“Because this is Lucha Underground, and that’s what we do.”
Matt Striker was talking to his broadcast partner Vampiro about why a wrestler would risk his life, but his answer applies to many questions wrestling fans might have about the El Rey network’s Lucha Underground show. Why are there so many filmed vignettes? Why do men and women fight each other regularly? Why is the world champion a masked death god who murders characters in storyline?
Because this is Lucha Underground. This isn’t like any wrestling you’ve watched before: it combines the acrobatic theatricality of Mexican lucha libre with the grindhouse trash art aesthetic of its producer Robert Rodriguez, resulting in an unparalleled piece of righteous trash that’s part wrestling and part Roger Corman B-movie.
Last night was the third episode of season two, and it was full of awesome and ridiculous moments that wouldn’t sit easily within more traditional forms of pro wrestling. One vignette rewound the show’s timeline to a thousand years ago, where the time-traveling cosmic wayfarer Aerostar met a young girl who told him that gods in the form of men would arrive a millennium from now, at a time when one hero would need to unite the tribes. Aerostar, looking a bit like an Iron Man knockoff toy, took to the stars to travel to today. The episode ended with a scene that could’ve been from any low-rent cop action film, as wrestler Ricky Reyes was revealed to be an undercover cop working in Lucha Underground to bring down the show’s crooked promoter, Dario Cueto. Joey Ryan, the long-time indie star who’s recently become an internet sensation with his penis-based offense, debuted as another cop ready to go undercover to fix Reyes’s mess. If you’ve ever seen Joey Ryan, you know that he’d be perfect as a sleazy cop in a ‘70s drive-through flick.
Beyond debuting a new woman wrestler named Kobra Moon and showcasing a fine match between Jack Evans and Drago (a masked wrestler who, within the storyline, is an actual dragon taking the form of a man in order to wrestle), the main thrust of last night’s episode was furthering the drama between Mil Muertes, King Cuerno and Fenix. Muertes, the man of a 1000 deaths, still rules the Lucha Underground temple with his ghost-like assistant Catrina. The two struck a deal with the hunter Cuerno when he won the Gift of the Gods championship from Fenix in the season premiere: Cuerno would forego his right to challenge Muertes for the Lucha Underground championship, and Muertes would leave Cuerno alone. Their loose alliance is already crumbling, though; early this episode Fenix shows he’s still not afraid of Muertes, and vows to destroy both him and Catrina. Catrina threatens Cuerno that Muertes will cancel their deal if Cuerno doesn’t destroy Fenix, and makes a “Last Luchador Standing” match between the two. (Catrina and Mil Muertes are currently filling the authority figure role normally held by Dario Cueto, and thus have the ability to make matches.)
The Last Luchador Standing match combined brutal hardcore action with the crisp timing and athletic displays expected from lucha libre. Cuerno and Fenix hurled themselves throughout Lucha Underground’s set, culminating in a battle to climb atop Dario Cueto’s office. As Cuerno followed Fenix on a ladder, Fenix quickly kicked it away, sending his opponent through a table below in the big spot of the night. The ref counted to ten and Fenix won the match, angering the champion Muertes, who looked on from his throne of skull and bone.
Another vignette between Catrina and Prince Puma revealed that Konnan, Puma’s mentor from the first season, was dead in storyline. Konnan, a Mexican superstar well-known in America for his time with the NWO in WCW, is very much alive in the real world. Lucha Underground isn’t the first wrestling promotion to officially kill off characters, but they might be the first to do it on national TV.
Wrestling is already a fantasy. At its best, it’s at least somewhat believable. Think the feuds between Ric Flair and Dusty Rhodes, Bret Hart and Steve Austin, or Daniel Bryan and the Authority. Lucha Underground, which many fans refer to as a TV show about wrestling instead of a wrestling TV show, starts at a level just outside the realm of the believable, and then flies to absurd lengths from there. It completely works, though, with its comic book absurdity brought to life through high production values and committed performances from skilled wrestlers. Don’t compare it to Raw or Ring of Honor; compare it to something you’d see on SyFy, but with a considerable amount of self-awareness. Last night’s episode reinforced its ample strengths and its minor weaknesses, and continues what has so far been a great second season.