It's early days in the once a decade revisit of the Smarkschoice Greatest Wrestler Ever poll, but so far plenty of people have Santo pinned as their number one luchador. Santo's an easy pick, but is it the right pick? I cued up a half dozen matches to see how much greatness I could find.
El Hijo del Santo y Black Shadow Jr. vs. Octagon y Fuerza Guerrera, Monterrey 12/15/91
Relevos Suicidas is such a waste of time. Even in a bout like this where the action isn't so bad it eats up what would ordinarily be the first two falls of the apuesta match. There's a theory going that Black Shadow Jr. intentionally fouled to get a shot at Santo's mask, but I don't think that's true at all. If that were the angle, he would have fouled straight away instead of getting valuable energy sapped by his contest with Fuerza. If you watch closely, he tries to pin Fuerza after the low blow and is in as much disbelief as Santo over the ref's call. I think it was pretty clearly a rudo reflex.
On the boards we discussed how people never tire of the Santo formula because of how good his execution is, and I don't think it's possible to tire of his bleeding either. His blood soaked mask is as iconic an image as Ric Flair's crimson mask and a visual you immediately associate with lucha. Santo's bleeding here provided a series of fantastic visuals, it was just a pity about the rest of the fall. As far as Santo's apuesta matches go, this was fairly weak. BSJr didn't do enough to make him bleed. It was some enthusiastic assistance from Perro Aguayo that caused Santo to bleed so much, and he didn't wait anywhere near long enough to make his comeback. The intensity of a comeback is in direct proportion to the length of the beating, and Santo wasn't in nearly enough jeopardy from the blood loss. The cameraman failed to capture BSJr's big dive adequately; and for a guy who was so good at working his formula, Santo didn't didn't place his signature spots anywhere near as well as he usually did. The finish was a prime example. It was begging for the camel clutch or something equally as iconic and instead it was an inside cradle. Legend has it that the finish to the Santo/Black Shadow Sr. fight was the camel clutch, so it surprised me that they didn't reprise that piece of history. Ultimately, it was worth watching because of the blood, but it was hard to know why it fell short of Santo's best apuesta work. Was it because the first two falls were wasted on Relevos Suicidas, or because BSJr wasn't that great at dictating the bout? Perhaps it was because Santo didn't stick to his formula. More importantly, how many other average apuesta matches did he have in his long career? Probably more than we'd like to think.
El Hijo del Santo vs. Psicosis, Promo Azteca 10/3/97
i had to curb my expectations for this as it was only a house show match, but Santo was in good form around this time so I still had some hopes for it. The early mat work was well executed by Santo, but mat work was never the strongest part of Psicosis' game, so it wasn't very competitive. Psicosis' strengths were his bumping and stooging. He took some incredible bumps in this, but his stooging was all crotch chops and pulling the finger. The Psicosis I'm used to had a better sense of humour than that. He won the first fall in weak fashion then missed a lunging charge at Santo and did his shoulder first bump into the ring post. Santo seized the initiative and won the second fall with ease. At that point I was ready to chalk it up as house show fare, but they worked some exciting dives into final fall, which had to have pleased the paying customer. The finish didn't do Psicosis justice, and I came out of it thinking he hadn't really progressed in his struggle with Santo, but that's Psicosis in a nutshell really. He was a limited worker who never really grew or progressed past the point where he had some decent shtick.
El Hijo del Santo/Angel Azteca vs. Fuerza Guerrera/Psicosis, AAA 2/13/94
There was no messing around here as Psicosis was disqualified for fouling Santo before he'd even removed his jacket. The rudos got stuck into their work with a lengthy beat down that saw Santo dragged around the ring by his mask (but no blood.) This lacked the intensity of say Emilio Charles and Satanico in the recent Dandy vs. Fiera build I watched. Psicosis wound up removing the hood, which led to more sluggish moments where Santo had to protect his identity (always an awkward part of any mask ripping bout.) Santo ran to the back to change masks and returned with a vengeance. He went after Psicosis with a chair, which was worse than anything Psicosis had done to him, but that's wrestling for you. The upshot of all this was that Santo removed Psicosis mask to reveal that the mighty buffalo mane was only part of the mask (always a shock to me), and there was a surreal finish to the segment where Psicosis came back to ringside in a Santo mask and tried to continue the fight before cutting a promo in the full Psicosis body suit and Santo mask.
On one hand, this was a regular TV taping and not meant to be a hidden gem from the 90s. On the other hand, it was the build to a title match and they were throwing out challenges. But even ignoring that, this wasn't exactly great. If I'd thought it was a legitimately great angle I would have praised it to the moon, instead I would probably rank it alongside other Santo vs. Psicosis disappointments or consistently weak Santo in AAA material.
El Hijo del Santo/Super Muñeco/Angel Azteca vs. Satanico/Espectro Jr./Ice Killer, AAA 8/1/94
This was a mediocre trios that could have been from any time and any place in lucha history. Mediocre trios are par for the course in lucha, and even Santo can't shine in all of them, but it's surprisingly that his signature spots were absent from a match where they would have been most useful. It was up to Angel Azteca to provide the highspots instead. Santo wasn't exactly apron hugging, but if you believe in Ric Flair's story about going to see Ray Stevens and not seeing his signature spots then this was Santo's Stevens match, which would have been okay if he'd done something else that was cool, but he didn't. I'll you this though -- Satanico vs. Santo was a match the world needed to see. It's just like lucha to not provide what the world needs.
El Hijo del Santo/Lizmark/Eddy Guerrero vs. Fuerza Guerrera/Jerry Estrada/Marabunta, AAA 12/18/92
This was like every other AAA trios match of its era. It started off with a fall that wasn't far off classic trios structure. The match-ups were solid without being spectacular, and Santo didn't stand out one way or another, but there were little touches like Fuerza vs. Lizmark which were only available here while everyone was in their prime. Then it started to drag. It went on and on until finally you were waiting for it to end. Waiting is better than praying I suppose, but these long falls were a killer in AAA.
Fuerza Guerrera/Blue Panther/Espanto Jr./Psicosis vs. El Hijo del Santo/Octagon/El Mariachi/El Mexicano, 8/12/94
This was everything that was good and bad about AAA in the same match. The opening fall and a half was high energy, up tempo stuff with a bunch of great exchanges. It threatened to turn into a brawl at times, but kept on the straight and narrow and there was enough action in the first fall to fill an entire match. Santo stuck to his formula and tellingly looked better than in any of the other trios I watched. The rudos were pinballing left, right and center, and if I never get tired of the Emilio monkey flip and charge into the backbreaker, the same can be said for Espanto's bump from the slingshot. What a great worker that guy was. Everything was going swimmingly until the rudos decided to slow things down and give Mariachi a working over. That immediately changed the tone of the match and frankly went on too long. The technicos made a brief comeback at the end, but by that point I was checking how much time was left. After slowing things to a crawl, the rudos were DQ'ed for excessive rudoism and the match was in the books. Why they had to stretch these things out to half an hour with disparate tones in each half is beyond me. The first fall was draining enough without dragging things out. Psicosis did kill Santo dead with a senton to the outside from high off the top turnbuckle. That was a crazy spot made all the more reckless by Psicosis' natural awkwardness. IIRC. this led to a return match which I reviewed somewhere on this blog, but man, talk about a manuscript that badly needed an edit.
Some final thoughts on Santo:
Santo was a great worker who had a lot of memorable matches, but he wasn't the type of performer where you can watch any of this matches and get something out of it. He looked great when he stuck to his formula and struggled to make an impression when he didn't. He wasn't a details guy like Satanico, Chicana or Cota. He was all about execution. For that reason, I can't really see him as my number one ranked luchador, though it's a different story if you're talking about highly ranked technicos. I don't mean to imply that Santo was inconsistent or overrated somehow, rather that because of his working style and the fact he was a technico and enmascarado, he doesn't quite stand out like some of the wrestling geniuses in Mexico. At least not on random viewings.