There is more out there for wrestling fans than just World Wrestling Entertainment’s products; a fact I yell at anyone who will listen. I am a huge wrestling fan, so I watch whatever I can, from many different places. WWE is the best known with the farthest reach, but it is far from the only game in town. TNA, NJPW, RoH, AAA, and the new GFW are all viable options, just to name a few, but I think I have found one that old and new, as well as casual and hardcore, fans alike should really give some attention. Lucha Underground on the El Rey network may have been one of the best available wrestling shows in a long time, and here’s why.
Let’s go ahead and get the obvious one out of the way. Lucha Underground simply has some of the best all around athletic talent that wrestling fans can find on television currently. The roster boasts some of the best high-fliers, brawlers, big men, and even a few micro-wrestlers who have each proven their willingness to leave it all on the mat and across the steel just to entertain their fans. Many of these luchadores break the stereotypes of their weight class and appearances every episode, surprising even the most cynical fan. The show has just finished its first season and already has an impressive highlight reel to pull viewers in while still continuing to raise the bar.
This collection of luchadores holds blood from new and old wrestlers, who American viewers have not met many of previously. They have a working talent exchange with the AAA promotion so that fans see greats like Alberto El Patron and Texano as well as several other established independent stars the fledgling show has attracted. Several former WWE and TNA superstars are also making guest appearances and doing longer runs, like the amazing Johnny Mundo (Morrison), but none of this overshadows the new stars that the company is creating. This is a temple of opportunity for any wrestler looking to make a name or cement it.
Lucha Underground offers something no other wrestling show does currently; a different style of production quality. It isn’t just about money, but style and tone as well. The show has a kind of grindhouse kung fu movie feel, which is no surprise when viewers find out that it is director Robert Rodriguez taking up the producer role of the show. Dario Cueto’s temple (the arena) is small and personal feeling with vibrant colors and plenty of set pieces that the wrestlers make good use of. The announcer’s table is close to the ring and often one step away from being involved in the action, and there is a raised stage for a band to open and close the program.
The key part of the presentation though is the backstage elements. The normal wrestling promos and encounters are replaced by film quality scenes with amateur actors and concise interviews, all possessing a dynamic quality. Each of these short bits feels like a scene from a variety of movies and all are entertaining and mysterious. They are primarily what runs the overarching plot for the entire show and incorporate supernatural elements. The great thing is that each manages to help build a character or progress a storyline without feeling too similar to the previous scenes.
Robert Rodriguez’s influence is all over this one. In the style of a gritty revenge flick, a mysterious promoter named Dario Cueto has opened up his temple to find the best Luchadores through his twisted games. He offers up medallions from Aztec mythology and chances at the belt alike, but in a world that brushes so close to the ancient magics, there is much more going on in the background. There is in fact one large overarching storyline that has been going on since the first episode, but it is just recently matured and is still easy to follow. So many elements of the story here feel like a movie that even those who do not want to go back and watch the old episodes will have no trouble picking up what is happening because of its film-esque format. The smaller storylines are done very well. They feel more personal and it is not hard to figure out why two people are fighting. In case it does happen though, the announcers are there to remind fans why a match is taking place without having to constantly run long replays or beat something into the ground. The story leaves realism behind, but makes its own world that it fills quite well.
One of Lucha Underground’s big draws is its variety. The show wants to stay fresh and it does that by keeping the match types interesting. The company has already had a set of ladder matches, a cage and a casket, as well as an iron man match that took up the whole show. This works great as long as they do not go to the well too many times, but so far each of the previously mentioned matches has been excellent. They are cycling talent in and out of the title pictures and most wrestlers do not appear on back-to-back episodes for in-ring action. This keeps fans from getting too tired of one star because they are in a match every episode and allows them a cool down after a big match or defeat. They also have a trios division instead of the traditional two man tag teams fans are used to in the states, with some interesting champions holding the belts.
What is really different about Lucha Underground is how the female wrestlers are integrated. There are only a few in the promotion currently, but two of them (with a third waiting in the wings) have been proving they are tougher than their male counterparts, as Sexy Star and Ivelisse battle against the men, participate in ladder matches, as well as take their share of chair shots and hard bumps. Not everyone is a fan of the intergender matches, but I think the other companies should take some notes on how women’s wrestling can be done.
It is hard for new fans to get into wrestling shows, because there are often multiple plots going on, some of which call back to the promotion’s long history or require fans to be familiar with other wrestlers for everything to make sense. That is not the case with this program. There is only one hour a week to keep up with, which is a relief for those who cannot watch the seven hours a week WWE provides and it is much harder to get bored with only sixty minutes to fill. Feuds are usually short, consisting of about three or four bouts on average, making it less likely that fans will be stuck in a match series they hate and that new fans have more opportunities to jump in and get the full story. Also, though many of the competitors here wear masks and may not be known to viewers, each has something to help them stand out, and the announcing team is good at filling in important history and little factual tidbits where needed. Lucha Underground feels tight and consistent while still holding on to most of the normal wrestling tropes. It is inviting for those who are looking for exciting eye-catching action and want to have a good time.
This article was written mostly in the present tense because I wanted to avoid spoilers from Ultima Lucha for those that have yet to see it (which everyone should) and I am keeping hope alive that we will see a new season of this awesome show in its full glory soon, but the details about that still seem to be up in the air. Here I am doing my part though, making sure more people know about the awesome wrestling they are missing.