JAKE STRONG MEETS WITH ANTONIO CUETO - Seemingly very important. Cueto offered to put Strong in the main event world title match of Ultima Lucha IV but Strong turned him down because he wanted to win the title on his own without Mr. Cueto handing him things. Mr. Cueto then gave him the spiel about the Ancient Aztec Medallions™ but Strong cut him off and said "I know." Cueto told Strong he would give him a chance to earn a medallion tonight. Strong then told Mr. Cueto "I've seen the sacrifices you feed to your son. You'd better save some for me." Then he got up and told Mr. Cueto "this isn't your Temple anymore. It's MINE!"
While all of this- even those last two lines- could be dismissed as use of grandiose metaphor, I'm going to come right out and say that I think the most obvious explanation is one that will almost certainly turn out to be correct: Jake Strong is possessed by a god. His voice was deep and gravelly, and he seemed entirely in control the whole time and yet simultaneously on the verge of exploding in anger. If this is the case then major props are due to the LU folks for this particular casting choice, as he didn't sound, act, or dress like the Jack Swagger we wrestling fans have known for the past decade, and certainly isn't the type of character you'd expect to have arcane knowledge. Seeing him there in that suit and acting the way he did really did make me feel like I was watching another person controlling Jack Swagger's body.
It also makes sense with how dominant Strong has been shown to be, as well as his lack of desire to take orders from anyone (i.e. Famous B). Further evidence includes the deferential tone Mr. Cueto seemed to be using, and in particular the line "I'm sorry. I forgot who I was talking to," and his rather concerned reaction to Strong laying claim to his Temple (which wouldn't be present if he didn't think this was a very real threat).
As for what this means overall:
1. He's GOT to fight Matanza at some point, right?
2. My assumption at this point is that he is in league with The Order. We know they have being trying to use humans as vessels to bring the gods into this realm (Matanza, Cage and the Gauntlet of the Gods) and we know they are a big sprawling organization that does things all over the world so it would make sense that they had some other experiment going elsewhere, of which Strong's possession is the result.
3. If he's not working with The Order then that means he is likely some manner of rogue Aztec god. Just based off of his actions so far I would highly doubt that he is a babyface, but he could possibly be convinced to work against them (perhaps Captain Vasquez's group or AeroStar's group- assuming they're not the same- could be persuaded that one, slightly honorable god roaming the Earth is worth stopping all of them).
MR. CUETO ANNOUNCES THAT HE'S JUST GIVING THE MADALLIONS OUT - Bad. People who get them: AeroStar, King Cuerno, Hernandez, P.J. Black, Jake Strong, Big Bad Steve (yes, really), and the returning Dante Fox. Or not. Apparently Mr. Cueto only wants to give out six of them, and so these seven wrestlers are going to have a battle royale right now, and the winner will get to kick someone out of the Gift of the Gods Title match that will take place next week. They already did this angle once this season.
BATTLE ROYALE FOR THE RIGHT TO KICK SOMEONE OUT OF THE GIFT OF THE GODS TITLE MATCH:
King Cuerno vs. P.J. Black vs. Hernandez vs. Jake Strong vs. AeroStar vs. Dante Fox vs. Big Bad Steve - 0.75/10
In the dumbest spot I've seen in a long time, Big Bad Steve was on the apron, celebrating the fact that he had staved off an elimination... and turned his back to the ring while doing so. Then AeroStar knocked him off the apron and to the floor. Not by hitting him in the back, but by toing a Tiger Feint Kick to the face... i.e. an extremely complicated maneuver that actually knocks the opponent in the opposite direction you want him to go!
Other than that, this was a four-minute battle royale. Jake Strong won.
POST-MATCH SEGMENT - Mr. Cueto asks Strong who he wants eliminated by he says no one because he wants to beat all of them. Mr. Cueto okays this, and makes the match an elimination match. Strong says he'll beat anyone Mr. Cueto puts in front of him, so Mr. Cueto books Jake Strong vs. Johnny Mundo for later tonight. When did this become the All Swagger Power Hour?
THE MACK vs. KILLSHOT - DUD!
It'd sure be nice to hear what Killshot (and Son of Havoc, for that matter) think about Dante Fox's return. Too bad we can't get that and instead have to have the dry, clichÃ©d booking of Killshot facing Son of Havoc's buddy before he goes into his match with Son of Havoc at the big show. I know I'm always the guy who says "just because it's predictable does not mean it's bad," but in this case it was bad. And I' not even talking about the match itself, which went about four minutes and still managed to have some ugly bits in it, and also ended in a DQ when Mil Muertes ran in to attack The Mack, leading to Son of Havoc coming to make the save but both babyfaces getting laid out by Mil Muertes.
The dry booking here is totally killing this feud exactly because the booking in a feud like this absolutely cannot be dry. It's a mask vs. mask in Lucha Libre promotion for crying out loud! And I realize that neither of these men wear their masks for usual Lucha Libre reasons of tradition and familial legacy and all of that... and that's exactly the point.
It has been hinted at (if not outright said) that both of these men wear masks to protect their identities. Why do they feel the need to protect their identities so closely? Have they done very bad things in their past and are looking for a new start, free of the baggage of what they have done? Are people who are looking for them and will do very bad things to them if they ever find them? Why are these men going to such lengths (they don't just wears masks; they also make their living by participating in an underground fight club in which they get paid in cash so there isn't even a record of their earnings on file somewhere for someone to discover) to hide their identities? If you do that then you can actually give us a hint as to what might happen if their identities became public knowledge, and then when Striker and Vampiro tell me that losing the mask will be life-altering for one of these men and that the possibility is weighing heavily on both of their minds, I would actually be able to believe it.
I mean COME ON! This shouldn't be that hard! How long have we been waiting to find out why Son of Havoc left The Invisible Cult? It's obviously important or else they wouldn't have sent Son of Madness after him, telling him that if he didn't return to the club, he would be killed, right? So how do you not use this opportunity to tell that story?
IVELISSE & X.O. LISHUS MAKE AN ANNOUNCEMENT - Bad segment. We can't have interviews with the guys going into the lucha de apuesta in a few weeks explaining to us why it's so important to them to not lose their masks, but we can get an interview with these two just so they can announce that Joey Ryan is injured and they've replaced him with Sammy Guevara. The match they're replacing him in is a three-way elimination match for the trios titles involving the Reptile Tribe and the Rabbit Tribe. Taking Joey out of this match really hurts it to me (and it's not often that I can say "taking Joey Ryan out of this match would make it worse) because Joey seems to be the one the Rabbit Tribe is after, and thus he is the one who we most want to see getting revenge. But instead of the guy the heat is with, instead we're getting Flippy McSpottington.
So Sammy comes out and Striker is about to ask him why we haven't seen him in so long (it's been almost three months), when Famous B comes out and tells us that Sammy Guevara was brought to the Temple "under an exclusive contract to Infamous Incorporated. Apparently the contract was for seven years, "not including breaks." That was both amusing and almost certainly done on purpose. Famous B said that the only way Sammy Guevara would be allowed to wrestle at Ultima Lucha IV would be if he teamed with Dr. Wagner Jr. & El Texano Jr., who Famous B has booked on that date at a "house show in Tijuana." Okay... well if Famous B controls their contracts then why hasn't he been having them wrestle at the Temple?
Famous B ordered Guevara to leave but Sammy instead dove onto Famous B. He then threw the contract in a garbage can, but the garbage can on Famous B's head and gave it a superkick. Sammy, you do know that that doesn't nullify the contract, right?
Here is my major problem with this segment: Why is Famous B upset about this? Shouldn't he be happy that this guy is getting a title shot at the biggest show of the year? Doesn't that make Famous B a lot more money (with the chance for even more if wins) than some random undercard match? That seems completely out of character for Famous B, whose entire deal is that he leeches off of the contracts of more talented wrestlers.
I also don't like the fact that we seem to be building to a match at Ultima Lucha IV where Sammy's freedom is on the line, simply because that's basically what they did with Famous B and El Texano Jr. at last year's Ultima Lucha.
JAKE STRONG vs. JOHNNY MUNDO - 8/10
This was the best match this promotion has put on in quite a while. It was a bunch of big moves, but the got the most out of every single thing they did, and there was quite a bit of a wow-factor at times as well (particularly for Johnny Mundo jumping from railing to railing across the entrance-way and also for him hitting Strong with a 450 elbow drop). There was a bit of a story of speed vs. power but the thing that felt like the real story was the final third of the match or so, where Strong would try to win via ankle lock and Johnny would just try to hit anything he could to put Strong down. It didn't even hate Johnny finding a way to distract the referee so he could kick Strong in the nuts to get out of an ankle lock because of Strong's habit of breaking people's ankles after the match anyway.
POST-MATCH SEGMENT - Fine. Strong did, in fact, go to break Johnny's ankle after the match, but when Matanza showed up, Strong just smiled and left Johnny to him. Matanza began to maul Johnny. Taya came out to try to make the save but she got hit with Wrath of the Gods and Matanza went back to mauling Johnny, busting him open. Where is P.J. Black? We know he's in the damn building! Why bring him back on this show if you're not going to have him come out in a situation where it makes all the sense in the world for him to do so?
And speaking of awkward returns in the earlier battle royale...
The more I think about it, the more this Dante Fox return has really annoyed me. I stay as far away from LU spoilers as possible, so not only do I not know what is coming, but I also have no idea when things were taped. Dante Fox disappearing and being replaced in the trios champions by The Mack felt like A.R. Fox (like so many others) left the company and replacing him with The Mack was the best idea they could come up with in a pinch. That's unfortunate and unsatisfying, but understandable. Having Dante Fox just show up again one day makes it feel like A.R. Fox was only available for one day of tapings so they just lazily wrote him out of the title picture and stuck The Mack in his place, with the intention of just using him on the day they could.
Because of its unique universe and more... entertainment-like nature, Lucha Underground is uniquely positioned to take weaknesses like this and turn them into strengths. If Dante Fox is going to be mysteriously missing for most of the season, figure out why. Maybe he got kidnapped, which will result in Killshot going coming to save him, thus symbolically righting the wrong that caused their feud in the first place. You can even have Son of Havoc insist on coming along due to feeling loyalty to his new comrades(or maybe it turns out it was The Invisible Cult who kidnapped Fox to try to lure Son of Havoc back to them). The Mack can be convinced to come along by Killshot due to the combination of team loyalty and their shared friendship with his cousin Big Ryck.
You could even have this play into some of what they already did I the beginning of the season, with Killshot rolling up The Mack early on in Aztec Warfare, with the purpose of this being that Killshot has very loner-ish tendencies, rather than what they did where everyone yelled at him for being a dick even though it was an "everyone for himself/herself" match. You can still get some tension within the team over that, but you can then turn it into tension over Killshot going out and looking for information on Fox's whereabouts instead of defending the titles/preparing for a title defense that causes the friction. In fact, maybe a few days before a title defense is when he makes his first attempt to rescue Fox but fails because of the enemy's superior numbers and he barely makes it out of their lair alive, and the injuries he sustained in this failed rescue mission wind up causing his team to lose the titles? That way, when Son of Havoc and The Mack confront him, he can finally open up to them and ask for their help- or at least accept it when they insist on giving it- to show that he has learned to be a team player and that he now finally trusts his tag team partners.
(Or, if Fox really isn't coming back, say he was murdered by some people who are going to be out to get Killshot as well because they used to be on the same commando team or something. Or maybe it's The Invisible Cult sending Son of Havoc a message: you come back to us, or we'll keep killing your friends. But if that's the case then tell that story and use the one day Fox is available to you to film his murder and maybe some backstory; don't stick him in some random matches.)
So yeah... the Jake Strong stuff got interesting and the main event was awesome, but on the whole, this was another episode of LU that makes it feel like the writers are totally burned out and have no idea what to do anymore.