Tag Archives: 2016

Trauma I vs. Canis Lupus (IWRG – 09/04/2016)

Trauma I vs. Canis Lupus
September 4, 2016
Mask vs. Mask
**** 3/4

Out of haste and my excitement to watch Trauma I and Canis Lupus’ IWRG mask match on Labor Day morning, I put on the only version available on YouTube at that time – an 18 minute video uploaded by Estrellas del Ring. That particular YouTube channel records all of marquee lucha indies but rarely if ever uploads full matches. An 18-minute runtime felt right for this match and a scroll through the video to look for obvious signs of clipping revealed nothing of the sort. So I ignored the obvious warning signs – from the video the match appeared to be only one fall which was odd and they seemed to skip to the overt violence section rather quickly – and convinced myself that this was the full (or near full) match.

I only mention that because after watching Canis Lupus and Trauma I destroy one another for the full duration of the video (and still believing I had seen the full thing), I was relatively sure that it was the best pro wrestling match I had watched in 2016. It was only later in the day that after I saw in the luchablog results post that the match was 2 out of 3 falls and checked out another upload of the match that I realized the version I watched was a couple of minutes of the first fall spliced together (very seamlessly I might add) with most of the third fall. The takeaway was that I had convinced that a match I had only seen the third fall of was the match of the year. The beginning of a match – how the wrestlers set a ton for what is to come – is as important in my overall enjoyment of a match as any other element. So I think it says something that a match with almost literally no beginning still registered with me at such a high level. A match has to be special when the third fall on its own makes that big of an impression on me.

After watching the full version of the match (both the AYM broadcast version and the +LuchaTV version are full and on YouTube), it is even more clear just how special and awesome of a match this one is. Trauma I and Canis Lupus wrestled an epic and violent match that at least initially would seem to place it on the same level as other classic apuesta matches.

As I unintentionally proved to myself, the third fall on its own was full enough and strong enough as to standout. The match is going to receive its fair share of attention for the level of blood shed by Lupus during that fall. Admittedly, a couple of pictures posted by Black Terry Jr. that showed the aftermath of the blood shed was a big reason I hurried to watch the match in the first place. And yea, Lupus’ bleeds like his life depends on it and the end of the match – with the mat covered in at least one of pool of newly dropped blood – creates quite the visual. The third fall and therefore the match has to be considered a blood bath because of all the blood that was lost, but blood is not the match’s only defining characteristic. The decisive fall contains at least a couple of believable near falls and a three to four minute ending stretch that formed an indelible impression on me. That fall is not simply Lupus bleeding out while sitting on the mat. The action is well paced, violent, and appropriately dramatic.

In terms of the first falls, it was clear to me after actually watching them that as good as I thought the match was based on just the third, that fall is even better with the first two falls serving as a lead-in.

Lupus and the younger of the Trauma brothers have feuded for months now in Arena Naucalpan. This was a traditionally built mask feud and as such, the blow off match required a hot start. They accomplished that in the form of a tope suicidia from Lupus almost right away in the first fall. It was a great way to start a mask match by demonstrating explicitly that they (or at least Lupus) planned on forgoing all the usual formalities and getting right down to business. You don’t get a lot of matches that feature a tope suicida as the very first move – not now nor ever – which made the impression that this match was different and more important than the norm. Interestingly enough, the tope was the one real piece of action from the first fall that Estrellas del Ring left in their version. That indicates to me that they also saw that tope as a pivotal piece of the match.

The ending of the first fall is also pivotal, in that it makes what was already a great finish to the third fall an even better one. The Lo Negro del Negro (the Trauma brothers’ twisting leg lock submission hold) is one of the best submission holds in all of wrestling. It is the rare submission move that has a high impact and visual element to it thanks to the standing start and twist. It never fails to pop a crowd. The Arena Mexico crowd even went nuts for it when the Traumas appeared on Elite shows late last year and early this year. In the first fall, it is Canis Lupus who uses it to win. Trauma I sold his own move like the killer finish it deserves to be sold as. He flailed about in great pain before tapping quickly. Occasionally throughout the rest of the bout, Trauma I showed ill-effects from the move. Stealing your opponent’s finish might be played in some environments but it really isn’t in lucha and I think it came across like a big deal here. Lupus looked appropriately proud of himself post-fall; having taken the lead while also managing to work in a small insult as well.

In all three falls, the wrestlers balanced action outside of the ring with action in the ring. Far too many IWRG matches over the last few years have been content on being gore fests with uninspired ringside brawling filling the rest of the time. Trauma I and Canis Lupus effectively used in the ringside area to get across the violence and hatred but did not even come close to relying on out of the ring brawling as a crutch. They were in and out, never overstaying their welcome either in or out of the ring. Everything done out of the ring in the first two falls is used to escalate the violence and tension. At points in the first couple of falls the match teases a descent into an all-out ringside brawl but stops just short of getting there. So when the match finally descends into madness in the third fall – chairs and blood – it feels earned. That was perhaps the biggest difference between viewing just the final fall and the entire match. Falls #1 and #2 set up the violence of the third fall perfectly. By the time these two start whacking each other over the head with chairs, you feel like that sort of extreme action was inevitable.

IWRG has been a soulless and directionless promotion for at least a few years now. Arena Naucalpan is almost always far closer to empty than full. For the fans that do show up, IWRG gives them little reasons to invest in the matches due to booking that relies on an endless series of copas, gimmick changes, and pointless title changes in lieu of anything meaningful. So it is striking to watch this match in that context and see Arena Naucalpan virtually full and the crowd completely into the match they are watching. Trauma I is the clear fan favorite – as expected and as planned – as evidenced by the way they continually serenade him with songs and chants of “Vamos Trauma!”. The heat speaks for itself and it is clear to anyone that the crowd is invested in the outcome. It stands out even more so in the context of the generally heatless environment IWRG matches take place in most of the time in 2016.

The match reaches a crescendo in the final four minutes. By this time, Lupus is a bloody mess. Both wrestlers are sporting badly ripped masks and looking the worse for wear. The official is bumped and it was difficult not to worry on first viewing that an overwrought ending was waiting on the other side. Those worries are quickly erased. For one, the referee was actually hit hard and fell hard so they avoided the phantom ref bumps that are all to prevalent in the poorly officiated world of lucha libre. More important, however, is what the bump sets up. Lupus recognizes that he has an opening and decides to go for broke by performing the dreaded martinete (tombstone piledriver) on his opponent. The martinete is an illegal move in lucha and would be grounds for immediate disqualification if the referee saw it. Lupus performs the move swiftly and expertly, like he knows this is his one shot and he cannot blow it by wasting any time.

Perhaps the best part of this entire sequence is that after Lupus has driven Trauma neck first into the mat he does not waste any time in following up. There’s no struggle to wake the ref or anything like that. He covers with a sense of urgency and the referee – who was knocked down rather than knocked out – gets in position to count in a timely fashion. The timing makes for an excellent near fall as I totally bought the idea that Trauma could lose in this manner, with the illegal move serving to protect him to an extent. Instead, it creates a great false finish as Trauma’s foot is under the ropes.

Lupus tries again for a cover. This time Trauma (who seemingly cannot move his neck at least not without great pain) lifts his arms straight up to stop the referee’s count at two. The referee scolds him and counts further away from Trauma’s arms to avoid a similar occurrence. Trauma has no choice now but to lift his neck and shoulders off the mat, which he does while still completely conveying the idea that the martinete has doe serious and potentially permanent damage. This is hammered home further when the match briefly stops so the ringside doctor can strap a neck brace to Trauma I. All of this sets up the actual finish which sees Lupus – in an act of desperation after not being able to pin Trauma following the martinete – go to the top rope for a plancha. Trauma I might not be able to move his neck very well but he can move his legs. He lifts his knees to counter the move. Lupus quickly moves back in, but Trauma I grabs his leg and trips him. This leads to as dramatic and effective of a submission hold struggle as I can remember seeing recently. Lupus knows Trauma is looking for the Lo Negro del Negro and he also knows that if he locks in the hold, the match is as good as lost. He kicks at Trauma and swipes at him with his arms, but Trauma fights it off. When Trauma eventually locks in the move, the crowd goes nuts and Lupus reacts like his legs are snapping in half. He taps in short order, setting off an awesome celebration that begins with Trauma II and Mr. Electro elatedly leaping into the ring to congratulate the winner.

If you are skeptical of this match because the location and the participants suggest that it is just a lucha indie match and will not have the emotion and presentation of a major CMLL or AAA mask match, rest assured those fears are unwarranted. The final minutes of the match are as dramatic as either of the big Atlantis mask matches from the past two years. The scale is different – a few thousand people in Arena Naucalpan is obviously different than 15,000 in Arena Mexico – but on a relative basis the emotion and reactions to the finish are close enough to be considered the equal. So is the post-match activity. The seconds – Mascara Ano 2000 Jr. & Mr. Electro – give speeches putting over the wrestlers, as does Trauma II (in a nice touch, Trauma II was forced to watch his brother defend his mask from the crowd since he was not an officially registered second). Canis Lupus also speaks eventually, surrounded by a throng of photographers and camera men. All the while, Trauma I continues to lay on the mat as doctor’s attend to him. The attention to selling and putting over the martinete rivals any sort of selling I have seen anywhere in the world in 2016. It is only after everyone else has spoken that Trauma I is able to get up (with the help of a neck brace) and give his speech.

To top it all off, a still bloody Canis Lupus lets his girlfriend remove his mask before reportedly proposing to her while still in the ring. If that’s not pro wrestling emotion at its finest, I don’t know what is.

I am always leery of making grand claims about a match that just happened days ago. The fact that I enjoyed the match so much even when I only watched the third fall and enjoyed it even more in full a day later makes me think that Canis Lupus and Trauma I wrestled a truly special match that will stand up as such over time. I am not positive of that, but I think there’s a good chance.

For now, I feel confident stating that Canis Lupus vs. Trauma I is my favorite mask match in recent years surpassing Atlantis vs. La Sombra from last year’s CMLL Anniversary show. The match contains all the attributes of a classic apuesta match from blood and false finishes to a dramatic ending and post-match drama. This is my MOTY for 2016 as of this moment (lucha or otherwise) and will be pleasantly surprised if another match surpasses it.

(05/28/2016) Mike Quackenbush vs. Johnny Kidd, ‘World of Sport’ Rules (Chikara)

Quack does not have a match on record after WrestleMania weekend 2013 and was essentially in semi-retirement. I think the reason usually given for that was back injuries. I know he walked around with a cane for a while but I think that was probably more of a gimmick than anything. In any event, its been a long time since Quack wrestled an official match (assuming he hasn’t wrestled under a mask at points in between) but the idea was that he was a big fan of Kidd and wanted to wrestle him one last time before his upcoming retirement. They had a singles match in wXw back in 2009 and wrestled on opposite side of a tag match in Chikara in 2011, as well.

I am naturally leery of modern matches billed as “World of Sport Rules” matches because that’s a style and concept from a bygone era that is not easily replicated. This match, however, was very good and one of the most fun matches I’ve watched in 2016. The big reason this match succeeded where many other modern WOS-style matches fail is that Kidd actually worked WOS shows when he was younger. For his part, Quack has always appeared to be enamored with hold-centric styles (lucha, British wrestling) and it is very apparent watching this match that he “gets” what made the WOS style tick. They work eight 3-minute rounds. Tim questioned the 3-minute periods initially (as opposed to 5-minutes) but it ended up being the exact right choice. Every round had a different wrinkle to it and because they were only 3-minutes, they never had to kill time to finish off a round. They did all the standard spots guys do when trying to wrestle the British golden era style but they also did a lot of other ones as well. They hit on that balance of levity and impressive athleticism that in my (admittedly limited) exposure to WOS seems to be found in all the good WOS matches. The falls were handled well and the whole presentation (Chikara is always great at presenting things in the best light) was top notch. No, this isn’t a top-end WOS style match, but it is maybe the best modern effort I’ve seen. It was also a ton of fun. I am not sure I have watched any match from 2016 that was this easy and fun to sit through. The match offered something different and it did it well. It is rare that you get both of those things from the same match. [*** 3/4]

Super Fly & Carta Brava Jr. vs. Luxdor & Venum (AAA – 03/04/2016)

Super Fly & Carta Brava Jr. vs. Luxdor & Venum
March 4, 2016
Gimnasio Agustin Millan (Toluca, Mexico)
*** ¾

There are not many wrestlers in AAA who I would be okay replacing Apache, but Super Fly just so happens to be one of them. Super Fly slid into Apache’s spot in a quasi-rematch from the previous tapings and the end result was an even better match.

This match did two things better than the prior one. The first was that it was a little shorter and therefore, a little more compact. Along similar lines, there was less filler on offense. The Cadets did less stuff from a standing position because there was less space to fill. Their flying is spectacular and they are of course nutty bumpers, so doing less standing stuff as an overall percentage of their offense was a plus. The Cadets are criminally underrated even in their own promotion. Any promotion in the world that signed them and the Trauma brothers would instantly have my favorite tag team division in the world regardless. The Cadets are not only great flyers, but they are polished flyers. They really deserve a higher profile.

And maybe they are getting one. The ending saw Apache run in and in another simple but effective rudo moment, he casually chucked a full beverage at Venum who was sitting on the top rope. In true AAA style, they failed to follow up on the developing Apache/Venum issue at the Naucalpan taping or at Rey de Reyes but hopefully that is just a temporary lull rather than a sign that they are dropping the feud. Venum might be the better of the two Cadets. He certainly has a great pedigree given that he was trained by Negro Navarro and the Traumas. I’ve been haphazardly making my way through the Billy Boy/Apache mid-2000’s feud. The prospect of a similar (daughter marriage issues notwithstanding) Venum/Apache singles feud as me drooling since Venum might be better than Billy Boy and Apache can clearly still go.

The match in general is both a fun and easy watch. As it stands now, this is my favorite tag team match of 2016.

HARASHIMA vs. Isami Kodaka (DDT – 03/21/2016)

HARASHIMA vs. Isami Kodaka
March 21, 2016
Sumo Hall (Tokyo, Japan)

It does not bother me much if a luchador working a show in front of 200 people tries a bunch of stuff that doesn’t quite hit its mark. It doesn’t bother me when CMLL under card wrestlers do the same (Flyer!) or when student matches on IWRG shows are nothing but wrestlers trying shit out. There is a time to try things and situations like those are that time. While I am not exactly worked into a tizzy when a main event match in a fairly big promotion is rough around the edges due to the wrestlers trying out complicated spots, it does have a more substantial effect on my enjoyment of the match.

Harashima and Kodaka wrestled a main event title match in one of Japan’s most historic pro wrestling venues in front of over 6,000 fans for a promotion that is the 3rd biggest in Japan currently. There are certain expectations that come with that. The main one being the expectation of quality execution and an absence of overt sloppiness. I might not like what the wrestlers do, but at the very least I expect a big main event in front of a big crowd to be fundamentally sound from an execution standpoint. While I would not classify this match as overtly sloppy, there were more than a few execution issues that I felt were damaging to the match on the whole.

Most of these moments were the result of trying high precision spots that could have easily been replaced with spots that could have been pulled off cleaner. The problem is not with innovation or complicated moves in general. The problem is that this match should have felt like the two best wrestlers DDT has to offer fighting for the top title. When there are numerous spots that are off or at times hard to tell what they were supposed to be, that hurts that perception. Kodaka and Harashima tried a bunch of counters and moves that sounded cool on paper but were difficult to pull off correctly. I would have personally traded a few “high degree of difficulty” spots for better overall presentation.

Aside from that complaint, I thought the match was decent. Harashima went after the ribs of his opponent which is his usual strategy. Kodaka in turn targeted the leg. The build was okay. They ratcheted the action up really early (like two minutes in) but Kodaka brought things back down with leg-focused submission holds a few minutes later. That allowed them to ratchet up the action again for the proper finishing run. The elongated stretched run was what one would expect. Lots of big moves back-and-forth and some fighting spirit stuff, although the latter was kept largely in check. This match did have one of the better one-count kick outs in recent memory. Harashima hit one of his signature moves after being behind most of the match. It was early enough in the ending that I am not sure a late two-count kick out would have drawn a bigtime reaction so it wasn’t like they left a big moment on the table. Harashima smirked after landing the move, effectively indicating that he felt he had just turned the tide. He paused for a few seconds before covering and Kodaka kicked out at one as if to say “not so fast“. Kodaka kicked out in such a way that it did not come off as goofy or as if he had summoned super human strength. He merely kicked out of a signature (but non-instant death) move in a situation where I am not sure they could have gotten a strong near fall. I am not sure it necessarily added to the match but unlike many other late match early kick outs, it did not detract from the match.

Caifan vs. Ultimo Guerrero (ERLL – 03/20/2016)

Caifan vs. Ultimo Guerrero
March 20, 2016
Arena Jose Sulaiman (Monterrey, Mexico)
*** 1/2

I cannot watch a 2016 Caifan match without wondering how in god’s name he is not currently working in Arena Mexico. The first several minutes of this mano a mano match from Monterrey are spent exclusively on the mat. Caifan was as smooth and fluid as we have come to expect from him. Caifan’s reversals in the early going are a joy to watch. There are several where he is almost Virus like in his ability to perform a complicated reversal in short order without ever losing contact with his opponent. There was very little visible feeding of reversals here so if you are someone who is turned off by that, don’t fret. What makes Caifan standout for me among the maestros he even often works and other proficient lucha mat workers is that he blends in realistic take downs with a sense of struggle better than most. Those that think lucha mat work is just a bunch loose exchanging of holds (which is of course itself a ridiculous assertion) should at least give Caifan a try.

I cannot watch a 2016 Ultimo Guerrero match without wondering if this is the same Ultimo Guerrero I was watching just two years ago. The post-mask loss work bump is not a UG-specific phenomenon. Villano III suddenly morphed into one of the more entertaining wrestlers in the world for six-months in 2000 following his historic mask loss to Atlantis. For Villano III, the bump was short lived. Guerrero has kept going and going. Some of it is circumstance. He is getting booked in more featured singles matches on indie shows that Black Terry Jr. and the gaggle of lucha YouTube uploaders are graciously taping for us so there is more opportunities for him to shine and more opportunities for us to see him shine. At the same time, Guerrero is clearly working on a different level since his late 2014 mask loss to Atlantis. You hear far less jokes about Ultimo Guerrero filling out his move bingo card during a match (that is, ticking off all of his usual spots one by one). He is wrestling with far more variety. He is also working harder and showing a technical acumen that quite frankly I did not know he had. Guerrero kept up with Caifan every step of the way here. The chop battle on the outside was well placed (the opening mat work wasn’t getting much heat) and it is hard to imagine the UG of a few years ago allowing his chest to be chopped up in a half-empty Monterrey arena. It is impossible to imagine him doing the hip check dive he did into the seats on Caifan if this were 2013. UG is working really hard these days and getting great results from it.