Fuerza Guerrera vs. Octagon vs. Huracán Ramírez II, mask vs. mask, CMLL 12/14/90
This was the main event of CMLL's season ending show for 1990. We all know that triangle matches don't make for the best of apuesta matches, especially with a non-brawler like Octagon, but circumstances here were out of the ordinary. CMLL was coming off a record breaking Anniversary Show and business was hot. Arena Mexico was packed, and anticipation rife. Virginia Aguilera once said that the lucha public were barbaric: "we go to the matches because we like to see Christians killing each other." Having whet their appetite on Dandy/Satanico, the crowd were ready for more slaughter.
It took Sevilla literally seconds to prove he was as good as thought, and that it wasn't just Bestia making him look a million bucks. It's rare that a guy working a classic masked luchador gimmick is a good brawler, but Sevilla harkened back to his rudo days at Pavillon Azteca where he used to stomp the shit out of other toy characters.
The hardcores knew La Empressa wasn't giving away Fuerza vs. Octagon so soon, so the booking here was that instead of presenting the obvious wager, Fuerza fought his way to freedom and the final contest was a tecnico vs. tecnico showdown. That meant that Fuerza only wrestled half the match, but what a half of wrestling.
His mask was ripped at the front so you could pretty much tell what he looked like anyway, which would have pleased the ringsiders who paid top dollar. Using the hole in his mask, he got stuck right in there and hacked the shit out of his forehead. The crazy mother was dripping blood everywhere. He got it over himself, Octagon, the ref, and even his second Gran Cochisse. Then came the Fuerza Moment of the Match, which this time wasn't divine comedy but an insane bump off an Octagon arm drag sequence that sent him crowd surfing into the front three rows. There's no way those people left without blood on them.
A word on those arm drags: they were so fucking good. I've lightened up on workers like Super Muneco and Mascara Sagrada and no longer think they're the terrible workers I thought they were when I first started getting tapes, and really I'm starting to care less and less about whether guys are bad workers or not,; but whether you love Octagon or hate him (and I don't think there's anybody who really loves him), you can't tell me those arm drags weren't impressive. It's funny because I was sent this article that Dave Meltzer wrote for his 1990 Yearbook where he talked about how he'd started getting into lucha on Galavison, and how there weren't a lot of what he called "complete" workers. He cited Atlantis as a guy who had great high spots but couldn't work a match. I don't know where he got that idea from, but it fits Octagon to a tee. (Maybe he had his eyes gorged by that shitty Atlantis/Kung Fu feud.) Octagon wasn't a great worker, but he was malleable, and this was, I think, one of his career best bouts with the finishing stretch to the Octagon/Fuerza portion being one of the most legitimately exciting things I've seen in lucha in all my years of watching it. About two or three times, Octagon tried to hook on his La Escalera submission, but Fuerza kept blocking his leg and finally got a counter into a submission of his own. He sort of fell into Cochisse's arms like Shawn Michaels fulfilling his boyhood dream and then gave the most awesome triumphant fist pump. Fuerza Guerrera, your man of the hour. A rudo fan with a cowbell shook his hand, and we should all do the same after that tour de force.
Since they weren't planning to turn Sevilla heel, the actual mask vs. mask part was worked cleanly. They went at each other hard and fast and there were some huge collisions in the centre of the ring. The winning falls came a little easily, but it was very much in keeping with the theatrical style of big time apuesta matches.
With Octagon being one of the biggest stars in the business, and the most popular tecnico in the new television era, they were never going to have him lose, especially not on the season-ending show and not to a guy who was doing a third rate homage/rip-off to/of a classic gimmick; but like any well booked apuesta match there was a reason why the defeated wrestler lost. In this case, Sevilla missed on two topes and the second appeared to separate his shoulder. I'm not sure if it was a legit injury or a work, but he was attended to by two docs after the match and took some time to unmask. When he finally did, he had amazingly long eyelashes, and I couldn't help but wonder if he had a bit of the old Isiah Thomas eye make-up going on.
The best ever triangle apuesta match remains by some distance the Casas vs. Dandy vs. Santo match from 1996, but this was a thoroughly enjoyable match that could have easily been a dud following on the heels of Satanico and Dandy and not delivering on Fuerza vs. Octagon, which was no doubt what everyone wanted to see (except for me, the world's biggest Huracan Sevilla mark.) At the very least, Fuerza's cameo (?) deserved to be talked about more, and you owe it to yourself to watch it if you're a Fuerza fan and you haven't.
La Fiera/Espectro Jr./Kahoz vs. El Brazo/Brazo de Oro/Brazo de Plata, CMLL 12/25/92
So, we've established that washed up Fiera (who really wasn't that old) was better than I ever gave him credit for, especially in scummy lowdown trios matches that reflected the shadiness of his character outside the ring, but here he got to show off his comedic talents. Comedy is an important (often misunderstood) element of lucha libre. No matter how great your brawling is, or how bloody your apuesta matches are, to be a top rudo worker you need to master the art of comic timing. All the world loves a clown, and that goes twice for a bumping, stooging heel. What Porky and Fiera did better than most was to escalate from comic playfulness to fierce rage, playing off that old adage "it's all fun and games until someone gets hurt."
Fiera was all up in Porky's grill during the intros, poking him in the chest. Porky responded with a slap to Fiera's face, and they launched into an exaggerated circling lock-up before Porky got the better of Fiera on a criss-cross exchange. Fiera was incredulous as he backed away, but when Porky beat him to the punch a second time, he decided he was sick and tired of playing games, and blew Porky off, returning to his corner. No sooner had Porky turned his back when Fiera charged him. Porky span round to face him, and Fiera quickly pretended a handshake was all he was interested in. Porky looked at the out stretched hand and slapped Fiera in the chops. It was a brilliant mix of comedy and underlying tensions. Porky had embarrassed Fiera, and Fiera wasn't the sort of guy you should embarrass.
Fiera went right at Porky the next chance he got with shots to the face, but fell victim to one of the Brazos' patented finishing sequences -- a swank two man move that left Fiera wondering whether he was coming or going. Porky was having a great time bumping Fiera off his stomach in the second caida until Fiera grew tried of playing the fool and struck Porky hard. Porky clutched at his head and his lower lip began quivering. Fighting back the tears, he absolutely barreled into Fiera and sent him flying off the apron. Porky was cocky the next time they sparred, but this time there was no fucking about. Espectro held Porky back while Fiera began dishing out the headbutts. Oro made the save with Porky laid out like a Christmas ham, but Fiera was merciless and continued working him over on the outside, throwing aside Rangel and kicking Porky in the gut. The fans called him an asshole, but he just stared them down and posed in their face. Porky struck back with a huge running splash to the corner, which Fiera sold like it had crushed the life out of him, and the usually affable Porky was livid. Twice he tried to use the martinete on Fiera but was talked out of it by his brothers. Oro took over and Fiera's selling of his tilt-a-whirl back breaker was sublime. Part Michael Jackson, part La Parka. Porky claimed the win for his side with a measured splash, and Fiera scampered away like a coward when Porky came after him. The Brazos held Porky back while Fiera goaded and taunted Plata, and they finally got stuck into each other with Porky trying to shoot on Fiera (!) with the one legged take down. Black Magic and an unmasked El Supremo hit the ring for the next match, which Fiera was pulling double duty for, and together they beat the Christmas stuffing out of the Brazos w/ Fiera body slamming the ham.
Nothing ever came out of this -- it was just a bit of fluff on a Christmas Day Arena Coliseo show -- but it would have made for a fun apuesta match if they'd gone all the way with it. The rest of the match was okay. Brazo de Oro zipped about in fine form and worked some decent exchanges with Kahoz, whom he was familiar with from the UWA. The trios that followed was rubbish, but Fiera/Porky was a great stocking filler.
Atlantis/Rayo de Jalisco Jr./El Dandy vs. Satanico/Emilio Charles Jr./Gigante Kamala, CMLL 3/8/91
Remember that epic Kamala/Black Magic feud from '91? Neither do I, but Smiley was busy cutting promos on him decked out in a top hat and cloak like a two bit Mandrake the Magician. He even had a wand and gloves and disappeared in a cloud of smoke. It's funny because you don't usually see guys doing their full gimmick on TV like they would for the magazines. I have no idea what Smiley was on about when he said "we are one of a kind and then again we're not." What, they're both black? I get the "Black" Magic thing and all, but what was with that? They're both gringos? Masters of magic? Pierroth, on the other hand, cut a bad ass promo in a bad ass jacket and signed it off with the best evil laugh in Mexico. My love for Pierroth knows no bounds. I know I've mocked CMLL vignettes in the past, but the short Kamala one was actually pretty decent with Big Jim Harris doing his best National Geographic impersonation.
None of this had much to do with the match in question, but it's best not to question the internal logic of CMLL television when it delivers a trios this good. This was so much fun. It was never going to win Match of the Year honours or anything like that, but as far as the need for fun goes, it was just about perfect. Each of the individual match-ups were great. I hadn't seen Satanico and Dandy go at it for a while, and I realise now why their feud spoiled so much of the lucha to come for folks watching the yearbooks. Their chemistry together was unreal; like capturing lightning in a bottle. That's difficult to replicate if you're looking for a product that delivers more of the same, especially in a promotion as poorly booked as CMLL. They weren't the only ones going off, however. Atlantis and Emilio did their usual routine, we got a throwback to Dandy vs. Charles, and there was even a bit of Emilio/Rayo, which I don't remember seeing before. All of the stuff with Kamala was great; roughly a thousand times better than the Andre match which made the Death Valley Driver set, and this was basically one fun exchange after another in a match of little significance other than to remind people that Kamala was back in town. Kamala had a feud with Mil Mascaras on the Sunday shows that built to a cage match, which was only the third time the gimmick had been used. The TV of course was a mess with Pierroth, and Black Magic, and all sorts of shit that didn't lead anywhere unless you count Gran Davies being splashed by Kamala as the blow off. CMLL was a success despite itself in the television era, and this match was in part entertaining because of how hot the promotion was.
Atlantis/Sangre Chicana/Octagon vs. Blue Panther/El Satanico/Jerry Estrada, CMLL 9/13/91
This is the kind of match where you look at the names and immediately start thinking: "Chicana vs. Satanico? They never settled anything in '89. Satanico vs .Atlantis? Classic rivalry. Panther vs. Atlantis just weeks removed from their classic. Chicana vs. Estrada? Don't think I've seen that before. Shit, even Chicana vs. Panther seems interesting." Then you watch the match and it's an angle to turn Chicana heel. Welcome to the kick in the balls that is lucha. Not only do they waste that sort of match-up on an angle, the two matches that could have come out of it (Chicana vs. Atlantis and Chicana vs. Satanico) never materalised
MS-1/Masakre/Jerry Estrada vs. Ringo Mendoza/Super Astro/Black Magic, CMLL 10/18/91
I have a lot of respect for the way Smiley was able to adapt to Mexico and become comfortable working the style, but it's fair to say it didn't happen over night. He looked tentative in this bout as though he wasn't sure what to do other than to continue stepping forward and cutting off his opponent's offence. Fortunately everyone else was on point, and this was a brisk trios that like Smiley never took a step back. I was really high on MS-1 when I first started buying tapes then I just sort of forgot about him; but he was really good in this, especially the way he worked with a much smaller man in Super Astro. They had some excellent cat and mouse style exchanges where Astro was zipping about trying to elude the grasp of those lengthy MS-1 arms. Masakre was also solid, though not at Fuentes level. Together they reminded me of why I loved the Masakre version of the Infernales, which even today is underrated in comparison to the Morgan runs. I was also really impressed with Estrada in this, who had a stellar (read "clean") night. He pulled out a great bit of comedy when he bumped to the outside and deliberately walked into a fan who was returning to his seat. He sold that beautifully just as he did Super Astro's wild hay maker, which not only cleaned his clock, but left him checking for loose teeth. Ringo was also solid with a variety of high tempo takedowns that run contrary to the opinion people sometimes him slowing these bouts down. The finish was nuts as Super Astro had some kind of death wish on a springboard plancha. He undershot it so bad that Estrada had to lunge forwards for Astro to even clip him. Mental. Just a word on Astro -- he was balls out here. I haven't always put him over as a worker, but his full throttle bumping and leaping about made this a thousand times more memorable than it would have been otherwise. Coupled with the Chino title match, he's doing well in the "what have you done for me lately? stakes, that's for sure.
El Hijo del Santo/Espanto Jr. vs. Blue Panther/Black Man, UWA 3/25/90
This was discovered by Phil Schneider in the middle of a six hour YouTube video. Don't ask me how he does it; he's like a bloodhound when it comes to these things. The match was billed as the first time rivals Santo and Espanto had tagged together, and could have easily been parejas increibles given Panther had taken Black Man's mask in '86. Santo was swarmed by kids to start with and I swear he wasn't that much taller than the older kids. We forget how short our heroes are. I loved the smaller kid rushing into the ring after everyone had left. That was like something out of Little Rascals. All four of these guys were great workers, so the execution here was top notch; but as far as dream matches go, it's hard to imagine a bigger dud. The falls were ridiculously short, and a missed dropkick from Santo was the excuse Espanto had been looking for to turn on his partner and deliver a beat down. It was hard to see how the beat down advanced any sort of storyline as the two had fought in so many apuesta matches already, and if they were going to run an angle you'd think they'd maybe tease it a little and build to it. Just another example of how half-assed lucha can be a lot of the time.
Sangre Chicana/La Fiera/Bestia Salvaje vs. Apolo Dantes/Love Machine/Huracan Sevilla, CMLL 2/7/92
Who takes Apolo Dantes and Love Machine into battle against a rudo lineup like that? I was disappointed with how this turned out for Sevilla, but he was on a hiding to nothing with those sort of partners. The match was one way traffic with the tecnicos not even afforded a comeback. As one sided as it was, there were few rudos better equipped at delivering a beat down than Bestia Salvaje, and Sevilla was not only great at selling but a great target. It's just a pity the match never got out of third gear, particularly with the hair match only a week away. The match with El Hijo del Solitario and Blue Demon Jr had been so hot that you'd think they would have built on it with an even wilder brawl, but this is lucha we're talking about. Bestia vs. Sevilla was a great little feud, but this was the second match in a row that Bestia beat him in straight falls. I only just realised that Sevilla was Darth Vader from Pavilion Azteca fame. He was excellent as Huracan Ramirez II, and a better worker overall than the similarly booked Ciclon Ramirez. Even if he was a stepping stone for Bestia, he needn't have been roadkill. Think of how many times he must have combed his hair to get it to puff out that much!! That's commitment to a cabellera feud. Not giving him a win was a bit rough. While I'm at it, how badly had Chicana fallen from grace? How do you go from being the hottest guy in Mexico to only headlining outside of the Distrito Federal? Did something happen to get him on Paco's shit list? Were his suspensions legit? Was it drugs? It's strange to me that Aguayo was treated like the Godfather of Lucha Libre by CMLL while Chicana rode shot gun with other rudos.
El Satanico/Bestia Salvaje/El Supremo vs. El Dandy/Apolo Dantes/Love Machine, CMLL 8/28/92
Were Dandy and Bestia aware that there were other wrestlers in this match? I'm exaggerating of course, but only slightly. I don't think I've seen a match-up dominate a trios to the extent that Dandy and Bestia did. Usually, wrestlers will "tag in" and do their thing until another pair take over, but Dandy and Bestia spilled over to the outside where they kept brawling even though it was another pair's turn to take over. Twice they left the workers standing about wondering what their cue was supposed to be. The second time, Satanico followed suit and began brawling, but if ever there was a trios that was mano a mano this was it. I don't think either of them worked a single hold with another wrestler. They may have been beaten up by them, but they didn't actively engage anyone else. Not that I'm complaining. Bestia was unreal in 1992. If Casas and Dandy are the consensus one and two workers in CMLL (in some order) then Bestia has a strong case for being number three. There was one exchange in this after Dandy had become bleeding that was off the charts in terms of lucha brawling and later on Bestia busted out a bone crushing suplex. Dandy *kind of* popped up on it, which other workers wouldn't get a pass on, but they were going full tilt for the win and it was easy to forgive when Dandy had all that blood streaming down his face. The real question was what the fuck were they doing booking this a few weeks out from the Anniversary Show? It's no wonder Dandy vs. Satanico didn't go over well when all the focus was on Dandy wanting Bestia's hair. I'm wondering if it was a last minute decision to switch the opponent to Lopez as there really didn't seem to be much build to Dandy/Satanico. Dandy flat out ignored Satanico in this bout. Bestia continued to run rough shot over everyone with straight fall wins, and Dandy was pissed at the end, clutching at his hair and demanding an opportunity to put up a wager. I wonder if they got cold feet over whether Bestia could draw? One thing's for sure, it would have been a better match. Bestia was quietly moved to Love Machine after the Anniversary Show and ended up cooling off for real, which sucks, but for the first eight months of the year he was in beast mode. Just unstoppable one-on-one in trios. They should have ran with Bestia.
Atlantis/El Dandy/Konnan vs. El Brazo/Brazo de Oro/Brazo de Plata, CMLL 12/20/91
I hadn't seen a Brazos match in donkey's years. I'm still not sure people get the Brazos. There's hardly any of their 80s footage available, and they show up really late on the DVDVR set, so it's no surprise that people don't realise what a big act they were in the 80s and 90s; but when they finally show up in CMLL the attitude seems to be that they detract from how great 1990 had been when in fact I can't think of anything more lucha than the Brazo brothers. This isn't a match that argues their case as it's mainly just a half-assed tecnico vs. tecnico contest, but it does feature a lot of Dandy vs. Brazo de Oro exchanges, which should get your antennas twitching if you're a hardcore fan. The early parts of this were worked like an exhibition-y show of respect. The exchanges were fun but worked at half speed compared to truly great trios wrestling. Later on they picked up the pace a bit, but it was late December, the end of the season and four days to the holidays. They didn't even take a swing at knocking it out of the park. Amusingly, Konnan had some solid exchanges in this. Scrolling through the match lists, you'd take one look at those names and think Konnan was the weak link holding them back from a Match of the Year Candidate, but you never can tell with lucha. Let it be known that Super Porky was one of the better Konnan match-ups, Jack.
Bestia Salvaje/Mano Negra/Titan vs. Apolo Dantes/Oro/Lassertron, CMLL 2/5/93
Watch this for Bestia, stay for Titan... I really only checked this out because I wanted to see how Bestia fared being transitioned back into a secondary role after his killer run in '92, but he got stuck working with Lassertron. The main feuds here were Mano Negra and Oro and Titan and Apolo Dantes. Someone at Televisa was obsessed with filming vignettes of luchadores training. This time it was Oro training under blue lights. Not sure what the blue light was for? Ambiance? The menacing presence of Mano Negra? The match proper was a rudo beat down. I'm fairly convinced that Mano Negra wasn't as good masked as he was during his Dave Finlay run. He did a tremendous job wrenching the shit out of Oro's arm, but it would have been better with that mullet and nefarious grin. There was an element of Cota or Arandu to unmasked Negra. They were nutters; the three of them. You get some character stuff with masked Negra, but it's not as compelling. I'll tell you what was compelling, though -- motherfuckin' Titan. He beat the shit out of Dantes in this match and it was riveting. Looking him up afterwards, I should have known he was a Diablo Velazco trained journeyman. Please tell me we have the Titan/Dantes singles match on tape. There's nothing quite like a lucha vet getting the three week rub off a singles program. More often than not, they take their money earning chance and run with it, and you get these fun feuds that nobody ever told you about. I've seen Fiera beat on Dante of late, as well as Satanico, and neither of them did it with the verve of the former Comando Ruso. I hope there's a blue light Titan training video, Televisa!
Los Temerarios (Shu El Guerrero, Black Terry & Jose Luis Feliciano) vs. Los Arqueros, LuchaMania
I couldn't pin a date on this one. In fact, I wasn't really sure where it as being held. The Sindicato Nacional de Luchadores y Referees had its name plastered everywhere, but I'm not sure if that means the event was promoted in association with the wrestler's union or if it was some sort of specially promoted union funcion. At any rate, these teams had a long standing feud that involved both the National Trios Titles and individual apuesta matches. Lasser, who was masked here, had taken Black Terry's hair on 12/17/89. A month later, the Arqueros defeated the Temerarios for the trios titles on 1/21/90, and Shu was able to finally get revenge for the Temerarios by unmasking El Arquero/Robin Hood on 2/4/90. This all led to a big apuesta match between the teams, which may or may not have involved Lasser losing his mask (it's all a bit murky.) How this fits in on the road that apuesta match is anybody's guess, but I'd say it's from 1990 at the earliest and '92 at the latest.
Unfortunately, it's all fairly standard. They get a significant amount of time for a trios bout, but don't produce much. The Temerarios with their matching tights and chainmail outfits could easily be people's favourite trio if we had more footage of them, and Jose Luis Feliciano had this great look that could swing both ways; as a tecnico he looked like the mastermind behind some huge selling classic rock band, whereas as a rudo he looked like he convictions in several states and was months behind on his alimony payments. Of course, you're all going to want to watch Terry with jet black hair, and hardcores will also be interested in the Arqueros, all of whom were great journeymen, but aside from that it was nothing special. I'm racking my brains. but I can't remember a single standout exchange or any really great moments. Terry had an awesome smirk when the Arqueros arrived wearing their tiny little archer outfits, but really all this had going for it was that the workers were cool. If I hadn't told you there was history between the teams, you would have never guessed there was bad blood, and to me that's a fail.
Super Brazo, Leon Chino and Scorpio Jr. vs. El Trio Fantasia, LuchaMania
I personally thought was more fun than the Temerarios/Arqueros bout. The Trio Fantasia gimmick naturally lends itself to a lot of fun and silliness, but they were a polished act. Even Super Muneco, who the lucha snob in me would say sucked, was in his element with these guys and as close to an enforcer as a guy with a clown gimmick gets. There were a lot of fat boy exchanges between Super Brazo and Muneco; and Super Raton, being the worker of his side, was naturally everywhere. Holy shit, was Leon Chino awesome. Imagine Negro Casas if Negro Casas were a Richard Simmons looking dude and you have Leon Chino. I need to see more Leon Chino. Even Scorpio Jr got in on the act giving his best Fuerza Guerrera impression. He was smaller here, and mustn't have touched the needles yet because he was a lot more mobile. There was no jeopardy in this, and nothing to get excited about if you're not a hardcore lucha fan. To be honest, I was surprised that the rudos went over as it didn't seem to fit this sort of exhibition show; but you don't watch this sort of match expecting to see an arc. You watch it because you want to see Super Raton square off with Leon Chino for twenty seconds. That's when you know you're a tragic.
Super Astro vs. Leon Chino, WWA World Middleweight Championship
Leon Chino in a suit! I don't think I need to explain the appeal of luchadores in suits. This was rad. I loved the castigos they put on each other in the primera caida and the fact that Chino's second was a veteran journeyman mini was beyond awesome. Unfortunately, there was a bit of time shaving going on for the television broadcast, and they returned to the studio between falls, which broke up the flow, but Super Astro was still in his prime here so his flippy shit looked swank and Chino did a great job of bumping and selling for it while looking legitimately buggered. The tercera caida was fantastic. Really superb tercera caida wrestling. Astro took a big back body bump to the outside, which Chino followed up on with a reckless senton. He kept pressing home the jeopardy Astro was in with pinfall attempt after pinfall attempt. Astro fought back with a beautiful tope and it was Chino's turn to withstand a barrage of pinfall and submission attempts. Both guys were selling fatigue and going at it hammer and tongs. It was a beautiful tercera caida straight out of the textbook. Chino scored a big plancha and staggered back into the ring with the veteran mini toweling him off. Back in the ring something had to give, and when Astro caught Chino flush with a dropkick that was the opening for a beautiful maestro style pinning maneuver that put Chino away. The crowd leapt to their feet and a kid in a Tinieblas mask repeatedly punched his father in celebration. Wonderful third fall. If you enjoyed Arandu vs. Guerrero Negro on the DVDVR set, you'll enjoy the novelty of this.
Bestia Salvaje/La Fiera/Jerry Estrada vs. Huracan Sevilla/Blue Demon Jr./El Hijo del Solitario, CMLL 1/24/92
Bestia vs. Huracan Sevilla, one of the great underrated feuds of the 90s. There were so many scummy looking wrestlers in this. Check out the parts where Bestia, Sevilla, Fiera and Estrada are all in the ring together; it's amazing. Throw in two "shit kid" sons of lucha legends and you have an awesome "advance the storyline" match. Man alive is Bestia awesome in this. Ultimately, he became such a secondary figure that it's easy to forget how good he could be. He's got to be in the conversation when it comes to top brawlers. I mean Huracan Sevilla went nowhere after this feud, but watching him fight Bestia you'd swear he was Dandy. This was a straight falls victory to the rudos, which again may disappoint punters looking for a complete bout, but sometimes you need to book dominant rudo bouts to remind the paying audience that the villains are serious and mean business. And besides, within those two falls were more memorable details than you find in most three fall bouts. Sevilla's comeback railing on Bestia was amazing. Who knew, or in my case remembered, Sevilla could brawl that well?
Of course, as I always say with story based trios, you need the complementary story threads, and here you got La Fiera working over Blue Demon in a typically sleazy way and some pretty good retaliation from Junior. El Hijo del Solitario, who we know has a brawling pedigree, also won his way into my heart by choking Fiera with his bandanna. That's a level of hatred that's crying out for a super libre revancha. The finishes were amazing as well. Bestia caught Sevilla midway through a body scissors and suplexed the fuck out of him for the first fall, then caught him coming off the ropes and hooked a killer submission for the two-fall victory. Boy was he pumped afterwards. Sevilla was over-enthusiastic appealing for a hair match so the rudos delivered a hellacious beat down to cap one of the better two fall bouts I've seen. Bestia was the man, but I'm loving washed up Fiera. Not only did he start the melee at the end; he body slammed the top of Solitario's head into the apron edge. You don't cry about a hair match when you've had your ass handed to you in straight falls and you don't fuck with Fiera's bandanna.
El Felino/El Supremo II/Titan vs. Ciclon Ramirez/El Pantera/Bronce, CMLL 5/7/93
On paper this reads like a workrate opener, but of course this was during the Ciclon Ramirez/Felino apuesta feud so it was a nasty little affair. El Supremo II (now there's a name you don't hear too often) deserves a ton of credit for getting stuck into everything and giving Pantera a torrid time. Unfortunately, Ramirez and Felino couldn't match the intensity that Supremo brought in the way that Bestia and Sevilla were able to outshine a tremendous Fiera performance, which ought to be a no-no since the bout was all about them. You could argue that Supremo overdid it a bit, but you can't blame the Televisa camera guy for focusing on a guy that active. Even at the end when Felino had unmasked Ramirez and was beating on him, Supremo could be seen in the background leaping in the air and dropping the knee on Pantera. Not a bad little bout -- some nice bumping broke up the monotony of watching guys untie each other's mask strings (hate that shit) -- but I came out of this wanting to see Supremo vs. Pantera and you know that wasn't the intention.
Atlantis/Apolo Dantes/Ultimo Dragon vs. Blue Panther/La Fiera/Kendo Nagasaki, CMLL 5/8/92
This began with a classic primera caida style mat exchange between Panther and Dragon that was a real lucha mat exchange not the Japanese inspired stuff Ultimo did with Casas. Despite his rep, you don't actually get to see Panther work the mat all that often so it's a treat when he does. It had me wondering whether I should recheck their singles match in case I've been too dismissive of it; but given Ultimo's track record in singles matches from this era, I probably haven't. Unfortunately, those few minutes were the highlight of the match as opposed to being the kickstarter to something greater. "Old man" Fiera continued to be good to the extent that I'm wondering why I ever said anything to the contrary, but this wasn't a scummy enough match for him. To get the most out of Fiera, you need a dingy, sleazy sort of a match. This match was led by Panther, whom I've never been convinced by as a rudo. I get why he was a rudo -- he was a great worker and a great base for workers who perhaps weren't so great -- but in terms of having the charisma of the truly great rudos? Forget about it. He teased an exchange with Atlantis in the segunda caida and everyone thought back to their classic match from '91, which I still maintain is the greatest pure lucha libre match of all time, but instead of a reprise of what made that match so great, Panther went into full on stooge mode and ended up bumping in a style that was cross between a press up, a breakdance move and a legitimate sell. It seems to me that Panther's selling was always goofy; it's just that no-one ever called him on it. Panther diehards will probably be more forgiving, but this was an average sort of match where I was expecting a Panther vs. Atlantis alert.
Ultimo Dragon vs. Negro Casas, UWA World Middleweight Championship, CMLL 8/28/92
This was a curious match to say the least. It wasn't bad, but it wasn't all that great either. The build up had been fantastic -- really vintage Casas -- but they made the cardinal mistake of not paying off the set up.
Everyone wanted to see Casas get his ass kicked, and he took a hell of a beating, but for some reason he spent the entire bout working like a sympathetic babyface. That may have worked if they'd been a Mexico vs. Japan vibe to the match, but that wasn't what the build had been about. You were supposed to view Ultimo as a tecnico and not some non-native. He did revert to a fairly standard way of working a juniors bout, including laying around in most of his holds, but that struck me as a fault in the work rather than any sort of story device. Casas spent much of the bout selling a rib injury. His selling was excellent, but the idea that we were supposed to feel sorry for him was foreign to just about every match he'd had in CMLL up to this point, and remember this wasn't a face turn. If the story was meant to be Ultimo humbling Casas somehow, they blew telling that story by not having Casas play up his arrogance in the primera caida. Let's face it, no matter how you try to justify it there's no explaining why Casas suddenly played the baby to such a degree or why the bout was so one-sided. Despite the fact that Casas was able to survive on scraps, all the highlights were of Ultimo offence, whether it was suplexes from the top or his corner post tope.
Weird bout. It was really only held together by Casas' selling and probably deserves a blasting. If it were a worker I don't like, I'm sure i'd be forthcoming with one. Loss mentioned that it may have been a case of a guy having to work someone a few times to figure out how to get a great match out of him, but I'm not sure that's an excuse for Casas doing a 180 on the character he was portraying heading into the match. It's *possible* that he was aiming for a Kandori vs. Hokuto style bout where Hokuto realised she wasn't as shit hot as she thought she was, but that narrative was expertly weaved with Hokuto being over confident to start with. Here Casas was the underdog from the very first blow. It was weird and not very lucha-esque either. It's wrong to ignore it happened, but I'll try to forget about it all the same. It was a bit disappointing actually, because if you'd told me a few months ago that Ultimo Dragon was one of Casas' career rivals, I probably would have scoffed a little. I knew that Loss liked their '93 bout, but I wouldn't have believed they were great rivals until I saw the trios matches. But even considering the '93 bout, I'm not sure they pulled off their singles bouts well enough for me to include Ultimo as a premier rival. The trios exchanges are so good it's almost like there's an unrealised potential in the singles bouts. Partially, it's because Ultimo's probably not as good as he looks in the trios bouts, but there's also a disconnect between what Casas is doing in trios and how he behaves in singles. Instead of glossing over the failures, I hope these Vintage Negro Casas of the Days also put the disappointments under the microscope. It would be easy to wish that Casas were wrestling an Atlantis or Lizmark (not that they were in the same weight classes), or fob it off on the fact that a lot of 1992 CMLL singles matches are on the disappointing side, but the fact remains that Casas fucked this up somehow.
Spilled milk and all that, but I don't want to make it seem like old school Casas was perfect. He was a genius, but he was also fallible and this is another great example. Sure, there's not another wrestler alive who hasn't had a misfire, but because lucha is under valued and under appreciated by most wrestling fans, the bad (or in this case, the disappointing) doesn't tend to be bundled with the good. But for the sake of fairness, and in an effort to rectify that, this could have been so much more. When I think of that great exchange I wrote about the other day and the flip being switched; wrestling's not easy, and structuring a match is no piece of cake, but man, what a blown opportunity.
Negro Casas/Bestia Salvaje/El Felino vs. El Dandy/Ultimo Dragon/Blue Demon Jr., CMLL 7/17/92
There are times when I'm convinced that Casas' first few months in CMLL represent the absolute peak of his career. It's difficult to describe the excitement generated by his arrival. The fans had been used to the independientes coming in and working EMLL shows, but Casas was special. Not only was he at the height of his powers; it was like watching an artist unleashed.
We don't have much of Casas' early work from the 90s, but what we do have is nowhere near as irrepressible as these first few months in CMLL. The booking in UWA after Flores' death was largely stagnant (and perhaps before then too if we had proper records.) It's clear that Maynes, and whoever was booking at the time, weren't paying special attention to the lightweights the way Flores had done. Watching Casas in his early days with CMLL is like watching a guy turn into a big fish right before your very eyes. The fact that he still holds his spot, like a barnacle cling to a rock, makes witnessing that transformation all the more impressive.
This was a quick-fire trios bridging Casas and Dandy with their next two feuds, but man did I love it. I watched it while having beers and listening to the Minutemen's cover of Have You Ever Seen the Rain? so I may have been a bit loaded at the time, but for such a short trios this was a hell of a bout.
There was a huge "Dandy! Dandy!" chant when he was introduced with the crowd still abuzz following his victory over Casas two weeks prior. Casas, as you'd imagine, took it all in his stride, flashing that by now iconic Casas smile. They launched into an opening exchange that while fun was far from the best the pair had produced. Casas was really just testing the waters and backed off when he copped a knee to the face. There was an element of them not wanting to steal any thunder from the newly created match-ups, as well as generally holding back for the kick ass exchanges to come as this was the type of trios match that doesn't slow down.
Demon and Felino worked a decentish exchange punctuated by Demon ducking on Felino's baseball slide to the outside and delivering an uppercut followed by a dropkick, and Ultimo and Bestia pushed the tempo further with a series of fast paced exchanges based around Bestia's big bumping style. Dandy re-entered the ring with a forward roll that startled Casas. He stepped back through the ropes on to the apron and did a Fuerza style slip which the crowd latched onto straight away. After the heckles, he took advantage of Bestia attacking Dandy from behind to dropkick him out of the ring, raised a defiant arm to the crowd, and immediately tagged out.
That set up a second go round between the match-ups which quickly turned into the finish. Felino missed on a moonsault like a guy aiming for the pool and hitting concrete instead. Dandy, meanwhile, challenged Casas to step in and take him, but Casas didn't want to know about it and stepped off the apron for the safety of the crowd. He stood with his arms folded while Dandy complained about how much of a pussy he was. If you're one of those people who complain about how guys charge into the ring in lucha only to be pinned, you'll appreciate Casas not wanting a piece of it.
The switch from Dandy vs. Casas to the new feuds came in the second caida. Dandy wanted to wrestle Casas, probably to give him a receipt for the dropkick to the outside, but Casas refused under the guise that everyone was switching partners. Blue Demon nominated himself for Casas, but Casas ignored him. Back in high school, we had a Vietnamese teacher who couldn't pronounce the word "shirt" properly. Whenever he wanted us to tuck in our shirt, he'd say: "your shit, kid." It became a running gag among students; a way of instantly dismissing another person's merits. Casas ignoring Demon was one of those "you're shit kid" moments. He went over and whacked Ultimo in the head and they had a really fantastic exchange where Ultimo kept battering him with kicks. I've been really impressed by the way Casas sells Ultimo's kicks. My first instincts about the Casas vs. Ultimo match-up, and the idea of Casas working with a guy who works a martial arts style, would be: it won't work; it'll be lame; I'd rather see Casas work a more traditional lucha style against a more traditional lucha opponent. But it works well. Remarkably well, actually. It brought out a different side in Casas: a more serious, intense side. It was like a switch being flipped between the cocky, flamboyant show pony and the kick ass serious wrestler. He couldn't really go toe-to-toe with Ultimo in a stand up contest and wasn't really known as a guy with a lot of shooting ability; what makes the contest so interesting is that he's on the back foot trying to block these kicks and absorb the impact, and he has a really limited striking game that's so scant it even includes hard shoves, but they do these cool exchanges in and out of the ring that look like out of control sparring sessions.
Bestia went after Dandy with hard chops and punches to the face. Their feud was started over significantly less than Ultimo and Casas, but Bestia was uncorking his shit. The ship had already sailed on Bestia being a singles star to the level of either Dandy or Casas, but he had the talent. Dandy vs. Bestia is a feud that needs revisiting and hopefully we'll be able to do that soon. Back in the ring, the editor missed an important foul by Casas on Ultimo, but we saw Ultimo wriggling about on the mat selling it. Casas backed Ultimo into the corner and began kicking the shit out of him while taunting him to get up. If you thought Casas' taunting of Maximo was special, I would offer this as an example of Casas being vicious in his disrespect for another competitor.
The third caida began with the rudos parading about surveying the carnage they'd created. Felino tried really hard to keep up with the others and beat the crap out of Blue Demon Jr., but there were obviously more important storylines going on. Ultimo vs. Casas Rd 2 was just as intense as Rd 1 w/ Ultimo starting to bust out the Japanese suplexes and finally breaking through Casas' meagre defences to knock him to the canvas. You could maybe argue that in terms of sheer fighting ability Ultimo should have been able to wipe the floor with Casas, but let's just enjoy the pro graps. As I said that, he followed up the knock down with an overly long headlock spot, which was kind of lame. Maybe Felino should have come in and broken it up sooner. Demon dropped a big knee on Felino, which was cool. You're not so shit after all, kid! Dandy vs. Bestia Rd 2 also kicked major ass. Dandy was so fed up he belted Bestia with a right hand then dropped the diving headbutt on him. Not content with that, he took a huge swing at Casas on the apron, who sold his jaw like he was crumbling in his hand. Casa gave him a receipt with a kick to the face while he had Bestia in a hold and it was all on from that point. Casas and Dandy traded blows. Ultimo stepped into the ring and resumed kicking the shit out of Casas, but this time Casas shot on him, took that bastard down and dropped the elbow. Folks really need to watch that sequence as it was so effing cool. Demon sent Felino tumbling to the outside with a dropkick then hit a big tope on him that was possibly the coolest thing I've seen Demon do. Dandy and Bestia then got the mano a mano part of the fall and Bestia wrapped Dandy up in the most beautiful looking, complex pinfall maneuver. It was pretty to watch.
Bestia wanted Dandy's belt, Dandy wanted Bestia's hair, the replay showed just how great Demon's tope had been, Casas blew kisses to the crowd like his hands were six gun shooters, and we were out of here.
Kick ass trios.
Anibal/Mano Negra/Gallo Tapado vs. Fuerza Guerrera/Espectro Jr./Espectro de Ultratumba, CMLL 2/8/91
This is the kind of match the Observer would have given a single * to back in the day. Actually, I just checked and it was given * 1/2. Now matter how you feel about the Observer and it's lucha coverage over the years, you're not getting a revisionist *** match out of a * 1/2 rating, just like you can't make a silk purse of a sow's ear; but you can enjoy Fuerza's performance.
Fuerza came to the ring wearing a haori-style kimono jacket he must have gotten on the cheap in Tokyo. He had his boys the Espectros with him, because when you need two good men why not the undead?
During the intros, Fuerza pulled off the hood Gallo wore over his mask and ripped into pieces, scattering the remains among the front row patrons. This was the sort of feud Fuerza was reared on; in fact, Gallo Tapado was one of the men who trained him. It's interesting that in the US a rooster gimmick can dog a guy for the rest of his days whereas in Mexico you can make a 20 year career out of it. There's a difference in philosophies there that I don't think anyone's really tapped into. As a feud, Gallo vs. Fuerza would have been better in a smaller arena somewhere in the provinces or in the smaller city arenas near the markets, as it needed a more dingy atmosphere where Fuerza wouldn't be afraid to go for the jugular and wring the chicken's neck. It was more fun than surreal, though it did feature the classic moment where Fuerza beat Tapado with a live chicken, which has to rate as one of the all-time great Fuerza Guerrera moments.
The early exchanges were really slow. Anibal looked about a thousand years old. It's hard to believe he was ever something in lucha, but he was. I suppose Anibal vs. Espectro de Ultratumba (Gran Cochisse) was "maestros wrestling" before the need for maestros wrestling, but Fuerza and Mano Negra left them in the dust. I'll try not to pick on Anibal too much since his hip was wrecked here and he wouldn't live for too much longer, but the real awkwardness came when either Anibal or Tapado tried to take on two or three rudos at the same time. Normally a real crowd pleaser, neither man had the timing to pull the sequences off and they came across as dud exchanges. Gallo Tapado even tried a Super Astro style sequence where the rudos are mesmerized by his footwork, but that has such a tenuous connection to kayfabe even when performed well that you need perfect timing to make it work and Tapado was struggling to say the least.
Of course, you're only as good as the rudo you're facing in lucha, and Fuerza immediately tried to make things more interesting when he was partnered with Anibal. He fish hooked the mask openings, which more rudos should do, and tried to escape the clutches of Anibal's side headlock by tangling himself in the ropes only to be dragged to and fro. It wasn't great, but Fuerza was trying. All through the match, I got the impression he was working overtime to make something of this bout. Fuerza and Tapado finally squared off in the segunda caida, which led to the funniest moment of the match. Tapado was jukin' and jivin,' and doing his chicken dance, and caught Fuerza flush with an uppercut. Fuerza was laid out on the canvas, and Espectro de Ultratumba came rushing in to raise Fuerza's hand in victory, or maybe to stop the ten count. Either way it was amusing, and the Fuerza Moment of the Match.
After that there was a lot of crappy mask ripping, though Fuerza again impressed me with his kick/punch offence, and Espectro pulled Tapado's mask around so it was back to front which greatly amused me since I'm a simpleton. There was an unflattering close-up of Vicky Aguilera that made her look a bit doddery. Fuerza's mask was so badly ripped you could make out what he looked like and he showed a lot of ass; literally, as his butt really hung out of those leotards. The tecnicos took the tercera and the match ended with more shitty mask ripping before cutting to that cartoonist again, whose work wasn't any better even when he had time to render it.
So, yeah, not a hell of a lot more than * 1/2, but it's easier to watch a match like this these days than it must have been back then when people were collecting tapes. That ties into what I was saying the other day about how easy it is to cherry pick older wrestling. I can watch a match like this on YouTube without worrying about what the company's dishing up. If it's no good, it's just wasted time spent on YouTube and no real skin off my nose. If I were watching it back then, I'd probably be pissed at the direction Pena was taking "la seria y estable" CMLL in, but 25 years later I can pick and choose what to watch, filter it through my tastes, block out the bad stuff and ignore the Pena influence completely if I wish. I'm firmly in the camp that says lucha used to be better, but clicking on YouTube links is a hell of a lot easier than watching things in real time waiting for something good to happen, and in many ways can make an era seem better than it really was. So it doesn't hurt to see some average stuff from the past from time to time to be reminded that not everything was milk and honey in the olden days.
After the match there was an interview segment with Vicky Aguilera. For those of you who don't know, Doña Vicky was a little old lady who attended wrestling shows from 1934 up until a few years before her death in 1997 and had her own front row seat. She showed off her collection of masks, which had to have been the envy of just about every collector in Mexico as she had such gems as a 1964 El Santo mask and the very first El Solitario mask. They also showed some of her awards, such as the one she received from the wrestlers' union for 50 years of unbroken audience, and a clip of the triple dive spot where Misterioso and Masakre left her with a bloody nose. I think they were celebrating her 90th birthday because the Brazos made a big fuss over here, which she loved, and Lizmark presented her with a cake while El Brazo sang to her. She really was a grand old lady; the self-proclaimed "granny of lucha." You can read more about her here -- http://tinyurl.com/psl4yg7
Negro Casas vs. Maximo, CMLL 1/11/15
This was the first pimped lucha of the year. Naturally, I was a bit dubious given I don't exactly love modern day Casas, but it was actually pretty good. For the life of me, I'll never understand what people see in this present phase of Casas' career with the parrot and the dancing and all of the carry on. Not when I've seen how great he was in his prime. But for the first time in a while, I was actually excited to see him wrestle someone who's not a fellow maestro.
Having said that, Jesus did he look old. Perhaps it's more noticeable after delving into his vintage stuff, but the Rush feud seems to have aged him about ten years. It was particularly noticeable at the end when they were issuing cabellera challenges and there were close-ups of his face. Of course he'd just finished a match, and I should look so good now let alone when I'm 55, but he looks like he's shrinking every time I see him. I guess the short hair plays a part, but he's looking leaner and leaner all the time. I hated him mocking Maximo's limp, because if I were Maximo, I'd just mock how fucking old Casas looks, and you know that strikes right where it hurts.
The early attack on Maximo's leg was good, but nowhere close to outstanding. I wouldn't pin that on Casas as everything he did was logical; Maximo simply isn't able to garner a smidgen of the sympathy his father elicited. To be fair, he's not morbidly obese, but he's also not as charismatic and nowhere near as beloved. Casas could have perhaps been more vicious, but the real problem was that you knew the payoff wasn't going to be very good and so it was with a weak segunda caida comeback. Scoring a flash pin off two clotheslines is weak sauce. Fortunately, Maximo sold the leg well and the focus was soon on the doctor patching him up, but I think a submission would have worked better.
Where the match came to life, as it so often does with modern matches, was in the third caida. Casas flying in with the dropkick was easily the best thing to happen to that point, and I love how the doctor kept taping up Maximo's leg regardless of what Casas tried. The spray to the eyes and the tape around the throat were spots from a bygone age, and I appreciate that. There's been a bit of talk in some places about Maximo dropping his selling, but to be honest I couldn't give a shit given how balls out his tope is. That is one hell of a tope and looks like a surefire concussion*. It wasn't as though he was better off for trying it either, as Casas caught him in that awesome looking choke submission. It's too bad he scratched his nose selling the after effects, but hey, even the greats like to fix this tights or pick their trunks out of their crack. Given he was crawling about on all fours, hobbling during the strike exchange, and even pulling at his bandage, it seems Maximo only dropped his selling for his dives and then again for the finish. Not a criminal offence. If fact, if the leg was so important then why wasn't Casas targeting it more apart from one dropkick to the bad leg while trying to take out the good one? The finish was worse as you were meant to believe an arm drag from the top was all it took to put Casas away. Mano a mano finishes are often weaker than apuesta falls, but unless he was winded, the alternative is that he was reeling from Maximo's kiss. Which, given the exoticos Casas has faced before, is not bloody likely. Casas sold it as though he was winded, Maximo hobbled about like people want him to, and the parrot was depressed. If I were a Casas fan, I'd spin the whole thing as his back playing up due to old age.
All told, it was a solid three star mano a mano that got me excited for the hair match. That's bound to disappoint if it's at Arena Mexico, but I will say it was great to see the babies and young couples in the crowd. A nice throwback to the AAA cutaways I loved so much during my early days a fan.
* His plancha is awesome too. Dude has fab looking dives.
Emilio Charles Jr./Pierroth Jr./Javier Llanes vs. El Dandy/Ultimo Dragon/Silver King, CMLL 1/25/94
Javier Llanes was so good in the Dandy feud. If you only watch the title match, you might think he was along for the ride, but watching the build I'd almost suggest he spearheaded the feud. No matter what you think of Dandy post 1990, whether you think he entered into a steady decline or was still an all-time great, there's no denying he was spinning his wheels until this feud happened. Llanes was sporting emerald green for this bout, making him look every bit the Ace of Arena Coliseo that Misawa was at Budokan. A low angle close-up of his nose and teeth exaggerated his ugliness and made him seem like some repulsive figure from a German expressionist film. The fact that he was the least likely guy to enter into this feud with Dandy worked for him and he ran with it. I love the way he'd line Dandy up for the fingers to the throat or a punch to the jaw; and while we didn't see the fabled digit manipulation, Llanes' arm work was every bit as good.
The primera caida was a great rudo fall with Pierroth and Emilio being perfect in their roles as thug henchmen, and a wonderful image of Dandy trying to crawl back to his corner on his elbows. I know I harp on about it a lot, but there were more points of action in that opening fall than in any trios match I saw last year, and I simply don't understand why no-one has the chops to work this way anymore. It's not like sizing guys up and delivering theatrical looking strikes is difficult. It just takes a bit of panache.
One of the reasons why I don't think Dandy was the one fueling this Llanes feud is because his retaliatory work wasn't anywhere near as strong as Llanes' heel work. Admittedly, there was a whole deal with the ref not allowing Dandy to fully retaliate (and Llanes getting heat by hiding behind the ref), but it wasn't vintage Dandy. I've been known to be harsh on Dandy in the past, so your mileage may vary, but I saw the rudos as carrying things in this match. Llanes used what looked to be a roll of coins to bust Dandy open and pinch the bout, so it was definitely a match where the tecnicos were meant to be stymied; but something about Dandy getting riled up and challenging Llanes didn't quite click for me. I think he put too much windmill on his punches. What I did love was Llanes sticking the object in his knee pad then slipping it to Emilio, who shoved it in his trunks and left promptly; the master conspiracy complete.
Brazo de Plata/El Dandy/Vampiro Casanova vs. Mano Negra/Black Magic/Javier Llanes, CMLL 2/6/94
This was the Javier Llanes show if ever there was one. The footage began with Dandy lying prone and Llanes kicking him in the gut while still wearing his robe ala Ric Flair. Vampiro came over to help and was punched in the face, the same way a babyface would vs. the Horsemen. I love it when a guy like Vampiro gets punked.
Llanes finally got the chance to take his robe off and we were away. He worked Dandy over with a series of rights and knife edge chops, making sure to dish out a little treatment to his partners as well. In particular, he harried poor Porky. The inside shots kept coming and the clothesline chops, and he began dropping the elbow onto Dandy. He even went up top for a plancha like he was Misawa going for the frog splash. Again he made Dandy bleed; this time by ramming his head into the hoardings and punching him repeatedly in the face. That'll please some of you out there! It was actually a nastier cut than it looked as Dandy ended up getting blood on his arms and by the end of the match Llanes had Dandy's blood all over his tights and even smeared against his own forehead. Of course when Dandy wanted to fight mano a mano in the ring, Llanes quickly bailed, which had the Coliseo faithful screaming and shouting at him. When they finally did square off, they went for a Casas/Dandy style inside/outside spot, but it looked like Dandy pulled something getting back into the ring. Vampiro chased Llanes around the ring as Llanes scurried about trying to avoid him and finally Dandy uncorked one on Javier's jaw. There was a real Memphis feel to Llanes' shenanigans. They call him "the worm" in Mexico. Whether that's flattering or not, I'm not sure, but he was certainly worm-like in the way he evaded Dandy here. In a neat little touch, Llanes went for the elbow drop again, but missed, and Dandy turned it into a submission.
The tercera caida was either joined late or one of the shortest on record as Llanes pinned Dandy within seconds. When he stood back up, you got a good look at how bloody his tights were. I'm sure it was Dandy's blood on his face, though he may have jigged himself. Watching Negra trash talk Vampiro over his continued uselessness was a treat. In a hurried trios there wasn't much chance to for the others to shine, but Negra had a few golden moments like his jawing contest with a woman at ringside who stood up and danced while her partner roared with laughter, and his ongoing pestering of Porky. The wild eyed grin he gave Porky before they locked up was classic and later on he tried a comical fake out on a tope before hitting a plancha off the apron. They even had a workrate exchange, Porky style, that saw the same woman catcall Negra. This match was all about Llanes lording it over Arena Coliseo with a part Flair/part Tully performance, and a bloodied Dandy on the mic afterwards looking as though someone had smudged red ink all over his face, but Negra's goofiness was awesome.
I thought Dandy was better in this than the first match. Again the story was him only getting a piece of what makes the Nature Boy tick, but by bell's end, he was rightly looking ahead to their singles match, looking to inflict a little payback even if it was a title bout. I'm not a huge fan of title match feuds where the build up is brawling trios, but this is as fun a Coliseo feud as it gets during the lost years.
Emilio Charles Jr. vs. La Fiera, CMLL 4/1/94
I can't believe these former partners squared off. Remember that consoling nudge Fiera gave Emilio during the Misterioso/Fuerza feud? It's almost sad in a way. Fiera had a falling out with Sangre Chicana in '93, which knowing them was over drugs. Fiera either turned clean, found God, or hated Chicana that much he'd rather be on the tecnico side. Why the tecnicos would let him return to their side is one of those things you shouldn't think too hard about if you're a wrestling fan. I suppose in a heavily Catholic country like Mexico, tecnicos accepting stray lambs back into the fold almost has religious connotations if you think about it. The door's always open, I suppose. You wonder how a guy like Emilio felt about watching a brother turn face. Emilio had a couple of runs as a tecnico, but he was basically a lifer as far as rudos go. Is there a sense of betrayal when a guy you rode with turns tecnico like that?
Here's what I do know: this was a decent mano a mano bout with the obvious caveat being that it was a mano a mano bout, meaning they spent most of the time bleeding. The names might get people excited, but honestly I like Fiera better as a shady rudo than I do a baby, and I can't shake the feeling that as God-like as Emilio is in trios, he's not that good at singles matches. Don't expect anything as good as a grainy Sangre Chicana mano a mano bout where you're squinting to make out the blade job; this was a simple piece of build to their hair match and nothing extraordinary.
Mocho Cota/Silver King vs. Negro Casas/El Dandy, CMLL 3/18/94
When Cota was released from prison in '93, he went to work for Pena in AAA, and became embroiled in a feud with Latin Lover that was a hell of a lot better than it sounds. The matches were the typical rhythmless AAA affairs, but the brawling beteen Cota and Lover was fairly engaging and there was even a smattering of colour. A week before their hair match, Cota jumped to CMLL, leaving Latin Lover high and dry. In CMLL, he continued his habit of starting shit wherever he went and royally pissed off Casas during this relevos increíbles match.
Forty years old at the time, Cota was mostly viewed as a joke by hardcore fans. There wasn't the same appreciation for maestros in 1994 that there is twenty years later let alone workers who relied on charisma more than workrate. 1994 was the Age of Workrate and a guy like Cota didn't fit the mould. People weren't familiar with his 80s work the way we are and nobody was clamouring for more. He always had a strange body type, and as he aged his skinny torso and chicken legs became even more outstanding the wilder his afro grew. Watching this match with 2015 eyes, firmly believing that Cota was a Machiavellian genius in the 80s, of course I want 90s Cota to be one of the great revelations; but I find myself leaning towards a more even handed view. He wasn't the decrepit, hopeless foggy he was made out to be at the time, but he wasn't exactly Emilio Charles Jr. either. Either prison took something out of him, or we weren't given the chance to familiarise ourselves with the slow, gradual change that time inflicts, making the contrast between the cool, slick Cota that seconded Sangre Chicana and the older ex-con that feuded with Casas too strong to comprehend. Any way you slice it, good but not great sums up my feelings on mid-90s Cota.
This match was in effect an angle. Dandy looked even weirder than ex-con Cota. Knee high boots and a pair of trunks made it look like he was auditioning for a part in UWF-i. The way the match broke down, Cota had a problem tagging with Silver King while Casas simply had a problem with Cota in general. Spanish speakers may be able to understand why Casas disliked Cota. The rest of us will have to fill in the narrative ourselves, not that it's difficult to surmise why someone might dislike Cota. Dandy and Silver King had this whole Los Cowboys Explode workrate thing going on, but the main thrust of the match was Cota not giving a fuck if this was Casas' CMLL or not. After being dropkicked by all three men in the ring (inadvertently), Cota headed to the back and returned with a pair of plastic knuckles. He gave Dandy a shot to the ribs then hit Silver King flush in the jaw. Casas managed to wrest the knuckles from Cota, but the refs saw him wallop Mocho with them and awarded Cota the bout. Casas snapped and attacked the bloodied Cota further, and the refs weren't spared from his wrath either. It wasn't Casas' finest hour in terms of selling or acting, and to be honest the Cota/Lover brawling was stronger, but this was the beginning of several weeks of Casas switching between the tecnico and rudo sides, sometimes tagging with Cota and sometimes opposing him, in the lead up to a hair match pitting afro vs. greasy curls. I have no idea whether the hair match is any good since I've never heard a single soul speak of it. It's one of the great unknowns of the CMLL Lost Years, and though the build hasn't been classic, how can you not look forward to it as VIntage Negro Casas of the Day continues.
Virus vs. Dragon Lee, CMLL World Super Lightweight Championship, CMLL 12/9/14
Virus' Super Lightweight title reign has been like manna from heaven for lucha fans. For years, Virus was a guy who was only ever showcased in lightning matches. Frustratingly, a great many of those years were right smack dab in the middle of his prime. Even fans who don't see eye to eye wanted him featured in longer singles bouts. That opportunity arose in 2011 when CMLL took an overtimes overlooked and inactive belt and turned it into a showcase for not only Virus but some of the company's best young talent. Since then the maestro has proven to be, without a shadow of a doubt, the best title match worker in CMLL today and probably one of the greatest of all-time. 2014 was the year of the Virus title match with a whopping four of them. And while I think his form was generally better in the first half of the year, I was happy to see him him cranking out the near classics through to December.
The first fall was less intricate than a lot of Virus' primera caida work this year. At first I thought Virus was trying to ground Lee, not only because he comes out all jacked up on Nelly, but because his kicks to the face had given Virus such grief in their lightning match. Watching it again, I noticed Virus trying to start something cool by fighting for the arm but Lee didn't follow his lead. That points to Lee's inexperience, but I could also listen to an argument that Virus should have worked from the top more and made Lee fight harder for his holds. Virus was schooled in that old-school mentality of "if you want the arm, you've got to take the arm." Here he really gave Lee the fall, said you're going over, and took a bit of a backseat to the direction the fall headed in. That led to a poorly coordinated finish that would have looked choreographed even if it had been smooth. The overlap between falls meant that Lee continued his momentum through to the segunda caida where his offence continued to appear haphazard, but a bigger sin was that Virus' transition back onto offence lacked imagination. A baseball slide to the outside and a fake out in the ropes was all it took for the maestro to take over, and even though it's cool that he can spring a flash submission from anywhere, this match up was two from two in average falls.
The third fall was where things began to improve. Virus started the fall with some nasty looking arm work that was easily the most badass thing to happen in the match up to that point. Lee then sprang a tope from nowhere. Ordinarily, I'd hate a spot like that, but here I thought the structure was interesting. Oftentimes in lucha, missed moves carry more weight than moves which actually hit. Everyone at some point or another has made the criticism that the guy hit by the tope was the first to recover. If some grad student were to conduct research into the amount of times the injured party hit the very next move, the tope would probably be viewed as a poor option. In this instance, however, Lee was able to capitalise on it, and it really did function as a momentum shift. Suddenly, Lee's work had a zest to it and he barreled through a series of nearfalls. Another highlight reel dive followed and it was clear Lee was in his element now. Everything he did during the stretch run had a snap to it than the first fall lacked. The trading of german suplexes, and Virus only just managing to get a foot on the ropes during a count, reminded me of the adage I learnt during the Fuerza/Misterioso fight: it doesn't matter how you start so long as you finish strong. Virus took it to another level by countering Lee's sliding baseball kick into a crossface. Lee came back strong with his kick variations -- the front dropkick into the corner, the baseball slide to the face, and the tree of woe into the diving stomp. What cost Lee in the end wasn't that he couldn't go toe to toe with Virus, but that he sent him a letter during the final standoff first by telegraphing his hurricanrana attempt then feeding him the arm when Virus caught his leg. During the first caida, Lee had hit the hurricanrana and managed to out fake Virus in the same exchange where Virus caught his leg, but you don't give a wrestler the class of VIrus a second look at the same exchange. He was also a bit naive by not following up his big sliding kick to Virus' face with a cover (that actually seemed like a legitimate misread by Lee, but the narrative covered for it.) The actual finish wasn't executed as smoothly as Virus would have liked, but as usual he managed a well paced, well sold caida where it was believable that he might lose and his relief at getting the submission was palpable.
In some respects, Virus' title matches got worse as the year progressed, or at least lazier in their build. There was a line of thinking that Lee hung better with Virus than some of this other title match opponents this year, but I don't know that I'd agree with that. He stepped up his execution in the tercera caida and his timing was a lot better, but he's a definitely work in progress. Virus should shoulder the blame for the first two falls being the average CMLL fare, but the final caida was the type of solid lucha you expect from a worker of his calibre. It'll be a sad day when they finally take this belt off him, but I'm curious to see whom they put over him.
Fuerza Guerrera vs. Misterioso, NWA World Welterweight Championship, CMLL 12/8/91
So let's recap: Misterioso was a modern style worker (great build, pretty athletic, not much in the way of wrestling ability) who was given a mask and a back story and pushed to the moon by Antonio Pena. As with other Pena creations, charismatic rudo Fuerza Guerrera was the go-to guy for a star making tilt. Just about everything in the lead up to the title match was good except for the Fuerza vs. Misterioso exchanges, which didn't instill a lot of confidence in their ability to work a traditional title match. It's doubtful that Pena cared as tradition was the domain of Juan Herrera. When it came to title matches, Pena creations "worked round the gimmick," a turn of phrase coined by our very own Gregor. Fuerza was more than obliging. Could he carry Misterioso through a mat exchange? Could he work the mat himself? It didn't really matter so long as it was entertaining. The only tradition Pena cared about was whatever he could use to make Misterioso more marketable, and in that sense he was clever enough to realise that title match victories still counted for something and that the NWA titles still carried some weight.
Misterioso was so ahead of his time even his valet looked like she had implants. Pena was a creative guy whose unused ideas are probably better than half the gimmicks out there today, but the question mark vest plate? Was that the cherry on top? The finishing touch! You've got the brawn, I've got the brains. Let's make lots of...
God bless Rangel for going through his pre-fight instructions. This definitely had a big fight feel even if you knew it was going to be smoke and mirrors. I had my eyes glued on Fuerza during the preamble. Watching him shake out the cobwebs and limber up was awesome, and he even went for a legitimate handshake. As expected they didn't stick to the mat for long. There's two ways of looking at that: one is that it's obviously pretty shitty in a lucha title match, the other is that if you can't really mat wrestle then it's probably better to go the story route. That's what they chose to do with a fired up Misterioso looking to expel his nervous energy and the champ looking to lay down a marker. Unfortunately, there were execution issues and Misterioso's nerves looked very real, but they got the first fall under their belts, the finish looked good on replay, and Misterioso continued his rich vein of form from the trios matches, proving to the crowd (at any rate) that he belonged there and that his falls over Fuerza had been no fluke. It was good booking even if the work itself was less than stellar.
In between falls there was a cartoonist showing sketches he'd drawn, which reminded me of the 1992 Cricket World Cup. That won't mean much to most of you, but it was devastating for me at thye time as New Zealand lost in the semis. Fuerza was depicted as a mosquito, which had something to do with his nickname, El Mosco de la Merced. I've gotta say it was a pretty crappy sketch. Graham Crackers does a lot better work.
Back in the ring, Fuerza gave the crowd a laugh when his second (one of the Espectros) got a little too close with the towel. The second fall was a total beat down. First Misterioso tried beating Fuerza down, then Fuerza beat Misterioso down. Fuerza fouled Misterioso and gave him a little shimmy kick while Rangel wasn't watching. Fouls in title matches; you all know how I feel about that. Fuerza claimed Misterioso did one in the first fall, which he didn't, then feigned innocence on his own indiscretion. It was the same old bull that you get with smoke and mirrors. On nice touch was that Misterioso crawled to the ropes instead of submitting in the scorpion deathlock, which at least signaled he wasn't going to lie down on a foul.
Up until now the match had been flimsy as a two bob watch, but the third fall was where Fuerza took over. He guided Misterioso through a steady stream of missed moves, key transitions and dramatic nearfalls. Some of the spots were more benefiting of an apuesta match than a title bout, but it was beautifully paced and washed away any of the bad taste Fuerza had left with his knee to the nether regions. There wasn't really any Fuerza Moment of the Match aside from maybe the missed senton off the crane pose, but that's a spot he liked to do in most of his singles bouts and not a spontaneous moment of genius. Instead it was his selling that was sublime. The way he'd rest on the ropes after Misterioso came close on a pinfall or submission, panting and trying to gather his thoughts. The basic takedowns and transitions he used to fend Misterioso off while still selling the effects of his tope, and the huge gamble he took on a senton to the outside. This is the stuff Fuerza should be known for -- the sell on Misterioso's tope where he had to be lifted back to the ring by his second, and the kick he gave Misterioso after his own dive to the outside even though he was selling some damage to his hand. We didn't see a lot of this in the trios matches, but deep in the title bout were details not seen by even Casas or Emilio Charles Jr during this era. You have to watch it more than once, for example, to pick up on Fuerza biting Misterioso's finger to break up the camel clutch.
Fuerza thought he'd won it on a single leg Boston, but Rangel waved it off and no amount of complaining to the commissioner (presumably) was going to overrule the referee's decision. Then, in what was a major upset at the time, he got screwed when his leg touched the rope during a backslide reversal and the ref counted three. Not the most emphatic way to crown a new champion, but a heck of a fall once Fuerza went into overdrive. Proof positive that so long as you finish stronger than you started you're all right. It felt like a colossal waste of Fuerza's talents to begin with and ended up as the best showcase possible, and while it may have snubbed tradition it also felt like a win for Pena and another of his creations. It was smoke and mirrors in terms of Misterioso truly being a good enough welterweight to carry the belt and to that effect the pinfall could have been more decisive, but perhaps it was booked that way to placate Guerrera. In any event, a match that will teach me to be less sarcastic, and a great Fuerza performance (eventually.)
Delta, Fuego y Guerrero Maya Jr. vs. Hechicero, Hombre sin Nombre y Virus, CMLL 11/11/14
A good trios match is hard to find these days. I don't know if you can expect anything great from a trios match anymore. They're almost like a dead art form. I'd take something with a little rhythm, but even that's a challenge these days.
This was praised for its matwork, but honestly the Virus/Maya exchanges weren't on the level of Virus' title match work this year. I won't complain about Virus getting extra minutes on the mat, but a little sobriety is needed before dishing out the praise. You could tell it wasn't that great when they signaled for the stalemate and the atmosphere was less than electric. Hechicero and Delta worked harder at breaking through each other's defences and their exchange ended on a more competitive note than Virus'. It wasn't the prettiest of exchanges, but better than the Virus section. Some of that was on Maya, who was disappointing in this despite being given the chance to shine, but it wasn't top drawer Virus either. Hechicero's not in Virus' league as a mat worker, but he uses his height to great effect and this time round I actually saw a lot of similarities between Fiera and him.
Hombre sin Nombre was goofy to say the least. He reminded me of that odd period when Virus was still Damiancito El Guerrero and had just graduated to wrestling normal sized people. Virus was a waif at the time with a similar sort of get-up. He wasn't too bad I guess; Hombre, that is. I've seen worse even in the boom times. Virus injecting himself while Fuego gyrated was a nice touch, but I was perplexed when it didn't signal the finish. I'm so used to synchronized finishes where they all rush in and eat a pin fall or submission that it didn't occur to me the match would continue. A lot of people hate those finishes in lucha; I suppose they've become a comfort to me. The matches lack something in rhythm without them and come across as far less polished. Hechicero took the fall with a nasty looking submission, but it seemed disconnected from the rest of the match. The rudos didn't even set a screen to prevent the tecnicos from interfering. It was as though there was a basic lack of teamwork; the very backbone of trios wrestling.
The second fall began with some sharp looking legwork from Virus that didn't really go anywhere before Maya and Hechicero had a spirited exchange. Mechanically it wasn't that great, but again the purpose and intent were clear, and some of Hechicero's takedowns have a shoot like quality to them that you don't see too often in lucha. In another sign that trios wrestling is dead, they tried mixing things up for the finish with one pin canceling out the other, but it was like trying to light a fire with wet matches.
The tercera began like a weak primera caida, and ironically when they started working together as tandem like I asked for it was an uncoordinated mess. Virus' work with Delta was fluid, but the rest of the exchanges were unspectacular. They front loaded this match with a long primera caida and a flashy finishing sequence in the second fall, and couldn't do anything to top it in the third fall. That's just limp wrestling. At least the mano a mano showdown between Hechicero and Maya had some bite. Of course it wasn't built to in any sort of meaningful way, but at least you came out of the contest thinking that a singles match between the two would be a decent power contest. Hechicero was the best worker in the match by a country mile, but couldn't right the ship structurally.
All of this raises the question of who, or what, killed trios wrestling. On one hand, the workers tried to step outside the box and move away from the generic CMLL style trios work that's plagued Arena Mexico for much of this decade. On the other hand, they stumbled. I've always maintained that you don't need that many cooks to have a great trios match. Just an Atlantis/Lizmark/Solar/Santo type tecnico on one side and at least two great rudos on the other. It would have helped matters considerably if Maya could be that ring general, but he's unfortunately not that talented. That puts the onus on rudos like Hechicero, Virus, Arkangel de la Muerte, and others, to really carry these matches, and I don't think we saw that here. Trim a bit of the fat, put the more spectacular stuff towards the end, make it all about Hechicero vs. Maya, and it would have been much better. The effort wasn't there this year, perhaps synonymous with the downturn in business. When the two most pimped trios matches of the year disappoint that should signal troubling times for lucha fans. Trios are the lifeblood of lucha libre and need to be better than this. Perhaps the lack of great trios wrestling was offset by how much people enjoyed the short one fall matches, but with the old school apuesta match going the way of the dodo, I'd hate to see another tradition lost.
Ultimo Dragon vs. Negro Casas, UWA World Middleweight Title, Los Angeles 7/9/94
This was the house show version of a lucha title match, and a US house show to boot, but it was still a lot of fun. Casas had the Olympic Auditorium in the palm of his hand and it was a great lesson in watching him work a live crowd.
There wasn't much mat work to speak of in the primera caida. It was mostly Ultimo getting the upper hand over Casas with some limb work, leading to a beautiful counter to Negro's kip up where Ultimo span and caught him with the arm drag. Ultimo was never the most interesting guy on the mat, so I didn't have a problem with them using counters to set a competitive tone. It wasn't as though they were Atlantis and Panther and forgoing the mat work. But when Ultimo went for a left/right combo with his kicks, Casas feigned that one had drifted too high, and with the ref distracted, delivered a low blow. That got the desired heat, but it was a sign that this wasn't going to be your regular sanctioned title bout. From there they threw title match structure out the window and allowed Casas' natural charisma to take over. He spent much of the second fall hugging the ref and egging on the crowd. In one of those great lucha moments, there was a guy with his own towel helping fan Ultimo. That must have aided him in his recovery as he soon cut loose with a barrage of kicks. Casas was sent flying into an old-school guard rail and lay sprawled out on the floor. Some punk kid ran and whispered something in his ear while another tried to kick him. Back in the ring, Casas tried faking a low blow, which had whole sections of the crowd waving it off to the referee. The referee was this little guy who milked his interactions with the crowd for all they were worth. It would have been annoying in a proper title match, but again this was a house show version. Ultimo took the segunda with another flurry of offence and this likewise began to resemble a 1994 juniors match.
There was a whole bunch of shtick between Casas and his second during the toweling off period that the camera man didn't really catch and I didn't really get, but I think the crowd were taunting him with the "ole" chant. Noodles would probably know. He knows everything like that. As for the third fall, it was basically Casas trying to survive an onslaught of Ultimo's Japanese offence by taking out his leg in the guardrail, which is not a very "title match" thing to do, is it? Casas tried getting Ultimo to submit in the scorpion deathlock then Ultimo popped up when Negro went to the top, which won't delight too many people. Casas took a neat bump from a dropkick, though, and then Ultimo followed up with a cool looking tope w/ the cameraman zooming in on Casas' selling to make you forget that egregious pop up. Casas does great work out on the floor, it has to be said. I loved the way he crawled along on all fours before getting up. Back in the ring, the nearfalls came thick and fast and even Casas went to the mid-90s juniors well with a type of powerbomb. Really good selling from Casas down the stretch. You bought that he couldn't withstand the moonsault at the end after almost biting it on a few of the moves prior. Ultimo winning got a big pop even though it was a bit of a blah-ish sequence of 1994 juniors moves, but hey it was 1994.
Not really essential, but plenty of fun watching Casas do his thing in front of a receptive crowd.
El Hijo del Santo, Misterioso, Ultimo Dragon vs. Emilio Charles Jr., Fuerza Guerrera, La Fiera, CMLL 11/22/91
This was another match from the Misterioso feud; this one happening the week before the trios match I wrote about last time. The match had tremendous heat but wasn't as fun as the return bout.
Fiera took an inordinately long time folding his bandanna and seemed disinterested in his opening exchange with Misterioso. Emilio tried to get something going with Ultimo, but Asai was still quite green in '91 so the stuff Emilio was bumping for didn't look that good. Then Fuerza didn't want to wrestle Santo, which had a payoff later on but sucked in the meantime. The second go through gave us our first real look at Misterioso working a fast paced trios exchange. Not surprisingly, it was the splitting image of modern lucha. 1991 Misterioso could walk straight off the street and fight in in with the current lot. If anything, he was faster than the present mob. Emilio had another go at making Ultimo look good and they actually got into a pretty good groove sprinting between the ropes. Ultimo did that Peking Opera School move of his where he dives over the top of his man, but Emilio outfoxed him with a lariat. He was so pleased with himself that he was celebrating in the ropes like Cota, which led to the Fuerza Moment of the Match w/ Fuerza coming across and ruffling up his hair. The rest of the Ultimo exchange was pretty good as well. They did this neat spot where Emilio caught Ultimo and put him on top turnbuckle. Then as he was going to hit Ultimo, Asai blocked his punch with a kick and countered with a reverse hurricanrana. Emilio went sprawling to the outside and did one of his stock bumps onto his ass. I also loved the way he sold Ultimo's enziguiri as though he'd been shot. He even saluted when catching the leg, which looked brilliant in slow mo. Santo's diving headbutt also looked killer on the replay, but sadly for us taking one to the noggin was about Fuerza's only contribution to the match at that point.
The segunda caida was a tidy rudo response. It began with more of the dream match-up, Santo vs. Emilio, and progressed to a lesson from the rudos to Ultimo in how you kick the shit out of someone rudo style. Then a couple of fouls when the refs weren't looking (which Emilio claimed were the inner thigh), and enough right hands to need ice afterwards, and you've got yourself a deciding fall. Fuerza was pretty happy with pinning Santo despite the fact he'd still barely wrestled. I'll say one thing for Fuerza, though: he was extremely good at kick/punch brawling. If you're not good at kick/punch brawling it can be extremely meandering, especially in lucha rudo falls, but Fuerza was a master at it. Fiera flog splashed the crap out of Ultimo at the end of the fall. He crushed him like a bug or a lizard. Whatever works for you. Early on in the tercera caida, there was more quality brawling from Emilio and Fuerza, two of the greats. The tecnico comeback was lively and spirited with the rudos eating plenty of postings. Santo finally got his hands on Fuerza and bulldogged him into the mat. Then he whipped him into the corner and Fuerza took a Psicosis style bump into the ring post and out to the floor. That's another thing Fuerza could do well -- take nutty bumps. It's also where being smaller came in handy as he would take such pastings when the tecnicos finally got their hands on him. The match ended with two big dives and a mano a mano section where Misterioso got a submission victory over Guerrera. Fiera avoided Ultimo's tope only to walk straight into a rocket-like plancha from Santo. That looked so fucking cool. The early 90s truly were Santo's peak. Not to be outclassed, Ultimo followed it up with his Asai moonsault on a helpless Emilio.
Bits and pieces of this were good, but as the build-up to Fuerza vs. Misterioso, the actual exchanges between them continued to be underwhelming with Fuerza not really doing enough to push the feud to the forefront of the matches. I'm not sure why he was so big on avoiding Santo here. I guess the switch to Misterioso at the end set up the revancha and title shot. Again a lot of the entertainment was provided by Emilio. Fiera was okay, but not as good as he was in the revancha. Next up is the title match.
Virus vs. Stigma, CMLL World Super Lightweight Championship, CMLL 7/14/14
This was generally regarded as the weakest of Virus' title matches this year, largely because Stigma didn't hold up his end of the bout as well as Virus' other opponents, but it was still a decent title bout.
I especially liked the opening fall. It was great seeing Virus back in his element after the somewhat disappointing Navarro bout. Virus was back in the driver's seat where he belongs and guided Stigma through a high quality primera caida. I liked the way Virus rode Stigma here and the force with which he applied his take downs, especially the arm lock. Like most Virus opponents, Stigma was mostly limited to counters, but Virus did a sterling job selling each hold and it never felt like he was leading Stigma by the nose. Stigma's problem wasn't on the mat, but in the standing exchanges. He had one beautiful arm drag in the opening fall, but another instance where he was all at sea figuring out what to do with a hunched over Virus, who really had to feed Stigma a lot of his counters when they were standing. Stigma's the kind of youngster who likes to add a flip to everything to stand out from the pack, but he really needs to work on his transitions. Fortunately, Virus gave him plenty of examples like the little shoulder tackle that led to the power slam and submission. Neat fall that played out well in Arena Puebla. I don't know if you can have a fall like that in Arena Mexico these days as the workers are cordoned off so much from the crowd. The ring looks like it's surrounded by a moat and the atmosphere's not really conductive to title match wrestling.
The worst part of Stigma's performance came in the second fall. Virus was dominating the fall and it was time for Stigma to make his comeback, but it didn't seem like he had a cool how to transition back onto offence. There was an awkward pause in the corner where it was almost like they were taking a timeout. Even Virus seemed to be thinking "don't you wanna win this fall, kid?" Then when he did make the transition his offence was less than inspiring and the submission he applied was laboured. Tecnicos are meant to have superior technique to rudos or at least do cool shit. Still, Virus sold it like a champ and the match continued. The third fall was an honest attempt at an old school barn burner. It didn't really work because of how nervous Stigma seemed on offence, but once Virus took over he did his damnedest to make it seem like he was going deep in the pocket to pull out the win. There were some nice nearfalls towards the end, and I thought the selling and pacing were good which meant the effort was there even if the execution wasn't. The only real misstep Virus made was not saving his best stuff for late in the stretch run. Unlike his other title matches this year, he didn't take any bumps to the outside or hit any big moves. Stigma had already tossed out his best dive; the one where he takes off from the second rope. I don't know if it's just me, but it looks like a blown spot in real time. It's kind of ugly and pretty at the same time. Without any big artillery, they ran out of things to do, which is surprising in a match laid out by Virus. I liked the way he took it home w/ the heel hook and elbows that set up the finish (more examples of the transitions Stigma lacked), but the match didn't really end on the right beat. Despite all that, it was the best Virus performance so far during this catch up period and an enjoyable attempt at trying to create something memorable amid the millions of hours of regular programming.
Virus vs. Dragon Lee, lightning match, CMLL 9/2/14
This was skippable. I liked the tenacity that Virus showed while they were rolling around on the mat and some of the chippiness later on when neither man had any qualms about kicking the other in the face, but for the most part it was a generic lightning match that was geared towards the finishing stretch. Regrettably, the finishing stretch was unremarkable, and Lee wound up over doing the boot to the face to the point where he seemed to be aping New Japan workers. Not a great Virus performance this one. Wouldn't really bother with it if I were you. Lee brings a lot of energy to his bouts, but I wish he would slow down and stop being so hyperactive. If he picked his spots more, he'd be better to watch. We'll see how good he looks in the title match to cap this year-end review.
Virus vs. Negro Navarro, Arena Olimpico Laguna, 11/15/14
When I first watched this, my initial thoughts were: "Was that even a match? That was some weird minimalist shit I didn't get. Was it some sort of anti-match?" Watching it again, I can see what they were going for, but I still wish it had been more of a match. The reason I like Charlie Lucero bouts so much is that even though there are execution problems he's trying to emulate a 1992 Monterrey title bout. This bout was like a gym sparring session which turned into a masochistic contest where they each took turns trying to make the other submit. I might have dug it if the grappling had been better, but it was that catch and release style matwork that lacks any sort of struggle. I did like the way the match escalated as a one fall contest, and I can see people digging it if they get into the whole "test of strength" vibe it had going, but I would have liked to have seen them wrestle a more traditional bout, or even worked a few more stand-up exchanges even if they were strikes. On one hand, this was just a YouTube clip we were fortunate enough to have recorded. On the other hand, it was a dream match five or six years too late. I would have liked something like those old Terry vs. Navarro clips that were set to Metallica. That would have been epic. Navarro forcing the win was cool; it just needed to be more of a slog. You always wanna feel that the guy who won knew he was in a fight, and I'm not sure this was grueling enough for the level of the guys involved. At no point did I think that any of this was bad ass and that's rare for Navarro. Still there was some nice escalation from the early castigos and their counters to the punch and the "say uncle" finale, even if I'm not sure that Virus was treated as entirely first rate.
Fuerza Guerrera/Emilio Charles Jr./La Fiera vs. El Hijo del Santo/Mascara Sagrada/Misterioso, CMLL 11/29/91
You all like Fuerza right? Everyone likes Fuerza, but not enough is written or said about him. So whenever I have an hour to spare I'm going to write one of these. I read something cool about Fuerza when I was doing some research for the Lucha History Lessons. Apparently he was a big lucha fan growing up, but his family didn't have enough money for him to attend the big arenas in the Federal District, so he would go to the smaller shows instead. There he was exposed to a lot of costumed gimmick workers, who maybe weren't as talented as the guys working in the larger arenas, but who were great entertainers. That experience clearly had an influence on his own wrestling philosophy, and throughout this series I'm going to point that one Fuerza moment in every match that typifies the charm of Mexican lucha libre.
This was trios was part of the build up to a rematch between Guerrera and Misterioso for the NWA World Welterweight Title on 12/8. Misterioso, for the unaware, was a protege of Rey Misterio Sr, who'd knocked around the Tijuana/California area for a number of years before being brought in by Pena on the advice of Konnan. Pena, as you'll know, was always looking for fresh new talent to play the gimmicks he'd dreamt up in the CMLL back office, and this feud with Fuerza was the fabled rocket strap you hear so much about on wrestling forums.
The rudos attacked from the get-go, and I tell you, if there was ever a guy I'd want to take to the ring with me to attack from the get-go it would be Emilio Charles Jr. He was so great as the secondary guy in a classic rudo fall. In the span of a few short minutes, he'd done a number on his own man (Mascara Sagrada), helped Fuerza work over his own man, got the crowd all hyped up, worked beautifully in tandem with the other rudos, and made Santo submit while biting his fingers. Fiera was also good in this fall, really fucking with Santo and the referees, which made me think two things: one, maybe that chain match with Estrada wasn't an anomaly and I just haven't been paying attention to early 90s Fiera, and two, Fuerza was good at choosing rudo partners. A really succinct and efficient rudo fall. It wasn't particularly violent, but everything the rudos did was bound to piss the tecnicos off, and Fiera's frog splash was picture perfect.
There was a great shot between falls of the tecnicos recouping on the outside and Santo raring to go. Fiera had worn his bandanna for the entire first fall, but he pulled it down around his neck during the interval like a bandito. The stage was set for a tecnico comeback attempt and with the bell came a charge of sorts. It was more like a confrontation really as Misterioso was determined to show he wouldn't back down from Guerrera. The rudos tried to double team the young man, but both Emilio and Fiera at Fuerza right hands, and in the ring Santo went to town on Fiera as the son of El Santo has been known to do. Fiera's exaggerated sell of Sagrada's backbreaker was one of the golden moments of the bout as he froze in pain while twisting and contorting himself like Wild E. Coyote. I don't know if it was the quality of the rudos, or if Sagrada was particularly on this day, but he was a perfect clog in this. He did a series of nice drop toeholds on Emilio, which led to the Fuerza Moment of the Match. This one was a double act. Every time Sagrada hit his toehold, Emilio would sell his nose being smacked into the canvas. Finally, he became irate and kicked the bottom rope that Fuerza had been leaning on. Fuerza took the most brilliant spill between the ropes. It even looked in real time like he'd hit his head on the middle rope. It was the kind of spot Psicosis would have been proud of and there was probably a boyish glint in his eye recalling those long ago cards in tiny arenas.
The match dipped a bit as Fuerza began dancing about feigning a foul and ripping Misterioso's mask, which are tactics I'm not particularly fond of, but there were still a lot of great moments in the tercera caida. I loved the camaraderie of the rudos to begin with. Fiera put his arm around Fuerza to reassure him they weren't letting this one get away and gave Emilio the same kind of assurances. The fall began with Emilio vs. Santo, which is an absolute dream match-up. If those two had been booked in a match during this time period and given more than the truncated amount of time that Emilio often got for singles matches then you'd probably be looking at an all time classic. The mask ripping sucked, but interspersed between it all was some tremendous bumping from Emilio and Fiera. Fiera took a glorious posting while Emilio got his legs caught in the bottom ropes and had his head rammed into the hoardings. Later on, Fiera missed his spinning heel kick and sent Emilio flailing to the outside, which set up the tope de cristo sequence that ends with Santo running across the ring, going through the corner and hitting the tope suicida. No matter how many times he's hit that, it's still the best sequence in lucha. This time was kind of cool as he entered from off camera and dove into the darkness. Afterwards there was a clear replay of it, but I dug the spontaneity. (The replay also showed Fiera shuffling into position, which was too bad.) That was pretty much the end of the fun, though, as Misterioso got the big win over Fuerza, whose mask was sprouting tuffs of dark black hair.
Not really a showcase match for Fuerza as his partners did a lot of the heavy lifting, but this is the kind of lucha I love. It wasn't a four star classic or a hidden gem, but the kind of lucha you can sit back and enjoy and trust you're in competent hands. Hopefully, we'll have much more of that and more as the Fuerza hours continue.
Virus is my favourite guy left in lucha and yet I never watch his matches the week they air. That's terrible.
Hopefully, I can catch up by the end of the year.
Virus vs. Cachorro, lightning match, CMLL 10/21/14
This was pretty good. It was nice to watch a lightning match where you weren't reminded of the clock every five seconds. Props to the editor for concentrating on the action. Lightning matches are tricky even for maestros like Virus because they put the worker in two minds: you can either work them like one long primera caida or try to condense a three fall match into 10 minutes. The latter is more dynamic but often quite telegraphed in the way workers move from section to section without the natural break in falls. The first approach is sound, but it's rare that anyone works a primera caida that lasts 7-8 minutes so the workers run out of things to do. Here Virus seemed to take the primera caida approach, extend it out a bit, and loop it. It worked out pretty well despite some sloppiness from both men.
The matwork in an opening caida usually ends in a stalemate or draw, which is basically what happened here. Virus kept going for the arm, and in true maestro fashion was thinking several moves ahead and all the rest of the cliches. Cachorro had no choice but to counter with the leg, which meant they switched positions a lot. There was a lot of movement on the mat although not a lot of fluidity. I wouldn't really call it great matwork as Cachorro's only real contribution was to trip Virus, though in fairness to him, Virus kept blocking his submission attempts and didn't really give him anything. Still, a good five minutes of holds and counter holds is nothing to sneeze at.
In a typical primera caida, they end the stalemate by working some up tempo exchanges that usually end in a pinfall or submission. Here they had a bit more time to fill so Virus actually aborted the first rope exchange and went back to the mat and back to the arm. This led to the only real false note in the match when Cachorro hit a tope. It was a good looking tope and you can justify it in many ways, but to me the tope's not a primera caida move. Younger guys are increasingly doing it at any point in a match, but I was reared on a different sort of lucha where topes came deep in the match. Yes, it was a one fall bout and not a primera caida, but it didn't fit in with the general theme, Virus shouldn't have been dazed enough for Cachorro to even hit it, and it ended up being little more than a transition into a typical first fall finishing stretch where the workers chance their arm on a flash fall. Virus in fact shelved a lot of the bigger stuff that he probably would have done if the workers had been going for broke with a three fall narrative arc. The match ended with a final flourish and Virus came out on top with a flash submission that probably would have looked better if he hadn't lost his balance. Still, the muscle pose while in the Virus Clutch makes for a great statement, and he finally got that persistence with the arm to pay off.
Definitely better than your typical lightning match, but not a match where Cachorro was made to look particular good. He looked better in the En Busca de un Idol, in my opinion. Virus could have done more to make him shine, but Cachorro could also do with taking a page out of his old man's book and mastering the mat before he worries about the mechanics of anything else. If he could become a bit more forceful on the mat in the way that say Trauma II did, he'd show a heap of potential. As for Virus, he's slowing down a bit as he approaches the wrong side of 45, but still a modern day genius. If only he had a running partner to create something special with. That's sort of the catch with Virus these days. He's getting more and more singles opportunities but it's mostly carrying young guys. Still, beggars can't be choosers, and we'll see what the rest of his year brought.
La Fiera vs. El Dandy, hair vs, hair, CMLL 11/27/92
Here we go with the revisit then.
Fiera attacked Dandy on his way to the ring, which comes as no surprise given he'd been doing it to him for weeks. Perhaps Dandy should have been better prepared for it, but I guess they were trying to sell that there was nothing he could do about it. The beginning wasn't as frenzied or as bloodthirsty as it could have been, and in truth some of the trios openings were better, but I liked the image of the big ring announcer scuttling away as he quickly finished his ring intros. Fiera's offence was excellent and he delivered a measured and precise beat down. It was excellent strategy actually. He took his time weakening Dandy, got some nice heat by standing on top of him, and made sure the audience got a good look at him writhing about in pain. I liked the way he wrapped him up for the pinfall as well. Very neat. But that's the thing: it was all a bit too neat and tidy for an apuesta match. Aside from a few of the high shots and the posing on Dandy's back, it could have been a title bout with a bit of an edge to it. Or perhaps a better way of looking at it is that it would have been okay for a mano a mano bout, but an apuesta match you expect to be wilder.
The second fall was more like a classic apuesta match with Dandy bleeding and Fiera gnawing on the cut. It wasn't easy to see the blood on the Lynch copy, but the tone of the fall was classic wager stuff. Fiera did an excellent job of cutting off Dandy's comeback attempt and peppering him with chops that slipped up around the jaw. Probably my favourite spot of the bout was when Fiera threw him to the outside then delivered that vicious kick to the head. I loved the way he crouched in the ring letting Rangel administer the count while Dandy shuffled his way to the ring on his butt. In a typical wager match, Dandy would have caught an opening and fought his way back into the bout, but here he was felled by a big time DDT, and the next one would have been lights out so he had to counter it. A Northern Lights suplex isn't exactly your mama and papa's lucha, but it would have worked better if Rangel hadn't been slow to make the count. The slow counts in lucha never really bother me, but that needed a quick count. I'm not sure it was entirely Rangel's fault as he didn't seem out of position prior to the counter. He was just incredibly slow to react and stopped to check the shoulders. Fiera made it worse by wriggling about too much, which made it seem like he hadn't sustained enough damage to stay down. In any event it was in the books. Fiera may have had a slight gripe about his shoulder being up, but he chose to ignore it and pounce on Dandy instead.
There was a clip at the beginning of the third fall. I'm not sure how much they cut out, but aside from a big lariat that sent they both careening over the top rope, Fiera maintained the upper hand. Watching it a second time in the stop/start manner of writing a review, you've got to appreciate how good Fiera's offence looks. Every thing he does is pinpoint. The shitty little foul in the corner and the finger wag to Rangel are other details I didn't pick up on the first time round. While it didn't have the feel of a classic apuesta match, there were a lot of great touches in this. Fiera delivered a performance that was almost on par with Satanico or Pirata Morgan. There was just something missing from the bout structurally. Dandy's big gambit was a tope suicida that lived up to its name. The match started to shape into a natural 50/50 tercera caida after that with both men struggling and missing dives. Fiera had taken a few knocks and was still trying to shake off the effects of the tope when he countered a Dandy sunset flip attempt. In a beautiful piece of selling, he checked the hand he'd used to counter and leaned into the ropes for a breather. A subtle moment in the context of a hair match, but it showed that Fiera was fading. Don't forget, he'd exerted plenty of energy pummeling Dandy, so while he'd had the momentum for most of the bout, he was feeling the pinch in the third caida. That was a tired and desperate foul on the inverted atomic drop. Was the finish the right call? That's the big question. I think Fiera was definitely fading and Dandy had just countered his power bomb attempt, so it made sense for him to try to steal the victory. Dandy on the other hand was gathering momentum. There's a certain leeway in apuesta matches for tecnicos to fight fire with fire and give rudos a dose of their own medicine, but that type of win isn't very satisfying and not exactly what you'd call payback. Fiera's selling was great throughout the post match as he complained to the ref about Dandy holding the ropes and wanted to continue the fight with a half shaven head, but to me Dandy hardly looked like a gladiator.
Fiera looked great in this match; Dandy not so much. When I first sat down to write this, I considered what my angle would be. Was it a perfectly acceptable three star apuesta match or anticlimactic? A disappointment or something which couldn't be helped? While typing this out, the match struck me as slightly more nuanced than I'd imagined, but the overall flow wasn't that smooth and structurally things seemed out of place. It was an excellent performance from Fiera even if he didn't tear into Dandy, but the finish was all wrong. Dandy should have won cleanly and decisively. The order of the first and second falls could have been swapped around with the blood coming straight away followed by the clear and precise beat down and the third fall built to a bigger Dandy comeback. That would have made for at least a four star bout. Still, it was fun and there was a lot to enjoy about Fiera's performance. Dandy's selling was good without being outstanding and a clearer picture would have made the colour more dramatic. The build up promised more, but I was happy with the revisit. Moral of the story rudos? Don't wear yourself out pummeling an opponent's noggin.
Atlantis/El Dandy/Pierroth Jr. vs. Sangre Chicana/La Fiera/Gran Markus Jr., CMLL 11/20/92
Pierroth's a cowboy! There was another weird CMLL vignette to begin this where Pierroth, dressed in jeans, a leather jacket and cowboy hat, saddled up his seed and rode through some mountain country. He looked a bit like the Marlboro Man, but I think his horse riding skills were meant to seem more impressive than they did. The vignette ended with Pierroth laying his horse down on its side and standing on top of it to pose. Not sure the horse enjoyed that.
But enough about that. I'm sure the only "horse" Fiera cared about was either horse-powered or horse tranquilizer. This was the go home show before the hair match and Fiera had carnage on his mind. The beginnings to these matches are straight out of Monterrey. There was another one uploaded where Fiera choked the shit out of Dandy with his chain, but after a sleazy start the match got progressively worse and I decided not to review it. This time Fiera held nothing back and Dandy bled like a martyr. Fiera channeled his inner Pirata Morgan by biting Dandy's forehead and feeding on the cut. Unfortunately, the backdrop to this was a bit too workmanlike with Chicana and Gran Markus Jr. not really being as frenzied as I would have liked, but the image of Fiera holding Dandy by that plentiful hair and posing while Dandy bled and bled is the kind of lucha sleaze you don't see much of anymore.
The second caida began with Pierroth being stalked on the outside by both Chicana and Fiera, and I kind of wondered how the horse vignette was meant to tie into all this. The camera cut without warning to Gran Markus Jr working Atlantis over, and he did this really cool spot where he picked Atlantis up by the tights and the back of his mask and threw him into the ground just like throwing out the garbage. That's the way all technicos should be dealt with. Markus was really warming to his task with a vicious looking uppercut to the jaw, a posting for Atlantis, and a knee to the back for good measure. Meanwhile, Dandy had his hands cupped together and was collecting the blood. That's gross, but you've got to love Chicana pointing and laughing at Dandy as he stumbled past all the while with a big boot across Pierroth's throat. The technicos were really taking a beating at this point. Atlantis was desperately trying to pull Dandy away, but Fiera chopped him out of the way and sent Dandy hurling into some chairs. And Chicana laid the boot into Pierroth. Now there's a match-up I would've liked to have seen, Pierroth vs. Chicana. Ah lucha, where the best match-ups never happen.
The table was set for a really good technico comeback here with Dandy stumbling about from blood loss and Pierroth and Atlantis trying to shoo the doctor away. Even with the beloved grainy footage you could see Dandy was a crimson smudge. Fiera pulled Dandy into the ring by the hair while he was still trying to walk it off, and while the rudos held Dandy, he spat in Fiera's eye. Chicana punched him in the side and Markus pulled his head back by the hair while Fiera wiped the blood and spit from his face. Dandy buckled down onto both knees and the Stations of the Cross type allusions were pretty obvious here. Or maybe I've been listening to too much metal lately. Atlantis and Pierroth tried to orchestrate the comeback with Atlantis hitting the most gorgeous looking dropkick, but Fiera swiped away a second attempt and nailed Atlantis with his spinning high kick and dropped to the outside where he headbutted Dandy. That summed the match up really as Fiera was just relentless in trying to beat the shit out of his adversary. Finally the ring cleared of the other four, and Dandy got his one-on-one showdown with Fiera. He'd lost too much blood though, and Fiera easily cut off his attacks. He then gave Dandy a kick in the balls, feigned that Dandy had done the same to him and got the technico side disqualified.
As far as low blow finishes go, Fiera not giving a fuck was pretty cool. He'd proven his point by beating the shit out of Dandy and cheating to win just rubbed more salt into the wound. The stage was set for the hair match and Dandy had plenty of it to lose. Stayed tuned for next time when we bring you the exciting conclusion to Dandy v Fiera...
El Dandy/Pierroth Jr./Ultimo Dragon vs. Negro Casas/La Fiera/El Supremo, CMLL 10/30/92
Hot damn this was good. The Fiera/Dandy feud is much better than I realised. This was an outstanding trios with an early 80s feel to it. Fiera had a great scummy look to him with his jacket and chain and cheap pair of dark sunglasses. I've always thought Sangre Chicana was the scummiest of the early 90s luchadores, but Fiera looked like he was not only snorting something around this time period but pushing it in the locker room. He was the Man in this. Not only did he methodically and systematically take apart Dandy's shoulder, he was throwing right hands like an absolute chief. No-one had respect for anyone in this bout. It wasn't just Fiera vs. Dandy, everyone kept getting up in each other's grill. The great thing about it was that instead of the meandering rudo bout it could have been there was a continuous flow of guys intervening and working awesome brawl exchanges. You'd have these sequences like the one where Casas and Pierroth were fighting in the ropes and Ultimo jumped on top of Casas and spilled to the outside where he was immediately attacked by Fiera. Later on, Supremo, who was surprisingly great in this, was pummeling Pierroth into submission when Ultimo jumped in and began wasting Supremo with knee strikes. All of the cut offs and double teaming were awesome in this. Pierroth and Casas had this fantastic rivalry going on where Pierroth would chop him right in the nose. The stuff they did together was so great that this could have easily made Vintage Negro Casas of the Day. Casas vs. Pierroth is now a dream match for me after seeing this. Ultimo vs. Supremo was also brilliant for what was the third string match-up and you also had moments of Casas vs. Dandy peppered throughout, including a nasty looking posting Casas gave Dandy on the outside. If that wasn't enough, there was even some Pierroth/Fiera interactions as pretty much everyone took turns working each other here. The finish seemed confusing and weak at first, but on replay it was amusing as everyone bar Casas was scattered on the outside and Casas did a wickedly funny impersonation of Roberto Rangel counting everyone out. Pierroth had a lot to say afterwards and just seeing Dandy in shot with him afterwards has got me pumped for the continuation of this feud. This was quality.
Negro Casas/El Felino/Javier Cruz vs. Atlantis/Ultimo Dragon/Ciclon Ramirez, CMLL 6/25/93
This began with Javier Cruz pacing back and forth in the ring cutting a promo in front of an empty arena. He was wearing a black (leather?) trench coat and doing what I took to be his best Bobby De Niro impersonation. At one point a valet appeared and gave him the thumbs up, then she disappeared again... was she real or just a figment of his imagination? It's like Twin Peaks.
On paper this should have been a good trios match. We all know how hot trios matches can be in the lead up to a singles match, and this had all the ingredients. You had Cruz as the next challenger for Ultimo's middleweight crown, Felino and Ramirez building towards their mask vs. mask match, and simmering tensions between the Casas brothers. The rudo side wasn't that great, but the technico side was flashy, and everyone involved was at minimum a pretty good worker. The trouble was they couldn't decide whether it was a match about Cruz vs. Ultimo, Felino vs. Ramirez, or the Casas brothers squabbling.
The secret to these lead in trios is that you have one match-up that's the central story line and then another match-up or two that serve as subplots, and as with a good screenplay those subplots either contrast or complement the central theme. Since they aired the Cruz vignette beforehand, ideally his title shot should have provided the main thrust to the bout, especially given they were a week out from it. Instead, the Cruz/Dragon issue was swallowed up by the Casas brothers' antics. The reason for this was two-fold: firstly, Cruz was such a passive personality that he was hardly going to stop the Casas brothers from overshadowing him, and secondly, apuesta matches tend to provide more interesting builds than a run-of-the-mill title match. In the case of the former, Casas was such an alpha male that he brought what should have been a third string story thread too far to the fore. In the case of the latter, if the focus was meant to be on Cruz vs. Dragon, they should have worked an up tempo workrate bout and saved the mask ripping and other apuesta motifs for a different bout.
From memory there were a couple of neat moments in this, but sticking to my wider point about the narrative structure, there were two common lucha tropes on display here. The first was mask ripping and the second was infighting among rudos. I hate both of them. I really do. After hundreds upon hundreds of lucha matches and years watching the stuff, I detest those spots. They have to be done absolutely brilliantly to sway me otherwise they're just egregious time wasting. They're not done well here and in the case of the infighting, the bout literally stopped to accommodate it. I mentioned to new lucha scribe Matt D the other day that I don't think lucha does 'story' well. Obviously, it would make a difference if I could understand Spanish. That way I wouldn't be struggling to make heads or tails of the Casas vs. Felino soap opera or mysterious valets. But the language barrier doesn't explain away everything. You learn pretty quickly that lucha isn't episodic TV in the way that say Portland was. If you get a singles match with three weeks of good trios you're happy as Larry, but when it comes to angles, especially face turns, the promoters are about as committal as the apuesta challenges thrown out after every brawl. The mask ripping here was uninspired, though it did lead to some comical moments where Casas was tying Felino's mask back together. The squabbling between them was a distraction, to be honest. If it were American wrestling, you'd expect them to turn on each other and build to a hair vs. mask match. And while I don't expect what I'm watching to be Americanised, I don't think we should excuse or overlook bad booking because the wrestling's foreign.
Lucha would be much better if there weren't so many loose threads. The booking at times is the epitome of throwing shit against the wall. Watching 1993 CMLL there are so many ways it could have been better. Too many ways, really. You don't feel like you're in safe hands. And it doesn't make sense from a business point of view. Surely, if they'd pulled the trigger on Casas turning face it would have done business. Perhaps those are the frustrations Pena had with Herrera and his faction. In any event, this failed to get me excited for either Cruz/Dragon or Felino/Ramirez, and made me wary of any other 1993 match involving both Negro Casas and Felino. So that's not vintage.
Negro Casas vs. Ultimo Dragon, UWA World Middleweight Championship, CMLL 3/26/93
This managed to both thrill and confuse me.
The first fall was worked using the international currency for juniors matwork. Usually it would bother me that the matwork wasn't 'lucha enough,' but in this case it was being presented as an international title fight so it made sense for the work to be more universal. Ultimo wasn't that great at working holds from the top, but Casas provided enough movement to keep it interesting. I thought they missed a trick by not doing more stand-up as the match began with Ultimo breaking through Casas' defences and giving him two open handed strikes. It was a psychological game Ultimo was playing after Casas had pushed around his second, but if Ultimo had a clear advantage anywhere it was with his stand-up game, and I would have liked to have seen him challenge Casas there. On the mat, they could have done with a bit more intensity after the aggression that Ultimo started with, but it wasn't a bad fall. When they worked the ropes it was pretty as Ultimo was the most acrobatic worker in Mexico at the time. Casas copped a shiner either around the eye or on his cheekbone (it was hard to make out from the footage), and Ultimo finished him off with a lariat to the face that would be a head high tackle in rugby.
The second fall I thought as begging for a quick response from Casas no matter how much I complained about that trope with the Villano matches. I thought the crowd were ripe for it, and the circumstances of the first fall coupled with the foul Casas decided to give the Dragon would have worked better as a narrative if Casas had taken a quick fall. Instead they worked quite a long second fall where Casas tried to methodically win the fall and Ultimo kept frustrating Negro by reaching the ropes. That frustration and a sense of fatigue creeping in are the only explanations I can think of for why Casas fouled Ultimo in the break between rounds. A lot of people in the Yearbook thread loved that moment and I can understand it being the type of thing people get excited for (lucha libre extraordinaria and all that), but to me it made no sense. If Casas had lost the second fall I could understand it as an act of cowardice/desperation. If he'd won the second fall in dominant fashion, I could understand it as going in for the kill or even rubbing Ultimo's face in it. I could even buy it as retaliation for the shiner. But the way they did it felt like cheap heat. The match already had a lot of heat and the crowd seemed to be behind Ultimo even though he wasn't a native. The rules of a title match are such that you just don't do that. You don't break those traditions. Casas would laugh in the face of all that as he was the type of rudo who loved to do outrageous things, but he wanted to show how worried he was about the fight he should have taken the first and dropped the second with all the momentum in the Dragon's corner heading into the third.
My comments seemed justified by how dull Casas' continued submissions efforts seemed in opening the third caida. It wasn't until they dropped the holds completely and went to a series of Cassa bumps to the outside that things picked up again. Ultimo hit a tope between the ropes that could have been used in every highlights package for weeks and months to come, and later hit a beautiful pin point dropkick to knock Casas off the apron and set-up his quebrada. If you want to make a fair argument for Ultimo, he was a fantastic athlete. He wasn't a detail guy and didn't add all sorts of great little psychological touches, but man could he run, jump and move. In some people's eyes that may make him a slightly superior version of Octagon or Mascara Sagrada, but lucha needs these types to have the proper rudo vs. technico morality plays it thrives on. Let the rudos be the great performers. Casas was running on empty late in the third caida. His cheek was swelling up and he sold every move as though it was using up the last of his energy. He did this interesting spot where he climbed to the top and either slipped or collapsed and fell to the mat. Moments before he'd put his knees up on an Ultimo dive, and I guess the majority of workers would have fed their opponent the same transition or gotten them to pop up, but not Casas. It was an interesting spot. I'm not sure it really worked, but it was an insight into the thinking process and what he was trying to achieve by selling so much fatigue. Ultimo got the best nearfall of the match off a power bomb, but the age old complaint of slow ref counts was never truer than on the kick out here. Casas ended up countering with a mirroring power bomb of his own, which I didn't really love, the finish was excellent. Ultimo overwhelmed Casas with kicks, which you'll note I said he should have done from the start, and Casas couldn't block Ultimo's tiger suplex.
The crowd popped big for Ultimo's title victory and he received a continuous ovation. There was a cool moment where he stood on the ropes and posed for his new adoring public. Casas was bitterly disappointed afterwards, but begrudgingly shook hands with the victor. If it isn't obvious by now, I didn't love this bout, but I did think it was a bout that a lot of new fans to lucha might appreciate as there was an effort to work an epic sort of title switch where the champion tried to chart his downfall through a growing sense of frustration and fatigue, and even a sense that he couldn't really live with his opponent's martial arts skills. Casas sold well and there was that epic feel to the match that you don't always get from lucha (and was certainly missing from Ultimo's title defence against Emilio.) It may not seem quite as epic to fans of other styles where large scale bouts are par for the course, but Casas was certainly trying here. The 'I don't know how to put this guy away' narrative didn't quite work for me, but I can see it working for others as it's really just a personal thing in regards to whether it gels with you. The biggest plus I can say is that it was interesting, which is good because there's nothing worse than being boring. Casas wasn't as individually brilliant as I expect from him, and I actually wondered at times if he wasn't in the best of conditions. Maybe that was just brilliant selling and I have no idea how good his performance really was, but he was busy taking a blow at times when there weren't a lot of eyes on him. He did have amazingly cool wrestling shoes. They looked like track shoes rather than wrestling boots. He should have sold them and made a mil.
The match is a must-watch since it's one of the biggest title matches from Casas' 90s runs, so you should watch it and see how much your feelings differ from mine. It received unanimously positive feedback on the Yearbook thread from people who aren't quite as finicky about what they want from their lucha, or don't have quite as many quirks as yours truly, so queue it up and see how you feel.
Ultimo Dragon vs. Emilio Charles Jr, UWA World Middleweight Championship, CMLL 4/27/93
People shit on Ultimo a lot these days, but you won't find me badmouthing him. This won't make you forget 90s classics like Dandy vs. Azteca or Blue Panther vs. Atlantis, but it was on the same level as Emilio's matches with Azteca and a step down from his work with Atlantis, which is pretty good for a non-luchador. Had it been a classic it would have been a point in both men's favour, but as much as I love him, Emilio didn't exactly roll out the classics. Besides, great matches were thin on the ground in 1993 CMLL so you take what you can get.
What we got here was the definition of a three star title match. Everything they did was good, but none of it was great. Emilio didn't take enough of the match, particularly on the mat, so it felt a bit lightweight at times. He wasn't able to put his imprint on the match through any of his characteristic work, and couldn't hang with Ultimo's Japanese offence, which also made it a bit one-sided. But the real problem was the length. At 15 minutes or less, it didn't have time to develop. On the positive side, Ultimo was again phenomenal between the ropes, and the transitions were smarter than you generally get in lucha matches. I really liked the knee lift Emilio used to lay Ultimo low in the opening fall, and Ultimo was very good offensively even if it wasn't exactly lucha friendly offence or laid out for full dramatic effect.
Jerry Estrada vs. Stuka, hair vs. hair, AAA 10/31/94
These guys did a good job of straddling the line between an up tempo AAA style match and a traditional cabelleras match. There was just enough blood, just enough brawling and just enough highspots to keep everyone happy. An example of this would be Jerry Estrada's slingshot somersault senton onto a blood stained Stuka. Estrada got by far the worst of it and ended up landing on the guardrail. He crawled under the flimsy barricade AAA had and the two continued brawling on the floor. Another thing they did well was put over the physical toll the match was taking, so even though they did a lot more dives and arm drag exchanges than you'd usually expect from an apuesta match, they were clearly exerting a bunch of energy and the desire to win was strong. The match wasn't without its flaws. Stuka looked like he was working in slow motion at times and some of his transitions were poorly timed, but his bladejob was beautiful and you'd have to go a long way to find prettier planchas.
Everybody knows how I feel about Jerry Estrada, but I thought this was a standout performance from him. It felt like he transplanted one of his Monterrey performances to an AAA ring, though to be fair, Moncolva (where they were wrestling) has had its share of bloody apuesta matches. Estrada was particularly good in the third caida where he carried a lot of the action. I loved his retaliatory abdominal stretch where he applied the fish hook. That was an awesome throwback to old school hair matches. The finish was screwy (a common theme with 1994 AAA), but it actually worked here, and Estrada delivered a nasty piledriver to put the exclamation mark on this puppy. I'm not sure that I'd call it an AAA classic, but for bloody wager matches it's up there with Satanico vs. Morgan and Rambo vs. Villano from the same era and certainly a match you should watch.
El Hijo del Santo, Angel Azteca y Super Muneco vs. Satanico, Psicosis y La Parka, AAA 5/30/94
Matt D recommended this to me and holy shit is the technico offence off the chain. It may legitimately be the best technico offence I've seen, and a match I'll recommend from now on if you want to see great technico work.
It started with a ferocious lock-up between Satanico and Angel Azteca that was like two wildebeest locking horns. It's well documented in these pages that Satanico was in decline around this time, but this was a vintage opening exchange from him. His defence and counter wrestling were brilliant, and I have no doubt on a different night when the exchange went for longer he could have pried open Azteca's defences and got the opening submission. Psicosis and La Parka let the crowd get to them in amusing fashion and Satanico being the brains and the nucleus gathered them together on the outside to regather their thoughts. Santo then launched into his headscissors routine, which ended up with La Parka crashing hard into the barricade. Super Muenco hit the ring and did his wobbly head shake taunt, and Psicosis' reaction was priceless. He bailed from the ring and mocked what he'd just seen with this classic "what the fuck was that head shaking shit?" indignation. He dove back into the ring with his tail up and of course got his ass handed to him. The great thing about it was that as Super Muneco was doing his Super Astro style celebration at clearing Psicosis from the ring, Parka tried to attack him and Muneco danced in his face. Parka was incensed and took it out on the bottom rope. The effortless interweaving of comedy into the fall was brilliant.
Satanico and Azteca went around the horn a second time and cut loose with the armdrag exchanges, and it was fucking great. Hardcore lucha fans will hear me, you know you're into something when you pause to see whether there was a singles match or who Satanico fought for his hair in '94. He was growing it out in anticipation of fighting someone, but it looks like no-one booked him in a hair match until '95. Man was he good in this. You all know he's my favourite luchador and the guy who I think is the best luchador of the past 35 years, but this was a 1990 throwback and pretty special.
The technicos then bamboozled the rudos with a tricky and intricate pinning sequence, and as Pepe Casas held their hands aloft it was a beautiful thing. The rudos licked their wounds on the outside and La Parka got into it with a fan. He threatened to climb over the barricade and continue the conversation, but Psicosis held him back. Psicosis then got pissed at the same fan while Parka puffed out his chest. Both guys were in fine form here. Super Muneco tried to the same wobbly head fake shit on Satanico and he just stepped back and popped the clown. Then a couple of exchanges later, Satanico showed some ass. I usually dislike Super Muneco but this was wildly entertaining. Azteca and Psicosis worked at a rapid pace, but Santo and La Parka was just mental. Maybe one of the all-time best El Hijo del Santo trios exchanges, and a lot of credit should go to La Parka for his crazy bumps into the ropes. The rudos wisely slowed things down from there by picking on the weak link Super Muneco. Satanico was the ring general here and orchestrated the rudos' second fall victory. They did a clever job of double teaming the danger man Santo and systematically took apart Azteca.
Unfortunately, the third caida had some boring mask ripping and descended into the mediocrity so common with AAA trios, but there were still some golden moments. Satanico continued to brawl like a mofo and had a great punch exchange with Super Muneco and Psicosis took an awesome ring post bump on the outside. Azteca and La Parka ended up swapping masks, which I'm guessing was some idea of Pena's that he was overly fond of. The finish was kind of dumb after such a hot match as the rudos got DQ'ed for a miscommunication spot, but it did leave us with the fun image of the rudos trying to pick a fight with El Tirantes as the El Hijo del Santo's music played. Bad finish aside, I went back and watched the first two falls as soon as it was over, so that should tell you how good the majority of the bout was.