I am a huge pro wrestling fan, most notably of the Mexican lucha libre variety.
The 1980s and 1990s was a roller coaster for Consejo Mundial de Lucha Libre. During that time they achieved so much; they defeated the UWA, changed their name, discovered two of the biggest stars they would ever have, and put together the feud that saved lucha libre after the Mexican peso crisis. Of course, there was also the tiny detail of Paco Alonso alienating his head booker, leading to him forming the greatest rival promotion, a rivalry that continues to this day and potentially split business to the point where things would never quite be the same going into the new millennium. And that my friends is where the final part of our story continues.
Chapter 16: The Apuesta to End All Apuestas and Padrisimo
The craziness surrounding CMLL in the 80s and 90s had finally stabilized by the time the new millennium started. Whether it was for the better or not can be questioned. It hadn’t been that long ago when CMLL was the be all end all of lucha libre, capable of creating stars with the snap of their fingers and selling out Arena Mexico. Those days were long gone; AAA still lurked as strong competition for the number one promotion in Mexico (despite a decline of their own), luchadors who would only seek out CMLL now had options between Mexico and the US and a good day for Arena Mexico was now 10,000 plus for a big show as opposed to sell out. Combined with lucha libre no longer being as popular as it once was, it was clear the CMLL of the 30’s, 40’s and 50’s was long gone. So Paco Alonso and the gang had no choice but to make do with what they had; luckily they still had quite a bit on the talent end. El Hijo del Santo and Negro Casas were still top stars and performers, and even better had formed one of the best tag teams in the company. El Satánico was still going strong, this time with a new group of Infernales featuring two of the best up and coming luchadors in the business. Dr. Wagner Jr., son of the legendary Dr. Wagner, had grown into one of the most well rounded luchadors in the business thanks to stints in Mexico and Japan. Several other luchadors like Blue Panther, who left CMLL for AAA in the early 90’s, had returned to shore up the card. And of course there was the great constant Atlantis. Ever the loyal soldier, Atlantis was no longer the high flyer he once was but could still provide the mat work and, even better, the drama in his big matches. But even after all his success, there was still something missing to solidify Atlantis as a CMLL/lucha libre legend as opposed to a top star. Luckily for him, CMLL had big plans for him in that regard, putting him in a feud with a former UWA superstar and the new head of a long running family dynasty started by Ray Mendoza.
Not only had Mendoza been famous for being one of the best luchadors in the 1960’s and 70’s, as well the co-founder of UWA, but he also wound up being the father of five luchadors who each came to be known as Villano. In other words, there was a Villano I, a Villano II, a Villano III, a Villano IV and a Villano V. All five Villano’s would go onto have successful careers in their own right, with Villano IV and V notably having brief runs with WCW during their hottest period in the 90’. But the only one close to their father in terms of skill and popularity was Villano III. Born Arturo Mendoza on March 23rd, 1952, Villano III had initially worked for CMLL to start his career in the 70’s, before he left to join his father and two brothers in UWA. He immediately was pushed as a top star upon arrival, both because of his father’s influence and because, well, Villano III was already an exceptional in ring worker, especially from a technical standpoint. For nearly the next twenty years Villano built up a reputation as one of UWA’s best and brightest stars, feuding with Los Misioneros de Muerte, a young Chris Benoit (then known as Wild Pegasus), Fishman and most notably Perro Aguayo, whom he defeated in a famous Apuesta match in 1983. When UWA fizzled out Villano and his brothers went to AAA and worked as a trios unit on the upper half of the cards, becoming both the first ever AAA Americas Trios Champions and Mexican National Atomicos Champions. The run lasted two years before Villano III and his brothers went off to Promo Azteca, and by 1998 he found himself in CMLL. As Villano had worked for CMLL early in his career and had worked shows for them as part of the CMLL/UWA agreement, it wasn’t his first rodeo in Arena Mexico. But it was the first time he had ever worked there on a consistent basis, making him an instant sensation within the promotion.
For his first year there Villano did not cross paths often with Atlantis, most meeting him in trios action. But the duo became far more acquainted in 1999, where Atlantis took the CMLL World Light Heavyweight Championship from Villano in June. From that point on the feud was on, with Atlantis successfully defending the title against Villano on three separate occasions before the two were forced to work together at the 66th Anniversario against Shocker and Mr. Niebla in a Parejas Suicidas match (the stipulation being the losing team must immediately face off in a mask vs. mask match). It was expected that Atlantis and Villano would lose, thus leading to their feud blowing off at the biggest show of the year. Instead, for the first of what would be a few times in Atlantis’ career, his team won, and Shocker would lose his mask a half an hour later against Niebla. That did little to slow Atlantis and Villano’s feud down, as Villano would eventually regain the Light Heavyweight Title from Atlantis on November 22nd. It was now a no brainer for CMLL to do a mask match between these two men; it was just a question of when. The 67th Anniversario would seem the ideal place, but that was a year away and while CMLL had done that with feuds before (see Hijo del Santo vs. Negro Casas), there was no guarantee things would stay hot. So instead, CMLL set the match up to headline one of their newer creations; Homenaje a Dos Leyendas.
Created in 1996, Homenaje a Dos Leyendas was initially created to honor Salvador Lutteroth (hence it was originally called Homenaje a Salvador Lutteroth) and to provide CMLL with another big show to promote. By this point the name had been changed to its more famous title to honor Lutteroth and El Santo, but the goal of making a second big show stood, with the previous year’s main event between Santo/Casas and Bestia Salvaje/Scorpio Jr. going a long way to solidify it as such. Looking to continue momentum, CMLL booked Atlantis vs. Villano III, mask vs. mask, for Homenaje a Dos Leyendas on March 17th, 2000, billing it as the “the biggest Apuesta match of the decade.” The anticipation was massive for this match, so much so that for the first time in history CMLL promoted the show on Pay Per View. The only question now was whether Atlantis and Villano, now 48 years old, could deliver the type of mask match everyone expected.
The show itself leading up to the main event was fantastic, highlighted by a victory for the young and talented Ricky Marvin in the opener and an excellent Cibernetico match. But nothing else could hold a candle to the performance of Atlantis and Villano III in the main event. They didn’t just deliver a great mask match; they delivered the definitive mask match, a twenty five minute battle of violence, desperation, unbelievable submission wrestling, excellent psychology, huge heat and more drama than Game 7 of the World Series. The match finally concluded after a failed Villano charge found the rudo up on Atlantis’ shoulders for his trademark move, the torture rack style submission La Atlantida. Atlantis had put Villano in the hold earlier, but the rudo had managed to escape. Not this time; this time Atlantis dropped to his knees and Villano gave out, the referee selling his submission by jumping nearly a mile in the air. The crowd exploded as Atlantis celebrated and he wasn’t alone; so proud of what they had done, Villano hoisted Atlantis up on his shoulders and carried him around the ring, celebrating with him. It was a surreal sight, made even more so when Villano unmasked a few moments later after cutting one of the greatest promos in lucha libre history to put Atlantis over even more. It was a moment, to this day, no one has ever forgotten, and Atlantis vs. Villano III became the measuring stick of every mask match and every post mask match since. It also was a resounding success, drawing a standing room crowd of 20,000 for Arena Mexico and being voted Match of the Year by the readers of the Wrestling Observer Newsletter. To date, it remains the only lucha libre match to win the award; fitting as it’s, in my opinion, the greatest match in the history of lucha libre.
Homenaje a Dos Leyendas wasn’t the last big card CMLL had in 2000, as much as they’d like you to think it was. For years, Televisa had been trying to do the impossible; get CMLL and AAA to work together. It made perfect sense as far as Televisa was concerned, considering AAA and CMLL had been two of their top programs. Furthermore, it presented fans with an opportunity to see luchadors from rival companies compete against each other in dream matches. The only problem was CMLL nor AAA wanted to do it. It’s not hard to figure out why; both promotions looked at each other as the competition, and Paco Alonso still held the formation of AAA by Antonio Peña as a personal betrayal against him. Ultimately Televisa was having none of it. They knew the money it would be able to make both promotions (let alone themselves) and finally put enough pressure on CMLL and AAA to agree to hold a show on June 17th. The event would become known as Padrisimo.
Held in the Plaza de Toros Mexico bullring, Padrisimo quickly developed interest due to the cross promotion nature and, while not drawing a sellout, did a great attendance number of over 25,000 fans the day of the show. Unfortunately, the show didn’t contain the sort of interesting dream matches fans were expecting. Concerned that CMLL vs. AAA matches would lead to disagreements over finishes, it was agreed that the matches (consisting of three trios and one atomicos match) would feature a mixture of CMLL and AAA technicos battling CMLL and AAA rudos. In other words, it was only kind of sort of CMLL vs. AAA instead of full blown CMLL vs. AAA. Luckily the aftermath of the main event gave the people what they wanted as a full scale brawl erupted between the two sides to create one of the most surreal scenes in lucha libre history. It had everything; Negro Casas brawling while covered in shampoo (he had been taking a shower when the brawl started), Rayo de Jalisco Jr. stiffing the second La Parka, a crazed Abismo Negro brawling with Shocker, Octagón desperately trying to avoid any sort of fight, Brazo de Plata morphing from comedic legend to badass, a stunned Hector Garza doing everything he could to restore order, Pierroth Jr. spraying the entire arena with a fire extinguisher and Paco Alonso and Antonio Peña both looking on with a “what the hell just happened?!” expression. To this day many question whether the whole thing was a work or not, though the most likely answer is it was a mixture of both (Televisa continuing to broadcast the entire brawl is a dead giveaway). Regardless, the brawl became part of lucha libre lore and is one of the legendary moments of modern day lucha libre. It’s also the last time, to this point, AAA and CMLL have worked together, though AAA has made offers in recent years for their Lucha Libre World Cup.
Chapter 17: New Talent, Returning Talent and Perros del Mal
Between the Atlantis-Villano match and Padrisimo, CMLL pretty much wasted all of their bullets they had remaining. The 67th Anniversario, headlined by Dr. Wagner Jr. defeating Negro Casas to win the Leyenda de Plata tournament, only drew 13,400 fans, a sharp decline from what Atlantis and Villano did months earlier. Things recovered a bit in early 2001 when the next edition of Homenaje a Dos Leyendas drew nearly 18,000 to watch Universo 2000, brother of Cien Caras and Máscara Año 2000, successfully defend his mask against an aging Perro Aguayo. The good news ended there; by the time the 68th Anniversario rolled around attendance was down again, despite the show being built around a hot angle. Having reformed Los Infernales in 1999, El Satánico eventually watched his two pupils, Último Guerrero and Rey Bucanero, betray him in favor of an alliance with Tarzan Boy. To counter this, Satánico lured two luchadors to the dark side to replace Guerrero and Bucanero, rechristening Rencor Latino as Averno and Astro Rey Jr. as Mephisto. With Guerrero/Bucanero ally Máscara Magica brought in as the final guy, CMLL decided to settle the feud in an Apuesta cage match, where the last man left would be unmasked or have his head shaven. None of it mattered, as only a little over 10,000 fans came to see Satánico unmask Magica.
As it turns out, CMLL may have been okay with sacrificing attendance at this point in order to set up the next generation of lucha libre superstar. Indeed, by the end of the decade Averno and Mephisto would be two of CMLL’s most reliable upper midcard stars, all because they set the two up as players during this Satánico feud. Guerrero and Bucanero developed even quicker. A product of the Durango area, the man who’d become known as the UG came to CMLL in 1998 after working for Promo Azteca. It was a controversial decision, as Guerrero had been slated to lose his mask in Promo Azteca around the time he made the jump. Instead he kept his mask, a move that would prove to be a great decision both short term and long term. Seeing something in him, CMLL put him over a departing Mr. Aguila at the 65th Aniversario, and by 2001 he was on the cusp of stardom thanks to his association and then feud with Los Infernales. Bucanero meanwhile had been an Arena Mexico staple since before he could wrestle, hanging around backstage with his uncle Pirata Morgan. He had begun working for CMLL in 1990 at 17 and managed to work briefly for WWE as part of their agreement with CMLL over the short lived Super Astros program. It wasn’t until the Los Infernales and his pairing with Guerrero that Bucanero began to get recognized as one of CMLL’s hidden gems.
Together Bucanero and Guerrero quickly developed a reputation as the best tag team in Mexico and arguably the best tag team in the world. They captured the CMLL World Tag Team Championships for the first time on August 4th, 2000, defeating Mr. Niebla and Villano IV at the end of a 16 team tournament. The reign would last for over a year before the duo, known as Los Guerreros del Infierno, came across the El Hijo del Santo/Negro Casas team. It was an exciting matchup, pitting the most popular tag team of the late 90’s against the most popular tag team of the early 2000’s, and the matches didn’t disappoint. Santo and Casas at first came out on top, winning the tag titles on November 2nd, 2001 to begin their second reign. After several months, Bucanero and Guerrero were able to reclaim the titles back on May 31st, 2002 in an even better match than the first. This began a reign that made the first one look like child’s play. For the next year and a half Bucanero and Guerrero laid waste to the CMLL tag division, successfully defending the titles at both the 69th and 70th Aniversario’s respectively. It wasn’t until January of 2004 that the duo finally dropped the championships to a team led by Shocker. This wasn’t stunning; Shocker had been trying to take the titles off Los Guerreros since the 69th Aniversario, where his team just fell short. The surprise was who his partner was to defeat them; LA Park, better known as the original La Parka.
It’s forgotten now, but as the new millennium began, WCW was going out of business and leaving many a luchador out of work in the states. With AAA no longer an option due to them blocking many luchadors from using the gimmicks they made famous, many jumped to CMLL for either the first time or the first time since the early 90’s. The legendary Rey Mysterio Jr., who had joined AAA right out of training, made his CMLL debut in 2001 and was a consistent presence through the latter half of the year. Juventud Guerrera and Psicosis (under his Nicho el Millonario name) both had their first major runs with the promotion after leaving WCW. The aforementioned Park would spend the next decade enhancing his legacy as one of the greatest lucha stars ever, having famous battles with his good real life friend Dr. Wagner Jr. Even guys like Vampiro and Silver King, Wagner’s talented but less renowned brother, came back briefly, with Vampiro being Shocker’s first partner to try and dethrone Los Guerreros. Pretty much everyone but Konnan was back, a sign of the resentment Alonso still held towards him. It wasn’t enough to entirely turn business around, but the combination of new stars like Guerrero and Bucanero to go along with returning names did help. The 69th and 70th Aniversario’s respectively both drew 17,000 to Arena Mexico, built around this talent and the seemingly never ending quest to take Tarzan Boy’s hair. He defeated Negro Casas at the 69th to keep it before falling the next year to the highly charismatic Shocker, who was continuing to prove his mask lost to Niebla in 1999 was the best thing to ever happen to him.
But despite all the great talent CMLL was acquiring or re-acquiring, none was more important than Perro Aguayo Jr., the talented son of the legendary Perro Aguayo. At only 16 years old, Perrito (as he’d become called) burst onto the scene with a great performance against Juventud Guerrera at Triplemania III-B. It looked for all the world he was destined to become AAA’s top star by at least 2000. Instead the young Aguayo would get lost in AAA’s disorganized chaos and had no notable matches to note (not counting a brief WWE run during the short lived AAA/WWE agreement) before joining CMLL in 2003. To that point Aguayo had always worked as a technico, but by the time 2004 rolled around it was clear the fans were not exactly warming to him in that role. So Aguayo turned rudo in a legendary angle. For about six years, CMLL had been running an annual tournament known as Leyenda de Plata, aka the Silver Legend. As you can guess, it was a tournament held to honor El Santo, and it quickly became the most prestigious tournament CMLL held. Aguayo would win the 2004 edition of it, and afterwards was greeted by El Hijo del Santo, who presented Aguayo with the Leyenda de Plata plaque. In front of his father and a sold out Arena Mexico, Aguayo declared the Aguayo family to be superior to the Santo family, and proceeded to break the plaque over the turnbuckle post. That angle, combined with a white hot post match brawl, instantly made Aguayo the hottest rudo in Mexico and Aguayo vs. El Hijo del Santo the hottest feud, a callback to the legendary Perro Aguayo Sr.-Santo feud from the 70’s. Unfortunately the feud would end only a few weeks later without any payoff, as Santo was only touring with CMLL for a brief period of time.
Luckily Aguayo kept himself hot, feuding with the aging Los Hermanos Dinamitas in a feud that saw Aguayo’s father come out of retirement. At Homenaje a Dos Leyendas 2005, in front of 12,000 fans, the Aguayo’s defeated Máscara Año 2000 and Cien Caras in a hair match, the biggest victory for Aguayo since his rudo turn. The match represented a turning point for Aguayo, as he decided to form his own group, consisting of his best friend Hector Garza and the tag team La Familia de Tijuana, consisting of Tijuana legends (and former WCW stars) Halloween and Damian 666. Together these four made up Los Perros del Mal. Taking the best elements of the New World Order and legendary AAA stable Los Gringos Locos, Perros del Mal quickly became the most hated and most popular stable in Mexico, known for their too cool for school style. By the end of 2005 the group, now consisting of Aguayo, Garza, Halloween, Damian, Tarzan Boy, Pierroth Jr. and even Blue Demon Jr., were CMLL’s top rudo act, feuding with the likes of Negro Casas and his brothers Felino and Heavy Metal (another former AAA star who had jumped back). Between them, Los Guerreros del Infiernos and a reloaded roster, CMLL was looking mighty good. And then came along the biggest box office draw since Konnan and Vampiro back in the early 90s.
Chapter 18: Mistico
Luis Ignacio Urive Alvirde, born December 22nd, 1982, was not supposed to be CMLL’s next big thing, though he was supposed to be something. Like many luchadors, Urive came from a rich lucha libre family; his father had wrestled as Dr. Karonte, his brothers would all go on to wrestle (most notably former AAA stars Argos and Argenis); even his cousins Magnus and Alexis Salazar were involved in lucha libre, with the former working as a luchador and the latter becoming a photographer for shows. But Urive’s biggest connection to lucha was his uncle and trainer, Tony Salazar. Salazar had been one of CMLL’s unsung heroes in the ring going back to the 1960’s, and after retiring became one of the most respected trainers and bookers CMLL had. After allowing Urive to gain experience in Mexico and Japan under the names Astro Boy (a tribute to Urive’s late brother) and Komachi, Salazar brought his nephew into CMLL and pitched his name for a gimmick CMLL was looking to try out; a gimmick called Mistico.
The premise of Mistico was a complex idea; the character would have the back story of a young orphan who as a child was taken in by real life priest Fray Tormenta, who would train him to become a luchador. The key was everyone knew Tormenta wasn’t just a priest; he was also a luchador who worked for years under a mask in order to hide his identity and make enough money to provide for the orphans he looked after. As such Tormenta was sort of a folk hero in Mexico (as well as the inspiration for the ill-advised Nacho Libre film in 2005), and pupil of his working in Arena Mexico seemed like a sure fire hit to CMLL if they found the right luchador. They hadn’t yet, with CMLL’s first option for the role, El Sagrado, flaming out under the pressure of the gimmick (Sagrado would later recover and is today one of CMLL’s most consistent, well rounded rudos). Upon Sagrado’s failure, Salazar pushed and pushed for his nephew Urive to get the spot and finally, CMLL agreed. That is how on June 18th, 2004, a little over a month after he worked his last undercard match as Astro Boy, Urive became Mistico. He never looked back.
Not long after his debut CMLL put Mistico in the 2004 Gran Alternativa (a tournament where CMLL teamed veteran luchadors with youngsters) with El Hijo del Santo, a move clearly designed to give the youngster the rub by working alongside one of CMLL’s top stars. It worked; the two went on to win the tournament and Mistico’s popularity skyrocketed as a result. It didn’t hurt either that Mistico was an exceptional talent; his ability to somehow get higher on every dive, coupled with ridiculous speed, athleticism and a unique move set, instantly made Arena Mexico warm to him. For the next year Mistico slowly but surely grew in prestige; he teamed with top technicos like Dr. Wagner Jr., Negro Casas, Atlantis and others to feud with the top rudos like Los Guerreros, Perros del Mal and, in his first notable singles feud, Averno. It was there Mistico found his wrestling soul mate; the chemistry between him and Averno was off the charts and their first match, in Arena Coliseo on February 11th, 2005 for the NWA World Middleweight Championship, was so well received that fans flooded the ring with money. The two would continue to have great matches over the years, though they interestingly enough never had an Apuesta match together. No matter; Mistico continued to remain hot throughout 2005, closing it out with a mini-feud with a surprising new rudo; Atlantis. Yes, after over twenty years as a technico, CMLL pulled the trigger on an Atlantis rudo turn by siding him with Los Guerreros. The turn instantly revitalized the top star, and Atlantis would have several successful years hanging out with Último Guerrero before CMLL turned him back into his more natural role.
But back to Mistico, for 2006 proved to be the year he took the leap from top star to biggest star in Mexico. He would go onto win the CMLL World Tag Team Championships with Negro Casas (the first of two reigns the team would have), won the Leyenda de Plata tournament for the first time and started his first major feud with a luchador known as Black Warrior. The nephew of Blue Panther, Warrior had been a consistent presence in CMLL over the past decade, mostly working as a technico. After he and Mistico failed to win the CMLL Tag Team Championships though, Warrior snapped and turned on his partner, igniting a feud that would burn all the way to the 73rd Aniversario. The show would actually draw less fans than the previous year (17,000 compared to 18,500 for the 72nd Aniversario), but by this point CMLL had begun eliminating seats due to the construction of an elaborate stage, making the show a sellout anyway. And that sellout watched Mistico pick up his first big Apuesta win by slaying Warrior in an excellent three fall match. It was designed to solidify Mistico as the man, but in reality it just confirmed it. By the time 2006 was over, the Aniversario was just another one of the eighteen shows Mistico headlined that year that drew north of 10,000 people. And not just the big shows or the Friday show; we’re talking the Tuesday and Sunday show’s CMLL was running in Arena Mexico as well (by this point CMLL’s schedule was a show in Arena Puebla on Monday, Arena Mexico and Guadalajara on Tuesday, Arena Mexico again on Friday, Arena Coliseo on Saturday and Arena Mexico on Sunday). He was such a draw that he was voted the Best Draw of 2006 by Wrestling Observer Newsletter readers and would eventually be named the Best Draw of the decade. At long last, CMLL had found the next top draw to follow in the footsteps of El Santo, Blue Demon, El Solitario, Konnan and Vampiro.
For the next four years Mistico dominated CMLL. He won the Leyenda de Plata tournament for three consecutive years (counting his victory in 2006), continued to draw at an amazing level and headlined every Aniversario show save the 75th during this time. Naturally, the only reason he didn’t headline the 75th Aniversario during that time was because of an injury; if he had been healthy it was expected Mistico would’ve headlined against Perro Aguayo Jr. in a mask vs. hair match, arguably the biggest match CMLL could’ve put together at the time. That lost opportunity did nothing to slow down business. Under Mistico’s watch the 74th, 75th, 76th and 77th Aniversario’s respectively drew 18,000, 17,500, 18,000 and 17,500 fans. For the first time since the 90’s CMLL resembled the promotion it had been during its glory days. Mistico wasn’t the only one responsible for the success; top acts like Perros del Mal, Los Guerreros del Atlantida (renamed after Atlantis joined), Wagner, Dos Caras Jr. (future WWE star Alberto Del Rio), LA Park, Hector Garza, Shocker, La Peste Negra (a new stable formed by the Casas brothers) and Averno were holding up their end of the bargain, and CMLL was once again discovering fresh, up and coming talent like La Sombra, Máscara Dorada, El Texano Jr., El Hijo del Fantasma, Rush and LA Park’s cousin Volador Jr., luchadors who would go onto become huge stars for CMLL in the next decade. But all of them would admit that the bulk of the credit deserved to go to Mexico. Before him CMLL was doing respectable business; after he came long, things got so hot it seemed like it would never cool.
But as CMLL had learned all too well, nothing lasts forever. As far back as 2007, Mistico was drawing interest from both New Japan Pro Wrestling and World Wrestling Entertainment. The former wasn’t a big deal, as New Japan and CMLL had developed a strong working relationship in 2008 that has lasted to this day (Mistico would end up working several successful tours there, including a short reign as IWGP Junior Heavyweight Champion, the second luchador in history to do so). But the WWE interested followed him throughout this time until finally, in 2011, WWE and Mistico reached an agreement that saw him leave CMLL with very little notice. His departure wasn’t the first big one; El Hijo del Santo, Dr. Wagner Jr., Perro Aguayo Jr., Hector Garza, LA Park and Dos Caras Jr. had all departed before him for AAA, WWE or the indies, with Santo’s departure earning him a spot on Paco Alonso’s black list. But none of them had the impact of Mistico. Though CMLL still had many talented luchadors to replace him with, they have still yet to find a draw at his level. Perhaps even more importantly was that Mistico was never the same himself; his WWE run would ultimately disappoint and ruin his reputation, to the point his star was greatly diminished by the time he returned to CMLL in 2015.
Chapter 19: After Mistico and Atlantis vs. Último Guerrero
The loss of Mistico was immediately felt at the 78th Aniversario, the first Aniversario without Mistico since 2004. Instead of trying to put together an Apuesta match of any performance that may have drawn, CMLL built the show around two multi-man matches; a twelve man cibernetico for the Leyenda de Plata and a ten man steel cage match where the loser got their head shaved. Fans weren’t impressed despite the talent in both matches, and the Aniversario drew only 8,400 fans, one of the lowest numbers in the history of the show. Things didn’t get better as the end of the year show Sin Piedad only drew between 6 and 7K, despite being headlined by Blue Panther and Felino in a hair match. Luckily for CMLL that match was above average and served to build to an even bigger hair match at Homenaje a Dos Leyendas 2012 between Panther and Negro Casas. The match was a contradiction; at 52 and 51 years old respectively, Casas and Panther were the last guys who, in theory, should’ve been headlining a major show like this. Amazingly both Panther and Casas remained as good as ever, and they proceeded to prove critics wrong with a Match of the Year candidate in front of 12,000 fans. The 79th Aniversario continued the trend of good CMLL shows that year with three more match of the year candidates; an unforgettable mask match between former AAA star Rey Cometa and Puma King (the son of Felino and nephew of Negro Casas), an excellent undercard trios match where young stars La Sombra, Titán and Ángel de Oro defeated the Japanese stable La Ola Amarilla (featuring New Japan stars Desperado and Taichi) and a very good hair match between top technico Rush and journeyman El Terrible in the main event. The critical acclaim didn’t move tickets however; the show drew 11,500 fans, up from last year’s Aniversario but down from Homenaje a Dos Leyendas. Even worse, fans wholeheartedly rejected the coronation of Rush, a good looking, very smooth worker who otherwise seemed to have the charisma of a blank TV screen. Clearly, CMLL needed something to help stem the loss of Mistico and the failure of Rush to catch on.
Enter veteran stars Atlantis and Último Guerrero. The two had spent the first part of the 00’s as enemies before becoming friends, forming the wildly popular rudo stable Los Guerreros del Atlantida. But by 2011 it was clear the money was more in the two feuding than teaming, and Atlantis turned technico again to begin a rivalry that would last three years. As time went on it became clear that CMLL had a real winner; though he had never been the consistent draw that others had been, Atlantis’ mask had become so legendary that any Apuesta match he had immediately became must see. Likewise, Guerrero was considered by many to be one of the best workers in the world over the past decade, a man who could impress in singles, tag and trios action with any sort of opponent. There was no doubt that with the right build up Atlantis vs. Último Guerrero could be the biggest Apuesta match since Atlantis vs. Villano III; the only question was when to do it. This question was further complicated by the fact that CMLL had another hot feud going between two of its best young luchadors, La Sombra and Volador Jr. Still in his early 20’s, La Sombra did not yet have Mistico’s drawing power but he was already regarded as an otherworldly talent who, like Mistico, was being watched closely by New Japan and WWE. Volador Jr. was meanwhile considered one of the fastest, most natural luchadors in the world, following in the footsteps of his father Volador and his cousin LA Park. Just like Atlantis and UG, Sombra and Volador had once been good friends who ended up being better rivals. It was just a question of when to pull the trigger.
CMLL made certain the question for one of those matches would be answered at the 80th Aniversario, yet another “biggest show in CMLL history” to go along with all the others. Wanting to sell this show out, CMLL began planning and promoting the show a year in advance, originally signaling that Atlantis-Guerrero would be the main event. When Sombra-Volador continued to gain heat, CMLL made the first of several controversial decisions by Revelos Suicide match with Atlantis/Guerrero taking on Sombra/Volador, with the winning team facing off in an Apuesta match in the main event. The decision raised some eyebrows but most paid no mind; surely CMLL would go with the match every fan wanted right? Those folks were in for a rude awakening on September 13th, 2013, when Atlantis and Guerrero were defeated Sombra and Volador. Shit hit the fan as the sold out Arena Mexico nearly rioted, booing the semi-main event (a trios title match featuring Máscara Dorada, Valiente and a brand new Mistico taking on Dragón Rojo Jr., Pólvora and Rey Escorpion) and the Sombra-Volador match. It seemed like a huge mistake by CMLL at the time but their logic was sound; why would they give away Atlantis-Guerrero on a card they had already sold out without it when they could run the match next year and do bigger numbers? On top of that, the booing did little to prevent the Aniversario from being CMLL’s best show of the year, thanks to a great Averno-Blue Panther hair match, the semi-main and the main event, which many critics considered to be the best mask match since Atlantis-Villano. As it turns out, CMLL’s booking of this show would be some of the best decision making they ever made both short and long term.
Off the momentum of the Aniversario, 2014 would go onto be the best year CMLL had had since Mistico left. Volador, despite losing his mask, suddenly made the leap from ultra skilled rudo to one of the company’s top technicos. The exotico Máximo Sexy (son of Brazo de Plata) also became a household name, both for his antics and his underrated big match skills. Máscara Dorada, an unsung hero for CMLL ever since his debut, made the leap towards becoming one of the best luchadors in the world with awe inspiring performances in even the most meaningless of matches. The veterans like Negro Casas, Blue Panther and Mephisto continued to be a reliable presence, called on to shepherd the new superstars and put on great performances. And for the 9,000th time, CMLL showcased awesome new talent, this time via a competition called En Busca en un Ídolo. This unique competition had been run by CMLL before, but almost all agreed that the 2014 version was the best, introducing Mexico to several amazing young luchadors like Barbaro Cavernario (the spiritual successor to Cavernario Galindo), Dragón Lee, Soberano Jr., Star Jr., The Panther (Blue Panther’s youngest son) and Monterrey star Rey Hechicero.
Of course, the main focus remained the Atlantis-Último Guerrero feud, which remained strong as CMLL built and built towards their 81st Aniversario headliner, hoping that Atlantis-Guerrero would be the type of match that would resemble what the Aniversario (and CMLL) used to be. Instead it did something even bigger; not only did the show draw over 17,000 fans but, because ticket prices were raised, the 81st Aniversario became the first CMLL show to draw over $1 million US. How big is that; only Vince McMahon’s WWE has ever accomplished that same feat in North America. If there were still some who disagreed with CMLL’s decision to hold off Atlantis-Guerrero another year, they didn’t now. Even better; the show was awesome from beginning to end, with a great undercard of trios matches, Cavernario cementing himself as a star with an Apuesta victory over Rey Cometa and Negro Casas finally getting one over Rush when he and Shocker defeated Rush and his pal La Máscara in the semi-main. As usual the main event stole the show; though some argued Sombra-Volador from a year before had been a better match, no one could deny that Atlantis-Último Guerrero was as heated and dramatic as mask match in recent memory. Ultimately Atlantis prevailed the same way he did fourteen years ago against Villano III, catching Guerrero in La Atlantida and dropping to his knees for the submission. The similarities didn’t end there, as the post match became the first mask match to convey the same sort of emotion since Villano’s famous speech. It truly felt like CMLL had captured the magic back for the first time since Mistico had departed. And they weren’t done.
Chapter 20: Los Ingobernables, Present Day CMLL, and the Future
The other big thing to happen in 2014 was the fall of La Sombra. Once a beloved technico, the fan rejection at the 80th Aniversario led to him having a down 2014, where he was actually left off the 81st Aniversario card. His saving grace turned out to be Rush. Just like Sombra, Rush had once been the chosen one before the fans turned on him. So the two, along with La Máscara and former WWE/WCW star Mark Jindrak (now known as Marco Corleone) formed a stable that would reshape CMLL and eventually New Japan. Los Ingobernables (The Unruly) quickly became one of the coolest things in wrestling, a group of luchadors who were too cool for the fans, for their opponents and for CMLL itself. It liberated each member in it, most notably Rush and Sombra. But while Rush focused most of his time on Negro Casas, Sombra set his sights on Atlantis. Why not; after all, Atlantis was one of the main reasons why fans rejected Sombra at the 80th Aniversario. By humiliating Atlantis and taking his mask, Sombra could prove all the fans and all the critics that they had been wrong to doubt him, to boo him. And so Atlantis vs. La Sombra became the next big CMLL match, once again making the promotion look like geniuses for holding Atlantis-Último Guerrero off. Not only had it created two huge paydays, it looked like it was about to make a third.
Unfortunately, the 82nd Aniversario did not turn out to be as big as the 80th or 81st. Admittedly the show was hurt by both Dr. Wagner Jr. and LA Park backing out (by choice and by force), but the 14,300 fans who came to see Atlantis-Sombra (down a couple thousand from the last two Aniversario’s) still stung, as did the disappointing undercard. Yet again though, the main event lived up to expectations, with Sombra and Atlantis somehow managing to top both the Sombra-Volador and Atlantis-Guerrero matches in terms of quality. They even managed to fit in one last surprise; Atlantis, who many expected to finally drop the mask, emerged victorious with that legendary La Atlantida, unmasking La Sombra to the delight of the many ladies in Arena Mexico. It turned out to be the right decision, as Sombra was soon out the door and on the way to WWE by the end of the year and Atlantis, at 53 years old, had somehow become the top draw in Mexico. To lose his mask to a departing luchador would’ve been foolish, and CMLL wisely thought against it.
Unfortunately, it’s largely considered to be the last smart decision CMLL made. The last two years for the promotion have, for the most part, been a far cry from 2014-2015, not to mention the glory years. In addition to Sombra, Máscara Dorada (who had already left CMLL for a one year stint in New Japan throughout 2015) would leave for WWE in late 2015, taking away one of CMLL’s most valuable upper midcarders. The original Mistico returned as Carístico, only with his reputation now in shambles, while the new Mistico continued to struggle to establish himself as a top star (despite showing real talent). Worst of all, the CMLL front office began to display an alarming amount of incompetence and complacency. The effort to put together decent feuds and good cards decreased, nepotism (always a problem within the company) became far more prevalent and the promotion began to gear itself more towards drawing tourists than actual fans. In other words, the bad qualities began to outweigh the many great qualities CMLL had.
And there were many; the annual Friday show (Super Viernes) remains one of the most consistently enjoyable wrestling programs around, Volador stepped up and became CMLL’s best star (and the best luchador in the world), Dragón Lee became a star thanks to one of the greatest rivalries of the modern era with New Japan star Hiromu Takahashi and a great mask victory over La Máscara at the 83rd Aniversario, the core veteran group of Atlantis, Blue Panther, Negro Casas and Último Guerrero kept everything steady and as always, CMLL continued to discover amazing, fresh young talent like El Cuatrero, Forastero and Sansón, the sons of Cien Caras. The tools for CMLL to be great again remain there if those in charge could get motivated. Case in point; the 84th Aniversario, which took place just last night (as of this writing) and was headlined by two unusual Apuesta matches; Princesa Sugehit vs. Zeuxis (the first ever luchadoras Apuesta match in Aniversario history) and Niebla Roja vs. Gran Guerrero (Último’s younger brother). Due to CMLL’s complacency and mailed in promotion, Roja-Guerrero went in ice cold and while Zeuxis-Sugehit was dismissed by some due to CMLL’s terrible track record of booking luchadoras (indeed, they’ve been so bad that it’s taken till now to bring the luchadoras up in this series). And yet, despite a poor crowd and poor build, both Apuesta matches were huge successes, and arguably the two best matches CMLL has put together this year. Only WWE has the ability to stink up the joint leading to a big show and then pull the rabbit out of the hat like CMLL does.
So that’s it. That is CMLL throughout the first 84 years, from Salvador Lutteroth all the way to Niebla Roja vs. Gran Guerrero. It’s been a wild ride, featuring some of the best wrestlers ever, the best matches ever and the best moments ever, as well as the exact opposite of all those things. And while it’s easy to be frustrated with what CMLL is now, it’s hard not to be grateful for them. After all, this is the promotion that gave us El Santo, Blue Demon, Solitario, Mistico, Atlantis, Negro Casas, Arena Mexico, the Aniversario and so much more. Even other promotions like AAA and Lucha Underground may not be here if CMLL hadn’t paved the way. It be easy (and not wrong) to sit here and wonder whether there’s another 84 years of success, especially right now when CMLL frustrates so many. And unfortunately that day will come, as it will for all wrestling promotions (including WWE); as with everything else in life, all things must come to an end. But whether CMLL lasts another 84 years or closes up shop tomorrow doesn’t really matter. What matters is that 84 years ago, a former soldier turned property inspector named Salvador Lutteroth started a wrestling promotion on his life savings and a little bit of hope and turned it into the most consistent, enduring promotion in the history of professional wrestling and lucha libre. More than any luchador, any match and any building, that is the legacy of Consejo Mundial de Lucha Libre.
Special thanks to Matt Farmer for giving me the correct information on lucha libre’s origin in part one and to Luchawiki, the most reliable website for information on lucha libre anywhere in the world.
lufan on April 06, 2019:
Brian on September 20, 2017:
And who was the face of CMLL during this time