In 1997, CMLL had one of the greatest single year runs of any promotion in wrestling history, but what about 1998?
It's not a year you hear a lot about. I don't think too many people could tell you what the match of the year was or which workers were on their game that year. Most of the CMLL I've seen from '99 has the company heading down the path of no return, so I thought I'd sample some matches from '98 and see what sort of state the company was in.
El Hijo Del Santo, Blue Panther y Black Warrior vs. Negro Casas, Atlantis y Mr. Niebla (CMLL 4/24/98)
This started off with some poor exchanges between Black Warrior and Mr. Niebla that were pretty indicative of where this company was heading over the next ten years. CMLL was a lot like other styles of wrestling in the 90s in that it paid off how solid the 70s and 80s had been without producing any workers who could carry on with the job; but watching older matches like these where CMLL is teetering on the point of being crap, you have to wonder why the veterans didn't take the young guys aside and say, "look that dive fake you tried was fucking awful, here's how you do it properly" because Atlantis and Blue Panther did a simple and effective "over the top rope exit" in the second caida which is what these young guys should've been learning from. Instead, you have these great exchanges between Panther and Atlantis and Santo and Casas that make Niebla and Black Warrior stick out like a pair of sore thumbs. Twelve years later, great mat exchanges are nothing to be scoffed at; but looking at the match from the perspective of when it occurred, CMLL were keen to push through guys like Black Warrior and Niebla regardless of match quality, and so as younger guys were pushed to the top, the veterans began succumbing to what is essentially a lazy style and nothing like the way they were brought up.
The two young guys were interesting to watch, however. Black Warrior had a knack for making himself invisible in a trios match. You could tell that he was never going to be a star because he didn't want to take the bull by the horns and stand out in any way. I suppose it doesn't hurt to keep a low profile, but he may be the most low-key pinball bumper the world has ever seen. His tope was like a bullet, but he never made much of it and threw it away in the first caida here. Niebla, on the other hand, has always been an awful worker. I honestly think you can chart the downfall of the classic luchador to Angel Azteca's failure to stay on top in the very early 90s, because he was the last technico I can think of who had the offence to carry on with lucha in the traditional sense. Niebla was just a blight; he had some tricked out submissions that saved him from being as mind-numbingly bad as Blue Demon Jr., but so much of what makes a good technico is between the ropes and he was so bad at the stop and pop stuff that he was a lost cause in the end.
The guy who held this match together, for the first two falls anyway, was Atlantis. He had something of a resurgence in the late 90s that began around 1996 and culminated with his famous mask match against Villano III in the early part of 2000. He squared off against Blue Panther here, and while it wasn't quite as smooth as some of the other times they've wrestled it was by far the high point of the match. When I first got into lucha, people always said that the must-see Panther exchanges were against Santo and Solar, but I'm pretty convinced now that Atlantis is the best match-up that Panther has ever had. For some reason, Blue Panther brought out the absolute best in Atlantis as a wrestler. Atlantis tried exchanges with Blue Panther that he never really tried with any other worker, which is a curious thing really, because when you think of Atlantis you think of a guy who was a great facilitator. He was a guy who was good at the nuts and bolts of trios work, as can be seen here when he provides the second caida with the necessary rhythm for a quick reply from the technicos, but against Panther he looked like one of the giants of this era of lucha libre and every bit the WON Hall of Famer that he's struggled to become.
The other opening exchange was between Santo and Casas, who were still feuding at this point. It was more reminiscent of their UWA work than the Japanese influences they'd dabbled in the year before. Pretty much a bunch of jockeying, but they did a good job of engaging without really engaging to set-up the obvious fight they were gonna have in the third caida.
The first two falls were okay and did a decent job of setting up the third caida, but what a mess that turned out to be. The technicos levelled the match with the second caida and Negro Casas spat in Santo's face to let him know they'd levelled it. Santo did an awesome job of wiping his eyes and mask and proceeded to give Casas one of the best asskickings I've seen Santo produce, but instead of the match erupting into a Dandy/Casas style third caida, everything just stopped... I mean dead in its tracks... I don't think I've ever seen these workers just drop a match like this in the third caida. Panther spent an eternity untying Atlantis' mask. The Santo/Casas feud really peaked with those trios matches that built to the Santo/Casas singles match at the end of the summer the year before, and all of their matches thereafter were middling, but none of them qualified as a rut. This was just awful and the confused booking at the end of Panther ripping Atlantis' mask off made it seem like there was no focus whatsoever to where they were trying to head with Santo and Casas. It was as confusing as the late '97 booking where Santo had a falling out Scorpio Jr. but continued on as a rudo unabated.
Not a match I'd recommend and strike one against 1998 CMLL.