Regular readers will know that I don't like classic, hot period AAA very much, but I do like it more than any of the current stuff that's being put out so for the time being there will be an AAA season here at the Great Lucha blog w/ the occasional interlude should anything catch my eye. Some of these reviews will be critical and some will be filled with praise, but we start the season off with some criticism of a man who's hardly ever criticised: El Hijo Del Santo.
2/16/94 AAA: El Hijo Del Santo vs Psicosis (WWA Welterweight Title) - Aguascalientes
Some time ago, I was prompted to watch Psicosis and El Hijo del Santo's 1995 WWA Welterweight title match again after reading the only criticism of the match I had ever come across. It was a bit of an eye opener really, not only because it changed my opinion of a match I had thought was pretty good, but because it drove home how little there is in the way of lucha match discussion. I figure most people who read this blog will agree with me that it can be tough finding match recommendations let alone a discourse. The reason for this is that there just aren't enough people who care, but one of the side effects of this lack of discourse is that folks tend to believe what they "hear," and one of the things folks tend to believe (without really knowing) is that El Hijo Del Santo is one of the greatest workers ever.
Now before this starts sounding like tall poppy syndrome, let me just state that I like El Hijo Del Santo. Not as much as some people, but the next review I intend to write will be full of praise for Santo's performance. My gripe with Santo is the notion that he can't put a foot wrong. In many ways, this type of thinking was a by-product of this hot period of AAA where lucha went from being something Dave Meltzer didn't particularly like to a hot ticket that he could get behind. 1993-95 AAA was the peak of lucha's popularity among sheet readers (most of whom aren't around anymore), and because its popularity never grew from there, we're left with even more tired ideas than usual. I mean, Santo as superworker is a really 90s idea. It's the equivalent of a bunch of sheet readers saying, "oh, he's the Jushin Thunder Liger of Mexico."
The point of this entry isn't to belittle anyone but to point out the lack of discourse, because I'd put it to folks that not only is El Hijo Del Santo not a superworker but these two years represent the worst two years of El Hijo Del Santo's prime.
Take this match, for example. Santo coasted through plenty of trios matches in AAA but trios matches are there to be coasted through sometimes. This was a singles match and those are rare in lucha. It came on the back of some truly awful matches between Santo and Heavy Metal in 1993 and can't be explained away easily. Santo was given three falls, 20+ minutes and all the scope in the world to have a great match. It's difficult to say how much influence Peña had over the style Santo worked, but Santo certainly had all the allowances he needed to have a great match with 1994 AAA matches being longer and much more mat based than they would later become. But you take the first fall alone and it's just a shockingly bad fall.
One thing I've noticed about Santo over the years is that there's really two Santos: the one who's in there with a great worker and the one who's not. The one who's in there with a great worker tends to test his skills against those of his opponent and is exceptionally creative. The one who's in there with a lesser worker tends to lead them through the standard Santo match. That's not a terrible knock on Santo; the guy's a pro who understands a house and always gives the fans what they came to see, but it seems to me that he judged Psicosis as being in the lesser category, and well, 20+ minutes of the Santo show isn't particularly inspiring.
As uninspiring as it may be, was it necessary? I've always told people who judge Psicosis on his US work that he can't be judged on his US work for the sheer reason that he never showed even a fraction of his true personality in the US. It's night and day comparing WCW Psicosis to AAA Psicosis. One had a cult following and the other fell off the map completely. His strength wasn't in singles matches, however. Psicosis' strength was being an outrageous character in trios matches. In time, he may have been the heir to Fuerza or Pierroth in terms of being "that guy" in a trios match. You could argue that he was on the way already, but despite being most famous for his matches with Rey Mysterio, Jr., he wasn't a singles guy.
You can see it in the first fall matwork here, which was an embarrassing series of released holds. Psicosis was more often than not taller than his opponent and this appears to have added to his difficulties on the mat, but you are what you are on the mat and the best you can do is try. My beef here is with Santo who did little to lead Psicosis through an acceptable opening fall to a lucha title match. His matwork was just as disjointed as Psicosis' attempts at countering it and to make matters worse he went to one of his worst finishes to end the fall.
The subsequent fall only confused matters more. Psicosis sold the second fall like a technico while Santo dominated it like a rudo. It started off with the old "there's no timeouts in wrestling" schtick that Southern heels loved to pull, but then Santo started beating on him pretty hard. Call me crazy, but it made for uncomfortable viewing. No technico looks good injurying a rudo even if that rudo is stalling. It was better matwork than the first fall, but it was unbecoming of Santo as a technico and didn't really belong in a title match either, especially when the champion was a fall up. I can only imagine that Psicosis had done something penis like in the trios matches leading into this bout for Santo to behave like this. They may have been trying to get the crowd behind Psicosis since Peña liked to book him over Santo during this era, but the crowd didn't seem to particularly like it and who can blame them with no discernable story? There wasn't any particular rhythm to it either. I didn't really understand what they were playing at here and Santo over-sold some back bumps to finish the fall. Two bad falls in a row.
The third fall was lucha at its worst and bored the shit out of me the first time I watched it. Watching it again now, I can't believe how much they're selling between rounds. They're obviously trying to heighten the drama but it's completely unwarranted. Had they been through two tough falls it might have geared me up for the third but it was completely Santo ran through his staples like a Saturday morning cartoon. It was probably their best work of the match but I don't care about nearfalls deep in a match when I didn't give a shit about the first two falls, and watching Santo whiz overhead for a tope is just so predctable even if it was picture perfect. A few seconds later (i.e. right on cue), Psiscois did an unbelievably awesome dive. A few seconds after that, he did his corner shoulder bump through the ropes and out onto the concrete, and Santo followed that up with a dive (you can guess which one.) I can't really fault the effort here. They were trying to hit the right spots and have a great match and Tirantes was getting into it with his counting, but a match doesn't start with the dives. (Well, they do these days, but that tells you what's wrong with modern lucha.) To sum up the night, the match ended with someone being out of position for the ref bump, which was more like a forward somersault into a takedown than an accidental collision.
Look, it's never easy to create drama in a wrestling match, but this match was majorly botched. Santo didn't set the right sort of platform in the opening fall and Psicosis' selling was off-key. Santo tried to sell the same as Psicosis to give it the match the sort of symmetry that luchadores like to give their matches but by that point they were lost at sea. This match probably needed to be a carry but it was poorly done by Santo. They came back a year later at the same venue and had another ugly match. Obviously, they couldn't iron out the flaws.
The point to all this isn't to prove Santo is shit, it's to point out the inconsistencies within his work. It's not my intention to disprove the notion that El Hijo Del Santo is a superworker, though I certainly don't believe it, but I'd like to float the idea because when I first got into lucha there was practically no criticism of name workers. I'm sure of the reasons for this, though I suspect it has something to do with the fact that because lucha is so underappreciated its fans constantly have to promote and protect it. Anyway, I've stated my case on Santo being an inconsistent worker. Decide for yourselves.