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    Thursday, June 11, 2020

    Temple Run (6/11/20): Welcome to Ultima Lucha


    Before we get started, allow me to get a couple of things off my chest. 

    To be honest, it is very hard for me to continue writing this column despite everything that’s happening today. How can I just sit back, watch and write about luchadors flying around while the country (and even the world) is slowly going to shit? How can I laugh at Dario Cueto being one corrupt motherfucker when his real-life equivalents are bleeding the Philippines dry? How can I marvel at these complex submissions holds when similar things are happening around the world, but with very real consequences? We wrestling fans often throw around the adage that wrestling is our form of escape from the day-to-day hellscape of our lives. However, is it even appropriate to do that when the thing we’re escaping into has always been politically charged?

    Nevertheless, I must try. At the start of this column, I said my aim was to convince you Lucha Underground is a great show. That’s still the plan. At the same time, I can’t just write this in a vacuum anymore and pretend everything else is fine. Now, I’m not just going to shoehorn every bit of political news and crisis in what I write. Our focus will still be on Lucha Underground, but when relatable to what’s going on right now, we’ll talk about that, too. We at Smark Henry made a promise that we will use this platform that we have to speak out, and this is the very least I can do to help drive that.

    That’s what this is going to look like moving forward. Expect things that are uncomfortable to show up. If you’re still with us, that’s great—let’s enjoy wrestling and continue fighting the good fight. If you just want your wrestling content while burying your head in the sand, don’t worry, we’re getting to that now.

    Welcome to Temple Run, everybody.

    Story Beats

    The last few episodes of Season One focus on Ultima Lucha, set as the show’s season-ender.

    Lucha Underground was not like your typical wrestling show in that it aired continuously—it was aired seasonally, and as with most shows like this, the finale was hyped up to be something big. Conveniently, because this is a wrestling show, that finale was easily packaged as Ultima Lucha—a special show that Dario Cueto hyped up to be a grandiose affair. All of the show’s championships were put on the line, and we had a variety of stipulation matches to spice up the card. It was a show so stacked, it had to take place over two weeks.

    For the most part, Lucha Underground pulled off a great first finale. All the matches were culminations of something built up over the latter half of the season, whether it was a championship match or a longstanding feud. I’ll get to some of the matches later, but this was overall a very solid card. Add that to the usual Lucha Underground lore, and Ultima Lucha comes across as the kind of finale that left you wanting more.


    We’ve already talked about most of the matches on this card, so I’d just like to highlight one feud that really picked up over the last few episodes. Pentagon Jr.’s beef with Vampiro escalated from run-ins to literal gaslighting to a bloody war, and this was the feud that really elevated Pentagon Jr. from just another good luchador into a star. This was the rivalry that gave him purpose aside from just breaking arms, and it’s one that has lasting implications throughout the show. Pulling in Vampiro to play a bigger role than just a commentator was a great move, and this relationship would weave itself throughout the rest of Lucha Underground’s existence.

    The other story worth highlighting is the largely off-ring tale of Black Lotus. In a surprise twist, Black Lotus ended up siding with the Cuetos, killing her mentor El Dragon Azteca as an act of revenge. They end up having to flee the Temple in fear of unseen Mexican forces, and this would create a power vacuum heading into season two. This angle also led to the birth of El Dragon Azteca Jr., but we’ll get to him in the next couple of weeks.

    Notable Debuts & Appearances

    It’s a finale, so there weren’t a lot of debuts that happened. An honorable mention goes out to Melina, though—the former WWE Women’s Champion showed up at Ultima Lucha, helping ex-boyfriend Johnny Mundo pick up the win over Alberto El Patron. Unfortunately, that was also her last appearance on this show, so this is the only time you’ll see her mentioned in this column.


    Instead of wrestlers,, I want to talk about the third championship that debuted towards the end of Season One—the Gift of the Gods. At first glance, this looked like nothing more than Lucha Underground’s version of the Money in the Bank briefcase. It is, however, so much more than that. Let me explain why:
    • It looks a hundred times cooler. The WWE used a briefcase, which is probably the most uninspiring object to denote a prize or accomplishment. Seriously, who was the corporate shmuck who thought this was a good idea? Did someone just pick up whatever was lying on his desk at the time and conveniently thought it was a witty attempt to convey “climbing the corporate ladder”? I’m not even sure WWE wrestlers can do that, considering they’re independent contractors! Lucha Underground eschewed this crappy metaphor and went with something that looked straight out of Indiana Jones. The belt even had grooves to place the Aztec medallions in, because they had to be gathered first to complete the title. If God was a real entity, I’m sure that they would be the Gift of the Gods Championship in belt form.
    • It’s an actual title, not just an accolade. Presentation absolutely matters. Part of the Gift of the Gods’ appeal is that it’s presented as a championship. Whoever holds it is a winner and is presented as such. Feuds for the belt felt significant because they were fighting for a championship, and that helped raise the prestige. A briefcase, on the other hand, often felt like an accessory to feuds.
    • You couldn’t cash it in right away. Part of the Money in the Bank briefcase’s lasting appeal has been the surprise cash-ins, and Lucha Underground’s approach was to differentiate from that. There were no moments of shock and awe here because whoever held the Gift of the Gods had to inform Dario Cueto one week in advance. Why? Because he’s a businessman, and he wants enough time to promote the match and sell tickets. It’s such a simple enough explanation that it works.

    The Fave Five Four 

    A little departure from the usual this week, but we’ll get to that later. Also, spoiler alert—all these matches are from Ultima Lucha.

    1. Drago vs. Hernandez, Believers' Backlash Match. Believers’ Backlash is a lumberjack match where fans with leather straps surround the ring, which is a level of fan engagement you don’t see very often. Hernandez gained a lot of ill will from the Temple, while Drago did not, and that should give you an idea of how this match went down. No expectations were subverted here—it’s the asshole heel getting his due comeuppance, and they told this story well. If you got invested into Drago’s roller-coaster ride this season, this is a nice conclusion to that story.


    2. Pentagon Jr. vs. Vampiro, Cero Miedo Match. Pentagon’s ultimate sacrifice, and the match that accounted for around 80% of the ring’s dirt and grime. If you’ve watched one of those CZW deathmatches, this one’s right up that alley. Thumbtacks, concrete, fluorescent light tubes, and lighter fluid sounds like your Ace Hardware shopping list, but it’s also a list of everything used in this match. Watch until the end for a twist that absolutely floored me when I first saw it—it’ll have a lot of significance as the show goes on.

    3. Fenix vs. King Cuerno vs. Bengala vs. Jack Evans vs. Aero Star vs. Big Ryck vs. Sexy Star, Gift of the Gods Championship Match. I’ve talked about these multi-man matches in the past, and this stays true to that formula while having increased stakes with a title on the line. Everyone gets their fair share of the spotlight, and you could have called any of them as a winner at any point in this match. It’s a little more chaotic than usual because they wrapped up a lot of storylines—Delavar Daivari and Marty “The Moth” Martinez make appearances here—but this was still a fast-paced, balls to the wall affair.


    4. Mil Muertes vs. Prince Puma, Lucha Underground Championship Match. The main event and final match of the season was also a stellar one, featuring two of the show’s standout luchadors. Mil Muertes and Catrina sealed away Konnan in a coffin, raising the odds further against our silent protagonist in Prince Puma. What followed was a match that had a little bit of everything, only done at a level these two could do. Both men had several moments where you thought they were about to win, only for the other to kick out and continue building the suspense. If you thought this was your fairy tale ending of the hero vanquishing evil at the end, think again.

    And finally, that last match on the list:

    5. The Mack vs. Cage, Falls Count Anywhere Match. When I rewatched this match, I had forgotten about how the finish happened. This match ended with Cage stomping Mack's head through a cinderblock to pick up the win. In light of what’s going on in the world right now, seeing that spot again was just very uncomfortable. I had to shut my laptop and stop watching for a while because I couldn’t believe what I just saw. My memories of this match were good, but it’s definitely one that hasn’t aged well at all, and that prompted me to call it out separately from our usual pick of matches.

    Next time, we talk about Season Two, as well as a little bit of what happened in between. See you then!

    Photos from Lucha Underground
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    Item Reviewed: Temple Run (6/11/20): Welcome to Ultima Lucha Rating: 5 Reviewed By: Anthony Cuello
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