AGENT WINTER & MR. CUETO ARE THE ONLY ONES WHO ATTEND DARIO'S WAKE - Mr. (Antonio) Cueto will be running Lucha Underground. Agent Winter tells him that it was some "gangbangers" who shot Dario. He also informs Mr. Cueto that they can't use The Temple in Boyle Heights anymore. Mr. Cueto says that "as long as the sacred seal is in the ring, The Temple can be anywhere," shooting down all theories that there is something special about the building itself or the site it was built on.
Mr. Cueto apparently already has a new Temple in mind. It's a building where he used to run shows a long time ago, but has recently only been used to store... something. It sounded to me like he said "fervetha," but maybe it was some similarly-sounding Spanish word that I don't know (and I don't know most of them).
Agent Winter confirms for us that "the wrestling promotion is just a cover." He also reveals tot us that Mr. Cueto was the one who ordered Dario's execution. Mr. Cueto vows not to repeat Dario's mistakes. He takes off his sunglasses, and his eyes are different colors, and neither of them has a pupil. Mr. Winter tells Dario to be ready because "our friend in the limo will be ready for war soon." Mr. Cueto takes the key from around Dario's neck and leaves.
OPENING SEGMENT - We're having a moment of silence and a ten bell salute for Dario, but Mr. Cueto interrupts it, even knocking over the picture of Dario they had in the ring. He then announces that Pentagon Dark will defend the Lucha Underground Title tonight in an Aztec Warfare match! (And that it was he, and not Dario, who truly invented it).
After a commercial, Killshot and The Mack are in the ring, as is Mr. Cueto. He says that they will start off as the first two entrants... and because Dante Fox is "missing," then whoever happens to be #3 will be their new partner as Lucha Underground Trios Champions. That person turned out to be Son of Havoc, who was just immediately introduced by Melissa without any sort of waiting period. Aren't the first two guys supposed to fight for a while first?
AZTEC WARFARE MATCH FOR THE LUCHA UNDERGROUND TTILE:
Killshot vs. The Mack vs. Son of Havoc vs. Joey Ryan vs. Mr. Pectacular vs. Pentagon Dark(c) vs. Tommy Dreamer vs. Mariposa vs. Vinnie Massaro vs. Hernandez vs. Johnny Mundo vs. Ricky Mundo vs. Fenix vs. Jeremiah Crane vs. Mil Muertes (w/Catrina) vs. Daga (w/Kobra Moon) vs. Chavo Guerrero Jr. vs. King Cuerno vs. El Dragon Azteca Jr. vs. Marty "The Moth" Martinez - 6.75/10
I have rated this match based solely on the action and storytelling involved, but suffice it to say that I was very disappointed with a lot of things about it. That disappointment is more part of an overall point I think needs to be made, so I'll save that for the end. For now, though, here is match itself.
The new trios champions started off against each other but didn't do much. Joey Ryan was #4 and immediately handcuffed himself to the ropes, with the logic being that he can't be pinned or submitted. Mr. Pectacular- Jesse Godderz formerly of TNA- came out at #5. He was quickly eliminated by Pentagon Jr.
Killshot rolled The Mack up from behind to eliminate him, and The Mack was not happy about it. Between this and both of their negative reactions to Son of Havoc, I don't think these guys are going to be keeping the belts for long. Killshot would later try a similar trick on Son of Havoc but Son of Havoc would kick out, and would eliminate Killshot soon afterwards.
Pentagon Dark got a HUGE pop when he came out, and quickly eliminated Joey Ryan, who unlocked himself form the handcuffs to try to attack Pentagon from behind. Tommy Dreamer also got a pretty big pop at #7. He had a cool face-off with Pentagon but... it's Tommy Dreamer in 2018, making a random appearance in a clusterf*ck match, in his House of Hardcore t-shirt.
I have no problem with Tommy Dreamer being in Lucha Underground. In fact, it's probably the only promotion in which I'd have any interest in seeing him, because I think the cinematographic style of the show and the its existence in a quasi-alternate reality allow for possibilities that play to Tommy's strengths in areas that other promotions can't offer. I think Tommy could play an important role as a character as a sort of babyface version of Vampiro's role; the still-working legend who is to the ultraviolent side of Lucha Underground what Rey is to the Lucha Libre side, but with a Randy The Ram-esque twist to contrast the two (which I think plays more to Tommy's strengths as a character, anyway).
But if you're going to do that with Tommy then you need to introduce him through a vignette or two- or at least introduce him by having him last a good while here and get an elimination or two rather than just do some stuff with Pentagon Dark and get eliminated by him a few minutes later- and he certainly can't be wearing his House of Hardcore t-shirts and being all happy.
#8 was Mariposa, who got to do a spot or two and was then eliminated by Pentagon Dark. This felt like a HUGE waste for someone who is coming off of a big babyface turn.
#9 was Vinny Massaro. He used to just be a jobber, but now someone decided that he needed a "character." And they character they came up with for this man of Italian descent was, of course, that he is a fab slob where wears a wifebeater, and has Godfatehr-esque entrance music. He had apparently ordered a pizza, which was delivered to him on the way to the ring. He took the pizza and shoved the delivery guy, stealing the pizza. He put it down in the corner of the ring, then went to eat a slice. The fans were chanting "HEY! WE WANT SOME PIZZA!"
Matt Striker, as usual, decided to make things worse by saying "Pizza-Gate." You know... because there was a pizza in the ring, so obviously Matt Striker thought this would be a good time to mention the name of political hoax that "pizza" in the name. HOW IS HE STILL EMPLOYED?
Vinnie held up the slice of pizza to Pentagon Dark, who shoved it in his mouth and then superkicked him. Then he hit him with a pumphandle driver on the box of pizza for the win. Meanwhile, Matt Striker was saying "revenge is sweet. And salty." First of all, pizza is neither sweet nor salty, and secondly, what the hell did Vinnie Massaro do to Pentagon Dark that Pentagon Dark needed to get revenge for? I almost shut the show off after this.
#10 was the return of Hernandez, who was also eliminated rather quickly by Pentagon Dark, and had his arm broken to boot. Pentagon Dark also eliminated Son of Havoc here, in an elimination that felt like a total afterthought. In fact, the entire first half of this match felt like an afterthought. They did set some stuff up with the tag champs, but the rest of it was just Pentagon Dark eliminating geeks. The inclusions of Mr. Pectacular, Dreamer, and Hernandez were also miscalculations in my opinion. Or, rather, the issue was having them be (re-)introduced to us this way was the problem. These guys were essentially your "surprise" entrants, but in the case of Lucha Underground, having a surprise entrant in a match like this and then quickly getting rid of them just makes this feel like any random indy (and Mr. Pectacular and particularly Dreamer in his House of Hardcore shirt even more so)... and that's a big problem because LU's biggest strength has been that it has always felt so different from just a random indy.
Once we hit #11, the big names started coming in. We got Johnny Mundo, Fenix, Jeremiah Crane, and Mil Muertes all in quick succession. The only break in there was Ricky Mundo coming in at #12, but that spot was supposed to be Angelico's... but we have no idea what happened to him so Ricky Mundo just took it. This was very frustrating, as Angelico just returned from yet another injury at Ultima Lucha III and now he's either (kayfabe) injured again or just gone.
Ricky, for some reason, brought a creepy doll to the ring with him. He was still Johnny Mundo's wanna-be henchman for a bit, but then tried to roll Johnny up after Johnny yelled at him. Johnny then quickly eliminated him. If those two are broken up now I will find it very frustrating.
Mil was eliminated rather quickly when everyone hit their moves on him. Catrina walking out him was newsworthy, but we've seen them fake this before. Also newsworthy was the appearance of Daga at #16, managed by Kobra Moon. We haven't seen Daga since Ultima Lucha II, and the last we heard about him was an offhanded reference that Kobra Moon's henchman Pindar had killed him... so either that wasn't true and he decided to work with Kobra Moon instead, or he's a zombie now being controlled by her.
Speaking of reappearances, #17 was Chavo Guerrero Jr., who, you might recall, lost a retirement match to Rey Mysterio Jr. The closest we got to clarification on any of this was two comments by Striker. The first, when Chavo first appeared, was Striker saying that Chavo's inclusion in this match might be an "olive branch" that Mr. Cueto is extending to the Guerrero Family. The other- which came much later, right before Chavo was eliminated- was Striker saying that Chavo had been "reinstated."
While I hate going back on stipulations and don't really care to see Chavo as a wrestler (I don't think he's bad, I don't think I'll really see much of anything great out of him anymore, either), this would be a situation where I would give LU a pass. It has been a long time since we've seen Chavo (well... it was early last season, but the hiatuses have made it feel longer), there is a storyline logic to it, and if the Guerreros are one of the seven tribes- or at least prominent members of one of the tribes- then having him around makes sense for the myth arc.
Where this fell short for me, though, is the way it was all handled. Striker's statements were very far apart, and it really felt like he and Vamp went out of their way to just ignore the fact that Chavo had lost what was very clearly billed as a "Loser Leaves Lucha" match, and neither showed any surprise that he was allowed to return. A new viewer to the show would have been totally baffled by both of Striker's statements. I think it would have been a lot better to have Mr. Cueto make some comment earlier about how he was working to "undo Dario's mistakes" or something else that could covertly set up the idea that he had allowed Chavo to return. I would have thought a vignette with Mr. Cueto on the phone with a mystery person and having Mr. Cueto be the one to call it an "olive branch" on the phone with the mystery person say he would allow him to come back would have been the best way to handle it, but I will admit that sticking this one little vignette between the wake and the beginning of in-Temple stuff would have thrown off the rhythm of the show.
As for what he did in the ring, Chavo is clearly being set up to feud with the man who entered after him, King Cuerno, via Cuerno stealing Chavo's elimination of #19 El Dragon Azteca Jr., and then Chavo eliminating Cuerno. Chavo also got to eliminate Johhny Mundo, who had been laid out by Vibora (on Kobra Moon's orders) as revenge for Mundo eliminating Daga.
#20 was Marty "The Moth" Martinez... WITH HAIR, DESPITE HAVING LOST A MASK VS. HAIR MATCH AT ULTIMA LUCHA III! WHAT THE F*CK?! I know people can grow their hair back and that it is obvious some time has passed between the end of last season and the beginning of this one, but if we don't get to see the heel bald for a while then what is the point of the stip? I was also very disappointed to see Marty not take a single step in Melissa Santos' direction all match- or even during his entrance. She promised to be with him if he would spare Fenix during the aforementioned Mask vs. Hair match, which bought Fenix the necessary time to recover and win. Marty seems like the type of nut-job who will only be made more insane and more angry at Fenix and Melissa by that sort of thing, and yet here we got nothing.
Pentagon Dark eliminated the remaining field to become the first person to retain the title in Aztec Warfare, last eliminating Marty. He then broke Marty's arm just because. Mr. Cueto then announced that Pentagon Dark will defend the title against Matanza next week.
And then we just went off the air, with no backstage segments of any kind.
This match was a pale shadow of the Aztec Warfare matches of the past, with their intricate booking and storytelling, and their indisputable big-match feel. A major factor in that was its placement here as the only thing that happened on the season premiere, and I think that placement was a HUGE mistake. We just had Ultima Lucha. Our storylines have almost all either just paid off, or are in their infancy. There has been no time to set anything up to pay off or have some sort of major advancement here like Aztec Warfares of the past have had. Sure, they were able to set use this match to set up some stuff with the tag champs, and Mundo and Mandel, and Mundo and the Reptile Tribe, and Chavo vs. Cuerno, and whatever is going on with Mil and Catrina or with Chavo being back... but all that feels like marginal stuff, and even if it wasn't marginal, it would still be all set-up and no pay-offs.
I guess you could say that this match served the function of allowing them to kick-start several stories for the new season right away, but these are stories that- partly by nature of them being new, but also partly by nature of the relatively low-key way in which they were handled- don't feel particularly urgent. And that's a problem because it really feels like this all happened at the expense of more urgent stories.
The following is a list of changes to the status quo that happened at Ultima Lucha III:
1. Jeremiah Crane and Ivelisse broke up
2. King Cuerno has the Gauntlet of the Gods
3. Cage no longer has the Gauntlet of the Gods, which he seemed to almost be addicted to like the One Ring from LOTR
4. Black Lotus returned (attacking both Matanza and El Dragon Azteca Jr.)
5. Famous B gained control of El Texano Jr.'s contract even though Texano didn't want Famous B to be his manager
6. Angelico returned, attacking Johnny Mundo during a Lucha Underground Title match
7. Mascarita Sagrada offered to lead the Rabbit Tribe to the sacred "White Rabbit" they've been looking for since coming to LU
8. Mariposa turned on her brother, Marty "The Moth" Martinez
THERE WAS NO FOLLOW-UP ON ANY OF THIS. And there was no follow-up on other important events in season-ending montage, either, like the thing with Sexy Star and the spider, or the revelation that Rey Mysterio Jr. was being held captive in Dario's dungeon, either (and that's with me ignoring things like Vampiro's mysterious master or the Gift of the Gods Title now being vacant, that don't feel like they need to be addressed so urgently).
And where the hell are half of the characters they've been spending the past few years trying to get me to care about? Where were Taya, Jack Evans, and P.J. Black? Where was Aero Star? Or Cortez Castro/Office Reyes? The list of people who didn't appear- on this show (excluding Angelico, who was theoretically kayfabe supposed to, and Dante Fox, who might have a kayfabe reason for his absence, and Matanza, who is at least accounted for) is: Rey Mysterio Jr., Sexy Star, Cage, Ivelisse, Black Lotus, Taya, Jack Evans, P.J. Black, El Texano Jr., Famous B (& Brenda), Castro/Reyes, the entire White Rabbit Tribe, Mascarita Sagrada, Aero Star, and Drago.
And yes, I know that Drago is still a captive of the Reptile Tribe, but at least show him to me? If Daga is supposed to be either undead now or was a traitor to whatever group of people were fighting the Reptile Tribe then why not make that clear to us via a segment in Kobra Moon's palace where she reveals Daga to be a new henchmen of hers and have Drago react in whatever manner is appropriate for whichever direction they're going in?
This was supposed to be the season premiere, but it totally failed at what the season premiere of a storyline-heavy show needs to do, which is to give you some advancement of the things they left you hanging with at the end of the previous season.
This episode totally failed to do that, instead going to their biggest match- Aztec Warfare- right away in a desperate attempt to get people talking... and in doing so they delivered a match that is a pale shadow of that match's legacy because in their desperation they put that match in a situation where it would be impossible for it to succeed because they would be unable to prepare it with the every ingredients that had made it so great in the past.
It's all actually rather ironic, given what Mr. Cueto said at the end of the show. He said that while Dario would have just ordered Pentagon Dark to defend the title against Matanza right here and now, but he isn't going to make that mistake. He is going to book the match for next week and thus give himself a week to promote it. The LU writers should have taken their own advice.
This is the season premiere of Lucha Underground. People are going to watch it because of the storylines they left hanging at the end of the last season and the stuff they teased us with during the montage. A COMPLETELY UNADVERTISED Aztec Warfare match isn't going to help things. But if you give yourself a week (or even two, just so you have space for everything and for some strong matches) you can still announce and hype up Aztec Warfare while covering the ground you need to cover before getting there. Key storylines need to be followed up on. People have left the company and need to be written out in some way. This last bit also creates a reason for Mr. Cueto to be bringing in new talent, so if someone like Tommy Dreamer or Hernandez or Jesse Godderz is going to be an ongoing character rather than a random one-time appearance, you can let us know beforehand, and stop it from feeling like you're a glorified indy bringing in former WWE and TNA midcarders and pretending they're big names (if LU is going to do a one-off bring-in, they should use a Luchador, and preferably one who doesn't wrestle in the US very often, like the way they have used Dr. Wagner Jr. in his limited appearances).
This extra time also serves to remind people that LU is around, and that it can deliver. It ensures that you will not only get the LU die-hards tuning in for Aztec Warfare, but gives them a few weeks to spread the news to their friends... and, of course, allows you time to set things up so that you can once again blow their friends away with one of your outstanding Aztec Warfare matches and get them watching regularly again. And I'm not saying to take two months to do this. They did prove to me tonight that there is merit in doing Aztec Warfare relatively early in the season and using it as a springboard for a bunch of new feuds... but there has to be time to let things from old feuds build up so that the match can have its pay-offs and advancements rather than just be a collection of beginnings.
In conclusion, I'm quite worried about Lucha Underground. They're acting like a desperate promotion and hot-shotting right out of the gate, and like most promotions that do that, they're forgetting to do the things that made them great in the first place. Almost complete lack of LU's trademark backstage segments, either before or after the big match- and particularly the lack of a big, attention-grabbing ending to the first episode of the season- have me worried that Lucha Underground has forgotten how to be Lucha Underground. It's entirely possible that the essence of Lucha Underground died along with its kayfabe promoter at the end of last season. I hope that's not the case, but I'm not optimistic.
STUPID ANNOUNCER QUOTES:
1. Matt Striker- "If you want to go deeper to Tommy Dreamer's connection to Lucha Libre, everyone remembers in the mid-90s that Rey Mysterio and Psicosis tore down the ECW Arena and brought the style to the northeast."
And the connection to Dreamer there is... what, exactly? That Tommy also worked for during that time ECW? I don't think Tommy was booking talent in 1995... and if it was Tommy who recommended them to Heyman then THAT is what Striker should be telling us! Not some bullsh*t like this that doesn't even qualify as being surface-level. F*cking WWE would have their announcers give more evidence for something like this if they wanted it to be part of their narrative about Dreamer.