This match is from the second round of the 2008 Ted Petty Invitational Tournament, which is IWA Mid-South’s annual weekend blowout of indie wrestling dream matches designed to determine who the best wrestler on the indies is. For a long time, the TPI tournaments, held in honor of “Flyboy” Rocco Rock of ECW fame, had the reputation of being the best, weirdest, most innovative shows of the year, with the 2004 tournament in particular held by many as the best in the history of independent wrestling. Though I was once involved on the independents, my knowledge of IWA-MS and the scene in general before 2011 is sketchy at best. I’d seen some Ring of Honor shows and things like CM Punk vs. Eddie Guerrero vs. Rey Mysterio Jr. (also from an IWA-MS show), and while I respected the skill and craft of the wrestlers themselves, something about the presentation—the announcing, the incredibly hostile crowds, the shock of seeing 60 or 100 people in a crowd after a lifetime of packed arenas—always scared me away. I still think that is the biggest barrier of entry for the world beyond WWE and “sports-entertainment,” or for the fan of a promotion like CHIKARA who wants to check out their favorite wrestlers more than once or twice a month. But this match is an example of what a fan might be rewarded with if they can get past all that. A match between Cassandro and Sara Del Rey is only possible in independent professional wrestling, and, for a long time, was the exclusive province of a company like IWA Mid-South, which was experimental enough to look upon a meeting between a female wrestler and a Mexican exótico as a dream match.
Del Rey, as I’ve written before, is my favorite wrestler. According to the announcers she’s just starting to pattern her mannerisms and methodical approach to wrestling after the thick, domineering women of Japanese wrestling, but she will one day be hired as the head female trainer at the WWE Performance Center without having ever wrestled a match for Vince McMahon. Cassandro is one of my favorite wrestlers of whom I’ve seen very little from, the undisputed king of the exóticos. Exóticos as performers are something else, a sub-genre of Mexican lucha libre where men wrestle in drag. Some, like Cassandro, are openly gay. Others, like Máximo, are straight, and homosexuality is their drag. The best exóticos are hugely popular, world-traveled, and frequently wrestle for important championships in Mexico’s largest promotions. Cassandro is probably the most well-known exótico in the United States, as he was the subject of an exceptional profile in The New Yorker, has appeared on Colt Cabana’s The Art of Wrestling podcast, and often wrestles on American lucha libre shows. The crowd here is very respectful towards both competitors and remain engaged with the contest throughout. Intergender wrestling is hotly contested territory for fans of indie wrestling, but Del Rey and Cassandro are both masters of the niche, and the usual man vs. woman tropes never come into play. This is just a wrestling match: Two wrestlers wrestle; the best one wins.
To that end, Del Rey is having none of Cassandro’s fun and games; as soon as the exótico turns towards her, she slaps the gum out of his mouth. Cassandro isn’t taking any of that, though, and he responds with a slap of his own. Having disrespected each other, the two tie up and jockey for position, neither wrestler giving an inch as they hit the ropes and turnbuckles, where they separate. Cassandro’s years of experience come into play as he outwrestles Del Rey, sending her to the canvas with a hip toss. From there, he flows into a beautiful-looking key lock variation that Del Rey tries to bridge out from, only to have Cassandro sweep one of her legs. Del Rey rolls out and takes control, dragging her opponent over by both of his arms. Back to their feat, Cassandro offers a test of strength but takes Del Rey into a full-arm drag and twist, instead. He twists again and goes into another hammerlock. Del Rey hook her arm around Cassandro’s head, and he tries to use this position to suplex her, but she has the leverage and scores a headlock takeover. Having settled down from the opening exchange of slaps, what’s clear is that both wrestlers are very evenly matched. Cassandro kicks out of an odd pin attempt, then bridges up. Del Rey tries to bring him up by the arms, maybe to put him in a double chickenwing (the vaunted hold that Rickey Steamboat developed to defeat Ric Flair), but Cassandro manages to bring her over. It’s a nice spot, something you don’t see in every bit of chain wrestling.
From there, Cassandro works on his opponent’s arm, but there’s hatred in his eyes, and he starts pulling Del Rey’s hair. I hate comparing things to WWE, but there’s a lot of hair pulling in WWE’s women’s division, and this isn’t that. Cassandro is yanking Del Rey’s hair, and this pisses the woman known as Death Rey off. She battles up to her feet and takes Cassandro over with an arm drag. Now she gets a key lock, but Cassandro rolls her over and gets a two count. Del Rey tries to reassert her advantage but can’t; Cassandro takes control of her arms and leads her back to a standing position. Del Rey attempts to wrestle out, but Cassandro keeps and arm hooked and leverages her back to the canvas with an arm drag. They reset and go for a test of strength again. This time, Cassandro kicks Del Rey in the gut and puts her in the Gory Special, that most excellent of lucha libre submissions. He transitions it into a pinning predicament for Del Rey, who has to keep kicking out while Cassandro tries to keep her shoulders to the mat. After a succession of near falls, Del Rey pulls herself up and onto Cassandro’s shoulders and rolls into a sunset flip!
Cassandro kicks out and Del Rey takes control with a headlock. Cassandro sweeps Del Rey’s leg, though, and takes her down to the canvas. Del Rey isn’t compromised for long, though, as she takes Cassandro down with a drop toe hold. Before she can sink in a chinlock or a rear naked choke, Cassandro grabs the ropes. Del Rey brings him up to his feet and snapmares him over to a seated position, where she gets a sleeper hold. Cassandro gets to his feet, though, and the two start wrestling again. Del Rey takes Cassandro to the mat, where they go through the see-saw routine, and Del Rey scores a near fall. Cassandro tries to reassert himself, but Del Rey cuts him off with a knee to the gut and another armdrag. They both get to their feet and stand off. Del Rey’s the first to move, but Cassandro blocks her punch, interlaces his fingers with hers, then takes her out with an arm drag from the top rope. Del Rey gets up and gets kicked in the stomach, and Cassandro moves away from her to climb up the turnbuckles. This is the first tactical mistake of the match, and Del Rey takes advantage, kicking Cassandro from behind, which sends him spilling to the hardwood floor below. Del Rey follows up with a senton off the apron onto a dazed Cassandro. She rolls him back into the ring and drops a knee on his head, but Cassandro is soon back to his feet, hammering away at Del Rey. He gets a headlock in, but Del Rey shoots him into the ropes and drops down, which is when this happens…
Sara Del Rey is frustrated now, and now she charges in with a kick to the chest. She whips Cassandro across the ring to the other turnbuckles, but Cassandro evades Del Rey by jumping onto the ring apron, hitting her with a shoulder block to the stomach, then leaping from the top ropes, where he grabs her by the head and sends her out of the ring. Del Rey takes a breather in the front row while the fans get out of the way. Cassandro’s not about to give Del Rey a time out though, and just as soon as she’s sitting down, he’s through the ropes with a tope suicida that takes his opponent and the front row!
Del Rey recovers and rolls into the ring, where Cassandro kicks her in the face. He takes Del Rey up with a butterfly and drops her with a facebuster. He gets a two count and checks with the referee to make sure it wasn’t a three. It wasn’t, so he takes Del Rey back down to the mat with a trip, deathlocks her legs, and wraps her in an interesting pinning combination for another two count. Del Rey ducks a clothesline and picks Cassandro up for an atomic drop but just throws him on his ass. She follows quickly with a body scissors, which she rolls over into a pinning combination for a near fall of her own. Cassandro rolls out, but Del Rey takes him over to the other side for another two. He rolls back to a seated base, and Del Rey pulls his hair, getting revenge from earlier. She pulls him up to his feet by the hair and then throws him across the ring! Cassandro fights back by headbutting Del Rey in the stomach, which sends her staggering back to the turnbuckles. She moves out of a charging Cassandro’s way and he ends up shouldering the ring post. Del Rey follows in with a cross armbreaker, and Cassandro has no choice but to submit!
This is a really good match. Not quite as good as the announce team’s constant refrain that we’re seeing is awesome with several os, but beyond the occasional transition that’s not as snug as possible, there’s so much to like here. Neither wrestler is working as a heel here, but Cassandro works the entire match like he’s pissed off about Del Rey’s opening slap. He is always in Del Rey’s hair, always pleased with himself. And the match-long focus on the arms of both competitors pays off in the end with the finishing sequence, Cassandro hurting his own shoulder with the missed attack in the corner, and Del Rey pouncing on it with the cross armbreaker. For ten minutes, Del Rey and Cassandro wrestled as equals in a match where a minor mistake would end it. That’s what happened in the end, and what could have been a novelty match was instead a very good, very smart contest that’s just as engaging the fourth or fifth time as it was the first.
This match was found for free on Highspots.com and uploaded to YouTube to make it embeddable on this website for critical purposes. Support IWA-MS by subscribing to their YouTube channel or buying a show from SmartMark Video.