Lucha Underground

March Matches of the Month

March was a better month for good wrestling then February, though nothing stood out as a real Match of the Year. There weren’t a lot of big shows in March, most of the month building to the big shows in April. Still, a solid month.

****1/2 HHH vs Dean Ambrose
WWE: Roadblock. March 12, 2016.

This match gets an extra half star because of the crazy close false finish after Ambrose hit Dirty Deeds. A really good match that made me jump out of my seat when I thought Ambrose won, and I can’t ask for much more then that.

****1/2 Mil Muertes vs Fenix
Lucha Underground: March 16, 2016.

A fitting conclusion to their year long rivalry saw Fenix come out on top is a bloody and exciting match.

**** Finn Balor vs Neville vs Balor
NXT: March 2, 2016.

This was a lot of fun, but nothing really stood out. A paint-by-the-numbers 4 star match between two really good wrestlers.

**** Tomohiro Ishii vs Tetsuya Naito
NJPW: New Japan Cup. March 4, 2016.

A great match of clashing styles. Ishii’s intensity and stiffness against Naito’s speed and indifference made for fun match, with Naito countering the Brainbuster with Destino for a cool finish.

**** New Day vs Chris Jericho & AJ Styles
WWE: Monday Night Raw. March 7, 2016.

An exciting tag match that showed off the strengths of everyone involved. AJ in particular was on point, hitting is high flying moves perfectly.

**** Samoa Joe vs Sami Zayn
NXT: March 9, 2016.

A nearly hour long match is really hard to do. Some people didn’t like this one, but I thought it was really good, keeping my attention the entire time.

**** Mil Muertes vs Prince Puma vs Pentagon Jr
Lucha Underground: March 9, 2016.

A crazy exciting match with great spots and told a great story. I would go higher if it was a bit longer.

**** Tetsua Naito vs Hirooki Goto.
NJPW: New Japan Cup. March 12, 2016

The finals of the New Japan Cup saw Naito win an excellent match that built up both wrestlers. Goto kept winning with creative roll up, unable to hit his Shouten Kai finisher. Naito went through Yoshi-Hashi, Ishii, and Toru Yano, all members of CHAOS. They had a great near fall when Goto finally landed Shouten Kai, but it wasn’t enough. Afterwards, Goto joined CHAOS, bringing the tournament full circle.

**** Aztec Warfare
Lucha Underground: March 23, 2016.

Better then the Royal Rumble in every way. One of the best battle royal matches I’ve ever watched.

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Aztec Warfare vs The Royal Rumble

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.

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Show, Don’t Tell

When learning to write fiction, I imagine most people heard the mantra, “Show, don’t tell.” It’s a useful, if overly simple, way to keep the consumer interested in the story you are telling. In wrestling, “showing” takes place mainly in the ring. If two wrestlers are involved in a blood feud, the most effective way to show that they hate each other is for them to go all out with aggressiveness in the ring. If two wrestlers are seeing who is best, the in-ring work becomes a game of one upping each other. If they are fighting over a girl, she will be at ringside, no doubt to give her favorite an edge.

The WWE is by far the worst at this among the promotions I watch. Every single episode of Raw opens with someone standing in the ring and literally telling us the stories. WWE assumes that its viewers are so dumb, they must be handed the story in the simplest, most easily accessible manner. WWE patterns itself a family company, and no doubt doesn’t want children to be confused. But kids are not as dumb as WWE seems to believe. There are dozens of recent children’s cartoons filled with depth and subtlety that both kids and adults can enjoy. WWE though, caters to what it believes to be the lowest common denominator, so they will continue to explicitly tell the viewer what is happening and how we should feel about it.

New Japan does the best at this mode of storytelling. They have to be, in order to appeal to a global audience of wrestling fans. I don’t speak a lick of Japanese, but I am able to follow along with the stories. When Okada lost the main event at Wrestlekingdom last year, he didn’t need to tell us how unhappy he was, we could see it on his face as he cried out of the ring. Shibata doesn’t need to spend 20 minutes telling us why he is feuding with Naito. From watching them in the ring we know Shibata is an intense man and Naito is a lazy dick. Speaking of Naito, he has his in ring character tuned to perfection. The way he lounges against the ropes in tag matches and takes every opportunity to troll his opponent is fantastic. He is a masterclass in showing us his character, not telling.

NXT does a decent job of not going the full WWE. Their promo’s are kept short and sweet, and are followed up by appropriate in ring action. The recent debut of Asuka is a good example. Instead of just telling us, “Asuka is great” (though they did plenty of that too), we got a build to seeing how good she could be. It was her menacing smile, the reaction of Emma and Dana Brooke after watching her training video, and her vignettes, that built her up. But the most important part of her debuting story was her in ring dismantling of Brooke. NXT has reached an ideal middle ground of telling us the story through short promos, and showing us the story with in ring action.

Finally, there is Lucha Underground, which is almost on whole different level when it comes to showing us and not just telling us. We are told Drago is a dragon wrestler, and then we are shown Drago sprouting wings, breathing fire, and flying off. LU will run counter to my desire to see storytelling happen in the ring, though there is plenty of that as well. The difference between LU and WWE though, is that Lucha Underground knows how to tell a story through promos. They are able to take people without acting chops and make them look like a stars, all while telling us the story. In WWE, people like Roman Reigns are put in the middle of the ring for 10 minutes, made to stumble through awkward promo after awkward promo, telling us for the 20th time why is doesn’t like Bray Wyatt.

It’s ineffective and cringe-worthy how often the WWE falls on this trope. It’s especially prevalent in the mid-card, when wrestlers are not given the time to tell a story through the match. So guys like Neville, Wade Barrett, Sheamus, and Cesaro are brought out for us every week to have the same five minute match they had last week, and Michael Cole tells us why they are fighting this week while JBL makes jokes.

Ultima Lucha/Lucha Underground Part 3

Throughout the season, Dario Cueto has given his warriors a change to earn Aztec Medallions. Now, in the season finale, everyone who has won an Aztec Medallion is in one match, with the winner earning “The Gift of the Gods,” and a future title shot. This is why Dario is so fascinating as a character. He promises everything, and delivers nothing. Much like how he played Drago, he plays the entire roster, dangling carrots over them that he has no intention to hand out.
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Ultima Lucha/Lucha Underground Part 2

The final episode of Lucha Underground opens with an excellent video package highlighting Prince Puma, Pentagon Jr, and all the other feuds. A real high quality package, keeping up with the high production of Lucha Underground.

Johnny Mundo vs. Alberto El Patron: These two are probably the most familiar to American audiences, so it makes sense to pair them up and open their final show with them. Alberto is a much better face in LU then he was in WWE, and Mundo is someone I always enjoyed watching. I imagine both of these guys feel like they have a lot to prove to American audiences. These two were paired together pretty much from the get go in backstage segments and tag teams before Mundo threw Alberto though Dario Cueto’s window.
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Ultima Lucha/Lucha Underground Part 1

Good news everyone! Lucha Underground was renewed for season 2! Yes, on a smaller budget, but I have a lot of happy about this news. So, I’m finally finishing my review/recap of Ultima Lucha, and the first season of Lucha Underground as a whole. It will be in two parts, with part 2 coming later this week.

Ultima Lucha opens the way it has all season, with the telenovela stylings of Dario Cueto. Dario has been the best non-wrestling personality on television this year, and only Paul Heyman comes close. This opening segment is a perfect example of why. He sounds so slimy and sinister as he weaves the fabric of whatever evil machinations he is working on, able to take a ridiculous story that makes Undertaker-Kane look like a happy family. But it doesn’t matter how silly it is, Dario sells it, and sells it hard.
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Top Ten

Anything interesting going on yet? No? Damn. So I guess I’ll write out my Top Ten Wrestlers of 2015 so far. These are the guys I have enjoyed the most this year, not necessarily guys who have had the best year, though those two things often go hand in hand.

1. Brock Lesnar
Lesnar had only had two matches this year, but one of them was a potential Match of the Year, and the other was the main event of Wrestlemania. That’s a pretty good first three months by anyone’s definition. He made the Mania match better then it had any right to be. I could watch Lesnar throw people around all day, and it’s a bummer he probably won’t be back around until Summerslam.

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State of Lucha Underground

Since I started this blog, I’ve started to watch Lucha Underground on a regular basis. And I love it. Absolutely love it. It’s an incredibly unique style of wrestling show with high quality presentation not normally seen in a non-WWE show.

The first thing noticeably different about it is the format. The opening promo that Raw always opens with is here as well, only done more like a TV show, heavily influenced by telenovelas. Rather then watch a wrestler stand in the ring and talk, there are multiple cameras with dramatic angles, background music that swells as the scene climaxes, and the utter awesomeness of Dario Cueto. It’s cheesy at first, but it’s an enjoyable cheese, and the presentation quickly becomes second nature. Many of the wrestlers follow this style with their characters, from an undead demon to a revenge seeking femme fatale. They fit right at home in the world Lucha Underground has created.

There are normal characters as well, and many of them may be familiar to some viewers. The two biggest names for the American audience would be Alberto El Patron and Johnny Muendo, formerly Alberto Del Rio and Johnny Nitro/John Morrison. Rey Mysterio has been rumored to appear as well, though his future is in doubt now. A handful of others, like Big Ryck, Ivelisse, and Hernandez may be familiar as well. But don’t look past those who haven’t appeared much before on American TV. Wrestlers like Pentagon Jr, Prince Puma, Fenix, and many others are have some great matches on Lucha Underground.

The show is definitely worth checking out, and having it and NXT on the same night makes Wednesdays the best night of the week for good wrestling.