Tag Archives: *** 3/4

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]

Mascara Dorada, Titan & Rey Cometa vs. Canvernario, Rey Escorpion & Dragon Rojo Jr. (CMLL – 07/08/2016)

Mascara Dorada, Titan & Rey Cometa vs. Canvernario, Rey Escorpion & Dragon Rojo Jr.
July 8, 2016
*** ¾

This was a stacked trios match on paper – Dragon Rojo is the only luchador on either team that I am indifferent about – and it totally delivered in a major way. Due to the foreigners from the International Grand Prix still being around for this card and due to there being a singles match main event, these guys got pushed down all the way to the second match on the show. Everyone had their working boots on, however, possibly because the card was simulcast on New Japan World and I have to imagine that all six of these guys were gladly welcome more Japanese tours. The falls were spaced out well with the first two running about four minutes apiece and the finale getting almost nine minutes. There was no long rudo beat down (always a welcomed sight). Instead, all six got their spots in and the match flowed incredibly well from section to section. Dorada was probably the star from his team. He was his usual jaw-dropping self and seemingly unconcerned with what an injury might to do his likely very good chances at earning a WWE contract post-CWC. Dorada and Titan took huge hip tosses to the floor to set up a teased dive by the rudos. While Titan broke the fall somewhat by landing feet first and tumbling to the floor, Dorada splatted down on the arena floor back-first.

Escorpion was the standout performer on the rudo side. There isn’t a better base in Mexico right now. He was always in the right spot, took everything from his high flying counterparts as smoothly as you could hope for, and brought a high level of intensity as well (ie. slapping back and forth with Dorada). The match also benefited from the fact that Cometa and Cavernario continued their feud so it didn’t come off like a complete throw away trios match in terms of stakes. I hope their interaction and the fact that Cometa pinned Cavernario means the feud is continuing (more title matches please!) and wasn’t just a way to get Cometa a win after the hair loss. A well hit straight tope suicida is among my favorite moves in wrestling, so I absolutely loved the triple dive from the tecnico side.

All in all, this is exactly what I want from a trios match of this type. It was non-stop action, everything was timed and hit well, and it was just all-around energetic. Pretty easily my favorite trios match of 2016 to date.

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.

Virus vs. Jushin Liger (NJPW – 01/24/2016)

Virus vs. Jushin Liger
January 24, 2016
Korakuen Hall
*** ¾

Sometimes a match is announced that seems just a little too perfect on paper.

New Japan booking Virus versus the inimitable Jushin Liger on the final night of the 2016 NJPW/CMLL FantasticaMania tour was one of those instances.  The match did not need much more promotion beyond simply being booked, but New Japan also billed the bout as a “lucha de maestros” which only added to the anticipation. Lucha libre fans likely saw that description as a veritable promise that the match would be worked on the mat in the lucha “maestro match” style, which just so happens to be the style best fitted for these two at the respective stages of their careers.  It was one of those dream matches that I did not know was a dream match for me until it was booked.  It does not necessarily take a cynic, however, to start wondering what might go wrong to turn a match that seems to perfect on paper into something less than ideal.  Liger and Virus could simply not mesh well together, the promotional tag line could not line up with how the match was actually worked, the match could be given very little time, or the fifty year old Liger might simply not be up for working a high quality mat-based match.  Matches rarely ever play out exactly as hoped.

This one was not one of those rare exceptions.  I do not have to squint very hard to envision a scenario where Liger and Virus have a better match than the one they had in front of the Korakuen hardcores.  It would also be doing this match a great disservice to label it as anything close to a disappointment.

Liger and Virus worked the exact style of match that most hoped they would.  The action was almost exclusively hold/counter hold based and must of it took place with the wrestlers down on the mat.  It is one thing to work the desired type of match it is another thing to execute.  Liger and Virus executed very, very well.  Liger exceeded my expectations with his performance.  Liger always was a proficient submission wrestler but in the New Japan junior heavyweight way he helped cultivate where mat work was largely an obligatory early match exercise.  In a match entirely built on submissions, counters and escapes, he looked right at home fluidly trading holds with Virus.  Liger pulled out more than his fair share of interesting submissions and counters.  He was good enough to immediately make my mind race with visions of Liger working similar matches with Negro Navarro, Dr. Cerebro, Trauma II, Caifan, Black Terry, and Solar in Mexico.

Speaking of Navarro, one of this match’s greatest strengths was that it avoided falling into a pattern or taking on the look and feel of an exhibition.  Some Navarro matches – particularly his most recent matches with Solar – have felt that way to me.  They wrestle around on the mat, do a standoff, quickly trade more holds, stand off again, and repeat that throughout the match.  Virus and Liger did stale mate spots but not ad nauseam and not in a robotic manner.  The teased striking spot was well placed and an example of a lighthearted moment being well weaved into a match without distracting from the overall tone.  This was a match that built and escalated, which is a trait that all great “maestro” matches all have in common.

If one of those pre-match anxieties became a reality, it was that Virus and Liger were given a short amount of time with which to work.  The match clocked in at a shade under eight minutes.  There is no doubt that Liger and Virus could have an even better match if afforded a lengthier slot.  There is little doubt that this match would have been better with a few additional minutes, so the match length was a restricting element.

At the same time, eight minutes is not an obscenely short run time for a match worked in this style.  The style is predicated on fluid attempts for and counters of submissions and pinning combinations. It is a style that succeeds by selling the idea that a match can end at any time with one quick move or one misstep.  By the time Liger caught Virus in a submission to earn the victory, the match had already progressed to the point where it felt natural that one of the two veteran wrestlers might be prone to getting caught in a move they could not escape.  It is a testament to the match Virus and Liger had that they could have added more time without diminishing the quality, but I am not sold on the idea that the match suffered because it was “too short.”  The run time might have kept the match from reaching its considerable ceiling but I do not think it actively detracted from the quality.

Relative to other recent matches wrestled in a similar style, I would have this below Virus and Dr. Cerebro’s match of the year candidate from last August but in the same realm as Virus/Avisman and Virus/Black Terry (there is a theme somewhere in there). My rating might be a tick high based on the fact that Liger was the opponent and the uniqueness of the match up added to the overall excitement, but this was a quality match by any standard.