This is going to be a busy week, with the go-home Raw before WrestleMania, NXT Takeover, then WrestleMania itself. So I’m going to start this week on a positive note, and take a look back at the first few months of Lucha Underground Season 2. Lucha Underground opened with a hot episode in the season premier, but slowed down as storylines were developed. But after a series of incredible episodes, everything came to a head in Aztec Warfare.
For the unaware, Aztec Warfare is basically the Royal Rumble, only people are eliminated by pinfall and submission, not by being thrown over the top rope and there are only 20 people, not 30. The only other difference is that, for the last several years, the Royal Rumble has been mediocre at best, while Aztec Warfare was amazing. Let’s see if we can figure out why one of them worked, and the other doesn’t.
Like the Royal Rumble, Aztec Warfare was scheduled to determine the number one contender to the title. And like the Royal Rumble this year, the title was held by someone that those in charge did not want, so they made the match for the title, and put the champion in the Number One position. Lucha Underground filmed their match more then a month before WWE’s Royal Rumble, so it’s not like they copied the idea. Aztec Warfare featured a babyface champion attempting to overcome the odds, it featured the debut of a well-known wrestler early in the match, and even ended with a surprise entrant and return who won the title at the end.
But while the Royal Rumble mostly fell flat, Aztec Warfare shone. It starts with the champion. Fenix took the Lucha Underground title into Aztec Warfare, after a long hard road to win the title. Last year at Ultima Lucha, Fenix won the Gift of the God’s title, which is a bit like a Money in the Bank briefcase, but has to be cashed in a week in advance. He then watched as his arch-nemesis, Mil Muertes, win the Lucha Underground title. When Season 2 opened, Fenix was forced to defend his title, losing it to King Cuerno before regaining it in an excellent ladder match. Fenix then cashed in the title for a chance at the dominant Mil Muertes, winning a ****1/2 star match to take down the evil champion. He would not be able to celebrate long through, as the very next week he would be forced to defend the title in Aztec Warfare.
Compare that story to Roman Reigns. Roman won the World Title in a disappointing tournament, was screwed and lost the title to Sheamus, regained the title in a ladder match, beat up the boss, and was made to defend the title at the Royal Rumble as punishment. There was little build to this announcement. Vince McMahon, who wasn’t really involved in the story, just came out one night and said it. Roman and Fenix were essentially telling the same story, but Fenix’s came off as much more compelling and much more sympathetic.
Then there was their performance in the match themselves. Both came in at Number 1, but while Fenix defended his title gamely during the match, Roman hid in the back. He. Hid. In. The. Back. Fenix took on all comers, Roman left. One of those actions makes people cheer for you, the other makes people shake their head. When Fenix was eliminated, there was legitimate shock. When Roman was eliminated, there was a sense of relief.
The champions aren’t the only thing to compare though. Early on in each match, a big name surprise made their debut. AJ Styles entered the Royal Rumble at Number 3, and Rey Mysterio entered Aztec Warfare at Number 2. And while I thought AJ’s debut went fine, he quickly became just another guy in the match. Meanwhile, Rey was treated as a Big Deal the entire match, and even made it to the end, being the last luchador standing between Lucha Underground’s newest monster and the title. AJ was lost in the shuffle after the first 10 minutes or so, while Rey Mysterio was a focal point of the match.
Then there was the ending. In the Royal Rumble, HHH came out as the surprise 30th entrant, and in recent Royal Rumble tradition, had a hot start before being lost in the crowd until the end. In Aztec Warware, we had the return of another authority figure, Dario Cueto, who introduced his monstrous brother Matanza as the surprise 21st entrant. Matanza then proceeded to wreck face, single-handedly eliminating everyone in the field that remained. He pinned NINE guys in a row, taking out Fenix first, then other big names like Prince Puma and Texano until it came down to him and Rey Mysterio. Rey fought valiently, but couldn’t bring down this monster, leaving the debuting Matanza the new Lucha Underground champion.
While both matches had surprise guys come in at the end and win the whole thing, WWE used their match to put the title on 46 year old executive who will be headlining WrestleMania for the 7th(!) time. Lucha Underground used their match to put the title on a brand new wrestler, whose appearance they had been building up for a year, and who looked utterly dominant. HHH’s win makes people roll their eyes and say “Here we go again.” Matanza’s win builds intrigue, and instantly established a new main event heel.
There were other things that Aztec Warfare did right as well. One of the best things Lucha Underground does is interweave different stories from different characters. So while Johnny Mundo is currently feuding with Cage, he hasn’t forgotten his rivalry with Prince Puma. The makeshift team of PJ Black and Jack Evans, who had a nunchaku fight in a bathroom with Drago and Aerostar (no seriously), teaming up with King Cuerno, who is still hunting Fenix. Chavo Guerrero, trying to team back up with Dario Cueto before getting destroyed by Matanza. Meanwhile, what stories did the Royal Rumble play with? Unless it involved Kevin Owens, who just keeps getting better and better, everyone in the Rumble was just a guy, who did a few spots then hung out until they got eliminated.
And that’s one of the main reasons Lucha Underground is so entertaining. The wrestling is great of course, but an underrated strength is their storytelling. It’s not just about the fantastical and the dramatic, it’s the way they weave different stories together, forming a coherent universe that follows its own rules. It’s why, even during their slower stretches of episodes, Lucha Underground is the best wrestling show on TV.