Blue Panther vs. Love Machine
July 18, 1993
Mask vs. Hair
One of the charming aspects of early AAA booking is how they kept feuds alive that started in CMLL before the split. Konnan and Cien Caras, for example, feuded throughout 1991 and into 1992 in CMLL and picked right up where they left on as soon as Konnan showed up in AAA. In the case of Blue Panther and Love Machine, they wrestled their famous mask match just before the AAA/CMLL split in 1992. Pena did not pick up the feud right away in AAA but did choose to revisit it during AAA’s second summer culminating with an apuesta re-match.
Like most feuds and matches Barr was involved with in AAA, the story here is more intriguing than the actual wrestling.
Love Machine lost his mask the prior year on a mental gaffe. The story was that since Art Barr is American, he was unfamiliar with the lucha libre rulebook. With the match in hand, he attempted a tombstone piledriver on Panther. Piledrivers are illegal in Mexico and Love Machine was disqualified for using it. He lost the match and his mask to Panther that night not because Panther definitively beat him, but because a personal blunder led to him beating himself. That is the kind of thing that can haunt a person. Imagine living with the knowledge that that you lost the biggest match of your career just because you did not take the time to familiarize yourself with the rules before the match. How can that not eat away at you every single day?
So it is natural that Love Machine would eventually seek to right that wrong. He wasn’t going to get his mask match, but taking Panther’s mask would be the next best thing.
For his part, Blue Panther’s career was chugging along nicely after taking Barr’s mask. He departed CMLL while still holding the promotion’s middleweight championship and soon captured the Mexican National Middleweight title from Octagon in AAA. He wrestled memorable title matches with Angel Azteca and Super Astro in late 1992. The smooth Panther already had his fair share of fans by the time he entered what was ostensibly a rudo versus rudo feud with Los Destructores member El Vulcano. Panther was booked as the de facto tecnico in that feud. When he beat Vulcano for his hair in April, it was impossible to tell from that match that Panther was not a full time good guy yet. It seems obvious that AAA was doing more than simply testing the waters for a turn. A turn was coming it was only a matter of when.
As expected, Blue Panther has his fair share of supporters in this match. However, Love Machine was also very over and the crowd really did seem split down the middle. That made for a heated match where near falls on both sides were met with dramatic crowd reactions.
While I stand by my statement that this match is more about the storytelling then the actual work, the wrestling isn’t bad. In fact, I think this might be Barr’s best performance in AAA even over the vaunted When Worlds Collide match. Sticklers for classic lucha and traditional apuesta matches will be disappointed. They don’t brawl all that much, there is no blood, and much of Barr’s offense has a distinctive American/Japanese flavor to it. He throws suplexes and uses his high spots in a very familiar American way. That does not bother me and if anything, it helped make the match a little more broadly accessible. Barr is a clear tecnico in the first fall and wins cleanly off of a bridging German suplex. Panther makes quick work of the second fall, winning with a figure four leg lock in about three minutes.
About halfway through the final fall, Blue Panther slaps Barr in the face. The slap looks clean – Panther’s palm is open – but Pepe Casas stops Panther from striking a second time nonetheless. A typical lucha spot (particularly in apuesta matches) is for the referee to stop a tecnico from performing an illegal or questionable move like a closed fist while letting the rudo slide. The reasoning – as explained brilliantly by Dr. Lucha back in 1992 – is that the officials hold tecnicos to a higher standard. They assume that rudos will cheat and do not always try to stop them, but are more critical of the tecnicos. I don’t think El Dandy ever worked a hair match without getting his arm grabbed by an official, even though he was often throwing legal open palmed strikes. When Casas stopped Panther here, my mind immediately flashed to El Dandy and Dr. Lucha’s explanation. That spot always allows the rudo to regain an advantage. Love Machine did just that and more importantly, followed up by chocking Panther on the ropes. It is tough to believe that all of that was mere coincidence and not part of a slow burn turn.
The story takes another turn in that same direction several minutes later when Love Machine takes control. Several times Love Machine has Panther down for what might be a 3-count, only to pick him up at the last second. That is generally a heel move but it is also a revenge move. I think it worked as both for Love Machine. He essentially spent the last year of his career stewing over the fact that he lost his mask to Blue Panther on a stupid mistake. Now that he is so close to rectifying that mistake, he has gotten greedy. He no longer simply wants to take Panther’s mask, but he wants to beat him up and humiliate him for his role in the mask match on year earlier. At worst, it’s a pure rudo move and at best, it’s the sign of a good guy so foolishly consumed with revenge to the point that he loses focus on what the best revenge is.
The final minutes are really heated and despite his actions, there is still a sizeable portion of the crowd that is rooting Love Machine on. That cheering section seems to dwindle each time Love Machine lifts Panther’s head off of the mat rather than pinning him. Barr does this again after a (sloppy) swinging neck breaker. He cranks at Panther’s neck for a little while, focusing on that area of the body. He drags Panther to his feet and Panther begins fighting back in what can only be described as a fiery babyface comeback. Once again, Pepe Casas stops Panther from delivering perfectly legal open hand slaps as he continues to hold Panther to the higher standards of a tecnico. Love Machine takes advantage by driving Panther neck first into the mat. By this point his second, Perro Aguayo, is nearly on the apron pleading with Love Machine to end it.
Love Machine obliges, but definitely not in the way Perro imagined.
Harkening back to their mask match, Love Machine lifts Blue Panther in the air for a tombstone. Before he can hit the move, Perro springs into the ring wagging his finger at Barr. Not only is the move dangerous, is it stupid. There is no doubt that Love Machine understands the consequences of the move this go-around. It is impossible that he would not have learned that lesson. Perro does what he thinks is right and knocks the two wrestlers over. He is saving Panther from the move, but also Love Machine from getting disqualified. At least, that was probably his intention. Whether because of Perro made physical contact with the wrestlers or because Love Machine clearly intended to use the banned move, Pepe Casas awards the final fall to Panther via disqualification.
I have seen some describe the ending as confusing and it is to the extent that the reason for the DQ is not cut-and-dry. Both of those explanations are plausible, however, and would feed into the post-match angle, which is really the highlight of the entire segment.
Love Machine is beside himself because he lost the match, did not injure Panther as he clearly intended to, or both. Understandably, he takes his frustration out on Perro for “costing” him the match. Fishman – seconding Panther – joins in making it clear that this is not just Barr being mad at his second, but a full fledge turn to the rudo side. Panther stays out of the fray at first but eventually he has seen too much. He pulls Love Machine away from Aguayo. He positions himself in between Perro and the rudos to make sure they cannot get to him. The crowd picks up on the angle right away as they chant “tecnico” at the newly turned Panther. It is a perfectly executed double turn in that both sides have plenty of motivation for doing what they did. In his quest for revenge, Love Machine loses sight of how to best achieve that (win the match, take Panther’s mask) and instead becomes focused on injuring him. It is easy to see how someone in that state of mind would believe that Aguayo cost him his chance to get revenge. I love how Panther doesn’t protect Perro right away but eventually does because they have gone too far. Panther was basically trending towards the tecnico side anyway and this pushed him over the edge. The subtle teases with the way Pepe Casas treats Panther during the match were the icing on the cake.
The strength of the match is clearly the story, the post-match angle, and the double turn. The wrestling is passable or slightly more than passable depending on personal preferences but not classic-level work. The story and angle are so strong and the wrestling is adequate enough to make this match worth watching. It is far from a classic and maybe not even in the top ten lucha singles of 1993, but is well worth watching for a well-executed and well thought out double turn.