Tonight kicks off one of the most loaded non-WrestleMania weekends in recent memory. If you include MMA, there are a whopping three major shows tonight (CMLL, ROH, and World Series of Fighting), one tomorrow night (Bellator MMA’s first annual “Dynamite” event), and then WWE Night of Champions on Sunday. Being English language products, you probably know all you want to know about most of them, but not the CMLL show (available live for $10 U.S. at CMLL.Cleeng.com)…even though it may very well go down historically as the biggest of the weekend.
The show is being headlined by Atlantis vs. La Sombra in a mask vs. mask match, the highest stakes in all of lucha libre. Sombra is one of CMLL’s top younger stars, while Atlantis is the longest tenured and most beloved legends. He’s headlined more anniversary shows than anyone other than El Santo, the biggest and most revered star in lucha libre history, and was responsible for the last two years’ shows drawing the biggest gates in the history of Mexican wrestling.
Last year, he defeated former partner and long-time rival Ultimo Guerrero to take his mask. As big a moment as Brock Lesnar ending The Undertaker’s WrestleMania win streak was, it couldn’t touch the mask match for overall emotion.
This year’s main event doesn’t have the years-long build of last year’s, and was hastily thrown together to draw another huge house, but the result is incredibly difficult to predict. At 52, Atlantis doesn’t exactly have much time left in his career, but at 25, La Sombra has enough time ahead of him that he could easily overhaul his image. Atlantis losing is a very real possibility, and that is what makes this a must-watch; it’s the type of wrestling history that comes along very rarely.
He’s successfully defended the mask at least (records in Mexico are often sketchy) 17 times since 1984, when he won the mask of Talisman in the anniversary show main event as a rookie. There are very few masks of this stature left to be won that have any real prospects of actually happening. It’s hard to find a close American equivalent, but The Undertaker’s streak is the easiest comparison to understand.
With such a big main event, CMLL hasn’t really stacked the undercard, though there is one big match that ties into WWE news. Dark Angel, real nam Sarah Stock, is leaving CMLL after this show to take a coaching job at the WWE Performance Center. She’s effectively replacing Sara Amato (the former Sara Del Rey), who’s moving to a full time main roster producer/trainer position. Stock was so popular on smaller shows that CMLL gave her a shot when they weren’t booking women regularly, and she impressed so much that the luchadoras have become a company fixture. She’ll be facing Princesa Sugey, a long-time rival.
If you weren’t happy with the wrestling on the AAA TripleMania pay-per-view recently, don’t let that keep you from checking out this show. CMLL and AAA are very different, with AAA being more reliant on run-ins and the like, while CMLL much more old-school, sometimes to a fault. Their cards are generally a mix of more traditional lucha libre and high flying with the likes of the current Mistico (the one who replaced the man who became the original Sin Cara and is now Myzteziz in AAA) who do some of the best high flying in the world. Of the veterans, most can still go, especially Negro Casas. The style will look weird, idiosyncratic, and sometimes overly cooperative if you’re not familiar with it, but once you get used to it, you realize that great lucha libre is the best type of wrestling.
As far as rules and other things to keep in mind to understand the in-match storylines, here’s what you need to know:
- All matches are best two out of three falls unless otherwise specified (“a una caida”).
- Trios matches are captain’s fall rules: To win a fall, you must pin the captain or both of his partners.
- In all tag team matches, tags are not required. You can jump in as soon as your partner hits the floor.
- Piledrivers (“el martinete’), low blows (usually referred to as “fouls”), and removing the mask of an opponent are the most common rule violations. Piledriver variations are protected as the most dangerous moves in all of lucha libre.
- Submissions are, in a way, treated more like they would be in a shoot: The struggle is about not getting into the hold as opposed to being put in a hold and teasing rope escapes, counters, etc. While tap outs happen in lucha libre, you’re more likely to see the submitting wrestler wave his hands with the signal to the fans being the referee waving his arms to end the fall/match.
- A lot of the exchanges are based on one-upmanship, both on the mat and when exchanging flying moves. Take that into account in terms of understanding how the psychology differs from American and Japanese style pro wrestling.
- Atlantis’s finisher is La Atlantida, a variation of the Human Torture Rack/Argentine Backbreaker. Last year, the way he beat Ultimo Guerrero was a callback to his most famous mask win, his one fall victory over Villano III in 2000: Getting him in the hold, then dropping to his knees to “add leverage.” If that happens, he’s probably about to win.
The internet PPV of the anniversary show won’t be saved as an on demand stream or download, so if you’re trying to choose between CMLL and ROH, choose CMLL: You might witness some once in a lifetime wrestling history.