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    Friday, March 4, 2016

    Temple Rants (3/2/16): Snakes & Ladders

    Last week's episode saw Cage's momentum come to a halt, as timely interference from the debuting Taya ensured that Johnny Mundo finally got the better of the Machine in their match. Elsewhere, the feud between Chavo Guerrero and Texano continued, with Chavo picking up the win thanks to an assist from the Crew. Jack Evans also continued his crusade against dragons, picking up another victory. Otherwise, the episode wasn't as strong as it could have been, so hopefully Lucha Underground goes back to its usual standards of excellence this week.

    We kick things off this week with Catrina, who is with Mil Muertes at an altar. Mil is upset that he has to sit on the sidelines watching while he recovers from his broken arm, so he wants to get into the ring with Pentagon Jr. and Prince Puma. Catrina scoffs at the challenge, telling the champion that he wouldn’t be here if she didn’t rescue him all those years ago. It’s weird hearing Mil Muertes actually talk, because he’s just perfect as the dark, silent villain. Good segment that told us how Mil Muertes feels about just sitting there every show.

    Match 1: Sexy Star vs. Kobra Moon

    Six episodes in, Sexy Star finally makes her way back to the Temple! Her opponent is the new luchadora on the block, Kobra Moon, marking this the first women’s match we have this season.

    Kobra Moon slithers around Sexy Star, as we get a glimpse of the Mack entering the Temple.

    Kobra Moon locks in a submission, but Sexy Star slips out and slaps the fangs right out of her mouth. The two brawl for a bit longer before Sexy Star locks in a modified surfboard. Just as she’s about to shut Kobra Moon out, Marty “The Moth” Martinez walks out and distracts Sexy Star. That’s enough time for Kobra Moon to sneak up behind her and lock in that Snake Sleeper for the win!

    Winner: Kobra Moon!

    Remember when we said that it might take some time for Kobra Moon to get things straight? Well, we’ll have to wait a little bit longer. It felt like this match never really got into second gear, and her style is just not what we’re used to seeing. It looked like she also had problems with her mask. It kept falling out of place as she moved around the ring, which might have contributed to the odd style of the match. At the very least, this is something that’s fixable, and hopefully they give her a better-fitting mask.

    Also, why did the Mack just disappear? Like, one second the crowd is cheering him there, and the next second Moth shows up and the Mack is literally nowhere to be found. You would have expected him to run after the Moth for what he did to Sexy Star.

    We get another Famous B segment, where he runs his usual sales pitch, complete with your usual luchador civilians. It turns out that El Dragon Azteca is watching this, much to the disappointment of Rey Mysterio. So Rey does what a typical mentor would do—turn off the television and start a sparring session. He needs to get El Dragon Azteca ready for his destiny, you see. I guess that means it’s not his destiny to be famous, then? Nevertheless, good segment to show that this El Dragon Azteca is not yet as mature as his predecessor.

    Afterwards, King Cuerno cuts a promo to hype up his ladder match with Fenix tonight. Despite the fact that this is going to be the third time we’ll see them fight this season (literally every other episode has had Fenix vs. King Cuerno), I have a feeling this match is going to outdo their previous efforts. This should be good.

    Match 2: Pentagon Jr. vs. Prince Puma

    Before we get some violent ladder action, though, we have this! This is a rematch from a couple of episodes ago, after a confusing finish which saw Prince Puma eke out a win. Fists start to fly as the bell rings, and Pentagon Jr. hits a couple of sling blades to send Prince Puma out. The former Lucha Underground Champion comes right back with a flying forearm before somersaulting out of the ring onto Cero Miedo. This guy makes it look too easy!

    Prince Puma tries for some more flippy shit, but Pentagon halts his momentum with a low dropkick. He continues the offense with some suplexes and a standing shooting star press, but he misses the 630 splash. Pentagon hits a flipping piledriver off the turnbuckle, but wait, here comes Mil Muertes! The Lucha Underground Champion storms the ring and lays out both men! He picks both men up and nails a double Flatliner to send a statement!

    No Contest

    That match actually started out very well, until Mil Muertes came out for the attack. I guess it’s a teaser of things to come, though, as Mil Muertes proclaims that he will defend the Lucha Underground Championship against both Prince Puma and Pentagon Jr. next week! Lucha Underground just keeps rolling out these big main events, don’t they?

    And if that wasn’t enough, Matt Striker just announced that Aztec Warfare 2 is happening in three weeks’ time! AZTEC. WARFARE.

    For those of you who haven’t seen it, I highly recommend you look for it out there. It’s essentially the Royal Rumble but with Lucha Underground’s added flair. The inaugural Aztec Warfare match last season was considered as the point when the show really got off the ground, and hopefully this year’s version lives up to it.

    Match 3: Ladder Match for the Gift of the Gods Championship – Fenix vs. King Cuerno (c)

    The Gift of the Gods hangs above the Temple as both men come out for their third match this season. Fenix starts off with some kicks and a spinning dive, taking the fight to the outside. Fenix tries to end the match early, but King Cuerno quickly pushes him off the ladder. The champion powerbombs Fenix onto the ladder, allowing him time to set up some ladders on the ring apron. Fenix blocks some suplexes and rolls out to the outside. King Cuerno continues to work on Fenix, taking his time in picking the bird apart. We’re witnessing a masterclass in hunting here, folks.

    Both men climb up a ladder now, and Fenix drops King Cuerno back down. Fenix comes back to life, hitting a high senton past a ladder! Both men brawl up the fan stands. Fenix climbs up the railings, but King Cuerno smells blood and tosses him onto a ladder. The champion gets back in the ring and starts to climb the ladder, but Fenix springboards right in and kicks King Cuerno off. King Cuerno hits Thrill of the Hunt, then goes furniture shopping for a nice table. He sets up Fenix for another Thrill of the Hunt through a table, but no! Fenix squirms out and sends King Cuerno through the table with a rana! King Cuerno is out cold! Fenix climbs up the ladder and manages to retrieve the Gift of the Gods Championship!

    Winner, and NEW Gift of the Gods Champion: Fenix!

    Fenix gets his Gift of the Gods Championship back, and he stares down Mil Muertes to close the show. Nice tease to the possibility of adding another chapter in this life vs. death feud—provided he can get past Prince Puma and Pentagon Jr. next week.

    What a way to cap off this feud! They told a great story with King Cuerno dictating the flow of the match, and Fenix just getting up after every fall. He just wouldn’t die, and in the end, that was enough to outlast the tactical maneuvers of the Luchador Hunter.

    They were able to maximize their surroundings and turn the Temple into a weapon. That resulted in a violent, enjoyable brawl that is one of the top matches of this season so far. Fenix has a mastery of his craft that no other wrestler had at the age of 25, and this big win thrusts him back to the front of the line for a shot at the Lucha Underground Championship. Hopefully, he gets to cash it in this time before Catrina sics someone else on him.

    One thing that Lucha Underground has been doing differently this season is compressing angles, leading to more frequent matches than they had last season. King Cuerno vs. Fenix felt like a program that you can normally see elsewhere—high volume of matches over a short period of time with a big payoff at the end. Last season, we usually got several weeks of episodes before luchadors faced each other, with “lesser” matches in between the big ones. You can also see this trend in the other big feud that they have going on right now with Mil Muertes, Pentagon Jr. and Prince Puma.

    So far, I’d say that it’s worked well for the show. Looking back, segments and matches involving these two feuds have been some of the best moments of the young season so far. Hopefully, they continue with this kind of storytelling. Yes, it’s not a unique take, but it fits with what Lucha Underground wants to air, and is able to maximize both their strong storytelling and in-ring competence.

    This week’s episode started off really slow, but managed to build to a great and exciting finish. Kobra Moon is still a point for improvement, and I hope they can work out the kinks. Pentagon Jr. vs. Prince Puma was very short, but it was very good, and served as a teaser for next week’s main event. The ladder match was outstanding, and was a good culmination to the King Cuerno-Fenix feud. Couple that with the usual solid world-building, and this week’s episode clocks in at a solid B.

    Cover photo taken from Lucha Underground.

    Anthony Cuello is an HR professional and training designer. When he’s not sleeping or reading the Harvard Business Review, he covers PWR and Lucha Underground for Smark Henry. A psychology nut, he tends to watch wrestling looking for these small nuances of in-ring behavior. He dreams of a wrestling business with good people management practices, and hopes to help make that happen one day. 
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    Item Reviewed: Temple Rants (3/2/16): Snakes & Ladders Rating: 5 Reviewed By: Anthony Cuello
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