Texano vs. Ricky Santana (CMLL – 09/30/1994)

Texano vs. Ricky Santana
September 30, 1994
CMLL
Hair vs. Hair
*** 3/4

CMLL stretched its anniversary celebration out over two weeks in 1994. The first week saw Mocho Cota drop his hair to Negro Casas in a match that some people love and others don’t. I haven’t written a review for that match yet, but my opinion on the match probably falls somewhere in the middle of those two extremes. I thought it was fine but not a great Casas match, well below the Fiera hair match from the year before, and not appreciably better than this run-of-the-mill Casas hair match. The match also didn’t draw (reportedly 4,000 fans were in attendance at Arena Mexico). CMLL did a better job (in all facets) the following week as they drew 9,000 on September 30th for a card headlined by a pair of hair matches – Scorpio Jr. vs. Silver King and Texano vs. Ricky Santana.

The latter was the main event of the show and in my opinion, the best of the three 61st Anniversary hair bouts.

The Cota/Casas bout gets praised – it would seem – in part because it checked the boxes on what a lot of folks look for in a good pro wrestling bout (lucha or otherwise). Casas sold really well, Cota’s attack was focused, and the match told a straight forward and easily digestible story. I don’t necessarily disagree with any of that. My problem was that the match was it was particularly exciting. Total match time was 21:34. That’s a long match in general and really long for a single fall. Cota’s offense – while focused – wasn’t all that engaging and if not for Casas being so over, I am not sure they would have been able to keep the crowd. Straight-forward storytelling and limb work is great, but only if creates an interesting match.

What the shortcomings of Cota/Casas have to do with Texano/Santana is that the latter bout also opted for a straight forward approach. Although CMLL put up a “Primera Caida” graphic after the opening whistle, there is only one fall here. That was probably a smart decision as I can see how running a trio of 3-fall hair matches over an eight day period could be tricky. Unlike the Casas bout there is blood here (Texano’s) but not a ton of it. Texano and Santana don’t really brawl and there is far less biting in the entire 20-minutes than there is in the first five minutes of a Satanico hair match. One guy gets in the majority of the offense while the other refuses to go down without a fight. The heat is good, but nothing great. The presentation is rather straight forward.

The reason I prefer this straight forward match over Casas & Cota’s straight forward match is that Texano & Santana do a much better job in creating a match that stays interesting while working within a relatively mundane structure. There are two reasons for that: (1) the choice to have the rudo (Santana) fight from behind for the win and (2) Texano’s excellent offensive performance.

When I write that the match was “straight forward” in its presentation, that comes with the relatively significant caveat that the good guy took much of the match which obviously is not the norm. Texano is ahead most of the match and it is his rudo opponent that gets the occasional comeback before stifled. It is also Santana who staves off defeat time and time again even when it looks to be a formality. Such a brazen flipping of the norms could be an issue, but it wasn’t here. There is no denying that Santana is the bad guy. He begs off when he gets in his trouble (he does not valiantly stand up to Texano). The Puerto Rican takes shortcuts when afforded the opportunity, like when he posts Texano on the outside. Equally as important is that Texano is the clear-cut fan favorite. The crowd is behind him. Its Texano that bleeds, not Santana. Santana’s quick comebacks led to fired up comebacks from Texano (who hits a pair of topes in the match). The match is an excellent example of a tecnico controlled match that doesn’t make the rudo look sympathetic. The match was far more interesting to me simply because the tecnico remained in control than it would have been had Santana worked him over for twenty minutes.

Which leads into the second point – Texano was an offensive machine in this match. It is impossible to imagine that Santana could have brought the same level of high-level, varied offense to the match had he controlled the pace rather than Texano. I have been disappointed by very few Texano performances and this is another notch in his belt. They start the bout with almost a Riki Choshu-inspired start. They go right for the high impact stuff and Texano lands a few nice looking forearms to the face. Throughout the match he goes back to submission holds to try to put Santana away. While I am sure he repeats a couple of them, he has such a wide variety that it never feels repetitive. In addition to the two topes, Texano rolls out a top rope suplex, belly to belly suplexes, sentons, planchas, many pinning combinations and a bunch of other stuff. He’s an offensive machine here and really never slows down. The Casas/Cota match suffered in my eyes because the guy better suited to have a long stretch of offense (Casas) played defense the entire match while a guy ill-equipped to fill 20 minutes of offense (Cota) was tasked with doing just that. Texano and Santana got it right. They had to flip the script a bit to get there, but having Texano control the match was absolutely the right decision.

The body of the match set up the finish rather well. Texano can’t find that put away move and Santana reverses a move into a cradle of his own for the pin. One of my favorite aspects of traditional lucha is the idea that a well-executed hold can finish a match at any time. Texano might have been in control 90% of the match, but his inability to executed a finishing hold gave Santana a chance. Even though Santana’s win was quick, it was still earned because he had to fight off Texano for so long to get to that point. Both guys walk away looking relatively strong. Texano had the stronger performance, but Santana still gets the reward of taking his hair.

Not a classic hair match by any means, but well worth watching. Texano’s offensive output is noteworthy and the I think the unique structure will appeal to those who are perhaps a bit apathetic towards the basic hair match structure.

Canis Lupus vs. Guerrero Maya Jr. (IWRG – 11/17/2013)

Canis Lupus vs. Guerrero Maya Jr.
November 17, 2013
IWRG
IWRG Intercontinental Welterweight
***

Canis Lupus has been in the spotlight (in as much as being in a praised IWRG match in 2016 can place one in the spotlight) after his mask match MOTYC versus Trauma I over Labor Day weekend. I imagine I am like most people in that I had seen very little of Lupus prior to the outstanding mask match so I figured I would take a look back at his prior work starting (and possible ending, too) with this 2013 title defense versus Guerrero Maya Jr.

Before getting to the match, here is a quick recap on Lupus’ wrestling history courtesy of Lucha Wiki. He was originally trained by Archangel de la Muerte as part of CMLL’s training program but never received an opportunity to actually work a CMLL show. Wrestling as Commando Negro, he made his debut with IWRG in 2009 and received additional training from the IWRG maestros (Avisman, Black Terry, Freelance, Mike Segura). In 2012, he switched to the Canis Lupus gimmick when working in IWRG but continued to wrestle as Commando Negro elsewhere. Before he was completely done with Commando Negro in IWRG he defeated Guerrero Mixtico Jr. for his mask on Christmas day 2012 (in a match I would like to watch at some point given I like what I have seen of both guys). As Canis Lupus, he won IWRG’s Welterweight title in September 2013.

The version on YouTube is a handheld shot from the crowd but the match is complete and the footage is about as high quality as can be reasonably accepted. The camera picks up the crowd noise really well so the crowd comes across far better than they probably would have had this been an AYM recording.

The nice thing about IWRG in general and Guerrero Maya Jr. specifically is that you know their title matches will start with mat work in the first fall. It might not always be pretty, but at least the effort will be there. I liked the mat wrestling in that fall even if it was not anything extraordinary. Guerrero Maya Jr.  has been known on occasion to be a tad tentative or off with his general movements but he was really smooth exchanging basic holds with Lupus. The stuff on the mat didn’t draw any heat beyond polite clapping which made me worry the entire match was going to be heatless, but the first fall work was definitely not boring. The mat portion was far below Trauma I/Zatura from 2009 in terms of length and quality and wasn’t even as good as the mat work in Dr. Cerebro/El Hijo del Diablo from 2010 but I value matches (particularly title matches) starting off with some sort of foundation-setting work and this did the trick.

Canis and Maya Jr. left the holds and mat work behind in the first fall. There was a lot of rope running in the short second fall (before the submission finish) which woke the crowd up. Not much to the second fall, but like the first one it did its job.

The third fall was a bit of a mixed bag. On one hand, they got the crowd completely into the match and the heat was above average for the rest of the way. More impressively, they turned a crowd that was pro-Lupus and anti-Maya at the start of the match into being largely pro-Maya with still some pro-Lupus reactions here and there. Maya and Lupus worked hard the entire fall and there were a couple of really strong segments. My favorite was Maya jumping up into Lupus’ arms when Canis was near the ropes as if he was going to do a rana. Lupus caught him and power bombed him which might not have been the plan because while still on his back Maya immediately kicked Canis backwards. Canis takes this insane Cactus Jack-like bump through the middle ropes all the way to the floor and lands square on his neck. Before anyone has time to even check and see if Lupus is still alive, Maya pummels him (and several rows of chairs) with a tope. It was an awesomely chaotic and impactful short segment. Their hard work paid off not only with the heat, but also with a few strong near fall reactions late.

The negatives of the final fall were there were too much aimless brawling segments and even more unnecessary interaction with the seconds. They were seemingly going for the idea that the match was spiraling out of control so that they could restore order heading into the near falls. It worked in the sense that the crowd reacted but I thought it could have a little more tightly constructed. The stuff with the seconds in particular took forever to play out even though they telegraphed it early. Lupus’ second stuck his nose into the match several times, Maya’s second took exception, and the representative from the Commission tried to calm things down right away. It was clear that all of that was going to lead to the seconds being ejected, which would segue into the near falls. The problem was it took forever for them to get to that point. Even after the rudo second was ejected, Maya’s second stuck around a little longer, did a couple of interference spots that didn’t draw much heat, and then was ejected. It felt like they could have cut out some of the brawling and a lot of the spots involving the seconds while maintaining the same level of heat and intensity.

It is still a very small sample size but Lupus looked good enough in retaining his title that – along with the few other matches I have seen him in – I am confident stating that he wasn’t simply a blind squirrel in the Trauma match. He had a presence in this match. There was little difference between the quality of his performance and that of Maya’s. Just by watching this match, you wouldn’t be able to tell which wrestler was the occasionally-pushed CMLL guy and which one was the IWRG regular who was never given a chance in CMLL. The match itself is only a little above average and doesn’t have a real hook, but it might not be a bad place to start if you want to seek out additional Canis Lupus matches after watching the mask match.

Mr. Niebla vs. Dr. Wagner Jr. (CMLL – 09/03/1997)

Mr. Niebla vs. Dr. Wagner Jr.
September 3, 1997

CMLL
CMLL World Light Heavyweight
*** 1/2

The 17th place finisher in the DVDVR 90’s Lucha poll was this CMLL Light Heavyweight title match from Arena Coliseo.

I cannot imagine anyone defending that ranking now. Too many other excellent matches have surfaced in the decade and a half since. Others have experienced a boost in popularity upon re-watch and with the benefit of hindsight. Dr. Wagner Jr. versus Mr. Niebla is not one of the twenty best matches from Mexico during the 1990’s; it might not be one of the top thirty or fifty in that category. It is, however, fairly obvious why this title match was highly thought of by at least some of the DVDVR poll voters.

The match’s appeal is in its variety. The starts of the first and third falls are wrestled on the mat. The mat work isn’t superlative but it’s the kind of fun and breezy stuff that one would expect to find in an average 90’s New Japan juniors match (Wagner Jr. toured with New Japan for the first time in his career fives months earlier for the Best of the Super Juniors tournament). Wagner’s entire offense – even off the mat – has a decidedly New Japan junior feel to it. There is some limb work (Niebla briefly has his leg worked on), strong near falls, and even a Jerry Lawler-esque mid-match mic spot from Wagner.

The best stuff in the match involves Niebla’s agility spots and dives. If anyone only knows of Niebla in his current state as the oft-suspended overweight comedic rudo, they are only getting half the story. Early career Niebla was a promising light heavyweight with an impressive amount of athleticism. He pulls off a sequence of flips and tumbles early in the second fall that look just as impressive in 2017 as they did in 1997. Wagner doesn’t seem interested in doing any dives but Niebla more than makes up for it with four of his own. The first three are all tope suicidas but each one brings its own twist. The first is a straight up, the second is done in the corner after Wagner momentarily evades, and the third sees Niebla fly over the top rope catching Ciclon Ramirez-like air in the the process. Niebla looked every bit the part of the high-flying tecnico successor to Atlantis and Lizmark (his trios partners at the time) in this match. Watching Niebla outperform Wanger here makes where Mr. Niebla’s current states– both personally and professionally – all that more upsetting. He truly is one of the many tragic figures in pro wrestling.

The match has a couple of rough moments but they move by them relatively quickly. The first fall is nothing while the second is a little better thanks to some cool spots from Niebla. The final fall stood out for its lack of formula. All of those different style elements mentioned above are found in the third fall and that variety partially made up for the lack of truly standout work (Niebla’s dives notwithstanding). If you don’t go into this expecting to really see the 17th best lucha libre match of the 90’s, you’ll probably like what you see. The variety is enough to keep your attention and Niebals major spots in the match are truly impressive.

El Dandy vs. La Fiera (CMLL – 11/27/1992)

El Dandy vs. La Fiera
November 27, 1992

CMLL
Hair vs. Hair

*** 1/4 

One of those good – perhaps very good – matches that just wasn’t as good as I had hoped that it would be.

The culmination of El Dandy and La Fiera’s one singles feud is similar in quality to Bestia Salvaje vs. La Fiera from 1997, with the difference being that those two – even with a longer and better build as well as additional match time – did about all that they could be reasonably expected to do. El Dandy was one of the best wrestlers in the world during in 1992. He had one great hair match every year from 1988 through 1990 (Pirata Morgan, Emilio Charles and Satanico, respectively), good (although with diminishing returns) Satanico hair rematches in 1991 and 1992, and a just below “great” level hair match with Charles in 1993. For Fiera’s part, he wrestled a strong Monterrey chain match with Jerry Estrada and his pair of great 1993 hair matches (Sangre Chicana, Negro Casas) to show us that he could wrestle a great brawl during this timeframe. The fact that this feud and match felt so inconsequential and standard is disappointing because a proper feud with a major blow off between these two in 1992 could have (should have) been great.

Part of the reason the match left me slightly disappointed was how one sided the match was. In keeping with tradition, Dandy was jumped by Fiera on his way to the ring before he had a chance to remove his ring jacket. Fiera controls the rest of the match and that’s no exaggeration. Dandy gets a couple of hope spots and quick comebacks to set up the 2nd and 3rd fall finishes. It is Fiera controlling the offense for all three falls with Dandy more or less getting in the bare minimum necessary in order to capture a pair of falls.

I get the reasoning for the lopsidedness. Dandy was a big deal in 1992 CMLL, particularly when the AAA schism left him as one of the better workers and more over tecnicos on the CMLL roster. Dandy beat Negro Casas for the vacant CMLL World Middleweight title in July in an all-time classic and took the hair of career long rival El Satanico in September. The highlights of La Fiera’s yea (aside from the feud with Dandy) were losing handily (as a sub for Bestia Salvaje) to Atlantis in a title match on the Arena Mexico Anniversary card, losing a brief early year feud to Black Magic (Norman Smiley), and rounding out upper card trios matches. There was a gulf between where Dandy and Fiera were on the CMLL totem pole. I would imagine the one-sided nature of the match was an attempt to convince the live crowd that Dandy might actually lose. Of course, all it really did was telegraph the finish because they went too far in that direction as to make it obvious what their intention was.

Even the memorable moments – Dandy countering a DDT into a pretty bridging suplex to win the first fall, Dandy’s tope, a pair of signature Fiera high back drop bumps out of the ring, the usual major bumps from both luchadores – are not necessarily things I would take as superlatives (at least on their own). Everything about the match was standard fare. Maybe that is exactly what they were going for. The decision to not attempt to wrestle an epic hair match when the circumstances call for more of a midlevel hair match is probably the right call. Even then, I think they could have done more here to make this match feel different/better than something like Salvaje/Fiera or Winners/Marabunta. For example, Fiera’s July 1993 hair match with Sangre Chicana – while not necessarily a throwaway given the value of Chicana’s hair – was a means to an end to get Fiera ready for Casas. For whatever reasons, they didn’t go all out in that one but built a very entertaining match around stalling and selling. That match had a hook. I am not sure what this match is.

I should note that as Ohtani’s Jacket points out in his review, the October 30th trios that builds to the hair match is very good and heated. I don’t mean to give the impression that the hair match was slapped together – it was built to and as that match demonstrates, built to well at some points. That match works because it is built around Fiera picking at Dandy’s arm and Dandy (as always) being awesome at working from behind, selling, and making spirited comebacks. The blow off could have used those same or similar elements.

In isolation, this was still a good match. If a pair of modern mid-card CMLL wrestlers had the exact same match today I would be rather satisfied with it. Unfortunately, 1992 El Dandy and La Fiera are not you run-of-the-mill 2016 luchadores. Their one big singles match should have been more than merely a good/very good hair match. It is difficult to get past the fact that it was not much more because the talent and build was certainly there to make it so.

Jimmy Rave’s 2005

There has been a lot of talk recently about the resurgence of Jimmy Rave and how he is potentially the best wrestler in the world in 2016.  From the footage I’ve watched from him in 2015-2016, I’m not sure I could back that claim.  The more interesting thing to me is that Jimmy Rave had a fantastic 2005, that was viewed positively at the time and upon re watch in recent months.

Rave had super solid **** matches with CM Punk, AJ Styles, and later in the year as part of the Embassy versus Generation Next multi-man feud.  ****, what’s so great about that?  For one, Rave got over as a real heat drawing heel.  That just didn’t happen in ROH.  And while Punk and Styles were good workers in their own right, they certainly weren’t what they would become 5-8 years down the line.

I’d suggest checking out the following matches:

CM Punk (02/26/05 – Chicago)

If this match happened in 2016, move for move with the same crowd reaction, people would be saying it is an easy MOTYC.  It was viewed that way back in 2005 by most, but at the time, it was still a good match and an example of something different in the highly technical world of ROH.  Maybe the closest ROH ever got to being prime-Memphis like.

CM Punk (05/07/05 – New York City)

You would think a chain match, with a guy like Punk who doesn’t have the best body control, in front of a New York City crowd would be a disaster?  You’d be wrong.  Besides being bloody, this had the grit and intensity of a lucha apuestas match.  Once again, Rave easily holds up his end of the bargain.

CM Punk (05/14/05 – Chicago)

Okay, so this is the weird one.  Move for move, moment to moment, they execute a cage match that is arguably good, maybe very good.  But there is no heat.  That could have been due to the length of the show (which ROH was notorious for), the downtime to set the cage up before the main event, and the booking to have this be pin fall, submission, or escape.  It’s worth taking a look at, but unfortunately is a disappointing finish to a really well booked and well wrestled feud.

AJ Styles (07/23/05 – Philadelphia)

This is probably the most underrated match in ROH history, outside of Chad Collyer vs. Rocky Romero from July 2004.  It’s a street fight and once you get past Rave and Styles wearing designer jeans, there is nothing but positives.  Rave’s top notch punches, which he seems to have ditched in his most recent run, are on display here, as well as the bumping, selling, and intensity that was needed as Styles could only work sparse dates for ROH because of TNA obligations.  This even has a brain buster on a chair, a move that I shouldn’t like at all, but it fits in this match pretty perfectly.

There is also an angle on the April 16, 2005 ROH show that leads to the chain match.  It starts with Rave leaving because he doesn’t want to wrestle Punk, who then wrestlers Embassy member Mike Kruel.  Punk beats him and Rave comes back out and they have a great brawl, which ends with Rave attacking Punk’s second, Traci Brooks.  Well worth seeing but not certainly not essential.