Monday, July 27, 2015

Not Just Another Promotion: Looking Back at Lucha Underground

Pentagón, Jr. is a huge part of Ultima Lucha
Photo via
So I tried to review every episode of Lucha Underground but couldn’t keep up because, you know, real life. And now we are almost at the end of the first season, and its time for Ultima Lucha. Instead of talking about the matches and the show episode-wise, I find that it suits me better to pen down some random observations and see what sticks.

Over the past few weeks, a little of my enthusiasm for the weekly shows has cooled off; not that the shows are bad or even remotely approaching the levels of crappiness and incoherence of Monday Night Raw, but they feel very much like place holders for the final volcano of awesomeness that Ultima Lucha is guaranteed to be. Wrestlers are taking pins in short two minute matches, there are disqualification finishes due to outside interference, no wrestling for wrestling’s sake, unofficial brawls outside the ring, the time and tested tropes to building up a PPV.

Of course, the good thing is that it makes sense for wrestlers, in kayfabe and reality, not to give it their all – because unlike WWE, Lucha Underground doesn’t get 14 “special events” a year. This is it, folks – an actual, honest to god climax to the stories that have been told over the past year or so. No doubt, we are going to see some extremely good matches by some of the best wrestlers on this planet, man.

The LU Championship Match Main Event has been built up extremely well, and the best moment came in the July 22 episode where Prince Puma showed off his flippy super powers and finally scored one over Mil Muertes and the Disciples of Death. I don’t know how it is possible to look intimidated behind a mask but till that moment in this feud Prince Puma was closer to Seth Rollins pre Battleground rather than the courageous baby face he has been all year. The Mil Muertes/Brock Lesnar analogies are too obvious aren’t they?

A side note, after watching Battleground, I had a strong feeling that Brock Lesnar just does not fit in the WWE anymore. He is super powered comic book super villain in a land of  normal human wrestlers. I have noted earlier on this blog about how Lesnar should be booked, more of Eddie Guerrero v. Brock Lesnar at No Way Out 2004, less of John Cena v. Brock Lesnar at SummerSlam 2014. But if you do have to go this way, then the best place for someone like Lesnar is LU, because LU is basically a comic book without the fluorescent death rays and CGI.

The second biggest story line has of course been the story of Pentagón, Jr. juxtaposed with the arc of Vampiro. There have been very few missteps on this show, and if they are letting Vampiro wrestle then I trust them that they know what they are doing and he can go. Outside of that, I have had zero problems with how he has handled his end of the bargain in this feud. The whole thing again has a very comic book vibe, as Pentagón becomes obsessed with his “maestro” about whose identity we will get to know once he can beat the caca out of Vampiro.

But, more importantly, looking back on the first season as a whole, LU has managed to do a few important things for wrestling in the year of our lord, 2015. So let us have a brief look :

A. People have often called for a offseason-based approach to wrestling. Depending on whether a second season is in play, LU could be the best proof you can offer to support your arguments for this. Wrestlers get some time off to rejuvenate after a satisfying season finale, and there is no chance of the viewer becoming jaded and saturated with the product. If you envision wrestling as watching the biography of a particular character in whom you are invested, it would be a good thing to have a couple of commas, full stops and paragraph changes in the story. An even better thing would be for the whole roster of your main characters go off the grid for a while because ideally if you are investing in their careers you would want every person who walks out on that stage to be important in their own unique way, wouldn’t you?

B. Wrestling shows needn’t be three hours long every week, even with a huge roster. A promotion needn’t demarcate five or six people as “main eventers” and have them go on last on all the shows all the time; everybody should be able to bring it in the main provided the time and place are right. I don’t mean to go on a rant here, but WWE is like that petulant upper class house wife or corporate boss who want the housekeeper/drone to do face time and be at the work place all the time even though there is no work to be done.

C. Fuck reality, but don’t screw with the internal logic of your show. Create your own rules but don’t randomly abandon them in the middle without warning. LU has done all of this really well. On the other hand (sigh), you have reality era in WWE. WWE tries to be as “real” as possible: women can’t wrestle men because they are not strong enough, not too much flippy stuff because it doesn’t feel like the right psychology etc etc. Ok, so arbitrary limitations on your soap opera in tights show with Irish Whips and perfectly co-ordinated back body drops, cool, fine, accepted, your show, your story. But then none of these real men and women go and behave remotely like anybody we can relate to. If X is feuding with Y then he will never care about Z who was his brother from another mother a month ago or about A with whom he had a blood feud like, three months ago. A Hell in a Cell match because it’s October? Really? We are supposed to believe that two wrestlers would put their bodies on the line in this hellish structure of steel (their words not mine) just because it’s that time of the year? See, they don’t even stick with their own logic of reality where women are too weak to become Tag Team and World Champions but Elimination Chamber in July and Extreme Rules in April.      
The one, final conclusion that I draw from having watched wrestling over all these years, culminating with LU, is that big ain’t necessarily better and corporatization hurts the business of art. The overwhelming drive for instant money to please shareholders and speculators on the stock market doesn’t lead to good story telling or employee and customer satisfaction. All it leads to is complacency, cronyism, inertia and exploitation of labor.