Category Archives: Lucha

Dr. Cerebro vs. El Hijo del Diablo (IWRG – 01/31/2010)

Dr. Cerebro vs. El Hijo del Diablo
January 31, 2010
IWRG
IWRG Intercontinental Lightweight
*** 3/4

One of those matches where there is not any one thing all that extraordinary about it but where there are a lot of things that are done very well. It is a tremendously full match that manages to cover a lot of ground and equally as important, covers that ground in effective and interesting ways.

The match is for Cerebro’s IWRG Intercontinental Lightweight title but there is quite a bit of heat and animosity, two things you don’t always get in title matches. The Arena Naucalpan crowd is hot for the entire match. There are some mixed reactions, but by and large the fans are behind Cerebro. Diablo is a solid heel and is able to keep the crowd against him for the most part even as he does stuff in the ring that they like. Black Terry seconds Cerebro and is awesome in that role. Initially the extent of his involvement is cheering on Cerebro and getting the fans to do the same, but he gets physically involved in the third fall when things start to get personal. Having a second that throws haymakers and tries to tackle the rudo can be overkill and distracting but they ramp up the intensity in the match to the point where it makes sense and for his part, Terry pulls it off like only he can.

The match is “full” in the sense that this isn’t just mat work or just brawling or just near falls. They move around and do a little bit of everything. The first fall is heavy on mat wrestling. Both the champion and challenger bleed. They brawl and as mentioned, the seconds brawl. There are high impact moves in the third fall and some really great dives on both ends. They earn at least one big time near fall reaction. Sometimes matches that want to be everything to everyone become messy and bloated. This match avoided that because of the way they segmented the different parts and built to them. The mat work becomes heated and it leads to the blood. The blood fuels tempers even more and it leads to brawling. Terry gets involved. The brawling gives way to the dives, high impact moves, and eventually the near falls. It is a very structured match even with so much crammed into it.

It cannot be oversold how much the general atmosphere helps this match, particularly if we are comparing it to the present day IWRG presentation. The arena is full(er), the crowd is loud, and the wrestlers are able to convey the idea that this match means something. Black Terry Jr.’s excellent ringside filming is also a plus. For whatever reasons, it does not look like this match aired on TV. IWRG and/or Teleformula opted to air two undercard matches instead on the weekly TV for whatever reason.

Ohtani’s Jacket talked this match up at the time and I think it definitely holds up, maybe even more so when directly compare a spirited match like this one with the soullessness of contemporary IWRG. As usual with most matches he is a part of, Dr. Cerebro was the standout but Hijo del Diablo (and Black Terry) were also on their games. If you are looking to purchase some “older” matches from Black Terry Jr., this is one that is definitely worth getting.

Brazo de Plata vs. Gran Markus Jr. (CMLL – 05/29/1998)

Brazo de Plata vs. Gran Markus Jr.
May 29, 1998
CMLL
Hair vs. Hair
** 3/4

Watching Brazo de Plata these days – on the rare occasions when he can actually still make it to the ring to wrestle – it is hard to feel anything but pity for the guy. He can hardly carry around his sub-5 ½ foot 300+ pound frame and is sadly (another) heart attack waiting to be happen. As of the posting of this review, Porky is currently sidelined with a femur injury but cannot undergo surgery to repair it until he loses twenty pounds. Porky is in a sad state. The irony is that his entire appeal – especially after embracing the “Super Porky” nickname – centered on the fact that he was such a pitiful and therefore easy to root for wrestler. Porky has always been pathetic. That was his appeal. It is just now that it is no longer funny or entertaining, it is just sad.

When all I have seen recently is 50+ year old Porky struggling for deep breathes while standing on the ring apron, it is easy to forget how great he was in his role before his obesity started to seriously damage his body and abilities. This match is a great reminder how Porky used to be pathetic in the good, sympathy-drawing babyface way and not in his present “this is hard to watch” state. The Porky in this match is one of the more sympathetic, easy-to-root for wrestlers of all time.

Obviously Porky’s look – the bulging waistline, short stature, messed up hair, droopy eyes – go a long way to drawing that level of sympathy. It is hard not to root for a guy that looks like that. However, Porky’s ability to elicit sympathy opposite of Gran Markus Jr. goes far beyond his looks. For starters, he bleeds almost as soon as this match starts after taking a headfirst shot into the steel post. It’s a short match (under ten minutes shown for three falls) so Porky does not waste any time in in that regard. He stumbles around the ring looking tired and hopeless. It might be fair to state that no other wrestler has used their poor looks to their advantage as much or as well as Porky.

The capper to Porky’s appeal in his prime is that he was far, far more athletic than his frame would ever suggest. There is no reason a guy with Porky’s body type should be able to do a really good tope suicida or a beautiful twisting plancha to the outside but Porky does both in this match. Not only that, but Porky realizes that those spots are more effective if they are used sparingly. Porky has other offense he uses against Gran Markus, but it is largely standard fare. For the most part he sells and stumbles around. When he pulls out the two awesome flying moves, they have such a greater impact because they seem to come out of nowhere and have the feel of true desperation-like offense. It is a cliché, but in this match Porky understands his limitations and gets the most out of his impressive high spots as he possibly can.

There is not a lot of comedy in this one, which I think was the right choice. Porky is of course a talented comedy wrestler but too much comedy would have seemed really out of place in a hair match, especially once Porky starting bleeding. If the match had a lot of comedy, it also potentially would have served to diminish the impact of Porky’s great selling in the match. It is more difficult to get behind an underdog wrestler who is taking a beating if mid-match he pauses to get some laughs.

As mentioned this is a short match and if it was clipped, it wasn’t clipped significantly. That is obviously a smart decision. Markus is not as big or as oddly shaped as Porky but he’s not someone who should be working a 15+ minute match either. The falls don’t seem rushed because Porky bleeds right away and is so natural at conveying fatigue. Any longer than they went probably would have been too long. They got in, did what they needed to do, and got out. Porky’s victory gets a huge reaction, which is proof that the layout and Porky’s selling were very effective.

This is a good short and simple match if you have ten minutes to kill. Porky’s flying provides the necessarily hook but the whole match is so quick that it would have been fine even without those moves. Porky (and to a lesser extent Markus) got as much out of the match as could reasonably be expected. If you only know the Porky of the last ten years are wondering why some consider him a very good worker, from a singles match perspective this is as good of a place to start as any.

Shocker vs. Black Warrior (CMLL – 03/16/1999)

Shocker vs. Black Warrior
March 16, 1999

CMLL
NWA World Light Heavyweight
** 1/2 

Shocker and Black Warrior matched up semi-regularly in the late 90’s with the NWA World Light Heavyweight title at stake. It is an interesting pairing for that time period in that Shocker was still in the process of finding himself as a worker which in theory left Black Warrior in charge of constructing a full match. Warrior was a tremendous athlete with some good spots, but a complete wrestler he was not. On paper, this one has the look of one of those matches where neither wrestler is equipped to lead. Sometimes those matches surprise and end up working when wrestler takes charge or they both just find their way through. Other times they end up being the incomplete, scattered affairs we expect them to be.

This Arena Coliseo title match leans towards the latter, although at the end of the day I thought it still reached the point of being an average title match. There is a clear and distinct lack of direction in each individual fall and in the match as a whole. At a high level, the match follows the expected title match pattern of first fall mat work, quick second fall comeback, and a final fall filled with false finishes and big moves. The issue is that within that framework and within the framework of each fall the work doesn’t seem to tie together or lead anywhere. The wrestlers – and therefore the match – sort of meanders from section to section and spot to spot.

Take the first fall, for example. It was probably my favorite fall of the three. Neither wrestler is a great mat worker relatively speaking but they know the basics and can exchange holds just fine. The actual offense and exchanges are fine and some are even well done. The trouble with the fall is that it is just a bunch of holds, counters, and chain wrestling. The work was not all that substantive. I am not a believer that everything done in a match needs to lead to lead specifically to something else or have some greater significant to the overall match. That’s not the issue I had in this match. The issue is that even while they were exchanging holds and executing offense just fine, there was no hook. There was no real sense of danger, no story being told, or even a sense that one wrestler was the aggressor and the other was fighting back from underneath. Even in the moment, it was just some offense being rolled out at random.

The final two falls have similar issues. The second brings the action up off the mat, but is similarly a collection of back-and-forth offense without much direction. The third fall is the near fall-heavy equivalent of the second. There was not a great comeback or a monumental near fall that was built to or delivered on. If you define a spot fest has any match that is a collection of spots/moves/sequences without any thread tying them together, than this match was a spot fest.

In the end, Shocker and Warrior still wrestled what I thought was an average match because the offense was generally entertaining and the execution of the offense was solid. Shocker did an arm drag out of a fireman’s carry position which is a move I will never, ever get tired of seeing. The dives are good. As mentioned, the holds used in the first fall were relatively basic but executed well. Offensively, there is enough quality action that the match kept my interest even if it was largely directionless.

Black Warrior entered the match as the champion and was put over pretty strongly, which is a tad surprising to me if only because Shocker was about to be pushed hard with a pair of mask matches over the next several months.

Shocker is still in generic tecnico mode for this match. I need to watch his pair of late 1999 mask matches (Rey Bucanero and Mr. Niebla) but it continues to fascinate me how quickly he seemed to transform style wise once he dropped the mask. I have seen his late 1999 IWGP Junior title match with Liger from Arena Mexico and even though that’s clipped up you can still see that Shocker is far more in Japanese junior mode there then he was a few months earlier. Of course, facing Liger might have something to do with that. Certainly by 2001-2002 and his matches with El Hijo del Lizmark, Dr. Wagner Jr., and Ultimo Guerrero he has gone through a full metamorphous from generic tecnico-type worker to the hybrid style that got him such much praise (and subsequently some retroactive ridicule). Maybe I am just being fooled by the visual change that came with losing the mask, but he seems to make that big style change almost immediately after dropping the mask to Niebla.

El Dandy vs. Javier Llanes (CMLL – 02/24/1994)

El Dandy vs. Javier Llanes
February 24, 1994
CMLL
CMLL World Middleweight
**** ¼

I recently re-watched the 12/84 Super Tiger/Fujiwara match from the original UWF. That match is very good but it is also very, very dense. The high spots are great – Tiger kicking Fujiwara like you would a soccer ball, both guys getting submission near falls – but the high spots aren’t abundant and everything surrounding those moments is steeped in minutiae. Most of the match is about detailed selling, struggle for advantage, and working holds. All of that stuff is done really well which is why it’s a very good match, but it is admittedly not a breezy or easy watch. You have to want to watch for small movements and moments as the wrestlers work on the mat for 90% of a 27-minute match. That’s not a match that I feel like I can pop in and enjoy at any time.

There are similarities between the appeal of the Tiger/Fujiwara match and this 1994 Middleweight title bout. Like the UWF match, this is dense match where the appeal is in watching two guys grind it out on the mat for most of the duration. I don’t think it is as extreme as the Tiger/Fujiwara match in that regard (CMLL mat work in any variation is not UWF style mat work) but it is nonetheless a match built on the little things, even relative to lucha mat work standards.

Some of the exchanges are free flowing displays of athleticism like you would get from Atlantis, Blue Panther, Virus or other Dandy mat work but most of it is not. Most of the action on the mat centers on one wrestler getting trapped in a hold and staying there for a significant amount of time until they can finally claw and scratch their way free. To borrow a phrase, “everything is earned”. While that sounds great – and can be great – they are asking the viewer to invest their full attention on long (30 – 90 second) segments where the wrestlers are fighting to maintain a hold or break a hold and long periods of selling without a lot in the way of typical “action sequences”. It is not an easy sell and personally, this is a match I have had significantly different feelings about depending on how much attention I was willing to put into it at the time. I think this is an excellent match, but it is not one of those matches I am going to put on at any time and in any mood and enjoy all the same.

What ultimately makes Dandy/Llanes a winner in my opinions is that segments of the match that might otherwise appear action-less are brought to life through constant and intense struggle. lThe facial selling is superb. Llanes has a naturally expressive face that can clearly and naturally convey the subtle difference between the pain caused by being locked in a hold and the pain caused by trying to lock on a hold. Dandy’s winces and grimaces are a little more forced, but almost equally as effective. When the camera gets in close on Dandy grinding his teeth while trying to physically force his way out of hold, you can see the struggle he is going through. It’s not pretty – Dandy probably didn’t use that shot in any publicity photos – but it is highly effective in getting you to buy into what they are selling.

Speaking of camera shots, CMLL (and lucha libre television in general) are not always known of their great direction and production. For a promotion that semi-regularly missed spectacular high spots, CMLL was on their game here from a production standpoint. The TV guys seemed to grasp that this was going to be a physical match where the value was in the details. The advantage of a match like this is that there is not a ton of quick movements out of the frame so the cameras were able to focus in on the wrestlers’ faces and bodies. The close-up shots on the wrestlers while they work the mat are very helpful because they allow you to focus on the facial selling, body mannerisms, and physicality of the holds all of which are the main selling points of the match. To be fair, on a few occasions the cameras zoom in too far to the point where you can’t see much of anything but those moments were rare. In general, they did a really good job allowing the TV audience to see the detailed work that forms the crux of the match’s appeal.

Another thing this match gets right is that the wrestlers make the most out of the high spots and spots off of the mat. The first fall, for instance, sees Dandy attempt to wiggle his arm free of Llanes’ relentless grasp by arm dragging him over, but Llanes rolls through and holds on. That is a good spot that gets over the story, looks good, and allows them to get right back into the bread and butter of the match (working holds on the mat). Dandy slaps Llanes late in the match in another display of an effective high spot that worked with the rest of the match. They run the ropes a few times and all of it feels in line with the rest of the work. There are some matches where wrestlers work hard to get over the realistic struggle of each and every hold early, only to transition to bigger, higher impact spots for the stretch run that are performed without the same level of struggle. It causes a disconnect between the reality the match presents early and the reality is presents late. Dandy and Llanes avoid that . . . for the most part.

My least favorite part of the match is the one time where they lost their grip on the realism and fighting nature of the holds that they presented so well at every other point. During the third fall Dandy gets a figure four leg lock on Llanes. Llanes stays in the hold for a very long time – more than a minute – and while he thrashes around on the mat they lose the sense of danger and pain that they established earlier with other holds. Based on how they sold prior holds, my brain expected the leg lock to be broken quicker or for Llanes to make a more physical effort to break it up. They are in the hold long enough that it loses me. It seems to lose the crowd too who don’t treat the move as a major threat and don’t react all that loudly when Llanes does eventually reach the ropes. It is a spot that seems out of line with the rest of the match. Dandy has a history with allowing a figure four leg lock to overstay its welcome. He does the same thing in his 1992 title match with Bestia Salvaje. The issue there is less one of going from struggling in each and every hold to not struggling in the leg lock and more purely an issue of the length of the spot.

Density, long leg locks, and all, Dandy and Llanes still wrestled a really great title match and great mat-based match period. If Dave Meltzer watched the match today, there is a good chance he would slap it with the “70’s style match” label. There’s an argument for that given the match’s reliance on working and selling holds. At the same time, there are enough “modern” 90’s elements that the “70’s style” description might be overly simplistic. If you like physical matches where everything is earned and the selling is realistic, give this one a look when you are in the mood for a match of that style.

La Fiera vs. Emilio Charles Jr. (CMLL – 04/01/1994)

La Fiera vs. Emilio Charles, Jr.
April 1, 1994
CMLL
*** ¼

My major takeaway from this non-stipulation singles match is further confirmation that La Fiera is a really great tecnico even if he is often thought of as a rudo first and foremost.

Fiera jumped to the tecnico side during the summer of ’93. The impetus for the turn was a falling out with Sangre Chicana which caused Fiera to re-think his alliances. That feud gave us a hair match that I think very highly of, but really the feud was a means to an end with the ending being Fiera’s October hair loss to Negro Casas. I thought Fiera did a wonderful job as a good guy in both of his 1993 hair matches, particularly in the Chicana one. He is great at selling a beating both while it is happening and the aftermath of it. He shows great fire in both and his big bumps suit a tecnico well. Fiera was also an awesome rudo so I can understand people preferring that version of him, but I am starting to think he should be considered great at both roles which is something that not too many luchadores (or wrestlers in general) can claim.

The aspect of La Fiera as a tecnico that impresses me the most is how willing and how naturally he can flip the switch from callous aggressor to sympathetic underdog. Emilio Charles Jr. is a rudo’s rudo. Everything from his look to his wrestling style screams that. You aren’t going to out rudo Emilio so Fiera probably could have gotten away with playing it a little edgier without fear of blurring the good/bad guy lines. He doesn’t, however, and the match is even better for it. Fiera plays it totally straight. He takes a beating for the entire first fall. His comeback – punctuated by his signature kicks – is graceful. When he is down and out, he gives himself a pep talk and makes a Rocky-like comeback rather than going toe to toe with his more aggressive opponent. Fiera doesn’t do anything to indicate that he is concerned with getting his heat back or looking tough but rather only about putting heat on Charles and making himself into a sympathetic figure. That’s an impressive thing from a guy who when he wants to, can come across as being as tough and ferocious as any luchador.

There are no-stipulations to the match and it is being used to set up a hair match, so the brawling/blood heavy layout should not come as any surprise. The entire goal of the match is to get their feud into a position where a hair match is an unavoidable outcome. They do that by bleeding, of course. Fiera bleeds almost right away and Charles joins him later on. They also do that (as previously mentioned) by having Fiera take a licking for most of the first two falls and again at times in the third fall. Fiera’s ability to get across both the pain he is in and the struggle to keep fighting his top notch. I never felt like Fiera was selling me something that wasn’t really happening. His body language and reactions were pretty much in lockstep with the offense from Charles.

The problem with non-stipulation singles matches in lucha is that they are almost never as satisfying as title matches and apuesta matches. In my experience, they often come off as a watered down version of either an apuesta match or a title match because they are usually used as a device to build to one or the other. In this instance, the match was used to build to a future hair bout which meant it was worked as a brawl and ended up playing out like a scaled back, less emotional hair match. That is still worth something but the ceiling is limited. The idea was to put heat on Charles, make Fiera seem sympathetic, and give Fiera a clean (but not exactly definitive) win to set up Charles’ winning his hair. They accomplished all of that but that doesn’t exactly make for an incredibly memorable match. The match involved a lot of bleeding and heat seeking spots without the emotion and payoff of someone getting shaved. The match was what it should have been but what it “should have been” has a limited ceiling.

That is made all the more disappointing by the fact that the hair match blow off is not available anywhere. This is basically act one of a two act play. We only got the build and not the payoff.

Both wrestlers are excellent in their designated roles – Charles as a rudo and Fiera as the tecnico – and the match largely accomplishes what it set out to do which is set up the hair match. However on its own it is only a good brawl that lacks the high stakes and emotion of a hair match.