wrestling / Columns

The 8 Ball: Top 8 Reasons Why Lucha Underground is the Best Wrestling Show on TV

June 15, 2015 | Posted by Mike Hammerlock
Johnny Mundo Prince Puma Ricochet Lucha Underground

Top 8 Reasons Why Lucha Underground is the Best Wrestling Show on TV

Before I get into this week’s column, a quick note about last week’s: got more than 1,400 responses on the poll of whether Roman Reigns should win Money in the Bank and almost 80% of you said yes. That’s pretty much the photo negative of a similar poll I did earlier in the year about whether Reigns should win the Royal Rumble. I suspect the “yes’ voters will get their wish, so let’s hope the WWE does something cool with it.

Now onto this week’s topic, where the Magic 8-Ball will attempt to explain why Lucha Underground rules the roost when it comes to televised wrestling programs. For those of you who don’t get the El Rey Network, like me, you can watch most of it via LU’s social media feeds or all of it in Spanish on your local UniMas station (just type Lucha Underground into your DVR search and it should pop up). Just find it and you’ll be watching the most cutting edge pro wrestling show to come along in the 21st century. Now here’s why:

8. Camp

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The folks who put Lucha Underground together remembered one critical thing – dammit, this is supposed to be fun. We’ve gotten Black Lotus kidnapped and shown bound and gagged in the trunk of a speeding car (a la Sin City) only to be rescued by El Dragon Azteca, a luchador who instructs her in the martial arts (because who else would teach a person kung fu?). We’ve gotten Big Ryck’s eye getting burned out, and his subsequent eye patch. We’ve gotten Bael getting straight up killed by Matanza, with a major blood splatter. Lucha Underground exists in the Rodrigueverse, where smoking hot women and bad-ass dudes collide to do improbable things. Will Santanico Pandemonium or El Mariachi show up at some point? It seems like they could and it would totally work. Lucha Underground has built itself a world where anything can happen. Kane storylines would actually work in Lucha Underground. And we are so early days on this. We’re watching the baby steps of them pushing the creative envelope. A few years down the road (and in a just and fair universe LU gets there) they’ll have angles that will be like Breaking Bad meets Bikini Beach meets Kill la Kill. It’s taken the Chikara idea of a wrestling comic book come to life and run with it. You dare not miss an episode because you don’t want to miss what they do next.

7. Ground Zero

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I can’t prove the LU audience is the happiest group of people ever to buy tickets to see a live wrestling show, but they seem like they’re having a blast. Somewhere between the live bands, the crazy storylines and the in-ring action, the audience is buying in 100%. It makes a huge impression on the viewer at home too. When you see and hear an audience marking out like that, it’s infectious. Because LU plays so well in the room, it translates through the video feed. It brings you along for the ride. Most of all it sends the message that pro wrestling can be a rockin’ good time. That crowd isn’t the least bit self-conscious or apologetic. It’s having more fun than humans should be allowed watching a pro wrestling show. It feels like there might even be a movement underfoot. I remember having a similar feeling back in like 1989 when I saw the Pixies open for Jane’s Addiction in a tiny club. The crowd was euphoric. It was like this was going to be the next big thing and you got to see it before everybody else. I’m not saying LU is going to overtake the WWE and conquer the world, but I am saying LU is greasing the skids for pro wrestling to regain its cool factor. LU has bottled genuine excitement.

6. El Jefe

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When the basic outline of Lucha Underground being run by a heel authority figure was revealed it was justifiably greeted with a groan. Not that overused gimmick again. Then we got introduced to the genius that is Dario Cueto – slimy, venal and sadistic. He’s a spider who loves to watch the flies struggle when they get caught in the webs he’s always spinning. He solves problems with stacks of cash. Every gift he gives you turns into a monkey’s paw. Once you see LU, it makes perfect sense that it was put together by a sinister madman. No norm is going to do something like this. Best of all, Cueto always building on his supercilious character. Recently Johnny Mundo sent Alberto El Patron through the window of Cueto’s office. Cueto clearly was pissed off about the property damage more than one of his stars writhing in pain. The next week the Trios Championship match spilled into his office through the particle board covering his broken window. Cueto was on a phone call (old-style, twisty-cord handset) which he continued while making a priceless “get the fuck out of my office” face. His segments are focused and crisp, the opposite of the weekly Authority promo that starts Raw. You can’t help but love Cueto. The actor who plays him, Luis Fernandez-Gil, is sinking his teeth into this role and devouring it. Dude deserves an Emmy.

5. Freaky Styley

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Lucha Underground features an amped up lucha libre style. In any given show, bodies are flying everywhere. It’s an aerial spectacle. Rest holds are few and far between. LU keeps the pace high and goes big. It reminds me of Grandmaster Flash’s description of how a DJ lays down a groove, by taking the killer hook from a song and mashing it together with a sick beat. Basically it’s all highlights all the time. Only sample the best. LU is doing something similar with lucha libre, which can sometimes get a little stand-around-and-throw-punches in between big spots. LU is like an idealized lucha libre. It’s easily the most breathless wrestling style on American television. Suicidas, planchas and slingshots galore. And I firmly believe that someday, when the moment calls for amazing to climb to a new level, Prince Puma will hit an 810 splash.

4. Storytelling

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From the simmering tension between Prince Puma and his manager Konnan to Mil Muertes’ rise from the grave to the building Black Lotus/Matanza conflict to the unlikely Trios champions (Angelico, Ivelisse and Son of Havoc) to Drago’s triumphant return to the LU ring to Chavo Guerrero apparently having all of Mexico after him (because you don’t disrespect Blue Demon Jr. without consequences) to Vampiro standing up to stop the sadistic Pentagon Jr. to the blow up between Johnny Mundo and Alberto El Patron, LU has got more wrestlers with compelling storylines than any wrestling promotion on television. It probably has a lot to do with having movie and television pros guiding the show. They not only understand character, they understand story. How to build it. How to take it in unexpected and interesting directions. How to keep viewers invested in what happens next. It’s almost embarrassing how much more LU accomplishes with one hour a week compared to five hours of Raw and Smackdown. It’s amazingly satisfying to watch a weekly episodic wrestling program that constantly moves forward. LU has proven it can be done.

3. The Shimmering Underground

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The WWE has always been the gold standard when it comes to production value. It’s glitzy. It’s got the best pyro. It puts together brilliant video packages. When it comes to television production, the WWE is NFL good. TNA is all right. It’s had a slightly more guerilla presentation since it switched to Destination America, which I like, but it’s not exactly redefining the genre. If you didn’t know better when you come across ROH, you might think it’s an old AWA rerun on ESPN Classic. The production is that clunky. Lucha Underground looks unlike anything we’ve seen in wrestling. It’s industrial chic. You half expect them to start wearing Mugatu’s Derelicte line. Visually, it fits into the Rodrigueverse. It’s that sort of eclectic, hyper-real presentation that you get from a Robert Rodriguez movie. It is a wrestling show, but it’s not taking its visual cues from pro wrestling. For instance, the measuring sticks for the Lucha Underground temple aren’t Madison Square Garden or the Impact Zone, they’re the Titty Twister and Jack Rabbit Slim’s. Lucha Underground isn’t trying to ape a pro sport. It’s trying to ape Mortal Combat. It’s the most unique looking wrestling television show ever.

2. Crazy Talent

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Prince Puma (aka Ricochet) is one of the most exciting pro wrestlers on the planet. Mix in the outrageous skills of Pentagon Jr. and Fenix (who are real life brothers), then add Angelico’s freakish aerial skills and the main event stylings of Alberto El Patron and Johnny Mundo, a you’ve got a must-see roster. I could keep listing off names, but the bigger point is every week Lucha Underground is staging hot matches. A week ago Jack Evans and Argenis (who is like 25th on the depth chart) stole the show. LU can stack up against anybody when it comes to in-ring talent. It runs at a consistent, high quality level. Even though LU aspires to be more than just a wrestling show, it doesn’t shirk on the wrestling. It understands where the action is in its weekly adventure and it’s got a long list of folks to deliver it.

1. Main Events That Deliver

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One the longstanding flaws with weekly pro wrestling shows is they traditionally are trying to sell you on something that takes place outside the show. Imagine if you were a Games of Thrones fan and the Red Wedding was shifted off to a $50 pay-per-view? That would be disappointing. After decades of treating television like a tease, the WWE finally came up with a workaround with the WWE Network, where you can watch its big events for a reasonable price. New Japan has followed suit, as has Chikara (though we’ll see how much live content it produces). Yet, if you’re not paying for a specialized network there’s still only two promotions where you can see the big moments play out on your TV screen: LU and TNA. And TNA hasn’t 100% grasped the concept. LU does. We’ve gotten to see a number of epics: Puma’s Lucha Underground title win, Fenix vs. Mil Muertes, the misfit brigade of Angelico, Ivelisse and Son of Havoc winning the Trios Championship. I’m not going to sit here and insist every LU main event is an instant classic, but it does aim to close the show with a bang every week. Why? Because it’s trying to get you to come back next week. It’s the crazy proposition that if you keep on doin’ it and doin’ it and doin’ it well, people will appreciate the effort. As Lucha Underground wraps up its first season during the next two months, we’re pretty much guaranteed to see some excellent main events. It’s lifted the stakes and here come the payoffs. A wrestling show that gets you excited to see it each week and then delivers? Yes Virginia, there is a Santa Claus.

I take requests.. The purpose of this column is to look forward. What could be? What should be? What is and what should never be? What would make more sense? 411 has plenty of columns that count down and rank things that happened in the past. This is not one of those columns. The Magic 8-Ball is here to gaze into the future. If there’s someone or something you think should be given the 8-Ball treatment, mention it in the comments section. I might pick it up for future weeks.