were unknowing of what they were capable of, what they could do. It was my job to pull this out of them and create this army that the world had not seen. Even if they were out there like Matt Makowski or DeMorest, they were hiding in plain sight. They were just there and nobody knew they existed.”
Ophidian now has, at his disposal, a crew of relative unknowns trained to strike hard and fast. From time served in the military and training in martial arts, he has the skills to teach them. A lifelong love of pro wrestling and the prices paid – professionally and personally – has provided him the motivation.
While this can be seen as a prime opportunity to mold the company he has loved in his own image, Ophidian stresses this is not the goal. Far from wanting to take the reigns himself, he merely wants The Crucible to be seen as the best way to achieve the task that Mike Quackenbush had given to him in the first place.
“We have no ill intentions,” Ophidian declared. “We do not want to take over CHIKARA, we do not want to change the way things are being done in the company. We just want nothing more than to protect CHIKARA. We want to be the first line of defense for anybody that is attempting to bring harm to the thing that we love most. Right now, our sole purpose is just to prove that Mike Quackenbush, to have him admit to me that this is what we need. This is what CHIKARA needs. We are good for the future of the company.“
YOUTUBE: Ophidian Cobra
The Crucible look to prove their methods are just during the 2019 King of Trios tournament on October 4, 5 and 6 in Reading, Pennsylvania.