Here's a reference list for people looking for somewhere to start w/ lucha. It's not a definitive list, but ought to get you hooked.
1. Atlantis vs Blue Panther, 8/9/91
2. El Dandy vs Negro Casas, 7/3/92
3. Angel Azteca vs. El Dandy, 6/1/90
4. El Satanico/El Dandy/Emilio Charles Jr. vs. Atlantis/Javier Cruz/Angel Azteca, 5/13/90
5. Los Infernales (MS-1, Satanico & Pirata Morgan) vs. Los Brazos, 11/22/91
6. Bracito De Oro/Cicloncito Ramirez/Mascarita Magica vs Damiancito El Guerrero/El Fierito/Pierrothito, 10/3/97
7. Cicloncito Ramirez vs Damiancito El Guerrero, 1/7/97
8. Trio Fantasia v. Thundercats, (Masks vs. Masks), 12/8/91
9. Ciclon Ramirez vs Felino (Mask vs Mask), 7/9/93
10. Pirata Morgan vs El Faraon (Hair vs Hair), 11/16/90
11. El Hijo Del Santo vs Brazo De Oro (Mask vs Hair), 1/13/91
12. El Mariachi vs Blue Panther, 10/30/94
13. Ciclon Ramirez vs Javier Cruz (Hair vs Hair), 6/10/94
14. Atlantis/Brazo De Oro/El Dandy/Mascara Magica/La Fiera/Negro Casas/Shocker/Ultimo Dragon vs Black Warrior/Dr. Wagner Jr./El Hijo Del Santo/Felino/Kevin Quinn/Satanico/Scorpio Jr./Silver King, 4/18/97
15. El Hijo del Santo vs. Felino, 7/4/97
16. Rayo De Jalisco Jr. vs Apolo Dantes, 5/31/96
17. Octagon vs Fuerza Guerrera, 11/1/91
18. Mascarita Sagrada vs Espectrito I, 3/12/94
19. Silver King vs Apolo Dantes, 6/23/95
20. Dr. Wagner Jr./El Hijo Del Santo/El Texano/La Fiera/Mascara Magica/Mr. Niebla/Shocker vs Black Warrior/El Dandy/Felino/Mano Negra/Negro Casas/Scorpio Jr./Silver King, 3/28/97
Negro Casas vs. La Fiera, hair vs. hair, CMLL 10/1/93
This looks like it was the show-stealer on the 1993 Anniversary Show. I'm not sure how wildly available it was before, but if Lynch sold it I doubt many people bought it.
It was a fascinating match for me on a number of levels. Casas was going through his whole "is he or isn't he a tecnico?" phase, and Fiera appeals to me as a scumbag rudo and not a worn out baby face, so I wasn't sure how the heel/face dynamic would play out. There was also a significant size difference for Casas to overcome, which seemed like a fairly big hurdle given it's difficult to imagine a guy the size of Casas dominating a taller, heavier man. If there's anything the Vintage series should teach us, however, it's to never doubt the genius of vintage Negro Casas.
The primera caida was full of subtle complexity. A lot of people watching lucha for the first time tend to find the opening falls basic (crude even) to the extent they wish lucha would do without them; and in fairness, the first fall here was built around the wrestlers taking turns throwing each other into a row of chairs, but for the seasoned viewer there was a tremendous amount going on. Casas got the jump on Fiera while he was posing and went high on him; the idea being that making Fiera groggy was Casas' best bet at throwing him off. Flinging Fiera into the front row chairs is fairly standard lucha brawling, as was the posting on the outside and most of the other shots Casas got in, but I loved the intensity. Casas broke the count and threatened to pop the ref in a spot that would normally come across as comedy but felt more like nervous tension; and he used a little of the kicking game that his feud with Ultimo was built around with the obvious foreshadowing of Fiera being far more renowned for kick-based offence than Casas.
Back in the ring, Casas bit at Fiera's forehead, which is not really synonymous with the Casas apuesta matches we have, and I loved the general focused attack on the nose, face and forehead area. The pin attempt while giving Fiera a "facial," as they say in Australian rugby league, was a great touch and a brilliant catalyst for Fiera's snap back breaker. And what a great back breaker. Ostensibly, it was to buy himself some time, but like the way he walked off the headbutt to the outside, you could tell the irritation was building. The transition for Fiera on to offence proper was naturally his kicking game, and we know Casas sells kicks like a champ and goes down like a bullet. Fiera gave Casas an awesome posting, carrying him over his shoulder and throwing him into the ring post like a javelin, then did the same thing to hurl Casas a few rows back. This was a spectacular bump for the time. You see this thing a lot on indy YouTube videos these days, but back then it was risque given the commission didn't like wrestlers falling on top of the fans. If you needed any more evidence that they were trying to make this special, you had Casas bleeding in an apuesta match, which racking my brains I couldn't remember seeing before (comment below if you have), and Fiera busting out a huge Japanese influenced German suplex instead of the standard pinning maneuver or submission you'd usually associate with these bouts.
That was a big time fall and Fiera had every right to slap the turnbuckle in delight. It lay down a steep marker for the match not only because they reversed the traditional lucha logic that whoever dominates the early portions of the opening fall goes on to take it, and therefore challenged themselves to keep ahead of the usual psychology, but simply because it was so good. But the second fall was just as entertaining. Fiera brutalised Casas to begin with (to the point where you could be forgiven for thinking that Fiera was the rudo and Casas the tecnico), and Casas sold like few others can in lucha as they're simply not wired the way Negro is. Obviously, he's a big picture guy, but where he excels is in the moment-to-moment details. He's always thinking, "okay, I fell out of the ring, what can I do here?" or "I got posted, how should I sell this?" He'd probably tell you it's instinctive, like he just fell one way or the other and tried to look as out of it as possible, but it's the commitment to doing it that impresses me. He sells everything, and naturally he garnered a lot of sympathy from bleeding so much and taking such a beating. Is it right for a rudo to behave that way? It's questionable. It's easy to make exceptions because it's Casas, who always had a flamboyance and flair for the dramatic no matter which side of the fence he stood on; and there was the size difference which I talked about before, which was clearly coming into play. Originally, I was going to play off this riff that as the best wrestler in the company on the biggest show of the year, Casas was belting out the numbers like Judy Garland in A Star is Born, but despite liking the connection between Casas and Garland, it was actually a whole lot tougher than that. Casas' comeback was defiant, and he threw everything he had at Fiera despite not having the energy reserves to do so. I really liked how the turning point came after he ate those jumping knees from Fiera. He collapsed backwards into the corner and had to wave off the ref with a finger wag, and you knew it was now or never if he was going to fight his way back into the match, but it took massive amounts of energy for him to mount that comeback and he didn't spring into life so much as he bit the bullet and went for it. It paid off but he was in no condition for a third caida. He used the ropes to pull himself over to his corner and sucked in the big ones while he collapsed in a heap; the ref continuing to check his cut. Moment-to-moment selling.
He came out the blocks in the tercera caida with a swank running dropkick to the corner that was a little too peppy for the state he was in; but when he missed a second time, Fiera kicked him in the head and it produced an iconic looking image of Casas with a crimson mask, slightly darkened by the grainy, deteriorated video footage, that was honestly, without a hint of hyperbole, one of the best images in any lucha match I've watched in the seven or so years I've been doing this blog. I always think of Casas as this cocky, flamboyant, gender-bending, tongue-in-cheek showman, but this was as violent an apuesta match as any from the early 90s and there was plenty of fight in those curly black locks. Fiera hit a snap suplex and dropped an elbow the equivalent of your favourite territory worker's elbow drop, and then they just unloaded: kicks from underneath; slapping exchanges with both guys kneeling; Fiera kicking Casas in the wrist while he was in the action of guarding his face; there was even a takedown that was predicated from a strike to the face rather than the usual shove to the chest. And I want to point out that only 15 minutes had elapsed on the video. This was not a long fight, though they clipped out the rest time between rounds. In probably the greatest moment in the match, Casas went for an STF attempt and fish hooked Fiera. As Fiera powered out of it, Casas kept him hooked, and you could see Fiera glaring at the ref in disbelief like, "are you gonna do something about this?" Being a lucha ref, he was busy with some ineffective count, and Casas practically had his finger in Fiera's eye socket before he was able to turn and punch his way out.
Casas went for the selling jugular in the stretch run -- selling the kicks he struck as though they were shin splitting; stumbling as he tried to go up top; treating every blow from Fiera as though it were 3 seconds to midnight. Fiera monstered Casas like he belonged in Japan, honestly. I don't say that as though Japanese offence is innately better than lucha work; rather to stress that it's unusual to see this level of offence in a lucha libre match. There were some potential knockout blows that could have left Wakabayashi shrieking in a shrill voice. It's not what I normally like in my lucha, but for show stealing content it's hard to top. You could maybe argue that the only false note in the match was when Casas tried to get the crowd fired up before he went up to the top for his frog splash attempt. It wasn't in keeping with how badly out of it he'd been only moments before but he wanted the adulation. He went a little overboard with it, and Fiera had to lie there a mighty long time off a missed frog splash attempt of his own, but the crowd loved it and it didn't kill the finish. There was a wonderful pan of Arena Mexico on their feet while Casas danced for joy. Casas and Fiera seemed pumped, as though they were thrilled with the match and how it was received. Fiera insisted that Casas be the first to shave his hair, but Casas was too gracious. In a way it broke kayfabe, but it was a huge match for Casas on his biggest night in CMLL to date. If there had been any doubt about who the best wrestler in Mexico was, Casas shot straight to the stars. It will take a while to digest, but this feels like a top 10 lucha match for the 90s, or at the very least, the greatest match that no-one ever talked about until dataintcash uploaded it.
Negro Casas vs. Ultimo Dragon, UWA World Middleweight Championship, CMLL 3/26/93
This managed to both thrill and confuse me.
The first fall was worked using the international currency for juniors matwork. Usually it would bother me that the matwork wasn't 'lucha enough,' but in this case it was being presented as an international title fight so it made sense for the work to be more universal. Ultimo wasn't that great at working holds from the top, but Casas provided enough movement to keep it interesting. I thought they missed a trick by not doing more stand-up as the match began with Ultimo breaking through Casas' defences and giving him two open handed strikes. It was a psychological game Ultimo was playing after Casas had pushed around his second, but if Ultimo had a clear advantage anywhere it was with his stand-up game, and I would have liked to have seen him challenge Casas there. On the mat, they could have done with a bit more intensity after the aggression that Ultimo started with, but it wasn't a bad fall. When they worked the ropes it was pretty as Ultimo was the most acrobatic worker in Mexico at the time. Casas copped a shiner either around the eye or on his cheekbone (it was hard to make out from the footage), and Ultimo finished him off with a lariat to the face that would be a head high tackle in rugby.
The second fall I thought as begging for a quick response from Casas no matter how much I complained about that trope with the Villano matches. I thought the crowd were ripe for it, and the circumstances of the first fall coupled with the foul Casas decided to give the Dragon would have worked better as a narrative if Casas had taken a quick fall. Instead they worked quite a long second fall where Casas tried to methodically win the fall and Ultimo kept frustrating Negro by reaching the ropes. That frustration and a sense of fatigue creeping in are the only explanations I can think of for why Casas fouled Ultimo in the break between rounds. A lot of people in the Yearbook thread loved that moment and I can understand it being the type of thing people get excited for (lucha libre extraordinaria and all that), but to me it made no sense. If Casas had lost the second fall I could understand it as an act of cowardice/desperation. If he'd won the second fall in dominant fashion, I could understand it as going in for the kill or even rubbing Ultimo's face in it. I could even buy it as retaliation for the shiner. But the way they did it felt like cheap heat. The match already had a lot of heat and the crowd seemed to be behind Ultimo even though he wasn't a native. The rules of a title match are such that you just don't do that. You don't break those traditions. Casas would laugh in the face of all that as he was the type of rudo who loved to do outrageous things, but he wanted to show how worried he was about the fight he should have taken the first and dropped the second with all the momentum in the Dragon's corner heading into the third.
My comments seemed justified by how dull Casas' continued submissions efforts seemed in opening the third caida. It wasn't until they dropped the holds completely and went to a series of Cassa bumps to the outside that things picked up again. Ultimo hit a tope between the ropes that could have been used in every highlights package for weeks and months to come, and later hit a beautiful pin point dropkick to knock Casas off the apron and set-up his quebrada. If you want to make a fair argument for Ultimo, he was a fantastic athlete. He wasn't a detail guy and didn't add all sorts of great little psychological touches, but man could he run, jump and move. In some people's eyes that may make him a slightly superior version of Octagon or Mascara Sagrada, but lucha needs these types to have the proper rudo vs. technico morality plays it thrives on. Let the rudos be the great performers. Casas was running on empty late in the third caida. His cheek was swelling up and he sold every move as though it was using up the last of his energy. He did this interesting spot where he climbed to the top and either slipped or collapsed and fell to the mat. Moments before he'd put his knees up on an Ultimo dive, and I guess the majority of workers would have fed their opponent the same transition or gotten them to pop up, but not Casas. It was an interesting spot. I'm not sure it really worked, but it was an insight into the thinking process and what he was trying to achieve by selling so much fatigue. Ultimo got the best nearfall of the match off a power bomb, but the age old complaint of slow ref counts was never truer than on the kick out here. Casas ended up countering with a mirroring power bomb of his own, which I didn't really love, the finish was excellent. Ultimo overwhelmed Casas with kicks, which you'll note I said he should have done from the start, and Casas couldn't block Ultimo's tiger suplex.
The crowd popped big for Ultimo's title victory and he received a continuous ovation. There was a cool moment where he stood on the ropes and posed for his new adoring public. Casas was bitterly disappointed afterwards, but begrudgingly shook hands with the victor. If it isn't obvious by now, I didn't love this bout, but I did think it was a bout that a lot of new fans to lucha might appreciate as there was an effort to work an epic sort of title switch where the champion tried to chart his downfall through a growing sense of frustration and fatigue, and even a sense that he couldn't really live with his opponent's martial arts skills. Casas sold well and there was that epic feel to the match that you don't always get from lucha (and was certainly missing from Ultimo's title defence against Emilio.) It may not seem quite as epic to fans of other styles where large scale bouts are par for the course, but Casas was certainly trying here. The 'I don't know how to put this guy away' narrative didn't quite work for me, but I can see it working for others as it's really just a personal thing in regards to whether it gels with you. The biggest plus I can say is that it was interesting, which is good because there's nothing worse than being boring. Casas wasn't as individually brilliant as I expect from him, and I actually wondered at times if he wasn't in the best of conditions. Maybe that was just brilliant selling and I have no idea how good his performance really was, but he was busy taking a blow at times when there weren't a lot of eyes on him. He did have amazingly cool wrestling shoes. They looked like track shoes rather than wrestling boots. He should have sold them and made a mil.
The match is a must-watch since it's one of the biggest title matches from Casas' 90s runs, so you should watch it and see how much your feelings differ from mine. It received unanimously positive feedback on the Yearbook thread from people who aren't quite as finicky about what they want from their lucha, or don't have quite as many quirks as yours truly, so queue it up and see how you feel.
Fuerza Guerrera vs. Octagon vs. Huracán Ramírez II, mask vs. mask, CMLL 12/14/90
This was the main event of CMLL's season ending show for 1990. We all know that triangle matches don't make for the best of apuesta matches, especially with a non-brawler like Octagon, but circumstances here were out of the ordinary. CMLL was coming off a record breaking Anniversary Show and business was hot. Arena Mexico was packed, and anticipation rife. Virginia Aguilera once said that the lucha public were barbaric: "we go to the matches because we like to see Christians killing each other." Having whet their appetite on Dandy/Satanico, the crowd were ready for more slaughter.
It took Sevilla literally seconds to prove he was as good as thought, and that it wasn't just Bestia making him look a million bucks. It's rare that a guy working a classic masked luchador gimmick is a good brawler, but Sevilla harkened back to his rudo days at Pavillon Azteca where he used to stomp the shit out of other toy characters.
The hardcores knew La Empressa wasn't giving away Fuerza vs. Octagon so soon, so the booking here was that instead of presenting the obvious wager, Fuerza fought his way to freedom and the final contest was a tecnico vs. tecnico showdown. That meant that Fuerza only wrestled half the match, but what a half of wrestling.
His mask was ripped at the front so you could pretty much tell what he looked like anyway, which would have pleased the ringsiders who paid top dollar. Using the hole in his mask, he got stuck right in there and hacked the shit out of his forehead. The crazy mother was dripping blood everywhere. He got it over himself, Octagon, the ref, and even his second Gran Cochisse. Then came the Fuerza Moment of the Match, which this time wasn't divine comedy but an insane bump off an Octagon arm drag sequence that sent him crowd surfing into the front three rows. There's no way those people left without blood on them.
A word on those arm drags: they were so fucking good. I've lightened up on workers like Super Muneco and Mascara Sagrada and no longer think they're the terrible workers I thought they were when I first started getting tapes, and really I'm starting to care less and less about whether guys are bad workers or not,; but whether you love Octagon or hate him (and I don't think there's anybody who really loves him), you can't tell me those arm drags weren't impressive. It's funny because I was sent this article that Dave Meltzer wrote for his 1990 Yearbook where he talked about how he'd started getting into lucha on Galavison, and how there weren't a lot of what he called "complete" workers. He cited Atlantis as a guy who had great high spots but couldn't work a match. I don't know where he got that idea from, but it fits Octagon to a tee. (Maybe he had his eyes gorged by that shitty Atlantis/Kung Fu feud.) Octagon wasn't a great worker, but he was malleable, and this was, I think, one of his career best bouts with the finishing stretch to the Octagon/Fuerza portion being one of the most legitimately exciting things I've seen in lucha in all my years of watching it. About two or three times, Octagon tried to hook on his La Escalera submission, but Fuerza kept blocking his leg and finally got a counter into a submission of his own. He sort of fell into Cochisse's arms like Shawn Michaels fulfilling his boyhood dream and then gave the most awesome triumphant fist pump. Fuerza Guerrera, your man of the hour. A rudo fan with a cowbell shook his hand, and we should all do the same after that tour de force.
Since they weren't planning to turn Sevilla heel, the actual mask vs. mask part was worked cleanly. They went at each other hard and fast and there were some huge collisions in the centre of the ring. The winning falls came a little easily, but it was very much in keeping with the theatrical style of big time apuesta matches.
With Octagon being one of the biggest stars in the business, and the most popular tecnico in the new television era, they were never going to have him lose, especially not on the season-ending show and not to a guy who was doing a third rate homage/rip-off to/of a classic gimmick; but like any well booked apuesta match there was a reason why the defeated wrestler lost. In this case, Sevilla missed on two topes and the second appeared to separate his shoulder. I'm not sure if it was a legit injury or a work, but he was attended to by two docs after the match and took some time to unmask. When he finally did, he had amazingly long eyelashes, and I couldn't help but wonder if he had a bit of the old Isiah Thomas eye make-up going on.
The best ever triangle apuesta match remains by some distance the Casas vs. Dandy vs. Santo match from 1996, but this was a thoroughly enjoyable match that could have easily been a dud following on the heels of Satanico and Dandy and not delivering on Fuerza vs. Octagon, which was no doubt what everyone wanted to see (except for me, the world's biggest Huracan Sevilla mark.) At the very least, Fuerza's cameo (?) deserved to be talked about more, and you owe it to yourself to watch it if you're a Fuerza fan and you haven't.
Ultimo Dragon vs. Emilio Charles Jr, UWA World Middleweight Championship, CMLL 4/27/93
People shit on Ultimo a lot these days, but you won't find me badmouthing him. This won't make you forget 90s classics like Dandy vs. Azteca or Blue Panther vs. Atlantis, but it was on the same level as Emilio's matches with Azteca and a step down from his work with Atlantis, which is pretty good for a non-luchador. Had it been a classic it would have been a point in both men's favour, but as much as I love him, Emilio didn't exactly roll out the classics. Besides, great matches were thin on the ground in 1993 CMLL so you take what you can get.
What we got here was the definition of a three star title match. Everything they did was good, but none of it was great. Emilio didn't take enough of the match, particularly on the mat, so it felt a bit lightweight at times. He wasn't able to put his imprint on the match through any of his characteristic work, and couldn't hang with Ultimo's Japanese offence, which also made it a bit one-sided. But the real problem was the length. At 15 minutes or less, it didn't have time to develop. On the positive side, Ultimo was again phenomenal between the ropes, and the transitions were smarter than you generally get in lucha matches. I really liked the knee lift Emilio used to lay Ultimo low in the opening fall, and Ultimo was very good offensively even if it wasn't exactly lucha friendly offence or laid out for full dramatic effect.
Jerry Estrada vs. Stuka, hair vs. hair, AAA 10/31/94
These guys did a good job of straddling the line between an up tempo AAA style match and a traditional cabelleras match. There was just enough blood, just enough brawling and just enough highspots to keep everyone happy. An example of this would be Jerry Estrada's slingshot somersault senton onto a blood stained Stuka. Estrada got by far the worst of it and ended up landing on the guardrail. He crawled under the flimsy barricade AAA had and the two continued brawling on the floor. Another thing they did well was put over the physical toll the match was taking, so even though they did a lot more dives and arm drag exchanges than you'd usually expect from an apuesta match, they were clearly exerting a bunch of energy and the desire to win was strong. The match wasn't without its flaws. Stuka looked like he was working in slow motion at times and some of his transitions were poorly timed, but his bladejob was beautiful and you'd have to go a long way to find prettier planchas.
Everybody knows how I feel about Jerry Estrada, but I thought this was a standout performance from him. It felt like he transplanted one of his Monterrey performances to an AAA ring, though to be fair, Moncolva (where they were wrestling) has had its share of bloody apuesta matches. Estrada was particularly good in the third caida where he carried a lot of the action. I loved his retaliatory abdominal stretch where he applied the fish hook. That was an awesome throwback to old school hair matches. The finish was screwy (a common theme with 1994 AAA), but it actually worked here, and Estrada delivered a nasty piledriver to put the exclamation mark on this puppy. I'm not sure that I'd call it an AAA classic, but for bloody wager matches it's up there with Satanico vs. Morgan and Rambo vs. Villano from the same era and certainly a match you should watch.
El Hijo del Santo, Angel Azteca y Super Muneco vs. Satanico, Psicosis y La Parka, AAA 5/30/94
Matt D recommended this to me and holy shit is the technico offence off the chain. It may legitimately be the best technico offence I've seen, and a match I'll recommend from now on if you want to see great technico work.
It started with a ferocious lock-up between Satanico and Angel Azteca that was like two wildebeest locking horns. It's well documented in these pages that Satanico was in decline around this time, but this was a vintage opening exchange from him. His defence and counter wrestling were brilliant, and I have no doubt on a different night when the exchange went for longer he could have pried open Azteca's defences and got the opening submission. Psicosis and La Parka let the crowd get to them in amusing fashion and Satanico being the brains and the nucleus gathered them together on the outside to regather their thoughts. Santo then launched into his headscissors routine, which ended up with La Parka crashing hard into the barricade. Super Muenco hit the ring and did his wobbly head shake taunt, and Psicosis' reaction was priceless. He bailed from the ring and mocked what he'd just seen with this classic "what the fuck was that head shaking shit?" indignation. He dove back into the ring with his tail up and of course got his ass handed to him. The great thing about it was that as Super Muneco was doing his Super Astro style celebration at clearing Psicosis from the ring, Parka tried to attack him and Muneco danced in his face. Parka was incensed and took it out on the bottom rope. The effortless interweaving of comedy into the fall was brilliant.
Satanico and Azteca went around the horn a second time and cut loose with the armdrag exchanges, and it was fucking great. Hardcore lucha fans will hear me, you know you're into something when you pause to see whether there was a singles match or who Satanico fought for his hair in '94. He was growing it out in anticipation of fighting someone, but it looks like no-one booked him in a hair match until '95. Man was he good in this. You all know he's my favourite luchador and the guy who I think is the best luchador of the past 35 years, but this was a 1990 throwback and pretty special.
The technicos then bamboozled the rudos with a tricky and intricate pinning sequence, and as Pepe Casas held their hands aloft it was a beautiful thing. The rudos licked their wounds on the outside and La Parka got into it with a fan. He threatened to climb over the barricade and continue the conversation, but Psicosis held him back. Psicosis then got pissed at the same fan while Parka puffed out his chest. Both guys were in fine form here. Super Muneco tried to the same wobbly head fake shit on Satanico and he just stepped back and popped the clown. Then a couple of exchanges later, Satanico showed some ass. I usually dislike Super Muneco but this was wildly entertaining. Azteca and Psicosis worked at a rapid pace, but Santo and La Parka was just mental. Maybe one of the all-time best El Hijo del Santo trios exchanges, and a lot of credit should go to La Parka for his crazy bumps into the ropes. The rudos wisely slowed things down from there by picking on the weak link Super Muneco. Satanico was the ring general here and orchestrated the rudos' second fall victory. They did a clever job of double teaming the danger man Santo and systematically took apart Azteca.
Unfortunately, the third caida had some boring mask ripping and descended into the mediocrity so common with AAA trios, but there were still some golden moments. Satanico continued to brawl like a mofo and had a great punch exchange with Super Muneco and Psicosis took an awesome ring post bump on the outside. Azteca and La Parka ended up swapping masks, which I'm guessing was some idea of Pena's that he was overly fond of. The finish was kind of dumb after such a hot match as the rudos got DQ'ed for a miscommunication spot, but it did leave us with the fun image of the rudos trying to pick a fight with El Tirantes as the El Hijo del Santo's music played. Bad finish aside, I went back and watched the first two falls as soon as it was over, so that should tell you how good the majority of the bout was.
Negro Casas vs. Mocho Cota, hair vs. hair, CMLL 9/23/94
This was the main event from the first weekend of Anniversary celebrations in 1994. A show which only drew 4,000 people; a shockingly poor number for a CMLL Anniversary Show. For some reason, the promotion decided to make it an una caida one fall, presumably because of the glut of apuesta matches they ran over the Anniversary Show weekends.
I may as well get my first bias out of the way and confess that, outside of tournament lucha, una caida lucha is something I'd usually turn my nose up at. And an una caida apuesta match is just wrong. It changes the entire psychology. The old Ventura talking point of being up a fall and having the leverage to drop one is thrown out the door, so you have guys refusing to give in to holds they'd ordinarily submit to, which stretches out the match and disrupts the rhythm. Luchadores are so used to working two out of three falls that an una caida match presents a unique challenge. The glass half full perspective would be that it changes the complexion of the match and that it's interesting to see how the workers adapt, but to me an apuesta should be a crowning moment and not an experiment.
Casas, playing a pure babyface this year, borrowed Dandy's old trick of being beat up while still wearing a jacket. He wore this stonewashed denim jacket with a picture of a tiger on the back, which was a strange fashion choice for Negro Casas but typified how everything about the bout was a little bit off. He bled immediately, and would have lost the primera caida straight away if this had been an ordinary apuesta bout; but instead there was a prolonged beat down which revolved around Casas injuring his leg on the apron and his ankle buckling when he did a back flip off the top turnbuckle. Cota naturally smelt blood in the water and began stomping on the leg before twisting and contorting it into all sorts of unnatural positions. Cota had been pretty good up until this point, dragging Casas about by the hair and giving him these short knees to the head. Casas was a bit patchy. His selling was okay from a distance, but up close his acting wasn't that flash and the cut didn't look so nasty. I didn't like his attempted comeback either. He was pandering to the crowd with a guillotine move to send that fuzz of Cota hair flying, but it wasn't angry enough. If a guy's beating the crap out of you, it's probably better to strike back instead of playing to the gallery. Call me picky, but it was like watching the shine in a comedy match. (I think that's the first time I've ever used the term "shine." Matt D is rubbing off on me.)
Next, Casas loosened the laces on his boot, possibly because his ankle was swelling up and he wanted the doctor to take a look at; it was hard to tell because they cut to commercial then replayed the injury. Suddenly, Casas' boot was off and he was hobbling about with one boot on and an extremely exposed sock. Cota went after it well; kicking at the exposed limb while Casas winced in the corner. He never failed to remind Casas or any of the folks watching that it was a hair match as he grabbed Casas by those greasy locks any time he transitioned from stomping on Negro's foot to putting him in a submission hold. There was a nice touch of Negro struggling to get his footing even when Cota pulled him up by the hair, and to Casas' credit he struggled well while in those holds. Casas was looking for a time out in the corner after taking another mangling in the ropes, and when he slipped out onto the floor, Cota flung his boot into the air. Thus began the mystery of what happened to Casas' shoe, which I became preoccupied with the first time I watched the bout. I liked Cota's strikes in the corner and the knees, and Casas' ineffective attempt at a lariat escape out of the corner, which Cota was able to shrug off and keep on his man. All of this was good stuff albeit utterly dominant from Cota and aching for a payoff.
Watching it a second time, I really couldn't fault anything that Cota did in the beat down phase. The issue was with how stretched out the fall was. If you're a fan of limbwork -- and they're out there those limbwork fans -- the consistency with which he targeted the leg and focused his attack on it, while still pulling Casas about by the hair, was impressive heel work. As I said, Casas' selling was good from a distance but looked too much like whining close up. There were times when it looked good and times when it didn't, but it was a difficult proposition for Casas as he was forced into prolonged selling in a situation where he should have submitted a million times over. After a while, it went from being heroic to plain stupid as the beat down wore on for far too long and became something quite unnatural in a lucha libre context. I can appreciate the quality of the work in the passage where Casas threw a punch and Cota shook it off and stomped the crap out of the leg again (and man are his boots cool -- check out the rad hand design), but even Jesus didn't suffer that much on the cross. There's just no way that Casas should have been able to withstand all that. Even if you use the rationale that luchadores usually submit because they have a fall in hand (meaning it doesn't make sense to sustain any further damage) and that in fact they're capable of enduring far more pain if the rules are different, which in this case they were, it was still too bloody long! And do you really want prolonged limbwork in your apuesta matches? Hell no! You want a babyface comeback that's just as violent as the rudo's attack. Apuesta matches are part survival, part revenge, and there simply wasn't enough vengeance in this bout.
Anybody who's ever watched a pro-wrestling match knows that Casas is going to win after taking such a beating. It wouldn't be just for him to lose or make much sense in the context of this worked sport. The key then is how satisfying it is. This is where they began to err as instead of Cota getting his comeuppance he continued to take too much of the bout. Even when Casas pulled his old rudo trick of a low blow, and smiled to himself in the ropes, Cota sold it ever so briefly and went after the leg again. There was no breathing space on that at all, and he went to the well again on the pin attempts. Cota was an excellent worker -- even the broken down version you see here. He was a weird looking dude, and that was off putting for people at the time, but the shit he does is cool, like that diving stomp from the second turnbuckle, which is the antithesis of top rope moves during the height of the mid-90s workrate phenomenon. Even so, he wore out his welcome here. The idea behind the finishing stretch appeared to be that Cota had been so utterly dominant that each of Casas' attempts at a counter were brushed aside. And Casas seemed to be playing with the idea that he was badly injured and had taken so much punishment in the bout that a flash pin or a submission out of nowhere was the only way that he was going to realistically win the bout. But Bret Hart playing possum he wasn't and the finish was shit. That's what I'm going to call it -- shit. I put some thought into that and I'm sticking with my choice -- shit. You win on back suplex (into a side slam or whatever it is you call that) when the guy was able to fight the waistlock? And he kicked out right after the three. I mean I hate to sound like Monsoon, but he didn't even hook the leg. How could Casas possibly have held Cota down for a three count on that move? It doesn't make any sense. Cota's brushing aside everything because he hasn't been worn down enough and a back suplex and lateral press is enough?
Una caida lucha -- not my thing. Sustained selling and limbwork in lucha -- not my thing. Apuesta matches that are light on blood and don't have great selling -- not my thing. Lopsided bouts that end with ridiculous pinfalls -- not my thing. Cota's limbwork was outstanding if you value that sort of thing, and his rudo performance was more than solid. Casas wasn't at his world beating best, but I don't expect people to be quite as finicky about his performance as I was. It wasn't a great bout, and suffered I thought from an unnatural psychology that greatly hindered what you'd usually expect from a lucha apuestas bout; but it was worth watching for no other reason that it's overlooked Cota, and Cota is a guy where we can basically digest everything we have on tape. The mystery of Casas' missing boot was resolved when an old guy tried to give it to him at the end of the bout. At first I thought he was a member of the public who picked it up and kept it safe until the end of the bout, but then I noticed that he took Casas' jacket from a guy in the front row who helped Negro remove it early in the bout. I guess he was the props guy. Come to think of it, I don't recall either guy having a second, which was odd.
My eternal thanks to alexoblivion for providing the bout. I'm sorry it wasn't my cup of tea. I imagine there are plenty of people who would enjoy it more than me particularly if they don't care so much about traditional conventions of lucha libre or they're not so picky about whether Negro Casas is making adequate facial expressions or not. Still, 4,000 for the show. What a disaster.
Atlantis vs. Ultimo Guerrero, mask vs. mask, 9/19/14
This was the most emotional mask match in lucha since the Atlantis/Villano III bout in 2000. The work was simple and effective. It was mostly built around nearfalls, and got better as the match went along, but the match itself didn't really matter. The result and the post-match afterwards were all about the emotion of a mask match.
Jose Fernandez reckoned that Ultimo Guerrero kayfabed his family about the result and it's easy to believe. I've never been a fan of Ultimo Guerrero, but from the close-up of him telling the ring announcer his name and birthplace to the unmasking and the scenes that followed, the guy deserves a massive amount of props.
In the days and weeks to come, I may go back and look at it as a match, but like the smart crowd with its large contingent of older fans there in anticipation of an Atlantis mask loss, let me just bask in the surprise. I never thought CMLL would do something to move me in 2014, not after the dog's breakfast that was the Rush/Casas hair match, but with one BS free main event they proved there's life in lucha libre yet. And that's enough to make a true believer out of anyone.
Nothing bugs me more in lucha than the lack of critical appraisal that El Dandy and other all-time greats receive. I can understand there not being as much evaluation of Dandy as workers we all grew up on, but to me it's a sign that he's not taken that seriously. Of course when you watch El Dandy for the first time, as many people did on the 1990 Pro-Wrestling Only Yearbook, you're struck by how good he was -- one of the best in the world that year, and possibly one of the best of all-time -- but you wouldn't base your entire opinion of Ric Flair on his best year and neither should you with Dandy.
Don't get me wrong, I love Dandy and have done for close to a decade now, but here on the Great Lucha blog I've always tried to turn a critical eye not only towards workers I dislike but favourites too, and particularly the workers who people seemingly do nothing but praise, the Negro Casas, the Blue Panthers and the El Hijo del Santos. It may come across as negative at times, but that doesn't bother me so long as it's fair. Recently, I've been a bit disappointed in how Dandy's come across in Vintage Negro Casas of the Day particularly in comparison to Casas, so I wanted to take a fresh look at him away from Casas but still in the same era. Here's what I came up with:
El Dandy/La Fiera/Apolo Dantes vs. Pierroth Jr./Bestia Salvaje/Mano Negra, CMLL 4/29/94
Bestia's nose was well and truly like W.C. Fields at this point. Mano Negra was still sporting his Dave Finlay look and hammed it up for the camera as George Thorogood blared through Arena Coliseo.
There's no way a match with this many good workers should be a lame duck. It was a stock trios; one you've seen a thousand times before where the technicos get the better of the early exchanges, the rudos beat them down as penance, and the technicos make a comeback. But there was a strange disconnect between the workers as though they weren't paying attention to what the other pairs were doing. It didn't help that the match wasn't filmed very well, but talk about another Arena Coliseo stinker. Pierroth kept bickering with Negra, which is a pain in the ass as it distracts from the match and meant that Negra couldn't continue his rich vein of form. The rudos also chose to beat on Fiera, who was caught on camera making no effort to sell whatsoever. It was embarrassing really.
These were hard times for CMLL and even good workers like these were struggling for motivation. Dandy had gotten back into shape in '94, suspiciously so it must be said, but didn't add a single bit of spark to this. That's a big difference between Dandy and Casas and even this Dandy and the 1990 version. In 1990, business would pick up every time he was in the ring. It was magic the way he'd dazzle the crowd whenever he stepped between the ropes. Here he had the chance to do something special with Dave "Mano Negra" Finlay and didn't take it. In 1990 he would have been all over that action.
El Dandy/Atlantis/Pierroth Jr. vs. La Fiera/El Satanico/Emilio Charles Jr., CMLL 11/13/92
Now this kicked ass. They did a rare pre-match angle where Dandy was being interviewed back stage and was jumped by Fiera and his boys. Fiera was great here wearing a jacket and shades and looking every bit the sleaze thread material that he was. The technicos escaped to ringside, and the camera stayed on the rudos as they did their jackets up for their entrance, which was unintentionally awesome. The rudo beat down to begin this was one of the best rudo beat downs I've seen in a long, long time. The vigour with which Emilio got stuck into his work was brilliant. He was such an unbelievably awesome worker. I still think he's under-appreciated even by hardcore lucha fans. Gregor mentioned recently that Emilio taking the monkey flip from Atlantis and charging into the backbreaker is a routine he wants to see every time and I wholeheartedly agree with that position. Satanico and Pierroth also teared into each other. They still had a lot of heat from the Infernales/Intocables feud, and what you basically had here were three great match-ups where the guys were all feuding with each other. Dandy bled (yeeesss), the technicos made their comeback and Fiera bled (yeeesss), and then his chain got involved. The whole thing was very Memphis and a throwback to the early 80s Arena Mexico shows. This really made me want to see the Fiera/Dandy hair match again even though I recall it being disappointing.
El Dandy/Atlantis/Ultimo Dragon vs. Bestia Salvaje/Felino/Mano Negra, CMLL 8/20/93
We get an erotic workout video to start this. It must be apuestas time if they're showing gym workout videos. The Atlantis vs. Mano Negra feud wasn't very good. I'd dearly love it to be, but I just got done popping for the hundredth time as Atlantis and Emilio did their signature spots and didn't pop once here. I don't know how they could have made it any better actually. The limb work they did was boring, but mask ripping and having Atlantis face to canvas covering his identity would have been just as bad. They just didn't have any chemistry.
Dandy was in a secondary role here, but still found a way to be unimpressive. One of the great disappointments of 1993 CMLL has to be any time Dandy and Felino square off. Felino was trying too hard to be charismatic in '93 and his humour came across as forced. I can't say I blame him for overacting since his push was new and he was in his brother's shadow, but even today he's a ham actor. He gelled more with Ultimo in this match since they did pure workrate stuff. Bestia might as well have had a table cloth draped over him for as much of a part as he really played in this. It's amazing what an afterthought he became after an excellent 1992. Things were definitely going south for him. It's rare that you see a match like this where something's always happening yet none of it is interesting.
Los Infernales vs. El Dandy/Ultimo Dragon/Atlantis, CMLL 09/11/92
This was better than most of the build for the 1992 Satanico/Dandy hair match, probably because the Infernales were involved, but still a case of diminishing returns. Dandy bled, which was a good thing, and the Infernales were lack of a pack of wolves in the opening caida working over the cut. Satanico really grew his hair out for the Anniversary Show, so he definitely looked the part even if he was the wrong wrestler for the match. Wrong match or not, he did an excellent job of working Dandy over here and had a few women in the audience engaged in running arguments with him. Dandy was good, but this was mostly a Satanico special. The other Infernales contributed nice little touches and I loved the way they bumped and sold for the technico comeback, which was build around a pair of dives from Atlantis and Ultimo Dragon. The technicos were excellent as well with snarky little stomps and kicks. I liked the way Atlantis laid the boot in after Pirata had taken his back crawl bump to the outside. Not a very long match and no big comeback from Dandy to show where he was in this match work wise, but like I said it was the best piece of build in a largely forgettable rematch of a rematch of a rematch.
El Dandy/Pierroth Jr./Ultimo Dragon vs. Negro Casas/La Fiera/El Supremo, CMLL 10/30/92
Hot damn this was good. The Fiera/Dandy feud is much better than I realised. This was an outstanding trios with an early 80s feel to it. Fiera had a great scummy look to him with his jacket and chain and cheap pair of dark sunglasses. I've always thought Sangre Chicana was the scummiest of the early 90s luchadores, but Fiera looked like he was not only snorting something around this time period but pushing it in the locker room. He was the Man in this. Not only did he methodically and systematically take apart Dandy's shoulder, he was throwing right hands like an absolute chief. No-one had respect for anyone in this bout. It wasn't just Fiera vs. Dandy, everyone kept getting up in each other's grill. The great thing about it was that instead of the meandering rudo bout it could have been there was a continuous flow of guys intervening and working awesome brawl exchanges. You'd have these sequences like the one where Casas and Pierroth were fighting in the ropes and Ultimo jumped on top of Casas and spilled to the outside where he was immediately attacked by Fiera. Later on, Supremo, who was surprisingly great in this, was pummeling Pierroth into submission when Ultimo jumped in and began wasting Supremo with knee strikes. All of the cut offs and double teaming were awesome in this. Pierroth and Casas had this fantastic rivalry going on where Pierroth would chop him right in the nose. The stuff they did together was so great that this could have easily made Vintage Negro Casas of the Day. Casas vs. Pierroth is now a dream match for me after seeing this. Ultimo vs. Supremo was also brilliant for what was the third string match-up and you also had moments of Casas vs. Dandy peppered throughout, including a nasty looking posting Casas gave Dandy on the outside. If that wasn't enough, there was even some Pierroth/Fiera interactions as pretty much everyone took turns working each other here. The finish seemed confusing and weak at first, but on replay it was amusing as everyone bar Casas was scattered on the outside and Casas did a wickedly funny impersonation of Roberto Rangel counting everyone out. Pierroth had a lot to say afterwards and just seeing Dandy in shot with him afterwards has got me pumped for the continuation of this feud. This was quality.
It's early days in the once a decade revisit of the Smarkschoice Greatest Wrestler Ever poll, but so far plenty of people have Santo pinned as their number one luchador. Santo's an easy pick, but is it the right pick? I cued up a half dozen matches to see how much greatness I could find.
El Hijo del Santo y Black Shadow Jr. vs. Octagon y Fuerza Guerrera, Monterrey 12/15/91
Relevos Suicidas is such a waste of time. Even in a bout like this where the action isn't so bad it eats up what would ordinarily be the first two falls of the apuesta match. There's a theory going that Black Shadow Jr. intentionally fouled to get a shot at Santo's mask, but I don't think that's true at all. If that were the angle, he would have fouled straight away instead of getting valuable energy sapped by his contest with Fuerza. If you watch closely, he tries to pin Fuerza after the low blow and is in as much disbelief as Santo over the ref's call. I think it was pretty clearly a rudo reflex.
On the boards we discussed how people never tire of the Santo formula because of how good his execution is, and I don't think it's possible to tire of his bleeding either. His blood soaked mask is as iconic an image as Ric Flair's crimson mask and a visual you immediately associate with lucha. Santo's bleeding here provided a series of fantastic visuals, it was just a pity about the rest of the fall. As far as Santo's apuesta matches go, this was fairly weak. BSJr didn't do enough to make him bleed. It was some enthusiastic assistance from Perro Aguayo that caused Santo to bleed so much, and he didn't wait anywhere near long enough to make his comeback. The intensity of a comeback is in direct proportion to the length of the beating, and Santo wasn't in nearly enough jeopardy from the blood loss. The cameraman failed to capture BSJr's big dive adequately; and for a guy who was so good at working his formula, Santo didn't didn't place his signature spots anywhere near as well as he usually did. The finish was a prime example. It was begging for the camel clutch or something equally as iconic and instead it was an inside cradle. Legend has it that the finish to the Santo/Black Shadow Sr. fight was the camel clutch, so it surprised me that they didn't reprise that piece of history. Ultimately, it was worth watching because of the blood, but it was hard to know why it fell short of Santo's best apuesta work. Was it because the first two falls were wasted on Relevos Suicidas, or because BSJr wasn't that great at dictating the bout? Perhaps it was because Santo didn't stick to his formula. More importantly, how many other average apuesta matches did he have in his long career? Probably more than we'd like to think.
El Hijo del Santo vs. Psicosis, Promo Azteca 10/3/97
i had to curb my expectations for this as it was only a house show match, but Santo was in good form around this time so I still had some hopes for it. The early mat work was well executed by Santo, but mat work was never the strongest part of Psicosis' game, so it wasn't very competitive. Psicosis' strengths were his bumping and stooging. He took some incredible bumps in this, but his stooging was all crotch chops and pulling the finger. The Psicosis I'm used to had a better sense of humour than that. He won the first fall in weak fashion then missed a lunging charge at Santo and did his shoulder first bump into the ring post. Santo seized the initiative and won the second fall with ease. At that point I was ready to chalk it up as house show fare, but they worked some exciting dives into final fall, which had to have pleased the paying customer. The finish didn't do Psicosis justice, and I came out of it thinking he hadn't really progressed in his struggle with Santo, but that's Psicosis in a nutshell really. He was a limited worker who never really grew or progressed past the point where he had some decent shtick.
El Hijo del Santo/Angel Azteca vs. Fuerza Guerrera/Psicosis, AAA 2/13/94
There was no messing around here as Psicosis was disqualified for fouling Santo before he'd even removed his jacket. The rudos got stuck into their work with a lengthy beat down that saw Santo dragged around the ring by his mask (but no blood.) This lacked the intensity of say Emilio Charles and Satanico in the recent Dandy vs. Fiera build I watched. Psicosis wound up removing the hood, which led to more sluggish moments where Santo had to protect his identity (always an awkward part of any mask ripping bout.) Santo ran to the back to change masks and returned with a vengeance. He went after Psicosis with a chair, which was worse than anything Psicosis had done to him, but that's wrestling for you. The upshot of all this was that Santo removed Psicosis mask to reveal that the mighty buffalo mane was only part of the mask (always a shock to me), and there was a surreal finish to the segment where Psicosis came back to ringside in a Santo mask and tried to continue the fight before cutting a promo in the full Psicosis body suit and Santo mask.
On one hand, this was a regular TV taping and not meant to be a hidden gem from the 90s. On the other hand, it was the build to a title match and they were throwing out challenges. But even ignoring that, this wasn't exactly great. If I'd thought it was a legitimately great angle I would have praised it to the moon, instead I would probably rank it alongside other Santo vs. Psicosis disappointments or consistently weak Santo in AAA material.
El Hijo del Santo/Super Muñeco/Angel Azteca vs. Satanico/Espectro Jr./Ice Killer, AAA 8/1/94
This was a mediocre trios that could have been from any time and any place in lucha history. Mediocre trios are par for the course in lucha, and even Santo can't shine in all of them, but it's surprisingly that his signature spots were absent from a match where they would have been most useful. It was up to Angel Azteca to provide the highspots instead. Santo wasn't exactly apron hugging, but if you believe in Ric Flair's story about going to see Ray Stevens and not seeing his signature spots then this was Santo's Stevens match, which would have been okay if he'd done something else that was cool, but he didn't. I'll you this though -- Satanico vs. Santo was a match the world needed to see. It's just like lucha to not provide what the world needs.
El Hijo del Santo/Lizmark/Eddy Guerrero vs. Fuerza Guerrera/Jerry Estrada/Marabunta, AAA 12/18/92
This was like every other AAA trios match of its era. It started off with a fall that wasn't far off classic trios structure. The match-ups were solid without being spectacular, and Santo didn't stand out one way or another, but there were little touches like Fuerza vs. Lizmark which were only available here while everyone was in their prime. Then it started to drag. It went on and on until finally you were waiting for it to end. Waiting is better than praying I suppose, but these long falls were a killer in AAA.
Fuerza Guerrera/Blue Panther/Espanto Jr./Psicosis vs. El Hijo del Santo/Octagon/El Mariachi/El Mexicano, 8/12/94
This was everything that was good and bad about AAA in the same match. The opening fall and a half was high energy, up tempo stuff with a bunch of great exchanges. It threatened to turn into a brawl at times, but kept on the straight and narrow and there was enough action in the first fall to fill an entire match. Santo stuck to his formula and tellingly looked better than in any of the other trios I watched. The rudos were pinballing left, right and center, and if I never get tired of the Emilio monkey flip and charge into the backbreaker, the same can be said for Espanto's bump from the slingshot. What a great worker that guy was. Everything was going swimmingly until the rudos decided to slow things down and give Mariachi a working over. That immediately changed the tone of the match and frankly went on too long. The technicos made a brief comeback at the end, but by that point I was checking how much time was left. After slowing things to a crawl, the rudos were DQ'ed for excessive rudoism and the match was in the books. Why they had to stretch these things out to half an hour with disparate tones in each half is beyond me. The first fall was draining enough without dragging things out. Psicosis did kill Santo dead with a senton to the outside from high off the top turnbuckle. That was a crazy spot made all the more reckless by Psicosis' natural awkwardness. IIRC. this led to a return match which I reviewed somewhere on this blog, but man, talk about a manuscript that badly needed an edit.
Some final thoughts on Santo:
Santo was a great worker who had a lot of memorable matches, but he wasn't the type of performer where you can watch any of this matches and get something out of it. He looked great when he stuck to his formula and struggled to make an impression when he didn't. He wasn't a details guy like Satanico, Chicana or Cota. He was all about execution. For that reason, I can't really see him as my number one ranked luchador, though it's a different story if you're talking about highly ranked technicos. I don't mean to imply that Santo was inconsistent or overrated somehow, rather that because of his working style and the fact he was a technico and enmascarado, he doesn't quite stand out like some of the wrestling geniuses in Mexico. At least not on random viewings.
La Fiera vs. El Dandy, hair vs, hair, CMLL 11/27/92
Here we go with the revisit then.
Fiera attacked Dandy on his way to the ring, which comes as no surprise given he'd been doing it to him for weeks. Perhaps Dandy should have been better prepared for it, but I guess they were trying to sell that there was nothing he could do about it. The beginning wasn't as frenzied or as bloodthirsty as it could have been, and in truth some of the trios openings were better, but I liked the image of the big ring announcer scuttling away as he quickly finished his ring intros. Fiera's offence was excellent and he delivered a measured and precise beat down. It was excellent strategy actually. He took his time weakening Dandy, got some nice heat by standing on top of him, and made sure the audience got a good look at him writhing about in pain. I liked the way he wrapped him up for the pinfall as well. Very neat. But that's the thing: it was all a bit too neat and tidy for an apuesta match. Aside from a few of the high shots and the posing on Dandy's back, it could have been a title bout with a bit of an edge to it. Or perhaps a better way of looking at it is that it would have been okay for a mano a mano bout, but an apuesta match you expect to be wilder.
The second fall was more like a classic apuesta match with Dandy bleeding and Fiera gnawing on the cut. It wasn't easy to see the blood on the Lynch copy, but the tone of the fall was classic wager stuff. Fiera did an excellent job of cutting off Dandy's comeback attempt and peppering him with chops that slipped up around the jaw. Probably my favourite spot of the bout was when Fiera threw him to the outside then delivered that vicious kick to the head. I loved the way he crouched in the ring letting Rangel administer the count while Dandy shuffled his way to the ring on his butt. In a typical wager match, Dandy would have caught an opening and fought his way back into the bout, but here he was felled by a big time DDT, and the next one would have been lights out so he had to counter it. A Northern Lights suplex isn't exactly your mama and papa's lucha, but it would have worked better if Rangel hadn't been slow to make the count. The slow counts in lucha never really bother me, but that needed a quick count. I'm not sure it was entirely Rangel's fault as he didn't seem out of position prior to the counter. He was just incredibly slow to react and stopped to check the shoulders. Fiera made it worse by wriggling about too much, which made it seem like he hadn't sustained enough damage to stay down. In any event it was in the books. Fiera may have had a slight gripe about his shoulder being up, but he chose to ignore it and pounce on Dandy instead.
There was a clip at the beginning of the third fall. I'm not sure how much they cut out, but aside from a big lariat that sent they both careening over the top rope, Fiera maintained the upper hand. Watching it a second time in the stop/start manner of writing a review, you've got to appreciate how good Fiera's offence looks. Every thing he does is pinpoint. The shitty little foul in the corner and the finger wag to Rangel are other details I didn't pick up on the first time round. While it didn't have the feel of a classic apuesta match, there were a lot of great touches in this. Fiera delivered a performance that was almost on par with Satanico or Pirata Morgan. There was just something missing from the bout structurally. Dandy's big gambit was a tope suicida that lived up to its name. The match started to shape into a natural 50/50 tercera caida after that with both men struggling and missing dives. Fiera had taken a few knocks and was still trying to shake off the effects of the tope when he countered a Dandy sunset flip attempt. In a beautiful piece of selling, he checked the hand he'd used to counter and leaned into the ropes for a breather. A subtle moment in the context of a hair match, but it showed that Fiera was fading. Don't forget, he'd exerted plenty of energy pummeling Dandy, so while he'd had the momentum for most of the bout, he was feeling the pinch in the third caida. That was a tired and desperate foul on the inverted atomic drop. Was the finish the right call? That's the big question. I think Fiera was definitely fading and Dandy had just countered his power bomb attempt, so it made sense for him to try to steal the victory. Dandy on the other hand was gathering momentum. There's a certain leeway in apuesta matches for tecnicos to fight fire with fire and give rudos a dose of their own medicine, but that type of win isn't very satisfying and not exactly what you'd call payback. Fiera's selling was great throughout the post match as he complained to the ref about Dandy holding the ropes and wanted to continue the fight with a half shaven head, but to me Dandy hardly looked like a gladiator.
Fiera looked great in this match; Dandy not so much. When I first sat down to write this, I considered what my angle would be. Was it a perfectly acceptable three star apuesta match or anticlimactic? A disappointment or something which couldn't be helped? While typing this out, the match struck me as slightly more nuanced than I'd imagined, but the overall flow wasn't that smooth and structurally things seemed out of place. It was an excellent performance from Fiera even if he didn't tear into Dandy, but the finish was all wrong. Dandy should have won cleanly and decisively. The order of the first and second falls could have been swapped around with the blood coming straight away followed by the clear and precise beat down and the third fall built to a bigger Dandy comeback. That would have made for at least a four star bout. Still, it was fun and there was a lot to enjoy about Fiera's performance. Dandy's selling was good without being outstanding and a clearer picture would have made the colour more dramatic. The build up promised more, but I was happy with the revisit. Moral of the story rudos? Don't wear yourself out pummeling an opponent's noggin.
La Fiera/Espectro Jr./Kahoz vs. El Brazo/Brazo de Oro/Brazo de Plata, CMLL 12/25/92
So, we've established that washed up Fiera (who really wasn't that old) was better than I ever gave him credit for, especially in scummy lowdown trios matches that reflected the shadiness of his character outside the ring, but here he got to show off his comedic talents. Comedy is an important (often misunderstood) element of lucha libre. No matter how great your brawling is, or how bloody your apuesta matches are, to be a top rudo worker you need to master the art of comic timing. All the world loves a clown, and that goes twice for a bumping, stooging heel. What Porky and Fiera did better than most was to escalate from comic playfulness to fierce rage, playing off that old adage "it's all fun and games until someone gets hurt."
Fiera was all up in Porky's grill during the intros, poking him in the chest. Porky responded with a slap to Fiera's face, and they launched into an exaggerated circling lock-up before Porky got the better of Fiera on a criss-cross exchange. Fiera was incredulous as he backed away, but when Porky beat him to the punch a second time, he decided he was sick and tired of playing games, and blew Porky off, returning to his corner. No sooner had Porky turned his back when Fiera charged him. Porky span round to face him, and Fiera quickly pretended a handshake was all he was interested in. Porky looked at the out stretched hand and slapped Fiera in the chops. It was a brilliant mix of comedy and underlying tensions. Porky had embarrassed Fiera, and Fiera wasn't the sort of guy you should embarrass.
Fiera went right at Porky the next chance he got with shots to the face, but fell victim to one of the Brazos' patented finishing sequences -- a swank two man move that left Fiera wondering whether he was coming or going. Porky was having a great time bumping Fiera off his stomach in the second caida until Fiera grew tried of playing the fool and struck Porky hard. Porky clutched at his head and his lower lip began quivering. Fighting back the tears, he absolutely barreled into Fiera and sent him flying off the apron. Porky was cocky the next time they sparred, but this time there was no fucking about. Espectro held Porky back while Fiera began dishing out the headbutts. Oro made the save with Porky laid out like a Christmas ham, but Fiera was merciless and continued working him over on the outside, throwing aside Rangel and kicking Porky in the gut. The fans called him an asshole, but he just stared them down and posed in their face. Porky struck back with a huge running splash to the corner, which Fiera sold like it had crushed the life out of him, and the usually affable Porky was livid. Twice he tried to use the martinete on Fiera but was talked out of it by his brothers. Oro took over and Fiera's selling of his tilt-a-whirl back breaker was sublime. Part Michael Jackson, part La Parka. Porky claimed the win for his side with a measured splash, and Fiera scampered away like a coward when Porky came after him. The Brazos held Porky back while Fiera goaded and taunted Plata, and they finally got stuck into each other with Porky trying to shoot on Fiera (!) with the one legged take down. Black Magic and an unmasked El Supremo hit the ring for the next match, which Fiera was pulling double duty for, and together they beat the Christmas stuffing out of the Brazos w/ Fiera body slamming the ham.
Nothing ever came out of this -- it was just a bit of fluff on a Christmas Day Arena Coliseo show -- but it would have made for a fun apuesta match if they'd gone all the way with it. The rest of the match was okay. Brazo de Oro zipped about in fine form and worked some decent exchanges with Kahoz, whom he was familiar with from the UWA. The trios that followed was rubbish, but Fiera/Porky was a great stocking filler.
Atlantis/Rayo de Jalisco Jr./El Dandy vs. Satanico/Emilio Charles Jr./Gigante Kamala, CMLL 3/8/91
Remember that epic Kamala/Black Magic feud from '91? Neither do I, but Smiley was busy cutting promos on him decked out in a top hat and cloak like a two bit Mandrake the Magician. He even had a wand and gloves and disappeared in a cloud of smoke. It's funny because you don't usually see guys doing their full gimmick on TV like they would for the magazines. I have no idea what Smiley was on about when he said "we are one of a kind and then again we're not." What, they're both black? I get the "Black" Magic thing and all, but what was with that? They're both gringos? Masters of magic? Pierroth, on the other hand, cut a bad ass promo in a bad ass jacket and signed it off with the best evil laugh in Mexico. My love for Pierroth knows no bounds. I know I've mocked CMLL vignettes in the past, but the short Kamala one was actually pretty decent with Big Jim Harris doing his best National Geographic impersonation.
None of this had much to do with the match in question, but it's best not to question the internal logic of CMLL television when it delivers a trios this good. This was so much fun. It was never going to win Match of the Year honours or anything like that, but as far as the need for fun goes, it was just about perfect. Each of the individual match-ups were great. I hadn't seen Satanico and Dandy go at it for a while, and I realise now why their feud spoiled so much of the lucha to come for folks watching the yearbooks. Their chemistry together was unreal; like capturing lightning in a bottle. That's difficult to replicate if you're looking for a product that delivers more of the same, especially in a promotion as poorly booked as CMLL. They weren't the only ones going off, however. Atlantis and Emilio did their usual routine, we got a throwback to Dandy vs. Charles, and there was even a bit of Emilio/Rayo, which I don't remember seeing before. All of the stuff with Kamala was great; roughly a thousand times better than the Andre match which made the Death Valley Driver set, and this was basically one fun exchange after another in a match of little significance other than to remind people that Kamala was back in town. Kamala had a feud with Mil Mascaras on the Sunday shows that built to a cage match, which was only the third time the gimmick had been used. The TV of course was a mess with Pierroth, and Black Magic, and all sorts of shit that didn't lead anywhere unless you count Gran Davies being splashed by Kamala as the blow off. CMLL was a success despite itself in the television era, and this match was in part entertaining because of how hot the promotion was.
Atlantis/Sangre Chicana/Octagon vs. Blue Panther/El Satanico/Jerry Estrada, CMLL 9/13/91
This is the kind of match where you look at the names and immediately start thinking: "Chicana vs. Satanico? They never settled anything in '89. Satanico vs .Atlantis? Classic rivalry. Panther vs. Atlantis just weeks removed from their classic. Chicana vs. Estrada? Don't think I've seen that before. Shit, even Chicana vs. Panther seems interesting." Then you watch the match and it's an angle to turn Chicana heel. Welcome to the kick in the balls that is lucha. Not only do they waste that sort of match-up on an angle, the two matches that could have come out of it (Chicana vs. Atlantis and Chicana vs. Satanico) never materalised
MS-1/Masakre/Jerry Estrada vs. Ringo Mendoza/Super Astro/Black Magic, CMLL 10/18/91
I have a lot of respect for the way Smiley was able to adapt to Mexico and become comfortable working the style, but it's fair to say it didn't happen over night. He looked tentative in this bout as though he wasn't sure what to do other than to continue stepping forward and cutting off his opponent's offence. Fortunately everyone else was on point, and this was a brisk trios that like Smiley never took a step back. I was really high on MS-1 when I first started buying tapes then I just sort of forgot about him; but he was really good in this, especially the way he worked with a much smaller man in Super Astro. They had some excellent cat and mouse style exchanges where Astro was zipping about trying to elude the grasp of those lengthy MS-1 arms. Masakre was also solid, though not at Fuentes level. Together they reminded me of why I loved the Masakre version of the Infernales, which even today is underrated in comparison to the Morgan runs. I was also really impressed with Estrada in this, who had a stellar (read "clean") night. He pulled out a great bit of comedy when he bumped to the outside and deliberately walked into a fan who was returning to his seat. He sold that beautifully just as he did Super Astro's wild hay maker, which not only cleaned his clock, but left him checking for loose teeth. Ringo was also solid with a variety of high tempo takedowns that run contrary to the opinion people sometimes him slowing these bouts down. The finish was nuts as Super Astro had some kind of death wish on a springboard plancha. He undershot it so bad that Estrada had to lunge forwards for Astro to even clip him. Mental. Just a word on Astro -- he was balls out here. I haven't always put him over as a worker, but his full throttle bumping and leaping about made this a thousand times more memorable than it would have been otherwise. Coupled with the Chino title match, he's doing well in the "what have you done for me lately? stakes, that's for sure.
Villano is a guy whose prime is almost completely missing. We have bits and pieces of it -- matches he had in EMLL, matches he had in Japan, matches that aired in Japan or were filmed by Japanese crews, and a few handhelds of his apuesta matches -- but mostly we're left with ring results and pictures, and Jose Fernandez' bio.
By the time the UWA got television, he was nearly 40. Forty is not old by lucha standards, but it's not considered most workers' physical peak. Judging by the footage, he had gained a fair bit of weight but was still in tremendous physical shape. The TV at the time is helpful, but the matches weren't shown in full, we don't have the complete run, and the show only lasted from '91 to 92. After that it's slim pickings from AAA and CMLL up until his famous mask match. For a guy who's a potential hall of famer that's not great.
The other problem that exists is that a lot of what did make tape or video in '91-92 is from his feud with Chris Benoit, a guy who wasn't a luchador and not proficient in the style. It's never a good idea to judge a luchador against a non-luchador, but that's what we're forced to do. Still, we can see some trends emerge from his matches with Benoit, and fortunately we have a match against his long time rival Rambo to compare those trends with.
Villano III vs. Rambo, WWF Light Heavyweight Championship, UWA 2/23/91
This was edited down to fit one of those 'Idolos de hoy en la lucha libre' videos the UWA released in 1991, but what they showed was a blast.
Rambo was never the most talented guy in lucha. When you think of the things he did well, there were a dozen or more guys who were better at each of them, but the one thing he had was gusto. If you ever want to see a moderately talented wrestler wrestle with bravado then Rambo is your man. That takes away from the fact that he did a lot of things well, but what made Rambo special was his ability to get under Villano's skin. On the surface, Rambo should have been just another mask, but the mercenary's hatred for Villano was so visceral that the feud never died. They wrestled each other in hair vs. mask matches and title bouts, in trios matches and in mano a mano fights. When Rambo couldn't get the job done, he'd enlist the help of others. He'd be their second, their corner man, their eyes and ears at ringside. Christ, he even had it in for the rest of the family. Even when Villano unmasked, Rambo was invested in taking his hair (what little of it there was left.) Despite the fact he never beat Villano in an apuesta match, he would have gone to the ends of the earth to try. All told, they fought an apuesta match in four different decades.
The first thing you notice about this match is the matwork. It's lucha matwork, which means they don't just lie around in an ordinary looking hold. They twist and bend that hold until they shape it into something expressive. Some people may turn their noses up at that, but let's face it, those people will never be invited to a lucha dinner party. For the initiated, it's pure joy. For the hardcore fan, it's the only time Villano gets to stretch his lucha legs in this set of matches. It wasn't just Salvador Dalí stuff, though. They took some nasty jabs at each other with Rambo headbutting Villano's leg and Villano giving him a knee drop to the eye, and the matwork towards the end got down and dirty before they stood back up and delighted me with some good old fashioned butt offence off the ropes. Only in lucha could it all come together.
(It was actually kind of smart from Rambo as it looked like he was going to lead with the butt again, but he hooked the waist and flipped Villano over for the pin.)
Another notable thing about the bout is that Villano lost the first fall and struck back quickly to take the second. Villano loved that trope. You might even say he was the master of it. To be honest, he over used it. The way he'd do it was smart, but when it happens match after match you start to raise an eyebrow.
The third fall was a tidy fall, and if there's one word if use to describe Villano in this set of matches it's tidy. The matches didn't hit any high notes, but they were as solid as the gym sessions interspersed throughout the tape and overseen by the patriarch Ray Mendoza. Does that mean that Villano III wasn't as special as the history lessons make out? Probably not when you consider how difficult the craft of lucha singles matches is. His bloody mano a mano bouts and apuesta bouts were no doubt better than his title fights, but he's still one of the all round better lucha singles match workers you'll see. Both guys sold like they were buggered, which they probably were. Rambo tried to take a short cut by claiming he was fouled then gave Villano a legitimate mule kick to the Mendoza family jewels. Unfortunately, his big nearfall off a top rope sunset flip was mistimed and Villano had to step into it, which didn't look good on the replay. After nailing that over the head, double legged takedown spot Rambo loved so much, the big man went to the well one too many times, and Villano countered it for what else -- a tidy finish.
Fun match, especially if you're familiar with the rest of their work.
Villano III vs. Pegasus Kid, WWF Light Heavyweight Championship, UWA 3/3/91
This is probably the best lucha title match I've seen from a non-luchador. The mat work wasn't what you'd expect from a lucha title match. Benoit had some good ideas for holds, but then he'd just lie in them. It was interesting that Villano didn't appear to carry him. Perhaps it was his experience working with so many foreigners, but he seemed to tap into that international juniors style that workers never left home without in the 1980s. His own holds and counters were solid and he knew how to make a theatrical production out of a nearfall. What Benoit was good at even in '91 was what I would loosely call kick/punch transitions. When they were off the mat and transitioning into mid range offence like his snap suplex, he was excellent at setting those holds up. It was all cribbed from Dynamite Kid, but like Keiichi Yamada, he was a devout pupil.
The second fall was longer than the usual Villano response. Sticklers will notice that he went after the leg which was then completely dropped, but it was awesome watching him cut loose with the arm drags. They got a lot of mileage out of the snap suplex and DDT, and Benoit had enough in his holster with the diving headbutt and plancha to provide solid tercera caida action. Their counters were a bit sloppy in the final fall, but it was acceptable in the same way that play breaks down in any close game. The pacing and selling were very good, and if Villano wasn't exactly carrying the action, he was making sure the crowd stayed involved with his appeals for their support. The third fall could have gone either way and was nicely balanced. Benoit won under a cloud of controversy as Villano claimed to have been fouled. Rambo didn't care, though. He was over the moon.
The alleged foul was quite a good one. It came when Benoit set Villano on the top turnbuckle for the superplex. Villano claimed that he'd posted him on the turnbuckle, but Benoit signaled to the ref that it had caught the inside of Villano's thigh. Nevertheless, Villano kept selling the posting after the superplex and the pin. Lord knows if it was intentional or not, but it created a tremendous grey area where Benoit could easily claim it was non-intentional and a pure accident, while Villano could push for a mask vs. mask match.
Villano III vs. Pegasus Kid, mask vs. mask, UWA 11/3/91
Deathly dull. The only time this resembled an apuesta match was towards the end when Benoit ripped Villano's mask. The rest of the time they lay around in holds like it was a title match. Since Villano had been in so many bloody wager matches and mano a mano bouts, I'd place the blame squarely on his shoulders. He should have taken this kid and led him by the nose through a proper mask match. That's not the worst of it, though. There's no commentary for this fight, and the guy who led the rudo chant every thirty seconds was doing my head in. I made it through without muting it or playing some music, but never again.
El Hijo del Santo y Villano III vs. Negro Casas y Pegasus Kid, UWA 1/19/92
It looks like they were pretty liberal with the editing here as I can't imagine the full match was this truncated. Still, this was a lot of fun. It's not every day you see Villano III and El Hijo del Santo team together. If I were a kid, that would be like Marvel Two-in-One.
Casas was sporting the oddest outfit I've seen him wear -- this gold amateur singlet. It didn't affect his wrestling, though, as he tore it up with Santo. If you need a Santo/Casas fix then this is a double espresso. It's standard Santo stuff, but they rush headlong into it and the takedowns are amazingly quick.
Villano III vs. Benoit is nicely chippy in anticipation of their return title match. The match was nicely structured actually with Benoit finally getting the hang of rudo tactics and having an excellent teacher in the form of Negro Casas, but hey, it's Santo and Villano, you think that team-up is going to fail? Watching Santo eliminate Casas from this match was sublime and could have/should have easily made Vintage Negro Casas of the Day. Detail lovers will also get a kick out of Villano punching Casas repeatedly while he was in the Santo surfboard. I know I did.
Villano III vs. Pegasus Kid, WWF Light Heavyweight Championship, UWA 1/26/92
I seem to remember this being longer on the version I had. The matwork again wasn't great here, but there were signs that Benoit grew during this time in Mexico as he was beginning to make an honest attempt at countering holds instead of simply letting them die. Villano dug into his bag of tricks and managed to make an extended leg lock sequence pretty interesting. He also had a really nice knee-to-the-face counter to a backbreaker where Benoit was really grinding and rolling Villano's back against his knee. It looked like Benoit had the first fall with a series of submissions where the drained Villano would fall prey to the snap suplex between holds, really taking it out of him, but this seemed like Villano's game 7 here, more so than the mask vs. mask match. It actually gave me a sense of how much the title meant to the Villano character, which I never really had before. Those of you who are used to other styles of lucha may be surprised by how long they resisted submitting compared to the instantaneous submissions which are much more common in Mexico, but interestingly this fall was structured like a tercera caida. Benoit won it with the diving headbutt, which was a hell of a punctuation mark, and when it was over there was time to catch your breath and realise that was a hell of an opening fall in terms of the scope. There was none of that work the mat, take it to the ropes, one wrestler makes a mistake and the other captialises waltz that you really see. This was pretty epic even if the work didn't quite match the production.
Villano won the second fall in a matter of seconds. It worked and the crowd ate it up even though they'd surely seen it before. It was a tremendous shift in pace like the jolt you get from a small earthquake, but there's a nagging voice at the back of my head that says that's an overused trope. But Villano really wanted that win so we moved on. Again, Benoit looked to systematically take Villano apart in the final caida. This was Benoit at his best -- methodical, precise. It wasn't very lucha like, but it worked in a high stakes bout like this one. The crowd popped big when Villano got his knees up on a Benoit dive and I thought this would have a good time to switch the title, but the UWA had other ideas, and after a valiant effort at refusing to submit where all he could do was crawl across the mat after every attempt, the ref finally called the bout off when Villano refused to give up. His brother wouldn't throw the towel in and it seemed like Villano was about to pass out. It was a big call, but the right call, and y'know you don't see too many workers get put over like that in Mexico. Villano saved face by not visibly submitting, but Benoit clearly beat him unlike the foul controversy surrounding their first title switch. It seems that the promoters wanted to turn Benoit face and did so through pushing his wrestling skill. At least it seems that way from the match results.
Pretty good match that got better with repeat viewings.
So what can be said about Villano III?
A very good worker during this time, excellent even, but like Santo a very formulaic worker. It was notable for me that when Casas made his brief appearance in the matches he was instantly more interesting than Villano had been and that was only showing a spark of his usual genius. There was something spontaneous and exciting about him whereas Villano was well rehearsed and assured. I'm not sure Villano screams top 100 for me as I wouldn't have him in my top 10 luchadores,
Points in Villano's favour would be the handicap of working with a non-luchador and doing pretty well to the point where Benoit got better as the footage progressed. The mask match is a negative, but most luchadores have experiences in failing at apuesta matches. He was a solid all-round performer, though a bit hefty during these days and blew the odd spot. One thing that surprised me was that he was surprisingly good at selling. He was great at staggering before he fell and falling in a crumpled heap, and he sold his head hitting the canvas with aplomb. I just didn't get the feeling he was brilliant like the best workers are.
Atlantis/El Dandy/Pierroth Jr. vs. Sangre Chicana/La Fiera/Gran Markus Jr., CMLL 11/20/92
Pierroth's a cowboy! There was another weird CMLL vignette to begin this where Pierroth, dressed in jeans, a leather jacket and cowboy hat, saddled up his seed and rode through some mountain country. He looked a bit like the Marlboro Man, but I think his horse riding skills were meant to seem more impressive than they did. The vignette ended with Pierroth laying his horse down on its side and standing on top of it to pose. Not sure the horse enjoyed that.
But enough about that. I'm sure the only "horse" Fiera cared about was either horse-powered or horse tranquilizer. This was the go home show before the hair match and Fiera had carnage on his mind. The beginnings to these matches are straight out of Monterrey. There was another one uploaded where Fiera choked the shit out of Dandy with his chain, but after a sleazy start the match got progressively worse and I decided not to review it. This time Fiera held nothing back and Dandy bled like a martyr. Fiera channeled his inner Pirata Morgan by biting Dandy's forehead and feeding on the cut. Unfortunately, the backdrop to this was a bit too workmanlike with Chicana and Gran Markus Jr. not really being as frenzied as I would have liked, but the image of Fiera holding Dandy by that plentiful hair and posing while Dandy bled and bled is the kind of lucha sleaze you don't see much of anymore.
The second caida began with Pierroth being stalked on the outside by both Chicana and Fiera, and I kind of wondered how the horse vignette was meant to tie into all this. The camera cut without warning to Gran Markus Jr working Atlantis over, and he did this really cool spot where he picked Atlantis up by the tights and the back of his mask and threw him into the ground just like throwing out the garbage. That's the way all technicos should be dealt with. Markus was really warming to his task with a vicious looking uppercut to the jaw, a posting for Atlantis, and a knee to the back for good measure. Meanwhile, Dandy had his hands cupped together and was collecting the blood. That's gross, but you've got to love Chicana pointing and laughing at Dandy as he stumbled past all the while with a big boot across Pierroth's throat. The technicos were really taking a beating at this point. Atlantis was desperately trying to pull Dandy away, but Fiera chopped him out of the way and sent Dandy hurling into some chairs. And Chicana laid the boot into Pierroth. Now there's a match-up I would've liked to have seen, Pierroth vs. Chicana. Ah lucha, where the best match-ups never happen.
The table was set for a really good technico comeback here with Dandy stumbling about from blood loss and Pierroth and Atlantis trying to shoo the doctor away. Even with the beloved grainy footage you could see Dandy was a crimson smudge. Fiera pulled Dandy into the ring by the hair while he was still trying to walk it off, and while the rudos held Dandy, he spat in Fiera's eye. Chicana punched him in the side and Markus pulled his head back by the hair while Fiera wiped the blood and spit from his face. Dandy buckled down onto both knees and the Stations of the Cross type allusions were pretty obvious here. Or maybe I've been listening to too much metal lately. Atlantis and Pierroth tried to orchestrate the comeback with Atlantis hitting the most gorgeous looking dropkick, but Fiera swiped away a second attempt and nailed Atlantis with his spinning high kick and dropped to the outside where he headbutted Dandy. That summed the match up really as Fiera was just relentless in trying to beat the shit out of his adversary. Finally the ring cleared of the other four, and Dandy got his one-on-one showdown with Fiera. He'd lost too much blood though, and Fiera easily cut off his attacks. He then gave Dandy a kick in the balls, feigned that Dandy had done the same to him and got the technico side disqualified.
As far as low blow finishes go, Fiera not giving a fuck was pretty cool. He'd proven his point by beating the shit out of Dandy and cheating to win just rubbed more salt into the wound. The stage was set for the hair match and Dandy had plenty of it to lose. Stayed tuned for next time when we bring you the exciting conclusion to Dandy v Fiera...
Negro Casas/El Felino/Javier Cruz vs. Atlantis/Ultimo Dragon/Ciclon Ramirez, CMLL 6/25/93
This began with Javier Cruz pacing back and forth in the ring cutting a promo in front of an empty arena. He was wearing a black (leather?) trench coat and doing what I took to be his best Bobby De Niro impersonation. At one point a valet appeared and gave him the thumbs up, then she disappeared again... was she real or just a figment of his imagination? It's like Twin Peaks.
On paper this should have been a good trios match. We all know how hot trios matches can be in the lead up to a singles match, and this had all the ingredients. You had Cruz as the next challenger for Ultimo's middleweight crown, Felino and Ramirez building towards their mask vs. mask match, and simmering tensions between the Casas brothers. The rudo side wasn't that great, but the technico side was flashy, and everyone involved was at minimum a pretty good worker. The trouble was they couldn't decide whether it was a match about Cruz vs. Ultimo, Felino vs. Ramirez, or the Casas brothers squabbling.
The secret to these lead in trios is that you have one match-up that's the central story line and then another match-up or two that serve as subplots, and as with a good screenplay those subplots either contrast or complement the central theme. Since they aired the Cruz vignette beforehand, ideally his title shot should have provided the main thrust to the bout, especially given they were a week out from it. Instead, the Cruz/Dragon issue was swallowed up by the Casas brothers' antics. The reason for this was two-fold: firstly, Cruz was such a passive personality that he was hardly going to stop the Casas brothers from overshadowing him, and secondly, apuesta matches tend to provide more interesting builds than a run-of-the-mill title match. In the case of the former, Casas was such an alpha male that he brought what should have been a third string story thread too far to the fore. In the case of the latter, if the focus was meant to be on Cruz vs. Dragon, they should have worked an up tempo workrate bout and saved the mask ripping and other apuesta motifs for a different bout.
From memory there were a couple of neat moments in this, but sticking to my wider point about the narrative structure, there were two common lucha tropes on display here. The first was mask ripping and the second was infighting among rudos. I hate both of them. I really do. After hundreds upon hundreds of lucha matches and years watching the stuff, I detest those spots. They have to be done absolutely brilliantly to sway me otherwise they're just egregious time wasting. They're not done well here and in the case of the infighting, the bout literally stopped to accommodate it. I mentioned to new lucha scribe Matt D the other day that I don't think lucha does 'story' well. Obviously, it would make a difference if I could understand Spanish. That way I wouldn't be struggling to make heads or tails of the Casas vs. Felino soap opera or mysterious valets. But the language barrier doesn't explain away everything. You learn pretty quickly that lucha isn't episodic TV in the way that say Portland was. If you get a singles match with three weeks of good trios you're happy as Larry, but when it comes to angles, especially face turns, the promoters are about as committal as the apuesta challenges thrown out after every brawl. The mask ripping here was uninspired, though it did lead to some comical moments where Casas was tying Felino's mask back together. The squabbling between them was a distraction, to be honest. If it were American wrestling, you'd expect them to turn on each other and build to a hair vs. mask match. And while I don't expect what I'm watching to be Americanised, I don't think we should excuse or overlook bad booking because the wrestling's foreign.
Lucha would be much better if there weren't so many loose threads. The booking at times is the epitome of throwing shit against the wall. Watching 1993 CMLL there are so many ways it could have been better. Too many ways, really. You don't feel like you're in safe hands. And it doesn't make sense from a business point of view. Surely, if they'd pulled the trigger on Casas turning face it would have done business. Perhaps those are the frustrations Pena had with Herrera and his faction. In any event, this failed to get me excited for either Cruz/Dragon or Felino/Ramirez, and made me wary of any other 1993 match involving both Negro Casas and Felino. So that's not vintage.
Negro Casas, Black Magic y Mano Negra vs. Mocho Cota, Bestia Salvaje y Emilio Charles Jr., CMLL 5/13/94
Jesus, Cota, Salvaje and Emilio! Check out the mugs on those three.
This was rudos contra rudos and started off with some nifty matwork between Black Magic and Salvaje. It's been a while since I've seen Bestia look good in a match and I was instantly reminded of what an underrated talent he was. It was also the best Smiley has looked on the mat in CMLL, which was a nice surprise. Mano Negra and Emilio followed suit and were rock solid. Negra continued his inspired post mask loss run, which was miles better than the lead in to his apuesta match. As they grappled, Cota began stirring trouble from the apron in his usual maniacal fashion. The camera stayed on for quite some time and it was interesting watching him snap from one extreme to the other. As soon as Casas was in, he went straight after Cota, so I'm guessing this was early build towards their hair match. Cota ended up taking over and Bestia impressed me to no end with the sharpness of his rudo beatdown on Smiley. Great punches. A quick search of the Match Finder found no trace of a singles match. The things we miss out on. Emilio helped beat the shit out of Casas to end the fall, thus beginning perhaps the best thread to the match, Emilio vs. Casas. It's not every day you see Emilio Charles Jr and Casas work together, so you better drop what you're doing and watch this. While that particular ass kicking was going on, Bestia was giving one of the patrons a nice up close look at how great his punches look from a foot away.
Casas sold his beating like he was in another postal code. At one point, he was trying to punch his way out of the corner and collapsed, desperately lunging at Cota's tights. There was some weird storyline going on where Smiley was trying to help Casas but Negra wasn't. I'm sure it didn't make much sense even in Spanish. Negra then tried this cool choke takedown on Cota, but the Cota team were no mugs in the ring. Bestia threw the most beautiful left hand I think I've ever seen, and of course Cota was in the thick of it all like some kind of vindictive ringmaster. Casas popped back up on the apron in a not-so-great moment of selling, but if you're going to pop up on the apron to lead your side's comeback then there's no better way than the headbutt he gave Cota to turn the tide. Unfortunately, Smiley's retaliatory beatdown of Bestia wasn't in the same league as the one he'd had dished out to him, but it got the job done. There was an amusing moment between falls when Casas began beating on Cota in front of some front row seats. The patrons cleared the seats to avoid being hurt and Casas used the woman's handbag to thrash Cota. Cota picked the thing up and flung it across to the other side of the ring, and you could see the woman aghast about her handbag. Eventually, the ref handed it back to her companion while Cota did his best Terry Funk impersonation and tried to pick a fight with a photographer.
The third caida started with a series of exchanges where teammates were making saves for one another until finally it came down to Cota and Negra with no one from Negra's side willing to help him. Negra threw a punch at Casas, who was hugging the apron, but as you'd expect by now there was no big angle. Instead we got more Casas vs. Emilio and God was it great. The finishing stretch was a lot of fun with Cota doing a hilarious punch drunk sell off a Smiley body check then getting caught in a bear hug submission. But as Smiley was shaking Cota all over the ring, Casas ran straight into an Emilio power bomb and that was the match one, two, three. Not a vintage performance from Casas kayfabe wise. The match was fun, though there's definitely better rudos contra rudos stuff out there. Cota was good, but didn't have the same aura as his 80s stuff and was a bit of a sideshow act compared to his godliness on the 80s set. Still, he managed to amuse.
Virus, Cachorro & Hechicero vs. Negro Casas, Cavernario & Dragon Lee, CMLL 5/23/14
Everybody's talking about this as a Match of the Year Candidate, but for a trios with four good workers in it, I thought it was pretty disappointing. The only parts that were exciting or genuinely engaging were during the finishing stretches, and the work in between was clumsy and unfocused.
The opening fall was a perfect example. Dragon Lee is a young guy and can't mat wrestle. If you have him work an opening mat exchange with Virus, he'll be scrambling. Virus has got to carry him for the mat work to be effective let alone good, but that requires slowing the bout down and working a different tone. Here, they wanted to work a fast paced bout, so they did a classic "mirroring" exchange where they wrestle each other to a stand still. Which would've been okay if Dragon Lee had been in any way convincing, but he doesn't have the quickness that those spots require. You could almost feel him thinking them through as though they're a series of steps. The exchange didn't look terrible as Virus is still the best wrestler in the company and everything he does looks great, but the stand still didn't ring true and was a waste of a match-up.
You accept that and move on, but Casas vs. Cachorro was more of the same. Cachorro is another young guy, so we'll give him the benefit of the doubt, but Casas should be looking to be get more out of an exchange than this. As we all know, match-ups make trios, and it's the story threads that make those match-ups compelling. You could argue that this was just a workrate trios, but if that's the case, the work wasn't very inspiring. Cavernario and Hechicero tried to inject a bit of stiffness and physicality, but their exchange-cum-brawl was muddled and confused. That was a trend that continued throughout the bout, as Hechicero was well off his game. The fall picked up as Virus did his senton to the outside and the finishing stretch kicked into high gear, but as the dust settled on the opening fall, I couldn't help but wonder why they stray so far from the tried and true.
If you want to do a high tempo opening fall, the pattern has always been to square off once with individual pairs, switch partners and dance one more time, then run the ropes for the turning point and first fall climax. It's a simple formula but works so well. Ideally, you'd build the first fall crescendo to the heights the En Busca de un Idolo has been reaching, but Cavernario and Hechicero didn't pull out the stops and the fall was a table setter at best.
It would be disingenuous of me to pretend that I like their match-up as much as everyone else (in fact, I thought the Cavernario/Virus match-up was vastly superior throughout, but then I think Virus is vastly superior to anyone else in the match), but in a match like this you want the action to culminate with a key match-up, and I thought Cavernario/Hechicero from the En Busca de un Idolo would've been swinging.
The second fall at least had a decent sense of urgency to it. The work wasn't outstanding, but they powered through it. Cavernario looked all at sea during his big comeback in the three-on-one sequence, and I have my doubts about whether he's a polished worker, but his plancha is gorgeous, and along with Dragon Lee's insane dive, they hit the high notes the crowd was looking for. But Virus and Casas... if you're going to do a mano-a-mano standoff to end a fall, you might want to do something a bit more exciting than that. For seasoned vets that was weak. Everybody knows I think Negro Casas is overrated these days (except for when he wrestles Rush), but c'mon, work a few more beats before you celebrate and do the parrot shit.
Casas and Hechicero then worked a muddled exchange to open the closing fall. It actually started off pretty well with Hechicero working rough with Casas, and Casas seemingly giving him a receipt with some great looking knees, but Casas started looking tired and his strikes loosened up. For some reason, their exchange went beyond a reasonable length for this sort of opening exchange and Hechicero went for a nearfall too early in the fall. Dragon Lee and Cachorro's work was earnest without being particularly good, but I remember what the Traumas were like when they first started making tape, so I'm not going to rag on the young guys. The hip toss spot was impressive and Cachorro's tope was spectacular, but again it came too early in the fall to have an impact. Virus vs. Cavernario was great and the one match-up coming out of this that I'd want to see again. Virus is so great at working strike exchanges (both throwing and selling), and his positioning for Cavernario's moves was exemplary. It was notable how much better Cavernario's nearfall came across despite their exchange being much shorter than Casas/Hechicero.
The rest of the fall was about dropping bombs and was a mix of the good, the bad and the ugly. The Virus/Cavernario exchange where Virus was trying to get a submission on Cavernario was awesome, and Virus' muscle flex pose when he finally got it hooked was a genuine mark out moment for me, but Hechicero/Lee was an absolute mess and after three falls (good or bad) to finish on a piece of cheating wasn't cool. Satanico could have made it work. Sangre Chicana too. Perro Aguayo. Cien Caras. But Hechicero's not in that ball park as rudo.
It's worth point out that everybody who's seen this bout has liked it. The feedback has been overwhelmingly positive. I wanted to like it since it's not every day you have four good workers in a trios. I gave it a second chance, and even a third as I was writing this up, but despite some good points it just didn't move me like good trios wrestling should. Virus is absolutely awesome, though.
Negro Casas vs. Maximo, CMLL 1/11/15
This was the first pimped lucha of the year. Naturally, I was a bit dubious given I don't exactly love modern day Casas, but it was actually pretty good. For the life of me, I'll never understand what people see in this present phase of Casas' career with the parrot and the dancing and all of the carry on. Not when I've seen how great he was in his prime. But for the first time in a while, I was actually excited to see him wrestle someone who's not a fellow maestro.
Having said that, Jesus did he look old. Perhaps it's more noticeable after delving into his vintage stuff, but the Rush feud seems to have aged him about ten years. It was particularly noticeable at the end when they were issuing cabellera challenges and there were close-ups of his face. Of course he'd just finished a match, and I should look so good now let alone when I'm 55, but he looks like he's shrinking every time I see him. I guess the short hair plays a part, but he's looking leaner and leaner all the time. I hated him mocking Maximo's limp, because if I were Maximo, I'd just mock how fucking old Casas looks, and you know that strikes right where it hurts.
The early attack on Maximo's leg was good, but nowhere close to outstanding. I wouldn't pin that on Casas as everything he did was logical; Maximo simply isn't able to garner a smidgen of the sympathy his father elicited. To be fair, he's not morbidly obese, but he's also not as charismatic and nowhere near as beloved. Casas could have perhaps been more vicious, but the real problem was that you knew the payoff wasn't going to be very good and so it was with a weak segunda caida comeback. Scoring a flash pin off two clotheslines is weak sauce. Fortunately, Maximo sold the leg well and the focus was soon on the doctor patching him up, but I think a submission would have worked better.
Where the match came to life, as it so often does with modern matches, was in the third caida. Casas flying in with the dropkick was easily the best thing to happen to that point, and I love how the doctor kept taping up Maximo's leg regardless of what Casas tried. The spray to the eyes and the tape around the throat were spots from a bygone age, and I appreciate that. There's been a bit of talk in some places about Maximo dropping his selling, but to be honest I couldn't give a shit given how balls out his tope is. That is one hell of a tope and looks like a surefire concussion*. It wasn't as though he was better off for trying it either, as Casas caught him in that awesome looking choke submission. It's too bad he scratched his nose selling the after effects, but hey, even the greats like to fix this tights or pick their trunks out of their crack. Given he was crawling about on all fours, hobbling during the strike exchange, and even pulling at his bandage, it seems Maximo only dropped his selling for his dives and then again for the finish. Not a criminal offence. If fact, if the leg was so important then why wasn't Casas targeting it more apart from one dropkick to the bad leg while trying to take out the good one? The finish was worse as you were meant to believe an arm drag from the top was all it took to put Casas away. Mano a mano finishes are often weaker than apuesta falls, but unless he was winded, the alternative is that he was reeling from Maximo's kiss. Which, given the exoticos Casas has faced before, is not bloody likely. Casas sold it as though he was winded, Maximo hobbled about like people want him to, and the parrot was depressed. If I were a Casas fan, I'd spin the whole thing as his back playing up due to old age.
All told, it was a solid three star mano a mano that got me excited for the hair match. That's bound to disappoint if it's at Arena Mexico, but I will say it was great to see the babies and young couples in the crowd. A nice throwback to the AAA cutaways I loved so much during my early days a fan.
* His plancha is awesome too. Dude has fab looking dives.
Negro Casas/El Felino/Dr. Wagner Jr. vs. El Dandy/La Fiera/Corazon de Leon, CMLL 7/23/93
This was the epitome of a nothing match.
It began with some sort of sit down talk between Casas and Felino with heel commentator Arturo Rivera serving as mediator. They seemed engaged in a philosophical debate over whether Casas was still a rudo, which I'm sure is riveting if you understand a word of Spanish, but perplexing if you don't.
How could Casas and Felino remain on the same side when Casas threw in the towel to cost Felino his welterweight title? That's the sort of contradiction that makes it difficult for people to get into lucha. One minute Casas doesn't want to be a rudo anymore and is trying to buddy with Dandy; the next minute he's turning on his brother in what most of us have been preconditioned to believe is a face turn for Felino. Either this is an incredibly sophisticated angle which I can't understand or there's no continuity. It's as though they teased a Casas brothers feud through the summer only to drop it for something else. As best I can tell, Felino accuses Casas of being envious, but the theme for Casas' entire 1993 seems to be a crisis of faith.
Seriously, if you can understand Spanish and you care enough, drop me a line and let me know what's going on.
The confusion wouldn't have been so bad if the match had been any good, but it was the opposite of a fun Arena Coliseo match. I usually watch these matches two or three times while writing them up, but this wasn't a match I'd want to sit through again. Felino and Casas almost came to blows during Rivera's intervention yet there was no pay off in the match. The vignette was probably shot separately to the match so I can understand there being no connection, but why book this way if you can't really produce a television show? Casas was still avoiding wrestling Dandy the way he did in 1992, Wagner was greener than Espectro's mask, Jericho was fucking awful in Mexico, and the match-up I was most looking forward to seeing, Dandy vs. Felino, was slow and ponderous. The entire match was long and drawn out. The only guy who provided a spark was Fiera, which if you've seen the condition he was in during 1993 was a little depressing.
Enough about this one.
El Hijo del Santo/Espanto Jr. vs. Blue Panther/Black Man, UWA 3/25/90
This was discovered by Phil Schneider in the middle of a six hour YouTube video. Don't ask me how he does it; he's like a bloodhound when it comes to these things. The match was billed as the first time rivals Santo and Espanto had tagged together, and could have easily been parejas increibles given Panther had taken Black Man's mask in '86. Santo was swarmed by kids to start with and I swear he wasn't that much taller than the older kids. We forget how short our heroes are. I loved the smaller kid rushing into the ring after everyone had left. That was like something out of Little Rascals. All four of these guys were great workers, so the execution here was top notch; but as far as dream matches go, it's hard to imagine a bigger dud. The falls were ridiculously short, and a missed dropkick from Santo was the excuse Espanto had been looking for to turn on his partner and deliver a beat down. It was hard to see how the beat down advanced any sort of storyline as the two had fought in so many apuesta matches already, and if they were going to run an angle you'd think they'd maybe tease it a little and build to it. Just another example of how half-assed lucha can be a lot of the time.
Sangre Chicana/La Fiera/Bestia Salvaje vs. Apolo Dantes/Love Machine/Huracan Sevilla, CMLL 2/7/92
Who takes Apolo Dantes and Love Machine into battle against a rudo lineup like that? I was disappointed with how this turned out for Sevilla, but he was on a hiding to nothing with those sort of partners. The match was one way traffic with the tecnicos not even afforded a comeback. As one sided as it was, there were few rudos better equipped at delivering a beat down than Bestia Salvaje, and Sevilla was not only great at selling but a great target. It's just a pity the match never got out of third gear, particularly with the hair match only a week away. The match with El Hijo del Solitario and Blue Demon Jr had been so hot that you'd think they would have built on it with an even wilder brawl, but this is lucha we're talking about. Bestia vs. Sevilla was a great little feud, but this was the second match in a row that Bestia beat him in straight falls. I only just realised that Sevilla was Darth Vader from Pavilion Azteca fame. He was excellent as Huracan Ramirez II, and a better worker overall than the similarly booked Ciclon Ramirez. Even if he was a stepping stone for Bestia, he needn't have been roadkill. Think of how many times he must have combed his hair to get it to puff out that much!! That's commitment to a cabellera feud. Not giving him a win was a bit rough. While I'm at it, how badly had Chicana fallen from grace? How do you go from being the hottest guy in Mexico to only headlining outside of the Distrito Federal? Did something happen to get him on Paco's shit list? Were his suspensions legit? Was it drugs? It's strange to me that Aguayo was treated like the Godfather of Lucha Libre by CMLL while Chicana rode shot gun with other rudos.
El Satanico/Bestia Salvaje/El Supremo vs. El Dandy/Apolo Dantes/Love Machine, CMLL 8/28/92
Were Dandy and Bestia aware that there were other wrestlers in this match? I'm exaggerating of course, but only slightly. I don't think I've seen a match-up dominate a trios to the extent that Dandy and Bestia did. Usually, wrestlers will "tag in" and do their thing until another pair take over, but Dandy and Bestia spilled over to the outside where they kept brawling even though it was another pair's turn to take over. Twice they left the workers standing about wondering what their cue was supposed to be. The second time, Satanico followed suit and began brawling, but if ever there was a trios that was mano a mano this was it. I don't think either of them worked a single hold with another wrestler. They may have been beaten up by them, but they didn't actively engage anyone else. Not that I'm complaining. Bestia was unreal in 1992. If Casas and Dandy are the consensus one and two workers in CMLL (in some order) then Bestia has a strong case for being number three. There was one exchange in this after Dandy had become bleeding that was off the charts in terms of lucha brawling and later on Bestia busted out a bone crushing suplex. Dandy *kind of* popped up on it, which other workers wouldn't get a pass on, but they were going full tilt for the win and it was easy to forgive when Dandy had all that blood streaming down his face. The real question was what the fuck were they doing booking this a few weeks out from the Anniversary Show? It's no wonder Dandy vs. Satanico didn't go over well when all the focus was on Dandy wanting Bestia's hair. I'm wondering if it was a last minute decision to switch the opponent to Lopez as there really didn't seem to be much build to Dandy/Satanico. Dandy flat out ignored Satanico in this bout. Bestia continued to run rough shot over everyone with straight fall wins, and Dandy was pissed at the end, clutching at his hair and demanding an opportunity to put up a wager. I wonder if they got cold feet over whether Bestia could draw? One thing's for sure, it would have been a better match. Bestia was quietly moved to Love Machine after the Anniversary Show and ended up cooling off for real, which sucks, but for the first eight months of the year he was in beast mode. Just unstoppable one-on-one in trios. They should have ran with Bestia.
Atlantis/El Dandy/Konnan vs. El Brazo/Brazo de Oro/Brazo de Plata, CMLL 12/20/91
I hadn't seen a Brazos match in donkey's years. I'm still not sure people get the Brazos. There's hardly any of their 80s footage available, and they show up really late on the DVDVR set, so it's no surprise that people don't realise what a big act they were in the 80s and 90s; but when they finally show up in CMLL the attitude seems to be that they detract from how great 1990 had been when in fact I can't think of anything more lucha than the Brazo brothers. This isn't a match that argues their case as it's mainly just a half-assed tecnico vs. tecnico contest, but it does feature a lot of Dandy vs. Brazo de Oro exchanges, which should get your antennas twitching if you're a hardcore fan. The early parts of this were worked like an exhibition-y show of respect. The exchanges were fun but worked at half speed compared to truly great trios wrestling. Later on they picked up the pace a bit, but it was late December, the end of the season and four days to the holidays. They didn't even take a swing at knocking it out of the park. Amusingly, Konnan had some solid exchanges in this. Scrolling through the match lists, you'd take one look at those names and think Konnan was the weak link holding them back from a Match of the Year Candidate, but you never can tell with lucha. Let it be known that Super Porky was one of the better Konnan match-ups, Jack.
Bestia Salvaje/Mano Negra/Titan vs. Apolo Dantes/Oro/Lassertron, CMLL 2/5/93
Watch this for Bestia, stay for Titan... I really only checked this out because I wanted to see how Bestia fared being transitioned back into a secondary role after his killer run in '92, but he got stuck working with Lassertron. The main feuds here were Mano Negra and Oro and Titan and Apolo Dantes. Someone at Televisa was obsessed with filming vignettes of luchadores training. This time it was Oro training under blue lights. Not sure what the blue light was for? Ambiance? The menacing presence of Mano Negra? The match proper was a rudo beat down. I'm fairly convinced that Mano Negra wasn't as good masked as he was during his Dave Finlay run. He did a tremendous job wrenching the shit out of Oro's arm, but it would have been better with that mullet and nefarious grin. There was an element of Cota or Arandu to unmasked Negra. They were nutters; the three of them. You get some character stuff with masked Negra, but it's not as compelling. I'll tell you what was compelling, though -- motherfuckin' Titan. He beat the shit out of Dantes in this match and it was riveting. Looking him up afterwards, I should have known he was a Diablo Velazco trained journeyman. Please tell me we have the Titan/Dantes singles match on tape. There's nothing quite like a lucha vet getting the three week rub off a singles program. More often than not, they take their money earning chance and run with it, and you get these fun feuds that nobody ever told you about. I've seen Fiera beat on Dante of late, as well as Satanico, and neither of them did it with the verve of the former Comando Ruso. I hope there's a blue light Titan training video, Televisa!
Virus vs. Titan, Mexican National Welterweight Championship, CMLL 1/28/14
Of all the older maestros in CMLL who regularly take on young guys, Virus is by far the best at putting young guys over. This was a title defence for Titan, and given the disparity in skill levels, Virus could have eaten him alive on the mat and just about everywhere else, but you never get the feeling that Virus needs to prove himself. He's not busting his workrate chops to prove he can still hang, he's just guiding a young guy through the closest he'll come to an old school lucha title match.
The first fall is a classic lucha title match opening caida, featuring parity on the mat followed by some rope running and a submission maneuver. A mat section in a lucha title match shouldn't be a welcome sight, but too often even maestros forgo mat work against workers they know aren't technically proficient enough. When they do work the mat, they either spend too much time with back to canvas or put the young guy through a labyrinth of holds where the only way out is for the maestro to feed them an arm. Virus, respecting the old school traditions, went hold-for-hold, and while to the trained eye it was obvious that Titan isn't much of a mat wrestler, they successfully created the illusion that he was good enough to be a champion. Virus had the edge because he's a maestro, but he didn't flaunt it.
After opening his account, the challenger did what he does best in working a methodical, slower paced fall where he kept the young flier grounded and stirred the pot for the champion's eventual comeback. Much has been made of Titan "popping up" after so much legwork, but the pop up didn't bother me as he couldn't follow through on his celebration and collapsed to one knee, making it obvious that adrenaline had propelled his pop up. What made me despair was the cartwheel he's added to his hurricanrana. I understand that he's young and concerned with what he can do to stand out and get noticed, but cut that shit out.
The third fall was beautifully laid out and further proof that Virus is the best third caida guy in the business. Titan started to over power Virus on the strike exchanges and wouldn't bite on any of Virus' counters. A monkey flip off the apron led to Titan following up Virus' big bump with a gorgeous moonsault plancha that the crowd had been waiting for. Third caidas are traditionally 50/50 when it comes to offence, but Virus gave the champion a large part of the fall to put over the rising star. A spectacular somersault plancha was a crowd pleaser, with a shot of a little boy getting positively giddy over it. Virus rolled with the punches and drew on all his experience to put up a fight, but the young champion was moving from strength to strength and almost powerbombed the challenger out of his boots. The great thing about all this was that it wasn't rushed. The pace was measured, the camera work picked up on the selling and the crowd were into it. Virus had one last throw of the dice on an insane springboard senton to the concrete below, which led to a somewhat sloppy finishing stretch that unfortunately hurt the quality of the match, but the crowd didn't care and there was a genuine outpouring of emotion as the young champion proved his mettle by submitting Virus in the middle of the ring. Regardless of how I feel about the new breed, it's always great to see them earn a reaction like that, and I'd like to think it was because of the way the match built. Titan's second did a tremendous job of putting the victory over and his enthusiasm was palpable. I don't think this was as good as the Guerrero Maya Jr. match, which was my MOTY for 2013, but it's the best thing in 2014 by a fair distance, and an example of how you can do the modern style well while still retaining some old school sensibilities. Virus is the best singles worker in the company and it's odd that he's still so underrated even by hardcores.
Lizmark vs. Ulises, NWA World Light Heavyweight Championship match (CMLL 4/13/90)
Solid albeit unspectacular title match between Lizmark and a then masked Tony Salazar. The opening matwork was built around a number of Lizmark takedowns, as he worked toward the submission he was looking for. Both workers played around with an armbar theme before promptly dropping it, no doubt displeasing those looking for some sort of continuity in their wrestling. Salazar brought back the armbar during the passage where he was overpowering Lizmark, and drove him shoulder first into the turnbuckle a couple of times from a hammerlock position, but targeting a body part isn't a common trope in lucha and it came across as a transition more than anything else. The match cut off after a tope left both men sprawled on the floor; a fitting end to a match I didn't desperately need to see the finish to.
Lizmark vs. Satanico, NWA World Light Heavyweight Championship match (CMLL 7/17/92)
In theory, these two should have been the Flair vs. Steamboat of Mexico, but they never seem to put it all together. This match is a case in point. Lizmark wrestles a beautiful opening caida. His takedowns are quick and aggressive and frustrate Satanico to no end, to the point where Satanico starts grabbing at Lizmark's face and then feigns that he's not really aggravated. Lizmark then uses his athleticism to keep his distance from Satanico and peppers him with dropkicks and headbutts and back breakers. When they do engage in more close quarters grappling, Satanico can't make much headway, and the only hint of an advantage is for him to overpower Lizmark through brawling. Lizmark prevails, however, and in the end it's quite a dominant fall from the challenger. It's by no means a bad fall of wrestling, but for such a long caida there was little in the way of counter wrestling from Satanico. You can chalk that up to excellent strategy from the challenger, but to make that narrative work you need a payoff and that's something which was sorely lacking from the second caida.
Lizmark dominated the early going as he should, which had me waiting for the genius Satanico transition that would tip the match on its head. But that transition was simply a missed headbutt into the corner. A couple of power moves later, and a submission, was all it took for Satanico to even up the bout even though Lizmark had enjoyed probably three quarters of the offence. Yes it's lucha, but I'm used to better than that from Satanico, who's one of the smartest wrestlers around when it comes to the big turning points in matches. The third caida began with some fairly intense submission work and the repeated motif of the back breaker, but their attempts to make it seem "even stevens" lacked conviction, and Lizmark continually seemed like the fresher, more dominant wrestler. Satanico's selling throughout the third fall was excellent, but why Lizmark was made to look like such an incredibly strong challenger is a mystery. He absolutely dominated this match on points. Worst of all was the booking of the finish. Perhaps they'd backed themselves into a corner where the finish was always going to be against the run of play, but a contentious and fluky counter pin from a surfboard was just about the worst way for Satanico to retain his title. Satanico is one of the all-time great wrestlers, and rudo or not, didn't need parlour tricks to beat his rivals. All told it was a bad showing from him, and even though the match itself wasn't bad, Lizmark got far too much of the offence, denying us an all-time classic.
Lizmark vs. Jerry Estrada, National Light Heavyweight Championship match (AAA 7/9/95)
They fucked around at the beginning getting rid of Tirantes, which rid us of his bullshit, then ended the match with a DQ when the seconds Rey Mysterio, Jr. and Psicosis began fighting with each other. Is it any wonder why I hate this promotion? In between there was some decent action, but it was very much Lizmark vs. Estrada by the numbers.
Lizmark vs. La Parka, National Light Heavyweight Championship match (AAA 7/18/94)
This took a long time to get going. The action wasn't bad, but it was the single longest feeling out period I've seen in lucha. In fact, it was kind of strange compared to the lucha I'm used to. Of course this being AAA, they couldn't help themselves and made the finish to each fall screwy, and there was some completely non-traditional mask ripping in the third fall that would have had Louis Spota, the long time president of the Comisión de Box y Lucha Libre, spinning in his grave. Parka actually bladed, which is even more sacrilegious. Despite all this, the action was very good, with Lizmark having to increasingly bust out his bigger offence to put Parka away. Come to think of it, it was quite Americanised in that respect. I was a little disappointed that we didn't see the explosive Parka matwork and striking game that the '93 match brought us, but for a match that circled around some pretty bullshit booking, this was more than passable.
Negro Casas/El Satanico/Bestia Salvaje vs. El Dandy/Ultimo Dragon/Apolo Dantes, CMLL 8/14/92
I mistakenly thought this was part of the Casas vs. Dandy feud, but it was actually part of the build to the Bestia/Dandy title match, the Anniversary Show hair match, and the Casas vs. Dragon title fight.
Dandy was such a stud he had issues with all three rudos here, but the match has got to rank as a disappointment given the talent involved. The footage was joined in progress during a lackadaisical fall where the rudos did nothing but pose, and there were no little moments where the lucha was brilliant and the workers were gods. Dandy was lugging around a pot belly and Satanico was on the heavy side himself. In retrospect, you could see that the Anniversary match wouldn't be good as Satanico looked out of form and they just weren't clicking.
As for Casas' performance, his deal here was that he was afraid of getting in the ring with Ultimo. He tried getting the upperhand with some kicks of his own, but when that didn't work out he did his best to avoid any one-on-one confrontations. A couple of times they wound up on the outside and Casas would scamper away at the first sign of trouble, even if it meant defending himself with a camera cable. When the technicos made their comeback in the segunda caida, Casas refused to enter the ring, and when he finally did square off with Ultimo in the third, he ate a german suplex. The rudos tried to bum rush the show and steal the tercera, but Ultimo broke up their pinning combinations with a flurry of kicks and looked to be cleaning house when Casas fouled him. Which to Casas' mind was the only kick that mattered. Their exchanges weren't as good as in the '93 trios, but they still meshed fairly well given Casas' peculiar way of selling Japanese offense.
Emilio Charles Jr./Pierroth Jr./Javier Llanes vs. El Dandy/Ultimo Dragon/Silver King, CMLL 1/25/94
Javier Llanes was so good in the Dandy feud. If you only watch the title match, you might think he was along for the ride, but watching the build I'd almost suggest he spearheaded the feud. No matter what you think of Dandy post 1990, whether you think he entered into a steady decline or was still an all-time great, there's no denying he was spinning his wheels until this feud happened. Llanes was sporting emerald green for this bout, making him look every bit the Ace of Arena Coliseo that Misawa was at Budokan. A low angle close-up of his nose and teeth exaggerated his ugliness and made him seem like some repulsive figure from a German expressionist film. The fact that he was the least likely guy to enter into this feud with Dandy worked for him and he ran with it. I love the way he'd line Dandy up for the fingers to the throat or a punch to the jaw; and while we didn't see the fabled digit manipulation, Llanes' arm work was every bit as good.
The primera caida was a great rudo fall with Pierroth and Emilio being perfect in their roles as thug henchmen, and a wonderful image of Dandy trying to crawl back to his corner on his elbows. I know I harp on about it a lot, but there were more points of action in that opening fall than in any trios match I saw last year, and I simply don't understand why no-one has the chops to work this way anymore. It's not like sizing guys up and delivering theatrical looking strikes is difficult. It just takes a bit of panache.
One of the reasons why I don't think Dandy was the one fueling this Llanes feud is because his retaliatory work wasn't anywhere near as strong as Llanes' heel work. Admittedly, there was a whole deal with the ref not allowing Dandy to fully retaliate (and Llanes getting heat by hiding behind the ref), but it wasn't vintage Dandy. I've been known to be harsh on Dandy in the past, so your mileage may vary, but I saw the rudos as carrying things in this match. Llanes used what looked to be a roll of coins to bust Dandy open and pinch the bout, so it was definitely a match where the tecnicos were meant to be stymied; but something about Dandy getting riled up and challenging Llanes didn't quite click for me. I think he put too much windmill on his punches. What I did love was Llanes sticking the object in his knee pad then slipping it to Emilio, who shoved it in his trunks and left promptly; the master conspiracy complete.
Brazo de Plata/El Dandy/Vampiro Casanova vs. Mano Negra/Black Magic/Javier Llanes, CMLL 2/6/94
This was the Javier Llanes show if ever there was one. The footage began with Dandy lying prone and Llanes kicking him in the gut while still wearing his robe ala Ric Flair. Vampiro came over to help and was punched in the face, the same way a babyface would vs. the Horsemen. I love it when a guy like Vampiro gets punked.
Llanes finally got the chance to take his robe off and we were away. He worked Dandy over with a series of rights and knife edge chops, making sure to dish out a little treatment to his partners as well. In particular, he harried poor Porky. The inside shots kept coming and the clothesline chops, and he began dropping the elbow onto Dandy. He even went up top for a plancha like he was Misawa going for the frog splash. Again he made Dandy bleed; this time by ramming his head into the hoardings and punching him repeatedly in the face. That'll please some of you out there! It was actually a nastier cut than it looked as Dandy ended up getting blood on his arms and by the end of the match Llanes had Dandy's blood all over his tights and even smeared against his own forehead. Of course when Dandy wanted to fight mano a mano in the ring, Llanes quickly bailed, which had the Coliseo faithful screaming and shouting at him. When they finally did square off, they went for a Casas/Dandy style inside/outside spot, but it looked like Dandy pulled something getting back into the ring. Vampiro chased Llanes around the ring as Llanes scurried about trying to avoid him and finally Dandy uncorked one on Javier's jaw. There was a real Memphis feel to Llanes' shenanigans. They call him "the worm" in Mexico. Whether that's flattering or not, I'm not sure, but he was certainly worm-like in the way he evaded Dandy here. In a neat little touch, Llanes went for the elbow drop again, but missed, and Dandy turned it into a submission.
The tercera caida was either joined late or one of the shortest on record as Llanes pinned Dandy within seconds. When he stood back up, you got a good look at how bloody his tights were. I'm sure it was Dandy's blood on his face, though he may have jigged himself. Watching Negra trash talk Vampiro over his continued uselessness was a treat. In a hurried trios there wasn't much chance to for the others to shine, but Negra had a few golden moments like his jawing contest with a woman at ringside who stood up and danced while her partner roared with laughter, and his ongoing pestering of Porky. The wild eyed grin he gave Porky before they locked up was classic and later on he tried a comical fake out on a tope before hitting a plancha off the apron. They even had a workrate exchange, Porky style, that saw the same woman catcall Negra. This match was all about Llanes lording it over Arena Coliseo with a part Flair/part Tully performance, and a bloodied Dandy on the mic afterwards looking as though someone had smudged red ink all over his face, but Negra's goofiness was awesome.
I thought Dandy was better in this than the first match. Again the story was him only getting a piece of what makes the Nature Boy tick, but by bell's end, he was rightly looking ahead to their singles match, looking to inflict a little payback even if it was a title bout. I'm not a huge fan of title match feuds where the build up is brawling trios, but this is as fun a Coliseo feud as it gets during the lost years.
Emilio Charles Jr. vs. La Fiera, CMLL 4/1/94
I can't believe these former partners squared off. Remember that consoling nudge Fiera gave Emilio during the Misterioso/Fuerza feud? It's almost sad in a way. Fiera had a falling out with Sangre Chicana in '93, which knowing them was over drugs. Fiera either turned clean, found God, or hated Chicana that much he'd rather be on the tecnico side. Why the tecnicos would let him return to their side is one of those things you shouldn't think too hard about if you're a wrestling fan. I suppose in a heavily Catholic country like Mexico, tecnicos accepting stray lambs back into the fold almost has religious connotations if you think about it. The door's always open, I suppose. You wonder how a guy like Emilio felt about watching a brother turn face. Emilio had a couple of runs as a tecnico, but he was basically a lifer as far as rudos go. Is there a sense of betrayal when a guy you rode with turns tecnico like that?
Here's what I do know: this was a decent mano a mano bout with the obvious caveat being that it was a mano a mano bout, meaning they spent most of the time bleeding. The names might get people excited, but honestly I like Fiera better as a shady rudo than I do a baby, and I can't shake the feeling that as God-like as Emilio is in trios, he's not that good at singles matches. Don't expect anything as good as a grainy Sangre Chicana mano a mano bout where you're squinting to make out the blade job; this was a simple piece of build to their hair match and nothing extraordinary.