Trauma I vs. Canis Lupus (mask vs. mask, IWRG 9/4/16)
It seemed impossible for this match to live up to the hype. Over the past few weeks, I've seen it described as one of the best brawls ever, one of the best mask matches of all-time and a match of the decade contender.
For the first two falls, it failed to live up to the hype. The work in the first fall wasn't bad but there was too much pandering to the crowd instead of the intense focus on maiming your opponent that you expect from an apuesta bout. It was a flashy rudo fall instead of a violent one. The finish was nice, though, and would play an important part later in the match. Lupus maintained his advantage in the second fall, but his strikes were weak and looked as though they were baring glancing Trauma's head and chest. That meant that the physical toll of the beating wasn't registering -- a cardinal sin in apuesta matches where pain and exhaustion are the biggest selling points. It didn't help, either, that the turning point in the fall was badly telegraphed and that the finish was poorly executed.
At this point we were two falls into the bout and nothing that solid had happened. Then they did the double chair spots and I was ready to write this off as an average piece of business. But as soon as they bladed the bout took on a whole new dimension. They began selling the exhaustion, and fatigue, and blood loss, and moreover they began fighting for their masked lives. Suddenly, it didn't seem so bad that there was nothing behind Lupus' strikes because there he was bleeding half to death. They worked some classic nearfalls with both men clinging on for dear life. With every passing hold the bout began looking more and more like a classic mask match. And the fact that they didn't get there in the smartest, or best, way began to fade into insignificance. It was like watching a playoff game where the first couple of quarters are crap but the second half is engrossing. In those situations it doesn't matter how the match begins but how it ends. Like all great tercera caidas there were dramatic counters and near things. People often shit on the refs in lucha, but personally I think those added seconds it takes to reach a decision add to the drama over whether a near fall or near submission will succeed. You need to hang on for a little bit longer in lucha bouts and those seconds feel like an eternity if you're rooting for one gladiador over another.
Not only were they working dramatic submission attempts and pulling out dramatic counters, they were bleeding buckets in the process, and you could pretty much track their desperation based by how much blood was on the canvas. There was blood all over Lupus' hands and forearms and Trauma's mask was taking on a hue not seen since the halcyon days of Santo and white costume La Parka. The bullshit with the ref bump and the tombstone piledriver was delicious bullshit served up on a plate. The foot under the ropes, the ref waving it off, Lupus sitting there leaning against Trauma having a spell, taking a breather, wiping blood off his hand, wondering what he should try next... that's an apuesta match on a razor's edge right there. Lupus slammed the mat out of frustration and it took him more energy to get to his feet and drag Trauma away from the ropes for a pin attempt. Trauma blocking the ref's three count with both palms was a fantastic touch and it really felt like the fight was ebbing out of him with every raised shoulder. Then drama! The all-or-nothing splash from the top from Lupus. Trauma didn't catch him cleanly, but he clipped Lupus' ribs and it sure looked like it hurt. How can anybody not like this? The canvas is growing redder and redder and a doctor comes in the ring to check Trauma's neck after the tombstone. It looks more like a crime scene investigation than first aid. Lupus pulls off a wonderful rudo move of attacking the medico and the finish literally sees Trauma attempting a reversal with a neck brace half attached. Lupus resists violently, but Trauma hooks on the same move that Lupus used to beat him the opening fall. It's not hard to imagine Trauma's father teaching him that move when he was ten years old and there it was saving his mask.
Trauma's second rushed into the ring and dived on him. People began throwing money immediately. Lupus lay in a pool of his own blood while the doctor finally put a brace on Trauma's damaged neck. Lupus' second shed a tear into his towel while the medico went to check his man's cut. There were thick globs of blood everywhere at this point and the doctor's coat was a mess. The aftermath of this bout was incredible. The part where the seconds held both men up, Trauma in a neck brace and Lupus stricken from blood loss and they looked at other like trauma victims was disturbing and awe-inspiring all at once. Lupus collapsing in the ropes whether it was real or just selling was amazing. The close-up on Trauma's bloodied mask looked like he'd been to the gates of hell and back. Incredible scenes. It was almost beyond what they had done in the third caida but at the same time it was riveting. Lupus knelt against the ropes in front of a group of photographers recovering, recuperating, regathering his thoughts in silent recognition of what had happened and what was coming next. He'd given his name and his place of origin to the MC and in mask matches like these it's customary to give the loser some breathing space to prepare for their unmasking. There were plenty of support from his fellow luchadores and consolations from Trauma's camp. It was all heartfelt and emotional. I didn't know Lupus from a bar of soap before watching this match, but apart from Villano III in 2000 and Ultimo Guerrero in 2014 this was the most emotional unmasking I have seen. Lupus was defiant, proud, conflicted. He didn't want to unmask but he was fully aware of his responsibility. The spirit of lucha was alive and well on this evening. The two gladiadores embraced and it was a beautiful moment in an otherwise brutal match. Finally, Lupus unmasked in the time honoured tradition and if anything his proposal was a reminder that lucha is about family, brotherhood and the ties that bind.
A tremendous tercera caida, a raw post-match unmasking and an incredible second half to a bout. I don't know if it deserves the accolades it's getting, but it's a match that I will never, ever forget.