El Hijo del Santo vs. Felino, Mexican National Middleweight Championship, CMLL 4/5/96
This was a good match. It wasn't a mat classic like the Blue Panther vs. Atlantis Copa Victoria final, but it had a lot in common with how I think lucha should be wrestled these days, i.e., if you're not going to wrestle close to the canvas, you should at least be clever about how you put a match together.
This started off on the mat, but didn't really go anywhere because Felino wasn't able to work from underneath at this point. It was fairly typical matwork in that the guy working underneath reversed the hold into one of his own, but Felino wasn't able to do anything interesting with the limbs he was fed. Santo for his part looked good, and established that the mat wasn't a place where Felino was going to gain an advantage; it was just a little disappointing in the sense that Santo is a guy who I'd like to see wrestle a bit more. Oftentimes, he'll work the spots he's known for and little else. Here, he stayed away from the mat spots he's known for and worked a pretty solid ground game, but Felino couldn't counter effectively and that meant that Santo didn't have to wrestle as much as he could have. In the end, they left the mat altogether.
Usually, I hate it when workers leave the mat to finish a fall, but it made sense here from Felino's perspective as challenger. The only real success he was having was with his throws and thus he was better off on his feet. What I liked about the finish was that they put a little thought into it. Felino bumped to the outside, and scattered when Santo faked a tope. Santo wound up baseball sliding through the ropes to chase Felino, but the feline Casas was quicker than his opponent and caught him with a spinning heel kick as he re-entered the ring. This set-up Felino's crucifix powerbomb, which may seem like an annoying way to finish a fall's worth of matwork, but it was pretty clear that Felino needed to create distance between himself and his opponent, and strike from there. Felino is your atypical modern luchador in the sense that he's really an armdrag type guy. He likes to bump and roll and use the ropes, and it's his gimmick after all that he's the fastest luchador. Modern luchadores need to play to these strengths as well, since it's the only thing they know how to do; the trouble is, it really is the only thing they know how to do, so you don't get the same sort of grounding that Felino had here before he decided to chance his arm by charging at Santo, who we know could've avoided the spin kick and countered it into a pin.
Felino didn't have a clue what he was doing in the second fall and looked like he was making it up as he went along, but again he had success with his throws, which gave Santo something to sell after taking a big back bump from the crucifix bomb. I didn't really mind that Felino looked clueless, because I can buy that the challenger isn't sure what to do next, but it was one of those weak bridging falls where the guy who ate the pinfall in the first caida reverses the tables in no time whatsoever. It was a nice belly-to-belly suplex off the top rope, though. Good impact and the most decisive throw of the match, so it had those things going for it, I suppose. If you're going to throw bombs, at least make them emphatic.
The bridging fall I'm talking about is an important part of lucha singles matches in that it quickly undoes the work that was done in winning the first caida; I just thought the transition was a little weak, though psychology bookworms will note that Santo avoided the spinning heel kick and thus it was part of the tapestry of the match. Deciding the length of the fall is somewhat tricky. These days, the length of each fall is determined by television time, which is unfortunate, because the ability to lengthen or shorten a fall is how you build momentum for the third caida. If the falls are of equal length, then there's a predictablity about the third caida. Some might argue that there's always a predictability about the third caida, but shortened falls put the heat on whoever lost the fall. Nowdays, every fall is short, which is part of the ongoing problem of nothing really mattering anymore.
Santo hit his Tope de Cristo to kick start the third fall (I think I got that right, that flying somersault headbutt to the outside that Santo likes to do); a caida that was filled with the type of inconsistent selling that people hate about lucha. Some people might question why they sell so much after hitting a move or kicking out of a nearfall only to spring to their feet for the next attempt, but the stagger sell on a pinfall cover is better than no pacing at all. It's always an indicator that the end is near and at least that creates some tension for the fans. Besides, Felino was the type of worker who liked to miss moves from the top, like his moonsault to canvas which led to the finish here. So long as both guys are running out of lives, so to speak, you can build a reasonably dramatic fall even if you're not selling that well. Santo took this match with a camel clutch that Felino sort of tried to fight, and while it wasn't a great match, I really felt that rhythm was the key here.
Lucha matches these days don't seem to have rhythm. If you watch a match until it's conclusion and think back on how they got there, there doesn't seem to be many twists and turns along the way. Guys aren't gelling and forcing each other to go in different directions. It's pretty much a catching contest with dives in the first fall, dives in the second fall, and dives in the third fall. You can plug any set of luchadores in there and they'll follow the same pattern. This wasn't one of the better Santo/Felino matches, but it had a hell of a lot more scope than the average match today. Felino came up short for a reason, and how many matches can you say that about these days? Lucha is as arbitrary right now as the amount of unmaskings and hair cuts in IWRG.
Felino was the type of worker that all the young guys want to be, and while I wouldn't call him a particularly great worker, he had much better matches than we're seeing today despite the fact that he looked clueless half the time, and the reason for that is because he could follow the rhythm of a match and time his stuff accordingly. If more workers could do that, then more stuff would be passable. Instead, people have lowered their standards dramatically to be able to enjoy present day CMLL or whatever else they're watching, and funnily enough Felino is a part of that now. Instead of asking where the good Felino matches are these days, it's more a case of where's a match with a minute of good Felino work while he does that stupid La Peste Negra crap. This title match from '96 is the type of match they should be able to put out with ease these days, but they can't. It's dumbfounding to me that so many of the basic skills have been lost in such a short span of time, but I guess you reap what you sow.