Lucha Underground is no stranger to incredible wrestling, finding space in its roster for wrestlers with unique and innovative styles often not given time to shine in more traditional promotions. Lucha Underground makes room for stiff hits and high-flying flips, comedic bouts and match-ups with, literally, Grave Consequences. With the midseason premiere of season 3 just around the corner, Paste Wrestling has picked out the 10 best matches of the season so far to get you ready to return to Dario Cueto’s temple.
This match is fairly straightforward in the grand scheme of Lucha Underground’s ever-escalating gimmicks, but Killshot and the newly-debuted Dante Fox still manage to tell an impressive and emotional story without sending anyone flying from the rafters. From the moment he enters the ring Fox is tense and simmers with justifiable anger for a man he believes left him for dead, as Killshot goes from shocked and reluctant at having to face him to defending himself with brutal kicks. While this is their first match-up within the mythology of the show, the pair have a great ring chemistry and intensity that sell the soured camaraderie of military compatriots whose brotherhood was broken in combat.
The hallmark of Matanza Cueto’s title reign was a series of very one-sided matches against opponents chosen by Dario Cueto’s favorite new game show, “Dario’s Dial of Doom.” The dial sported the names of the Lucha Underground roster, and for weeks, Dario would choose one at random to essentially sacrifice to his brother. How, then, can a glorified squash match show up on a best-of list? The matches themselves allowed the wrestlers to look surprisingly competitive against the monster Matanza, and Matanza’s match against The Mack marked one of the first opportunities we had to see The Mack as a viable contender to the Lucha Underground championship. Mack comes flying out of the gate to fearlessly attack Matanza before the bell even rings, and in short order hits a stunner that leaves Matanza flat on his back. This match is best for showcasing Mack’s speed and ability to hit surprising moves like flying headscissors in high-pressure environments, making his eventual ascension to the number one contendership seem like a natural step in his Lucha Underground career.
This match is, all at once, a best and a worst: Johnny Mundo and Sexy Star’s best match, and one of Sexy Star’s best intergender matches on Lucha Underground, is the match where Mundo cashes in his Gift of the Gods championship to end Sexy Star’s ground-breaking title reign just one week after she claimed the belt. The match is easily one of the most emotional of the season; Sexy Star is more focused and intense than we’ve seen her before, determined to prove herself as a fighting champion. When Johnny Mundo tries to intimidate her with a little flexing, she flexes back—and puts a little fear in his eyes. She throws him across the ring and hits incredible slams that make it clear that against a fair fighter, Sexy Star would have retained her belt. Ring announcer Melissa Santos deserves praise here too: her disappointment and disdain as the underhanded Johnny Mundo leaves the ring with his belt sell his dirty tactics and the tainted nature of his victory.
Lucha Underground hasn’t always done right by Mascarita Sagrada, the only mini luchador on their roster and one of the many luchadors who found themselves stuck offering up flashes of brilliance in a series of “comical” squashes after an exciting debut in the first season. Mascarita Sagrada’s “Believers’ Backlash” match in “Ready for War” is probably the only match that has ever hit the right blend of comedy and wrestling while allowing Mascarita Sagrada to finally emerge with a victory. Famous B—a gift all throughout season 3, to be honest—sells every move and every gimmick with aplomb, and the match showcases both Famous B and Mascarita Sagrada’s wrestling skills and comic timing. Even when the Beautiful Brenda and Dr. Wagner, Jr. attempt to interfere, Mascarita Sagrada and his new best friend Son of Havoc dispatch both the interlopers without making it look like Mascarita Sagrada needed Havoc to win the match. Havoc’s gracious gift of a personalized biker vest is the perfect end to a match that proves Lucha Underground’s ability to do comic camp just as well as supernatural intrigue.
In this match, a phoenix, a dragon and a time-travelling spaceman team up with a superhero to beat up a bunch of mean, rude foreigners. This match makes the list as much for the character-building as it does for the wrestling: all parties involved are incredible in-ring competitors, but more than anything else, this is a rare opportunity to see all four members of Worldwide Underground in legitimate competition in one match. Since the four of them teamed up, Worldwide Underground have cemented themselves as the perfect heel faction. Squabbling kid brothers PJ and Jack Evans play the weaselly cowards to perfection in the face of Aerostar, Drago and Fenix’s hard-hitting top rope moves, while Johnny and Taya are stellar as the smug ringleaders who turn tail as soon as things stop going their way.
Sure, this is cheating, but the best of five series for Dario Cueto’s “ultimate opportunity” represents the almost flawless execution of a stipulation that gets surprisingly little love in mainstream wrestling these days. Best-of series offer a chance to showcase wrestlers in tests of strength and skill for big rewards, and Lucha Underground’s best of five with two of its most powerful brawlers does triple duty. With it, Dario Cueto establishes the vital importance of his “ultimate opportunity,” Cage gets to prove himself as one of the most dominant competitors in the Temple, and Texano becomes something of an underdog, a skilled wrestler who despite his best efforts can’t quite connect with the crowd or grab the brass ring in fair conflict. Their final two matches are the best of the series: in the first, Texano is desperate to tie up the score, and when Cueto announces the last match will immediately follow the pace and the brutality ramp up exponentially to prove how desperate both men are to win. Texano is one of the few competitors in the Temple powerful enough to go toe to toe with Cage when it comes to power moves, and both have the stamina and skill to keep the back-to-back finale matches competitive and exciting.
Somehow, Lucha Underground manages to keep casket matches as fresh and exciting as, well, as the third round of a casket match can be. This match-up between Prince Puma and Mil Muertes marks Prince Puma’s slow descent into darkness against his greatest foe and brings Puma’s life in the Temple to date full circle. Mil Muertes and Catrina are as dark and dangerous as ever, but Prince Puma’s already breathless pace seems less frenetic and more recklessly, mindlessly dangerous. The Prince Puma who faces off with Mil Muertes in this match hits the same incredible moves as before, but he feels as bloodthirsty as his opponent, a far cry from the bright-eyed babyface who got cheers for his incredible hang time that Konnan brought into the depths of Dario Cueto’s temple. When Mil Muertes slams the casket shut on Puma—in the same casket Konnan left the Temple in—it feels like Mil Muertes is truly closing the door on the heroic young fighter who became the first man to hold the Lucha Underground championship two years ago.
Lucha Underground’s annual championship elimination match is always thrilling to watch, but this season’s Aztec Warfare match easily made the most exciting feel-good moment of the series so far when crowd favorite Sexy Star entered at number twelve and managed to not only outlast the entire Worldwide Underground and eliminate Johnny Mundo, but to pin Mil Muertes and become the first ever woman to hold the Lucha Underground championship. The match offers most of the Lucha Underground roster a moment to shine, but the final few moments of this year’s installment offer an incredible showdown between Sexy Star and the Man of a Thousand Deaths. The sound of the crowd when Sexy Star sends Muertes through a table and hits a double-stomp to pin him is electrifying, and if the sight of Sexy Star crying as she holds up the belt doesn’t leave you a little misty-eyed, not much in wrestling will.
Another “best of” set of matches for the “best of” list. This match features the members of the Black Lotus Triad, associates of last season’s conflicted antiheroine, Black Lotus, against Pentagon Dark, whose more intense incarnation we’ve seen surprisingly little of in season three so far. Black Lotus has returned for revenge and brought with her Doku, Yurei and Hitokiri, a trio of fearless and, frankly, very cool wrestlers who faced the eerie, intense Pentagon Dark in a series of four matches that make the women look as relentless and fierce as they make Pentagon seem more dangerous than ever. Though Doku’s match is a bit one-sided and both she and Yurei ultimately lose their matches, all three women get in a surprising amount of offense against Pentagon, featuring stiff kicks and an absolutely staggering Canadian destroyer from Hitokiri that lays waste to Pentagon and leaves him weak and gasping as Black Lotus makes her way to the ring. Shaking with rage, Black Lotus lays head referee Marty Elias out with a stiff kick before breaking his arm—only to have El Dragon Azteca, Jr. appear moments later to break the other arm himself. The matches are an exciting series to watch, and offer an intriguing bit of story that gets the Black Lotus Triad knee-deep in the murky goings-on at the Temple just two weeks after their in-ring debut.
Killshot and his archnemesis Marty “The Moth” Martinez finally faced off after Lucha Underground’s second season planted the seeds of an unsettling and ever-escalating feud between the two. To Dario Cueto’s delight, the show’s first-ever Weapons of Mass Destruction match quickly turned into a gruesome and bloody brawl that found The Moth sporting a crimson mask just a few minutes in. The match, in all its gruesome glory, manages to perfectly capture the show’s storytelling finesse and the fine line it walks with Cueto’s glorification of violence and the acknowledgement that watching two men take each other to such limits is actually pretty unsettling to watch. Scattered in the “this is awesome” chants are shots of audience members and Temple screw members looking put off by the violence, and between the breathtaking spots, Martinez and Killshot still manage to find time for moves that showcase Martinez’s physical strength and Killshot’s speed and powerful kicks. The match is scary to watch at times, but the show has made “The Moth” the kind of man who absolutely would need a match like this to blow off a feud, and Killshot’s intensity is utterly believable for a man who’s had his life and military career so openly and repeatedly disrespected.
C.K. Stewart is a freelance writer with a lot of opinions about comics, wrestling and wrestling comics. He can also be found at Newsarama or livetweeting terrible pay-per-views on Twitter @ckayfabe.