The Over/Under On Lucha Underground: Episode 1

A new, episodic lucha libre show debuted on Robert Rodriguez’s El Rey network last night, and I’ve been asked about it enough that I decided to give it a shot and write it up. So ladies and gentlemen, welcome to LUCHA UNDERGROUND episode 1.

I’d write up a long introduction, but trust me, the opening credits do my work for me.

Over: The Intro

I don’t think I’ve ever seen a better (or more melodramatic) opening to a wrestling show. Yes, this includes Stone Cold Steve Austin wearing a vest with no shirt and walking into a warehouse that WON’T STOP EXPLODING.

If there’s a corny bone left in your body, you’ll love it. A faceless youth in a hoodie — perhaps you yourself — gets accosted by some hoodlums in an alley and beaten up until a RANDOMLY OCCURRING WISE LUCHADOR comes around the corner and takes them out with spinning kicks and hurricanranas. He then sits down with the victim and EXPLAINS THE AZTEC HISTORY OF LUCHA LIBRE. I can’t keep myself from typing parts of this in all caps. He asks the kid he saved if he’ll come help him lucha libre (?). This is cut with classic lucha footage, an evil businessman walking into lucha libre’s biggest show of the year (TripleMania) and dumping out money in the ring to steal its talent, and clips of luchadors LEAVING CAVES and WANDERING IN FROM THE DESERT to walk the Earth until they’ve reached the Lucha Underground warehouse.

Once they’ve arrived, they do moves in slow motion and life weights on the roof. They could’ve ended the show 2 1/2 minutes in and I would’ve proclaimed it the greatest thing I’ve ever seen.

Over: The Announce Team, Somehow

On play-by-play is Matt Striker. You may remember him from his WWE run, where a critically acclaimed stint as a know-it-all mark color guy on WWE’s version of ECW turned him into a garbage game show host and one of the least likable personalities in company history. Watching him smugly bury everyone and everything on NXT for four years was the worst, and he went from “Slammy Award-winning announcer” to “shitcanned” so fast you’d think he’d pooped in Vince McMahon’s duffel bag.

On color is Vampiro. You may remember him from his run in WCW as a juggalo vampire luchador who looked so much like one of The Misfits that The Misfits showed up to manage him. He once wrestled Sting in a graveyard. A different time he set Sting on fire and made him fall to his death.

On paper it’s a terrible pairing, unless you’re planning to stab Sting in the stomach and passive-aggressive chastise him about it. In reality? I like it. Striker DOES know a lot about wrestling, and when he’s simply talking about it instead of yelling “I’M MARKING OUT, BRO” he sounds like an authority. He’s the only guy who’s gonna make a Jimmy Valiant reference in a lucha libre hourlong. Vampiro kinda looks like the rotting corpse of Baron Von Raschke these days, but he’s spent a long time in Mexico and his knowledge of and enthusiasm for lucha libre is obvious.

Striker still has his flaws (which we’ll get to in a minute), but I’m excited for the team. Compared to the Raw announce team, Striker/Vampiro is Gorilla/Bobby.

Over: Starting The Show With The Most Iconic Luchadores You Have

The opening match is perfectly booked: the most reputable and classically “luchador-looking” guy on the roster (Blue Demon Jr.) vs. the most recognizable name (Chavo Guerrero Jr.). For a show that advertises itself as lucha libre but actually leans more towards being a modern west coast indie show, you couldn’t start off more pitch-perfect.

The match itself is … fine. Chavo Guerrero has never been the most exciting guy in the ring and Blue Demon Jr. is almost 50 so you aren’t going to get any pulse-pounding offense. What you do get is a solid foundation for what lucha libre’s supposed to be, and the tying in of legit lucha history and its most notable families to a show that would otherwise be Lucha Society X.

The show being pre-taped his helpful, as is the randomly occurring fish-eye shot of the announce team they use to edit around botches. At one point Blue Demon goes for a headscissors takedown and KINDA gets it, but sorta falls to the ground and makes Chavo do the flip himself. A quick cut salvages it, and the explanation that Blue Demon’s trying to use his weight instead of grace is a valid explanation. Also, Vampire earns infinite cool points for me for being the first announcer I’ve ever heard bring up Chavo’s family legacy, but also mention that people HATE the Guerreros. They’re bastards. Villains. Eddie’s the only one that reached beloved babyface status. I’m telling you, Striker and Vampiro work overtime to make every person who steps into the ring sound like a million bucks. I can’t compliment them enough.

Under: Matt Striker Needs To Pick A Pronunciation And Stick With It

Okay, maybe I can. The ring announcer has an accent, so she pronounces “Blue Demon” the way a Hispanic person might. Matt Striker is not a Hispanic person, but he tries to say the name the same way. It comes out as “blue day-MON” at first, but he never says it the same way twice. It doesn’t help that Vampire’s straight up calling him “Blue Demon” without an accent and is very obviously trying to get Striker to give up the ghost and say it like a white dude. NOPE, NICE ARMDRAG BY BLUE DAY-MOANJ~!

Over: Dario Cueto, FarCry Villain

I love that instead of having normal backstage segments, Lucha Underground becomes a moody telenovela.

Konnan is brought into the office of Dario Cueto, a villain from the ‘FarCry’ series who sits in a dimly lit office with a briefcase full of money he plans to give to the person who impresses him most. Konnan tells the story of meeting Prince Puma, a regular kid from a local barrio who carries the blood of the AZTEC JAGUAR inside him. Konnan and Cueto speak in these awesome cop show half-statements about bargains and honor, and if it sounds like I’m being insincere about loving it, I’m not. The Mr. McMahon character would be so much better if you had to have conversations with him walking shoulder-to-shoulder through an ancient garden.

My only complaint is that Konnan didn’t start his conversation with YO YO YO LET ME SPEAK ON THIS.

Under: You Are SO CLOSE To Doing Something Awesome With Sexy Star

This was the most disappointing part of the show, and I’ll try to get through it without sounding like an Internet Guy.

Intergender wrestling is a tough thing to pull off. It can be extremely fetishistic, and the intent and presentation of the fight is as important as what happens in the ring. I think that a female athlete and a male athlete can bring equal worth to a match, even if the specifics of that worth differ. Here, you’ve got the horribly named but shoot popular SEXY STAR making her Lucha Underground debut against Matt Cross in a mask made out of chopped up boxer briefs, calling himself SON OF HAVOC. He’s the second Havoc, meaning he’s exhibiting Normal Adolescent Behavior.

Before the match, they run an amazing Sexy Star video where she talks about coming from a history of abuse, and becoming a wrestler so she can be strong and show women that they can stand up for themselves. She comes to the ring with a fancy cape to wrestle a default-ass-looking motherf*cker with a “decided as we were walking out through the curtain” ring name. He cuts a promo about how he won’t fight a woman, and how she should get out of his ring right now. The crowd boos. This is all good so far, assuming it ends with Sexy Star beating the shit out of him and pinning him. Instead, Son of Havoc beats HER with not a hell of a lot of effort.

I don’t understand it at all. You can’t even justify it as building a story about an underdog female beating a cocky male who thinks she’s inferior, because they’re the SAME SIZE. Sexy Star is actually a little bigger than him. The Country Bears-looking ref is twice the size of both of them. How do you have the boring, little, nondescript chauvinist be proven RIGHT with an easy victory? The announce team puts Sexy Star over HARD, as they should, but when she gets beaten all the praise sounds less like “Sexy Star is a great wrestler,” and more like “Sexy Star did a couple of moves and that’s surprising for a woman.”

Again, this is not meant to be a THROW MY HANDS IN THE AIR I’M DONE WITH IT conversation. They just need to have Sexy Star organize a rematch and beat Son of Havoc so bad he goes home crying to Polaris.

Over: Even The Devil Is Disappointed In Chavo Guerrero

In addition to being a FarCry villain, Dario Cueto has a total M. Bison thing going on. He’s a Spanish guy in a suit who throws around money and stands in the middle of a temple yelling about how he’s changing the world. He’s got a bunch of multinational cronies in his employ, and he’s brought fighters from all over the world to a single place to fight to see who is best. The Raul Julia M. Bison, 100%.

He even has M. Bison-style conversations with the talent. He’s promised to give $100,000 to the wrestler who impresses him most, and when Chavo Guerrero loses to Blue Demon, he finds him backstage to stand nearby in the shadows just to tell Chavo he’s not winning. It’s absurdly evil. He says he’s going to bring in someone better to kill off Blue Demon next week, and that “one thousand deaths might be coming for us all!”

Over: Johnny Mundo vs. Prince Puma

If you’ve been reading my columns for a while, you might remember that before I used Kofi Kingston as the butt of my jokes, they were John Morrison jokes. Morrison appears on Lucha Underground as JOHNNY MUNDO, a Johnny Cage-style character who has been away from the ring for 3 years (because Gabe Sapolsky promotions don’t count as wrestling, I guess) and is back for the fame and fortune of winning Cueto’s Cobra Commander tournament. Like Striker he’s still got his flaws — he always seems too aware that a camera’s on him, and he still doesn’t know how his finisher’s supposed to connect — but he’s improved a lot. His facial expression and selling have improved, he doesn’t seem like he’s taking 20 seconds between moves to remember what he’s doing anymore, and the Lucha Underground environment allows him to be a little flashier and less realistic. When he wrestles Prince Puma he’s not being asked to carry a match story for 20,000 people in an arena … he’s asked to get in there, do a bunch of moves and kick out of stuff. That’s where he’s a viking.

You may know Prince Puma as Ricochet, currently the hottest thing on the independent circuit. He spent some time in Chikara as Helios, a fantastic athlete who loved to clap before every single move and couldn’t really do much else. He spent some time in Dragon Gate and went SUPER SAIYAN, and now he’s basically the most athletic, gifted and exciting guy you can put in a wrestling ring. Put him in a jaguar mask and tell him do strike threatening kitty poses and you’ve got money.

The match they have is the kind of match people have been begging to see on TV for a while. It wouldn’t have been the best match on a PWG card, but it would fit on a PWG card, and for people looking for an alternative to WWE, that’s a good f*cking start. They do a bunch of crazy stuff, counter the rest of it, do some parkour over the announce table and fly through the air. If you’re advertising something as the “future of lucha libre,” getting a couple of athletic guys with dysmorphia-inducing torsos to dress like jungle animals and spin from 10 feet in the air is how you do it. Very good stuff, and worth finding and watching the episode to see. I understand that not all of you are thrilled by Raul Julia impersonators lurking in the shadows and emasculating Chavo Guerrero about his family.

Under: 40 Minutes Into Episode 1 And There’s Already An nWo

Johnny Mundo gets the pin with a C4 and Starship Pain, now renamed “The End Of Days,” or as I call it, “The Spinning Upside Down Elbow To Nothing.” Dario shows up with the briefcase. You expect Mundo to get it for winning the best match of the night, and the announcers mention that the competitors respect one another and might split it. Dario then reveals his master plan: he knows some latino guys in Hunico costumes who will PUNCH YOU IN THE BACK if you try to claim prizes you were promised.

That leads to the debut of EZEKIEL JACKSON, aka “Big Ryck.” Ryck and the Huni-bros beat everybody down, and Dario announces that THEY’VE won the money, because they work for him. So, 40 minutes into episode one and you’ve got an evil GM character who has set up an Aztec temple in a Los Angeles warehouse and brought in a bunch of wrestlers to compete in a tournament so he could then immediately form an evil faction and beat them up for trying to do well. Uh, all right.

If Lucha Underground is a one episode series, they told a nice story. Episode 2 should be everyone finding better jobs.

Final Thoughts

All in all, I really enjoyed the show. It feels like an alternative, whether I like all of the things it alternates or not, and that’s better than another Almost WWE show. I’m excited to see where it goes, and to see if they fine tune the things that didn’t work in episode one going forward. But hell, what do I know? I’ve owned Wrestling Society X on DVD for years.

Either way, bring on episode 2.