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    Monday, June 29, 2020

    Temple Run (6/29/20): A Monstrous Debut

    Welcome back to another edition of Temple Run, now coming to you on Mondays! This time, we’re covering the middle portion of Season 2, featuring episodes 9 to 15. There's a lot to unpack as always, but before that, I want to say a couple of things on one of the guys we featured in the last review.

    A Quick Bit on Joey Ryan

    Last time, I talked about Joey Ryan making his debut in Lucha Underground, his impact on the show, and how that signature dick spot was one of wrestling’s great modern spots. A few hours after that, the #SpeakingOut movement began.

    Needless to say, I now want to take back that statement, as well as every minute I’ve spent watching Joey Ryan matches. At last count, there were at least a dozen allegations brought forward against him, and the accounts are all harrowing to read. Since then, Ryan has been fired from IMPACT! Wrestling, deleted his Twitter account, and shut down his California-based promotion Bar Wrestling. He’s basically been erased from professional wrestling, and if this industry has learned, we’ll never have to see him again barring a significant turnaround in his behavior.

    When things like these happen, some of us go down the route of recognizing the wrestler’s notable work while not forgetting the atrocities they committed. For example, you can say that Chris Benoit’s match at WrestleMania XX was an all-time classic, while acknowledging that Benoit did some vile and horrible things. It’s almost impossible to do that for Joey Ryan, though, because his very wrestling is eerily reflective of the predatory acts he committed. You can’t look at the dick-grabbing and penis-flipping and not think of the women Ryan harassed, supposedly using his gimmick as an excuse for the way he acted. This is a scary case of art really, really imitating life.

    It’s hard to separate Joey Ryan with the creepy wrestling gimmick from Joey Ryan the real-life creep, and because of that, I won’t be mentioning his name at all in these reviews moving forward.

    Anyway, time for some Lucha Underground!

    Story Beats

    Catrina and Mil Muertes’ reign in the Temple was put to an abrupt halt, marking another change in the overall feel of the show. After Fenix pulled off another win over his longtime rival, another Aztec Warfare match was scheduled, and it was at this point that Dario Cueto made his triumphant return to the temple with his brother in tow.

    Matanza Cueto’s debut was a huge moment in Lucha Underground because of how it upended the existing power structure. All of a sudden you had this luchador that showed up in the Temple and just demolished everyone, establishing himself firmly on top of the food chain. It's like going to play basketball with your friends at the local barangay court, only for prime Kobe (RIP) or Michael Jordan to show up and school you all. Is it going to be fun? Probably, but you're going to get wrecked in the process.

    This was a move that set the tone for the remainder of this season—Matanza Cueto is the end boss of this show, and god forbid you even try and step up to him. The succeeding episodes immediately set this up. Matanza debuted in Aztec Warfare and eliminated half the roster without breaking a sweat. He then defended his title in matches against Pentagon Jr. and Fenix, and disposed of them in rather quick fashion. It's jarring to watch because these were the guys initially thought of to be among the Temple's best, and here they're just swatted away like flies by the new kid on the block. It wasn't until Matanza's match against Mil Muertes that we see someone stand some chance against the Monster, and even that didn't end up pretty in the end.

    Matanza's debut and run in Lucha Underground was a sight to behold, because he just killed it from start to finish. He's not your typical monster whose main forte is just tossing the small guys around and dishing out big man moves—Matanza showed off a lot of flips and moves in his arsenal that you wouldn't have thought possible for a big, wide guy like him. That unique style solidified him as one of the Temple's elite luchadors, and paved the way for more wrestling fans like me to start following him in other promotions. If you still don't know, the man behind the mask is none other than one Jeff Cobb—yes, the Jeff Cobb that you may have seen at PWR Special: Homecoming late last year. Now that's one guy we can definitely be proud of.

    The other big storyline in this set of episodes is another tournament, much to no one's surprise. It's Dario Cueto's grand return to the temple, after all, and what better way to celebrate that than with another Trios Tournament?

    You have to hand it to Dario Cueto here. What do you do if your last Trios Tournament was won by a highly dysfunctional team that bickered at every opportunity? Make a whole bunch of them and put them in a tournament. Every team except the Disciples of Death was composed of guys who had beef with one another, or had never teamed up before. Dario found the winning recipe and put it into overdrive, and that resulted in a very fun tournament. There's a lot of bickering and one-upping in these matches, but they still managed to put on quality matches and not detract from the tournament itself. It's a short tournament, but the matches were solid, and it culminated in a solid Trios Championship match that we'll feature later on.

    One last thing I want to talk about here is Lucha Underground's ability to reinvent and redefine characters, and we saw two of the more significant ones in the show take place in Season Two. While the majority of the Temple's mainstays stayed consistent with their gimmicks, a few names underwent some much-needed development that helped them become more prominent later on. Take the case of Famous B—originally one of the show's jobbers brought in to fill up the roster, he was reinvented as a smooth-talking, suave manager that promised fame to aspiring luchadors. They introduced him via a series of old, car salesman-style commercials where Famous B would try to sell his services to you. It worked because it was such a unique way to introduce someone, and by the time he finally showed up in the Temple, people were already chanting his signature hotline "4-2-3-GET-FAME"

    Another example is Killshot—the dude who was just known as one of Big Ryck's cousins was refreshed as a clinical, merciless ex-military sniper who fought as a way to forget his traumatic past, and that led to him being involved in bigger storylines later on. One of this show's strengths was that it made you care about guys you wouldn't have looked twice at otherwise, and it allowed for a constantly evolving roster where everyone got their fair chance to shine.

    Notable Debuts & Appearances

    We already talked about Matanza above, so let’s shine the spotlight on Season Two’s other big debut, Rey Mysterio Jr. 

    Mysterio was Lucha Underground’s biggest signing throughout its entire run, and it was one of those matches made in heaven. He had everything Lucha Underground wanted out of a big star, from the lucha libre heritage to the mainstream appeal and recognition. More than names like Alberto El Patron and Johnny Mundo, Mysterio was the signing that made a lot more people aware of the show. For many of us who started on wrestling via the mainstream shows, he was our first exposure at the colorful world of lucha libre. The moment he came out in Aztec Warfare II, there was a legitimate belief that Lucha Underground really could make it as an alternative to mainstream wrestling for a long time. In hindsight, this show didn’t quite hit those heights, but Mysterio’s debut still stands as one of this show’s pivotal moments.

    Lucha Underground was able to use Rey Mysterio well, fitting him in as the lucha libre hero paying it forward. Throughout the show, he’s treated with a significant amount of reverence—commentary highlights his numerous accomplishments in the WWE, luchadors make way for him and shake his hand before matches, and the Believers receive him with deafening support every match. Mysterio’s role as the mentor to the next generation of lucha libre was perfect, but they still gave him the occasional headline feud here and there. It’s a great example of how you can integrate veteran wrestlers and give them significant roles without taking too much from the young stars you’re trying to build. 

    Another debutant with a significant role in the show is El Dragon Azteca Jr., the heir to that dude who was strangled last season by Black Lotus. Azteca is the Daniel LaRusso to Mysterio’s Mr. Miyagi—the young face with boundless potential that needed to be guided and trained. He’s got a significant role in Lucha Underground given his ties with Black Lotus and the Cueto brothers, and looked to stand as the show’s future standard-bearer following the likes of Prince Puma, Pentagon Jr. and Fenix. Unfortunately, the show never got to that point as it ended mid-storyline after the fourth season, and El Dragon Azteca Jr. stands as one of this show’s biggest what-ifs. 

    There’s one more guy worth mentioning, if only because it sets us up for a rather interesting payoff down the show. Daga was introduced in these episodes as the latest import from AAA, an insanely talented up-and-comer who looked to prove himself against the Temple’s mainstays. He immediately got into a solid debut match against Texano Jr. and spent the rest of the season in regular contention, before mysteriously disappearing in the third season. I’m not spoiling what happened just yet, because the entirety of this storyline is so wonderfully absurd and magical. It’s Lucha Underground at it’s finest, so just remember his name for now.

    The Fave Five

    1. Aztec Warfare II (Episode 9). After watching all the Aztec Warfare matches throughout this show, I’m very sure that the second one was the finest of the bunch. It had epic debuts, huge upsets, great lucha libre, some fun comedy spots, and a shocking finish. Every big name in the Temple got a role to play, and this meant a match that was packed with action from start to finish.

    2. Mil Muertes vs. Matanza, Lucha Underground Championship Match (Episode 13). It’s the unstoppable force against the immovable object, Lucha Underground style. This was right after Matanza dispatched of Fenix and Pentagon Jr. with relative ease, and watching Mil Muertes be the first man to legitimately beat down the Monster was a sight to see. It’s a little different from your usual Lucha Underground fare, but these two do a great job of tossing each other like some kaiju battle. I usually prefer matches with conclusive endings, but the draw here worked because you just wanted to see them go at it again.

    3. Cage vs. Johnny Mundo, Steel Cage Match for an Aztec Medallion (Episode 14). The blow off to the Johnny Mundo-Cage feud was an excellent match that played to both wrestlers’ strengths perfectly. Mundo’s parkour background shines in matches like these, and it’s a nice reminder of why many fans touted him as the WWE’s next breakout star all those years ago. Ultimately, Mundo’s hubris got in the way once again, allowing Cage to fight back and pick up the win. An honorable mention goes to Taya for still finding a way to get involved—we all expected it would happen, but it’s fun to see her willingly flying into her immediate demise.

    4. Trios Championship Tournament Final (Episode 14). Lucha Underground kept hitting it out of the park with these Trios Tournament Finals, didn’t they? They even found a way to stack the odds against the champions again, with Angelico ruled out because of a mysterious incident right before the match. It’s sad that they never got a fair chance to continue their reign, but at least it ended in a spectacle. The resurgent Crew and the oddball union of Fenix-Black-Evans had great efforts here, but they all fell short against the Lucha Underground version of the Avengers in Puma, Azteca and Mysterio.

    5. Sexy Star vs. Mariposa, No Mas Match (Episode 15). Ah, yes. This was actually a great match to watch back then, simply because of the emotion it carried with it. It’s always a good feeling when we vanquish our bullies and tormentors, and Sexy Star played that role to perfection here. It’s just ironic that the very people she fought against (Pentagon Jr., the Moth Tribe) in Lucha Underground turned out to be exactly the kind of person she was, as we all saw when she legitimately tried to break Rosemary’s arm after a match. This one plays out a lot differently watching it in 2020, but I thought I’d list it anyway if only to point out the grand irony of it all.

    Photos from Lucha Underground
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    Item Reviewed: Temple Run (6/29/20): A Monstrous Debut Rating: 5 Reviewed By: Anthony Cuello
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