Charles Lucero vs. Blue Panther, WWA World Middleweight Championship, Lucha Libre Azteca 5/9/2004
This was a good match, but not a great one.
Much of that boils down to expectations. When I first heard there was a Panther vs. Lucero singles match, I started wondering what it looked like and how they worked it. I practically booked the thing in my head. I had fantasies of a match that resembled the 1992 title match between Santo and Espanto Jr, forgetting that these two workers are well past their primes and that Panther is a questionable singles worker in my view. At first the bout was a disappointment, then I watched it a second and a third time, each time shedding my expectations and trying to find a way into the match. Unfortunately, that hook never really came, but the more I watched it and the less I cared about it being one of the greatest matches of all time, the more I began to appreciate some of the smaller touches.
The match opened with a ten minute fall, which is a variation on the natural rhythm of a lucha libre title match. An extended mat work fall is more common in trios than in singles matches; ordinarily, ten minutes of mat work would be a mat lover's dream, but while I appreciated that they were able to work a mat fall with an escalating sense of jeopardy, I couldn't really mask my disappointment with the quality of the work. The holds weren't bad, but there was a lot of dressing and undressing of holds, and not a tremendous amount of struggle even if they did perspire a lot from the length of the fall. There was one sequence in particular that really took me out of the match. It was a full nelson sequence where Lucero tried to counter it by breaking the hold and dropping to the mat, where he'd roll backwards and try to catch Panther in a body scissors. Now I like funk in my lucha, but Panther reapplied the nelson and Lucero ended up doing a standard switch, which was really boring and made the whole sequence flat. That may seem like a small gripe, but I didn't like it.
Panther caught Lucero with the Fujiwara arm bar then they did a segunda caida where Lucero took a gamble and started running the ropes. There's always a risk when you go to the ropes as a missed move is all it takes to lose the fall, but it paid off for Charles. Then we got a neat opening to the third fall where Panther was aggressively working towards a second submission with Lucero hanging on by his teeth. Lucero's selling of his leg was excellent and his submission counters were well timed. There was a headlock submission where he kept wrenching at it that could have easily won the bout, and I would have rather seen them go with a straight submission win than the surprise small package Lucero scored after Panther had all but submitted him in the ropes.
I guess my problem with this was that Panther took too much of the bout and Lucero's win came across as a fluke. It almost felt like Panther coming up to Nuevo Leon to lead some local by the nose instead of the maestro vs. maestro bout it should have been. I don't think it's any coincidence that I've preferred the bouts where Lucero's the vet and takes that lead role. Still, it was Panther vs. Lucero, and well worth your time (and possibly more than that) depending on your take on it.