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