By: David Temrick (Former host of the Mark Out Radio podcast)
First, a primer. I refuse to call things “this companies WrestleMania” for a lot of reasons, but mostly because WrestleMania might be a huge production these days…but the last few have been mediocre at best. Thankfully, they tend to pull out all of the stops for the three or four (really?) main events, but the undercard is treated like a red-headed stepchild and the pre-show match or two are frequently interrupted by ads that could just as easily come before or after the match.
Second, some history. When I heard that Mark Burnett and Robert Rodriguez were getting into the wrestling business, I was as excited as a pre-teen gets finding Picachu in Pokemon Go. I’ve been a rabid fan since the first episode…even though technically season one didn’t air in Canada until a few months ago.
There are two things you need to understand if you’ve never watched an episode of Lucha Underground;
Yes…it’s supposed to be corny at times, and
Yes…there are going to be botches.
And damnit, that’s OK.
At this point, the cat is out of the bag and most people aren’t mystified by kayfabe or what’s going on when we’re enjoying a guilty pleasure like professional wrestling. That doesn’t negate the incredibly gifted athletes who blow us away with their impressive feats of strength, flexibility, charisma and stamina. It should really add to it. Anyone can be taught the fundamentals of wrestling, but only a handful can make us forget that what we’re watching is improvised choreography and Lucha Underground is a playground for those men, women and Pimpinela’s.
If you don’t get that last reference, you’re missing out on something amazing.
Ultima Lucha is a huge event for Lucha Underground, so let’s get right into Part 1, which was a “Tournament FOUR a Unique Opportunity”.
A couple of things annoyed me right off the bat, first this entire “unique opportunity” gimmick is a tired old cliché line that’s been used far too many times this season alone. My other gripe is that now the guy who does the El Rey promo voice overs said “Lucha Underground”…why? In the last 60+ episodes we just read the name of the show, now we need this scratchy voiced guy to somehow shoehorn his way into this show too? One of my biggest problems with the major networks is how everything feels the same, there are always going to be some shows, or specials, or movies that I’m just not going to like even if I had an El Rey tattoo on my forehead. Matt Striker and Vampiro do an excellent job telling us what we’re about to watch, I don’t need over-the-top deep voice guy. I know, I’m making a mountain out of a mole hill, but these little silly changes are what started the ball rolling on how many commercials and promos we have to sit through on WWE programming now…so I’d like to bitch about it now before it becomes normal and we all start pontificating on where Lucha Underground went off of the rails.
I’m going to steal a Jim Cornette gimmick, only because he stole it from the TV Times, who stole it from some rag that has long since gone out of print; the star system. Each match will get a grade out of five and there are a lot of considerations that go into my match grades, but ultimately I grade on a curve of how the match made me feel from start to finish. So don’t look for anything remotely close to empirical evidence.
The Mack d. Cage (Falls Count Anywhere) – 3.5/5
It should come as no surprise that I’m a big mark for The Mack, he gives chubby wrestlers all over the world something to aspire to. He couldn’t be more diametrically opposed to Cage, who I’m a huge mark for as well, and I was really looking forward to this opening bout.
Before I get too deep into the match, why the hell am I a Cage mark? I mean, his look is what WWE still pushes as what wrestlers are supposed to look like, and I hate that. But consider this, he’s huge…yet he can fly. He’s huge, yet he puts over guys half his size…and women as well. So that’s why I’m a Cage mark, he isn’t your typical big guy.
If you’re reading this, then you must know that the fans are just as much a part of this show as the performers are. The Terminator cadence they beat out after the glass poster shot for Cage was awesome. Why? Didn’t you hear him? He’s a machine.
Overall, this was a good match. It’s hard to show The Mack getting bloody because his skin is too dark to see it outside of the ring, had they finished the action inside the ring it might have been more obvious to the TV audience. This is one of the sacrifices of doing “dingy” lighting. But both men get color and the finish was excellent.
Son of Havoc d. Texano (Bar Fight) – 4/5
Texano, for those of you un-initiated into the Lucha culture (LU, AAA, CMLL and others), Texano Jr is a third generation wrestler who is the youngest trios champion ever. Trios is like tag team wrestling, except with three people instead of two. He held the titles with Sagrado and Maximo for 569 days in this CMLL, which is Mexico’s oldest and largest wrestling promotion. When he moved on to AAA, he quickly became the youngest Mega Champion in their history. I tell you this only to set the stage for where this guy is in the card and the level of talent LU has under their umbrella. Certainly their partnership with Mexican AAA has helped, but they also use a lot of PWG and Californian indy talent.
Son of Havoc is another one of these muscular guys who looks great and wrestles like a bat out of hell. These guys had no heat going into this match and still managed to upstage the match before it. Texano taking a bump off of the bar was an especially jaw dropping moment. He took another bump earlier on into a broken chair that frankly scarred the crap out of me because, and Vampiro nailed it here on commentary, any one of the broken parts of the perfectly normal chair could have punctured his flesh…and it did. Luckily, just breaking skin – I can’t believe I had to qualify that.
Son of Havoc d. The Mack (Falls Count Anywhere) – 3/5
To give Son of Havoc a chance to recover a bit, Striker and Vampiro recapped the rest of the matches. When I write things like this piece, it’s sometimes hard to express the deep admiration I have for professional wrestlers. Most of the ones I meet or talk to understand that quickly, but there are times when the average fan just sees something like this as a blistering piece of hack journalism. So let me set your minds at ease for a moment.
The Mack had a brutal match with Cage, got bloody and then had to get his shit together for another match.
Son of Havoc also had a very physical match, appears to have hurt his wrist and forearm, and got a whole promo package to get himself ready for another performance.
That takes balls and a level of physical badassery that you just don’t see in other entertainment or sports.
Anyway, enough kissing their asses…I’m expecting this match to be good, but not as good as the first two because frankly, they have to be warn out – a bit? – a lot? – at all?
It ended up being a good match all things considered. Son of Havoc was then presented with either $250,000 or a shot at the Champ at Ultima Lucha 3. Obviously, since Son of Havoc is a face, he chose the title shot and then got swerved and had to face Dr. Wagner Jr for that “Unique Opportunity”.
Dr. Wagner Jr. d. Son of Havoc (Singles Match) – 2/5
Now, one of the downfalls with Lucha Underground is that the actor who plays Dario Cueto, doesn’t always get wrestling or why he has to say everything they write for him. He misses things from time to time and Striker is usually the announcer who fills in the gaps for us. Matt explains that if Dr. Wagner Jr wins, he’s going to take the money.
So…the “Tournament FOUR a Unique Opportunity” isn’t about four wrestlers, as so many assumed and then complained about on twitter and online later. It was four matches for a unique opportunity. Now, this part wasn’t explained well by anyone on LU, so you can’t really blame wrestling fans for being confused.
Dr. Wagner Jr is a huge rudo (heel), mostly in Mexico where he’s treated like a god. He has toured in southern Californian indy promotions and in Japan, but anyone north of the Texas state line might not know much about him and squashing a guy who already had three back to back matches was probably the best way to introduce a new rudo to Lucha Underground.
The downside here is that Lucha Underground is mostly rudos, so introducing a new one when there’s already so many might not go over as the big deal that it really should be. This was nothing but a squash match though and wasn’t really meant to be much more than an elaborate introduction and solidifying Son of Havoc as a big technico (face).
No voice over guy…thank the gods.
Sexy Star d. Marty “The Moth” Martinez, Mariposa, Killshot, Night Claw, Daga and Sinestro de la Muerte (seven-way dance for the “Gift of the Gods Championship”) – 4/5
First things first, the “Gift of the Gods” title can be cashed in for a shot at the Lucha Underground Championship. It’s not like Money in the Bank when you can cash in anytime or anywhere, you can cash in and the match is booked so that both wrestlers can bring their A game.
First issue here was with Daga, who is being setup as a big technico, blindsided Sexy Star (a female technico) with an enziguri …not a very nice thing to do. So unless the goal is to turn yet another technico into a rudo, he should really remember the role he’s playing even when he’s nervous and in a larger match.
There were two stories really going on in this match, the Sexy Star/Killshot VS Mariposa/Marty Martinez feud continued and Night Claw’s debut where he had a couple of huge spots. There was so much going on here it was hard to focus on much more. Ultimately, this boiled down to retribution for Sexy Star who was abducted at the end of last season and violated by the brother/sister team of Martinez and Mariposa.
There was a lot of action, I find these matches hard to get excited about because each of the performers is trying to tell their own story and sometimes it’s like people shouting over one another to be heard. The final three really pulled it all back together and put a nice finish on the season and this feud.
One final word here, sometimes wrestling fans get a little too into it as one moron shouted in a quiet moment “kick her in the tits!”…to their credit though, the rest of the fans gave him huge heat.
My five year old daughter loves Sexy Star, so she had a little mark out moment when Sexy Star won. Sometimes it’s nice to be reminded that just enjoying the show is the best way to watch wrestling.
Joey Ryan & Cortez Castro/Mr. Cisco promo
These promos are odd, I know it’s to further Dario’s evil underground fight club gimmick, but it’s just…so odd.
Mil Muertes d. King Cuerno (Death match) – 2/5
This feud has gone on long enough and was interrupted far too many times by title reigns and King Cuerno bitching on social media about his place in LU. Both guys are excellent wrestlers and there’s just one top spot, so like Cage…they should really be performing their best every time they’re in the ring.
But they aren’t.
This match fell flat for me. There’s nothing wrong with the wrestling, or the move chains, but there seemed to be a lot of botches and weird stuff going on. The guys just weren’t on the same page.
By the way, LU production should really stop scoring the underside of the tables so that they break evenly. It doesn’t help the wrestlers at all; in fact it hurts more because there’s one big drop on their back instead of one onto the table and then the table breaking which breaks the fall enough to keep them from having the breath knocked out of them. It does help in that the tables all break and there’s less post-editing that has to be done…but it just looks too fake the way they all break perfectly.
Matt Striker/Vampiro ringside promo
Pentagon Jr is the student of Vampiro, who tosses his meds away and leaves the announce position to prep his boy.
Mr. Cisco/Dario Cueto promo
Murdering someone on a wire where two cops were listening in…uh…alright? Who wrote that? Honestly. The show went dark on a bloody bull statue on Dario’s desk, which was sold far better by his bloody hand since the damned bull is red and the lighting is far too grindhouse to tell the difference between a red bull and blood.
Vampiro/Pentagon Jr promo
Time for those of you who suffer from seizures to look away as Pentagon Dark is born. If you’re into old martial arts movies where they do cheap strobe light effects to make the moves look faster or more painful, you probably marked out a bit here. But if you’re just a wrestling fan, it was probably just a bunch of flash images of Pentagon fighting different versions of himself.
Fire, Space & Fury (Fenix, Aero Star and Drago) d. Underground Worldwide (Johnny Mundo, PJ Black and Jack Evans) (Trios Title Match) – 4/5
PJ Black and Mundo you might remember as midcard wrestlers from WWE, and they definitely weren’t used properly there. Jack Evans is young, but has had a pretty steadily rising career in Mexico and Japan. Fenix, Aero Star and Drago got their starts in Mexico and since appearing on LU have taken bookings in PWG and other So Cal and Texas indy promotions. All six guys are phenomenal wrestlers. No sarcasm. They are all awesome workers.
Jack Evans rolled up Aero Star and then gave him a shocker, which was a hilarious bit…even if the ref just watched a pin happen and didn’t bother to count.
I find it hard to put a lot of heavy handed words in here, because each of these guys performed a fantastic match. I won’t lie, there were some botches and just plain missed spots…but it was awesome. Last season saw Fenix leaving as the Champ, Aero Star and Drago leaving in gimmick, so seeing them end the season as Trios Champs made a lot of technico fans happy.
Personally, I’m a bigger mark for the rudos. I’ve had a lot of conversations with wrestlers and promoters over the years and while some make the case of being a face in and out of the ring is harder than being a quality heel, I’m still convinced that great heels are hard to come by. Some push things too far, some not far enough, and some wrestlers just have a personality that better suits being a heel. Getting over as a heel still seems to me to be one of the harder aspects of pro wrestling. That’s just my opinion though.
El Dragon Azteca Jr vs Black Lotus – 1.5/5
I really haven’t seen either of these wrestlers working without the net of a promo package or tag partners and indeed the match only served as a promo package for Pentagon Dark to “break” two arms. Dragon Azteca actually sold the broken arm, where Black Lotus just lay there doing nothing. It was not a very good match and it led to what we all thought was going to be the main event…but apparently the LU Champ isn’t main event worthy.
My irritation with this match further lowered the score I awarded because we’ve been watching promo packages for Dragon Azteca all bloody season and I expected a lot more than he delivered. Black Lotus has been this behind the scenes character and her promo packages are clearly the best we can expect from her judging from this match.
Pentagon Dark promo
His promos actually help me learn some Spanish and they are done well, with a nice creepy cadence.
Matanza Cueto d. Pentagon Dark (Lucha Underground Championship) – 3.5/5
I’m a big mark for Pentagon, he reminds me of La Parka and Psychosis in so many wonderful ways. He’s not the biggest guy…but he works hard to put the match over and make his opponents look good. I like that in a wrestler.
I am not a big mark for monsters. In fact, I loathe them. Modern monsters are the worst thing in wrestling. All you need is a big guy and then have them steamroll over a few wrestlers and presto. A monster. Rarely do monsters work for long, because eventually they have to lose clean to a baby face. Then you have to rely on gimmicks and Katie Vicks to keep the monster relevant and frightening, even then it always falls flat and never results in much more than going over clean to the up and coming baby face. I would rather see a dominant big man like Kane have longer matches and not squashes, and then get beat and snap, and then go on a revenge streak that gets stopped by an up and coming face. It’s much more plausible and interesting; it also creates a longer career for the “monster” and makes it more compelling when the monster comes back.
Anyway, monster vs demon match, nothing really wrong with it other than the go home (ending) which sucked. Here’s why, we’ve already seen Pentagon vs Vampiro. It was great. But the best days of Vampiro’s career are behind him, he’s had so many injuries and suffers still from chronic pain, but of course…he’s a wrestler and he wants to perform. This feud has already happened, we’ve already seen this. There’s only so many episodes of LU a season and there’s so much more they could be doing with Pentagon. Vampiro is gold on commentary; he doesn’t need to do death matches anymore.
I have so much respect for these wrestlers, but they need to stop at some point so that they can save what’s left of their body and pass on their knowledge to the next generation. It’s hard to do that for most of them, but promoters shouldn’t be taking advantage of that.
Vampiro sells like a champion though and continued to sell into the next match when he rejoins Matt Striker on commentary. He is unquestioningly an amazing performer. I guess the softy in me just wants them to live.
Taya d. Ivelisse – 3/5
Both women have been known to be stiff and this match was an exhibition of a stiff lucha match. Now, that’s not a slight, stiff workers aren’t my preference, but it does look more “real” and a lot of people dig it. In the UK and Japan, it’s HUGE. This one was another weird blow off with Catrina interference, but this one served a pretty decent purpose as it sets Catrina up as a wrestler, which not a lot of people knew that she was (even spent a couple of years with the WWE in NXT).
Rey Mysterio d. Prince Puma – 4.5/5
The match was great and definitely worth the main event spot, Puma has floundered in the mid-card all season on LU, Rey spent most of the season mentoring Dragon Azteca…so it was a little odd that this would be booked as the main event. There was little by way of a build, even less time spent giving us a reason to care before the pre-match promo revealed a bunch of information we were never privy to, or had been glossed over.
There were some amazing reversals and near falls, just a damn good match and even though a lot of people didn’t like Rey going over…it served an excellent purpose and stopped the heel move that it seemed like they’d been teasing for Puma all season.
Pentagon Dark post-match beat down on Vampiro
After blind siding Vampiro, Pentagon super-kicks Strikers head off and then sets about getting Vampiro bloody. I’m still not sold on this feud or its purpose or the rationale behind it. I will say this, knowing how much stuff Vampiro has put into his body and all of the death matches he’s been in…I would not be licking his blood for fan reactions.
Dario Ceuto arrested
Dario gets arrested in the last scene – with the key to the temple still around his neck. Interesting final scene, but Vampiro’s was more in keeping with the show and should have been the final scene.