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Ultima Lucha (part 2) – August 5th, 2015

The first season of El Rey Network’s breakout program, Lucha:Underground, comes to a conclusion with its first two-hour spectacular from the Temple in Boyle Heights, California. It’s time for the big night. It’s time for Ultima Lucha!

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The night would boast torrents of blood, shocking developments, upset victories, outstanding feats of athleticism, and more blood.

But did the show live up to the expectations set by a season full of high-octane thrills?

Did the believers both in the Temple and watching at home get the show they wanted to see?

And perhaps the biggest question of all: will LU return for a second season?

Before daring to predict the future, let’s run down and break down the explosive television event that is Ultima Lucha (part 2).

THE RUN-DOWN:

  • We open with a promo vignette giving background on all current story-lines.
  • Matt Striker on commentary introduces his partner for the night, Australian Sports Writer of the Year Award winner, Michael Schiavello.
  • Johnny Mundo vs Alberto El Patron: Melina makes her Lucha debut and interferes, Mundo gets the pin. Post-match, Patron spanks Melina and puts Mundo through a window.

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  • In the Temple dungeon, tuxedo-clad Dario Cueto is confronted by El Dragon Azteca, who is here to set Black Lotus free. Lotus, however, under the impression Azteca is responsible for her parents’s murder, kills her former master. Cueto is afraid the death will bring war upon him. He frees Black Lotus, and informs her they must leave the Temple together with his brother in tow.
  • Cero Miedo Match – Pentagon Jr. vs Vampiro: after a messy, bloody affair, Pentagon slams Vampiro through a flaming table, pins him outside the ring to win. Postmatch, Vampiro reveals himself as Pentagon’s master, and the two embrace and celebrate.
  • 7-Way Gift of the Gods Match – Big Ryck vs Sexy Star vs Aerostar vs Jack Evans vs Fenix vs Bengala vs King Cuerno: Fenix hits fire-driver to Jack Evans for the win and becomes possessor of the Gift of the Gods.
  • Texano vs Blue Demon Jr. (with the Crew): No disqualification stipulation added just before match begins. The Crew interferes, then Chavo Guerrero attacks Texano with a chair. Blue Demon pins Texano easily.
  • Lucha:Underground Championship Match – Mil Muertes (with Catrina) vs Prince Puma: Mil Muertes hits a Flat-liner off the top rope for a decisive three-count. New champion, Mil Muertes, is joined by new Trios Champions the Disciples of Death to stand tall. Matt Striker declares the “Age of Death” has begun.
  • In Dario Cueto’s office, Black Lotus helps the boss pack up money to hit the road. Before leaving, Cueto grabs his red bull statue from his desk and says good-bye to the Temple.

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  • Closing vignette: Dario Cueto and Black Lotus leave in a black luxury SUV, towing behind it a trailer containing his brother; Fenix, with his new belt, takes to the road in a golden Trans Am; Texano follows in a pick-up truck; in a back room under a single light bulb, Marty “the Moth” Martinez has Sexy Star bound in rope, forewarning the arrival of his sister; Angelico jets off on a road rocket after touching base with Son of Havoc, who hops onto the back Ivelisse’s chopper; Drago and Aerostar bid each other a respectful farewell, then Drago turns into a dragon and flies away and Aerostar lifts off like a rocket into the sky; Pentagon Jr asks his master where they are going and Vampiro tells him, “To a much darker place”; a white-hooded man dawns the mask of El Dragon Azteca and tags a giant question-mark across the Lucha:Underground billboard. The show ends with a cryptic shot of Dario Cueto and a darkening Temple, and the words “To Be Continued…”

ANALYSIS:

  • First criticism of the night was the opening promo package. It was busy to the point of convoluted, and was presenting far too much back-story all at once. The show would have benefited far more from some kind of generic opening package to set up the event itself, perhaps focusing on Dario Cueto and Lucha:Underground’s formation. Then, show a brief and more focused vignette to set up each match. This would also provide a bit of padding between each match, to get the audience on board with the next drama which will take to the stage. Time restraints due to being on television and having to navigate commercials no doubt effected how this show was paced, cut and organized, and it suffered from not being a Pay-Per-View type show.

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  • Alberto El Patron and Johnny Mundo have built such a rivalry over the last months, and at Ultima Lucha they showed the wrestling world what a proper grudge match should look like, without taking the easy route of falling back on some kind of hardcore match. The action was furious, the emotion palpable. Patron seemed to get slowed down by injuries, but although the physicality suffered, he managed to use it to fuel his character’s motivation. This match had the appearance of two absolute professionals doing a masterful job of masking botched spots. As the opener, they had the crowd’s energy working in their favour as well, and never lost them once.

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  • The injection of Melina seemed to fall a bit flat, as she has been removed from the spot-light for quite a while and her relationship with Mundo has not been teased at all in the build. This made a surprise, it’s true, but the shock seemed to be lost on many believers who merely wanted to see Mundo and Patron tear each other apart. The post-match evoked conflicting feelings. The comedic humiliation of Melina by El Patron under-minded all the progressive standards set by Lucha in the gender department, and was indeed a step backward.

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  • Patron putting Mundo through the window was a poetic way for the tecnico to get his revenge, but the blood that poured from the rudo’s head was profuse and grotesque, and evoked more sympathy than perhaps was intended. Patron’s coy grin and cocky wink came off as sadistic and more indicative of a rudo than was perhaps intended, as well. Regardless, the crowd seemed satisfied with the conclusion, and the public displays of affection between Johnny and Melina garnered them marked heat, which made up for the flat reaction her entrance originally received.

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  • The confrontation and showdown between Dario Cueto, El Dragon Azteca and Black Lotus was brief and sudden, and seemed to be anti-climactic. The return of Dragon to the Temple to confront the boss seemed like something that would arrive at the acme of the show, instead of at the beginning. Black Lotus, also, seems like the most easily convinced rube in the world instead of a cunning warrior. Cueto having to leave the Temple and choosing to take Lotus along with him as an ally is however an exciting development, and sets up a new venue to be featured in season two.

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  • Vampiro began to shock the audience from the moment he stepped into the aisle, dressed in a Satanic pope’s robe, complete with upside-down cross, ceremonial hat and swinging incense.

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  • The intimidating effect did not last into the match, as Ian Hodgkinson appeared as old, as out-of-shape, and as weary from injury and repair as one would expect. Thanks to this, the action crawled and limped for the most part, but the crowd support and the sheer violence of what occurred kept the drama alive. Vampiro proved he still had what it takes to put on a show by taking insane shots from florescent light tubes, chairs, and even attempting a top rope moonsault – which he ended up missing and landing in a pool of thumb tacks.

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  • Pentagon proved himself every bit equal to the veteran of grotesque spectacle and obscenity, taking every hardcore hit with the same zeal which he dished them out. As plodding as the pace may have been, overwhelming pathos for the much-loved Vampiro kept the crowd from turning, and the violent spots kept those seeking danger satisfied.

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  • Pentagon getting the win may have been a surprise to those expecting a story-book comeback story, but as the post-match revealed that was not the plan. The shocking development that Vampiro is the master who has been guiding Pentagon all this time was absolutely jarring, and completely bumped up the overall impact of the match by several points.

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  • It was a great bit of Star Wars (“I am your father”) dramatics, which also served those fans who were torn between cheering for both Vampiro while still liking Pentagon. With a master like Vampiro behind him, Pentagon is no doubt destined for big things.

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  • The Gift of the Gods contest would perhaps have been better suited as the curtain jerker; it was fast-paced and featured far more traditional lucha-style action than either of the previous two matches, which were more reminiscent of ECW or other backyard hardcore indie shows. There was nothing at all wrong with this match, it was well coordinated and smoothly executed by all involved.

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  • The central story was that Big Ryck was clearly over-powering and was the man to beat, but he didn’t dominate so much that it prevented others from showcasing their talents. Bengala put forward an outstanding performance for a relatively new competitor. King Cuerno was effective as the swift, intelligent opportunist. Sexy Star came off as courageous, and was definitely a favourite to take the victory. Aerostar and Jack Evans contributed their shares of impressive spots – Aerostar’s suicide plummet from the top of Temple was quite literally insane.

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  • The inclusion of Marty the Moth was well played, as it set up a program between he and Sexy Star, which makes sense and serves both performers. Daivari’s sabotage of Big Ryck was a creative way to take the big man out of contention, but there was a marked lack of follow-up on this development. Nothing from Ryck or Daivari in the aftermath or closing vignette, and viewers are left to speculate. Fenix was the favourite going into the event, having just made his return and being so over with believers, and his win not only made sense but gave the only wholly satisfying conclusion of the evening.

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  • Texano and Blue Demon Jr’s match was a passing of the torch in the world of lucha libre. Melissa Santos introduced Texano as the longest-reigning AAA Heavyweight Champion (to which Matt Striker added the fact he is also the youngest AAA Heavyweight Champion ever), and Demon is hailed as “the original rudo” of lucha libre. That sets up a classic battle for the honour and adulation from the loyal fans of Mexico between two luchadores of the highest working caliber. But that is not what the audience got. What they got instead was an impromptu no-holds-barred match, which allowed for outside interference, a quick shmozz ending which could barely be called satisfactory, and felt more like a stepping stone in a program rather than a blow-out. The uniting of Blue Demon’s clan and the Guerrero family was put over by Striker as important, but that didn’t matter to those watching. What was at stake was the honour of the Mexican people, and the message sent was that the liars, cheaters, thieves, gangsters and bullies always win.

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  • The championship main event was clearly the high-light, and did not disappoint. Prince Puma was top of his game in every sense: physically he was superb – as always; his characterization and psychology was clear and compelling, which is difficult when you wear a mask and don’t speak. Mil Muertes, although impressive in the glorified squashes, often shows a lack of depth in his in-ring work. Such was not the case at Ultima. He not only kept up with the champ, but he seemed to lead the majority of the action, and managed to keep a tempo surprising of such a big bruiser.

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  • The match ran the gamut between arena brawl and battle of classic technique, with a bit of supernatural mysticism mixed in. Catrina’s presence was felt but did not overwhelm, and perhaps could have even been incorporated more than it was. Overall, though, the match was a resounding classic worthy of accolades.

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  • While not Puma’s best showing, it belongs close to the top. The absence of more ceremony, of more pomp and pageantry, and most notably of Konnan were the only significant detractors from the main event. Other than that, this was a decisive finish to mark the beginning of a new dark age of Lucha:Underground. Much like a series which leaves its universe hanging in peril, the company – if it does indeed return to entertain audiences for another season – will be faced with a ruling class of rudos under the command of a dark temptress wielding black magic.

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CONCLUSIONS:

Lucha:Underground’s first big event yielded an opening third that was spattered with viscera and violence. It seemed to stand as a bold statement: that it was separate from other sports entertainment promotions; that it was a bad boy, a rebellious beast that did not have to play by the same rules prescribed to by others in the so-called “PG Era”. In doing so, it may have come on a big too strong, and alienated a portion of its audience while sending a misleading message of what makes Lucha the exciting promotion that it is. Blood and guts didn’t make Lucha popular, and it won’t get it a second-season deal either.

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Low points and biggest detractors of the night were the Texano/Blue Demon non-match, the convoluted and too-brief promo vignettes, less-than-satisfactory booking, and perhaps the most noticeable absence of all: Dario Cueto. The jeffe of the Temple, the grand master of ceremonies, the keeper of the keys and secrets was completely isolated to backstage segments throughout Ultima Lucha and never graced the believers with any kind of salutation, introduction – not even his now recognized, “Ring the bell!” Cueto has been such an influential character all season long and, as is true with Konnan, his absence robs the entire program of a bit of what gave it such soul, such substance.

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Sincere hopes that Lucha:Underground will return for a second season, and more seasons after that. In the words of master announcer Matt Striker, Lucha set out with a goal a year ago of bringing the best in lucha libre to television audiences, and they have single-handedly changed the face of the sports entertainment industry. The world of pro wrestling needs Lucha:Underground, and will ultimately benefit from its presence and its influence.

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Photographs copyright El Rey Network.

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