El Hijo del Santo vs. Negro Casas (Mask vs. Hair) (7/18/87)
I think this was the only match to make Jeff Bowdren's Top Matches of the 80s list, and since improving Bowdren's list was the original impetus for the 80s sets, I thought it would be interesting to see how it holds up. The verdict?
It holds up well. It's not a violent match like Santo vs. Espanto the year before, but the work is excellent and if anything I like it more than when I first saw it a decade ago or more. Back then I was framing it against cruiserweight matches and junior heavyweights, now I can appreciate it as a lucha match. The degree to which they struggle over holds is surprising, although not that surprising as the Espanto match shows that it was a Santo staple at the time, but still there were a lot of details that I didn't pick up on as a lucha neophyte.
Probably the most interesting thing for me ten years later is watching 80s Casas. We don't have a lot of 80s Casas as he mostly worked for UWA and the indies, and of the Arena Mexico appearances he made only one of them has been preserved if memory serves me. I don't think he'd been to Japan at this stage as he hadn't adopted the Choshu look yet, and it was evident throughout that he was Casas without really being Casas. That's true of just about all the 90s stars on the set, but Casas would have such a dominant personality by '92 that it was fascinating to watch it in the formative stages. Also of interest was how much Santo had grown into the role of Son of Santo. When you compare this to his Arena Mexico debut where he's so nervous and has that overly long opening exchange with Lobo Rubio, it's amazing how much he'd grown in confidence. His dives here were exquisite. I often bitch and moan about formulaic Santo, but when he hits dives like that the whole world stops for a second. Man are those a thing of beauty.
Pirata Morgan, Hombre Bala y Verdugo vs. Atlantis, Angel Azteca y Ringo Mendoza (3/88)
There's been a lot of brawling trios on this set, which isn't surprising given the viewing committee's tastes, and there's been some straight filler that I'm not sure would've made the set if more footage was available. There's also been a lot of matches that were only ever meant to set up hair matches which we don't have. That's a bit like putting all those great Satanico/Dandy trios matches on the 1990 yearbook and not having the hair match. The reason that I'm saying all this is to emphasise that *this* is a trios match that I thought was a really high quality trios match.
Naturally, not all of the viewing committee were sold on it, which probably makes me an outlier on all things lucha, but let me state my case. A really good trios match should have a little bit of everything: brawling, either matwork or quick fire exchanges, bumping, stooging & selling, a bit of comedy and dives. Of course there are plenty of good trios matches which are predominantly one thing over the other, but I always appreciate a trios that shows the depth and variety of lucha libre wrestling. Add overlapping falls, the right rhythm and pacing and clever finishes and you've generally got a great trios. Everything clicked here for me. I liked the early rudo beatdown on the technicos as well as the technico comeback, which was the right mix of Ringo being a credible enough asskicker to deal to the stockier rudos and Atlantis and Azteca having the skill to both confuse and embarrass the rudos. I really loved Ringo in this match. All of his punches and brawling were great, as were his spinning kicks, no matter how tired they got in the 90s. He was probably a loving family man, but he was one guy I don't think you'd be wise to mess with. You could probably argue that the Azteca fake out spot didn't work so well, though the editing didn't help. To me the only real weak point in the match was the Azteca pinning exchange after Atlantis had done his always brilliant three on one spinning back breakers sequence. No matter how many times Atlantis does that sequence I always mark out like it's the first time I've seen it. Azteca needed to follow it up with something as spectacular or better, similar to the moonsault move that Atlantis does to end the fall, but that's splitting hairs on a great trios. Azteca was still a little green here, but his arm drags were as sensational as ever. Atlantis was out of this world good and really '88-91 marks his absolute peak in my opinion.
It's pretty rare that you get a trios match where all three technicos are good and add to that a solid rudos act and you've got something really good. The match reaches its zenith with an incredible tope from Atlantis, which tomk described as vertical and will live long in the memory of people who watch this set, before the footage cuts out right before an almighty uppercut to the groin area. How the match ended we'll never know. Maybe it's still going on somewhere out there in space.
El Hijo Del Santo vs. Espanto Jr. (4/10/88)
I didn't love this as much as I love their masks match and the '92 title match, but I'm glad we have another match in what is probably Santo's Garvin feud to his Casas Steamboat rivalry.
As we've seen with a lot of this 80s stuff, there's a fantastic atmosphere with the ring being flooded with kids before the bout and later on they're sort of loitering about climbing back in it when Santo and Espanto are selling on the outside and running around during the stretch run. There's one kid who jumps a feet in the air every time Espanto kicks out of a nearfall and actually a section of the crowd seemed to be right behind him despite being largely pro-Santo. These two had wrestled so many times from '85-88 with Espanto losing so many times, including every year in their annual hair match, that I suppose to some people he was the underdog in this feud. He entered the match as champion having finally wrestled the UWA's World Lightweight Championship from Santo the previous summer and was determined to stay that way by the night's end.
I wasn't overly thrilled by the matwork, which involved a lot of jockeying for position and ultimately led to a sort of macho battle where both guys would arm drag the other guy to the outside. The needling I liked, but I don't think the wrestling was top draw. I might change my mind on a re-watch, but that was my gut feeling this time round. The third caida was fantastic, however. I loved how Espanto fought his way out of Santo's submissions and how he managed to kick out of each of Santo's pin attempts, even when Santo would really sit in them. Espanto's submission finishers were awesome. I don't know that he had to cheat to win, but the final submission he got Santo with was a beaut. There's nothing like a little bit of controversy to end a lucha match, but a lot of folks seemed legit happy. You'd think they were swarming the ring because their guy had beaten the touring champ.
What this did highlight for me is just how much we're missing in terms of UWA not taping this stuff. You look at the lists of title defences right through to the early 90s and it's either awe-inspiring or heart breaking. There's nothing you can do about it I suppose unlike the Televisa situation, but I don't think we can even begin to capture what an amazing decade it was for lucha libre with the footage we have. Which is all the more reason to enjoy discoveries like these.