Even taken collectively, the few other companies that actually have television deals — TNA, New Japan Pro Wrestling, Ring of Honor — don’t come close to providing WCW's level of competition. But they do offer an alternative, the most compelling of which is Lucha Underground. An upstart airing Wednesday nights on Robert Rodriguez’s burgeoning El Rey Network, the show is akin to a Mortal Kombat telenovela: Much of the drama unfolds via cinematic vignettes featuring subtitled Spanish dialogue, and supernatural powers abound. The writers even “kill off” some grapplers for good, exits that usually come at the hands (or teeth) of a monster named Matanza, whom we recently got our first real glimpse of after more than a season’s worth of sporadic offscreen deaths.
Some of this creative freedom
There's also the fact that everyone on the roster appears in other companies, often under different names: Prince Puma is known elsewhere as Ricochet, Johnny Mundo is the former John Morrison. 20 of these men and women will compete in this week’s Aztec Warfare match, a free-for-all that should provide as comprehensive an entrée for the curious as any episode yet.
The array of characters set to be featured is as diverse as it is over the top. King Cuerno walks to the ring wearing a taxidermied deer headdress like a crown. Aerostar is a mystical time traveler on a mission from the future (or past?). Mil Muertes, in accordance with the literal translation of his name, has died a thousand deaths. Joey Ryan is the embodiment of sleaze, as well as an undercover detective in a
Many of these competitors are sourced from Asistencia Asesoría y Administración (AAA), one of Mexico’s two largest promotions, but others are WWE defectors. Mundo is one of these, as is PJ Black. One of the roster’s latest additions, the South African competed under the name of Justin Gabriel for several years before asking for his release in early 2015. Black, a high-flyer whose real-life affinity for skydiving and other extreme sports informs his onscreen persona, mostly toiled in WWE’s undercard and was rarely featured prominently. As soon as he arrived in the Temple, however, the self-described "
But no one embodies the best of Lucha Underground like Pentagon Jr., easily the most evocative character on the roster — and possibly any other. With Día de
He’s also a great reminder that, by not only embracing but amplifying the ridiculousness inherent in pro wrestling, Lucha Underground outshines WWE in terms of pure audacity. Its mythos is quite possibly the silliest of its ilk — no small feat, when you remember that the Undertaker is an undead mortician who can control lightning — but it’s also presented with the utmost seriousness. There isn't a trace of self-reflexive irony to the show’s allusions to Aztec gold or the monster residing below the Temple in Boyle Heights, Los Angeles, where this bloodsport takes place. The in-ring action is high-paced and consistently excellent, but there’d be little reason to get invested in these contests were the pageantry they’re rooted in not so pulpy and fully realized.
As fantastical as it can be, Lucha Underground is also the most with-the-times show of its kind, its female characters displaying more agency than most “Divas” in WWE are ever allowed. The recently dethroned champion, Mil Muertes, is shown to be in the thrall of Catrina, a femme fatale who pulls the backstage strings and has been known to teleport; his brawn is beyond question, but hers is the brain guiding it to success. Another ongoing storyline involves the forced captivity and eventual escape of a
She and several other women are presented as serious competitors on par with their male counterparts, as when, during January’s season-two debut, Ivelisse beat two men for the right to face Mil Muertes in a championship bout later that night. The main-event match didn’t end well for her — despite having the crowd firmly in her corner, she lost decisively to her behemoth of a foe and had to be saved from his and Catrina’s antics by Prince Puma — but small victories are small victories. (Pentagon snuck up on Mil after it was all over and broke his arm, as is his
Though its ratings have been fluctuating, rumors of Lucha Underground’s demise have temporarily ceased with the recent announcement of a third season. Even so, its back remains against the wall in a way that WWE’s hasn’t been in more than 15 years — a threat that inspires ever more derring-do, both inside the ring and out.