Recent rumors suggest that Lucha Underground might be extending its run on El Rey Network and UniMás for another season in 2016. If this comes to fruition it would be heralded as great news for wrestling fans, particularly those who feel the WWE became far too stagnant when it was seemingly the only game in town. Now closing in on episode number 30, if you’re one of those holdouts who hasn’t watched Lucha Underground yet… what the HELL are you waiting for?
I’ll admit, I was skeptical of the premise at first. Even though I consider myself a huge devotee of cult cinema and B-movies, filmmaker Robert Rodriguez has always been hit or miss with me. I wondered what kind of influence he would have over the promotion in a producer’s role. The frequent mentions of United Artists involved in the production of the show didn’t help assuage my fears at the time. I worried the show would fade into obscurity like MTV2’s flash in the pan Lucha Libre USA.
I’m happy to say my worries were unfounded.
From the outset, the viewer notices Lucha Underground is not filmed like any ordinary wrestling show. It’s filmed like a movie, albeit with hints of both Robert Rodriguez’s beloved grindhouse cinema and just a touch of the cheesiness from the classic luchafilm of the 60’s and 70’s that featured legends of Mexican wrestling like El Santo and Blue Demon. The film-like quality is not only evident in the ring, with tight editing and the occasional arty camera angle, but also in the backstage vignettes. The storylines between luchadores, their managers, and the powers-that-be are presented with the same type of melodrama you’d expect watching any random soap opera on Univision. It took me a couple episodes to get used to this style, but once I adjusted I realized the genius behind it. Lucha Underground‘s creative team aren’t trying to fool anyone that this is MMA; they understand that the average wrestling fan already accepts what they’re watching is theater. So why not go whole hog? It’s a breath of fresh air and it works well in the context of a lucha promotion, as the luchadores are intended to be larger than life comic book characters.
The Temple – the venue in Boyle Heights, California that hosts the action – could be considered a Lucha Underground character in its own right. The set decoration is just seedy enough to evoke memories of the earliest days of Monday Night RAW yet it possesses its own Mexicano flair. It looks like a sleazy enough place that El Mariachi’s band could have easily played there in one of Rodriguez’s films. The place is littered with props for the luchadores to routinely use against one another – railings, stairs, metal grates, the announcer’s table – anything and everything is fair game in either death matches or inevitable post-match melees.
Many critics focused on Johnny Mundo when the show first aired, as he was one of the more recognizable faces to most American fans. Practically neutered in his WWE run as John Morrison, the guy has rediscovered himself in Lucha Underground. In my mind he’s one of the most ridiculously athletic and creative talents in the business today (and it doesn’t hurt that the ladies think he’s scorching hot – ask my wife about that one). So it’s great to see Johnny get the push as the top-tier spectacle he deserves to be. Speaking of recognizable faces, I’m also pleased that one of my favorites, Alberto El Patron, showed up at the Temple not so long ago. Though I’d argue he’s better served as a shitbag heel than a babyface, the man oozes charisma either way, and I always enjoy his work in the ring, which combines traditional lucha trappings with a brutal, smash-mouth European style.
As fun as it is to see familiar faces on a different stage, it’s some of the lesser known luchadores that are really making Lucha Underground such a compelling watch. The masked Prince Puma is a revelation. Fans of the indies or New Japan will know him as Ricochet (and thus know he’s actually about as Mexican as a Taco Bell restaurant…), but he seems to have tapped into a slightly different style as Puma, breaking out a number of new and innovative high-flying moves, a must in an era when every high flyer now does a shooting star press. If the rudos are more your thing, there’s the evil Mil Muertes, a masked AAA star built like a brick shithouse. Though he may have the appearance of a gassed-up gronk, Muertes can bring it in the ring; his recent battles with the speedy Fenix are likely to appear on a number of ‘best matches’ lists come the end of the year.
And I’d be remiss not to mention Sexy Star, one of LU’s luchadoras who hangs with the boys in some amazing matches. Lucha Underground doesn’t have a women’s division as such – their luchadoras are… well, I’ll let LU ‘owner’ Dario Cueto explain himself:
Further tying in to the ‘this is a movie’ vibe, the brains behind LU hired character actor Luis Fernandez-Gil to take on the role of Lucha Underground‘s owner Dario Cueto, a slick and sinister business mogul turned wrestling promoter. His occasional brutish gangland tactics make the Mr. McMahon character look like a saint by comparison. I’ve seen a few minor gripes about this from stick-in-the-mud wrestling fans on forums and such, which makes me laugh. If you’re perfectly willing to believe that a random wrestler or inanimate laptop computer is legitimately the ‘commissioner’ of RAW, Smackdown, Impact Wrestling, et al – why the hell can’t you buy an actor doing the same thing?
One of the only flaws I see at present is that the show is taped months in advance, thus spoilers are everywhere if you’re not careful. Frankly, I despise spoilers, so I get annoyed when I see fans casually discussing results on Twitter well ahead of time. However, if you’re the kind of person nonplussed by spoilers (good on you if you are) then this really won’t be an issue.
If you don’t get the networks that carry Lucha Underground or you’re still sitting on the fence, it’s well worth the trouble of tracking it down. This is far and away the best wrestling show on the air at the moment. I sincerely hope it does get the renewal for another season it’s looking for. Wrestling fans seem to be loving the alternatives.
Lucha! Lucha! Lucha!