Blue Panther vs. Atlantis, NWA World Middleweight Championship, 8/9/91
I thought I ought to do something a little special to mark my 200th entry, so since I've been talking about Blue Panther vs. Atlantis lately, I decided to go back and watch their match from '91. This match was part of the first batch of lucha I ever bought and is a large part of why I became hooked on lucha. I'm not particularly fond of watching matches I've seen before, particularly when I'm comparing it to the excitement of receiving my first batch of lucha libre, but with so much lucha under my belt since I first saw this, I was almost astonished by how much I enjoyed it. I probably appreciate it more than ever before, which is rare for me since I'm usually interested in the latest and greatest lucha libre match.
There's a real buzz surrounding this match that only happens when you get two wrestlers in the ring who you know are going to deliver. Watching Roberto Rangel give his pre-match instructions, it struck me that you had El Dandy and Pierroth Jr. seconding here, two of the most charismatic luchadores in CMLL at the time, and yet all eyes are on Panther and Atlantis. When they head to their opposite corners and go through their final warm-ups, there's an excitement around the bell sounding that's as close to a big time title fight as professional wrestling gets. That may sound like an odd thing to say about the costumed world of Mexican lucha libre, but watch this first caida unfold; it's by far the most competitive opening to a two-out-of-three falls title match I have ever witnessed. I won't go into great detail about what happens, because this is a match that has been uploaded several times on youtube, so there's no excuse for not watching it if you're the least bit interested in professional lucha libre, but this is the caida that convinced me that lucha could be as serious and competitive as any other style of wrestling while looking nothing like other styles of wrestling. And really, that's the beauty of lucha libre -- there's nothing else like it.
But watch this caida. There's a rare sort of intensity to it that you seledom find in any sort of wrestling. It's as if they're in the third caida already -- in fact, it's almost as if it's a one fall match with the way Panther and Atlantis fight to take the opening fall. The way they build this intensity is by gradually selling more and more so that each counter becomes increasingly threatening. If you think luchadores can't sell like wrestlers are meant to, I suggest you watch this match, because the great ones can and do sell, while working the most brilliant holds imaginable. The great thing about this caida is that little by little you get the feeling that Atlantis is the champ here. It was a belt he held for a significantly long time and defended against some pretty reputable opposition, and you can see that class come through in the key and deciding moments.
The first fall builds to its epic conclusion and you start figuring whether they can keep up this intensity over the next two falls, but the second fall is short, sharp and clever. By this stage, the competitive juices of both guys are flowing and Atlantis starts dropping these awesome knees to the face of Blue Panther. Panther shrugs them off and comes back with a immense hit of his own that shocks Atlantis enough for a quick and decisive equaliser. Pierroth loves it and so do I, because Panther signalled his intent with that body blow. He's here to mount a challenge and not about to fade away.
The third caida is built around the timeless notions of desperation and fatigue and those smallest of margins between winning and losing. It's somewhat looser than the opening fall because both guys are tiring, but the great thing about Atlantis vs. Panther matches is how sparingly they used their big takedown offence. Panther had his powerbomb and that spinebuster he liked to do and Atlantis had his back breaker and huracarrana, and they were delivered with gusto and sold like they were the tipping point of the match. The great thing about a third caida is how it weighs on each wrestler's mind. If you get a two from a roll-up and another from a sunset flip, you've got to be thinking that you're running out of chances here. It takes a steely sort of determination to think that you've almost got your man when he escapes your best stuff time and time again. Panther is the first one to crack by trying to go up top, which if you've followed the career of Blue Panther is not his game. Atlantis knocks him off and goes for a huge corner tope, but unforunately his legs hit the top rope as he's going through and he doesn't hit it cleanly. Not to worry, though, as Panther follows up with a tope of his own, which leds to one of the greatest submission attempts ever witnessed in a lucha ring when Panther has Atlantis trapped in an inverted Gory Special and it dead set looks like Altantis is going to submit in the middle of the ring. Atlantis escapes with a roll-up and Panther reverses that for another great nearfall. Atlantis is shaken here and only has a few seconds to regather before Panther comes at him again, and it's almost as if the seconds are ticking down until Atlantis loses. He steps and fakes and makes his move and I won't even tell you how he wins this because it's ridiculously great and enough to pop the biggest sportatorium on a buzzer beater in the biggest game of the year. It's just huge. Perfectly executed and the mother of all final plays.
I watch a lot of sport and I've experienced all the different emotions -- shock, joy, devastation -- and that was what this match was for the audience and for these two wrestlers, which is ultimately what pro-wrestling is trying to achieve. Just a great match. Watch it. Love it. Gain a thirst for lucha libre.