Emilio Charles, Jr vs. Atlantis, NWA World Middleweight Championship, 8/14/92
Emilio Charles, Jr was one of the first luchadores I became a fan of. In fact, it was Dean or one of the other playa's review of the 12/89 Charles/Dandy title match that sparked my interest in lucha in the first place. After I saw that match, I tracked down the rest of their '89 feud, kick starting one of the more satisfying love affairs with any style in my wrestling fandom history. I was shocked to hear of his passing the other day, as I'm sure everyone was, and decided to watch one of his matches.
Having read about Charles before I ever saw him, the first thing that stood out about him was his name. In a world filled with Satanicos and Villanos, Emilio Charles, Jr seemed a tad bit ordinary for a heel. It reminded me of a cross between Emilio Estevez and Charles in Charge, but it had a certain ring to it, and sure enough if there's anything to be said about Charles it's that the man had personality. He was as entertaining doing apron work as he was in showcase matches, and even in the smallest of bit parts his trios work was always memorable. He had a face only his mother could love and hair that practically goaded opponents into wager matches. And above all, like every great heel, he had a shit-eating grin the size of the gulf of Mexico. He was a great worker, as equally adept at grappling as he was brawling, and he was a fantastic bumper, rivalling at times even Pirata Morgan. Like all the great bumpers, his body eventually broken down, as I've mentioned a thousand times on this blog, but he was always savvy even if it was a slippery slope down from his late 80s peak.
This was a much better match than I remembered. I think I was turned off it the first time because people had praised it as a mat classic. I don't think some arm work and a couple of cool submissions from Emilio make for a mat classic, but this match is something different. You don't often see the type of sustained armwork that Emilio works here or the long term limb selling that Atlantis exhibits, and luchadores usually tap instantaneously rather than fight for all death like Atlantis does here. I don't know what prompted them to work the match like this. Emilio wasn't Atlantis' best opponent (that would be Blue Panther) and Atlantis wasn't Emilio's best opponent (that would be Dandy), but they had a certain chemistry together which is best evidenced in their match from '88, which is sometimes confused as being from '84 and is really fast paced, cutting edge lucha. Rather than being great on the mat together, they were awesome at fast paced rope work, slick counters and exciting nearfalls. All of those trademarks can be found in this match, but there's also the narrative of Atlantis surviving a ton of work on his injured arm. It's actually quite a superhuman effort if you look at it from a technical viewpoint of what Emilio actually did his arm, and I suppose there has to be question marks over how believable it was, but I kind of looked at it from the perspective that Atlantis had held the belt for over two years and defended it at least twenty times (with a worked, possibly real number that was even higher) and they really wanted to put Emilio's challenge over out of respect or some other reason. That's what I'd like to believe anyway as they really went out of their way to make it seem like Emilio could win. I didn't think it was one of the truly epic lucha title matches, but it was rock solid. I've never had a problem with the rapid fire, equalising fall as I think it's a great storytelling tool and helps turn the momentum, and the finish didn't bother me other than the fact that the rhythm could've been better. All told it was a fine defence and Emilio looked good for 1992 Emilio.
It's hard to believe he's gone, but y'know, I was having this conversation with my co-worker the other day about how weird it is when you're watching an old movie and you suddenly realise that everyone in this movie is dead, and I guess that Emilio's career will keep playing out on youtube and grainy VHS tapes for decades to come. Always young, always great, always one of the very best. Emilio Charles, Jr.