Lucha Underground is rising faster than Vince McMahon after a Roman Reigns vs. John Cena title match with Triple H as the special guest referee. It’s currently got a 9.3 star rating on IMDB and is widely popular.
WWE on the other hand has been really slogging it when it’s come to their television lately. The 3 hour snoozefest that is Monday Night Raw, despite a few good spots here and there (thank you New Day, AJ Styles and Dean Ambrose) means that Raw has gotten pretty boring. Seeing as one is running a bit smoother than the other right now, it’s probably about time for a list of 10 things that Lucha Underground are currently doing to trump WWE’s television model.
For the purposes of this article, I won’t be counting NXT,largely because NXT and Lucha Underground are better than WWE TV for similar reasons and NXT is only viewable on the WWE Network, available for just £9.99 at….sorry that got weird on me
Lets begin with the glaringly obvious:
#8 – One Hour of Programming Per Week
In a single 3 hour Raw segment, there’s enough time for the Big Show to turn between face and heel about 70 times…and then turn face again. Lucha Underground however, only has ONE HOUR of programming a week. Just one. That’s it. This not only means that greedy smarks like me have to find entertainment elsewhere, like NJPW and TNA (haha TNA, nobody watches TNA), BUT that limited time frame means that Lucha Underground have to bring their A-Game every single week. The shortened time frame also means that only select groups of performers will be seen on a weekly basis. We could see Prince Puma one week, and then not see him again for another 3, making his presence impactful.
WWE on the other hand NEED to utilize their top talent every week in order to draw. Dean Ambrose, Roman Reigns, Dolph Ziggler and soon to be AJ Styles are some of the most overworked guys in the business, and whilst their work is normally top notch, a 3 hour Raw means more meaningless Authority promos and endless Vince wankery…and a Slim Jim ad from time to time.
#7 – Not too many belts/Belts that Mean Something
WWE have more belts than a leather enthusiast that works at burger joint. Even with a unified brand there’s 2 main titles (World Heavyweight and Women’s), 2 secondary titles (IC and US) and the Tag Team titles. You can argue that with as large a roster as WWE has right now they do need different levels of accomplishment, however, I can’t remember the last time I gave a flying fuck about the United States Championship, the tag team division (Bar New Day, The Wyatt Family and the Social Outcasts) is pretty strapped right now, despite the Dudley Boyz hobbling round the ring every now and then. The IC title has been semi-legitimised by Dean Ambrose and Kevin Owens but was bounced around so much I never knew who was who, and the Women’s title (because fuck you Divas, it’s the Women’s title) has only just started to gain momentum. In short…there’s very few belts that mean anything in WWE (in terms of television anyway).
Lucha Underground however, just has 3. The Lucha Underground Championship, The Gift of the Gods Championship and the The Trios Championship. The good thing about these titles is that they can be won by absolutely ANYBODY. Men, women, it doesn’t matter, every member of the roster is eligible. The Gift of the Gods is a fresh take on WWE’s “Money in the Bank” concept and the LU Championship pertains a great balance between being held by super-babyfaces (ie: Prince Puma and Fenix) and monster heels (Mil Muertes and Matanza). Until Pentagon Jr. eventually wins and becomes the first anti-hero champion, it provides even more dynamic storytelling. The Trios championships also expand the number of opportunities by turning the central tag-team strap into a six person fixture, allowing for mixed teams to claim the gold. Now if only New Day made a third belt, they wouldn’t need to swap every episode of Raw.
#6 – Over The Top Characters are the Norm
WWE has been focusing on the “Sports” part of “Sports Entertainment” and kind of letting the latter fall by the wayside. Don’t get me wrong, there’s some great legitimately athletic characters, but WWE has made it perfectly clear that over the top characters (bar of course, New Day and Dean Ambrose…there’s a pattern evolving here). Guys like Roman Reigns (as good as they are in the ring) are trying to envelope that over-driven persona, but only just fall short of the mark, as WWE want their superstars to appear as athletes first and entertainers second.
However, if WWE is the land of athletes, then Lucha Underground is the land of athletes after an adrenaline comet hit the Earth. None of the characters in Lucha Underground are portrayed as sports stars, and due to the flare and pomp of Lucha Libre as a whole, the characters are more overdriven than Kerry King’s guitar rig. Pentagon Jr’s “Cero Miedo [no fear]” schtick combined with his demonic makeup fully embodies him as a servant of chaos, Prince Puma’s ring gear makes him appear like more of a superhero than John Cena ever will and Drago…well…need I say more?
#5 – Aztec Warfare
WWE’s got the Royal Rumble which has been really really REALLY successful in recent years, so much so that they haven’t had to change the Wrestlemania main event at the last minute. Not ever. What’s that? Who’s Daniel Bryan?
Simply put, the Royal Rumble is a Battle Royale with bigger name stars. Signature moves start to lose their impact, and it’s really only the outcome that people are interested in (they even had CM Punk’s burying…sorry, championship match with The Rock AFTER the namesake match of the pay per view in 2013. ‘Nuff said.)
Enter Aztec Warfare, Lucha Underground’s answer to the Royal Rumble. Basically, that whole “over the top rope” thing is thrown out the window faster than a jet propelled anchor, and is replaced by elimination only occurring by pinfall or submission. Oh. And the match is always (well, for the last 2 occasions anyway) been for the Lucha Underground championship, something that WWE only did this year to make Roman Reigns look strong…before taking him out for the whole match.
In short, Aztec Warfare is the Royal Rumble on more steroids than Yoel Romero after a weekend with Ryback, making it a lot more intense (not that I’m advocating steroid use…you’ll end up looking like Ryback…not exactly a good thing!).
#4 – Gimmick Matches are Rare
WWE have gotten into a habit of throwing out gimmick matches like they’re Christmas jumpers in August. Last year we had two Hell in a Cell matches on the same card and the entire TLC pay per view. We also had a “Kiss Me Arse” match and a load of other weird stuff. Basically, gimmick matches have become so known in the WWE that they are no longer surprising or impactful when announced. There are rare shinies amongst gimmick matches, including the Last Man Standing match between Kevin Owens and Dean Ambrose this year. But for the most part, they are pretty yawn worthy, as we are guaranteed at least one per month.
In Lucha Underground, we have seen one steel cage match (between Johnny Mundo and King Cuerno), one casket match between (Fenix and Mil Muertes) and only a small string of hardcore matches. This not only raises the stakes, but it makes these rare occurrences mean something. Lucha Underground is hardly PG, but there’s a clear focus on the actual wrestling to solidify their talent and toughness, and boy is this delivered. Watch Pentagon Jr. vs. Vampiro and you’ll see what I mean.
#3 – Genderblind Wrestling, done properly
The most recent mixed gender WWE action that I can remember was at Backlash 2004, where Christian and Trish Stratus took on Chris Jericho. I’m sure there’s been more since then, but I really can’t be arsed to look them up. That and WWE’s treatment of it’s, recently upsurged, female talent is akin to the way a wild tiger treats a goldfish. Before the “Divas Revolution” (which is still pretty dubious) WWE used to shoehorn all of its female superstars onto the card, in a shoddy attempt to appear equal. Most of these were gimmick matches (bra and panties matches, pillowfights, hell, even the Miller Lite Catfight Girls got in on the action once) and very little went down in terms of actual wrestling, obvious exceptions to this being Trish Stratus, Lita, Victoria and the current top of the Women’s roster.
Lucha Underground on the other hand, as mentioned before, is a completely open playing field. All competitors are equal. Sexy Star had a series of matches with Chavo Gurerro last year, Ivellise wrestled Mil Muertes this year for the Lucha Underground Championship, and Taya is currently tied down in a tag team with Johnny Mundo where she does pretty much all of the work against monsters like Cage. It’s also not patronizing, as the booking is pretty realistic. Sometimes the women get beaten, and sometimes they win after a hard fought match. This is the way things should be, as LU’s female talent do nothing but prove their ultimate badassery.
#2 – Better Ring Announcing and Commentary
There was a time when Howard Finkel, Tony Chimmel and Justin Roberts did a stellar job of announcing wrestlers as they walked to the ring, and did a damn flamboyant job doing it. There were also efforts to make them part of ongoing storylines, which would adjust how they announced a performer. Then…Lillian Garcia happened. Never thought we’d be able to find a bigger botch monkey than Sin Cara, but we did. The botchiest of monkeys. Lillian, especially in recent weeks, has become infamous for tongue slips and forgetting her words, calling the Usos “Grammy Award Winning Tag Team” (when she meant “Slammy”) prompting JBL to say on commentary “we need Chimmel back.”
Lucha Underground on the other hand have Melissa Santos, an announcer that harkens back to the Fink and others like him (only y’know, nowhere near as ugly). Her voice changes to reflect a wrestler’s character/ her current feelings towards them and she also gets involved in storylines. Pentagon Jr. nearly broke her arm and as a result she treats his announcement as almost a throwaway.
WWE’s commentary has also been under more fire than an inferno match between a dragon and Satan. Michael Cole’s a lame duck, Byron Saxton tries (bless him) but becomes emasculated by his comrades, and JBL’s…well…annoying to put it broadly. Now, they’ve taken Jerry Lawler off of mainstream commentary and put Mauro Ranallo in charge of Smack Down (and hopefully soon Raw), but that doesn’t change the fact that WWE’s commentary is dryer than what’s left of Michael Cole’s soul.
Matt Stryker and Vampiro are the absolute opposite of this. In Lucha Underground, neither is annoying, and both suit the industrial tone of the show perfectly. Matt Stryker (also working as the English commentator for NJPW) is a great play-by-play commentator, actually calling what goes on in the match as opposed to y’know…whatever it is Michael Cole’s doing. Vampiro is the perfect jelly to Matt Stryker’s peanut butter. The two clearly enjoy working together and it shows in their dynamic. Being an experienced pro-wrestler, Vampiro provides the inside knowledge that compliments Stryker’s brilliant analysis. The two also display a sheer excitement on commentary, with shots of them standing up and jumping like Tigger on ecstasy during an awesome spot. Vampiro has also gotten heavily enmeshed in storylines, suffering a brutal hardcore match (one of the only of its kind in LU so far) against Pentagon Jr., and revealed himself as the latter’s master.
Do you remember the last time that Michael Cole got in the ring? No? neither do I, and that’s the way I want to keep it.
#1 – Dario Cueto > The Authority
The heel boss trope has been exploited by the WWE for a while now, so familiar that we can practically sing along at this point. There have been occasional exceptions to this; Eric Bischoff, Paul Heyman and even Stephanie McMahon at one point, not being heel boss figures, but just boss figures. Recently, the whole Authority angle has been grinding away at WWE television so hard that they’ve all turned into diamonds at this point. 20 minute promos at the start of each episode of Raw are clearly not the way to go. Even when Vince attempted to save this, only to turn into another authority heel himself, it just made things worse.
Enter Dario Cueto. A boss figure that appears ruthless and war mongering, whilst at the same time appearing more cold and calculated than Einstein in the Hyperbolic Time Chamber. His “I love violence” mantra has lead to some brutal confrontations in The Temple, as well as some thrilling opportunities for good guys to rise above the odds. I guess the point is Dario isn’t just out to beat on the good guys a la The Authority. He’s out to beat on anybody that crosses the boss, and throw some gas on the violence fire while he’s at it. Now that he’s got his own weapon in the form of Matanza, I’m looking forward to seeing how Cueto’s character develops.
Obviously Lucha Underground has it’s pitfalls too. Airing via tape delay can be irritating to some audience members (DON’T CHECK THE WIKIPEDIA PAGE FOR THE LOVE OF GOD!) and they aren’t short of their crop of botch primates. However, the fact that they have not only taken a lot of former WWE talent and utilized them to their full potential, whilst telling great stories with over the top characters, is a lot more desireable as a fan. I don’t want to watch talk, after talk after talk on a wrestling show. Funnily enough, I want to watch wrestling, and one’s currently got more than the other.