RAMBO VS. VILLANO III, 6/14/01
RAMBO VS. VILLANO III, HAIR VS. HAIR, 6/21/01
Eight years is a long time to wait for your revenge, but that's how long it took José Luis Mendieta Rodríguez to finally meet up with senor Señor Mendoza again.
PART ONE -- THE MANO A MANO
Watching this I was thinking about how certain essentials and basics have been lost in pro wrestling matches as the years go by. There is nothing excessive here like most modern pro wrestling matches, but that's not to say this was a minimalist work. For example, the matwork was very well paced and the reversals were pulled off effortlessly. I guess one can say that both these guys were a bit limited physically at this point, I mean, I can only imagine what sort of injuries Rambo's had over his journeyman career. But that doesn't matter at all in this match, since both these guys are real workers and are very familiar with each other. The match they had in 1993 holds up remarkably better than a lot of the pimped AAA stuff of the early 1990s. Being a big fan of the AAA Mask vs Hair match, led me to be both excited about the potential here but also worried since it's hard to guess how a match is going to turn out quality wise. But I was really satisfied with what Villano III and Rambo pulled off here.
There were two parts in this match, the first part being the matwork and it boiling over at the middle point into a great brawl. The matwork section had some great grappling action, and counters like Rambo headbutting (plenty of headbutt's in this bout) Villano's chest to break Villano's bridge. Another great moment was when both guys got tied up in each others' double headlock, and rolled all the way out to the arena floor and then all the way back to the ring without letting go of the hold. They looked like two old dogs, fighting their hearts out and never letting their grip of each other go. This leads to some more natural matwork, until they stand toe to toe and Villano III just lets loose and delivers a big ole headbutt and it's on.
It's very difficult to pace a match that goes back and forth with both guys building towards a draw. But Villano III and Rambo managed to pull it off here and it didn't feel contrived at all. This didn't have the big bumps that Rambo did in the past, but Rambo still had some nice moments like his missed bottom turnbuckle silla and the way he bumped and sold Villano's knee counter to his big running splash. When Rambo missed his silla, Villano immediately went after Rambo's head with some biting and the juices started flowing. As Rambo starts coming back and is about to get his revenge by posting Villano, the video cuts off for a brief amount of time. It's a huge shame, but watching lucha libre, one gets pretty much used to stuff like that happening. But as the video comes back, both crimson faced guys are on their knees in a brilliant exchange of vicious headbutts and manly slaps. It was so awesome that I have hard time articulating how great that was. As they start building towards the finish, Rambo hits this great big senton that looked so crushing as Rambo is pretty big at this point. A little after that, we get another great exchange, this time with each guys taking turns biting each other and it ending with a Villano III punching combo. As I mentioned earlier, this ends in a draw and the best part about that is that it gave us another great match to look forward to. The post-match stuff might be the best part of this match, as both guys can't stop going after each other and their emotions are so passionate at this point. They are both wounded and hurt, selling the previous 15 minutes of action, but they are still trying to fuck each other up with headbutts, kicks, and punches. This was pretty great.
Rambo was billed as the rudo in this feud, but I'm not buying that.
There was something of Satanico Daniel Lopez in Mendoza that made him a natural rudo. Sure, he'd had the big unmasking with women crying and his family around him, but a leopard never changes its spots. There was something vain about the way Mendoza courted babyface attention, despite being the same shit as ever. It reminds me of an amusing story my father used to tell about how he could never enjoy the Precious Pupp cartoon as a child, because all he wanted as for someone to ram their big toe up the dog's arse. Besides, Mendoza was the prick who took Rambo's mask in the first place, then turned around and took his hair... A man doesn't forget those things.
The reason I like watching older luchadores is because they simplify everything. Rambo was never the greatest worker in the world, but he wasn't the type to hide behind his limitations. Hiding behind his limitations would've meant he couldn't hang with the better workers, and that just wasn't Rodríguez' style. He was gonna give himself his best shot at winning, especially against a bastard like Mendoza.
So while this had some awkward moments, particularly in the stand-up parts, you have to appreciate how simple and direct it was: get the takedown, grind your opponent's face into the mat, and when that doesn't work, start with the short arm punches. Mendoza had a straight-up advantage on the mat. His father was inarguably the greatest mat worker in lucha history, and Mendoza probably spent his entire childhood trying to take his father down and failing. He knew his way around the mat like a child knows its way around the nursery, but I was impressed with how Rambo hung in there and even managed to turn him on a few occasions. The fact that Rambo was such a big guy made this even better.
The other thing I liked about this was how slow it was. OK, you can argue that Rambo was out of shape and selling because he was short of breath, but lucha is a style that should be worked at half-speed with a large amount of exaggeration. This was roughly the same length as younger workers' matches, but with far less moves, more exaggerated selling and a greater emphasis on desperation takedowns. Mendoza, being a tweener at best and the prick who started this fight, was the first to start with the biting, and didn't he look like an old Dracula? That carney bastard has been in so many of these matches that there was a real gleam in his eyes when Rambo started bleeding.
The finish was great too with the beautifully timed missed splash, Rambo selling Villano's tucked knees as if it were a foul, the accidental and convincing looking double pin, and the tooth and nail brawling afterwards. Neither guy really got a piece of each other, so we got more --
PART TWO -- THE HAIR MATCH
This was classy, well, as classy as a bloodbath between two middle aged grapplers could be. We get the big hair vs hair match really soon after the previous singles match and both of these veterans delivered. Unlike the match from the previous week, this was a 2 out of 3 falls encounter. At the very opening, Villano III gets on the microphone and asks Rambo for a gentleman's agreement to have a high class wrestling match without any blows. This leads the announcers to debate about this and if it's right to do for such a high stakes bout. So the first fall is a little over 5 minutes, and is some lovely matwork. I thought this was more impressive than the first match in the series, and had a rhythm that was easier to get into. It wasn't complex like El Satanico's best matwork, but it was simple matwork pulled off gracefully by two old masters. They each knew every little openings and countered at just the right time. They did some awesome struggling as well, like when Rambo was fighting for an armbar and Villano for a leglock. The first fall ends after Rambo starts to nail his butt butts, and locks in a submission hold for the win. Second fall is short, as Villano makes a quick comeback with a dropkick and a hurricarana roll at the :17 second mark.
As the third fall beings, Rambo brings out the best staple of all the hair vs hair match, the biting and the announcer enthusiastically cries "This is what we've been waiting for gentlemen". One of the concerns about luchas de apuestas, is how well the workers are able to gel the violent nature of this type of match with their nearfall attempts. Nearfalls are probably the worst thing to have happen to pro wrestling over this decade, as a lot of workers can't help it and they start to have these superfluous long finishing stretches that have no flow. Villano and Rambo are too smart (and probably too physically limited) to even attempt a ridiculous amount of nearfalls. They keep it pretty simple in the third fall with Villano III doing an excellent job of selling a shoulder injury from the first fall and Rambo working him over. Villano III starts to make a great comeback, fighting on the top rope with Rambo. They are slowly working towards a super DDT spot, but the way it's set up with Villano III weakening him with biting and headbutts was a neat touch. Both guys are now working towards finishing each other, and in a great moment, Villano hits a clothesline and just clutches at his injured arm.
After a crucifix pin, they start trading these great punches on the mat. A short while after this, Rambo botches something from the top, but Villano quickly covers that up and goes for a tirabuzón pinfall press. We get some great pinfall and submission attempts throughout the 3rd fall, including Rambo going back to his combination that finished off Villano previously but it failed him in this case. They start throwing some more bloody headbutts, and the doctor starts to check Rambo's cut. The doctor is teasing a stoppage as Rambo valiantly refuses, so as the match continues, it leads up to my favorite false finish of the match: a great sunset flip from the apron from Rambo. After a cool crossbody block by Rambo that gets reversed and some more headbutts, we get this classic visual of the referee dragging a bloody wreck of a Rambo to the doctor to check on his cut one more time. This might seem like a bullshit finish in some cases, but I loved it here. The way Rambo sold it and performed it here was great. The whole post-match stuff was classic stuff with lots of words being exchanged, more punches and headbutts being thrown, an outright refusal from Rambo concerning the hair shaving, and Villano III lecturing how he didn't want to remove his mask when Atlantis beat him but he was a man so he did it. This was all wrapped together in a tight package. These were two guys with a lot of pride on the line and a lot of hate in their history. They went out there, kept it simple, fought to a bloody pulp, carved themselves up and it was a manly example of how great lucha libre can be.
A gentleman's agreement?
Look at how Rambo stops to sign autographs for the kids. Mendoza blows them off and stares at his valet's ass.
Mendoza's ploy to have Rambo mat wrestle blew up in his face when it became apparent that the General had close quarters combat training. This was the kind of fall you'd show people to determine whether they could ever get into lucha, because the holds were so loosely fed, the counters so slow and the finish so inexplicably lucha, that I could see a lot of people thinking it's ridiculous. For the aficionado, the rhythm was near perfect (as Raging Noodles pointed out), and I honestly didn't bat an eyelid when Rambo took the fall on a roll-up submission move. There's a thousand ways to win a fall in lucha libre, but what really matters is what comes next. Villano came out his corner with a drop kick that caught Rambo high in the chest, and we got a nice slow motion replay of the bump and roll, and Villano following up faster than Rambo could react. Seventeen seconds into round two and the one fall advantage was gone -- seems unfair, but the whole of lucha libre is predicated on what is fair and unfair.
Rambo threw the gentleman's agreement out the window to start the third fall, as well he should considering how many times he'd lost to the guy. Villano's selling in the tercera was pretty great, as he ignored the cut that Rambo had opened and focused solely on the pain shooting through his arm. There was a great shot of Rambo working the joint while Mendoza bleed into his opposite arm, his face buried as the blood found a way to trickle and escape. Mendoza waved off the referee and Rambo released the hold, but not before punching his shoulder. When Mendoza surfaced, it was like a drowning man gasping for air. He staggered around with blood seeping into his left eye and shit smeared all over him from when he'd been in the hold. Rambo likely had visions of taking whatever hair Mendoza had left, but Mendoza is a cagey son of a bitch.
This was a great fall for the reasons that Raging Noodles spelled out, but what really impressed me was how well they paced it in terms of Rambo catching up to Villano's groggy state. Villano didn't just pop up and start taking Rambo to the cleaners, it started with Rambo taking whiplash bumps that knocking the stuffing out of him and proceeded at the pace with which Rambo bled. I don't know how many times I've seen workers throw it all away from this position, but not here. There wasn't a single moment where it looked like they'd undo all the good they'd done, not even when Rambo overtook Villano in the fucked-up stakes. In fact, I'm struggling to recall a hair match with a tercera caida as well paced as this. The stoppages were exceptionally well done and they even had the confidence to throw in a comedy spot where the referee looked foolish on a double knockdown count. The finish was awesome: Rambo kept coming at Villano with punches, but it was all he could do to put one foot in front of the other. When Villano slipped free and Rambo kept walking towards the ropes and his cornerman, it was clear he was done. He didn't want the fight to be over, but like I said, lucha can be distinctly unfair.
So there he was, hunched over and bleeding as much as any other worker in memory, and he had to suffer the indignity of Mendoza telling him to take it like man. And that's not the worst part -- Rambo lost the next hair match they had.
Thwarted, again and again... That has to grate.