Zatura vs. Trauma II, IWRG Intercontinental Lightweight Championship, 6/18/09
Somehow we ended up skipping an episode of IWRG. It must've been an eventful one, since this week was all about singles matches and recriminations.
I haven't been as high on Trauma II as other people who watch and write about IWRG on a weekly basis, but I figured this match would showcase one way or another whether the kid's any good. And I'll say it up front -- the kid blew me away.
There were a few things they could've done better, but I feel churlish just typing that. This was an excellent title match for this type of weight class. None of the criticisms I've had of Trauma II as a submission grappler applied here. Both guys were quick with their takedowns and there was enough movement on the mat that it seemed like they were going for a straight pinfall submission with every hold. I've mentioned before that Trauma II ain't no chip off the old block, but judging by his strikes, I've been far too harsh on the kid.
I guess I've been beating the drum too hard, because Trauma wasn't alone in impressing me.
A few weeks ago, Zatura showed he could hang with Cerebro Negro and here he took that one step further with some nice counter wrestling to take the first fall. He opened up the second caida working from the top and it was a nicely weighted fall. It's not very often that the second fall is a turning point in a lucha title match, but it was very much the case here.
Both of these guys came into the match with taped shoulders, but Trauma was the first to aggravate his injury when Zatura caught him with the counter submission. And he made no bones about going after the arm in round two. That rocked me a bit, as I didn't know he had it in him. Previously, he'd seemed like a guy who could only grapple from the defensive position, but he scored an early takedown here and was Satanico-like in seizing control. So often these guys relinquish holds and give up position, but there was nothing easy here. Trauma had to fight every inch of the way to get an early break and slumped into his corner clutching his shoulder.
What followed was a piece of grappling that was well beyond Trauma's years.
Realising he had a bum shoulder, he opted to attack off the ropes and did the most spectacular leg takedown into a shoulder submission. It was a fantastic move that really underlined his championship credentials.
Having saved match point, we headed into a third and deciding fall with both guys looking like they belonged in a lucha libre title match. Trauma's selling was fantastic throughout and even Zatura's dives seemed nastier than usual. I loved the spot where they started throwing body punches and Zatura drove him into the mat with a double leg takedown. I guess the highest compliment I can pay a match like this is that even though I knew the result beforehand, I was genuinely excited by the outcome. It's rare for young guys to pull off this kind of finish. They timed it to perfection and the finish came on exactly the right beat.
I would've never picked these guys to have a match this good. I dunno if it's a sign of things to come, but I sure as hell sat up and took notice. Probably the most positive and exciting thing to happen in Mexico all year.
On a parting note, Trauma's outfit was class. I swear it made him look like a better worker. I can't really justify that comment, but as a wrestling fan, you know it makes a difference.
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.
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
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.)
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.
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.
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.
Thanks as always to Black Terry Jr for making these reviews possible.
I thought both the 8/1 and 10/13 Black Terry/Negro Navarro vs Super Astro/Solar maestro tags were excellent. In fact, I thought they were the most balanced, best worked maestro tags since Black Terry Jr began filming their matches. That may be time and distance talking since I was so wildly out of the loop last year, but I watched these matches more than once before commenting and enjoyed them immensely each time. They're not story matches and they don't even have much of a narrative, but what I liked about them was that they captured the spirit of pure lucha exchanges. I don't have much time these days and I've been trying to multi-task, so I've been watching these matches while listening to 60s jazz, and while 60s jazz and lucha libre may not have a lot in common, I've been able to get into the groove of these matches. The Solar/Navarrro stuff in particular cranks, but the stories of Super Astro's demise have been greatly exaggerated. He's not the worker he once was, but he rollled around on the mat with Black Terry in cracking fashion and was able to do his tope. I can see folks wishing they'd do more -- perhaps more Terry/Solar or Terry and Navarro being the murders' row tag team that we know they can be -- but when you see some of the counters and reversals that Solar and Navarro can do you can understand why the others clear out of the way and let them do their thing. When I first got into lucha, one of the things I loved most was watching a guy like El Dandy hit the ring. When Dandy stepped through those ropes it didn't matter whether the guy on the other side of the ring was Emilio or Casas or Super Muneco, you knew the exchange was going to be amazing, and that's the feeling I get from these matches. To tie it back into music, it's like this cool bar I went to recently that was stacked with wall to wall soul records. The barman would drop another record while you slipped on your drink of choice and you just kicked back and enjoyed the music. Watching these matches, I kicked back and enjoyed the lucha.
I have no idea when Cerebro Negro returned to IWRG and why he was feuding with Dr. Cerebro. I'm not sure I could even recognise him with the look he's sporting at the moment, but I thought their 12/16 match wasn't too bad. Better than a kick in the pants at any rate. There wasn't much to the falls, but the work was direct and physical and the finishes were cool. I could have done without the weapon shots, but they weren't too bad. The match stalled a bit in the third caida and the lightbulbs weren't really necessary, but there was more good than bad on show here. I really dug the spot where Dr. Cerebro was draped over the ropes from the apron in and Negro dropkicked him in the face. That was badass. The doctor turning his submission finish into some form of sitdown driver was ultimate badass too. I always forget that the good doctor is out there being probably a top 10 luchador at any given time. I've got to keep tabs of his work.
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.
Volador vs. Pirata Morgan, mano a mano, Monterrey 1991
Now here's a hidden gem for you: a disgustingly bloody Pirata Morgan bout.
I haven't seen a Morgan bout this good in ages. With Morgan, you can draw a line in the sand between the stuff that's good and everything that came after. Fortunately for us, this was during the period where he could rightly lay claim to best in the world, at least in the world he moved in, and still looked as dashing and cavalier as his namesake rather than the inhuman looking wreck that's a tribute to needles and ink and God knows what else.
Don't be put off by the fact that it's mano a mano, this was more rounded and complete than a lot of apuesta matches. It had all the elements you want from this sort of bout: pre-match interviews as the wrestlers wade through the crowd with kids, and grown men, trying to mug the camera and get on TV; a dark, dingy arena where there's trash everywhere, and blood... not only on the canvas but all over the filthy yellow floorboards. As a parent, I couldn't notice the kids running around everywhere getting that shit on their shoes. How bloody was the match? It was gross. Maybe not stomach turning; but I used to work in operating theatres when I was younger and dealt with blood on a daily basis and it was still gross. Mostly because it was so dirty and... unhygienic. Not so much the stock stuff like Morgan licking his hand or blowing blood like red mist, but the ref getting Volador's blood all over his white shirt, and the television announcer getting in the ring at the end with his mic cable and wiping his hand on Morgan's cut to show the viewer's at home Morgan's claret; as though he needed to with blood streaming out of Morgan's socket as though he'd been stabbed through the orbital bone.
Some people will find the heel ref a distraction as he kept hooking Volador's arm to stop a punch and distracted him while Morgan threw a cheap shot to the small of the back, and there was a bunch of shit with a ref bump and second ref that was straight out of the WWF, but none of it could take away from the fact that this was the type of seedy wrestling that people wax lyrically about when it comes to their love for Memphis brawls or lucha brawling. And it was full of the kind of moments that people like me love to cite when describing what makes lucha special, like Morgan repeatedly attacking Volador's second, Misterioso; the kid who tried to get in the ring after Volador's tope; and the father trying to get his toddler to wave to camera while Morgan bled heavily in the foreground. I also loved the way the fans would toss Volador off them whenever he was thrown in their laps, and how Morgan and Volador kept brawling as the show went off the air. Nothing's ever settled with a mano a mano bout, but the way the crowd gravitated towards them and quickly dispersed as the punches flew was yet another product of a bygone age.
This will be right up some people's alley, and I gave you fair warning if it's not, but crucially, it's another piece of prime Morgan that ought to remind you of how good he was in case, like me, you had forgotten or needed reminding.
Virus, Cachorro & Hechicero vs. Negro Casas, Cavernario & Dragon Lee, CMLL 5/23/14
Everybody's talking about this as a Match of the Year Candidate, but for a trios with four good workers in it, I thought it was pretty disappointing. The only parts that were exciting or genuinely engaging were during the finishing stretches, and the work in between was clumsy and unfocused.
The opening fall was a perfect example. Dragon Lee is a young guy and can't mat wrestle. If you have him work an opening mat exchange with Virus, he'll be scrambling. Virus has got to carry him for the mat work to be effective let alone good, but that requires slowing the bout down and working a different tone. Here, they wanted to work a fast paced bout, so they did a classic "mirroring" exchange where they wrestle each other to a stand still. Which would've been okay if Dragon Lee had been in any way convincing, but he doesn't have the quickness that those spots require. You could almost feel him thinking them through as though they're a series of steps. The exchange didn't look terrible as Virus is still the best wrestler in the company and everything he does looks great, but the stand still didn't ring true and was a waste of a match-up.
You accept that and move on, but Casas vs. Cachorro was more of the same. Cachorro is another young guy, so we'll give him the benefit of the doubt, but Casas should be looking to be get more out of an exchange than this. As we all know, match-ups make trios, and it's the story threads that make those match-ups compelling. You could argue that this was just a workrate trios, but if that's the case, the work wasn't very inspiring. Cavernario and Hechicero tried to inject a bit of stiffness and physicality, but their exchange-cum-brawl was muddled and confused. That was a trend that continued throughout the bout, as Hechicero was well off his game. The fall picked up as Virus did his senton to the outside and the finishing stretch kicked into high gear, but as the dust settled on the opening fall, I couldn't help but wonder why they stray so far from the tried and true.
If you want to do a high tempo opening fall, the pattern has always been to square off once with individual pairs, switch partners and dance one more time, then run the ropes for the turning point and first fall climax. It's a simple formula but works so well. Ideally, you'd build the first fall crescendo to the heights the En Busca de un Idolo has been reaching, but Cavernario and Hechicero didn't pull out the stops and the fall was a table setter at best.
It would be disingenuous of me to pretend that I like their match-up as much as everyone else (in fact, I thought the Cavernario/Virus match-up was vastly superior throughout, but then I think Virus is vastly superior to anyone else in the match), but in a match like this you want the action to culminate with a key match-up, and I thought Cavernario/Hechicero from the En Busca de un Idolo would've been swinging.
The second fall at least had a decent sense of urgency to it. The work wasn't outstanding, but they powered through it. Cavernario looked all at sea during his big comeback in the three-on-one sequence, and I have my doubts about whether he's a polished worker, but his plancha is gorgeous, and along with Dragon Lee's insane dive, they hit the high notes the crowd was looking for. But Virus and Casas... if you're going to do a mano-a-mano standoff to end a fall, you might want to do something a bit more exciting than that. For seasoned vets that was weak. Everybody knows I think Negro Casas is overrated these days (except for when he wrestles Rush), but c'mon, work a few more beats before you celebrate and do the parrot shit.
Casas and Hechicero then worked a muddled exchange to open the closing fall. It actually started off pretty well with Hechicero working rough with Casas, and Casas seemingly giving him a receipt with some great looking knees, but Casas started looking tired and his strikes loosened up. For some reason, their exchange went beyond a reasonable length for this sort of opening exchange and Hechicero went for a nearfall too early in the fall. Dragon Lee and Cachorro's work was earnest without being particularly good, but I remember what the Traumas were like when they first started making tape, so I'm not going to rag on the young guys. The hip toss spot was impressive and Cachorro's tope was spectacular, but again it came too early in the fall to have an impact. Virus vs. Cavernario was great and the one match-up coming out of this that I'd want to see again. Virus is so great at working strike exchanges (both throwing and selling), and his positioning for Cavernario's moves was exemplary. It was notable how much better Cavernario's nearfall came across despite their exchange being much shorter than Casas/Hechicero.
The rest of the fall was about dropping bombs and was a mix of the good, the bad and the ugly. The Virus/Cavernario exchange where Virus was trying to get a submission on Cavernario was awesome, and Virus' muscle flex pose when he finally got it hooked was a genuine mark out moment for me, but Hechicero/Lee was an absolute mess and after three falls (good or bad) to finish on a piece of cheating wasn't cool. Satanico could have made it work. Sangre Chicana too. Perro Aguayo. Cien Caras. But Hechicero's not in that ball park as rudo.
It's worth point out that everybody who's seen this bout has liked it. The feedback has been overwhelmingly positive. I wanted to like it since it's not every day you have four good workers in a trios. I gave it a second chance, and even a third as I was writing this up, but despite some good points it just didn't move me like good trios wrestling should. Virus is absolutely awesome, though.
Virus vs. Titan, Mexican National Welterweight Championship, CMLL 1/28/14
Of all the older maestros in CMLL who regularly take on young guys, Virus is by far the best at putting young guys over. This was a title defence for Titan, and given the disparity in skill levels, Virus could have eaten him alive on the mat and just about everywhere else, but you never get the feeling that Virus needs to prove himself. He's not busting his workrate chops to prove he can still hang, he's just guiding a young guy through the closest he'll come to an old school lucha title match.
The first fall is a classic lucha title match opening caida, featuring parity on the mat followed by some rope running and a submission maneuver. A mat section in a lucha title match shouldn't be a welcome sight, but too often even maestros forgo mat work against workers they know aren't technically proficient enough. When they do work the mat, they either spend too much time with back to canvas or put the young guy through a labyrinth of holds where the only way out is for the maestro to feed them an arm. Virus, respecting the old school traditions, went hold-for-hold, and while to the trained eye it was obvious that Titan isn't much of a mat wrestler, they successfully created the illusion that he was good enough to be a champion. Virus had the edge because he's a maestro, but he didn't flaunt it.
After opening his account, the challenger did what he does best in working a methodical, slower paced fall where he kept the young flier grounded and stirred the pot for the champion's eventual comeback. Much has been made of Titan "popping up" after so much legwork, but the pop up didn't bother me as he couldn't follow through on his celebration and collapsed to one knee, making it obvious that adrenaline had propelled his pop up. What made me despair was the cartwheel he's added to his hurricanrana. I understand that he's young and concerned with what he can do to stand out and get noticed, but cut that shit out.
The third fall was beautifully laid out and further proof that Virus is the best third caida guy in the business. Titan started to over power Virus on the strike exchanges and wouldn't bite on any of Virus' counters. A monkey flip off the apron led to Titan following up Virus' big bump with a gorgeous moonsault plancha that the crowd had been waiting for. Third caidas are traditionally 50/50 when it comes to offence, but Virus gave the champion a large part of the fall to put over the rising star. A spectacular somersault plancha was a crowd pleaser, with a shot of a little boy getting positively giddy over it. Virus rolled with the punches and drew on all his experience to put up a fight, but the young champion was moving from strength to strength and almost powerbombed the challenger out of his boots. The great thing about all this was that it wasn't rushed. The pace was measured, the camera work picked up on the selling and the crowd were into it. Virus had one last throw of the dice on an insane springboard senton to the concrete below, which led to a somewhat sloppy finishing stretch that unfortunately hurt the quality of the match, but the crowd didn't care and there was a genuine outpouring of emotion as the young champion proved his mettle by submitting Virus in the middle of the ring. Regardless of how I feel about the new breed, it's always great to see them earn a reaction like that, and I'd like to think it was because of the way the match built. Titan's second did a tremendous job of putting the victory over and his enthusiasm was palpable. I don't think this was as good as the Guerrero Maya Jr. match, which was my MOTY for 2013, but it's the best thing in 2014 by a fair distance, and an example of how you can do the modern style well while still retaining some old school sensibilities. Virus is the best singles worker in the company and it's odd that he's still so underrated even by hardcores.
Virus vs. Stuka Jr., Arena Coliseo de Guadalajara, 8/30/11
Wow, after crying out for CMLL to give Virus more time to work they finally went and did it. Thank you, CMLL.
This was a wonderfully old-school match. The matwork was short and not much more than a feeling out process, but the rope exchanges and transitions were classic lucha and the slower, more deliberate pace had a strong resonance with me. The match didn't have a big arc, but in this particular case the simplity of the match outweighed the need to make it dramatic and I liked the fact that Virus was able to end the match cleanly and simply from a series of moves that Stuka should have kicked out from. You could probably argue that it made Stuka seem like more of a jobber than is usually portrayed in lucha, but it was worth it to be free from the trappings of the modern day style. I didn't really follow lucha last year, but more matches like this and I think I'll enjoy catching up on it over the New Year period.
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.
Virus vs. Guerrero Maya Jr., CMLL World Super Lightweight Championship, 7/6/11
This was a great match. It was almost assuredly the Match of the Year for 2011 and hasn't been topped since.
The early part of the match was a clinic from Virus. There's plenty of matwork where you get a more even contribution from both participants, be it Navarro and Solar, Casas and Panther or even Virus and Valiente, but in terms of carrying a guy this had as much rhythm as any of those match-ups and was a testament to what a great worker Virus has been for the past fifteen years or so. He spent most of the first fall circling Maya, applying one hold while all the while thinking two or three holds ahead. At one point he clung to Maya's back like a parasite trying to worm its way into a submission opening. When nothing came of it, he tried a different route, probing and circling and all the while waiting... Recently, there was some criticism on this site that lucha matwork rarely plays into the finish. I'd argue that you're much more likely to see a submission finish in a lucha match than the NWA style it was patterned after; but in this match, after a cool looking segment where Maya had to bridge his way out of a head scissors, sure enough they took to the ropes. Now the argument goes that this usually leads to one guy missing a move and the other guy scoring either an instant tap-out or flash pin. And to be fair, it's true that this happens a lot in the most uninspiring of lucha. But let's take a look at this match: instead of Maya scoring a flash pin from taking it to the ropes, Virus went in for the kill. And what a kill. When I said he was waiting, it was like a shark waiting for the right time to strike. Objectively speaking, I don't see how anyone can say that Virus didn't set that finish up. And when people say the grappling wasn't as good as the IWRG style, that may be true but you don't see the same psychology in those matches.
The second half of the match was an offensive showcase for Guerrero Maya Jr. I haven't seen much of Maya so I don't know how good he really is, but it's difficult to imagine that he's the former Multifacético. What really made this match was how great the tercera caída was. Maya reminded me of 1984 Atlantis in his second fall comeback, but in the third caida he took it up a notch with all sorts of nasty modern offence. The third caida was a really modern CMLL fall, but these can be exciting with the right rhythm and plenty of cool spots. The difference between this and so many other matches like it is that they got the timing right on every single spot. From the dropkick from behind to the senton to the outside to the armdrag takedowns, the match kept building and building; and for the first time since probably Sombra's match against Ephesto I found myself actively rooting for a technico to win. You can't beat that sort of drama in a wrestling match and that's why they haven't been topped since last summer. Probably the Match of the Decade thus far.
Virus vs. Fuego, CMLL World Super Lightweight Championship, 6/15/14
This was a tremendous match and my working MOTY at this point. Virus was outstanding and showed once again why he is without peer not only in CMLL but in the whole of Mexico really. Fuego deserves credit for his part in the match as well. It would be easy to put all the focus on Virus & Kid, but Fuego put in about as assured a performance as you can expect from a kid.
The opening exchange saw them work from a tie-up into a series of arm and leg locks without a single reset, When they did break, they worked a neat exchange where Fuego began to realise he had the height to trouble Virus. There was a hip toss takedown that really seemed to bother Virus as it came after a series of counters from Fuego, so he popped up and struck Fuego across the chest. This was the set-up for them to run the ropes and close out the fall, but it was also a concession from Virus that he couldn't beat him straight up on the mat. At least not in the first caida. One of the things I love about Virus is that despite his height he can lay in his strikes. The elbow he gave Fuego off the ropes caught him flush. He went for a lariat and Fuego countered with a short arm clothesline of his own that had an extra bit of oomph to it. The finishing stretch was awesome as Fuego monkey flipped Virus onto the apron, Virus caught him with a headbutt, missed a senton attempt and rolled through to catch Fuego with an armdrag. Just awesome shit. The ref had no idea whether the finish was a submission or a pinfall, but it couldn't sour a sublime opening fall.
You'll see better lucha matwork elsewhere, but as far as the modern style goes, the fall had purpose, it had a narrative, and a minimum of resets. Fuego had a chance when Virus was back to canvas, but he couldn't pry the opportunity open and Virus outsmarted him in the rope exchanges.
The second fall began with VIrus working over Fuego's leg and looking to force another submission in quick succession. This is another area that Virus excels. Nobody works a body part quite like him. It's like a beat down and classic body part psychology all in one. Fuego's selling might bug a few people as he decided to hobble and then blow it off, but he scored points with me for his urgency and for keeping Virus honest. It looked like he didn't hit his pinning combination cleanly, but the little shimmy across Virus' body to slide into position was enough of a break dance type move for me to give it a pass.
The third caida was a little rough around the edges to begin with since it was Fuego in control, but it got going as soon as he hit his topes. Fuego has a really beautiful tope. Great technique, lovely looking flight through the air and his his opponent square on. Virus also took the tope beautifully not to mention the bump through the ropes to set up the dive and the bump as Fuego threw him to the ground to set up tope number two. Back in the ring and I loved Virus' big wind up punch to take back control of the match. The nearfalls he created in this match were fantastic. For a guy who's not exactly a noted flyer, his top rope maneuvers have tremendous impact. The flying elbow is a personal fave of mine. I just love seeing the little guy drop the elbow like that. Uncorking the Samoan backdrop with the bridge was sweet as well, but he got a lot of pay off a sunset flip. The guy is a bona fide legend. His selling in terms of both desperation and fatigue is yet another thing he's unparalleled at.
Things were pretty tense at the end, as they should be in a world title match. The moment where I thought Virus had it was when Fuego went back to the pinning combo that had won him the second fall. It was at that point that he seemed bereft of ideas whereas Virus was able to pull out the "La Motocicleta." That highlighted the difference between the two as Fuego simply didn't have a move like that up his sleeve when he needed one, but boy, Virus celebrated that one with more than a little relief mixed in with the elation.
Great match from a great wrestler. An all-time great really. They deserved the money that was thrown at them and the match itself deserves more accolades. It wasn't perfect, but it was consistently excellent and fundamentally stronger than the Virus/Titan match. I see that they had a match a few years ago that somehow slipped through the cracks. I'm going to check that out and see how it compares. In the meantime, I hope more people seek this out and enjoy it.
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.
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.
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.
Negro Casas, Black Magic y Mano Negra vs. Mocho Cota, Bestia Salvaje y Emilio Charles Jr., CMLL 5/13/94
Jesus, Cota, Salvaje and Emilio! Check out the mugs on those three.
This was rudos contra rudos and started off with some nifty matwork between Black Magic and Salvaje. It's been a while since I've seen Bestia look good in a match and I was instantly reminded of what an underrated talent he was. It was also the best Smiley has looked on the mat in CMLL, which was a nice surprise. Mano Negra and Emilio followed suit and were rock solid. Negra continued his inspired post mask loss run, which was miles better than the lead in to his apuesta match. As they grappled, Cota began stirring trouble from the apron in his usual maniacal fashion. The camera stayed on for quite some time and it was interesting watching him snap from one extreme to the other. As soon as Casas was in, he went straight after Cota, so I'm guessing this was early build towards their hair match. Cota ended up taking over and Bestia impressed me to no end with the sharpness of his rudo beatdown on Smiley. Great punches. A quick search of the Match Finder found no trace of a singles match. The things we miss out on. Emilio helped beat the shit out of Casas to end the fall, thus beginning perhaps the best thread to the match, Emilio vs. Casas. It's not every day you see Emilio Charles Jr and Casas work together, so you better drop what you're doing and watch this. While that particular ass kicking was going on, Bestia was giving one of the patrons a nice up close look at how great his punches look from a foot away.
Casas sold his beating like he was in another postal code. At one point, he was trying to punch his way out of the corner and collapsed, desperately lunging at Cota's tights. There was some weird storyline going on where Smiley was trying to help Casas but Negra wasn't. I'm sure it didn't make much sense even in Spanish. Negra then tried this cool choke takedown on Cota, but the Cota team were no mugs in the ring. Bestia threw the most beautiful left hand I think I've ever seen, and of course Cota was in the thick of it all like some kind of vindictive ringmaster. Casas popped back up on the apron in a not-so-great moment of selling, but if you're going to pop up on the apron to lead your side's comeback then there's no better way than the headbutt he gave Cota to turn the tide. Unfortunately, Smiley's retaliatory beatdown of Bestia wasn't in the same league as the one he'd had dished out to him, but it got the job done. There was an amusing moment between falls when Casas began beating on Cota in front of some front row seats. The patrons cleared the seats to avoid being hurt and Casas used the woman's handbag to thrash Cota. Cota picked the thing up and flung it across to the other side of the ring, and you could see the woman aghast about her handbag. Eventually, the ref handed it back to her companion while Cota did his best Terry Funk impersonation and tried to pick a fight with a photographer.
The third caida started with a series of exchanges where teammates were making saves for one another until finally it came down to Cota and Negra with no one from Negra's side willing to help him. Negra threw a punch at Casas, who was hugging the apron, but as you'd expect by now there was no big angle. Instead we got more Casas vs. Emilio and God was it great. The finishing stretch was a lot of fun with Cota doing a hilarious punch drunk sell off a Smiley body check then getting caught in a bear hug submission. But as Smiley was shaking Cota all over the ring, Casas ran straight into an Emilio power bomb and that was the match one, two, three. Not a vintage performance from Casas kayfabe wise. The match was fun, though there's definitely better rudos contra rudos stuff out there. Cota was good, but didn't have the same aura as his 80s stuff and was a bit of a sideshow act compared to his godliness on the 80s set. Still, he managed to amuse.
Negro Casas, Babe Face y Rambo vs. Villano I, Villano IV y Villano V, UWA 3/6/92
This was a blast. I know I've said this a thousand times but these 1991-92 UWA television matches were so much fun. This was clipped, but even the sped up version was great with exchanges so good they're like candy.
Casas started off by wrestling Villano IV. If you're cut from the same cloth I am, you're going to want to watch this when you hear they wrestled. It was rad. Casas was rocking this black trunks/black boots combo with "UWA" written on the boots and was all business. It wasn't a long exchange, but it's got to be one of the highlights of vintage Negro Casas thus far.
Babe Face surprised me here. I expected him to be washed up, which he was, but he could still take a nice bump off an arm drag and he had some really fun punch exchanges with the Villanos that led some outrageous punch drunk selling. Rambo didn't do a hell of a lot in ring, but his enthusiasm was infectious and he seemed to drive the match from the apron and with his interjections. There was a great moment where Casas had Villano IV in a headlock and Rambo was pulling on his own arm to encourage Casas to torque the hold a bit more. Aside from Babe Face's wobbly legs, other motifs included miscommunication spots between the rudos and repeat use of the low blow. Rambo was brilliant at both, interjecting himself only to fuck up and delivering one of my all-time favourite fouls. The low blow in lucha can either attain heights it never does in any other form of wrestling or be the absolute nadir of professional lucha libre. Here the rudos won with a low blow thanks to a heel ref, but you won't believe what happened next as those shitty websites keep telling me every day. I didn't catch which Villano was clutching the Mendoza jewels, but Rambo was helping to stretch out his legs when suddenly he dropped a knee to the nether regions. The rudos' reaction was priceless. They bolted faster than I've ever seen a trio exit. Villanos IV and V chased them, but they were like rats up a drain pipe. It's moments like that which make it all worth while.
Villanos IV and V did most of the wrestling for their side and they were largely excellent. I love the twisting, wristy arm drags they do, and at one point one of them had Rambo on the outside and did kind of a wristlock shoulder throw for a nice Rambo bump. Quinto also had a nice matador type spot where he kept making Babe Face look like Humpty Dumpty with a spinning back kick.
Casas was class through all of this and worth watching the match twice for to pick up on all the nuances. I love his finger wag when selling a bulldog and the look on his face when he mistimed a move on top of Rambo. I also loved the way he shouted at his corner when he came off second best in the first exchange to fire himself up for the reset. Really fun bout.
El Dandy/Piloto Suicida/El Brazo vs. Negro Casas/Loverboy/Kung Fu (Los Angeles, CA 9/19/92)
Vintage Casas of the Day gets requests!
This WWA handheld was a request from Pro Wrestling Only poster Gregor. Gregor doesn't post much, but I've always admired his taste in lucha and his penchant for seeking out the hidden gems like we do on the Great Lucha blog, so I was rapt to get a message from him.
Lucha house show matches are no different from other promotion's house shows. They're basically a stripped down version of what you see on TV. You get a bit of shtick, a few exchanges, a rudo beatdown segment and a couple of dives at the end, but they're generally more heat orientated and less physically demanding.
This match was hurt by the fact that apart from Casas and Dandy none of the other participants were very good, including El Brazo who mailed his performance in from Mexico City. I was a bit disappointed that El Brazo wasn't that third good worker a trios match needs, like Mano Negra in that recent Dandy vs. Llanes trios match I reviewed, but I was probably confusing him with Brazo de Oro as El Brazo was always the least of the brothers. Though to be fair, Dandy wasn't up for much in this bout. He seemed more interested in emulating the fighting stance of whatever third or fourth generation UWF bootlegs he was getting and throwing open handed palm strikes.
The match was meant to be a bit of fun so I don't want to be too critical, but it would have been better if they'd built it around the Casas vs. Dandy rivalry. Instead, it was an opportunity for the technicos to shine with some build for Lover Boy vs. Piloto Suicida tacked on at the end. They ended up having a mask vs. mask match at some point where Lover Boy was castrated, but it was quite literally an afterthought here.
What I did like about this is that we got to see on a house show just how amazingly charismatic Casas was in his prime. The guy simply exuded charisma in a way few wrestlers do. And he was constantly busy working in small details and riffs. I'm now convinced that he was better than Dandy during this time period. What set him apart here were the bumps he was prepared to take on an LA house show. They weren't huge bumps but they raised the level of the match and the standard of the performances. Plus it's fun to hear a tape trader from '92 gushing over how good he is. So it's definitely vintage Casas of the day.
El Dandy y Negro Casas vs. Corazon De Leon y Ultimo Dragon, CMLL 7/16/93
Whose bright idea was it to give this 40 minutes?
People often complain about how short and meaningless the first two falls in lucha are, but three falls of equal length makes for really dull matches.
When Jericho was in it was wrestled like an American match. When Ultimo was in it was wrestled like a Japanese match. Dandy was a technico and Casas a rudo, but the match wasn't remotely story driven. It was a workrate match through and through despite Felino giving Casas stick for teaming with a technico in the segment which Raging Noodles translated.
When it was over, the crowd threw money in the ring to show their appreciation. Being a tightwad, I probably wouldn't have thrown any money, but I can see why the crowd did as the bout was different from what they were used to.
(Actually, I probably would have gotten into it live as I generally don't care how good the matches are during live wrestling.)
Jericho couldn't mat wrestle to save his life so he and Dandy went with a side headlock. It was cool, but can you imagine Doobie in your funk?
Casas attacked the leg and looked like he was imitating his hero Choshu. He was really at his athletic peak here. Ultimo showed phenomenal speed between the ropes and Casas almost matched it with his running dropkick. It was a shame he entered CMLL just as the Televisa shit was about to go down with Pena. Can you imagine what he could have contributed in 1990? Then again, someone else may have missed out like Azteca or Satanico or Emilio. Plus he was able to rule the roost a bit with everyone defecting to AAA.
Casas managed to make Jericho's strikes halfway decent, which was the only good thing Jericho contributed, and Dandy was slightly disappointing against Ultimo, so I'd have to say Casas looked better than his rival here. It did help that he had natural charisma with Ultimo, but Dandy was going through a pudgy stage where his work began to suffer.
Aside from the match not really being lucha, the two other problems I had with it were that the finishes to each fall were weak and there were too many submissions that felt like restholds. If you're going to wrestle long falls, you better make the finish to each spectacular so that the momentum carries through to the next caida, but they fell short of that here. There was no intrinsic reason for it go go long; it just did.
In fairness, it wasn't as bad as it could have been, and in the 1993 CMLL landscape it probably stands out as one of the better bouts, or at least one of the more ambitious ones. But I'd rather watch lucha.
Negro Casas/El Felino/Dr. Wagner Jr. vs. El Dandy/La Fiera/Corazon de Leon, CMLL 7/23/93
This was the epitome of a nothing match.
It began with some sort of sit down talk between Casas and Felino with heel commentator Arturo Rivera serving as mediator. They seemed engaged in a philosophical debate over whether Casas was still a rudo, which I'm sure is riveting if you understand a word of Spanish, but perplexing if you don't.
How could Casas and Felino remain on the same side when Casas threw in the towel to cost Felino his welterweight title? That's the sort of contradiction that makes it difficult for people to get into lucha. One minute Casas doesn't want to be a rudo anymore and is trying to buddy with Dandy; the next minute he's turning on his brother in what most of us have been preconditioned to believe is a face turn for Felino. Either this is an incredibly sophisticated angle which I can't understand or there's no continuity. It's as though they teased a Casas brothers feud through the summer only to drop it for something else. As best I can tell, Felino accuses Casas of being envious, but the theme for Casas' entire 1993 seems to be a crisis of faith.
Seriously, if you can understand Spanish and you care enough, drop me a line and let me know what's going on.
The confusion wouldn't have been so bad if the match had been any good, but it was the opposite of a fun Arena Coliseo match. I usually watch these matches two or three times while writing them up, but this wasn't a match I'd want to sit through again. Felino and Casas almost came to blows during Rivera's intervention yet there was no pay off in the match. The vignette was probably shot separately to the match so I can understand there being no connection, but why book this way if you can't really produce a television show? Casas was still avoiding wrestling Dandy the way he did in 1992, Wagner was greener than Espectro's mask, Jericho was fucking awful in Mexico, and the match-up I was most looking forward to seeing, Dandy vs. Felino, was slow and ponderous. The entire match was long and drawn out. The only guy who provided a spark was Fiera, which if you've seen the condition he was in during 1993 was a little depressing.
Enough about this one.