Every week on Place to Be Nation, Steven Graham, Glenn Butler, Peter Saladino, Brad Woodling, Tanner Teat, and Chad Campbell review one match from the world of wrestling that YOU as the viewer should seek out!
This week’s entry is the main event of the 83rd Anniversary show for CMLL, La Mascara vs. Dragon Lee in a mask vs. mask match.
The Anniversario show is my lucha libre WrestleMania. No matter how out of wrestling or lucha I am, I will always come back for the Anniversario show. I even went out of my way to spend money to watch this show the next day, to avoid spoilers. The last two year’s main events have been Atlantis mask matches that were epic and some of the best matches of those respective years. This year, however, we do not have the legendary mask of Atlantis on the line to bring the drama.
Instead this year’s mask match had a completely different type of drama. A lot of the match revolved around the seconds and especially Rush, the brother of Dragon Lee. The crowd was hot and these two worked really hard to lay out a good story. The spot of the match was La Mascara countering Dragon Lee’s over the ropes head scissors into a power bomb. Although the crowd was not as insane as the prior couple of years they were into the drama in the end. ****
The first fall caught me completely off-guard — as did the second one, actually. It’s as if they decided that, because the most heated part of a 2/3 falls match is the climactic final fall, they might as well get to it as quickly as possible. On the way this match did bring some nice hate and some great spots, including Mascara’s barrage on Dragon Lee at the beginning of the second fall and Lee’s bump from the apron to the floor in the third. The referee’s counts were distractingly slow throughout the match, but that same slowness gave the final pinfall a sense of finality as well. Even in isolation this match feels like a main event.
Plus, it’s nice to see Sin Cara Blanco.
A lot of praise and hype north of the border has rightfully been heaped on Dragon Lee. His matches with Kamaitachi from a few months ago were the right combination of hyped and exotic that would have been a compilation tape staple a generation ago. That international notoriety is the reason why this match main evented the biggest show of CMLL’s creative year. That sudden international fame led to one of the biggest rocket pushes in wrestling. Just as in the case of most rocket pushes, what follows is a level of resentment in the CMLL traditionalist fanbase. To them this is like Apollo Crews vs The Miz suddenly headlining WrestleMania.
But as an outsider you wouldn’t have been able to tell that until towards the end of this match. That’s because of the unsung hero of this match: La Mascara. There is a certain gross je ne sais quoi to him that transcends any language. He possesses something inherently gross and despicable. From his tiny and too snug trunks, to his constant slow gyrations, he just exudes pure slime. No matter how mixed the reaction may be to Dragon Lee’s sudden main event push, there would be no cheering this scumbag. He has the qualities of a Mexican Honky Tonk Man or Miz, where as soon as you see him move you want some hero to rise to squish him. It doesn’t matter who squishes him, as long as someone does.
Ending a major show to a chorus of boos for a conquering face is something that we’ve become too accustomed to as wrestling fans. This one had two levels of fan disapproval, Dragon Lee’s win and then Mistico II’s congratulation. For the half hour or so it took to put together a great match, those natural reactions were kept in check. That’s the sign of truly great heel work on the biggest stage Mexico has to offer. This will be seen as Dragon Lee’s coronation, but let’s not ignore the work of the man who fell on his sword and lost his mask to keep this all on track.
This match has everything you could have asked for from Lee and Mascara. Rush being at ringside for the first two falls added the interesting dynamic of “Well what will Rush do!?” and it nearly cost Dragon Lee his match but thank the stars that he can still dive like a crazy man and still take some hellacious bumps that make me scream. However, watching this match after seeing the lucha classic that is Trauma I vs Canis Lupus, I can’t help but feel that this match was just missing something from it to set it a part from other big Dragon Lee matches, especially considering a lot of these spots were from the Kamaitachi series (if it’s not broke don’t fix it!). Overall this match was still a blast and the time just flew by, plus with the added factor that Dragon Lee is one of the best in the world, it should come as no surprise that this match is enjoyable. La Mascara is La Mascara. Rating: ***3/4
Since I don’t follow CMLL that closely, I had a bunch of questions after initially watching this. The first time you watch a match in this environment you’re sorting out what is happening based on your subconscious constructs of what a wrestling match should be. Without knowing the principles (or their seconds), but understanding the stakes of mask vs. mask, I had a lot of questions. Is Dragon Lee rudo? He picks up the first fall off of an interference spot after Mascara got the early shine (traditionally for a face). The crowd is going crazy for him though. Who is that man with him that clearly then turns on him – getting Lee disqualified? Why is that older man wearing a button-down shirt with a long sleeve sweater over top of it in September? La Mascara is Los Ingobernobles, doing the familiar Naito taunt and using a low blow, he’s definitely rudo right?. I reconciled this to both guys working heel because of the risk of losing their mask, but after getting a primer (thanks Chad!), I could really appreciate the story told in the ring and really liked it.
I’ve found of late, especially when you’re going to a style you aren’t seasoned in, multiple viewings are a must and while the in-ring work translated from the get-go, everything was so enhanced on my second and third watch. This is tremendous theater. I actually think this is one of the more accessible big Lucha matches to watch from a match construct standpoint too. Lucha somewhat traditionally will have two fairly quick falls, and possibly some limb work that never goes anywhere. But here, the story is interwoven into each fall and everything makes sense. There is nothing throw-away here to just get to the big final stanza.
The work here was crisp and stiff with the requisite great dives, and a nice callback spot with the apron. Yes, there are a lot of covers, but the crowd is hot for all of them (and yes, La Mascara has legit beef with how slow these counts were at times). The production is slick, great replays right after they happen. I can’t believe Dragon Lee is only 21 years old. Great finish that is completely enhanced post-match with the un-masking and Dragon completely owning Rush and Mascara by literally just shrugging at them celebrating their alliance since he’s the one holding the mask at the end.
Atlantis has been the direct narrative of the past three Anniversario shows including a match that didn’t even contain his mask at stake between Volador Jr. and La Sombra. As a result, the emotion that has been exhibited in the past few years was lacking in this match between La Mascara and Dragon Lee, a match that was kind of haphazardly booked. Dragon Lee is a 21 year old phenom and La Mascara is a limited worker that was put in the biggest position of his career. Adding to all of that was Rush who seconded his legit brother Lee but was the focal point in the match overall.
The match resulted in a unique structure that really was focused on the seconds as much as the principles. The resulting finish was satisfactory and does set up some interesting stuff for the future, but it also feels like a step back for CMLL booking for the past half year. While this match was not the MOTYC classics that Atlantis vs. Ultimo Guerrero and La Sombra produced, it was a great match that exhibited the attributes that Dragon Lee and Rush will continue to use in marquee main events for the foreseeable future. ****
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