Negro Casas vs. Ultimo Dragon, UWA World Middleweight Championship, CMLL 3/26/93
This managed to both thrill and confuse me.
The first fall was worked using the international currency for juniors matwork. Usually it would bother me that the matwork wasn't 'lucha enough,' but in this case it was being presented as an international title fight so it made sense for the work to be more universal. Ultimo wasn't that great at working holds from the top, but Casas provided enough movement to keep it interesting. I thought they missed a trick by not doing more stand-up as the match began with Ultimo breaking through Casas' defences and giving him two open handed strikes. It was a psychological game Ultimo was playing after Casas had pushed around his second, but if Ultimo had a clear advantage anywhere it was with his stand-up game, and I would have liked to have seen him challenge Casas there. On the mat, they could have done with a bit more intensity after the aggression that Ultimo started with, but it wasn't a bad fall. When they worked the ropes it was pretty as Ultimo was the most acrobatic worker in Mexico at the time. Casas copped a shiner either around the eye or on his cheekbone (it was hard to make out from the footage), and Ultimo finished him off with a lariat to the face that would be a head high tackle in rugby.
The second fall I thought as begging for a quick response from Casas no matter how much I complained about that trope with the Villano matches. I thought the crowd were ripe for it, and the circumstances of the first fall coupled with the foul Casas decided to give the Dragon would have worked better as a narrative if Casas had taken a quick fall. Instead they worked quite a long second fall where Casas tried to methodically win the fall and Ultimo kept frustrating Negro by reaching the ropes. That frustration and a sense of fatigue creeping in are the only explanations I can think of for why Casas fouled Ultimo in the break between rounds. A lot of people in the Yearbook thread loved that moment and I can understand it being the type of thing people get excited for (lucha libre extraordinaria and all that), but to me it made no sense. If Casas had lost the second fall I could understand it as an act of cowardice/desperation. If he'd won the second fall in dominant fashion, I could understand it as going in for the kill or even rubbing Ultimo's face in it. I could even buy it as retaliation for the shiner. But the way they did it felt like cheap heat. The match already had a lot of heat and the crowd seemed to be behind Ultimo even though he wasn't a native. The rules of a title match are such that you just don't do that. You don't break those traditions. Casas would laugh in the face of all that as he was the type of rudo who loved to do outrageous things, but he wanted to show how worried he was about the fight he should have taken the first and dropped the second with all the momentum in the Dragon's corner heading into the third.
My comments seemed justified by how dull Casas' continued submissions efforts seemed in opening the third caida. It wasn't until they dropped the holds completely and went to a series of Cassa bumps to the outside that things picked up again. Ultimo hit a tope between the ropes that could have been used in every highlights package for weeks and months to come, and later hit a beautiful pin point dropkick to knock Casas off the apron and set-up his quebrada. If you want to make a fair argument for Ultimo, he was a fantastic athlete. He wasn't a detail guy and didn't add all sorts of great little psychological touches, but man could he run, jump and move. In some people's eyes that may make him a slightly superior version of Octagon or Mascara Sagrada, but lucha needs these types to have the proper rudo vs. technico morality plays it thrives on. Let the rudos be the great performers. Casas was running on empty late in the third caida. His cheek was swelling up and he sold every move as though it was using up the last of his energy. He did this interesting spot where he climbed to the top and either slipped or collapsed and fell to the mat. Moments before he'd put his knees up on an Ultimo dive, and I guess the majority of workers would have fed their opponent the same transition or gotten them to pop up, but not Casas. It was an interesting spot. I'm not sure it really worked, but it was an insight into the thinking process and what he was trying to achieve by selling so much fatigue. Ultimo got the best nearfall of the match off a power bomb, but the age old complaint of slow ref counts was never truer than on the kick out here. Casas ended up countering with a mirroring power bomb of his own, which I didn't really love, the finish was excellent. Ultimo overwhelmed Casas with kicks, which you'll note I said he should have done from the start, and Casas couldn't block Ultimo's tiger suplex.
The crowd popped big for Ultimo's title victory and he received a continuous ovation. There was a cool moment where he stood on the ropes and posed for his new adoring public. Casas was bitterly disappointed afterwards, but begrudgingly shook hands with the victor. If it isn't obvious by now, I didn't love this bout, but I did think it was a bout that a lot of new fans to lucha might appreciate as there was an effort to work an epic sort of title switch where the champion tried to chart his downfall through a growing sense of frustration and fatigue, and even a sense that he couldn't really live with his opponent's martial arts skills. Casas sold well and there was that epic feel to the match that you don't always get from lucha (and was certainly missing from Ultimo's title defence against Emilio.) It may not seem quite as epic to fans of other styles where large scale bouts are par for the course, but Casas was certainly trying here. The 'I don't know how to put this guy away' narrative didn't quite work for me, but I can see it working for others as it's really just a personal thing in regards to whether it gels with you. The biggest plus I can say is that it was interesting, which is good because there's nothing worse than being boring. Casas wasn't as individually brilliant as I expect from him, and I actually wondered at times if he wasn't in the best of conditions. Maybe that was just brilliant selling and I have no idea how good his performance really was, but he was busy taking a blow at times when there weren't a lot of eyes on him. He did have amazingly cool wrestling shoes. They looked like track shoes rather than wrestling boots. He should have sold them and made a mil.
The match is a must-watch since it's one of the biggest title matches from Casas' 90s runs, so you should watch it and see how much your feelings differ from mine. It received unanimously positive feedback on the Yearbook thread from people who aren't quite as finicky about what they want from their lucha, or don't have quite as many quirks as yours truly, so queue it up and see how you feel.