Time to check in on the minis...
Bam Bam vs. Pequeño Damian 666, CMLL World Minis Championship, 7/27/08
Bam Bam vs. Pequeño Damian 666, hair vs. hair, 8/17/08
Y'know, I like Pequeño Damian. He might be a modern sort of rudo, but he looks like the bastard love child of Damián 666, so he's alright.
And he argued with his second in a title match, something I've never seen before. Loco Max was urging him not to take risks, but Damian got sick of Loco opening his trap and kicked him out of the road. And whaddaya know? Loco had a point. The look on Max's face was priceless, like something out of a Cantinflas film. A moment of folly, but you make your bed and lie in it.
What I liked was the different approach in the hair match. Bam Bam jumped him early, but he managed a pin against the run of play. In the title match he was guilty of wrestling Bam Bam's "catch-as-catch-can" style. There were some fluid exchanges in the beginning, but either they were legit fucked or couldn't keep up the pace, 'cos neither guy had much in the tank at the business end. Here he was up a fall and had the kind of advantage that would thrill Jesse Ventura. Of course Bam Bam made a comeback, but he had to work for it. Damian had him right where he wanted him, he just had to make sure the greasy little fucker didn't slip his way out of a haircut.
So how do you finish a guy like Bam Bam? Well, what you do is a sunset flip powerbomb off the apron and onto the ramp. Hello.
Now folks I'm not a mark for big time moves, but that was a big time move. Not only did he get a head of steam up, but he jumped at the end. And just to prove he wasn't gonna choke again, he put Bam Bam over his shoulder and threw the fucker back in the ring. And in case Loco Max had a problem with that, he dropped Bam Bam on his head with a double underhook piledriver. 'Cos real gangster ass rudos don't leave 'em half dead.
I didn't even know that was legal in lucha.
Really, that was too exciting. Bam Bam has fucking awful hair, so you know what I was rooting for, but Damian shat on the guy for taking his title.
I promise to support Bam Bam now he has no hair.
Los Oficiales vs. Freelance, Pegasso Xtreme, Rey Cometa, 10/9/08
Los Oficiales vs. Freelance, Pegasso Xtreme, Rey Cometa, Distrito Federal Trios Titles, 10/17/08
Some of the best trios wrestling to come out of Mexico this year.
I actually preferred the title match, largely because Los Oficiales are better at mano a mano exchanges than working as a trios. What their "Los Destructores" act lacks are the comeuppance spots, where the double and triple teaming breaks down and they end up bumping into one another. Individually they're better bumpers and I particularly love their baseball slides into the barricade.
Mano a mano also clears the ring for Freelance vs. El Capitan, a real old school type trios match-up with a lot of great chest slapping.
Freelance is unstoppable, clearing the top rope like you wouldn't believe, but it's his fight that sets him apart. Size isn't an issue because he works so big. And he doesn't overdo it punching above his weight. He just seems naturally tough. And he died a dramatic death in the title match. What a hero.
Pequeno Ninja, Shockercito, Tzuki vs. Fire, Mr. Águila, Pequeño Halloween, 11/11/08
This was another match where the workers got longer than usual. Structurally this was pretty close to the '96-97 minis, though the work wasn't as good. The technicos' comeback wasn't as death defying as it could've been, still I was surprised that this batch of minis produced the goods. The rudos were impressive since it's not their strongest line-up. There was a long wait for the dives, a trend I'd like to see more of.
Eddy, Chavo y Mando Guerrero vs. El Satanico, MS1 y Masakre (8/23/91)
Every time I've seen Chavo Guerrero work Mexico he's been awesome and this was no exception. I'm fairly confident that he could've been one of the great luchadores had his father stayed put.
Here he squared off with Satanico and we were treated to a real arm wrestle between the two. Towards the end they gave a master class in how to work a lucha exchange. I watched it several times to see how skillfully they caught a limb, how hard they hit the canvas and how quickly they got up. Neither guy had the advantage in the end, but they sized each other up before tagging. I thought it was brilliant how they left it unsettled.
The match itself wasn't all that special. The Guerreros' style was a little perplexing. It wasn't lucha but it wasn't like the territories they came up through. Perhaps it was reminicient of Gory Guerrero, I'm not really sure. It involved a lot of quick tags and aggressive limbwork. Satanico had the ring cut off from him and his frenzied escape was further proof he's the greatest ever.
The Infernales, for their part, got a lot of mileage out of front facelocks and wrenching side headlocks. This being a Masakre version of the Infernales they were weaker than usual and that was probably the sticking point.
Still, Satanico locking horns with Chavo was memorable.
Gran Cochisse vs. Satanico, NWA World Middleweight Championship, Arena Mexico 9/14/84
This is one of the great lucha matches; a "Greco-Roman" classic with a dramatic shift in paradigm from rudo challenger to numero uno.
People often make the mistake of thinking Gran Cochisse was at the end of his career here, but he'd go on to compete for and hold this title for a few more years, as well as capturing the UWA World Junior Light Heavyweight Championship four years later, so he was a formidable middleweight champion at the time. He'd beaten Satanico a month earlier, so this was a return match in true style.
Despite being wrestled in the Greco-Roman style, Satanico was clearly a rudo technician. There was nothing illegal in the way he grappled; it was in the details. The way he snapped at the ref that his shoulders weren't on the mat; his anger at the force with which Cochisse broke an early waistlock; the dismissve way he threw him to the mat after making him submit. It was those details that really told the story.
There was nothing in it in the early going, and the wrestling was to die for. Satanico was left favouring his arm after Cochisse absolutely pried open a waistlock and from that point on it was a red rag to a bull. Satanico was the aggressor and wanted to hurt Cochisse, which is as good a wrestling story as you need. For some reason, the ref made him wipe his arm with his corner man's towel. Coming out of his corner, Satanico caught Cochisse with a vicious takeover snapmere that sent Cochisse flying out of the ring and from there he never relinquished the fall.
In the second caida, Satanico set about separating the shoulder. Perfectly legal, but he made it look cynical. There are laws about title matches in Mexico, written or unwritten, and Satanico with his hands raised to the ref was pushing the boundaries. But this is where the paradigm began to shift.
To my way of thinking, selling is the greatest thing in professional wrestling.
As soon as Cochisse reversed a wristlock the other way, Satanico was down on one knee. He was struggling to get up; face first on the canvas. Convulsing, spitting shit up. If it sounds over the top it wasn't because there's never been anyone better at selling. Ordinarily, Cochisse would get a submission and that would be that, but these guys went one better. Satanico broke the submission and they ended up on all fours butting heads.
And then they unleashed.
In lucha, guys don't really unleash until the final fall, but this was something special.
However, it was nothing compared to the final fall. Beyond a shadow of a doubt, the third fall was the greatest I've seen in lucha.
If Satanico was a rudo challenger to begin with, in the third fall he was simply a luchador fighting for a title. The submission attempts and pinning counters were incredible. I can't even begin to describe them. You'll have to see them for yourself. Satanico sold until he was an underdog. Cochisse gave all that a champion could possibly give. On and on they fought, until they were out on their feet. The spot that summed it up was when they were on all fours again, only this time they could barely face each other.
Somebody had to win and against the odds it was Satanico. As the publico roared their approval, never before had I seen a rudo win such public favour. For a night, Satanico was numero uno. Y'know I've seen rudos cheat to win, even in title matches, but what Satanico did here was a remarkable bit of drama. If he's not the greatest luchador of the past thirty five years, I don't know who is.
As a post script to this, Gran Cochisse won the title back a mere sixteen days later, but this night belonged to Lopez.
Blue Panther vs. Averno, Arena Mexico 11/04/08
This was Panther's 30th Anniversary match, so he got to wrestle his kind of match. A lot of grappling and pin attempts and the usual matwork and submissions. It didn't matter that he was without his mask; work-wise he looked like his old self.
I actually watched a handheld of this, which is probably more satisfying than watching it taped. The guy had good seats; a few rows in, with all the action on his side. Great line of sight, especially on the dives. Definitely soaked in the atmosphere more than the autistic CMLL camera work. The guy must've been sitting near some rudo fans, since Panther got a fair few heckles. Despite the horns and general buzz, the biggest pop was for a ring girl, but I suppose that's red-blooded.
Panther worked his way through three falls, which is generally what you, the lucha fan, want to see. Averno's no Black Terry, so things weren't so interesting on his end, but he can follow a lead and thus it had a reasonably good flow. While I can't claim to have seen Panther live, I did get a pretty good look and his work is tight. Nothing contrived about his rope work or flips; nothing that needs hiding. Wrestling might be carny or vaudeville, but there's an art to it, and Panther knows his craft.
It was a bit of a formality, but Panther raised his hand in victory. I hope we see more "maestro" performances in the future, but whichever way you look at it, he's had a great career. Required viewing if you're a fan.
Los Brazos vs. Los Bucaneros (Pirata Morgan/Hombre Bala/El Verdugo), CMLL Oct/Nov 1989
This started off as a joke about Super Porky's gut and ended in a bloody mess.
Porky was feeling it from the start, going through his warm-ups (!) before the bell had even sounded. There's nothing quite as devastating as that man's gut and this time the recipient was Pirata Morgan.
Morgan was lavish with his over-selling and it led to some really great spots where the Bucaneros were afraid of Porky's gut, but what made it work were the other Brazos. They kept up the guise of Super Libre, playing enforcers as the Bucaneros tried to curtail the damage. And all the while no-one could thwart the maestro. The whole thing reached a wonderful crescendo when Morgan openly mocked Porky's gut and was dragged away like a fallen soldier.
That was the right time to shift the tone, but the ease with which they swapped set pieces for a rudo beatdown was impressive. Hombre Bala came to the fore here, and if ever a guy deserved a cult following it's him, because he was fucking awesome at shifting the tide. He laid into Porky with thick shots; poor Porky was like a stuck pig. His brothers weren't around to help him, as Brazo de Oro was bleeding from the temple, and that woke Pirata up. I believe this was the height of Pirata Morgan as a rudo, because he was vengeful here. Watch out for all the payback spots.
Earlier the crowd had been laughing and enjoying the Looney Tunes, now there was a disquiet among them. If you think of wrestling as having a scale, this was a masterful shift in tone. The Bucaneros went the whole hog (so to speak) and the crowd began to boo. Brazo de Oro collapsed from blood loss and the overtones were eerily different from the cannonball shots Morgan took.
The finish was great too. The Brazos decided to take care of business, but made a series of mistakes and the Bucaneros capitalised with their awesome triple headbutt spot. Not what the crowd wanted to see, but the Brazos, who'd been so cocksure at the beginning, were left bloodied, beaten and battered. Made you wanna see the rematch.
Octagon/Rey Misterio Jr./El Hijo Del Santo vs. Jerry Estrada/Psicosis/Espanto Jr. (AAA; 1/14/94 Tulancingo)
This was another chance to see Santo wrestle Espanto, but despite Espanto having a fucking awesome moustache and the two of them poised to grapple, there was precious little matwork to speak of. Why? Because AAA is the nadir of lucha libre professional wrestling. It's OK if you like flash in the pan stuff, but there's no rhythm to it. They spend an eternity stalling and blow half their shit. Later on, Espanto beat Santo up in front of a large Mexican family. I don't know if they were a plant, but the mother did her part to add to the appeal of lucha libre. Aside from that and some off the wall bumping from Psicosis, there wasn't much to enjoy. I watched this twice, so it's not like I rejected it off-hand.
Rey Misterio Jr./Misterioso/Volador vs. La Parka/Espectro Jr./Karis la Momia (AAA; 11/12/93, LA Sports Arena)
This was like a Universal horror picture. Parka wore a Bela Lugosi cape, Espectro had an entrance Screamin' Jay Hawkins would be proud of (and he was a fan of the graps) and Momia came to ringside in a giant mummy's tomb. All it needed was El Santo, Blue Demon, some werewolves and a few killer vampires. The match was a mess, but the rudos made it fun. Parka was still fresh at the time, and he did a really great intentional trip where he pulled an "up yours" to the crowd before wiping out. Espectro's bumping is just as amusing as Psicosis, but he's faster between the ropes and I dig his running high kick. Match broke down as all AAA matches do, but they absorbed a lot of the great UWA guys and this is the only chance to watch them.
From 9/6/92 TV:
Super Astro/Solar I/Angel Azteca vs. Blue Panther/El Indomito/El Cobarde
This was really good.
It had a lot of stalling to begin with, so you knew you weren't gojng to see a mat classic, but once they locked up we got some good, older style exchanges. I was impressed with Panther as the main rudo. He's not a guy I see as a strong rudo worker, but they were playing to a red hot crowd in Tijuana, and the public were for the technicos like a lucha crowd should be. He also had worthy flunkies in Indomito and Cobarde, lifers who made Panther look like the gang leader. A fan threw his drink all over Panther, so he was obviously doing something right
The match was your typical slow feud burner, in this case building to a Panther/Azteca singles match. I recall that match being a disappointment, but this made me want to revisit it. Solar played an Atlantis role here, mentoring the all too fired up Azteca; adjudicating over all that is fair and righteous; taking the law into his own hands when it came to the heel ref. And most pleasing for the lucha fan, Super Astro did all of his spots.
A total success, I thought.
La Parka/El Sicodelico/El Espanto Jr. vs. Konnan/Octagon/El Hijo del Santo
So, any match with Konnan in it isn't going to spend the first fall on the mat, but you've gotta appreciate that the fucker was over. And in a wild match, in front of a hot crowd -- not that bad to watch.
They started off with some quick exchanges, and although I don't like how Espanto basically became a bumper in AAA, he took the most amazingly fast, whip-like bumps off Santo's rope work and had a terrific comedy spot on the apron. The finish to the fall was beautifully done and basically involved the lucha equivalent of repartee, with everyone catching each other by surprise. From there it spilled out onto the floor, and they took full advantage of the fact that there were no barricades, just flimsy wooden set-ups with loose ropes. The rope became a weapon and the crowd were fully into this. Konnan was fish hooked in the ring and it wasn't long before he sent a fat Sicodelico flying into the audience. I mean, seriously, he sent that fat fucker flying. And he waved him off too. Adios.
Espanto and Parka kept busy the whole match, and later on Santo and Octagon did topes into the crowd, which I thought they were crazy for doing given the arena set-up. The match disentigrated into some tripe about a foul, a DQ and El Sicodelico having his mask removed, but if you watch it stay to the end... Konnan gets fed up with Parka post-match and socks him. Parka falls ass backwards out of the ring.
Konnan always strikes me as a LL Cool J wannabee, but I liked him here.
Blue Panther vs. Ángel Azteca, Mexican National Middleweight Champion, AAA 9/4/92
It's good to revisit things every once in a while.
This was one of the first lucha tapes I ever bought, and while I could swear the version I had was complete, I could only find a clipped version of this floating around. Obviously that breaks the rhythm of a match, and can make it seem better than it really is, but despite the cut this was vintage Blue Panther.
They only showed the finish to each fall, but it was all there; the brilliant work between the ropes; exaggerated selling on the mat; creative ways to escape and counter holds; the exquisite build-up to his own success. Panther's selling wasn't prolonged, but if you're familiar with lucha, I guess that comes with the territory. A lucha match is a type of rolling match, and Panther did put a lot of detail into the falls he won. Finally, a word or two about Ángel Azteca; of all the guys who took up lucha in the sixteen years since this match, none of them showed the potential to be a great luchador like Ángel Azteca. Azteca was cut from the Lizmark/Atlantis/Solar/Ciclón Ramírez mold, and although he wasn't quite there yet, the fact he never got there is a blight on modern lucha. As green as he was, he could work "Greco-Roman" and no technico these days comes close to applying the types of holds Azteca used here.
But enough of my lamenting. Panther and Azteca worked a match in the true lucha style
El Dandy vs. Javier Llanes, CMLL Middleweight Championship, 3/11/94
This was the toughest thing I've seen in ages... If people think lucha isn't real wrestling, they need to watch this match. Never before have I see two guys wrestle with such ferocity. It takes practice to make this look believable, and an even greater commitment to go out there and do it as a work, and the close-ups of both guys were more than just selling, they showed effort and bloody-minded determination.
In many ways this was like a sparring session in a gym. At the least there was something basic to it, as there were little or no strikes and neither guy was willing to submit. In this day and age, almost everything that's written or said about wrestling is cynical, but this match, whether it was a con or not, was pure sport. To that end, I was disappointed when the first fall ended off the ropes and thrilled when Llanes took the second by submission, and while they began to tire in the third and it became noticable that Llanes was feeding Dandy his arm, even the carny finish couldn't ruin what was a pure display of submission based wrestling.
One of the joys of lucha is guys submitting instantaneously to crazy looking submission holds, but this was rooted in the style that Diablo Velazco, Gori Guerrero and Enrique Llanes trained these men in. An inaccurate description of it might be 70s style matwork with a worked shoot intensity. I say inaccurate because matwork was around long before the 70s, but as a guy who watches old tapes those are the parameters. I've seen it compared to Dandy's match with Navarro, but I thought this was far more intense.
It's curious then that this match should pop up in 1994 CMLL. This era of CMLL is notable for a number of bare-bone classics, but nothing with matwork to compare to this. Anyway, if you want to watch a match with incredible wristlock work or vein popping submissions, do yourself a favour.
Brazo de Oro vs. Pirata Morgan, NWA World Light Heavyweight Championship, 11/17/89
This was a long match with a slower rhythm than usual. I had to watch it twice to catch all the subtleties, and in the end I decided it was a match I had to think about too much.
Sometimes a slower rhythm is beguiling, but here it was a little too much. As a match, it was like watching the game of human chess. Oro was weary of Morgan's illegal holds, which frustrated Morgan into using illegal holds, until finally he pushed the laws of decency in a title match. Oro wound up selling his leg as a result, which jeopardised his title shot, but Morgan still had to fight off the challenge. The problem was that it was all one tone. Right now I've got the kind of cold Tokyo folk get from commuting with too many fuckers, so I wasn't in the mood for something so cerebral. It might not be as cerebral as I'm making out, but it was slow and didn't hit me in the gut. A lot of the stuff I've been watching lately has been visceral; here I couldn't connect with whatever space Brazo de Oro was in and it was a match that seemed to go on and on.
I'm a firm believer of the importance of rhythm in wrestling, not only for the work, but for one's enjoyment of a match. If you can get into the rhythm, you might find this is a heady match. I don't think it was dull. I was just on the outside looking in.
Eddy Guerrero/El Hijo Del Santo vs. Espanto Jr./Jerry Estrada (AAA; 1/31/93)
This opened with a lengthy mat exchange between Santo and Espanto. It wasn't as perfect as I would've liked, but it was an extended mat exchange between two of my favourite luchadores, so I should thank heaven for small mercies. You can turn if off after that, though, because the rest of the match was bad. Bad matches tend to lead to a lot of sweeping generalisations, but I haven't seen a lot of evidence that Eddie was ever very good in Mexico. Not only did he rob Scott Steiner's wardrobe, I think he wanted to be him. Some awful communicating between him and Santo in this match. They came across as a piss poor tag team. Espanto did his best to start trouble, but he was fighting a losing cause. Another AAA match on the scrap heap.
Brazo de Plata & El Brazo vs. Verdugo & Hombre Bala, hair vs. hair, 11/17/89
This was from the same show as the Pirata Morgan/Oro title match.
It was a simple match that even a guy with a headcold could figure out. It didn't live up to their trios match, and they were happy to walk around doing stuff, but the publico loved it and Hombre Bala continues to be my hero. The finish was cool, as El Brazo went 2 on 1 against the Bucaneros and when he scored the winning fall the crowd rushed to the ring. This was when you could still smoke at Arena Mexico and there was a shot of a guy lighting a cigarette as he took it all in. The post-match was more entertaining than the match. They didn't show the haircut, but Brazo de Oro came to the ring with a shirt tied around his thigh and tugged his brothers' hair. Porky lifted a baby girl out of the crowd and raised her arm to the public. And so ended another night at Arena Mexico.
Los Oficiales vs. Aeroman/Zatura/Freelance, 11/28 TV
Los Oficiales vs. Jack/Multifacético/Pendulo, 12/5 TV
Freelance/Pendulo vs. Comando Negro/Trauma II, 12/12 TV
These weren't that flash. IWRG never show the match-ups you really wanna see and their editor has no clue how to match two shots together. The editing was all over the fucking show, like a monkey at a typewriter. Still, if you haven't been introduced to Freelance or Los Oficiales, youtube is the ticket.
People keep talking about Freelance as a flier, but to me his flying is an afterthought. I like how he doesn't take shit from anyone and has more strikes than your typical flier. In the tag match he took a shot to the face and went looking for the revenge strike, and it's that kind of shit that gives him an edge. He tweaked his ankle in the Oficiales match, but toughed it out. And he rocks a mohawk and makes it work. The guy's just cool.
And the Oficiales are getting better at working as a trio, finding new ways to gang up on people and beat them down. And their bumping and selling has been one of the most enjoyable things about lucha this year. Look for the montage where one Oficial is gagging with a foot on his throat and another is upside down in the tree of woe. The problem is the opposition. They look like toy figurines; misfit action figures. Or that Nightmare Before Christmas gimmick that rips off Parka. There's only so many times you can be amused at a random indy gimmick being punched in the head. They need to add Fuerza, Black Terry or Super Astro to the mix, and make use of Avisman, who looks like a cretin and can work the mat.
Book it like you know we're watching on youtube.
La Sombra vs Ephesto, NWA World Welterweight Championship, 12/7/08
This was a strong Match of the Year contender.
It was a modern lucha match, so there was an emphasis on moves and nearfalls, but they managed to work this into quite a dramatic contest.
We often praise guys for working a crowd, but sometimes it's the crowd who can lift a match to greater heights and that was the impression I got here. Both guys seemed to grow in confidence from the crowd willing them on. Sombra's not the type of worker everyone's gonna love, but it was pleasing to hear such vocal support for a technico. Between the horns and the chants of Sombra!, he seemed to grow in stature, if not working ability.
A lot of the credit should go to the big bumping, big man Ephesto, who paced this match in the third fall. It's almost impossible to deliver a great rudo performance in this moves monopolised climate, but together with his second, they were able to protest the ref's ridiculous slow counts and build heat. He has well chosen offence for the moves game, and his bump into the apron almost singlehandedly catapaulted this into the very good territory.
The finishing stretch was ill advised, but just when you thought it would fall off the rails, they managed to tilt it back and Sombra got the explosive pop they were aiming for. Great technico celebration. The match was far from perfect, but on the whole it was overwhelmingly positive, and I think picking on one or two things would be quibbling. Two thumbs up.
El Dandy vs. Satanico, hair vs. hair, 12/6/91
For some reason these two never had a great match together.
Take this match for example -- almost every hold is a clever piece of work and the attention to detail is amazing, yet somehow it doesn't add up. Hold for hold it's a virtuoso performance, but in the big picture only half satisfying. I suppose the reason for that is the scale. It's quite a minor match; not what you'd expect from a hair match. And the scenario was one sided.
If you follow it from Satanico's standpoint, it's a cleverly constructed revenge match, but it left Dandy in the cold. While Satanico was arguing with the commissioner over the appointed ref, Dandy had no choice but to go through his warm-ups. This had an immediate pay-off, and a ballistic reaction from Satanico, who swore his shoulder was up, but from that point on there was too much heat between Satanico and the ref. The heat should be between the wrestlers, mano a mano... Here the ref was constantly breaking up holds and putting his hands on Satanico; understandable if it was a title match, but hair matches have caused some of the bloodiest brawls in lucha libre history.
Satanico was masterful at purposefully avoiding any pitfalls, and the slap he gave himself when Dandy was too near the ropes showed how much he wanted to win, but Dandy was a passenger in all this. My favourite moment was the maniacal grin Satanico gave the ref when he had to raise Lopez' hand in victory at the end of the second fall, but I couldn't figure out the third fall for the life of me. I'm used to the momentum carrying over into the next fall, until there's an opening and the beaten guy strings together a comeback, but it never happened.
The impression I was left with was that after a hot start, Dandy was completely outwrestled for the remainder of the match. In kayfabe terms, his showing was a bit of a dud. You had two great workers doing a lot of great stuff together, but a lopsided contest. In a three fall structure, it's sometimes tricky to work straight fall victories, but these guys are two of the greats. Dandy wanted to beat Satanico, of that I'm certain, but why his comeback was cut off at the knees, I don't know.
To some extent CMLL must've felt this needed some extra spice with the ref angle, or perhaps it's a case of matches being better when one worker is greater than the other, but not all Classic Lucha is classic, even if the work is infinitely smarter than we see today. Either that or my expectations are far too high.
Santo, Corazon de Leon & Ultimo Dragon vs. Negro Casas, Satanico & Emilio Charles Jr., 9/95
Santo, Corazon de Leon & Ultimo Dragon vs. Negro Casas, Satanico & Emilio Charles Jr., 9/95 rematch
Santo hates Casas! Casas hates Santo! as the old deathvalleydrivers would say.
This two-part penny opera starts with Santo dropkicking Casas in the face before everyone's been properly introduced. Casas spends an exorbitant amount of time checking his face for structural damage, and the rest of the match trying to shootkick Santo in the head. Santo replies with headbutts, knees to the face and killer topes. The first match has a great Santo beatdown. Second match has some big bumps from Casas, who blades himself... but only a trickle. Still it's enough to cry foul and Casas delivers a penalty kick between the goalposts, a trademark Casas walkoff spot.
You've got to love Negro Casas. 90% of the time that would be a disappointing finish, but Casas was so good at blurring the lines. He's basically saying, "you do not strike the face of Negro Casas," and if Santo's enraged, he needs to think about who threw the first cheap shot. The great heels make themselves the moral victor, like kids always do on the playground. Casas was infuriatingly good at this, which led to the quasi-heel turn from Santo and the hatred of their '97 feud. The rest of the guys here are either warm bodies or completely useless, but you wanna see these because this is where the hate began. Their earlier matches were exhibitions in lucha libre, this was Casas truly getting under Santo's skin, not really knowing what he was starting.
Corazon de Leon vs. Apolo Dantes, CMLL World Heavyweight Championship, 9/23/95
Apolo Dantes is one of the most underrated workers of the 90s. Jericho is one of the worst guys I've seen work Mexico. The fact that this was halfway decent was purely down to the skill of A. Dantes. There were times, it seemed, when Dantes didn't have a clue what Jericho was trying to do, but he beat the guy and I was glad it was over.
Los Brazos vs Santo, Satanico & Eddy Guerrero, CMLL 9/16/90
I've been sick for more than two weeks, but I'm finally on the mend and this match is just what the doctor ordered.
Los Brazos are always entertaining, largely because they've got so many ways of telling the same stories over and over again, but rudo Brazos -- and not Bucaneros/Brazos, "rudos contra rudos" rudos, but actual "rudo" rudos -- is one of their best shticks.
You can follow the fortunes of any Brazo match by keeping an eye on Super Porky. He was all winks and nods to begin with, as the Brazos kept herding guys into the corner, and Porky worked them over with headbutts and little short arm jabs. There was an element of showboating, and we all know that Super Porky is easily excitable and prone to getting carried away. When it came time for Porky to conduct his plancha from the apron, he towered above Satanico... arms apart, eyes focused, mouth agape... by the time he leapt it was the greatest orchestration of a dive ever.
It was all going swimmingly, but when the rudos are making Santo eat the lace from the back of his mask, you know they're enjoying their work a little too much. In the second fall, Porky and Eddy did a comedy spot where Eddy couldn't lift Plata and Porky kept powerslamming him to the canvas. Finally, Eddy got the better of him and a few minutes later nailed him with a massive plancha that left Porky flat on his back, gasping for air. That was when the tables turned, and heel or face, Porky has never liked it when the tables turn.
When he finally made it back up to the apron, the crowd began egging him on and that's when Porky turned sour. He tried his jumping, spinning footwork, but Eddy wasn't mesmerised and Porky wound up in a front row seat. Eddy followed him outside and poked him between the eyes. Well now. Porky tried ripping out the front row seats, to no avail, and walking back to his corner, El Brazo pat him on the head, but Porky was livid. Further insult followed when Santo gave him a hip toss on the outside, like a matador letting a bull pass at his cape. When Porky got up he was breathing through his nostrils.
The last fall had a whole bunch of awesome punch exchanges and I think Satanico even threw in a nerve hold. The technicos were getting the better off the ropes exchanges, and Porky was no longer a happy chappy, so the Brazos got themselves DQ'ed for excessive violence, which is as good a reason to get yourself DQ'ed as there is. The finish worked beautifully since there was a simple reversal from the beginning and that's all you need to have a successful trios match, a simple turn of events over three falls.
No return match for this unfortunately, but Plata and his brothers weren't that impressed with wrestling the sons of two legends and Mexico's No.1. Great "fuck it" ending after being outmatched. I love "fuck it" endings, like the time Tenryu low blowed Tsuruta and got the fuck out of the arena. This wasn't that great, but Porky didn't want to play anymore, so it had its own charm.
Lizmark vs. Satanico, Mexican National Light Heavyweight Championship, AAA 9/17/93 (clipped)
One of my favourite things about lucha libre is classy performances from veteran workers, and this was one such occasion -- Satanico vs. Lizmark in 1993. The match was clipped, so it's impossible to know how much was shelved, but this was a simpler style than they were capable of. The work wasn't amazing by their standards, and in fact there were a few slip-ups, but everything was weighted and that's where their class shone through.
The opening matwork is a good example. Satanico began with a waistlock, Lizmark went for the most basic counter possible and they followed through with a simple exchange. I know a lot of people struggle with how slow lucha matwork can be, but it really is beautiful. Because the refs are so vigilant about where the shoulders are on the mat, even a basic hold like Satanico hooking the arm and head takes on extra weight. It requires Lizmark to bridge out of the pinning predicament, but a bridge in that situation is fairly demanding and he only managed a couple of quarter lifts before he could get a full one. That broke the count, but not the leverage. Instead of Satanico dropping the hold, like so many wrestlers do today, Lizmark fought to free his head and regain upper body position. Satanico countered by leaning into his man with the arm still locked, but Lizmark rolled him onto his shoulders. He couldn't keep Satanico's arm tied, however, and Lopez grabbed the rope. Usually that would signal a break, but as Lizmark was backing off, in one foul swoop, Satanico pounced on the heel and ankle, took Lizmark down, scissored the leg and began working the point of his elbow into the thigh area. Not only did Lizmark have to keep his shoulders up, he had to block out the pain and figure out a way to break the hold. The snapping motion as he hooked Satanico's head to the canvas was really beautiful, as was Satanico's selling as he looked for the safety of the ropes.
It was simple stuff compared to their younger days, but every hold was a battle, there were no easy escapes and the bout was wholly contested. Lizmark limited his big moves to the backbreaker and suicida plancha, they sold their fatigue and Lizmark adapted to the ref's rather bizarre interpretation of the first pinfall by avoiding the same type of pinning attempt. They kinda lost it a bit when they worked off the ropes, but it was a good match, reminiscent of Blue Panther vs. Atlantis from earlier this year.
Solar I/Super Astro vs. Negro Navarro/Shu El Guerrero, Arena Coliseo De Monterrey 5/18/08
This was really enjoyable. A little on the soft side to be a MOTYC or anything like that, but it was everything they could deliver on paper.
Solar/Navarro is the best match-up in wrestling. No matter how many times you see it, you just wanna see it again. Three times they squared off and each time they flaunted their maestro reps. The opening fall was worked around wristlock takedowns and arm drags, mostly for show. The second fall had a few pin attempts, with both guys trying to score the most elaborate pinfall. The final caida was the trump card and featured nothing but mat-based submission work and painful looking holds. The best matwork I saw all year was Navarro vs. Terry. This slots in at number two.
Super Astro might not be as good as he was in the early-mid 90s (I saw him work a breathtaking exchange with Blue Panther the other day), but he's gotten himself into shape and operates with vigour. And while it's difficult to imagine that Shu El Guerrero once had the classic bodybuilder physique, having a fat guy who can take tumble and work holds adds to the carnival. The finish was awesome, with Super Astro nailing a straight drop tope and Navarro and Solar working a final stand-off. The double pin was a stupid decision, but Navarro is death on the mat.
If I was gonna barrack for anyone as wrestler of the year, it would be Navarro.
Negro Navarro/Shu el Guerrero vs. Solar 1/Skayde, AULL 11/01/02
According to the match finder at cubs' site, this was only the second time that Solar and Navarro had faced each other. Assuming that they wrestled for longer than in the original trios, this may be the beginning of their rivalry. In any event, it's the earliest footage to pop up and a bit of a treasure trove.
Before I discuss early Solar/Navarro, I've got to say that I was actually more impressed with Shu el Guerrero and Skayde in this match. Shu worked this cool gimmick where he was an immovable object on the mat, and no matter which side Skayde tried to work from, Shu wound up in the upper position. He was incredibly quick for a big man and was able to go ten minutes on the mat without any trouble. I don't think I've seen Skayde before. He was impressive and more than held his own. In fact he was Black Terry-esque. They didn't try anything as difficult as Navarro and Solar, but they had their own little thing going, from Shu's sitting bull pose to his funky power moves, and Skayde was a tremendous foil.
The big difference between early Solar/Navarro and what you see today was two-fold. First, they worked at a more frenetic pace, with Solar, in particular, being far more fired up than you see him these days. Secondly, Navarro hadn't grown into his role of El MVP de los independientes. In 2001/02, he was still settling into the whole maestro act. He didn't cut quite as authorative a figure. Obviously they know each other inside out by now, but here they were calling stuff for the first time. Some of it was fantastic, some of it was skin of the teeth stuff. It was a lot rawer than the exchanges we're used to. Still, most people will enjoy watching them find their feet against each other.
At the least it's 25 minutes of matwork.
Atlantis vs. Satanico, CMLL 1984
Atlantis was just a kid here. You could see it in the way he swivelled his head, looking for crowd support. That open armed stance is classic rookie behaviour; a type of nervous energy that young technicos have. Satanico, on the other hand, wasn't the least bit unsure of himself, in fact this was Satanico at his cockiest. A vain, ostentatious, altogether glorious display.
At one point, Atlantis was lying on the mat; his mask ripped; forehead bleeding; chest splattered with blood... He'd actually won the first fall, largely by staying out of Satanico's reach. It was heady stuff from the youngster, but whatever his ambitions might've been, they were in tatters. And all the while Satanico paraded around like Atlantis was an afterthought. Atlantis tried to roll away and Satanico kicked him out of the ring. He tried to pull himself onto the apron and Satanico knocked him to the floor. It was brutish stuff from the rudo and the crowd were baying for rudo arrogance to get its comeuppance. Finally, Atlantis rallied and began ramming Satanico's head into the turnbuckle (a popular spot in 1984). It was a bit loose and theatrical, but the shock on Satanico's face was priceless. He was bleeding from the forehead and had to check his hand to see if it was real. Atlantis was a real pest now. He'd hung around for far too long and there was a chance he might win. That brought out the wrestler in Satanico and he used his experience to prevent what would've been a major embarrassment; stretching Atlantis for the victory.
Veterans always like to teach rookies a lesson or two, but Satanico was drained. He clapped Atlantis' performance and raised his arm in victory. Then he nailed him with a right hand. Another win notched, another technico dismantled. 1984 was a good year for El Satanico.
Santo/Dandy/Silver King vs Casas/Satanico/Dantes, CMLL 2/2/96
You don't need me to tell you this was good. Just look at the names.
I don't mean to sound like a broken record, but Satanico was awesome in this. He had a lengthy mat exchange with El Dandy where you'd swear he was twenty years younger the way he was moving. He was carrying some extra weight, but it made him seem more bullish. With the crew cut and taped fingers, he looked primed, and sure enough he kept gaining inside control. Dandy had to counter on more than one occasion, but my favourite part was when Satanico had him in an armlock and kept floating through the counters, keeping the hold applied.
The match itself was more about Santo cleaning Casas' clock every time they squared off. It was an interesting sort of match, because the rudos had to protect Negro, yet the technicos kept blowing standard finishes. In most trios matches, you know when the finish has been signaled. Guys start entering and exiting the ring in rapid succession, and whoever sends them out is the winner. This went against the grain. Twice the technicos had a finish on the cards and both times the rudos broke it up. Even Santo's tope was foiled by a knee to the gut from Satanico. I usually take finishes for granted in lucha, but it just goes to show that they're small windows of opportunity and if you don't execute then you're toast. The rudos took one in straight falls, but not without some daylight robbery. Casas got an inside cradle on Santo, but his shoulder was all-the-way up. He argued the call afterwards in true lucha fashion, dropping to the mat and demonstrating his point. In the end, the rudos stuck their boots in.
Not a classic or anything, but when you have six guys this talented, everything they do rules in some way or another. The part where El Dandy took on all three rudos and won was especially cool. Pity he didn't have a story to tell the grandkids.
Negro Navarro & Killer Family (Rey Krimen, Sadico, Sepulturero I) vs. Ángel Azteca Jr., Brazo de Platino, Mascara Ano 2000 Jr & Shu el Guerrero, AULL 11/29/06
I wasn't sure what to expect from this, but it ended up being a fun match-up. The Killer Family weren't too bad. Apparently they were trained by Rocky Satana, so I guess they've got some ring sense.
And of course they were led by Negro Navarro, who's gotta be the most stoic motherfucker on the planet. He locked up with Máscara Año 2000 Jr, who'd been wrestling a little over two months. Navarro gave him a limb, then took him to fucking school. He didn't rub it it, but it was clear he could get a submission any time he wanted. I also liked how he joined in the rudo teaming. He doesn't use his fists a lot, but he has a mean punch and a hard head. There's so many ways he can fuck a guy up. Fujiwara is similar, but he always has a shit eating grin and would take the guy drinking afterwards. Navarro's just cold.
On the other side, you had Shu el Guerrero, one of the most useful guys in Mexico, and Brazo de Platino, another of the Brazo brothers. It's freaky how many Brazo brothers there are and how they all look alike. I mean there's the three famous ones and then there's more of them. Can't get my head around that. The old man was a virile bugger. Brazo de Platino apes Porky a bit, but he's his own man and his somersault senton was awesome. I dunno why there's an Angel Azteca junior, but he was fluid.
The Killer Family provided the dives to set up the finish, and what a finish... Navarro and Azteca were the two men left in the ring. The end was nigh and Azteca had one shot from the neutral position. Negro got his hands on him and it was all over. Submission finish. That was some cold blooded shit. Jesus, who wants to face Navarro with the match on the line?
Los Cadetes Del Espacio (Solar, Ultraman, Super Astro) vs. Los Exoticos (Sergio El Hermoso, Bello Greco, Rudy Reyna), UWA 1984
I thought I should choose something spectacular for my 100th entry and here it is -- Space Cadets vs. Exoticos from 1984.
Phenomenal match really. One unbelievable spot after another and pure entertainment at that.
It was all wolf whistles and matwork to begin with. The Exoticos were fantastic; running away, avoiding engagement, working slick exchanges when they would grapple. The Space Cadets were sensational on the mat, but couldn't pin the rudos down. A fight broke out and that's when the Exoticos showed how savvy they were. There was a lot of strutting and effeminate bumping, but when it came time for the dirty work, they had a real vicious streak. Great clubbing blows; knees and elbows to the face. All that good shit.
The Cadets were yet to bust loose, but when they rallied, the height Super Astro got on his backflip was unreal. To celebrate, he began his Fred Astaire act, but Reyna stuck his ass out. Nevertheless, they finished the fall in style. Greco tried to hook Solar and caught Sergio on the apron. Solar monkey flipped the Exotico, leapt to his feet and dived through the ropes, nailing El Hermoso with the tope. Ultraman gave Super Astro a springboard over the top rope for a swan dive tope, then finished the stanza with a superplex off the top rope. It was a classy three-pronged attack.
The third fall was a series of awesome exchanges, with the Exoticos doing their damnedest to cheat and the Cadets having none of it. Super Astro chased the fleeing Reyna and caught him with his trademark tope, Sergio El Hermoso took incredible bumps off Solar's wrist work and Ultraman had the combos going. There was nothing clean, as guys kept entering the ring and breaking holds. There was a lot of bad feeling, as the Exoticos were pissed at the Cadets' flying show, and, as we know, it doesn't take much to raise a technico's ire. In this case, it was expressed with hooks and right crosses, which I thought was exceptionally cool. Ultraman and Sergio El Hermoso going toe-to-toe was perhaps the highlight of the match. In the end, the Cadets were a little too classy and navigated the chaos a little better, but let me tell you, it was a great match.
It had pretty much everything you want from lucha -- matwork, dives, punches, the odd hilarious moment, but more than that it had class. It had rudos who knew when to bump and sell and when to cheat and brawl, and technicos who did spectacular things and sought out greater heights. Space Cadets fly, that's what they do. Exoticos act gay, but hit people in the mouth.
This was right up there with anything I've seen in lucha. They could've gone another three rounds and it would've been just as good. Great lucha should leave you on a high and this was tremendous.