Wednesday, November 8, 2017

Kliq Bait: Top Ten Lucha Underground Matches of 2017

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It has truly been one hell of a 2017 for Lucha Underground. The second half of season three, while it certainly had its faults (perhaps, in large part, because of how near-perfect the first two and a half seasons were), gave us some amazing wrestling and some truly compelling storylines. The Cueto Cup gave us some fresh matchups and a lot of great matches. We got big time marquee matchups like Mysterio/Matanza, Mysterio/Mundo, Puma/Mundo, and Puma/Pentagon. Plus [SPOILER] Dario Cueto might be fucking dead. It wasn't really that hard to pick the top 10 since the show was only running for less than half of the year but the fact that there were even 10+ matches worthy of "match of the year" consideration is a testament to just how damn good Lucha Underground is. I hope and pray that this wasn't their last season.

And so, without further ado, Vundablog presents the top ten Lucha Underground matches of 2017...

***WARNING: DO NOT READ IF YOU DO NOT WANT LUCHA UNDERGROUND SEASON THREE SPOILERS***




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Honorable Mention: Son of Havoc vs. Son of Madness (Boyle Heights Biker Brawl for Ancient Aztec Medallion) -- S3E33: "Havoc Running Wild" (8/30)

This story and the matches that came out of it were a lot of fun. It was great to see Son of Havoc finally starting to get a significant singles push--I'm pretty sure this was his first actual story as a singles wrestler--and to get a huge piece of his backstory filled in in a compelling, entertaining way. The premise here is that Son of Havoc "went nomad" a while back from a biker gang who are apparently the thinly veiled Sons of Anarchy. We know Son of Havoc's mother is "Mrs. Havoc" so we can only assume that Son of Madness is Mr. and Mrs. Madness's baby boy. Hopefully season four brings us the debut of Son of Chaos and Son of Bedlam. Then maybe the leader of the gang shows up and it's SON OF ANARCHY.

*ahem*

Anyway, Son of Madness shows up to face Son of Havoc in the first round of the Cueto Cup and according to Vampiro--who appears to know something (at least in kayfabe) about biker gangs--he's here to "collect a debt" from Havoc. Apparently Havoc--in his own words--"went nomad for a reason" but we don't know what that reason is, only that a member of his gang is here to collect a debt. In Round 1 of the Cueto Cup, Havoc wins with a roll-up but Madness beats him up and steals his "colors" (his leather vest with the gang colors/logo on it). This sets up the rematch with an ancient Aztec medallion and a trip to the Gift of the Gods match on the line.

The match is a really, really fun brawl with a lot of really cool spots. It's pretty even at the beginning with both men taking turns beating each other up on the outside for a while. The crowd is ALL IN on this match which really elevates it a lot. There's a lot of great symmetry between Havoc and Madness but eventually you get a definite sense that Havoc is ready for pretty much everything Madness is throwing at him but Madness maybe doesn't know much about what Havoc has learned about fighting since he arrived at the Temple.

The match somehow gets even better when they get in the ring, particularly in terms of pacing and timing. The ending was pretty good if not particularly connected to the story within the match but it was fun and it felt right for the overall aesthetic of the match: Madness grabs a beer bottle and a weird toolbox and a trash can and after several reversals hits a death valley driver; he then gets a hammer out of the toolbox but Havoc fights him off long enough to grab the beer bottle and smash it over his head, hitting the shooting star for the win and triumphantly reclaiming his colors.

I'm really interested to see where this goes from here. It could very well be the end of the story they're telling but Lucha Underground tends to go deeper with stories like this. They don't usually introduce an idea like "the biker gang this guy bailed on is after him" only to resolve it with one feud with one guy. I would be surprised if we didn't see a Sons of General Disorder trios team come after Son of Havoc and his Unlikely Trio teammates come to his aid.





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10. Prince Puma vs. P.J. Black -- S3E27: "Fade to Black" (7/19)

A lot has been written about the problems in execution with the Cueto Cup--particularly the huge influx of outside interference in the matches as a plot device to advance stories--and I don't necessarily disagree but I also am willing to forgive a lot in the name of telling stories. Thankfully, this is not one of those matches that ends in interference. As with most Prince Puma matches in season three (and, really, ever), it ends very decisively.

I love PJ's strategy early on, trying to keep Puma grounded with submissions. That's so smart and really goes a long way in making this seem like a real fight that he's actually trying to win rather than a gymnastics routine. Of course, Puma eventually quickens the pace and then these two are off to the races with crazy chains of reversals and move combos and combo reversal reversals. Puma is noticeably more aggressive than usual here in the wake of being brought back from the dead by Vampiro through "dark magic." But GOD the combos and reversals in this match. It gets to be a bit of a spotfest but it's so well-orchestrated that I can't knock it for that. And the pacing is actually pretty good as spotfests go, which leads to a lot of really great nearfalls.

Of course, as usual, Puma nails a dropkick to the corner and hits a crushing 630 for a decisive win, which is also great. I feel like great matches with very decisive finishes don't happen nearly enough in wrestling sometimes (mostly in WWE) but that's definitely not the case for Lucha Underground (which is a big part of why people complain so much about them doing outside interference so much in the Cueto Cup). Prince Puma matches are the "Cesaro hulking up and hitting someone with a monster Neutralizer for the win in NXT" of Lucha Underground and I kinda love it.





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9. Dante Fox vs. Son of Havoc  -- S3E27: "Fade to Black" (7/19)

One of the best things about the Cueto Cup was that it showcased a couple of wrestlers in particular who seemed to be fighting over the next big push in Lucha Underground like a pack of rabid dogs (namely Dante Fox, Jeremiah Crane, Killshot, Son of Havoc, and El Dragon Azteca, Jr.) and it was SPECTACULAR to watch. Dante Fox may have been the MVP of the second half of season three and Son of Havoc was definitely in the top five and they absolutely tore it down.

Son of Havoc gets attacked before the match by Son of Madness (which I thought was kind of a great way of doing storytelling with outside interference without having it directly affect the match) who wrecks his dome with a metal chain. Dario forces Son of Havoc to fight or forfeit the match and Havoc powers up to fight. The crowd is HYPED but his head is damaged. So what does Dante Fox do? He hits a brutal running kick to Havoc's head, stomps him in the head, hits an enziguri, and nails an OVER THE POST PLANCHA which is also essentially attacking the head. He follows that up with a top rope leg drop to the APRON (still focusing on the head) for a nearfall.

The chemistry between these two is ridiculous. The sequence where Fox pulls back a tope, tries a running moonsault from the apron, Havoc moves, Fox lands on his feet and goes for a wheelbarrow, only to get thrown into the apron is goddamn beautiful. And there are so many more great sequences like that one. This is also the match where Fox debuted that seated springboard C4 which is so completely insane that I didn't even know what I was seeing when I first saw it. I had to watch the replay to even fully process that thing. Goodness gracious! After that, Havoc is prone and Fox is toying with him instead of staying on him and that almost costs him. Havoc fights back, they trade forearms, Havoc hits a thrust kick, they trade reversals and Havoc hits a goddamn death valley driver OFF THE APRON TO THE FLOOR. From there, Havoc hits a springboard plancha into a standing moonsault and goes for the shooting star press but Fox moves and catches Havoc in the Foxcatcher for the win.





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8. Matanza vs. Rey Mysterio Jr. -- S3E35: "Cien" (9/13)

The saga of Rey Mysterio, Jr. vs. the Cueto family really began at Aztec Warfare III (the greatest and most important wrestling match of all time) but the seeds were planted all the way back at Aztec Warfare II when both Matanza and Mysterio debuted in Lucha Underground in the same match and ended up being the last two men left at the end. At Aztec Warfare III, Mysterio became the first person ever to pin the Monster and ever since then Matanza has been desperate to get his hands on Rey.

The preceding match is Pentagon Dark vs. El Dragon Azteca, Jr. which ends with Pentagon about to break Azteca's arm before Matanza emerges. Pentagon stares him down and bumps him with his shoulder and Matanza almost goes after him but Dario barks orders to leave him alone, pointing to Azteca and saying "GET HIM." Matanza attacks Azteca which summons Rey, who comes to his protege's aid as we go to commercial. As we come back, Rey goes on the attack, hitting Matanza with a flurry of heavy-hitting moves that maximize the use of his limited body weight in hopes of chopping the giant monster down. Rey is so experienced and so good at knowing why he's doing every single thing he does. (see the opening sequence of #5)

Eventually, of course, Matanza takes over by reversing a wheelbarrow into a slam onto the apron and begins exacting a methodical, brutal, almost horror movie-like beating on Rey. Matanza has been waiting a long time for this and it shows in the way he takes his time and savors dismantling the lucha legend, throwing Rey around like a rag doll, digging his disgusting fingers into Rey's eyes, torturing him slowly and painfully. Rey is able to fight back a few times but it never lasts very long and eventually the Believers in the Temple who are always so loud and raucous become quiet and tense with legitimate concern for Rey. It's such a great example of how putting the work in and getting the exact right crowd response can do more for a wrestling match than a dozen dot dot dot dives.

Rey fights back on turnbuckle, biting Matanza's hand and hitting a sunset flip powerbomb--the move he beat Matanza with at Aztec Warfare--but is unable to make the pin after being torn apart by Matanza for the last ten minutes. Rey hits the split-leg splash and Azteca's DDTJ, opening up a flurry of offense but Matanza ends the comeback with a huge boot to the face and grabs a chair, positioning it between the ropes. Rey mounts one last comeback, sending Matanza into the chair and hitting a 619 with the chair but Matanza blocks Rey's attempt at a frog splash by throwing the damn chair at him, injuring Rey's leg. Matanza hits a flurry of suplexes and goes for a spear in the corner but Rey moves. Rey goes for a moonsault but Matanza catches him in the Wrath of the Gods for the win. Rey's foot incidentally lands on the rope but Dario pushes it off. And Matanza isn't done yet. After the match, he hits Wrath of the Gods with a chair, drapes the chair around Rey's neck and sends him into the ringpost twice, shattering the chair. As the show goes off the air, Matanza carries Rey away, an apparent sacrifice to the gods.





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7. Jeremiah Crane vs. Killshot -- S3E24: "Macho Madness" (6/28)

This is probably the best example of the great early round Cueto Cup match-ups pitting two guys against each other who are desperate to be the next big breakout star in Lucha Underground and will do anything to prove themselves worthy. What makes this so great is that they basically make that the story of the match. Right from the opening bell, both men start fast, trading bombs, going tit-for-tat in a clear game of one-upsmanship. There are just so many excellent sequences here. Crane backdropping Killshot onto the raised platform in the corner of the Temple only to have Killshot land on his feet, readjust, and hit a somersault plancha, once again landing on his feet. Killshot reversing a sunset flip powerbomb off the turnbuckle by AGAIN landing on his feet, missing a kick, hitting it on the rebound, hitting a running kick, going for another but Crane moving and hitting a running kick of his own, going for another but taking too long and Killshot reversing it into a rolling cutter. Crane reversing JML into a roll-up for a nearfall, hitting a kick to the back of the head and a brainbuster for ANOTHER nearfall.

At this point, the crowd is ON FIRE. A "BOTH THESE GUYS" chant erupts as both men, drained and hurting, trade running forearms, trade kicks, trade varying strikes, and lay each other out again with simultaneous thrust kicks to the face. The crowd breaks into a "HOLY SHIT" chant. Both men get back to their knees. They're in desperation mode. They'll do anything to prove themselves and it's so unbelievably evocative. Crane hits a headbutt, Killshot returns with a strike, and Crane spits in his fucking face. Killshot becomes incensed, slowly wiping the spit and staring down a defiant Crane as he points to his chin as if to say "hit me with your best shot." Killshot comes ROARING back with a flurry of vicious strikes but Crane won't go down. Crane goes to the top rope. Killshot tries to knock him off with a kick but Crane kicks back. Killshot won't be denied, though. He hits his big combo move: knock opponent off turnbuckle so they stradle the middle ropes, superkick to the face, PLANT DDT for 2.9! They get back to their feet and are fighting on the apron on opposing sides of the turnbuckle. Crane pulls Killshot's leg through hard, goes for a dive but Killshot CATCHES Crane in a death valley driver ON THE APRON and then hits the Killstomp for 2.999!!! The crowd is out of their minds. Killshot can't believe it. Then just as he's about to hit JML for the win, Dante Fox distracts him long enough for Crane to hit Cranial Contusion for the win.

This may well have been the best pure wrestling match in Lucha Underground in 2017. If it had a little more story or a better ending, it would probably be higher on the list but as a pure wrestling match it is absolutely breathtaking.





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6. Pentagon Dark v. Prince Puma (Career v. Career Lucha Underground Championship Match) -- S3E40: "Ultima Lucha Tres Part IV" (10/18)

As predictable of a "swerve" as this may have been (though maybe the fact that I accidentally read Wikipedia and found out who was the current LU champion several months ago didn't help), it was still a great moment. I'm a big fan of moments when the hero finally completes the hero's journey only to have it all ripped away at the last second by evil shenanigans. It's great because you can let that big moment happen and let people have that and then continue telling your story in a way that feels organic and leaves people wanting more. And it's even more fun with the crowd pops HARD for said evil shenanigans because everyone loves the brutal, evil, rudo ass motherfucker pulling them.

So, after the great culmination of Prince Puma overcoming all obstacles and coming full circle to win the Lucha Underground championship from the man he faced on episode one, becoming the first ever two-time Lucha Underground champion, Dario emerges to inform us that there will be one more match. He rightly addresses the continuity issues this raises by saying normally he likes to promote his championship matches but "rules are like bones: they are made to be broken!" And after all, he says, it is Ultima Lucha (and, really, how much more publicity does he need for Ultima Lucha, y'know? It makes sense). So, of course, Dario brings out Pentagon Dark (with the crowd HEAVILY in his corner) to cash in his Gift of the Gods championship for a title shot. And then, he raises the stakes as high as they go, announcing that this match will also be CAREER VS. CAREER. (Which, I have to say, Matt Striker responds "WHY WOULD YOU DO THAT?" and he's not wrong. Puma and Pentagon are arguably the two most popular guys in Lucha Underground. Why would Dario want to lose either of them? To be fair, though, it's probably just because he's a sadistic asshole. Character motivation issues resolved!)

The match itself is heavy on story and a little light on everything else. Puma has just been through one of the most grueling matches of his life so he tries to go on the offensive immediately but Pentagon takes control and breaks his damn arm barely a few minutes into the match. Puma, because he's, y'know, Puma, pops his fucking arm back in place and tapes it up himself. Unsurprisingly, there is a lot of great chain wrestling here and some really sick spots--I dunno if people truly understand just how difficult that NO HANDS moonsault off the apron Puma did was but that move deserves a "holy shit" chant cuz holy shit, y'all.

Puma is in a fight for his life and he's quite possibly the most resilient guy in Lucha Underground (including Rey Mysterio, Jr.) so he battles back and hits some great stuff. He even gets pretty close on a couple nearfalls. Somehow, beyond all logic and reason, he's about to hit the 630 but then *GASP* Vampiro pulls Pentagon out of the way in the most SHOCKING heel turn of 2017. Okay, kidding aside, that was a pretty cool moment and Matt Striker made it ten times cooler by putting over his outrage, screaming at Vamp to get the hell away from him and that he'll let some little kid sit next to him and do commentary rather than let Vamp anywhere near him. That's just great pathos from an announcer and it really puts over the moment.

Pentagon hits the pump handle corkscrew driver off the distraction but Puma STILL HAS FIGHT. That's a great moment. A false finish off of interference is so unexpected and compelling and it really validates the performers by not making the interference the reason for the finish and giving Puma the honor of at least kicking out once after being betrayed. Pentagon follows up with the package piledriver for the win and celebrates finally winning his first ever Lucha Underground championship in the ring with Vampiro. He declares that this is HIS Temple now and he will rule it with CERO MIEDO. Puma makes his dramatic walk backstage and we see him in the season-ending vignette take off his mask and leave it on the floor. Vampiro tells his dark master that, just as they had planned, Pentagon has reached new heights and the dark master responds that now he will fall. Lucha libre pathos at its finest. Just beautiful.





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5. Johnny Mundo v. Rey Mysterio, Jr. (Lucha Underground Championship Match) -- S3E32: "The Cueto Cup" (8/23)

I just think it's always so cool when a wrestling match gets the kind of pure sports build that this one got--provided the match is worthy of it and the build is done well. In this case, both of those things were exceedingly true. They did weeks of vignettes interviewing everyone in the locker room, doing all kinds of "tale of the tape" stuff and footage of Mundo and Mysterio preparing for the match. Add to that the extra touch of Mundo and Worldwide Underground making it extra personal by doing everything they could to provoke Rey and get in his head, including attacking his son while making him watch, and you already have the makings of an instant classic.

But what's really great is that not only do they do all that build but they follow through with it in the story of the match. Rey comes out fighting very much like a man full of rage and hungry for revenge, starting out the match throwing vicious punches and forearms, which is not at all the way Rey usually starts a match. At some point, Mundo realizes that he's in a fight and he better match Rey's viciousness. Rey is about to take control when Mundo rakes the eyes to get it back. There are so many great reversal chains and so much great symmetry from two guys who spent many years wrestling the WWE style; their timing and chemistry is phenomenal.

Midway through the match, Mundo goes back to the strategy he was employing leading up to the match and tries to rip Rey's mask. Now it's EXTRA personal. After a bunch more amazing reversal sequences and beautiful spots, we get to the dizzying final sequence: an amazing sequence of reversals ends with Mundo being sent into the ropes for the 619 but also knocking out the ref in the process. Mundo kicks Rey in the groin, hits a lungblower, and grabs the belt but Dominic shows up and takes it away and then hits Mundo with a double leg takedown before being chased out by security. Rey hits the 619, hits the frog splash, goes for the pin, and DARIO PULLS THE REF OUT! This is an especially interesting touch since Dario himself said that anyone who interferes in this match would be fired on the spot. Why would Dario do this? As we soon find out, it's all about ego. "You think you're the King?" Dario barks at Rey. "I'm the King!" Dario slaps Rey but ultimately eats a 619 to a HUGE pop from the crowd (pretty impressive since the Believers mostly love El Jefe). However, the distraction is enough to allow Mundo to hit Rey with the belt and hit the End of the World for the win. Just fantastic storytelling all around and a breathtaking wrestling match as well.





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4. Johnny Mundo vs. The Mack (All Night Long Match for the Lucha Underground Championship) -- S3E20 & S3E21: "All Night Long...Again" & "Sudden Death" (5/31 & 6/7)

I was a big fan of the build around this match. The alignments in particular were compelling and well-defined: The Mack as the poor black kid from South Central who's had to earn everything he's ever gotten (including his shot at the title); Mundo as the entitled asshole who's had everything handed to him and cheated to get the rest--including cheating to win the match with The Mack to pick the stipulation for this match. Mundo, using the most wonderfully patronizing heel logic, opts for an All Night Long match, ostensibly because a "fat piece of trash" like The Mack couldn't POSSIBLY keep up with Mundo's amazing stamina and athleticism. I wrote a lot about how I really wanted them to follow through with this story by giving Mundo a big early lead that he thinks is insurmountable only for Mack to shock Mundo with a furious comeback and almost win the match. They didn't quite follow through with that story to the full extent I was hoping for but they definitely told a compelling (and realistic) version of it. And they did so much more.

In addition to the aforementioned story, we also get another story playing out in this match: Mundo, for all his cockiness and bluster, doesn't seem to feel like he can actually beat Mack fair and square and uses every dirty trick in the book to get the upper hand. He starts the match by spitting at Mack at slapping him across the face to psyche him out but Mack returns the favor and gives chase as Mundo is trying to run away from him. Mundo gets his first fall by hanging off the ring post to lure Mack in and kick him off the turnbuckle so he can hit a flash Fin de Mundo for the pinfall. Mack eventually gets control, showing his incredible athleticism, but Mundo takes it back with a hand to the throat. Mundo goes for another Fin de Mundo but gets cocky and takes too long. Mack rolls him up but Mundo reverses into an excellent modified roll-up and holds the rope to go up 2-0.

Mack once again goes on the offensive. Mundo tries to crawl under the ring but Mack catches him. After a great string of reversals, Mundo goes for a springboard crossbody and gets caught and flipped up into a monstrous sitout powerbomb and Mack gets his first fall; 2-1 Mundo. Mundo obviously feels threatened by the fact that Mack is still in this thing and fakes a neck injury to get control back. Mack almost gets a pin off a t-bone superplex off some great back-and-forth but Mundo grabs the rope. Mundo is REALLY feeling the heat now so he fakes a knee injury, bringing out medical personnel with a stretcher. They're about to cart him off. Mack shakes his hand. Suddenly, Mundo kips up, kicks Mack in the leg, DDT's him onto the stretcher and it's 3-1 Mundo just like that.

Mundo tries to play keepaway with the stretcher but Mack gets his hands on him and sends him for a ride down the stairs on the stretcher. Mack hits a stunner for his second fall and it's 3-2 Mundo. Again Mundo feels the heat so he crawls under the ring and Mack gives chase all the way to the backstage area. Except it was a trick--Mundo didn't run out the other side of the ring, it was PJ Black hiding under the ring. Mundo emerges and ambushes Mack as Black leads him back to the ring with a singapore cane. Black and Mundo are assaulting and taunting Mack when Son of Havoc shows up with dueling singapore canes for the equalizer. Once he's neutralized Mundo and Black, he bangs on Dario's door and demands a beer so that he can pour it down Mack's throat like Spinach to Popeye and power him up and now Mack is in the ZONE, brutalizing Black and Mundo with a singapore cane. Mack and Havoc try to set up a table but get cut down by Black and Mundo, who then tell the house band to play a "victory song" but THE MARACA PLAYER IS SEXY STAR AND SHE HITS A CROSSBODY FROM THE BANDSTAND!!! Sexy and Havoc take PJ to the back and now's the time: Mack hits a FUCKING SEATED TOMBSTONE THROUGH THE TABLES HOLY SHIT!!! And we're tied at three falls apiece.

Now both men are down. They try to roll over into covers back and forth but to no avail. With five minutes left, both men are in desperation mode. Mundo gets a table but Mack grabs a ladder, which trumps the table. They're both trying to finish each other off with the ladder. Mundo goes for Fin de Mundo on the ladder but Mack moves. Mack could go for the cover but he wants to put Mundo away once and for all so he sets him up on the table and climbs the ladder. Ricky Mandel comes out and holds his foot but Sexy and Havoc take him out and Mack slowly makes his way up the ladder and hits a HUGE frog splash but it hurts him almost as much and he is unable to go for the pin before time runs out. Mack is crying in the ring. Sexy is consoling him. 

And out comes Dario Cueto.

He announces that "THERE ARE NO TIES IN MY TEMPLE" and the match will be restarted the following week under sudden death rules--which is just such a great subversion of a major trope/flaw in iron man style matches. Lucha Underground is SO good at showing their work as to why they are unique among wrestling promotions. But I digress. Anyway, Mack hits a stunner for good measure and then poses with the title.

The following week, before they restart the match, Dario comes out to review the stakes and give Mack a little advantage (since Mundo picked the original stipulation) by making the match falls count anywhere (and Mack has experience in falls count anywhere matches, opening Ultima Luchas Uno and Dos against Cage in falls count anywhere matches). Mack starts with a flurry but gets caught on the springboard corner dropkick (great callback to the previous week). Mundo goes for the springboard knee but gets caught in a stunner. He smartly rolls to the outside but Mack chases and catches him, hitting him with a cannonball into the seats. Mack pulls out a pile of steel chairs and slams Mundo onto them with a chair at his back for nearfall.

Mundo starts running away from Mack, who's brandishing steel chair, but Ricky Mandel steals Mack's chair and Mundo hits a corkscrew plancha off the distraction. Ricky brings Mundo a trash can but Sexy Star attacks Ricky and drives him backstage. Mack hits a sitout spinebuster onto the trash can for 2.99! Mack tries to get a table but it won't come out. He looks under and gets caned by PJ Black who then sets up the table but gets stunnered on the apron and falls through the table. Mundo hits the springboard kick off the distraction for a nearfall, hits the running knee to set up Fin de Mundo but Mack gets his knees up, hits the same crossbody flip-up powerbomb that got him a pin last week for a nearfall. Mack goes for suplex from apron to the pile of chairs, gets it reversed, they go back and forth on the apron until Mack is about to take Mundo out but Taya interferes and Mundo hits a sunset flip powerbomb onto the chairs for the win. 

This was just a great Lucha Underground rollercoaster full of great spots, great wrestling, excellent storytelling, and just a ton of stuff. Nobody overbooks a match like Lucha Underground and I love when they put a bunch of stuff (and people) together in a match and create something special.





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3. Mil Muertes v. Jeremiah Crane -- S3E30: "Bloodlines" (8/9)

This is the best non-Ultima Lucha match in a walk and just a breathtaking piece of wrestling and storytelling. After doing a lot of teasing about Jeremiah's past relationship (dating back to childhood) and current feelings for Catrina, the story of this match--at least the story as I see it, which is probably very open to interpretation in this case--is that Jeremiah will do anything for the love of Catrina and is driven by that love to take down Mil Muertes. Those feelings are so strong that he's able to fight through inhuman levels of punishment in the name of love. Also, the match itself is fucking BONKERS.

It starts with a bang as Mil attacks Crane during his entrance and they brawl around the top of the stairs before disappearing backstage. After a commercial break, we return to see Mil throw Crane THROUGH A GODDAMN DOOR and the two continue to brawl up top, on the platform, in the bleachers. Mil is dominating pretty much throughout the match with sporadic hope spots for Crane. Mil is clearly overpowering but Crane has a nearly endless supply of fight. Crane goes for suicide dive under the middle rope but just bounces off Mil and gets thrown into seats. Crane fights back long enough to go for the round-the-world cannonball but ends up absolutely EATING a Reaper's Trident and getting thrown over the announce table into more seats. 

Now Crane is out on his feet, barely able to walk but he fights his way back to the ring even as Mil is pummeling him. He slams Crane spine-first onto the backs of two back-to-back chairs (fucking OW) but Crane kicks out at two and now Mil is INCENSED. In his rage, Mil gives Crane an opening for a GREAT hope spot which overwhelmingly pulls the crowd into Crane's corner, HUGE "Jeremiah" chants breaking out in a crowd that was pretty much 50/50 to start the match. Crane grabs a chair, batters Mil with the chair, sets it up on Mil's throat and smashes it with another chair. Crane then blows a kiss to Catrina, hinting even more at the implicit story being told in the ring. Crane sets up a table outside, hypes up the crowd, and then gets REAPER'S TRIDENTED OFF THE APRON AND THROUGH THE TABLE THAT DOESN'T EVEN BREAK AND THEN MIL POWERBOMBS HIM THROUGH IT, JESUS CHRIST!!! Mil drags Crane back into the ring and goes for another Reaper's Trident but GETS CAUGHT IN A GUILLOTINE CHOKE! 

Crane is fighting for his damn LIFE in there. Mil slams him in the corner repeatedly but Crane won't let go until he throws him off and hits a HUGE chokeslam but CRANE KICKS OUT AT TWO!!! The crowd is NUCLEAR. Mil sets up a table in the corner but Crane hits a thrust kick and cannonballs him through the table for a nearfall. Crane is HYPED. He tries to hit a knockout blow from the top but gets caught in a Flatliner for the 1-2-3. UN. REAL. 


Catrina slithers in after the pin for a Lick of Death but instead she open-mouth kisses Crane which enrages Mil who hits another Flatliner and leaves Crane laid out. This was just a masterpiece of simple storytelling and brilliant pacing and I'm sweating just typing all that out. A classic, brilliantly executed underdog story that plays the crowd like a fiddle, getting them to root against a guy they love because the story of the match is just that damn good. 





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2. Prince Puma v. Johnny Mundo (Career v. Title Match) -- S3E40: "Ultima Lucha Tres Part IV" (10/18)

This is one of those matches where the story pretty much writes itself. Prince Puma faced (and fell to) Johnny Mundo in the main event of the very first episode of Lucha Underground. Prince Puma blazed through the Cueto Cup with almost Roman Reigns-like dominance to earn the right to face Mundo in the main event of Ultima Lucha Tres. Mundo wanted to raise the stakes so he asked Puma to put his mask on the line but Dario wanted to raise the stakes even higher (plus there was already a mask vs. hair match on the card) so he made him put his career on the line instead. It's the ultimate full circle story. The two biggest building blocks of Lucha Underground from day one in maybe the biggest match in its history.

So what's the story of the match? Glad you asked. The story is that these two guys know each other SO well and have been through SO much together that they're both ready for just about everything they throw at each other. And it is goddamn breathtaking to watch. The chemistry between these two guys is completely off the charts. The reversals and reversals of reversals and reversals of reversals of reversals are just unbelievable. Almost as unbelievable as Prince Puma's ungodly rope-to-rope shooting star press. JUST LOOK AT THAT THING. HOW CAN A HUMAN BEING MOVE LIKE THAT?! Anyway, Mundo cheats a bunch, of course, particularly when Puma accidentally knocks out the ref. Mundo goes for a dick kick but Puma is ready for THAT, too (how great is that?). He gets Mundo in position for a 630 but Worldwide Underground comes out and beats him down.

Here's the other thing about this match: it's SO MUCH. In the best way possible. In a way that seemingly only Lucha Underground can pull off. Taya brings out Rick Knox to count the pinfall in place of Marty Elias after Worldwide Underground beats the tar out of Puma but Puma kicks out (!!!) so PJ Black knocks out Rick Knox. WWU is about to smash Puma's face in with a con-chair-to but then ANGELICO RETURNS TO FUCK UP EVERYONE'S CHRISTMAS. And then. AND THEN. RICK FUCKING KNOX HITS A PLANCHA ON WWU!!! SO. MUCH. Puma hits the double knee and a springboard 450 but Mundo kicks out at twooooooo.

Once Angelico has chased away WWU, Puma and Mundo trade punches and then Puma just unloads on him. Puma goes up top but Mundo recovers and hits a flash corkscrew neckbreaker off the top rope but Puma kicks out at twoooooooooo. Mundo goes for End of the World, Puma moves, Mundo lands on his feet, pops right back up for another Fin de Mundo but Puma KICKS OUT and out come the "Fight Forever" chants. Mundo goes for another Fin de Mundo but Puma gets his knees up, and--like he's been doing all season long--hits a thrust kick, a roundhouse kick, a flying knee, dropkicks Mundo into position for the 630 and NAILS it for the decisive victory. It's an incredible moment. The crowd is molten hot for it. It feels almost like this sort of grand culmination for the show. Finally, its hero and main protagonist has vanquished its cheating asshole champion and all his fellow cheaters, succeeding where SO many others have failed against Mundo and WWU this season, overcoming all obstacles and staving off retirement to become its first ever two-time champion.

And then...

Dario: "We're having ONE MORE MATCH!"
Crowd: "CERO MIEDO CLAP CLAP CLAPCLAPCLAP" (see: #6)





courtesy of uproxx.com
1. Killshot v. Dante Fox (Hell of War Match) -- S3E37: "Ultima Lucha Tres Part I" (9/27)

This was easily the best storyline of season three of Lucha Underground. When Killshot arrived, we learned that he was the only surviving member of a special ops unit in Afghanistan. Eventually, Killshot started getting messages saying "you left me for dead" and then one day a man (Fox) showed up who nobody recognized except for Killshot, who seemed happy to see the man until kicked Killshot in the face. From there the tensions ran high between the two and mystery swirled around their relationship until finally, in quite possibly the greatest segment in Lucha Underground history, we finally learned the backstory between the two: Dante Fox, through intense PTSD flashbacks, takes us back to Afghanistan where he was kidnapped and tortured. Killshot infiltrates the camp but Dante is hidden in a bunker somewhere and all Killshot's fellow men are dead so he leaves. In order to finally settle this, Dario conceived of the "Hell of War match." It's basically a vaguely military themed Three Stages of Hell match--2 out of 3 falls with each fall being a different stipulation: 1. Primero Sangre (First Blood match), 2. No Disqualification, 3. Medevac (Ambulance match with a military medical evac truck).


This match, as the name suggests, is a FUCKING WAR. It is just unbelievably brutal in ways I've never experienced from a wrestling match because it's not just physically brutal but it's emotionally brutal. That's what sets this apart from just about every hardcore match I've ever seen. Every emotion is clearly expressed and you feel all of it right along with the competitors. It is a master class of wrestling pathos. The moment when Fox kicks out of a Killstomp on shattered glass at ONE is one of the hottest, most effective moments I've ever seen in wrestling.

courtesy of uproxx.com
LOOK AT THAT. I can't say enough about how well-crafted this match and the story behind it are. These guys damn near kill themselves and each other. Dante Fox literally left pieces of himself behind. It's excruciating and beautiful. And the ending is perfect. Killshot sends Dante careening off the band stage and through a giant structure made of chairs and glass and then, with visible regret and remorse on his face, he slowly carries Dante to the medevac and dumps him in. It's just...beautiful. This is what people mean when they say that sometimes wrestling is high goddamn art. If you haven't seen this match yet, you are missing out on the best wrestling match of 2017, anywhere, in any promotion, hands down.

courtesy of freakinawesomenetwork.net

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