Wrestling Review: Lucha Underground (2/18/15)

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It’s been awhile since I checked on Lucha Underground in this space, but that train has kept moving just fine. Their finely crafted blend of plot, action, and background has served them well and continues to as they take on new roster members like Texano, former AAA Mega Champion, and Alberto el Patrón, the man formerly known as Alberto Del Rio. They’re well past the stage now where they have to keep explaining what makes their brand different (the luchadores, the rules, the fact that men can fight women) and just keep pressing on. It’s really impressive, seeing what they do with an hour of television every week, and given the storylines that’ve been simmering since Prince Puma won the Lucha Underground Championship, I wouldn’t at all be opposed to something like an NXT Takeover special out of them, to see how Lucha Underground functions as a live show where all the stories converge and resolve.

That won’t be happening anytime soon, though, so it’s best to appreciate what we have. Matt Striker and Vampiro don’t have much time to talk, as the first match is part of a bookended main event, Chavo Guerrero, Jr. finally facing Mil Muertes over Guerrero’s betrayal of the man of 1,000 deaths some months ago. It’s fortunate for Guerrero that it took so long for this match to happen, as Muertes is without Catrina, his second, who has in her possession a stone that is capable of controlling the big luchador in a way that’s similar to The Undertaker’s urn. Where Muertes was a big, bruising destroyer a few months ago, he’s more vulnerable now, and the crafty, youngest Guerrero is able to pick his spots throughout. He spends the majority of the contest working on Muertes’ leg, which is smart little guy vs. big guy strategy, but Muertes, distracted or not, is still a hulk. Something I like about him (about Lucha Underground in particular, as well as NXT), is that something as simple as a punch is still treated with respect. The referee doesn’t reprimand Muertes for using them, but each one he lands on Guerrero is a bomb.

The story of this match is less about what Chavo Guerrero did to Mil Muertes (who once threatened that all of Mexico would be coming for him, a prophecy that is thus far untrue) than it is about Muertes’ seeming aimlessness without Catrina. So she comes out to the ring, carrying Muertes’ stone. He doesn’t notice her for awhile, powering Chavo around the ring, but when he does he can’t look away. This lets Chavo go to his pal, the steel chair, and nail Muertes with it, causing a disqualification. This does not, however, faze Muertes, who now easily dominates his opponent, hitting him with a flatliner on the chair. He wants Catrina to get into the ring to lick Chavo, which was once their post-match ritual (instead of calling it the “kiss of death,” they’ve decided to stick with the much more literal “lick”), but she refuses. This makes Mil Muertes angry enough to grab Catrina by the hair and bring her into the ring, where it looks like he is going to hit her with the flatliner until Fenix rescues her. His reward is a kiss from Catrina. Look at how jazzed he is for that kiss:

Catrina Fenix Lucha Underground

That is one hype dude. Matt Striker speculates that “where the tongue goes, the loyalty goes.” And, yeah, that’s the way it looks. Good broadcast journalism, Matt Striker.

Lucha Underground does a fair amount of its storytelling via these backstage vignettes that are filmed in hilariously “grimy” television sets. The Temple itself is a set, but they do a fair enough job of rotating new audience members in and out that the studio setting never feels too distracting, even if nobody in the crowd cares about faces or heels, rudos or technicos. Some of the backstage promos, usually ones featuring Dario Cueto, are pretty good. Some, like the ones featuring a sneaky woman sneaking around the Temple in clothes she lifted from The Matrix, are what they are. Angela Fong, who has yet to be given her official Lucha Underground name, gets two segments tonight. Previously, she has been seen hanging out in the audience. She picks locks. She kicks doors in. She sees a cage rattling and is excited because she swore, as a girl, to kill whatever’s inside. Then she gets bagged by an unseen assailant. Lucha Underground is trying something new here, filming wrestling angles like they’re scenes from a film or a television show. It worked well, I thought, in introducing Prince Puma, but here I’m not so sure. What does shooting from the point-of-view of whatever’s in that cage accomplish, beyond preventing us from seeing it? And what do you do with someone like Fong, who is not a wrestler and is not really an actor and who is being asked to deliver some stilted, Saturday afternoon movie dialog? When the monster debuts, will Striker and Vampiro know about it from watching the show on television later, or is this one of those closed universes that exists entirely outside that plausable realm? And, if that’s the case, then how does Matt Striker know about New Japan Pro Wresting’s Wrestle Kingdom 9 if he’s been locked away in the universe of the Temple? I’m overthinking this, especially since this story has gone nowhere so far, but I think that pondering the implications of a somewhat limited, but open, universe is valuable four months into a show like Lucha Underground, which has recently taken to calling itself a league. What’s the wrestling/film ratio, and how much can the show handle away from the ring before it becomes too much? I’d like to know.

The other backstage segment takes place in Dario Cueto’s office. Evil authority figures are overdone in wrestling, but Cueto is a pretty good one, a man who appears to not care about anything but making money, but who is into some pretty heinous stuff. Case in point, his meeting with The Crew, who now wear matching basketball jerseys with that distinction so that those unfamiliar with the three can tell Cortez Castro, Bael, and Mr. Cisco apart. Cueto is a fan of what they did to Big Ryck a few weeks back, putting out his eye with a cigar. He loved it so much that he’s going to tell his grandchildren about it, when he has grandchildren. Evil stuff. He wants to see The Crew in more main event spots, but feels that they need to prove that blinding Ryck wasn’t a fluke. They’re in the main event tonight, against a trio of “freaks”: Sexy Star, Mascarita Sagrada, and Pimpinela Escarlata. The Temple is open for anybody, but he’s not happy that a woman, a mini, and an exótico are so over with the crowd, and he wants The Crew to take them out. He makes a no-disqualification trios match between those two for later.

In the ring, Ivelisse lectures her boyfriend Son of Havoc for being a loser and figures that they’d be better of if she fought his battles. She’s not wrong, considering Son of Havoc’s abysmal win/loss/draw record. Ivelisse’s opponent is Angélico, a fellow from South Africa who previously defeated Son of Havoc. I’m all for intergender wrestling, and Ivelisse is an impressive woman whose work I’m not as familiar with as I’d like to be, but this kind of intergender contest, where the man makes like he just can’t hit a woman though she’s hitting him pretty goddamn hard, is more problematic to me than those where the man just destroys the woman. Underdog narratives are one thing, but Angélico’s strategy is to work Ivelisse into a series of dance moves, attempting to kiss her. It’s supposed to be cute, but whatever. Once Ivelisse hits him with a springboard rana, that should get Angélico out of the blocks. It almost does, as he pops Ivelisse into the air with a flapjack, but he plays the role of chivalrous man until Son of Havoc kicks him in the jaw. This sends him stumbling head over heels over a recovering Ivelisse, who takes the win from there with a roll-up. Lucha Underground has constantly touted itself as believing in the equality of men and women in the ring, but the action in its intergender matches thus far has shown that it only goes so far. If Angélico’s refusal to engage with Ivelisse resulted in him getting his head kicked in and a clean victory for her, so much the better. But Ivelisse, despite getting 90% of the offense in this match, can’t win without the help of a dude. It’s the same pattern that’s been established in most of Sexy Star’s matches, the difference being that Ivelisse is a rudo. Equality becoming more of a fact than a talking point would be a nice step forward in the coming weeks.

Last week, Alberto el Patrón arrived in The Temple, but his debut was spoiled by Texano, who whipped the stunned AAA champion with his bullrope. Before his match against Super Fly, we’re given more of Texano’s story via a pre-taped interview by Vampiro, where he says that he is here to crush Alberto el Patrón and take back the championship he feels was stolen from him. It’s a good interview, showing off Texano’s intensity. Also, they splice in a good amount of footage from Texano’s time in AAA, where he is shown running roughshod over a number of luchadores, and from his feud against Patron. Most of Lucha Underground’s hispanic viewers are already AAA fans and are familiar with his work and the ongoing issue he has with Patrón, but the interview is very helpful to a stupid American like me, who knows Patrón from his “exile” in the United States and knows of AAA, but doesn’t keep up with it. It’s very well produced, as is much of Lucha Underground’s show. His match against Super Fly is short and to the point, showing off Texano’s size, speed, and agility. He’s an impressive athlete, and he absorbs some solid shots from Super Fly. In the end, though, Super Fly eats Texano’s double neckbreaker combination, whatever momentum he once had now all but lost. This brings out Patrón, who is the best in the world at ripping off a suit jacket and looking real angry. They fight, and it is Patrón who comes out on top, grabbing Texano’s bullrope and whipping his rival with it. Referees and security guards separate the two and Texano takes a powder, so Patrón whips the referees instead. It’s simple, effective wrestling storytelling, and I’m looking forward to seeing Alberto el Patrón wrestle mean against a guy who might be able to match him.

In the office, Dario Cueto takes a meeting with Cage, a big ‘ol white dude who debuted not too long ago, smashing Prince Puma and his championship. He demands to be named the Lucha Underground champion, but Cueto, as impressed as he is with Cage, says that it isn’t that easy. While he’s certainly beaten up Puma in the past, his last match against him ended in defeat. He’ll need to actually beat Puma to prove that he deserves a shot. That’s fine with Cage, so long as Cueto makes a belt that isn’t Aztec garbage. Chavo Guerrero busts into the office next and says that he doesn’t need Lucha Underground anymore; he just wants to go home and be with his family. Cueto wishes him the best in all his future endeavors, which is a line that gets Chavo angry because that’s what WWE puts in all of their press releases when they fire guys, and they have fired Chavo in the past. It’s a good, subtle dig since it’s dickish regardless of the viewer’s knowing that. Cueto tells Chavo that the doors of his Temple are always open, then figures that the gods won’t be happy about what happened to his strap made of leather and Aztec gold. Look at how much they’re able to do there, in that short segment!

The main event is, as promised, a no disqualification match. Interestingly, despite El Ray being a network that plays grindhouse films on Friday nights, the level of violence in no disqualification matches has thus far been below what is presented on WWE’s fairly sanitized product. This match, pitting The Crew against Sexy Star, Mascarita Sagrada, and Pimpinela Escarlata, is really no different, though it works as a good showcase for both the diversity of Mexican lucha libre and the budding star potential of Sexy Star. The Crew work to take out each of their opponents one after the other. The first is Pimpi, who makes the mistake of kissing Cortez Castro. Castro takes Pimpinela Escarlata out with a kendo stick. Mascarita Sagrada does better, but when he dives out onto The Crew, he is quickly swarmed, powerbombed into the ring apron, curbstomped on a chair, and left for dead. That leaves Sexy Star. She finds herself in the ring alone with Mr. Cisco, who takes the opportunity to check her out. Matt Striker uses this as an opportunity to say that he’s not as sexist and misogynistic as Cisco, which is a) debatable and b) not exactly a stirring defense in the face of fan complaint.

Pimpinela Escarlata Lucha Underground

Sexy Star is able to outsmart The Crew for much of the match, making it seem like the three made a mistake by leaving her in last. Star is a really compelling character, one of the best in wrestling at the moment. Though she’s a rudo in Mexico, Lucha Underground recognized from the start the value of an equality fighter. Mascarita and Pimpi are great, but they’re more like representatives from very specific niches in lucha libre. Sexy Star, upon her debut, made it clear that wrestling was her life, the thing that saved her when she had no hope, and the thing she continues to fight for. While the results of her matches haven’t exactly propped her up as well as they should, everything up until someone comes to her rescue is usually quite good. Here’s another case in point. After The Crew take out her teammates, Sexy Star takes each one of them out until it’s a one one one match. Bael takes a tornado DDT to the floor. Cortez Castro goes down to a fisherman’s neckbreaker. That leaves Mr. Cisco, the leader of The Crew, and while he’s initially able to stop a super rana, he takes too long with his powerbomb counter and is eventually taken up and over. Sexy Star gets a two count for this and The Crew reassemble, ready to put the evil on her, but that is Big Ryck’s cue to reenter The Temple. Cisco and Castro exit the ring, leaving Bael as easy pickings for Sexy Star, who wins with a roll-up. Again, that pattern. It’s noticeable because I’m no stranger to intergender wrestling, and because of how common this finish seems to be in Lucha Underground. They get away with it because Star was fighting alone and it makes sense for an exhausted Crew to run from a gigantic man whose eye they put out with a cigar, but if the only guy who can lose clean to a woman is El Mariachi Loco, a man whose character is that he quit his dishwashing gig around the corner from The Temple and found a lucha mask, then what does that really say for that aspect of the product?

Results:

  1. Mil Muertes def. Chavo Guerrero, Jr. via disqualification. GRADE: B-

  2. Ivelisse (w/Son of Havoc) def. Angélico via pinfall. GRADE: C

  3. Texano def. Super Fly via pinfall. GRADE: C+

  4. Sexy Star, Pimpinela Escarlata, and Mascarita Sagrada def. The Crew (Mr. Cisco, Cortez Castro, and Bael) via pinfall. GRADE: B

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