LaBar: Thumbs up for debut of Lucha Underground
This weekend, I finally saw the debut episode of Lucha Underground from last Wednesday. I got a feeling watching it that I haven’t gotten in a long time.
It’s that feeling when you first discover something new in entertainment. A new band, a movie, podcast or in this case a television show. That feeling of being so entertained, eyes getting bigger with interest knowing how much more you want to see of this entertainment and that you have a lot more you can consume in the future.
This was extra special for me because it was a wrestling show. I never got this feeling with TNA or Ring of Honor. Perhaps the last time was during the game-changing times of the Monday Night Wars between WWE and WCW when formats and rules changed.
That’s what Lucha Underground is doing. Changing the format and rules from how a wrestling show has to be presented.
You’ll notice immediately a visual change from the wrestling standard. The show is shot on film, not video like WWE is. It has a more intimate and captivating look. If you liked how the wrestling scenes looked in the movie The Wrestler with Mickey Rourke, then you’ll like the look of Lucha Underground. It feels closer to the action and feels bigger or more dramatic.
The process of establishing characters and giving backstories might have been the highlight element of the program. I always praise WWE for its video editing and the way it produces storytelling packages. Lucha Underground did a great job of this as well but in a different way. WWE’s video packages are like a quick hype video with sound bytes from commentators and wrestlers. Lucha Underground produced them more like a movie in terms of giving the history of a character.
The backstage promos or interactions kept with the movie-like theme. Rather than backstage segments, they are more appropriate to be called scenes. No “my guest at this time” introductions or “what are your thoughts on your match.” It was deeper routed conversations and script for the storylines with no hokey acting.
Part of this is because the main on-screen character with the most storytelling dialogue is an actual actor who plays the owner and evil authority figure, Dario Cueto, who is the on-screen owner of Lucha Underground.
The whole episode was based on the plot of launching Lucha Underground where the best fighters have been invited to fight in Cueto’s Temple. That’s what they call the venue the wrestling is taking place in. The story for the episode is Cueto has $100,000 he’s carrying in a briefcase, which we see, and is going to give it as a signing bonus to whoever impresses him the most. The show builds and builds to who will be worthy of the money and, as with any good episodic show, a twist during the ending takes place.
The wrestling was entertaining, and each match got better as the episode went on. There were three matches.
The first was Chavo Guerrero Jr. taking on Blue Demon Jr. This was a smart move to put on a recognizable face like Guerrero to both American and Mexican wrestling fans in the opening contest. Nothing spectacular happened in this match, but I was still so caught up in the excitement of the new look I mentioned earlier, that the match quality didn’t harm my experience.
The second match involved a man I’m familiar with on the independent scene, Matt Cross who is wearing a black mask and being called Son of Havoc. He’s always been an amazing talent in the ring, but his biggest obstacle in my opinion has been in the character and promo department. He was on Tough Enough hosted by Stone Cold Steve Austin and, despite being easily the most talented contestant in the ring, his didn’t stand out as a character and was eliminated early.
It will be interesting to see how this heel persona under a mask and the altering of his voice will do for him. This match was unique because it was a guy fighting a girl, Sexy Star. I did like the heel work of Havoc in the ring and his demeanor of having to fight a woman. It wasn’t a long match, but had exciting action while it lasted and continued to build the energy of the show. The backstory to Sexy Star was very well done and certainly came off as a character female fans could get behind.
Another character background video package was shown telling the story of Prince Puma. This is one of the guys you can see Lucha Underground will be building around. Known to independent wrestling fans as Ricochet, this new persona grabbed my attention. He’s wearing a mask and is managed by Konnan, and a great story was told about Puma’s family background dating to the Aztec warriors.
This new character was built up to be in the main event and take on the most familiar face to American fans in Johnny Mundo, formerly known as John Morrison in WWE. Between Mundo and Puma, there is nothing these two can’t do in a ring, and that made for an exciting match that more than delivered.
From an announcing standpoint, the intelligent Matt Striker and veteran Vampiro on commentary held up their end in narrating this unique hour of a wrestling show.
I want to make clear this show wasn’t a “spot fest,” as that term can negatively be used toward certain styles or matches of professional wrestling. That critique tends to come when a match is filled with elaborate acrobatic moves or is too fast and neglecting time for the audience to react and comprehend the story. This didn’t happen at Lucha Underground.
All three matches started with some different pace and grew from there. Whether it was the Son of Havoc not wanting to wrestle a girl and the way that match started or the slower build to test speed and strength between Mundo and Puma. The opening match even ended in a submission.
All three matches carried distinct stories while still holding up to the Lucha Libre style branding the show carries.
It was a strong concept and debut, and it has proven and financially stable support from Mark Burnett and other producers. The way I see it, the No. 1 obstacle for Lucha Underground is availability.
The show is on the El Rey Network, an English speaking channel aimed to a Latin audience. In Pittsburgh, the only carrier showing the episodes as they air each Wednesday is DirecTV. You can find out which provider carries the show by visiting the El Rey Network website and typing in your zip code.
I had to do some work to find a full version of the hour-long show, and it was worth the search. I hope this show continues to grow and either gets El Rey into more homes or the show can gain more distribution to increase eyes on them.
I’ve been around the wrestling business my entire life. I’ve seen so many hours of content. This hour of Lucha Underground is nothing like I’ve ever seen before, and I want more of it.
Justin LaBar is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 412-320-7949 or [email protected].