Negro Casas vs. Ultimo Dragon (CMLL – 03/26/1993)

Negro Casas vs. Ultimo Dragon
March 26, 1993
UWA Middleweight championship
**** 1/4 

A match that proves that for all of the hype and discussion that AAA and its wrestlers received in 1993, the best wrestler in Mexico resided in CMLL. Negro Casas put on a performance versus Ultimo Dragon that was simply spectacular in every facet.

Ultimo Dragon had several opportunities to capture Casas’ UWA Middleweight championship in August of 1992, but fell short. Casas surpassed the two year mark as champion in January of ’93. When the match begins, Casas appears willing to respect the rules and tradition of a title match. They lock up hard but Casas does not resort to anything underhanded and allows for clean breaks. It is Dragon who gets testy initially, as he slaps Casas in the face after a clean break. Casas is livid and when he reacts emotionally, Dragon easily takes him down to the mat and applies a leg scissors.

That sets up the first fall which is almost all mat and submission wrestling. Casas consistently comes up short in his attempts to secure an advantage during this period. They get that story over in a variety of ways. When Casas tries to flip out of an arm bar by rolling through, Dragon maintains control of the arm. When Casas locks Dragon in a hold, Dragon is able to reverse out of it. One of Casas’ great strengths as a mat worker is the way he squirms and fights to show a sense of struggle. When he does that early in the first fall, Dragon still is able to lock in his desired submission. That mat work would stand on its own. It’s tight yet fluid as Casas doesn’t give anything away too easily but not at the expense of the overall rhythm they are trying to create. It is made even better by the way it is used to establish the story of Dragon being a step ahead of Casas.

About eight minutes into the match, the action pushes forward a little more and there is more stuff off the mat. Predictably, this goes just as poorly for Casas. Dragon is quicker and also poses the higher impact offense. They pick up the pace with suplexes, an Asai moonsault, and a diving clothesline from Ultimo Dragon. Casas survives for a while but eventually he succumbs to a bridging suplex. It is a strong fall overall, in part because nothing was rushed. They spend eight minutes either feeling out each other or on the mat and the final couple of minutes before the pin are full of well-executed high spots. Casas carried the mat work along by feeding Dragon at the right times and providing some grit to his opponent’s flashiness, but Ultimo Dragon brought the quickness and offense to make the fall work.

They start off fast in the second fall with Dragon setting the tempo. A couple of great rope running sequences during this part of the match gave me an appreciation for how athletic both wrestlers are. As expected, this part goes reasonably well for Dragon. However, he might have pushed too fast too early. Casas is able to duck a spin kick and immediately slows down the tempo with holds like a rear chin lock and Boston Crab. As the fall unwinds, it takes the form of the usual second fall in a match where the tecnico won the first fall. Casas is in firm control and is able to regain the advantage in short order anytime Dragon threatens to make a comeback. This is the weakest of the three falls from a pure entertainment standpoint. Casas works a lot of submissions like crabs and scorpion death locks. The pace is a slow burn as Casas continually wears Ultimo Dragon down until a second scorpion death lock attempt proves too much for Dragon to take. The way they structured the fall to have the champion methodically and calmly work his way to a victory made perfect sense and was well executed, it just didn’t have the flare of the two falls it was sandwiched in between.

One of the more important spots in the match happens in between falls. Casas – who up until this point played by the rules – visits Dragon in his corner for what works like a “let’s give them a memorable third fall!” type of pep talk in a face-face match. It is nothing but a ruse, however. Casas lands a cheap shot by kneeing Ultimo Dragon in the stomach. It did not look like a foul but Dragon sold it as it was. Casas struts back to his corner, ready to go for the decisive fall. It is dangerous to read a lot into one little move but it is so easy to read into this one. Casas wrestled technically in the first two falls even after Dragon slapped him a minute into the match and even after being frustrated by the first fall loss. The return slap comes across like a “game on” moment. Casas can smell victory and isn’t concerned any longer with keeping his emotions in check or playing by title match rules. That one spot does so much to set up the anticipation of the third fall.

The first time I watched this match I loved the early mat work and was not blown away by the third fall. That changed on subsequent viewings. The third fall is awesome. I think the mat wrestling in the first fall might be the strong overall work, but the action peaks with the third fall as it should. Casas is always good for high energy third falls and he was on point against Dragon. They work a fast pace and get a fair amount of close falls. There is an incredible spot during this fall where Casas climbed the turnbuckle rather reluctantly while looking into the crowd for help on what he should do like he’s a contestant on The Price is Right. The fans yell over each other and they seemed split over whether or not Casas should jump. Casas never quite seems to commit to the leap and his indecisiveness results in him tumbling off the turnbuckle to the mat. I have seen that sort of spot before but the way Casas tumbles looks so natural and the buildup got across what he was going for just perfectly. The spill also fit into the story perfectly as Casas got a little carried away in trying to keep up with his younger and flashier opponent.

The pop for Dragon’s finish validated their work. He gets a superstar like reaction for finishing off Casas. The near falls and drama in the third fall went a long ways to earning that reaction.

This is an excellent title match that felt modern for the time period while still retaining the characteristics and charm of a lucha title match. Dragon and Casas clicked here. The easy to understand story helped. They did not dumb down the work to get the story across, but rather allowed each element to complement one another. The second fall felt tedious at points but falls one and three made up for it.

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