Sangre Azteca vs. Dragon Rojo Jr. (CMLL – 12/16/2008)

Sangre Azteca vs. Dragon Rojo Jr.
December 16, 2008
Mexican National Welterweight
*** 3/4 

I am not sure how this match was viewed at the time. It appears on the list of recommended matches for Dragon Rojo Jr. at Cage Match. Matches don’t randomly end up there, so somebody somewhere at some time must have praised the match. The closest I could find to praise, however, was a single third place vote for the match in the 2008 Tapatia Awards. Otherwise – not much. So maybe I am out to lunch here, but I really enjoyed this match on first viewing and its up there with the better late 2000’s lucha I’ve watched.

The first fall – which runs about nine minutes – has this really interesting step-by-step progression to it. Azteca and Rojo Jr. begin with basic, almost US style exploratory holds. They lock up, work hammerlocks, waist lock, and similar holds, and are either standing or kneeling the entire time. That period of the fall is as ordinary as it sounds but it is also not boring. They countered and switched up holds enough to keep my attention. I much prefer that sort of slow burn hold-intensive start (even if the holds are not anything special) to a WWE-like start where the guys sprint out of the block only to strap on chin locks at certain points for no reason. This portion of the match lasts for about two and a half minutes without either wrestle truly establishing control. That changes after the second or third restart. Rojo establishes control by grabbing ahold of his opponent’s arm and not letting go no matter what. I love “holding onto a body part” segments in matches, especially when the escape attempts are as interesting as they were here. Azteca tries several neat attempts at escaping Rojo’s grasp, but has no such luck. After about a minute, he frees himself with a monkey flip leading to another reset.

That monkey flip escape marks the midway point of the first fall, if not as much in actual time elapsed as in momentum. When they get going again, there is a greater sense of urgency. The pace quickens slightly but even more than that the holds become more dangerous (and possibly fall ending) and they start to roll out the pinning holds as well. Essentially, they work what I guess would be the “usual” lucha title match opening fall from that point on. I like that they built to that stuff rather than just jumping into it. It made their good-not-great submission wrestling mean more because it was a step forward from what came before. Abdominal stretches and octopus holds are personal favorites of mine and they did plenty of them here. With about a minute left in the fall, they start running the ropes a little more while still working stalemate stuff. Rojo never actually gains a sustained advantage, but instead catches his charging opponent with his signature rebound power bomb to take the fall. I liked this fall a ton but for the slow build and the quality of the offense.

Both the pace and type of offense take another step forward to start the second fall. The tentativeness is entirely out the window. Dragon Azteca shined during this fall when he was on offense. It is a short fall – only a couple of minutes – but Azteca makes each move count. He lands a beautiful spinning kick (Ultimo Dragon style) that hits as well as I remember seeing that move ever land. For the finish, he counters a top rope jump from Rojo with a drop kick. That’s a move that at best looks good 50% of the time. That counter led directly to the second fall pin so fortunately for Azteca, this was one of those times where the move was timed and executed really well.

There is not a whole lot to write about the third fall other than it was a super solid and polished fall that felt like an appropriate capper. It is about two and a half minutes into the final frame before we get the first dive of the match. It is worth waiting for as Rojo hits a beautiful spring board cross body block going from inside the ring to outside. Both wrestlers pull the other away as they attempt to get back into the ring, which becomes important later on at the finish. Azteca ultimately gets the better of it and rather than immediately re-enter the ring, he one-ups Rojo Jr. by doing a plancha from the top rope down to the arena floor. A lot of pinning holds for near falls late along with a few more major flying moves, including a fine tope by the challenger. They do one of those “slap each other from our knees while exhausted” bits shortly after the tope. I thought it worked here. It felt earned based on what came before it. I was also a fan of how they teased the finishes of the first two falls. First Dragon Rojo catches Azteca again with the rebound power bomb but Azteca struggles out before Rojo can slam him to the mat. Later on Azteca once again counters a top rope move by Rojo with a drop kick. The fans buzz for the move but Azteca is slower to cover this go-around which allows Rojo to kick out.

Not everyone will love the finish and maybe that is the reasons (or one of the reasons) why I found very little praise for it. Azteca lands a cannonball dive off of the ring apron for the fourth and final dive. They don’t stay down on the floor very long – not noticeably longer than before – but after briefly slapping back and forth while standing outside the ring, they suddenly notice that the referee is almost through the count out. By the time they slide back into the ring – at the exact same time – the referee has finished his count and rules the match a double count out. In theory this was an interesting and logical finish. They worked the match in an even manner, they got across the idea that they were near spent, and the moves used to end the first two falls had already failed in the third. All of that was a strong way of building to a double count out finish. The problem is they sort of seemed to combine two reasons (tiredness and being distracted by their battle on the floor) for getting counted out into one not entirely satisfying excuse for the finish. It was a finish that made sense given the body of the match, it just seemed a little rushed which meant they didn’t get the big “oh no!” count out reaction from the audience that they were probably looking for.

That is a small complaint for what I thought was a very strong title match.  I would be interested in reading other opinions on the match. My guess it the lack of opinions is that it is an overall solid match that is neither impressively progressive nor worked in a completely traditional manner. It is somewhere in the middle – which I personally enjoy as long as the execution is on point – and I could see how that might lead to general apathy.

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