The action sizzles as Alberto El Patron shines in Lucha: Underground
While the rest of the wrestling universe can’t seem to stop buzzing about the latest televised offering from Full Sail University, over on the west coast there is a hot young promotion that had me leaping from my seat last week. The inventively cutting edge Lucha: Underground airs its weekly showcase on El Rey Network from its studio in Boyle Heights, LA. What made this episode special was the much anticipated welcome of newly signed AAA Heavyweight Champion Alberto El Patron, formerly Alberto Del Rio, formerly Dos Caras, Jr.
Patron’s new affiliation was publicized last month and is a monster acquisition for the fledgeling promotion, but before the man himself appeared before his eager audience, the crowd and viewers like me at home were treated to a veritable never-ending highlight reel of lucha action.
Now, I am aware that the lucha libre style is not everyone’s cup of tea. Indeed I must admit that there are aspects of its high risk, flashy nature that make it difficult for me to enjoy at times, and the first time I tuned in I found it hard to really engage myself. The biggest problem I seem to run into has to do with suspension of disbelief. As an intelligent audience member (smark for life), I know full well that the wrestlers in the ring are not really trying to hurt one another – in fact ideally just the opposite, but my goal is to fool myself adequately enough into believing they do and thus tension and intrigue is born. The AAA style of wrestling being what it is, the in-ring spots appear so choreographed, so purposefully staged, that it becomes difficult to create the belief of any tension or drama at all.
I’ve been watching Underground for weeks now, but the February 11th show really stands out. If you want to get on the bus, there are fewer episodes I could name that will get you on board faster.
Matt Striker of past fame and infamy in both WCW and WWE promotions as in-ring talent, announcer and analyst, and all-around pro wrestling nerd calls the action from within The Temple along with “legend” and colour commentator, Vampiro. Striker is masterful at creating legit hype for each competitor as well as the sport of lucha itself, constantly referring to its rich history and traditions. Simply tuning in to the action makes you feel like a part of something important, something that is only the newest evolutionary step in a dance that’s been going on for a long, long time.
It makes me feel as though I’ve been missing out on something awesome all my life by not tuning in. That kind of inspired, self-manufactured hype is exactly what a young Vince McMahon Jr employed in the early eighties which brought pro wrestling out of the obscure fringes of pop culture and thrust it, sweating and screaming, into the zeitgeist.
The first match of the night is a rivalry born in Mexico City between two masked high flyers, Argenis and Fenix. The crowd displays reverence and respect for the two competitors, and the announcers get over how established both are among AAA aficionados. The match is so expertly executed and paced that no matter how dynamic and choreographed the moves become, I am so enthralled with wide-eyed wonder to care about plausibility. These guys can put on a freaking show, and that’s all there is to it!
As the match progresses, I begin to really understand the draw and appeal of the lucha libre style. In terms of entertaining spots, there is no comparison to Lucha anywhere.
After running the ropes and landing first a high knee to the chest, then a leapfrog press into a kick to the groin, Argenis throws Fenix to the outside with a hurricanrana and follows up with a front flip suicide dive over the top rope. The crowd explodes in applause and a chant of “Lucha! Lucha! Lucha!” Argenis throws his opponent back in and mounts the top rope, but Fenix leaps up and hits an insiguri to knock him down to the floor. Fenix gets a head of steam and performs a soaring moonsault over the top to hit Argenis on the outside, and the crowd chants “This is awesome!”
All this happens in the first three minutes of the match!
This is what lucha is all about: cramming as many exciting, captivating moments into a match as humanly possible. Anything to get the crowd excited and keep them excited all the way to the end.
Fenix picks up the win over Argenis, and our next contest is Johnny Mundo versus Son of Havoc. Here, we are given an example of lucha libre peppered with an American style of catch-as-catch-can pro wrestling which fans like I am more accustomed to seeing.
Mundo from California and Havoc from Ohio, both men have competed on independent circuits for years, both are veterans of WWE’s Tough Enough, and both possess added skills which make their styles conducive to lucha (Mundo practices parkour, while Havoc competed in gymnastics for ten years and won gold medals at the Junior Olympics in two events).
The two luchadors have a match full of action which occurs at a rate just a hair slower than the one previous but nonetheless makes one tired just watching.
Mundo is a pro as any fan of his career in WWE is well aware, and capable of incredible athleticism between, around, over and under the ropes. But the story of this match is Havoc, who appears brutish, heelish, and frankly out-classed in black biker attire, black mask and long ginger beard. He looks like a bouncer at a heavy metal show, but possess incredible grace and agility. His execution of an increasingly impressive move set earns him appreciative applause from the crowd, as does his plucky resilience against Mundo’s many fervent attempts to put him away.
By the time Johnny Mundo pulled off his win, Havoc has the crowd believing he deserves better than the unfortunate loss he suffers, and both men come away looking better than they came in. Such should be the goal of any well orchestrated match.
The night’s third match is not much more than an extended, elaborate squash by Pentagon Jr over Rick Mantell. After the match, Pentagon sadistically breaks the arm of his fallen opponent and grabs a microphone to address the higher power, the “master” to whom he pledges allegiance.
In between contests of lucha libre, story-lines are told through a series of slickly produced, cinematic vignettes from the office of Dario Cueto, locker rooms, alleyways, parking lots, gymnasiums and other gritty locales. We see the monstrous Mil Muertes threaten Catrina and beat up on Chavo Geurrero Jr. We watch as Cueto sits down with Alberto El Patron to talk business and blood. Big Ryck, puffing on a cigar and sporting an eye patch, talks in confessional to an unseen priest about extracting revenge on The Crew who betrayed and attacked him.
This is where Lucha: Underground shows its cutting edge, and where it really stands apart from anything currently being produced in the world of pro wrestling. Is it good for the sport? Hurting it? I can see the argument from both sides, but ultimately I like it.
Finally, we come to it: Alberto El Patron’s grand welcome to The Temple and to Lucha: Underground. All night long, Striker and Vampiro have gotten over how highly anticipated this moment is, and the excitement from the live audience is tangibly palpable. Melissa Santos does not try to hide her smile or her mark-ish glee as she introduces the newly crowned AAA Heavyweight Champion, and the crowd comes absolutely undone when the man himself makes his spirited entrance.
It is an emotional segment, one full of genuine respect, love and appreciation, coming in equal amounts from both the decorated performer and the spectators alike. As one who has only known Alberto Del Rio and his despicable exploits as a crafty and pompous heel in the ranks of WWE, I begin to see the man as much more than simply that. I begin to recognize him as a hero to the people of Mexico, a legend in the world of lucha libre, and a world class performer and man of honour.
Patron thanks the people, and unabashedly calls them his friends, his family. He makes mention of his biological ties to lucha; his uncle Mil Mascaras and his father Dos Caras. He speaks of his passion for lucha, but also his need to go to America where he became an icon of his country and his people. Sparing the ugly details pertaining to the end of his career with WWE, he simply states, “Back there they embraced me, but when I turned around they stabbed me in the back,” and so he has returned.
He caps everything off by saying that he has come to Lucha: Underground because it is a place where the word “equal” means something, where a man is not held back unless he can’t get the job done. He tells us that the revolution has begun.
I have heard people in the online wrestling community urging more folks to follow Underground, and among all the reasons why, there is one reason that stands out in my mind as I watch Alberto El Patron talk of revolution. Much like little Vince Jr’s east coast promotion that began re-defining the landscape of professional wrestling and pop culture in western society, AAA is at this moment in time breaking through old confines, expanding their popular appeal, and revolutionizing the face of lucha libre. The performers are passionate and dynamic, the look and feel is sexy and exciting, and the action is world class.
I for one feel excited to be watching it during these early stages, and am eager to watch the promotion grow and evolve.