Every week on Place to Be Nation, a combination of correspondents review one match from the world of wrestling that YOU as the viewer should seek out!
Lucha Underground airs on the El Ray network on Wednesday nights at 8:00 P.M.
Aztec Warfare has become Lucha Underground’s signature event in each of the previous two seasons. A playoff of the Royal Rumble concept, Aztec Warfare mixes in timed intervals for a battle royal along with high flying and weapons that are staples of Lucha Underground
Aztec Warfare is a perfect jumping on point for curious or lapsed Lucha Underground fans. You get most of the roster in one place and you get to hear what their current personas and motivations are. It’s a great yearly snapshot of the tone and happenings of a promotion, similar to the Royal Rumble in WWE and the G1 in NJPW. Like a lot of people, I watched and enjoyed the first season of LU and drifted away after it concluded. After a two year break, it was good to look in and see that time had continued without me.
As far as the match itself, this looks like a case of fun action with questionable booking. The action was fast and fun, and the storytelling was effective. The problematic aspect is the stories they chose to tell. If you have to have Matanza’s yearlong path of rage be ended by Rey, the pin and subsequent revenge beating on Rey are probably the most effective way to tell that story. But why tell that story in the first place? The Black Lotus & the Lotus Backup Dancers ambushing Pentagon was an effective way to get him out of the way of the title change and establish a feud and direction for him. Still, why pick that direction using Lotus?
Good action, confounding decisions seems to be the letter in LU from what I’ve seen. For every evolution that is fun like seeing Johnny Mundo change into the leader of Team D-bag with Jack Evans and PJ Black, there’s a corresponding Angelico still milking that running leap off the office.
The biggest issue though, is the choice of Sexy Star winning the title. Like every other confounding decision they made, they justified her over Mil Muertes as good as they could. She had to throw everything she had at him just to stagger him, and then even more to be able to keep him down for three. They did a great job of protecting Muertes as it took multiple chair shots to the head and going through multiple tables to best him. There’s always the caveat of why they go through all this effort to set up Sexy Star to win when, regardless of gender, she’s just not very at good at being a wrestler.
As a whole, the match was enjoyable in a vacuum. I just don’t understand what they are doing or why going forward. If you can’t stop yourself from fantasy booking, this isn’t for you. The worst path was picked but traversed the best way, leaving feelings of confusion and disappointment.
Here we are again, Aztec Warfare. It’s kind of like Money in the Bank, King of the Ring, & Royal Rumble all in one for Lucha Underground and this is the 3rd of its kind. The first two years these matches have had a pretty obvious focus and did a great job of getting to the point while also having interesting wrinkles throughout. Unfortunately, much like this entire season, it felt as if LU has a major issue in taking a concept that worked and pushing it past it’s reasonable maximum.
The match felt like it had some of the best “moments” that LU has ever been able to manufacture. That is precisely the problem though in that these moments absolutely felt manufactured. Monsters squaring off between Matanza and Marty the Moth was done perfectly. The problem is that the regular LU viewer knows Marty the Moth as a pseudo comedy/cult favorite character that is usually standing uncomfortably close to Mellissa Santos’ ass instead of being a no fear ass-kicker. A mid-match attack by the Black Lotus tribe is a cool surprise that features ninja’s. This not only is a favorite to general nerd types but specifically the fan base that watches El Rey. They eliminate Pentagon protecting him from looking weak but it backfires when the crowd now realizes thier preferred anti-hero has been screwed. Then I get to the biggest flaw in execution, Sexy Star. Sexy Star has been pushed as the ultimate underdog from the start of LU. The live crowd does get behind her to some extent but nowhere near enough to warrant her push. Sexy Star facing off with the biggest baddest evil the company has produced in Mil Muertes is perfect on paper but in reality I found myself cheering for Mil.
Aztec Warfare has a mix of hardcore weapons, violence, storytelling, and comedy when done right. This year I just kept feeling like they were missing the mark on all accounts as everything felt right on paper and wrong on screen. This is an issue that will never be able to be cleared up when you are scripting and filming shows months or even years in advance of their airing dates.
The drums of war are beating. Fire streaks the heavens. Battle has begun.
Monsters are made to be taken down. The perseverance of the underdog in the face of an implacable foe is one of the oldest stories there is, and one of the easiest stories to tell in the world of professional wrestling, because it still uplifts us.
Lucha Underground is the best weekly wrestling show there is. It’s amazing for a wrestling show to have any concept of mise-en-scène that extends beyond the blandest of sportscast ripoffs; the world of Lucha Underground, in contrast, feels like a proper television drama. It’s amazing what lighting and cinematography can do, but Lucha Underground also feels fleshed out because of the strength of its storytelling — the roster is large enough that not everyone can be featured every week, so each episode has to balance the various characters and storylines as they’re advanced. It’s a show that rewards binge-watching as well as attention to detail, both of which are all too rare for wrestling programming. (Angélico went unremarked on for months, but his return still carries great meaning not only because of his dazzling leaps but also because you remember all of the mistreatment he suffered in the past.)
There are two great behemoths in this world — Mil Muertes and Matanza Cueto. Each has been the centerpiece of LU as its champion for an extended period of time. Both are presented in ways that make everything they do feel important. They benefit from operating largely in parallel, so that their occasional showdowns truly feel like a clash of the titans. Their parallel pinfalls on Dr. Wagner Jr. and Joey Ryan, staring into each other’s eyes, is a scintillating moment.
Matanza, of course, comes into this episode undefeated for an entire season, since Aztec Warfare II, and takes his first loss here. Such an event has to be built up carefully, especially given Matanza’s string of solid wins over high-profile opponents at the end of season two and over a wide-ranging selection of people from up and down the roster this season thanks to Dario’s Dial of Doom. If people like Mil, Pentagon, and Prince Puma couldn’t defeat Matanza Cueto, a gauntlet/battle royal situation makes the most sense as the time when everyone would be able to gang up on him, and indeed his brother Dario’s hubris is what ultimately brings the monster down — one of the best segments of the match is the sequence in which everyone finally figures out how to work together, culminating in the crowning moment of Rey Mysterio’s LU career as he’s the first person to pin Matanza, hopefully starting a feud between the two as well as seeding the idea for the viewer that David can beat Goliath. Aztec Warfare will return to this theme at a later time.
Other storylines are woven into what becomes a dense tapestry: Mariposa Martinez and Matanza Cueto have what one might hope was the beginning of a demented love connection, followed by Matanza’s regression to aggression and Marty the Moth’s efforts at revenge; Kobra Moon and Drago still have fervent disagreements about tribe affiliation; Ricky Mandel can’t catch a break; Johnny, Jack, and PJ Black hide out until they’ve all entered the match and proceed to be the biggest douchebags around; Jack Evans in particular is still incredibly happy that he can open his mouth again; Black Lotus brings in the Triad, as she teased previously, to get revenge on Pentagon Dark for breaking her arm at Ultima Lucha Dos (featuring one of Vampiro’s worst moments on commentary, when four badass assassins take out Pentagon and Vamp’s only contribution is “they were hot” — this of all nights is not the time for kneejerk misogynistic objectification).
This brings us to the sexiest of stars. Sexy Star has been built up for a long time as the underdog who outlasts and transcends the obstacles before her. After escaping Marty the Moth’s dungeon she doled out comeuppance to him and to Mariposa, outlasting her in the great No Más match. She fits right in with the classic underdogs (all the more fitting, then, to follow Rey Mysterio) in terms of her selling and her comebacks. When she finally has to contend one-on-one with Lucha Underground’s second colossus there’s no condescension, no sense that Mil’s going easy on her or sees her as a pushover. When he punches her, he cracks her in the mouth as hard as he would Puma or Matanza. And she outlasts. She avoids the table, she avoids the chair, and she hits him with a death blow. Sexy Star reigns supreme.
Giving John Morrison the Gift of the Gods title was one bad omen in the weeks leading up to Aztec Warfare; for all the good tag teams he’s been in in his career, Morrison has always been bad-to-terrible as a singles worker, and has shown on many occasions that he has no business holding singles titles. Setting up another match between Morrison and Sexy Star is of great concern considering their lack of chemistry in the Gift of the Gods match. But for now, after the catastrophic reification of the glass ceiling here in reality, some stories exist to posit a better world.