Negro Casas vs. El Dandy (CMLL – 07/03/1992)

Negro Casas vs. El Dandy
July 3, 1992
CMLL World Middleweight

Having watched this match several times now, I am comfortable in stating that it is my favorite lucha match of all time and one of my favorite matches ever.

The match is a decision match for the CMLL World Middleweight championship. CMLL introduced its own set of championships in 1991 and 1992 to supplant the NWA titles they had historically utilized (even though those titles ended up sticking around). Blue Panther became the first middleweight champion under the CMLL umbrella in December of 1991. Six months later, Panther jumped to AAA and made his debut with the startup promotion for its fifth week of television. CMLL stripped Panther of his title immediately. Traditionally, the middleweight class has been second only to the welterweight class in Mexico in terms of importance; the latter of which holds the edge if for nothing else than the fact it was Santo’s (and El Hijo del Santo’s) weight class. In addition to Panther jumping to AAA while CMLL champion, Octagon jumped while Mexican National champion in the middleweight division and took the title with him (CMLL did not control the national titles).

It was under those circumstances that CMLL’s best two remaining middleweights met on July 3rd. The wrestling in the match speaks for itself but there I think that the surrounding circumstances add to its appeal.  At a time when CMLL was rapidly losing wrestlers to AAA and had just lost two of their middleweight champions to that rival promotion, Dandy and Casas wrestled a classic match that AAA could not likely have replicated at that time even if they had tried.

One final pre-match note is that Dandy and Casas feuded in televised trios matches in the lead up, so there was some existing hostility there. As seen in the way the match is worked, things are noticeably more heated than they would be in a title decision match where there wasn’t any existing bad blood.

Those existing tensions show themselves right away. Dandy and Casas slap each other around at the start, rather than the more gentlemanly way most title matches begin. These were two guys who had recent issues and had the adrenaline flowing that comes with wrestling a championship match. When they hit the mat, the wrestling is physical and tough. Everything is a struggle. The notion that lucha mat work is loose and cooperative is complete fiction but even then there is more intensity to the holds and counters here than you would get in a normal mat work-heavy lucha match. Casas is generally awesome at making holds feel earned, but this might be his finest effort in that regard. Nothing comes easily for El Dandy. Casas quickly reverses holds, fights holds off, squirms away, or covers up so Dandy cannot apply a hold. As always, Casas’ timing is impeccable. He goes to each of those wells an appropriate number of times and at the right moments. Casas has some great reversals, for example turning an arm bar into a seated abdominal stretch. Dandy’s attempt at a camel clutch proves futile against Casas who spent years avoiding Santo’s signature hold. Both wrestlers take advantage of any and all openings. This is high quality mat work – interesting, stiff, and heated. You won’t find much better anywhere in the world in 1992, which is saying something given the quality of wrestling worldwide that year.

Fall number one is a long one. It takes Casas nearly fifteen minutes to submit Dandy with a scorpion death lock. In addition to the struggle for control that plays out on that mat, there are several other notable moments. At one point, Casas and Dandy find themselves outside the ring. They start slapping each other before quickly – and simultaneously – coming to the realization that they need to settle this in the ring. It not only plays off of the opening to the match, it also ties into a segment from their lead-in trios match. The first fall ends with a flurry of offense from Casas. Dandy attempts to double up on short arm lariats, but Casas ducks the second and lands a sambo suplex. Rather than cover, he also decides to double up which proves to be a smart idea. Casas adds a slam that sets up Dandy for the fall-winning scorpion death lock. The definitive ending to the fall worked because the fall itself had been such a struggle. Such a hard fought fall deserved a definitive, cut-and-dry conclusion. Casas got that with the three slams and submission sequence.

They re-set for the second fall after the commercial break but like the first, this fall starts off with a flurry. While Dandy anticipates a cautious approach from his opponent, Casas has entirely different plans for the start of the second fall. He sprints across the ring and lights Dandy up with a hard running drop kick. Casas landed a similar drop kick in the first fall. I know it sounds suspect to heap praise on a simple move like a drop kick, but these ones do legitimately stand out. Casas does the type drop kick where his back is horizontal and parallel to the ground. Every drop kick he throws looks like it should knock (and does) knock Dandy back several feet. Casas takes the match back to the mat after the drop kick and briefly targets Dandy’s back. This includes running Dandy back first into the turnbuckle several times to soften up that area.

Another thing Casas is really excellent at is adjusting his willingness to cheat depending on how the match is going for him. In this match – after a tiring first fall that he came out on top in – Casas decides to go the underhanded route right away in an attempt to end the match quickly. First he chokes Dandy in the corner with his boot and once his second (Pierroth) gains the referee’s attention, Casas swiftly kicks Dandy low. The replay reveals a clear foul; there is no Perro Aguayo/Mascara Año 2000 ambiguity to this one. It is an effective spot to set up Dandy’s comeback. Casas is now feeling it and levels Dandy with a running clothesline. He goes for a second, continuing the theme from the first fall of each wrestler doubling up on offense. Dandy ducks and counters with a tilt-a-whirl backbreaker. All of that sets up Dandy to do what Dandy does best, which is sell while making a spirited comeback. Dandy more or less controls the last couple minutes of the fall. There are some great rope running sequences that are on level with the top stuff that the New Japan juniors were doing around this time. Dandy tries a submission hold after slamming Casas to the mat, but Casas – as he did so often in the first fall – wiggles out. When Dandy gets an opportunity again a little later on after a slam, he opts for a pinning hold that neutralizes Casas’ legs. That does the trick – Casas cannot escape and Dandy evens the match up at one fall apiece.

The decisive fall opens with a call back to the start of the second fall. The momentum has shifted and this time it is Dandy who comes out strong by leveling Casas with a running drop kick. Casas rolls to the apron. When he gets back in the ring, Dandy absolutely drills Casas with another drop kick that sends him out to the ring apron. A third drop kick knocks Casas off of the apron and leads to the one and only dive in the match – a top rope to the floor plancha by El Dandy. In fact, the match only goes to the floor three times: once in the first fall with the slap exchange, once during Dandy’s second fall comeback when Casas takes a breather, and here for the dive. Given how often matches – past and present – use ringside brawling to eat up time it is really impressive how little time they spent out of the ring during what ended up being a thirty minute match.

When they return to the ring, both guys are showing the effects of the war they have been through to this point. The near falls start in earnest at this point. This section is appropriately epic in terms of the volume and kind of offense that gets used. Both wrestlers throw out big bombs including lariats, a power bomb, a splash mountain power bomb, and more. There is plenty of selling in the fall, but they do recover quickly from certain moves that are part of a larger sequence. The circumstances called for an epic, back-and-forth ending and honestly, I doubt that many would even see an issue with the pace that the finish is worked. Although the audio for the match is not the best, you can still hear some of the big near fall reactions they get each time one of the wrestlers survives another close call.

Dandy cannot put Casas away on a power bomb, which felt to me like most “significant” move of the match to that point.  Lucha libre’s unwavering emphasize on pinning holds over wearing down opponents comes into play next. The high impact power bomb cannot put Casas away, so Dandy goes for the La Casita instead. Casas kicks and squirms but cannot fight out of the hold. Dandy joyously leaps into Atlantis’ arms – Atlantis is one of the all-time great post-match celebrators – and the crowd reaction is rather joyous as well. The ending was the perfect culmination of the match. Casas wouldn’t quit, but Dandy twice got him with effective pinning holds demonstrating technique trumpeting over all else.

I think it is a disservice to any lucha match to say that it transcends lucha. Doing so implies that a match needs to remove the usual lucha stylings in order to succeed and that is 1000% false. Dandy and Casas wrestled a match that had all the elements of quality lucha libre and hit a home run. What I will say is that I have trouble seeing the major flaws that any fan – even those who are not fond of lucha – could have with this match. It is such a great wrestling match overall, geographic style differences be damned. There is plenty of offense that would feel familiar to fans of early 90’s Japanese junior heavyweights. So in that way I would describe the match as transcendent. It is one of those rare matches that hits on every single note and does so in a way that everyone can appreciate, even if you are unfamiliar with the context of the match or not an ardent fan of lucha. It is a classic match in every sense of the word and one of the few matches I have as a 5-star bout.

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