Atlantis vs. La Fiera
April 3, 1992
NWA World Middleweight
One thing is for sure, after watching this match there is no mistaking who the champion is and who the one-off/replacement challenger is. Atlantis is booked to look like a champion on top of his game, dictating the tempo often and overcoming all obstacles that get in his way during the match. Fiera is constantly fighting from behind or tenuously holding onto an all-too-temporary lead. Fiera scrapes for every advantage only for every single one to be fleeting. I cannot recall seeing another lucha libre title match where the champion and challenger seemed to be placed on such clearly different levels.
It is a match that is laid out with a hierarchical structure in mind and there is nothing inherently positive or negative about that. It is just very noticeable. Atlantis is in control on the mat in the first fall. He has the offensive advantage more often than not but equally important is that Atlantis’ counters and reversals come far more frequently than his opponent’s. Even when he is behind on the mat, it is never for very long. When Fiera attempts to land some of his signature kicks at the end of the fall, Atlantis has those scouted. He blocks and evades them without any real issue on his way to winning the fall.
The second and third falls are different chapters of the same story. They pick the match up off the mat in the second but Atlantis still maintains his advantage. He fakes a dive on Fiera – a luxury he can afford given how the match has played out so far. The challenger takes a HUGE backdrop over the top rope to the floor which doesn’t help his cause. It is not until Fiera finally connects squarely with a kick that causes the champion to tumble out of the ring that he gets his first real opening. Fiera does a gorgeous over the top rope tope suicida on Atlantis. The dive is highlight reel worthy but more importantly, Fiera’s head happens to connect squarely with Atlantis’ shoulder. That same shoulder proceeds to take the brunt of the impact when Atlantis falls to the concrete floor.
It is a serendipitous moment in the match for La Fiera. He rolls back in the ring but Atlantis is unable to get up. His second Ray de Jalisco Jr. – who seemed to spend more time in the 90’s seconding Atlantis than he did wrestling – is unable to get him moving. The referee counts Atlantis out and Fiera wins the second fall via count out. While I would not state that the fall is treated as a lucky win for Fiera, there does seem to be an element of fortuity at play. The dive is shown over and over again in between falls (which is fine because it was a great dive) but the focus is on how Atlantis hurt his shoulder on the way down more than anything else. I really liked the way the second fall played out. It was both different and effective. There is a fine line between a banana peel finish and fortunate outcome. This one landed on the latter side.
Atlantis sells the shoulder in the third fall and is really great at it. It needs to be noted that the match has strong heat with most of it coming in the form of the crowd being solidly behind the champion. The best proof that the semi-unusual layout worked is in those crowd reactions. Fiera targets Atantis’ left arm right away for the first time in the match, Atlantis is on the defensive in a significant way. It is only for a minute or two but when Atlantis lifts Fiera and slams him with a backbreaker, the crowd pops huge. It is clear they want to see Atlantis win – and win handily – so much so that they erupt when Atlantis fights back after just a tiny setback. Atlantis’ selling was good enough (and guys get injured on dives enough) that I could believe that the fans might have thought the injury was legit. In any event, they are psyched to see Atlantis still has a lot of offense left in him.
The match gets back to the flow of the first two falls with Fiera scrapping and clawing for advantages while Atlantis has a much easier go at it. It is not the best third fall from a pure entertainment or offense standpoint which hurts the match more than anything else. They stick with the script, however, and that’s appreciated. A match with a consistent, well told story is better than an otherwise equal match without one. At the same time, the drama is sort of sucked from the match because once Atlantis demonstrates the arm injury is not going to deter him, it is clear that Fiera doesn’t stand a chance. They are so consistent with putting Atlantis above Fiera in this match that I am sure it was intentional, but it nonetheless made for a slightly anticlimactic third fall.
One thing this match did so well is to make Fiera look outmatched rather than ineffective. He wrestles a smart match. He creates and takes any opening he can get. He just isn’t as talented as his opponent. It is a baseball game where the losing team has a great plan of attack on how to pitch the opposition, the defense plays great, and the offense manufactures runs but the winning team’s pitcher has better stuff and their offense just slugs its way through their opponent’s game plan. That’s why I see this more of a match with a clear hierarchy than a one-sided one. Fiera does what he can he’s just unmatched talent wise.
This is punctuated with the third fall finish. In a desperate attempt to lessen the talent gulf, Fiera goes for the great neutralizer and hits Atlantis low. The referee blows the spot as he is looking right at the wrestlers when it happens (he was supposed to be distracted by Pierroth) but acts as if he didn’t see it anyway. The ref not calling a foul he clearly saw winds up being moot, as Atlantis survives the uncalled foul and seconds later – injured arm and all – gets Fiera in the air for the Atlantida and the submission win. The implication is that even in cheating, Fiera could not overcome Atlantis.
The April 7th edition of Lucha Libre Weekly makes mention of the fact that Bestia Salvaje was initially to challenge Atlantis for the title on the April 3rd card but was out with an injury. Fellow beast La Fiera was substituted in as this was the Arena Mexico Anniversary card and one would assume CMLL did not want to scrap the planned title match altogether. Salvaje was pushed harder than Fiera was at the time of the switch. A few weeks earlier he won Kato Kung Lee’s hair and in February he took the hair of Huracan Sevilla (in a very good match). Fiera was milling about the top half of Friday night CMLL cards in trios. His most high profile appearance in the proceeding weeks was seconding Sangre Chicana versus Perro Aguayo in their memorable main event brawl. Salvaje also spent the Friday before feuding with Atlantis. All of that to say that Fiera was not built up for this title opportunity anywhere close to the level Salvaje was. When you consider that it makes sense that the match would be worked in a way that clearly demonstrated Fiera was not on the same level as Atlantis.
I am sort of conflicted because I get they worked the match the way they did and they largely did it well. The problem is by purposely portraying Fiera as a peg below Atlantis they saw to it that the match was never going to reach the dramatic highpoint that match of the year candidate level matches reach. There are some matches and situations where the wrestlers can have their cake and eat it too, but this was not one of them. That’s not a complaint as much as an observation. There is no guarantee that a match where Fiera is presented as a serious challenger would have been anywhere as interesting as this match was. The work itself was entertaining although not next level. A worthwhile title match to watch but I cannot help but think it could have been better under different circumstances.