For a long time, lucha libre was not only hard for the average fan to digest and understand, it was difficult to even find. Thanks to youtube and social media, we are in a golden age of lucha accessibility, but it still seems to fall short on year end lists and awards ballots. As we pass the halfway point for the year, much of the talk surrounding the standout matches of 2017 has been centered on the two matchups between Okada and Omega (and deservedly so), but there have been some noteworthy matches from Mexico (and Puerto Rico) that may also deserve some consideration. Please note that there are a ton of other great matches so far this year, and this list isn’t exhaustive by any means. Instead, think of this list as some of the most notable performances from some of the big names in lucha this year. Also, all of these matches would appeal to different viewers, so instead of attempting to rank them and running the risk of people only watching the top few, they will be presented in chronological order. Enjoy!
Many other lucha fanatics will tell you that the Imposible/Relampago match or the five way from January are the best matches from IWRG thus far this year, but this match is an overlooked contender. While other matches on this list may have better action in ring, no match I have watched in any company has had a more compelling narrative—exploring what it means to be the son of a wrestling legend, and how that affects all of a person’s work. This is a truly ambitious match and it deserves to be commended as such. And really, aside from a few moments that might require some additional suspension of disbelief, Pirata and Golden Magic put together a wonderful homage to the bloody lucha brawls of the previous generation (a generation in which Pirata’s father, his second in this match, shined), while updating the script at the same time. Gone are the punches as they grapple around the ringside area. In its place are two wrestlers throwing bomb after bomb, lucha by way of kids growing up on AJPW tapes.
One of the big events CMLL does every year that I wish other companies would try is the Parejas Incriebles. A tag tournament that takes place over two weeks, each team is made up of one tecnico (good guy) and one rudo (bad guy). It often allows for stories to intersect in really interesting ways, like in this match, where Valiente and Volador, both normally members of the high flying Skyteam, find themselves on opposite sides. That being said, you don’t need to know any of that to enjoy this match, which starts off good but ends up bonkers. The third fall alone would be enough to make a top ten list most years, but the finishing stretch was like someone showed a PWG main event to Xzibit.
If you’ve ever said to yourself “wrestling is just too safe these days” this is the match for you. This match is a like a time machine that takes you back to before we all knew what CTE is. This match is like the lucha equivalent of a crazy ECW main event. It’s also an apuestas match, something that is pretty unique to the lucha libre style. In this, a three way mask/hair match, the first person to get a pinfall steps out, and the remaining two continue until there is an eventual overall loser. It is fascinating to watch how the structure and narrative changes when the end result is really more about the loser than the winner.
One time in central Ohio, I saw a Necro Butcher match in a building that was about to be foreclosed and he fought all over the place and basically helped the contractors get an early start on the demolition. This match is like watching a tag match with four Necro Butchers and two of them are actually evil skeleton creatures hell bent on killing one another. If that sentence didn’t sell you on this match, this whole pro wrestling thing might not be the hobby for you. It also has Rey Escorpion, one of the best unsigned wrestlers in the world, deciding that all of his offense is going to be based around hitting people with beers that he grabs from unsuspecting fans.
I’ve written extensively about not only this match, but the series as a whole, so I’ll be brief. In a world in which professional wrestling can often seem performative and cooperative, this match seems like a fight. It is chaos in all the best ways. Often, the deeper we dive in to wrestling as a fandom, the more clinical and analytical we can get as we watch. When I watch Rush and Park, I cease my search for meaning and I sit mouth agape and I remember the feeling I got when professional wrestling first captured my heart.
Lucha Memes 4/28
We live in a time when wrestlers are closer than ever. Indie stars in America travel all over Europe and Japan to wrestle and work with people they have seen on youtube and streaming networks. Despite this, Mexico can still seem a bit like an island unto itself when compared to the rest of the wrestling landscape, and this match is a perfect example of that. Instead of getting the polite hero’s welcome he gets almost everywhere else, Sabre starts as a clear heel here, going against a lucha libre legend. This match is tremendously unique, as Sabre has to find a way not only to defeat Navarro, every bit his match in terms of technical wrestling, but also earn the respect of a new audience in real time.
If you watch how an American wrestling company films their show and compare it to CMLL, one major difference you’ll notice is the crowd. In the US, crowd shots are purely reactionary; they serve to reinforce how important and earth shattering the events that just took place in the ring are. In CMLL, the crowd shots are almost a part of the match, showing people laughing and eating and talking. It serves to make the television viewer feel a part of the product, to set an atmosphere. Will this match, with the four mascots of CMLL, win any year end awards? Probably not. But if you ever want to remember how wonderful it can be to be part of a live crowd that is experiencing joy in its purest form, watch this match from the annual CMLL children’s day.
Whatever names they happen to be going by on any given day, Penta 0M and Fenix have managed to become a main event attraction anywhere they go. In this match, they manage to seamlessly blend the breathtaking pace of a US super indie main event with the classic lucha stylings of Skayde and Black Terry, who more than hold up their end of the bargain. Beyond that, this match features a great post match angle with the debut of Maximo and La Mascara, fresh off their dismissal from CMLL. The whole thing is worth watching.
JR Goldberg is a Clevelander living in Philadelphia. Punk rock, pro wrestling and board games. You can follow him on twitter @wrestlingbubble.