Virus vs. Dragon Lee, CMLL World Super Lightweight Championship, CMLL 12/9/14
Virus' Super Lightweight title reign has been like manna from heaven for lucha fans. For years, Virus was a guy who was only ever showcased in lightning matches. Frustratingly, a great many of those years were right smack dab in the middle of his prime. Even fans who don't see eye to eye wanted him featured in longer singles bouts. That opportunity arose in 2011 when CMLL took an overtimes overlooked and inactive belt and turned it into a showcase for not only Virus but some of the company's best young talent. Since then the maestro has proven to be, without a shadow of a doubt, the best title match worker in CMLL today and probably one of the greatest of all-time. 2014 was the year of the Virus title match with a whopping four of them. And while I think his form was generally better in the first half of the year, I was happy to see him him cranking out the near classics through to December.
The first fall was less intricate than a lot of Virus' primera caida work this year. At first I thought Virus was trying to ground Lee, not only because he comes out all jacked up on Nelly, but because his kicks to the face had given Virus such grief in their lightning match. Watching it again, I noticed Virus trying to start something cool by fighting for the arm but Lee didn't follow his lead. That points to Lee's inexperience, but I could also listen to an argument that Virus should have worked from the top more and made Lee fight harder for his holds. Virus was schooled in that old-school mentality of "if you want the arm, you've got to take the arm." Here he really gave Lee the fall, said you're going over, and took a bit of a backseat to the direction the fall headed in. That led to a poorly coordinated finish that would have looked choreographed even if it had been smooth. The overlap between falls meant that Lee continued his momentum through to the segunda caida where his offence continued to appear haphazard, but a bigger sin was that Virus' transition back onto offence lacked imagination. A baseball slide to the outside and a fake out in the ropes was all it took for the maestro to take over, and even though it's cool that he can spring a flash submission from anywhere, this match up was two from two in average falls.
The third fall was where things began to improve. Virus started the fall with some nasty looking arm work that was easily the most badass thing to happen in the match up to that point. Lee then sprang a tope from nowhere. Ordinarily, I'd hate a spot like that, but here I thought the structure was interesting. Oftentimes in lucha, missed moves carry more weight than moves which actually hit. Everyone at some point or another has made the criticism that the guy hit by the tope was the first to recover. If some grad student were to conduct research into the amount of times the injured party hit the very next move, the tope would probably be viewed as a poor option. In this instance, however, Lee was able to capitalise on it, and it really did function as a momentum shift. Suddenly, Lee's work had a zest to it and he barreled through a series of nearfalls. Another highlight reel dive followed and it was clear Lee was in his element now. Everything he did during the stretch run had a snap to it than the first fall lacked. The trading of german suplexes, and Virus only just managing to get a foot on the ropes during a count, reminded me of the adage I learnt during the Fuerza/Misterioso fight: it doesn't matter how you start so long as you finish strong. Virus took it to another level by countering Lee's sliding baseball kick into a crossface. Lee came back strong with his kick variations -- the front dropkick into the corner, the baseball slide to the face, and the tree of woe into the diving stomp. What cost Lee in the end wasn't that he couldn't go toe to toe with Virus, but that he sent him a letter during the final standoff first by telegraphing his hurricanrana attempt then feeding him the arm when Virus caught his leg. During the first caida, Lee had hit the hurricanrana and managed to out fake Virus in the same exchange where Virus caught his leg, but you don't give a wrestler the class of VIrus a second look at the same exchange. He was also a bit naive by not following up his big sliding kick to Virus' face with a cover (that actually seemed like a legitimate misread by Lee, but the narrative covered for it.) The actual finish wasn't executed as smoothly as Virus would have liked, but as usual he managed a well paced, well sold caida where it was believable that he might lose and his relief at getting the submission was palpable.
In some respects, Virus' title matches got worse as the year progressed, or at least lazier in their build. There was a line of thinking that Lee hung better with Virus than some of this other title match opponents this year, but I don't know that I'd agree with that. He stepped up his execution in the tercera caida and his timing was a lot better, but he's a definitely work in progress. Virus should shoulder the blame for the first two falls being the average CMLL fare, but the final caida was the type of solid lucha you expect from a worker of his calibre. It'll be a sad day when they finally take this belt off him, but I'm curious to see whom they put over him.