Sometime around the beginning of the year, I asked the question: "which will last longer, Black Terry Jr.'s handhelds or this good patch IWRG are going through?" Fortunately for us, they both lasted longer than expected.
Now that Terry has quit his handhelds, all that remains is to thank him. I think we're all indebted to BTJr. for capturing a unique period of lucha libre history on film. Hopefully, it can be perserved in a more durable form than internet video sharing files, and hopefully this isn't the last we've seen of our Naucalpan favourites. Though it's poetic in a way, isn't it?
Los Terribles Cerebros vs. Los Gringos VIP, Distrito Federal Trios Championship, 5/20/10
The ongoing Cerebros vs. Gringos feud has produced most of the top matches in Mexico this year despite the fact that it doesn't have an ascertainable storyline. After watching lucha for a number of years, I have decided that the key feature of lucha booking is creating gimmicks. Once a gimmick sticks, a worker or group of workers can prosper for a mighty long time by going through the same basic cycles. This is in direct contrast to the fidgety booking styles of US companies, who'd sooner have the Gringos turn on one another than have the gimmick meander on forever. Lucha can be a bit rudderless at times, and this match was a case in point.
Title belts on brawling rudos is a cheap prop, in my opinion. Brawling rudos winning trios titles from their rivals is an acceptable piece of booking but brawling rudos winning a trios title tournament is wonky in my view. I'm probably forgetting a thousand instances where this type of thing happened in the past, and lucha title booking is a bit of a merry-go-round at the best times, but if you can't mount a lucha title defence to any great degree then I don't think you should be wearing the props.
Avisman is the most capable of the three on the mat and should probably be working as the lead-off guy because of his stature within the group, but the problem with that is that it leaves the less talented workers as first and second drop, and there's never really been a memorable trios match where they weren't building better and better exchanges with each pairing. Hijo del Diablo did some fun stuff with Dr. Cerebro on the mat this year but it's questionable how much of that he can reproduce outside of his ring time with the doctor. I think Diablo has a good captain's fall in him, but Gringo Loco is the "gringo" in Los Gringos VIPs and there's not much happening on the mat there. He's improving in his general exchanges with people, but his matwork is a below par version of the stuff Cerebro Negro passes off as matwork. Since the group dynamics prevent them from having their best worker as the ace in their pocket, they're an awkward bunch when it comes to title matches and the upshot of all this was that this match was more like your standard trios match than a proper lucha libre title match.
And by standard, I really mean the kind of record that was massed produced when the gramophone was first invented. Not the world's most original trios match this. My advice is to stick to the brawls.
Los Terribles Cerebros vs. Los Gringos VIP, 6/5/10
This was more like it. The first fall was too compact for my liking but they ratcheted up the match in the second fall to the point where I thought perhaps they were easing their way into the match in the first fall and I had been too harsh. The catalyst for all the excitement was all three members of Los Terribles Cerebros blading and the galvanising effect it had on their comeback effort. Easily the best Terribles Cerebros performance since their performances started to go South towards the end of last year. If this is the last I see of Terry for a while (or indeed ever), we can be rest assured that camera or no camera Terry will keep brawling into the sunset.
Black Terry y Negro Navarro vs. Ultraman y Solar, 5/1/10
Since the Celtics couldn't grab a rebound to save themselves, I thought I'd drown my sorrows in some professional lucha libre where the results are fixed and the outcome doesn't matter that much. And people wonder why Dave Meltzer wishes the world was booked.
(I've got to admit, Celtics/Lakers was probably booked the right way storywise but it still sucks.)
This was your typical sort of maestros match. The focus here was on the exchanges with not much else holding the match together; not the sort of match you watch if you want to see how great wrestling can be as a storytelling medium, but definitely worth watching if you want to see how cool lucha libre exchanges can be. There wasn't a lot of matwork this time round, but this sort of middle ground between matwork and running the ropes has long been one of my favourite parts of lucha libre. Solar and Navarro, in particular, really excel at working the middle ground. I know I've complained about too much of a good thing when it comes to Solar and Navarro but some of the stuff they did in this match was ultra slick.
The first two falls of this match were pretty crips with everything humming along nicely. The third fall wasn't the greatest in terms of ideas or execution but it was still pretty fab. It was a great crowd and you kind of wish they'd turned it up a bit in the third caida but the lucha indy circuit isn't much of a Chitlin' Circuit in terms of raw soul. Stilll, it was an easy watch on a lazy afternoon and helped chase the blues away.
Black Terry, Negro Navarro y Villano IV vs. Blue Panther, Ultimo Dragon y Olimpico, UWE 4/24/10
This was a beautifully worked match and definitely the purest trios I've seen this year. Black Terry Jr. really spoiled us with this one. Thank you, you magnanimous young man.
I've often complained that when Black Terry works these UWE matches alongside Negro Navarro he's nothing like the Terry we see on his home turf. That Terry is an unqualified legend, but in UWE Terry pretty much does his thing and heads back to the apron. Not on this night, however. Terry packed his working boots for this trip. His stuff may have been secondary to You Know Who vs. You Know Who, but he really gave Olimpico a match here. And it's fair to say that Olimpico responded in kind. The two of them put on probably the best standard trios stuff Terry has done all year.
Whatever happened to Olimpico's career, anyway? He came across as a lost good worker here. If someone would kindly tell me why he's working nothing but indy dates, I'd appreciate it.
Of course the main reason to watch this match was the battle of the maestros; Blue Panther and Negro Navarro being arguably the two most deserving recipients of such a title. I can't think of too many potential match-ups in lucha that are more appealing to the vocal minority than Blue Panther and Negro Navarro and let me just state emphatically that they did not disappoint for a second. This was some serious, serious wrestling. I know Panther's wrestled just about everyone in the business in his 32 year career and works a ton of dates each year, but a guy with the skills that he possesses HAS to appreciate working a match against Navarro. How could he not have enjoyed that? Panther's having a good year from the little I've seen, but anytime he wants to have a falling out with CMLL and be reduced to working indy dates to survive he's welcome to go right ahead.
A lot of times in matches like these, Solar and Navarro dominate the ring time and there's little tying the falls together but I thought this was a tidy little match with nice balance to the exchanges. They even managed to hit the ring well for the finishes and there were a couple of dives at the end. You're never going to get the really great trios we saw in early 90s Arena Mexico in the sort of arenas UWE run and it's hard to work that sort of a match in front of smidgings of people, but this was another three stars is the new four stars classic and another Black Terry Jr. handheld victory. Watch it if you haven't.
Black Terry y Cerebro Negro vs. Trauma I y Trauma II, IWRG 4/29/10
I took a bit of a break from lucha over the past couple of months. It wasn't something I intended to do, but I'm back and ready to talk about the Grupo Internacional Revolución.
The IWRG style of wrestling isn't perfect, but one thing's clear and that's that their workers try harder than just about anyone in the business. In wrestling you can either work big or small depending on he venue and the size of the crowd. With an arena the size of Arena Naucalpan, IWRG workers are forced to work small all the time. There's no distinction between studio and arena match like there was in the old US territories or in companies where multiple venues are used. When you work small, you need to work small and sell big. That means working with the type of energy and charisma that draws people's attention and builds that interest into heat. Wrestling like you're working in front of a hundred people, selling like you're performing for ten thousand. This, of course, is easier said than done. Oftentimes, IWRG matches never get off the ground. They become bogged down in half complete ideas and lack any sort of forward momentum, which often occurs when the performances aren't "big" enough.
As wrestling fans we tend to make a big deal out of big performances and often exercise our own creative juices when describing a big match performance and the story that came out of it. That's a fan's prerogative and I have no problem with a bit of artistic license, but it struck me while watching this match that a little bit of antagonism is all it takes to charge a professional wrestling match and give it the spur it needs. When you think that all story is based on conflict and all professional wrestling is based on fighting, that makes sense I believe. But what really made this match work was how the workers turned that conflict into forward momentum.
I was impressed with how each detail in this match was followed up on and expanded upon as the match progressed. Now the idea that a Black Terry match would become chippy and confrontational is a pretty simple idea narrative wise and not particularly startling considering it happens in practically every Black Terry match, but I don't think workers ever get enough credit for stringing together a central theme in "real time." To lay out all those details, build off them and pay them off without the ability to go back and edit and revise anything and to just adlib and juggle it all in your heads makes wrestlers far more talented performers than they're given credit for. As a viewer, it's easy to watch a match and piece things together (and even easier to criticise when there's nothing to piece together) but for workers to work structure on the spot, so to speak, never ceases to amaze me.
Make no mistake about it, this wasa big performance from Black Terry. The other workers were all good but it was Terry's charisma and selling that made this a more compelling match than usual. If you ask me, Black Terry is the Most Interesting Man in the World and certainly the most badass 57 year-old on the planet. I'm starting to wonder if a reasonable case can be made for Black Terry as a top 10 lucha guy all-time at least in regard to what exists on tape. Terry's reached a level like Satanico or Casas where you'd consider his performing to be acting. He may not be a real actor in the stage sense or anything like that, but in terms of wrestling his performance skills are on a far higher level than the average worker. I mean when you think about it, this was a two-on-two tag match, a form of wrestling that most luchadores are uncomfortable with and matches that tend to underwhelm even in IWRG, yet Terry's personality still dominated.
On a side note, this was the first time I'd seen Cerebro Negro wrestle in quite some time. I wasn't sure whether he'd been injured or if he was in the doghouse but it was a solid return. His early exchanges with Trauma II surprised me as I couldn't remember him being so quick with the type of armdrag/judo throws that they were working. I did think the end of their exchange petered out a bit, however. Particuarly in comparison to the upward swing that Terry usually leaves his exchanges on.
Anyway, it's good to see that IWRG is still kicking out the matches. Which begs the question: is this one of the greatest indy runs ever?
Got some catching up to do.
3/21 - Gimnasio Nuevo Leon
Los Cadetes del Espacio (Solar I/Super Astro/Ultraman) vs. Black Terry/Negro Navarro/El Signo
Have people watched this match yet? Because I thought it was tremendous.
Space Cadets and Terry & the Misioneros in a match where everybody looks good? Don't tell me Black Terry Jr. handhelds have spoiled folks. This was only a one fall match, but they really went to town here. Definitely, the slickest this group has looked in a while. Usually, I complain about how much Solar vs. Navarro dominates these matches but in this case everybody got a chance to shine and the match was considerably better for it. El Signo has been resurgent of late, which may have something to do with him announcing his retirement. He may be paving the way for a comeback by leaving folks with a good impression, but no matter, Signo is busting ass again and has leapfrogged a great many luchadores in my estimation. Like I said, there will be no complaining about Solar and Navarro this time. Quite the opposite, as I thought they produced some of their best ever work in this match. Maybe I was caught up in the rhythm, but I thought they built to their usual crescendo with amazing aplomb. Instead of slowing the pace, they built on the rhythm that Signo and Astro and Terry and Ultraman had set. Navarro and Solar working fast is a beautiful thing and I was really pleased that they worked this like a Space Cadets match instead of Navarro's usual pace. After liftin' things higher and higher, they reached their usual impasse and then everyone changed partners!! Hallelujah! The second half of the match was the best non-Puebla classic lucha I've seen in ages. We got a glimpse of Solar vs. Terry in this quasi-fall and it was good. Very good. They had a match last year, but it was before Black Terry Jr reinvented the internet. Anyway, it was fantastic and built to topes from the Space Cadets and the greatest fucking showdown at the end between Navarro and Solar. They did the most kick ass submssion finish they've ever done and for a while I felt like testifying. This was a serious groove.
Mascara contra Caballera: Rey Hechicero vs. Caifan Rockero I
This was a real indy style mascara contra caballera match and not traditional in the slightest. Watching this, I wondered if I could live with this as the modern style of lucha libre wrestling. Quickly decided I couldn't, but Rey Hechicero is a fun worker.
Haven't done one of these for a while. Would you please welcome back, Mr. Raging Noodles!
PERRO AGUAYO Y PERRO AGUAYO JR VS. CIEN CARAS Y MASCARA ANO 2000, hair vs. hair, CMLL 3/18/05
aka The Blowoff to Perros vs. Dinamitas
The Perros started off with a lot of fire, Perrito looked fantastic running in with his rapid fire brawling. Perro really looked to be hurting and struggling at times, but he's always so interesting to watch and no one matches the emotion and charisma he brings to pro wrestling. I mean, at this point I really think Perro Aguayo Sr. may be the most charismatic pro wrestler ever. No doubt I've seen bad matches with Perro Aguayo Sr. in them, but I've never been bored or ever thought of turning it off, he has a real star presence and his battered scarred up face is iconic (also I can't imagine wrestlers 50 years from now having the sort of legendary faces that Perro Sr. or Villano III have). When I first watched "When World's Collide", the most memorable image of the show was of teenage girls hugging and kissing the battered Perro Aguayo, who happened to be covered in blood in the most gruesome violent manner possible. Also, I must admit that sentimental value may be involved here since Perro Aguayo Sr. was the first genuine star I ever saw as a kid at a live pro wrestling show in Reynosa, Tamaulipas.
As expected, the first two falls are very short and quick, but what really stood out was how great Los Hermanos Dinamitas were at working these two short falls. Both guys were eating Perro and Perrito's offense in a very entertaining fashion, but what was even better was how great their teamwork was. Everything they did together offensively, from hitting simultaneous moves or hitting the same moves one after another just flowed so smoothly. It was pretty simple but it was so pleasing to watch what they were doing. As the final fall opens and we see some more great work from the brothers, it dawns on me that this is one of the great career matches of Mascara Año 2000. He was incredible at everything in this match. He was awesome dishing out hard headbutts and strikes to Perro Aguayo Sr. and just as cool when he was beating the shit out of Perrito by slamming him on the steel rampway. I was really impressed at how he would eat Perrito's dropkick during transitions and how he would throw himself and fly to the outside in such a spectacular way. Mascara Año 2000 was so great in here, he's one of the main reasons why this match is as good as it turned out to be. Perrito is also great at making a big comeback in the third fall, and beating the shit out of a Mascara Año 2000 (especially when he was stuck to a ringside chair). I can see how some people would be turned off by how histrionic and how much of a scene-chewer Perrito could be at times, but I just really dig how much energy he brings to these type of matches.
What I really loved about this whole spectacle, was the layout of the match (especially the way the tercera caida unfolds) and I was thrilled at how well it worked for this match. It was so precise and tight, it made this whole thing feel epic in a way that we don't see often anymore. It was like a formula B-movie that exceeded its expectations due to some fine craftmanship, the talent and charisma of its performers. I don't really want to spoil exactly what happens in the third fall since it's a very exciting conclusion but I'll give some details. They manage to fill this final portion of the match with some pretty clever twists, exciting nearfalls (from great high-end moves executed from Mascara Año 2000 and sold perfectly by Perrito), failed double team moves, well timed eliminations, outside interference, momentum changes, referee distractions (and referee bumps), and miscommunication spots. During the third fall, I was thinking how much better this would have been if Black Terry Jr. was at ringside filming this, just so we could get a good taste at how hot this Arena Mexico crowd was. They really seemed like the hottest crowd ever, but we'll never know thanks to how terrible Mexican TV audio is. But back to the main point, this match really delivered the goods.
It's funny how things change. There was a time when I would've balked at watching this match. After all, I grew up in an era where Los Hermanos Dinamita were synonymous with bad wrestling. If the Wrestling Observer had been some bizarro publication that covered mainly lucha, Cien Caras would have won all those Worst Wrestler of the Year categories year after year and I wouldn't have bat an eyelid because it was accepted that headliners were stiffs who could barely move a muscle. The Aguayos, Rayos and Dinamitas were the Hogans of Mexico and that's pretty much how we made sense of lucha libre. Turns out we were wrong and Los Hermanos Dinamita were just about the perfect main eventers.
This match is pretty much your atypical, latter day main event. There's no blood of course and not enough time for any real control segments, so you have to create drama in other ways, booking twists and turns in the match and blocking it out so that the wrestlers know where their marks are and when to be in position. It's basically a WWE style of working, right down to the Spanish equivalent of "Good God almighty" commentating. As far as I'm concerned, there's nothing wrong with working to a formula -- it helps wrestlers to structure their matches and is something that every worker should learn -- it's when the match seems choreographed that there's a problem. This match (Perros vs. Dinamitas) came awfully close to looking choreographed and was saved by one thing and one thing alone -- selling. That's right! The "S" word. The most important thing in wrestling. The dividing line between good and bad. And the saving grace of the CMLL style.
In the second caida, for example, there's a transition that would've looked completely choreographed if not for some awesome selling from Caras. The transition occurs when the Perros are double teaming Caras and Perro Jr signals for Senior to use the ropes to put some oomph into the attack, but they telegraph it too much and Caras ducks out of the way. It's a fairly standard transition -- a trigger spot for the rudos to take over -- but you can see Caras eyeing his chance as the Perros line him up and when Perro hits his son, you know it's game on. Y'see, this was the last hurrah for the Dinamitas. Caras had come out of retirement to do this angle and it was pretty much the end of the road for Los Capos. What you had here was one final assault. Los Capos was a really fun era of Los Hermanos Dinamita. I liked how Caras dyed his hair jet black and used his real name to great effect, Carmelo being an awesome name for a capo. Noodles is right that Mascara Año 2000 was the guy holding this together (and had pretty much as close to a Black Terry performance as Mascara Año 2000 can get), but Caras was the guy marshalling the attack. The thing about Caras is that he looked like the sort of prick you could meet in everyday life -- a teacher, a co-worker, a coach, an inlaw -- he had this sort of universal "prick face." He always reminded me of the all-American asshole in that Dennis Leary song, except that he was Mexican. There's a part where he cheats in the tercera caida to eliminate Aguayo and I swear his shit eating grin makes him look like the world's biggest asshole. The "rudo segment" of this match was no longer than the ones we see today but the brawling seemed to have far more urgency to it. Strange that a 55 year-old guy beating on a 59 year-old guy should look better than anything since. The fact that both guys were slow and could barely raise their legs was a big part of why the pacing was good, but I'm still trying to figure out why this is good and Flair vs. Hogan sucks. It's a curious thing why veteran wrestling is better everywhere in the world except the US.
The Dinamitas basically succeeded in churning out something entertaining in the modern CMLL style, which few, if any, rudos have done since. Perro Aguayo Jr. brought good energy to this match and later matches as a rudo, but he was a blatantly modern worker. He charged about looking like he knew what he was doing but he was heavily reliant on those turning points in a match where something controversial happens. Take away those crutches and he looks like the myth that El Hijo del Santo created. It seems so simple that for every move you do -- whether you're on the receiving end or attacking -- you should sell. I mean that's as simple as reacting, but for some reason CMLL guys are like drones. I suppose I could come around to them like I did with Los Hermanos Dinamita. That's pressuming that the next generation of luchadores is even worse than the current lot (which seems more than likely.) But Jesus, those air horns. And the lack of selling. And the lack of asshole rudos like Caras. The Dinamitas rode off into the sunset after this match and cast a long shadow on the lucha that was to come. I wonder if we'll ever see their like again? It would be wrong to say that they were fantastic workers as they could be pretty terrible at times, but when they had their working boots on they knew how to entertain.
Anyone who says rudos like Los Hermanos Dinamita can't get over at Arena Mexico anymore is kidding themselves. That type of thinking is an excuse for how poor the rudos are today. If the Dinamitas were younger, they'd do it again, taking the lucha world by storm.
Los Traumas vs. Oficial 911 y Fierro
This wasn't as balls out awesome as it could've been, but what a crowd. Dhani Jones draws?
The most noteworthy/amusing thing about this match was when Trauma II was getting worked over in the ropes. The action switched to Trauma I on the outside, and when Terry panned back to II, the mask was there but the body was missing. Having read a bunch of old Doom Patrols recently it was kind of surreal to see a mask just swinging from the ropes.
Black Terry, Dr. Cerebro y Chico Che vs. Gringo Loco, El Hijo del Diablo y Avisman
God, this was awesome. MOTYC for sure. Recently, I've been wondering why the Cerebros have been so tame in this feud, just letting the Gringo Locos pussy whip them in every match, but the Cerebros fought back in this match and there was hell to pay. Hell, hell up in Naucalpan.
Black Terry was sublime in this match. Quite possibly one of the best performances I've seen him give. Last week, he was the angry victim. This week he was mad as hell and not going to take it. The slow burn on this was masterful, and when he finally decided to dish out some hell to Avisman it was fantastic since Avisman has the perfect face for begging off. The crowd were totally into Terry raising hell, digging every bit of stooging and every piece of payback. I wonder what the walk-up gate was like on this show. It was as though everyone who goes to Arena Naucalpan in the course of a month all decided to show up on the same night. Hell, I wouldn't be surprised if some of these people hadn't been to an IWRG show for five years. The Black Terry fans were there in full force and they were loving it. Everyone was loving this. And in the middle of it all was Black Terry Jr., chronicling all of the chaos like a war correspondent. Give this man a Pulitzer!
Perhaps the best thing about this match was the Chico Che chant in the third caida. Fuck yeah. For those of you who are unfamiliar with Chico Che, he's a fatboy IWRG worker who wears a t-shirt and overalls and works a tribute gimmick to the famous Mexican musician Chico Che. He's fucking awesome and deserves his own spinoff show. The crowd wanted Che and he didn't disappoint. Cerebro was also great in this. His schtick with the refs was some of the best ref schtick I've seen in a while and led to a great finish. IWRG has dramatically improved the finishes this year and there's money in this feud yet. I dunno how they're going to top this with their Super Libre match, but I hope some of these folks come back to see it.
Negro Navarro, Trauma II, Barba Roja vs. Black Terry, Dr. Cerebro, Hijo del Signo
Negro Navarro was back in Naucalpan this week and took on all three opponents in this match, including a fella by the name of Black Terry.
Black Terry vs. Negro Navarro -- the best match-up in wrestling, save for the fact that it never happens!! For some reason, Black Terry and Negro Navarro go out of their way to avoid each other on most occasions. Even on miscellaneous shows, they avoid each other -- they're like the anti-Solar and Navarro. Then again, Terry is never really Terry when Navarro is around, so maybe it's a wash. Their exchanges here were an awesome tease and Terry's selling was brilliant, but he came off second best again. Navarro's a tough motherfucker, but I prefer it when Terry's knocking workas out tha box, daily. The trouble with Terry vs. Navarro is that Navarro's an immovable object. If they ran this match as drills, how many times do you think people could take Navarro down? I kinda doubt whether Terry could do it for real. Navarro knows he's a badass motherfucker -- and fair enough, I say -- but it means Terry slips into technico mode when he faces Negro. Terry is a terrific face, but he's better as a rudo so perhaps they're better off working in situations where they both can be the man.
The other cool match-up in this was Navarro vs. Dr. Cerebro, a brief, almost backhanded exchange that had me wondering how good a singles match between those two would be. There's not much chance of that happening, but this whole match was full of fantasy booking: Navarro/Terry? Navarro/Cerebro? Cerebro/Trauma II? There was a disruptive riff with Barba Roja trying to screw the Dinastia but still there was enough good wrestling here to satisfy the weekly viewer.
Angelico vs. Trauma I [sALAVADOR AMERICAS]
I guess everyone will have an opinion on this because it's Angelico, but I'll give them points for trying. I wasn't expecting much of an arc from this, but they tried their damnest to make it seem important. The wrestling didn't reach the heights of Zatura vs. Trauma II (which is probably the most relevant comparison), and in truth was a bit crude in parts, but the effort couldn't be faulted. The evenness of the match worked better than in Angelico/Navarro because it's easier to buy Angelico and Trauma I as being the same age and experience level (even if it's not true), and while the limb selling didn't appeal to me personally, Trauma I working this match a year ago seems unfathomable to me.
Trauma I or Trauma II is an interesting debate. I still lean towards Trauma II for the simple reason that he's stronger on the mat, while Trauma I seems better at striking and all the bits between matwork and the finish, but he's improving at such a rate of knots that it's almost a weekly split between the two. Some weeks Trauma II is better and vice versa. Like I said, I don't think this match was quite the breakout performance that the Zatura match was a year ago, but it was more of a plus than a negative.
I'm having trouble writing without the aid of cigarettes, so bear with me if this seems like a nothing review.
Freelance, Jack, Ultraman Jr. vs. Oficial 911, Trauma I, Trauma II
This was an enjoyable match and made up for how dull the past few shows have been.
What I liked about this match was how organic it felt. IWRG is a company that doesn't have a lot of great matches. Most of the stuff they run is in the mid-range, and a lot of the time you get the feeling that "oh, they're going one long, two short on the falls" or "this Oficiales schtick is too much of a precursor for the technico comeback," but this felt more natural. The Ultraman injury probably helped in that regard, if that's the right choice of words, but it was pleasing to see guys using their talent instead of pumping out another rank and file trios.
There's been a lot of talk about how good Freelance looked in this match, but I think that's overstating things. He may be back into his groove, but it wasn't a match where he carried the technico side or overshadowed the contributions of everyone else. In fact, I thought he was holding back against "The Big Kahuna" 911 due to the angle at the end. The match started off with some neat submission work between Jack and Trauma II. There were comments over on the IWRG board about the lack of reversals, but it's Jack -- he's that thing from The Nightmare Before Christmas not Negro Navarro. I dug it myself, as I think Trauma II works best with small guys and Jack does an admirable job of moving like Jack Skellington. It's not a character I'm particularly fond of, but he plays it well and I enjoyed his comedy with 911. Mind you, I'm a sucker for as much variety as possible in a trios match. Freelance worked well with 911 without giving too much away and the turning point was the corner tope from Ultraman where he bit the guard rail. Ultraman smashed his front teeth up pretty bad and had to leave. Freelance took over from there and did most of his signature dives w/ 911's bumping biggest probably the single biggest contribution to the third caida. Match was pretty rocking. I enjoyed it from beginning to end.
Black Terry, Chico Che, Dr. Cerebro vs. Avisman, El Hijo del Diablo, Gringo Loco
I wasn't as high on this as everyone else. I couldn't understand why they bled so much in a standard trios brawl. Some may argue that they don't need a reason to bleed, but I couldn't find anything compelling about the rudos' performance here and I wasn't buying Black Terry's angry victim act. Dr. Cerebro seemed to drift in this as well, and it's my opinion that the Cerebros are better as out and out rudos. The only thing that I particularly dug was the performance of Chico Che. It says a lot about the "new" IWRG that you can have both Jack and Chico Che in with the good workers this week and both of them held their own.
Black Jaguar vs. Latin Brother, mask vs. mask, 2/28/10
This was a mask match from Coliseo Coacalco, which for the unfamiliar is an outdoor venue in Coacalco (http://coliseocoacalco.com.mx/COLISEO_COACALCO_360.exe). It's really cool -- kind of like sticking your head into a tent at a school fair or flea market and paying a few bucks to watch two guys beat the shit out of each other. Guys were standing around talking while the luchadores brawled at their feet, and cheered them on like you'd tell your kids to run and go play. The match itself was what you'd expect from indy workers, but it was extremely well paced and the selling was excellent. Latin Brother's cut was so bad I was worried it would turn septic. Definitely a match that captured the spirt of a mask match. Black Terry Jr. is a legend for shooting this stuff.
Todo x el Todo Brussels, 2/27/10
Cassandro vs. Magno
Negro Navarro vs. Solar
This was similar to Lucha Libre London from two years ago. Nice to see that Cassandro has lost none of his star power and still does the sharpest WCWSN lucha match around. Navarro vs. Solar was wrestled for people who don't know who Solar and Negro Navarro are. Personally, I thought it was better than their London match and proof that Solar and Navarro are continuously improving against one another.
Dr. Cerebro vs. Hijo del Pantera, IWRG Intercontinental Lightweight Championship, 3/4/10
Well this sucked. I quit smoking a week ago, so I'm in no mood to mince words.... this was shit. It's one thing to have a bad match, but to not even try is a waste of time. No excuses here, they just didn't bother. Without a doubt the worst match I've seen all year.
Dr. Cerebro, Trauma I y Hijo del Signo vs. Pantera, Hijo del Pantera y Zatura [captains hair]
This was another solid match from the month of February. No-one gave a particularly outstanding performance, but it reminded me of those old-school trios matches that were used to set-up Satanico/Dandy and other such feuds. Dr. Cerebro wasn't able to impose himself on the match to the degree that Black Terry can, but Terry is a big lynchpin to remove and I thought they did fairly well in his absence.
Structurally, this trios was different from the IWRG norm. Instead of having the matwork build into a brawl, they brawled through two falls and held off on the matwork until the tercera caida. It probably could've done with some blood and a grandstand finish, but it was clear from the booking that they're not ready to blow this off yet. Personally, I liked last week's match better, but there was enough to tie me over until next week.
Based on the fallout from this match, Hijo del Pantera will challenge Dr. Cerebro for his Lightweight Championship on Thursday. That may not seem like a compelling match, but short programs like these are miles better than the type of booking that saw Suicida take Cerebro's hair late last year. I'm not sure if Hijo del Pantera is ready for a singles match yet, but for the past few years I've been watching lucha in the hope that my favourite workers will spend five minutes on the mat. The enjoyment that I get from lucha has amounted to a few minutes here and a few minutes there. Dr. Cerebro vs. Hijo del Pantera may not be match of the year, but at least IWRG are giving us something to follow on a weekly basis. Add Pantera and Black Terry as seconds and you've got a compelling reason to watch now that it's up to Hijo del Pantera to avenge his father.
It ought to be a good litmus test to see whether Cerebro is ready for this leadership role he's assumed; right now, I'd say he's still better hunting in a pack than he is on his own, but a strong rudo performance next week could change all that. Here's hoping.
Los Oficiales vs. Freelance, Angelico y Angel
Freelance is back and appears to be out of shape. I assume he's been injured as he struggled to get into his usual groove here. Not that it made much difference. IWRG has wiped the slate clean this year with great booking and I don't see the point in continuing with a feud from their muddled past. It's high time they did something different with Freelance, whose career has stalled of late.
Obviously, when a guy's been out injured you want to reintroduce him in trios matches, but I'm talking about the big picture here. Like most lucha companies, IWRG only really focus on their main events. They'll shift guys around in order to provide different main events, but if you're not involved in the top program then you're generally on the back burner in matches like this. IWRG may run another Freelance vs. Oficial hair/mask match or they may not, that's just the way lucha booking works. There's not a lot of midcard booking to speak of and a lot of matches just get thrown together. In this case, the last major thing Freelance was involved in was a hair loss to Fierro, and there were enough brawling elements to suggest a rematch of sorts, but IWRG will keep it humming along until they decide whether they want to run with a wager match or another Oficiales title defence, either of which will headline their Thursday or Sunday show, and then it's back to the back burner.
What his means is that Freelance ends up chasing his tail, while the Oficiales ply their schtick against a random assortment of technicos. It's easy to forget that the Oficiales are double title holders because they're stuck in this revolving door of weak technico opposition and not enough trios outfits to feud with. In the past, trios acts seledom grew stale because they had a lot of other great trios groups to feud with. You could move their matches up and down the card, spreading things out if the feud was stronger enough. The Oficiales spend most of their time working with guys like Angel and The Rated R Superstar, instead of Los Piratas, which I think would be a great feud if IWRG could bring those guys in on a more consistent basis. I don't know the ins and outs of lucha indy bookings and why guys come and go from IWRG, but I do know that the Oficiales have run aground since their breakout year in 2008. In part, it's because their schtick isn't as strong as groups from the heyday of Mexican trios wrestling (of which we really only saw the last hurrah), but they're still good workers. Terry's camera caught some of the detail work these guys do like bleeding underneath their masks and the cool bump one of them did into a fan, but the match structure was basically the same as any other Oficiales match, and to bring it back to Freelance vs. The Officiales, it's a feud that's been going on since late 2007 (if not longer) and was decidedly fresher at that time. IWRG has been on the whole very good this year, thanks to The Man With a Movie Camera, Black Terry Jr., but there's still an element of their TV being poorly put together in terms of match making.
Black Terry, Dr. Cerebro y Trauma I vs. Pantera, Hijo del Pantera y Zatura
This continued the theme of the Cerebros being cattle rustlers and Pantera being a retired gunslinger who just wants to settle down on his own bit of land and teach his son to shoot and be a man, but whose past keeps catching up with him... This match was so fucking great. Black Terry was like an evil Henry Fonda in this. I kept asking myself what the Panteras had done to deserve such abuse and the answer is nothing. They were minding their own business and Terry decided to fuck with them for the hell of it. Over at luchablog, I've been talking shit about people's nominations for Best Rudo of 2009 and being an ass, but honestly, I don't see how CMLL rudos are rudos at all. They're bases for the technico flyers and work to the beat of the drumming and air horns. The louder the air horns, the more popular the rudo appears to be. That may be lively for some people, but this match was just supreme.
The Cerebros' agenda was pretty simple here -- beat the shit out of Pantera and his kid until they beg for mercy. Pantera's selling was superb again, and Black Terry lorded over the match. The shift Terry has pulled in the past few weeks from the type of guy you'd pen a Country and Western song about to the ruthless bastard who's fucking with Pantera's homestead has been sensational and equally great on both accounts. The amount of dedication Black Terry shows towards ruling it in a small promotion in the tiny Arena Naucalpan has me wondering if he's not a top 10 luchador all-time. He may not be an iconic figure on a national basis, but the man just doesn't quit.
Hijo del Pantera managed to escape the rustlers in Super Astro style, which was the trigger spot for Pantera to start kicking ass. Pantera is a biggish sort of guy by lucha standards and can rumble if that's what Terry wants, but the awesome thing about this match was that he went for the win and they had a third caida where they built to a triple tope spot and cool shit like that. Both Terry and Pantera were barking orders on the outside, squabbling with the refs and turning this into a must-win caida. Such a great feud. Unfortunately, we're not going to get a Terry vs. Pantera singles match out of it as Terry just lost his hair and has been giving more of the spotlight to Cerebro of late, but Cerebro was huge in this, so I can more than live with the shift to Pantera v. Cerebro. Cerebro has turned into a hell of a brawler in recent weeks. I'm not sure if like Navarro it's an area of his game that's always been underrated, but he really is looking like the most confident guy in wrestling right now. I really liked the finish in this match too. I thought the Pantera counter into a pin was such a great "fuck you" moment and I loved Terry kicking the rope at the end after he lost the playoff with Pantera. Also great was the beating he gave Zatura after the bell and his nod to the Terry fans at ringside. Definitely my favourite feud of 2010 so far.
Trauma I y Trauma II vs. Samot y Maldito Jr.
Can't say I was too enthused by this this. Trauma II had difficulty working his mat routine against a larger opponent; he should really know by now that you don't have to work the mat in every match, especially if your opponent has no skill in that area. There was enough stiffness in this to keep the punters happy, but it seemed lke a repeat of the Traumas match against Zatura and Suicida, only this time against a poor man's version of Villanos IV and V. I was impressed with the Traumas' double team moves, however, and the heat they're getting is cementing them as made men, so that's cool.
Black Terry, Dr. Cerebro y H. del Signo vs. Pantera, H. del Pantera y Zatura
Black Terry looks badass with his shaved head. He was in an irritable mood here, which I'm guessing is because the Gringos added injury to insult in last week's hair match. He had a great, niggly fall with Pantera, and I really liked how it was the Cerebros who initiated the brawling in the second caida even though they'd won the opening fall. Usually, the rudos start brawling in order to reclaim a match, but Terry was in full on cock-mode here, which is a little different from the rudo contra rudo version we've been seeing lately. The brawling was fantastic, too, with the Cerebros sauntering around the ring and delivering cheap shots like the Infernales in their prime. I've never thought much of Pantera, but this was by far his best veteran performance since dropping the mask, and his selling in the second caida was superb. His selling reminded me of every great beatdown in movie history. It's a shame that the Cerebros didn't leave his kid half dead so Pantera could turn Archie “The Stomper” Gouldie on them in the coming weeks, but Pantera doing the Super Astro tightrope escape was something you don't see everyday. The third fall lacked a big showdown between Terry and Pantera, and the double pin was a downer no matter which way you look at it, but I'm expecting more fireworks in the coming weeks. I just hope IWRG don't burn through all these feuds in the first half of the year. It's only February, fellas. The other great thing about this match was Dr. Cerebro. He was just oozing with confidence here and worked a hell of a mat exchange with Zatura. Nobody has Pantera's back like Cerebro has Terry's, so I'm looking forward the revancha this week. To me, matches like this are what make IWRG so great -- they're imperfect little classics in a post-90s wrestling world where three stars is the new four stars and veterans are the only guys who know what the fuck they're doing.
Sangre Chicana, Black Terry y Negro Navarro vs. Solar I, Rocky Santana y Olimpico, AULL, 2/13/10
I don't particularly like it when Solar vs. Navarro dominates a match, but this didn't have much else going for it, so I enjoyed their extended exchange in the opening caida. To be fair, it was a pretty great exchange. It started off in typical fashion with Solar getting the early takedowns and Navarro being dismissive of them, but built in intensity to the point where both guys were trying ridiculously complicated submission attempts. Nice arc and a sweet crescendo. Still, I really hate watching Black Terry in these UWE matches. He always plays second or third fiddle to the other vets and is nothing like the Terry we see in IWRG character-wise or even wrestling-wise. The Chicana punch was good and Solar sold it well, but as a huge Sangre Chicana fan I have to say I don't think his performance was anywhere near as good as Pirata Morgan or Pantera in recent weeks, and ultimately the technico side was too weak for this to be anything special.
Black Terry y Shu el Guerrero vs. Negro Navarro y El Signo, 2/14/10
When I was a young boy
Tenements, slums and corner bums
Playing tag with winos
The only way to have some fun
One thing 'bout the ghetto
You don't have to hurry
It'll be there tommorow
So brother don't you worry
Talking 'bout ghetto life
Talking 'bout Ghettoo Liiiiiiiiife
This was a hell of a match in a hell of a venue. So many times you check cubfans' match finder and there's all these great looking matches that never see the light of day; now Terry Jr. is taking his camera cross country on weekends and we're discovering lucha is wrestled everywhere in Mexico -- tenements, slums, ghettos, under the fucking ground... this shit is real.
This was a great little match. I might cop flak for this, but I thought the match showed how much Solar/Navarro fucks things up. No Solar meant a very prominent Black Terry and also saw Signo give the best performance he's delivered in five years. I've got nothing against Solar, but the other guys tend to tune out when he and Navarro take centre stage, and this was such a nice mix of matwork and brawling that I was happy to see these guys roll with each other after all those disconnected Space Cadets/Misioneros matches last year.
Once upon a time, Signo was a hell of a worker. In the dying days of UWA, he was a dynamo, captain of the Misioneros and a better worker than Navarro if you can imagine that. Recently, I watched him brawling with Villano III in one of those random UWA trios that were WAR-like in their allegiances and they tore shit down like the El Toreo demolition. This was a throwback performance to those days if ever I saw one. And Shu showed up! I dunno where he magically appeared from, but fuck me if there isn't a greater missing in action luchador than Shu el Guerrero. Good to see that he's still making himself into a ball so that Navarro has to think twice about which limb to attack.
The cool thing about this match was how they kept needling each other. There's been a bit of discussion at the new IWRG board -- http://z7.invisionfree.com/IWRG_Lucha_Libr...dex.php?act=idx -- about whether Terry has taken the mantle back from Negro Navarro as the best worker in Mexico, but the real Navarro came roaring back this weekend, making it a week-to-week contest at this point. The two of them actually brawled a bit in this match, and fuck when is that rematch going to happen? Anyway, there was no Angelico here, so no need for Navarro to be a pussy. I can't believe I just wrote that about Negro Navarro, but I'm telling you this was the real Navarro. The guy who sells without acting like anything really hurts him and doesn't give two fucks. Cool match that the Misioneros won by being bigger ***** than Terry and Shu.
Blue Panther vs. Atlantis, NWA World Middleweight Championship, 8/9/91
I thought I ought to do something a little special to mark my 200th entry, so since I've been talking about Blue Panther vs. Atlantis lately, I decided to go back and watch their match from '91. This match was part of the first batch of lucha I ever bought and is a large part of why I became hooked on lucha. I'm not particularly fond of watching matches I've seen before, particularly when I'm comparing it to the excitement of receiving my first batch of lucha libre, but with so much lucha under my belt since I first saw this, I was almost astonished by how much I enjoyed it. I probably appreciate it more than ever before, which is rare for me since I'm usually interested in the latest and greatest lucha libre match.
There's a real buzz surrounding this match that only happens when you get two wrestlers in the ring who you know are going to deliver. Watching Roberto Rangel give his pre-match instructions, it struck me that you had El Dandy and Pierroth Jr. seconding here, two of the most charismatic luchadores in CMLL at the time, and yet all eyes are on Panther and Atlantis. When they head to their opposite corners and go through their final warm-ups, there's an excitement around the bell sounding that's as close to a big time title fight as professional wrestling gets. That may sound like an odd thing to say about the costumed world of Mexican lucha libre, but watch this first caida unfold; it's by far the most competitive opening to a two-out-of-three falls title match I have ever witnessed. I won't go into great detail about what happens, because this is a match that has been uploaded several times on youtube, so there's no excuse for not watching it if you're the least bit interested in professional lucha libre, but this is the caida that convinced me that lucha could be as serious and competitive as any other style of wrestling while looking nothing like other styles of wrestling. And really, that's the beauty of lucha libre -- there's nothing else like it.
But watch this caida. There's a rare sort of intensity to it that you seledom find in any sort of wrestling. It's as if they're in the third caida already -- in fact, it's almost as if it's a one fall match with the way Panther and Atlantis fight to take the opening fall. The way they build this intensity is by gradually selling more and more so that each counter becomes increasingly threatening. If you think luchadores can't sell like wrestlers are meant to, I suggest you watch this match, because the great ones can and do sell, while working the most brilliant holds imaginable. The great thing about this caida is that little by little you get the feeling that Atlantis is the champ here. It was a belt he held for a significantly long time and defended against some pretty reputable opposition, and you can see that class come through in the key and deciding moments.
The first fall builds to its epic conclusion and you start figuring whether they can keep up this intensity over the next two falls, but the second fall is short, sharp and clever. By this stage, the competitive juices of both guys are flowing and Atlantis starts dropping these awesome knees to the face of Blue Panther. Panther shrugs them off and comes back with a immense hit of his own that shocks Atlantis enough for a quick and decisive equaliser. Pierroth loves it and so do I, because Panther signalled his intent with that body blow. He's here to mount a challenge and not about to fade away.
The third caida is built around the timeless notions of desperation and fatigue and those smallest of margins between winning and losing. It's somewhat looser than the opening fall because both guys are tiring, but the great thing about Atlantis vs. Panther matches is how sparingly they used their big takedown offence. Panther had his powerbomb and that spinebuster he liked to do and Atlantis had his back breaker and huracarrana, and they were delivered with gusto and sold like they were the tipping point of the match. The great thing about a third caida is how it weighs on each wrestler's mind. If you get a two from a roll-up and another from a sunset flip, you've got to be thinking that you're running out of chances here. It takes a steely sort of determination to think that you've almost got your man when he escapes your best stuff time and time again. Panther is the first one to crack by trying to go up top, which if you've followed the career of Blue Panther is not his game. Atlantis knocks him off and goes for a huge corner tope, but unforunately his legs hit the top rope as he's going through and he doesn't hit it cleanly. Not to worry, though, as Panther follows up with a tope of his own, which leds to one of the greatest submission attempts ever witnessed in a lucha ring when Panther has Atlantis trapped in an inverted Gory Special and it dead set looks like Altantis is going to submit in the middle of the ring. Atlantis escapes with a roll-up and Panther reverses that for another great nearfall. Atlantis is shaken here and only has a few seconds to regather before Panther comes at him again, and it's almost as if the seconds are ticking down until Atlantis loses. He steps and fakes and makes his move and I won't even tell you how he wins this because it's ridiculously great and enough to pop the biggest sportatorium on a buzzer beater in the biggest game of the year. It's just huge. Perfectly executed and the mother of all final plays.
I watch a lot of sport and I've experienced all the different emotions -- shock, joy, devastation -- and that was what this match was for the audience and for these two wrestlers, which is ultimately what pro-wrestling is trying to achieve. Just a great match. Watch it. Love it. Gain a thirst for lucha libre.
Las Nuevas Figuras FIL vs. Los Gladiadores IWRG, 2/4/10
IWRG has been on a roll of late, thanks to an influx of new talent and some much improved booking from the men in charge. This was a
cibernetico match between the IWRG regulars and the young guys they've been using to fill out the undercard; not a great match, but it serves to illustrate why IWRG has been on an upward swing since the beginning of the year. The first run through was stronger than the elimination half for the simple reason that IWRG guys eliminating rookies is like watching The Dream Team play Angola, but there was some tremendous confidence shown by the IWRG regulars in leading the young guys through their best exchanges to date, especially since a cibernetico match is about outdoing the pair before you. The fact that IWRG could go five/six exchanges deep in such a match shows you how far the group of workers below Terry and Navarro have come in the past twelve months. With the Traumas, it's a case of young workers making huge strides, but with a guy like Dr. Cerebro it's about tapping into the potential that's always been there and making him seem like a major figure alongside Terry. The young guys are important too, because they provide fresh match-ups and allow the bookers some leeway with matchmaking. With a bigger roster and a place for everyone, there's less need for revancha after revancha and arbitrary apuestas matches. So while this was a minor match, I thought it was hugely positive and showed just how much depth and variety there is IWRG these days.
Hijo del Pirata, Trauma I y Trauma II vs. Chico Che, Angel y El Hijo del Pantera, 2/7/10
Black Terry Jr. had a hard time filming this as there was just too much going on to capture it all, but from what I could make out it was a pretty decent sprint. Speaking of confidence, Trauma II looked just as good working with Angel here as Black Terry did working with Hijo del Sigo in the cibernetico above, which is high praise considering Terry looked better against Signo than he has all year in regular lucha exchanges. But the guy who impressed me here was Che. I haven't seen him for quite a few months and he seems to have developed into a competent fatboy worker. That's great news because lucha, like rugby, is a game for all shapes and sizes, so if you have competent fatboy workers on your roster then you've got Puebla levels of flavour. I absolutely loved his headbutt in this.
Black Terry y Doctor Cerebro vs. Hijo del Diablo y Gringo Loco, Hair/Cage match, 2/7/10
Normally, I wouldn't watch a lucha cage match, but this feud has been so well booked by IWRG standards that I had to see what happens next. Where did they get that cage from? There has to be some story about how they got scrap metal and some half price chain link fence and welded it all together. It was pretty much the perfect looking cage for this scummy gimmick the Gringo Locos are doing. I thought Terry Jr. did a tremendous job of shooting the early parts of this match before the big Cerebro bladejob, because usually IWRG rely on a large number of edits to prevent their brawls from seeming static. Terry obviously has an eye for the business since he pretty much choose the best shots possible to stop this from being too monotonous, although he was sometimes on the wrong side of the action when it came to Hijo del Diablo's kicks. The match was a decent brawl much like their Super Libre match w/ the blood and quality of brawling making it superior to most lucha gimmick matches. Terry was spectacular as usual and the stretch run into the finish was awesome. All in all, it was pretty good stuff. There's got to be some sort of irony in the lucha indy version of Gringo Locos having better matches than the original Gringo Locos. The fan altercation ruled too.
Centella de Oro y Lestat vs. Fuerza Chicana y Policeman, 1/25/10
Holy shit is all I can about this. Centella de Oro and Fuerza Chicana did the best opening matwork I've seen all year and Lestat and Policeman weren't far behind. The locals are only getting a single fall these days but if it wasn't for Lestat and Policeman's poor dive and catch this would've been the perfect lightning match. As it was, it was pretty much three falls in one with all the shifts you'd expect from a trios match. Centella de Oro was amazing in his second go around with Chicana and absolutely destroyed everyone in Mexico with his performance here.
Blue Panther, Metro y Valiente vs. Averno, Mephisto y Virus, 2/2/10
I'm feeling more upbeat about lucha than I have at any point since I started this blog, so I'll drop a bit of praise on this. I thought Blue Panther was phenomenal in this match and his mat segment with Averno bordered on genius. Forget about his 2008, this was the best Panther has looked since that 2004 handheld Terry Jr. put up on his old account. His rope exchanges with Virus were awesome too and in a perfect world CMLL would devote 20 minutes to a Blue Panther/Virus singles match. Other than that, the match was average. Virus and Valiente fell well short of what they're capable of and Valiente himself didn't shine until his killer dive at the end of the match. The third fall had the potential to be really exciting with guys lining each other up and charging at one another, but they had to go and do all the bullshit CMLL staples which somehow CMLL think people not only want to see week in, week out but four or five times on the same card. I mean, they laid a pretty decent platform here in the third caida with one-on-one match situations and different guys hitting the ring to take over, but after they'd run through all six guys they went with rudo triple teaming and a whole bunch of other contrived shit. Fucking Averno was in his element, though. So much of the shit he's involved in ought to be abolished. The finish was weak as hell too. Still, this was more good than bad. Panther was great.
In 1997, CMLL had one of the greatest single year runs of any promotion in wrestling history, but what about 1998?
It's not a year you hear a lot about. I don't think too many people could tell you what the match of the year was or which workers were on their game that year. Most of the CMLL I've seen from '99 has the company heading down the path of no return, so I thought I'd sample some matches from '98 and see what sort of state the company was in.
El Hijo Del Santo, Blue Panther y Black Warrior vs. Negro Casas, Atlantis y Mr. Niebla (CMLL 4/24/98)
This started off with some poor exchanges between Black Warrior and Mr. Niebla that were pretty indicative of where this company was heading over the next ten years. CMLL was a lot like other styles of wrestling in the 90s in that it paid off how solid the 70s and 80s had been without producing any workers who could carry on with the job; but watching older matches like these where CMLL is teetering on the point of being crap, you have to wonder why the veterans didn't take the young guys aside and say, "look that dive fake you tried was fucking awful, here's how you do it properly" because Atlantis and Blue Panther did a simple and effective "over the top rope exit" in the second caida which is what these young guys should've been learning from. Instead, you have these great exchanges between Panther and Atlantis and Santo and Casas that make Niebla and Black Warrior stick out like a pair of sore thumbs. Twelve years later, great mat exchanges are nothing to be scoffed at; but looking at the match from the perspective of when it occurred, CMLL were keen to push through guys like Black Warrior and Niebla regardless of match quality, and so as younger guys were pushed to the top, the veterans began succumbing to what is essentially a lazy style and nothing like the way they were brought up.
The two young guys were interesting to watch, however. Black Warrior had a knack for making himself invisible in a trios match. You could tell that he was never going to be a star because he didn't want to take the bull by the horns and stand out in any way. I suppose it doesn't hurt to keep a low profile, but he may be the most low-key pinball bumper the world has ever seen. His tope was like a bullet, but he never made much of it and threw it away in the first caida here. Niebla, on the other hand, has always been an awful worker. I honestly think you can chart the downfall of the classic luchador to Angel Azteca's failure to stay on top in the very early 90s, because he was the last technico I can think of who had the offence to carry on with lucha in the traditional sense. Niebla was just a blight; he had some tricked out submissions that saved him from being as mind-numbingly bad as Blue Demon Jr., but so much of what makes a good technico is between the ropes and he was so bad at the stop and pop stuff that he was a lost cause in the end.
The guy who held this match together, for the first two falls anyway, was Atlantis. He had something of a resurgence in the late 90s that began around 1996 and culminated with his famous mask match against Villano III in the early part of 2000. He squared off against Blue Panther here, and while it wasn't quite as smooth as some of the other times they've wrestled it was by far the high point of the match. When I first got into lucha, people always said that the must-see Panther exchanges were against Santo and Solar, but I'm pretty convinced now that Atlantis is the best match-up that Panther has ever had. For some reason, Blue Panther brought out the absolute best in Atlantis as a wrestler. Atlantis tried exchanges with Blue Panther that he never really tried with any other worker, which is a curious thing really, because when you think of Atlantis you think of a guy who was a great facilitator. He was a guy who was good at the nuts and bolts of trios work, as can be seen here when he provides the second caida with the necessary rhythm for a quick reply from the technicos, but against Panther he looked like one of the giants of this era of lucha libre and every bit the WON Hall of Famer that he's struggled to become.
The other opening exchange was between Santo and Casas, who were still feuding at this point. It was more reminiscent of their UWA work than the Japanese influences they'd dabbled in the year before. Pretty much a bunch of jockeying, but they did a good job of engaging without really engaging to set-up the obvious fight they were gonna have in the third caida.
The first two falls were okay and did a decent job of setting up the third caida, but what a mess that turned out to be. The technicos levelled the match with the second caida and Negro Casas spat in Santo's face to let him know they'd levelled it. Santo did an awesome job of wiping his eyes and mask and proceeded to give Casas one of the best asskickings I've seen Santo produce, but instead of the match erupting into a Dandy/Casas style third caida, everything just stopped... I mean dead in its tracks... I don't think I've ever seen these workers just drop a match like this in the third caida. Panther spent an eternity untying Atlantis' mask. The Santo/Casas feud really peaked with those trios matches that built to the Santo/Casas singles match at the end of the summer the year before, and all of their matches thereafter were middling, but none of them qualified as a rut. This was just awful and the confused booking at the end of Panther ripping Atlantis' mask off made it seem like there was no focus whatsoever to where they were trying to head with Santo and Casas. It was as confusing as the late '97 booking where Santo had a falling out Scorpio Jr. but continued on as a rudo unabated.
Not a match I'd recommend and strike one against 1998 CMLL.
Black Terry/Dr. Cerebro vs. Gringo Loco/El Hijo del Diablo, 1/24/10
This was pretty cool.
Of all the styles Terry works, brawling suits him best because you get a caricature of Black Terry the man. There was nothing pretty about this match; it was about as scummy as you'd expect from two guys working the Gringo Locos gimmick in a lucha indy backwater. They brawled all over the ringside area in a match that never really got going in the ring since neither side wanted to settle it proper, but this sort of rambling match suits Black Terry to a tee. His comebacks were fantastic and I thought his headbutt was incredible. He had a gash on his forehead that needed sewing up, and as he sat there being sutured, the silence got me thinking... Where was he going after the show? What type of car or truck does he drive? What does he listen to on the radio? These are the type of things I want to know. He really is a legend. This was just another fight and a few more stitches, but what a performer. He's like a character in a John Huston film or a Merle Haggard song.
Black Terry/Dr. Cerebro/Negro Navarro vs. Solar/Zatura/Suicida, 1/28/10
This was solid. IWRG have a new working style where the first fall goes long and the second and third falls are short. It's somewhat predictable but seems to be working for them. Solar squared off with Navarro to nobody's great surprise. Their exchanges were better than watching Navarro work with Angelico, but you have to wonder what they're gunning for at this point. Solar wanted Navarro and Navarro wanted Solar, but we've seen this all before. It's a draw. Neither guy is better than the other and maybe one day they'll leave it at that. Terry got to work a bit in this match, which I was happy about since he's usually innocuous when Solar and Navarro are about. He did a pretty awesome job of stretching Zatura, but the most notable thing about the match was some rare CONTINUITY. I could hardly believe it when Cerebro went after Suicida. I mean to look at him you wouldn't think he lost his hair a few months ago, but he obviously hasn't forgotten and gave Segura an extra hiding at the end.
Dr. Cerebro vs. El Hijo del Diablo, Campeonato Mundial Ligero IWRG, 1/31/10
This was awesome and easily surpassed any IWRG singles match I've seen since Zatura/Trauma.
There was a ton of heat for this as El Hijo del Diablo had his own cheering section dressed up in devil costumes, and while he's not much of a worker in the Black Terry sense, this match was exceptionally well booked to make the most of the heat they got. Diablo can't work the mat, but he has size and they used that to great effect. He roughed Cerebro up and opened the cut from the tag match above. I can't recall ever seeing Cerebro sell as well as he did here and his comeback was fantastic, which made this the first time in ages that I was actually pumped to see the third caida of an IWRG match.
There was some awesome bullshit in the tercera caida. The fall was mostly dives and selling with Terry trying to protect his man from a mauling. Diablo finally got stuck into Terry and they did the most awesome Dusty finish. It was a real Pena style finish. Terry was being held back by the ref and the commissioner or someone, and Gringo Loco, who'd been ejected from ringside earlier, came running to the ring to potato Cerebro with a foreign object. The ref counted three and it looked like we had a new champ, but Terry saw the whole thing unfold and actually went into Gringo Loco's pants to find the foreign object. I don't think I've ever seen that before. He pulled out a chain and showed it to the ref and the entire arena. The ref overturned his decision and raised Cerebro's hand.
Just an all-round awesome spectacle. Instead of an overload of moves and nearfalls, we actually got to see a match that built to a bruised but vindicated champ holding onto his belt. The crowd were into it in a way that they usually aren't and there were plenty of folks screaming at the ref about the fuck-up he'd made. Good shit.
Negro Navarro/Trauma I vs. Pirata Morgan/El Hijo del Pirata Morgan, 1/31/10
This was also pretty good, though it couldn't live up to the heat that the previous match got. Everytime I see Pirata Morgan, I can't quite get my head around what he's turned into. I literally find myself asking, "what the fuck is that?" But the mofo can still work. I actually thought he outworked Navarro in this match on a less is more basis. His mat exchange with Trauma I was better than Navarro's work with El Hijo del Pirata Morgan. Granted, Trauma I has probably overtaken Son of Pirata Morgan at this point, but Morgan had a more direct, straightforward way of tackling Trauma. Navarro did a couple of cool submissions, but he's become somewhat overexposed of late. There were a couple of teases that the match would come down to Pirata and Navarro one-on-one, but they wound up giving this match to the kids which I thought was the right idea. The veterans were both pinned while they were in a Pirata Morgan figure four and the finish to the match was that awesome submission stand-off that we first saw in Black Terry's match with Multifacetico. It was a cool finish because you had both Navarro and Pirata at ringside cheering on their kids. They were like a pair of football dads. Navarro was slightly disgusted when his son tapped then his paternal instinct took over. Pretty cool.
MATCH OF THE MONTH: It's been a strong month for IWRG, but I don't think you can go past Cerebro/Diablo. Finally, a lucha title match with a little bit of drama that made you want to actually watch the second and third caidas. I don't know what's happening with IWRG right now, but they seem a hell of a lot more focused and actually deserve to be considered the best promotion in Mexico instead of winning by default. Do they have a new booker or something?
Avisman vs. Bushi, 11/26/09
This was the lightweight title switch the Segunda Caida guys wrote about recently. Avisman definitely showed what he's capable of on the mat here. Bushi couldn't follow suit, but I guess he wouldn't really know how. The match peaked with Avisman's final action on the mat, which was a counter into a ankle lock of his own if I recall correctly. Great intensity from Avisman to match his angry little man demeanour. He was like a little Napoleon with his matwork here. The rest of the match bored me, however.
Sangre Azteca/Dragon Rojo Jr./Misterioso II vs. Mascara Dorada/Metro/Stuka Jr, 1/6/10
This was also a title switch. There was an effort to make it seem important, but these guys are only capable of working one style and so this was just a longer version of that style. The rudos are so generic. I fucking hate the synchronised moves they do. You can't distinguish one rudo from another if they all do the same moves. They all look like Scorpio, Jr. to one degree or another, and who would've thought he'd have a lasting influence on the rudo division? Anyway, this was well rehearsed and the same match they do night in, night out. I guess you could call it solid, but the patterns are so predictable that it came across like an over-produced pop single to me. Stuka Jr is worth watching since he has a solid all-round game and a couple of nice dives, but he does the same thing in every match.
CMLL Arena Puebla
Centella de Oro/Blue Center/King Jaguar vs. Ares/Alarido/Crazy Black, 1/11/10
Haven't seen the locals in a while. When they're on song, the locals produce the truest form of lucha in Mexico. Centella de Oro has to be the most underrated guy in lucha circles. He carried Ares through some fucking great lucha exchanges in this match. Blue Center was awesome too. Like a veteran version of 1991 Atlantis.
Stuka Jr./Metro/Fuego vs. Dr. X/Pólvora/Virus, 1/11/10
This started off with the same mat exchanges that Stuka Jr. always does, but Virus is such a great worker that he was able to turn it into a pretty good slow build. Why they chose to work a slow build is beyond me since everyone else wanted to work up tempo. That's another thing I hate -- the token slow build. Whatever happened to working the opening pairs before upping the tempo on the second go through? Virus/Stuka aside, this pretty much sucked. There were a ton of botched spots and no rhythm to bail them out.
Negro Navarro vs. Angelico, 1/21/10
The best worker in Mexico meets the worst worker in Mexico. This was such a weird match to watch. After years of watching Navarro annihilate young guys one on one, he sold for Angelico as if he were a fellow maestro. If Angelico wasn't Navarro's student and just some guy he was matched against on the indy circuit, you have to wonder whether he'd give him anything at all. I was actually annoyed with Navarro here because he was selling for some of the worst looking shit you'll ever see and putting it over huge. Angelico couldn't apply his holds properly and Navarro was submitting to them in the hope of giving his student some rub. There's been a bit of talk about Navarro working "even" with Angelico, but this was beyond even. On one level, his performance was excellent as he showed he can sell as well as he works holds, but Angelico is just not ready for the sort of respect Navarro showed him here. He contributed nothing to the match and looked completely out of place. I don't know whether Navarro has his blinders on in regard to his prodigy's skill, but I sure as hell wish he was giving the rub to somebody else.
Los Terribles Cerebros vs. Los Oficiales, Campeonato de Trios IWRG, 12/25/09
Another poor Cerebros match. They look about done to me. Lazy matwork, weak transitions, unimaginative spots and some terrible finishes of late. I wouldn't mind if they broke up actually, because IWRG really need to run a Black Terry singles feud.
Los Traumas I y II vs. Suicida y Zatura, 1/14/09
I'm not sure what to make of Trauma II's new look, but his work here was some of the better stuff I've seen out of IWRG in a while. He had a lengthy opening spell with Suicida, which was the best Mike Segura has looked in ages. I'm not a huge fan of IWRG matwork because I think they give up the holds too easily, but I liked how they worked this into a standing punch exchange then took it back to the mat only for the Traumas to beat the shit out of Mike Segura for the rest of the match. The face-off between Mike Segura and Trauma I didn't quite work, but there was some good brawling in this. The Traumas have developed into real asskickers. Dad must be proud.
Pantera, Angelico y Solar vs. Hijo del Pirata, Negro Navarro y Bombero Infernal, 1/14/09
This was lively. Had some glaring faults, but it was lively. I approve of the way they've been mixing things up lately. Bombero Infernal dropped Pantera on this head, but apart from that their work was a nice change of pace and I liked how the match came down to Solar vs. Hijo del Pirata and Navarro vs. Angelico instead of the usual Solar/Navarro finish. IWRG can be short on variety at times, but this felt like a real trios match. There was some loose work, a few botches and some atrocious shit from Angelico, but even he was in the right place at the right time and I dug how they moved from match-up to match-up. If you thought Angelico's Chikara-like stand-up work was bad, wait until you see his kicks. I dunno why he does them since he has a decent looking skinny-guy chop, but he's clearly a guy who watches a bunch of youtube because he even does World of Sport mat tricks, which he probably aped from Chikara instead of the really good World of Sport workers. The best thing I'll say about his kicks is that Navarro did an awesome job of blocking them at the end and his stomach punch ought to have killed Angelico dead, but the finish wasn't bad and again it was the match dynamics that made this worth watching. I dug Navarro teaming up with a couple of bruisers in Hijo del Pirata and Bomber Infernal. Hijo del Pirata is the new Capitán Muerte in terms of bringing the offence and Bombero Infernal is a lucha indy waster. Mostly, I'm digging having weekly Solar in IWRG. If he sticks around, he may be my worker of the year.
Bushi vs. Dr. Cerebro, IWRG Intercontinental Lightweight Championship, 1/10/10
Black Terry Jr's handhelds are fast becoming the only way to watch IWRG. Give me Terry's handhelds over their TV production any day.
This was nothing like a lucha libre title match, but I've decided to stop caring about that this year. If someone works a decent title match, I'll praise them for it, but it's painfully obvious that these matches are the norm now. They kind of remind me of WWE matches, but I guess lucha is heading that way in general with WWE having a bigger influence in Mexico than ever before. Dr. Cerebro is reasonably proficient at this style of wrestling and his work of late kind of reminds me of Dr. Wagner, Jr during his workrate phase, though on a somewhat miniature scale. The key difference between Wagner and Cerebro is that Cerebro hasn't foresaken his mat game entirely and still busts out strange looking submission holds from time to time. You could probably argue that Cerebro is a better mat worker than Wagner ever was, but he's looking more and more like a spot worker every time I see him.
Bushi is a Japanese guy I've never head of since I don't really follow Japanese wrestling anymore, but apparently he's leaving the territory anyway. For a squash match on his way out, I thought this was reasonably okay. Bushi seemed earnest and I guess he learned a thing or two on this excursion. His work was kind of early Yamada-ish in that when in doubt go for a leg lock, but he didn't have any problems working juniors spots with Cerebro and the topes were cool. Terry's camera work captures a lot of the selling that IWRG misses, and my overall impression of the match was that it was reasonably consistent. Cerebro dominated the bout, but there was enough scope for both guys to put the match over even if it was truncated. The piledriver at the end was a nice touch. Might as well show him the way out in a loser leaves town match.
So, Cerebro is the lightweight champ. I wonder how long he'll hold the title for. There was trouble brewing between him and El Hijo del Diablo at the end of the match, but you'd have to think that will lead to the latest in the endless series of IWRG hair matches. You'd think IWRG would move this title onto guys like Freelance, Zatura, Trauma II and Angelico, but I guess Cerebro won't defend it for a while.
Black Terry/Dr Cerebro/Cerebro Negro vs. Pantera/Suicida/Zatura
This had some of the lousiest matwork I've seen in a Terribles Cerebros match. It was like they were trying to do old-school Los Temerarios/Fantásticos exchanges, but they're all a bit too portly. Things picked up in the second fall when the Cerebros started brawling and I dug the camera angle on the technicos' comeback (and the topes in particular), but this was largely forgettable.
Angelico/Solar/Ultraman Jr vs. Negro Navarro/Los Traumas I & II
Angelico is an awful worker, especially when he's working from a standing switch, but I have to give him credit for hanging with Trauma I in this match and doing some reasonably interesting matwork. People keep posting highlights of Angelico on youtube and it always makes me wonder what Navarro sees in this kid, but he's taken him under his wing and we'll see how he improves throughout the year. Trauma I looked better than ever in this match; and while Trauma II couldn't get anything going with Ultraman Jr, the pair of them look like better workers than they were a year ago. If Navarro's work keeps rubbing off on his kids, then Dinastía Navarro will be front runners for trios of the year. I don't think any trios has their bases covered as well as Dinastía Navarro if the Traumas keep improving on the mat.
Once again, the highlight was Navarro vs. Solar, but what I liked about this match (aside from the cool ringside view of Solar/Navarro matwork) is that they didn't dominate the bout. The young guys were given a lengthy amount of time to work with each other and Navarro and Solar swapped partners briefly, which made it seem like more of a trios match. It was subtle, but I felt Solar did a good job captaining his side. This was a step closer to the type of trios matches I'd like to see in IWRG, where there's no shortage of competitiveness. I also dug the colours Solar wore here. That change and the ringside camera made the Navarro/Solar stuff seem fresher to me. I guess the mark of any trios match is whether you'd want to see the rematch and in this case I most definitely would.
Satanico vs. Shiro Koshinaka, hair vs. hair, EMLL 7/30/84
One of the things I discovered while watching the New Japan set is that I hate Shiro Koshinaka. I don't know why this is, since he's never been a worker I've felt strongly about one way or the other. I think Dylan Waco may have referred to him as a blackhole and that's as good a description of him as any. It did pique my interest in this match, however. It's not a match I remember liking particularly much, but it's Satanico so there has to be something good about it...
Satanico cuts a promo at ringside before the bell. Despite being a rudo, he's entering this match against Samurai Shiro as a Mexican wrestler and thus there's a groundswell of support for him. Has there ever been a more charismatic worker than Satanico? Watch how he lays on the charm. It's so thick that you sense something is about to happen; something that will cement Satanico as a technico in this match.
Sure enough, Koshinaka jumps him straight away. This in itself is an interesting turn of events, since you don't often see Satanico laid out like that. It's a sign that Satanico is going to sell for most of the fall and more than likely lose, unless he reverses the momentum Koshinaka has generated. Watching it unfold, I wasn't about to give Koshinaka much credit. I figured so long as he brawled okay, Satanico's selling would take care of the rest. However, for a touring wrestler, I thought Koshinaka did a number of excellent things in this fall. For starters, he had the right sort of intensity. It really did seem like he was eager to get the jump on Satanico. He paced about during the match introductions and argued with referee Eddie Palau like a seasoned rudo. As soon as the formalities were over, he begun dishing out more punishment to Satanico, and the tone was set for a excellent fall. Above all, he displayed a surprisingly nuanced understanding of when to cut off Satanico's comebacks. Either he was well advised or studied things with his own eyes, because you don't often see a touring guy with this much understanding of how to work a lucha match.
Koshinaka chose to work the arm in this fall, which I guess is a universal way for workers from other countries to work together, but he set it up by stomping on the arm during the early heat segment and wrenching on it good and proper once Satanico was back in the ring. This gave Satanico plenty to sell, but the great thing about Satanico is that like Fujiwara he was such a great defensive wrestler that he was always looking to free himself from the hold. Instead of being meekly led around the ring by Koshinaka's wristlock, he pushed against Koshinaka's chin to try to straighten the arm. Koshinaka responded by moving with Satanico to the point where Satanico gave him his back. There was a nice armdrag takedown into a cruxific armbar, which led to a great spot where Satanico begun violently kneeing Koshinaka in the back. Koshinaka gave up the hold and was kneed in the head as he got to his feet, but he cut off the comeback with a kick to the cut and a nice elbow to the back of the head. Koshinaka went back to the armbar, but Satanico kicked him in the face repeatedly to tell him he'd had enough of all that business, and that was the only regrettable thing about the fall: that they left the mat to work the kind of rope exchanges that Koshinaka isn't particularly good at. Koshinaka took the fall with a backslide, whereas I would've much preferred a submission.
Nevertheless, the second fall was also excellent. Satanico took a time out between falls and was like a man possessed trying to fight his way back into this match, but Koshinaka had too much in the tank for Satanico to muscle his way onto offence. I was really impressed with the headbutt spots Koshinaka threw in during the early part of this fall. They were amusing comedy spots and well sold, but they also led to Koshinaka attacking the head via different means; first driving Satanico's skull into the turnbuckle and then coming off the top with a nice diving knee that left El Satanico convulsing. This was the part of the match where they try to open things up a bit and work towards the bigger moves. They weren't in any hurry, however, and the pacing here was exceptionally good. Koshinaka set Satanico up for the move he wanted (another knee from the top) by weakening his leg so he couldn't get up off the mat, but Satanico shifted the weight to his knee and managed to catch Koshinaka with a big slam to the mat. It was a simple back bump, but Koshinaka rolled out of the ring and sold it like the trigger spot that it was. Satanico was limping, but came motoring around to the other side of the ring to finally beat the shit out of Koshinaka, and to everyone's joy, Koshinaka bleed after a series of postings. Great selling from Koshinaka, and a total surprise given that his selling was one of the reasons I hated him so much on the New Japan set. Satanico took the fall with an awesome looking folding press and there was a great shot of him sitting back up on the mat, cognisant of having taken the fall but looking absolutely buggered. A very good fall. The theme surrounding Koshinaka's head was a nice touch.
Heading into the third fall, Satanico wasn't about to give Koshinaka any sort of a break. As soon as he caught his breath, he began giving Koshinaka a lesson in what a true hair match is all about. Palau kept trying to raise Satanico's hand and declare the second fall over, but these hair matches are all about an eye for an eye and all the things the bible teaches us not to do. And if there was ever a worker who wasn't about to turn the other cheek, it was El Satanico Daniel Lopez. He was relentless in this fall; hell bent on turning Koshinaka into a bloody pulp as a souvenir of his time in Mexico. Koshinaka fought back with a series of blows to Satanico's head, which sent Satanico into a frenzy at the sight of his own blood. Things were downright ugly now, the way a hair match should be. This was all about blood and guts; not being able to think straight and relying on instinct. Both guys tried to finish it and wound up selling more and more. Imagine my horror then when an amazing match like this ended with a DQ.
The finish was bullshit. The match ended with a foul from Koshinaka He tried to feign that it wasn't a foul, but it was as clear as day and Palau was completely within his rights to award the match to Satanico. Koshinaka protested vigorously, but he wasn't quite good enough to pull this off in a way that would make a satisfying post-match out of a cheap finish. The idea was that Koshinaka was trying to counter a bodyslam into a cradle and that Satanico had faked the foul, but the way Koshinaka fed his arm made it look like a clear and blatant foul. Satanico certainly appeared to be faking during the post-match antics, but whatever their intentions it was a bullshit finish to a fantastic match.
Bullshit finish aside, this was probably a top ten match for the 80s and likely the best match Koshinaka has ever had. Unfortunately, he didn't take anything he learnt in Mexico back to Japan, but a lot of workers claim that they don't like Mexico or that they can't understand the style, which may be the reason that most workers from other territories point blank suck in Mexico. Koshinaka, for whatever reason, embraced the opportunity to work in Mexico, and at a time when hair matches were still bloody brawls and there were workers like Satanico in their primes, he had a great match in the most visceral of lucha libre styles. And for that reason, I can't quite hate him as much as I did before.
El Hijo del Santo vs. Felino, CMLL 7/25/97
This was a revancha for Santo's title loss to Felino on July 4th; a match that ended with one of the great screwjob finishes of all time. If you've never seen that bout, I highly recommend it. It's one of the best lucha matches of the 90s and the finish is pure Casas.
This revancha didn't offer much in the way of revenge, and I should've known by the number of times they showed Casas at ringside that they were just furthering the angle, but a few things stood out:
The first was how natural an actor Casas was. The camera kept looking for him in this bout. I have no idea whether Casas knew that the camera was on him, but he looked so legitimately concerned for his brother that it really did con me into thinking that this was a serious bout with serious consequences. I don't know how worthy professional wrestling is as a form of acting, but I will say that Casas had amazing range as a performer.
Santo, on the other hand, didn't have quite as much range. This was a poor rudo performance from my perspective. The Santo heel turn is deservedly famous, as it was a surprisingly shrewd piece of booking that drew back the crowds to Arena Mexico, but I'd have to say that Santo's part was mostly carried by the charisma of his opponents and the reality of seeing him on the same side as a cretin like Bestia Salvaje. Santo did a few things to "act" rudo here. He jumped Felino before the bell, roughed up him slightly and paused between normal Santo moves to convey some sort of disconnect with the crowd, but he never really had the convictions of a rudo, and that's why it was so easy to turn him technico after the feud had run dry. Santo, in truth, never wanted to be a rudo, which is something he claimed in interviews but couldn't project in the ring. Perhaps that's expecting too much, but there was a revancha match for a guy who was screwed out of his title. Most rudos would be baying for blood; Felino's first and then his brother's. In fairness to Santo, he'd begun ripping Felino's mask when Casas ran into the ring to cause a DQ, but the earlier work was neither aggressive enough from Santo nor sold well enough by Felino. If Santo's dislike for Negro Casas was so consuming that it forced him to turn rudo, then it ought to have been incessant at this point. He might not have felt it in his gut earlier, but had he played this role better, I think he would have sunk further into "rudoism" with this match.
On the flipside, Santo's dives were awesome in this. They were the same dives that Santo always does, but it never ceases to amaze me how outstanding they are each time. These days, workers are constantly diving. They might as well be diving through hoops in a three ring circus. Take one look at it and your first reaction is: "what the fuck are they doing?" It's astounding how much mileage Santo got out of his dives when you take one look at modern matches and never want to see the workers again. OK, that's not true. There's a few guys who do dives which are worth watching again, but none of them are mainevent workers like Santo was. So, how did he do it? It's not really a matter of execution; there's guys doing far more difficult dives these days and executing them perfectly. It helps that he held off on them until late in the match, instead of jumping the gun. It also helps that he was a proper wrestler and not some guy who had no business being in the ring; but I think the reason is that they were simple moves albeit incredibly well executed. No matter how many new ideas people try to come up, there hasn't been a dive yet that beats a well executed tope. I hate springboard moves with a passion. If I were in charge of training luchadores, I'd tell them that the lord gave them three ropes through which to dive and a top turnbuckle from which to jump off, and if any of them wish to dive over the top rope or springboard themselves, they better be able to wrestle. I'm sure Diablo Velasco would approve.
Anyway, this was a decent watch in the context of the Santo/Casas brothers feud, but not a compelling watch on its own.
Time for some lucha awards.
2009 was a frustrating year that saw a lot of sources for IWRG and Arena Puebla appear and disappear, but at the same time a lot of random lucha indy footage made its way onto the internet. These awards are unashamedly based on the Tapatía Awards at cubsfan's site, and this year I asked Raging Noodles to give us his thoughts too. Don't bother reading them if you like CMLL and AAA.
RN -- Negro Navarro
This was one of the best years for Negro Navarro. He looked great in all of the Dinastía Navarro vs Terribles Cerebros trios, especially when working against Dr. Cerebro and Black Terry. He brought his underrated brawling skills to the memorable feud, and had some awesome moments of brawling with his fellow maestro Black Terry. When it's the right time in a feud, Navarro can throw down like he's Bill Dundee. He had a MOTYC with Solar I back in May and his Delaware Chikara match (which popped up for one Summer night on a Brazilian video streaming site before disappearing forever) featured some incredible action with Solar I in the primera caida, and a great destruction of Quackenbush in the segunda caida. Has had scattered matches all throughout YouTube over 2009, some were great while others were merely routine contests. His last great match of the year involved Navarro teaming up with Fishman Jr. & Arcanos to take on Perro Mastin, Platino, & Solar I (11/22/09) in another match with some brilliant Solar/Navarro matwork.
OJ -- Negro Navarro
Navarro wins this by default simply by being the best wrestler in Mexico.
An interesting tidbit about Negro Navarro came our way this year courtesy of Mike Quackenbush, who wrote: "Super Crazy, like my mentor Jorge Rivera, is a generous person, and if there was some bit of information or knowledge you'd like him to share, he wouldn't hesitate. Anything he knew he'd be happy to teach you, from the tiniest transition to the most intricate of holds. This stands in contrast to the disposition of another luchador I crossed paths with earlier in the year - Negro Navarro. Well-respected for his mastery on the mat, Navarro is anything but generous, and delights in taking advantage of his opponents."
When Raging Noodles asked Steve Sims about Navarro, he got the following reply: "[Negro Navarro] has little respect for people not in his generation, and does not care for the path that modern day lucha libre has taken away form the mat work. He will really stretch people with whom he is working, if he is not very respectful of them prior to the match."
All of that makes Negro Navarro seem incredibly badass, regardless of how unfair it is on the workers he doesn't respect, but I have to admit that the stretching got a little old this year. If Navarro doesn't care for the path that modern day lucha libre has taken (and God knows why anyone would), I'd like to see him working proper matches for a change. It seems to me that we got more Negro Navarro this year, but less quality matches than in previous years.
1. Zatura vs Trauma II (6/18/09)
Excellent match from two young guys, and Trauma II's coming out party. They had some ambitious and creative ideas that were interesting to watch unfold. But while some didn't turn out smoothly in execution, this deserves a million points for what they were able to create as a whole. It was an earnest effort from both these grapplers and they managed to pull off some really complex matwork that felt totally fresh and alive. One of the best things about this match was how unique it was, at certain moments it felt like a BattlArts contest, with some beautiful matwork naturally blended in with some very violent bodypart work, some headbutts, the very memorable striking exchange in the 3rd fall and a couple of awesome highspots. They did a lot in this match, but they still managed to pace things, create a nice flow, and they actually sold their shoulder injuries in a remarkable manner. These two give me a little hope that maybe the future of lucha libre won't be so bad if these guys continue to get better and better.
2. Toro Bill Sr., Espiritu Maligno, and Mister Rafaga vs Tigre Rojo, Black Tiger and Blue Center (3/2/09)
This felt like an actual classic lucha libre match, and all the workers in this match made it look so easy. The effortlessness displayed in this match shows how good these guys are and how familiar they must be with each other. Toro Bill Sr. is such a great veteran rudo, dude can work the mat, take lighting quick roll bumps, and lead a good rudo beatdown. Blue Center is a great technico that works so gracefully and moves around the ring like Gene Kelly or Fred Astaire. Everyone else fills their role nicely, and Espirutu Maligno is a pretty insane bump maniac and takes some nasty bumps. All the finishes to the 3 falls are spectacular as well. Beautiful wrestling.
Zatura vs Trauma II (6/18/09)
Originally, I was going to go with the Delaware trios for the same reasons that I chose the Lucha Libre London trios last year, but in the end I decided that Zatura vs. Trauma II was the most promising thing to come out of Mexico since I started writing this blog. Those of you who read this blog on a regular basis will know that I have almost nothing good to say about young workers or the path that modern lucha libre has taken, but this was an excellent match. I wouldn't say that it left me optimistic about the future, because it was wrestled in IWRG and I've barely seen anything from either guy since, but the best thing about this match is that it wasn't some sort of throwback lucha libre match; it was a perfectly modern match, which shows that if these young guys want to wrestle in a way that's different from the older generation, they can, so long as they're good enough.
RN -- Solar I
If Blue Center had made more tape and had performed at the level he was performing in his 3/2/09 and 6/15/09 matches, he probably should have gotten the pick. Maybe in 2010, some great Blue Center work will suddenly appear and I'll be able to retroactively pick him for this category. But as it is, in 2009, the best technico is still Solar and he's the Kiyoshi Tamura to Navarro's Volk Han. Such a graceful worker, can still pull off some of the most beautiful matwork sequences in the world, as he proved many times throughout the year in numerous matches in front of crowds of under 100 people. Some of the quickness and speed he displayed is astonishing for a guy his age. His work in Chikara and in the 11/22/09 trios are the matches to check out to see a perfect example of this. He's still a charming technico that you get up and root for.
OJ -- Valiente
Earlier in the year, Freelance and Valiente were neck and neck in this category. One guy would give an awesome performance and the other guy would challenge it, and there was a bit of a duel going on (in my eyes, that is.) Then Freelance injured himself and Valiente decided the best way to get ahead was to look like those CMLL callboys in pose in bodybuilding contests each year. Both guys are shittily booked and qualify for this award on potential more than anything else, but I'm going with Valiente since he's one of the few guys whose stuff looks good in CMLL.
RN -- Negro Casas
I was thinking about rudos in general, and no one really stands out the way MS-1, El Satanico, Perro Aguayo Sr., or Sangre Chicana stood out in previous decades. Even a few years ago, we at least had Universo 2000 standing tall as a top notch charismatic rudo that knows how to work great arena matches. This...to put it nicely, wasn't the best of years for professional wrestling. I was impressed by some undercard workers like Toro Bill Sr., who proved to be a great journeyman and a few others caught my eye as well. But for best rudo, I guess I'll go with the obvious pick of Negro Casas. Casas' has always been a guy who works so much better as a loud expressionistic rudo than as a technico. I wasn't as crazy about his work as others seemed to be, and his rudo shtick seems a bit minor compared to his previous great rudo runs like in 1992. But in a year like this, Casas seems like the right and obvious answer. His tag team title match, some trios and his matches with Mistico (which I enjoyed while still thinking they were ridiculously overrated) still had small moments of Casas' past greatness, and he is still a guy that can sell a technico comeback as good as anyone. Not to mention, his inring charisma and facial expressions are still pretty great.
OJ -- Policeman
Fuck La Peste Negra. You couldn't pay me to watch Negro Casas' crap this year.
I had to think long and hard about this category. To be honest, I don't think there's anyone deserving of this award. The best thing you can say for most rudoes these days are that they're decent foils for the technicos, but did anybody really work rudo this year? I mean really work rudo. Policeman may seem like an absurd choice, but he's a guy with an obvious rudo gimmick who managed to have an entertaining feud with Centella de Oro. It was mostly built around lowblows, but led to one of the better hair matches this year and was one of the only successfully booked things to make it onto TV all year, presumably because the CMLL higher ups don't give a fuck about the Puebla shows. So my vote goes to a guy who bumped and stooged, was ran out of town and came back for more.
RN -- Terribles Cerebros
I mentioned their memorable feud with the Navarro family earlier, but they also ended up being in a bunch of other really good IWRG matches. Black Terry is a great captain, a grizzled journeyman who's done it all, and one of the handful of workers that is Navarro's equal. Dr. Cerebro has stepped it up to become one of the most talented workers in the world, and Cerebro Negro is such a reliable solid smart performer. Another match worth checking out is a Terribles Cerebros vs Pirata Morgan Jr., Hijo Del Pirata Morgan, and Barba Roja from 8/6/09. Both teams felt like real trios teams, and created an excellent match full of matwork, great trios teamwork, and very creative finishes to the segunda and tercera caidas.
OJ -- Terribles Cerebros
These guys were hands down the best trios in Mexico this year. They developed their act so that any of the three guys could be the lead-off guy, but it worked best when Dr. Cerebro started things off on the mat. Cerebro had arguably the best year of his career in 2009; I say arguably because it's not like we're actually in a position to know, but he was oustanding nonetheless. Cerebro's strong form meant that the Terribles Cerebros could keep Terry in the back pocket, which is really where you want a guy like Black Terry to be, to work that last exchange before everyone hits the ring for the finish. It's just a shame that we can't see IWRG's Thursday night tapings anymore, since everyone appears to work individually on this weekend show of theirs. Oddly enough, last year's clear cut winners, Los Officiales, looked remarkably better in individual matches this year.
RN -- IWRG
Although CMLL Puebla also offered some good stuff, I have to give the nod to IWRG. It offered us the most interesting matches of the year, but at the same time, frustrated us since they could have done a much better job at so many other things. They had Freelance and they failed to do anything special with him.
OJ -- IWRG
IWRG offered the best matches this year, so they win this award, but anything good that comes out of this promotion is happening by accident.
RN -- Terribles Cerebros vs. Dinastía Navarro
One of the few feuds in 2009 that provided us with some great matwork AND great brawling. It also helped developed the most improved worker of 2009...
OJ -- Terribles Cerebros vs. Dinastia Navarro
This was a match-up that we got to see four times this year. Each match had its flaws and none of them were the MOTY candidate that they looked like on paper; in fact, the feud reminded me of Los Infernales vs. Los Intocables in that all of the matches were entertaining yet none of them were outstanding. Having said that, Terry vs. Navarro is the best thing in lucha right now. Bringing in Navarro's kids and having Terry's boys rumble with the Navarro family makes it even cooler and gives their on again/off again feud a trios base to work from. IWRG brought this match-up back in October, which we didn't get to see, but hopefully they get bored and run it again next year.
RN -- Trauma II
In 2008, Trauma II was working some nice holds but lacking confidence and exhibiting nervousness. He was struggling quite a bit, although he always exhibited a lot of effort. In 2009, throughout the Terribles Cerebros vs Dinastia Navarro rivalry, he grew in confidence and as a worker. He started showing incredible potential and finally started performing like what one would expect the son of Negro Navarro to perform like. His peak was the aforementioned MOTY and I hope he continues to grow as a worker.
OJ -- Trauma II
Yeah, Trauma II went from being this weedy guy who couldn't throw a strike very well and was frustrating to watch on the mat to a legit top ten guy this year. Most of this happened "off screen" since we were living on scraps, but it was an amazing transformation. The last time I saw him, I couldn't believe how confident he'd become. I kinda wonder how far he can go with that skinny frame of his, and right now he's idling since IWRG never really have anything for anybody to do, but he ought to sweep this in the actual Tapatía Awards.
El Hijo del Santo vs. Felino, Mexican National Middleweight Championship, CMLL 4/5/96
This was a good match. It wasn't a mat classic like the Blue Panther vs. Atlantis Copa Victoria final, but it had a lot in common with how I think lucha should be wrestled these days, i.e., if you're not going to wrestle close to the canvas, you should at least be clever about how you put a match together.
This started off on the mat, but didn't really go anywhere because Felino wasn't able to work from underneath at this point. It was fairly typical matwork in that the guy working underneath reversed the hold into one of his own, but Felino wasn't able to do anything interesting with the limbs he was fed. Santo for his part looked good, and established that the mat wasn't a place where Felino was going to gain an advantage; it was just a little disappointing in the sense that Santo is a guy who I'd like to see wrestle a bit more. Oftentimes, he'll work the spots he's known for and little else. Here, he stayed away from the mat spots he's known for and worked a pretty solid ground game, but Felino couldn't counter effectively and that meant that Santo didn't have to wrestle as much as he could have. In the end, they left the mat altogether.
Usually, I hate it when workers leave the mat to finish a fall, but it made sense here from Felino's perspective as challenger. The only real success he was having was with his throws and thus he was better off on his feet. What I liked about the finish was that they put a little thought into it. Felino bumped to the outside, and scattered when Santo faked a tope. Santo wound up baseball sliding through the ropes to chase Felino, but the feline Casas was quicker than his opponent and caught him with a spinning heel kick as he re-entered the ring. This set-up Felino's crucifix powerbomb, which may seem like an annoying way to finish a fall's worth of matwork, but it was pretty clear that Felino needed to create distance between himself and his opponent, and strike from there. Felino is your atypical modern luchador in the sense that he's really an armdrag type guy. He likes to bump and roll and use the ropes, and it's his gimmick after all that he's the fastest luchador. Modern luchadores need to play to these strengths as well, since it's the only thing they know how to do; the trouble is, it really is the only thing they know how to do, so you don't get the same sort of grounding that Felino had here before he decided to chance his arm by charging at Santo, who we know could've avoided the spin kick and countered it into a pin.
Felino didn't have a clue what he was doing in the second fall and looked like he was making it up as he went along, but again he had success with his throws, which gave Santo something to sell after taking a big back bump from the crucifix bomb. I didn't really mind that Felino looked clueless, because I can buy that the challenger isn't sure what to do next, but it was one of those weak bridging falls where the guy who ate the pinfall in the first caida reverses the tables in no time whatsoever. It was a nice belly-to-belly suplex off the top rope, though. Good impact and the most decisive throw of the match, so it had those things going for it, I suppose. If you're going to throw bombs, at least make them emphatic.
The bridging fall I'm talking about is an important part of lucha singles matches in that it quickly undoes the work that was done in winning the first caida; I just thought the transition was a little weak, though psychology bookworms will note that Santo avoided the spinning heel kick and thus it was part of the tapestry of the match. Deciding the length of the fall is somewhat tricky. These days, the length of each fall is determined by television time, which is unfortunate, because the ability to lengthen or shorten a fall is how you build momentum for the third caida. If the falls are of equal length, then there's a predictablity about the third caida. Some might argue that there's always a predictability about the third caida, but shortened falls put the heat on whoever lost the fall. Nowdays, every fall is short, which is part of the ongoing problem of nothing really mattering anymore.
Santo hit his Tope de Cristo to kick start the third fall (I think I got that right, that flying somersault headbutt to the outside that Santo likes to do); a caida that was filled with the type of inconsistent selling that people hate about lucha. Some people might question why they sell so much after hitting a move or kicking out of a nearfall only to spring to their feet for the next attempt, but the stagger sell on a pinfall cover is better than no pacing at all. It's always an indicator that the end is near and at least that creates some tension for the fans. Besides, Felino was the type of worker who liked to miss moves from the top, like his moonsault to canvas which led to the finish here. So long as both guys are running out of lives, so to speak, you can build a reasonably dramatic fall even if you're not selling that well. Santo took this match with a camel clutch that Felino sort of tried to fight, and while it wasn't a great match, I really felt that rhythm was the key here.
Lucha matches these days don't seem to have rhythm. If you watch a match until it's conclusion and think back on how they got there, there doesn't seem to be many twists and turns along the way. Guys aren't gelling and forcing each other to go in different directions. It's pretty much a catching contest with dives in the first fall, dives in the second fall, and dives in the third fall. You can plug any set of luchadores in there and they'll follow the same pattern. This wasn't one of the better Santo/Felino matches, but it had a hell of a lot more scope than the average match today. Felino came up short for a reason, and how many matches can you say that about these days? Lucha is as arbitrary right now as the amount of unmaskings and hair cuts in IWRG.
Felino was the type of worker that all the young guys want to be, and while I wouldn't call him a particularly great worker, he had much better matches than we're seeing today despite the fact that he looked clueless half the time, and the reason for that is because he could follow the rhythm of a match and time his stuff accordingly. If more workers could do that, then more stuff would be passable. Instead, people have lowered their standards dramatically to be able to enjoy present day CMLL or whatever else they're watching, and funnily enough Felino is a part of that now. Instead of asking where the good Felino matches are these days, it's more a case of where's a match with a minute of good Felino work while he does that stupid La Peste Negra crap. This title match from '96 is the type of match they should be able to put out with ease these days, but they can't. It's dumbfounding to me that so many of the basic skills have been lost in such a short span of time, but I guess you reap what you sow.