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    Thursday, July 27, 2017

    The Smark Henry 2017 Midyear Report: Lucha Underground

    The Smark Henry Midyear Report is a new series where we take a look at the wrestling we watch around the world and assess each show/brand/company's performance in the first six months of 2017.

    No, your eyes aren't deceiving you. We've also got a midyear report for Lucha Underground!

    Well, at least for the 11 episodes (including the one that just came out) that have aired this 2017. Admittedly, it's hard to write a full report from the little that has been shown this year, but that won't stop us from trying. Since there isn't as much content to go by like other wrestling promotions, we've given this show some leeway and included the first half of season three (which began September of last year) to base these midyear awards on.

    Anyway, what is there to say about Lucha Underground this year? I can comfortably say that things have been excellent, for the most part. We've been treated to some outstanding matches this year, on top of the solid character development that the show usually prides itself on. Season two proved to be rough sailing, but they've managed to steer away from that and move into the smooth waters that season three has been so far. While the novelty factor of the original season has worn off at this point, the show has managed to hit the heights that it did in its first season. There have been some rough patches (the first round of the Cueto Cup had so many dead matchups that the show quality suffered), but they've managed to bounce back from it.

    I could go on and on with this, but it's easier to see when we take a look at the individuals that have stood out so far. Here are my picks for Lucha Underground's best of the best this 2017:

    Most Improved Luchador of the Midyear: Marty "The Moth" Martinez

    Let's start with one of the biggest transformations in the Temple: Marty "The Moth" Martinez.

    The Moth has completely gone off his rockers this season, turning from a harmless, slightly creepy guy into one of the most dangerous men on the roster right now. One moment he's flapping his arms in the ring, the next he's pasting up pictures of Melissa Santos on a corkboard. One moment he's getting all weird and creepy with Mariposa, then he's suddenly stabbing Fenix with a fork. It's all so intense and crazy, it makes you want to tune in just to see what he does next.

    That character evolution makes him one of the season's standouts so far, especially when you consider where the character began. If you told me way back in season one that Marty "The Moth" Martinez would become one of the most compelling characters on the show, I'd have thought you were high and ask for whatever shit you were smoking, because that stuff sounds intense.

    Honorable Mentions: Killshot, PJ Black

    Rookie of the Midyear: Jeremiah Crane

    This was also tough to decide on, because both Crane and Fox have made a name for themselves this season. Both have been among the better luchadors we've seen this season, and have established themselves as solid contenders.

    Crane, though, gets the tiebreaker simply because of sheer balls. You'd be insane to go immediately go after Mil Muertes upon debuting in the Temple, but that's exactly what Crane has done. It's more impressive to pick a fight with the Man of a Thousand Deaths than with your ex-colleague from work, but that isn't meant to mock the history between Killshot and Fox. Again, this was close, but I'm fine with giving Jeremiah Crane the slight nod ahead.

    (Very) Honorable Mention: Dante Fox

    The Struggle: El Dragon Azteca Jr.

    For a man many had thought would reach new heights this season, things sure haven't gone well for El Dragon Azteca Jr.

    A large part of it is because he hasn't really stepped out of the shadow of Rey Mysterio. We know he can go in the ring and all, but aside from that, you still recognize him as "Rey Mysterio's student." It's frustrating because Azteca already tried to break away from Mysterio quite some time ago, but he's failed to actually do that. Combine that with sparse in-ring action, some early exits (he was gone from both the Cueto Cup and the Battle of the Bulls tournament immediately), and the fact that a lot of people have been putting in better matches than him, and it's easy to see why this season has been a struggle for him.

    Honorable Mention: Texano, Angelico

    OMG Moment of the Midyear: Cage Murders Councilman Delgado

    On a show like Lucha Underground, you could argue that there are a ton of moments that leave you bewildered as to what you just saw. None, however, have been as jaw-dropping as Cage straight up committing homicide.

    Deaths aren't avoided at all in this show, as seen with how guys like Bael, Mr. Cisco, Konnan and Siniestro de la Muerte ended up. Cage's victim was also surprising because I thought that Councilman Delgado still had a big role to play in the show. His relationship with Dario Cueto, as well as his mysterious master and their mission are still unknown, and I expected them to build up some sort of reveal with Delgado being the bridge to link it all together. Well, that's not happening anytime soon, because Cage just took his head off with one clean hit. That's what you get for trying to control the Machine.

    Honorable Mentions: Rey Mysterio tossing Matanza through the bleachers, Drago turning on Fenix and Aero Star, literally every time Dante Fox tries to kill himself

    Story of the Midyear: Marty "The Moth" Martinez Takes His Creepiness To A New Level

    Marty "The Moth" Martinez picks up his second midseason award, thanks to his ongoing feud with Fenix and Melissa Santos. Look, I swear I'm not biased just because we got to talk to this guy on the podcast.

    At its core, this is a really simple story of jealousy, and the things people do for the ones they love. It's something they planted since the first season, from the very first time Marty started flapping around and creeping behind Melissa as she introduced him for a match. Watching Marty's growth from harmless creep to full-on insane bastard has been great to watch, and this storyline was what really established him as someone unsafe and dangerous.

    Every step of this story, though, has been amazing. From Marty's stalker corkboard and pictures hidden in his crotch, Melissa's facial expressions every time Fenix got stabbed with a fork, to Fenix playing the role of knight in shining armor well, everyone's come off looking much better from this storyline. I'm very excited to see how this concludes, but there's no need to rush—let's see if Marty "The Moth" Martinez can manage to get any more creepier than he is now. I have a feeling he will.

    Honorable Mentions: The Worldwide Underground's Domination, Prince Puma's edgelord phase

    Luchador to Watch Out For: Everyone Dante Fox

    Wait, which wrestler is that?

    The answer, of course, is everyone, because all of Lucha Underground wins this award. I know I sound like a broken record when I keep saying this, but this is quietly one of the best hours in wrestling every week. Rumors of its demise since the initial season have been greatly, greatly exaggerated, because they've managed to build things back up to how they were.

    (Editor's Note: Anthony, you can't just give this to the whole show, you actually have to pick someone for it.)


    In that case, keep an eye on the One Man Army, Dante Fox. Fox has been putting in some solid matches, but he's yet to really have that big breakout moment (think Killshot and the Weapons of Mass Destruction match.) I have a feeling that this will come sooner rather than later, and that by the end of the third season Fox will have that moment. It could be as soon as his Cueto Cup match with Prince Puma, or it could be something down the line—say, whatever he does at Ultima Lucha Tres. His story with Killshot is far from over, and that should be another hell of a match coming our way.

    Luchador of the Midyear: Prince Puma

    If this were strictly kayfabe, then Johnny Mundo would be the runaway winner. He's managed to climb to the top of the Temple, claim the Lucha Underground Championship, and build a formidable army to protect himself in the Worldwide Underground. The only thing with Mundo is that aside from his All Night Long match against the Mack, I can't recall the last time he's been involved in a genuinely good match. Part of that is due to how the Worldwide Underground works as the traditional Western-style stable that runs in on everything, of course, but it does feel like they've gone down that route one too many times.

    You know who's been having tons of good matches, and some great character development? Prince Puma.

    His matches against Matanza, Mil Muertes and PJ Black have all been excellent, and he's showing no signs of stopping given his continued run into the Cueto Cup. Of course, it's not as if we expect anything less from Prince Puma, but the fact that he manages to put on clinic after clinic is something worth recognizing. While he hasn't really be in the title hunt this season, that'll be fixed sooner than later—at this point, he's my pick to win the Cueto Cup and go on to get a title shot. With a match as high stakes as that, don't be surprised if he surpasses all his matches this season and goes on to have his best one yet.

    Then there's Prince Puma's character development, which has also been excellent. He plays the role of troubled, angsty young luchador well, and it isn't just a simple change in costume. For one, it helps that he's actually speaking now (even if he sounds like a kid), as compared to the silent hero we initially saw him as. Having Vampiro take him under his wing has allowed us to see a different side to Prince Puma than we saw with Konnan, and it keeps the character fresh. There's only so much you can do as the quiet, hometown hero, and they've let his character evolve so much.

    Honorable Mentions: Johnny Mundo


    That's how things stand for Lucha Underground so far, but don't be surprised if you see different faces for these awards by the end of the year. We've currently got the remainder of season three airing, and Ultima Lucha Tres is still to come. Who knows, maybe El Dragon Azteca Jr. might have turned things around by then, or someone else manages to rise to the top and show more improvement than Marty "The Moth" Martinez. With a show like this, you never know what'll happen.


    Anthony Cuello is an HR professional and training designer. When he’s not sleeping or reading the Harvard Business Review, he covers 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: The Smark Henry 2017 Midyear Report: Lucha Underground Rating: 5 Reviewed By: Anthony Cuello
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