How Lucha Underground Made Me a Wrestling Fan Again
I remember reading this quote when A$AP Yams, of the highly innovative and entertaining Hip-Hop collective A$AP Mob, passed away in 2015, and being disappointed in myself. It had been nearly a decade since I felt that way about professional wrestling. Professional wrestling to me had become the equivalent of what Hip-Hop was to Common when he rapped "I Used to Love H.E.R." I used to love every entrance, every match, every finisher. I used to wrestle with my brother, getting rug burns on the living room carpet. I used to make up my own personas, back stories, and moves, cutting my own promos and conducting my own locker room interviews, practicing the move sets on worn out mattresses. I remember the props I got from my classmates when I wrote and recited a poem for my freshman year poetry project titled "Get the 'F' Out," about the WWF to WWE name change. Wrestling was a pervasive aspect of the formative years of my life.
But sometime shortly after I wrote that poem, I began to lose interest. As I progressed through high school, wrestling became less exciting to me. I would still tune in occasionally to keep tabs on The Rock, or Stone Cold Steve Austin, or Rey Mysterio Jr., but it was nowhere close to the voracious consumption that characterized most of my youth. I no longer had the desire to sit down and watch a whole episode of WWE RAW or SmackDown (I don't remember ECW being easily accessible on TV at this time). The feuds and the premises for the matches began to seem petty to me, and difficult to buy-in to. The promo to wrestling ratio seemed unbalanced, and I felt like wrestlers spent more time talking than fighting. I have no empirical evidence to back these feelings up, just the somewhat sudden and inexplicable loss of interest in something that had been a huge influence in my life up to that point. Ironically, this is the same time that I began to grow in my love for comic books, something also associated with perpetual youth. But the battles that played out in the comic book panels seemed so much more epic and important than what I was seeing play out in the WWE ring.
When I read the above quote by A$AP Yams, it evoked a nostalgic admiration for his perspective, but I never thought I would feel that way about wrestling again. Then, I discovered Lucha Underground, the original professional wrestling program on Robert Rodriguez's El Rey Network (a brilliant channel devoted to exploitation style action, horror, and martial arts flicks).
Lacking a cable subscription, I did not see a full episode of the show until midway through it's second season, but when I did, I fell back in love instantly. I immediately sought out all the Lucha Underground content I could find, watching all of the Fight of the Week, Featurettes, and Weekly Highlight videos on El Rey's YouTube channel, reading the comic books, researching the wrestlers and their histories, and reading and watching breakdowns and reviews of previous episodes (my favorite of which are AfterBuzz TV's weekly reviews). I even bought my first wrestling t-shirt in about 15 years. By time Ultima Lucha Dos (Lucha Underground's season finale and biggest event) aired, I had consumed more professional wrestling content in a three month period, than at any point in my life. Not only had I fallen in love with wrestling again, I loved it in ways I never knew I could. For me, Lucha Underground was not simply capturing the feeling of professional wrestling's glory days and repackaging it. LU was pushing professional wrestling into all new territories. It did something I had never seen a professional wrestling promotion do before; it completely and unabashedly bought into its own mythos.
Lucha Underground is sports entertainment with the epic scope and feel of comic books. LU grounds its show in myth, and not reality, one-upping Vince McMahon's acknowledgement that wrestling is scripted drama. In doing this, it has found seemingly endless inspiration for stories and conflicts. Have a character that dresses up like a dragon? Promote him as an actual dragon who spits venom, breathes fire, and even transforms and flies away in backstage segments. Have a character named Aero Star? Bill him as being a time traveling astronaut from the cosmos. Have a terrifying big bad who goes by the name of Mil Muertes? Turn him into the actual embodiment of death, who presides over the promotion in a Shao Kahn style fashion, establish a conflict in which this embodiment of death repeatedly faces off with Fenix, a character with the ability to reincarnate, and build to a climax where life literally defeats death by stuffing him into a casket in a "Grave Consequences" match. And honestly, this is just the tip of the iceberg. One of the promotion's greatest matches involved a character named Killshot, with a background as a Marine, fighting in a "Weapons of Mass Destruction" match, with actual military weapons and props (his opponent, Marty the Moth, even walked to the ring with a machine gun). What was even more impressive about this match is how great it was, despite these two characters really only playing supporting roles in the promotion up to this point. I could go on for days: a teleporting ghost; a ninja skeleton; a hunter from the Highlands of Guerrero Mexico; a vampire master who pulls strings from the shadowy depths of the temple (the setting of the wrestling promotion); Rey Mysterio Jr!!!!!; a hometown hero from Boyle Heights who may or may not be an actual puma (and is the actual best independent wrestler in the world: Ricochet); the baby brother of the promoter, who is a face-eating, god-embodying, serial killer, kept locked in a cage until it is time for him to fight. If you've imagined it, or haven't, it probably wrestles in the Lucha Underground Temple.
Maybe more important than the diversity of these characters is the diversity of their portrayal. The Lucha Underground roster is a mix of wrestlers from Mexico's AAA promotion, former WWE and WCW competitors, Japan's stardom promotion, and wrestlers from the independent circuit. Women fight right alongside men in matches that progress in very believable ways. The promotion even crowned its first female champion in Season 3. On top of this, the show is set in Boyle Heights, Los Angeles, while lovingly drawing inspiration from Mexican mythology. There are a variety of characters with depth and complex motivations, and a wrestler and a story for everyone to relate to. Lucha Underground is providing a template for the future of sports entertainment.
But most important is the fact that the wrestling is incredible. A true hybrid of Mexican, American, Japanese, and every style in between, Lucha Underground thrills match after match. With a one hour weekly run time, and a seasonal filming format, the show gives you just enough to keep you wanting more. A barrage of "Holy Shit!" moments flood the screen, with dazzling displays of technical wrestling, groundbreaking moves, and characters jumping off of and being thrown through things that were only reserved for Pay-Per-Views back when I watched wrestling as a kid. I do not believe that I have the authority or knowledge to claim that LU is better wrestling than WWE, NXT, or the independent circuit, but it does capture and maintain a death-defying pace and approach that I have never personally experienced in my wrestling viewing history. LU consistently leaves me wondering how they will top themselves next week, and then they consistently do.
By this point, hopefully I have you intrigued about what has become one of my favorite TV shows, because Lucha Underground is on the brink of something huge. Lucha Underground Seasons 1 & 2 are scheduled to begin streaming on Netflix on March 15, 2017. This gives you time to catch up on all of the action prior to the show returning to television for the second half of its 3rd season, May 31, 2017, on El Rey Network. This may be a good opportunity for you to fall in love with professional wrestling all over again too.