On the eve of the celebration of the 25th anniversary of Monday Night Raw, on a cool January morning, I was looking out my window and felt as though the greyish sky over barren behind a few evergreen trees were a strong reflection of where I stood as a fan of the genre of pro wrestling.
Early in the morning of January 21st, With no provocation, I tweeted just how much I missed Lucha Underground, the promotion based out of Boyle Heights in Los Angeles. Part lucha-libre, part telenovela, part supernatural crime drama. Is it “wrasslin” or “the graps” or “sports-entertainment” in the sense that everyone else is aware? Not particularly, but in recent years, it is the only show in the genre that allows me to see colors again. It allows me to feel things that aren’t muddied by thousands of hours of a performance art that is happily spinning its wheels. Like a 20-year addict in comparison to a much more sensitive soul, the only thing that really gets me to feel what I really need to feel is the most far out of the far out brands of Totally Sweet Alabama Liquid Snake in the wrestling genre.
CHIKARA’s last loop in Chicago in 2017 allowed me to see some of my friends in South Bend, Indiana. They also happen to be devoted fans of the cult classic film The Rocky Horror Picture Show. After seeing CHIKARA in Chicago, I looped back into South Bend and watched them put on their performance with the movie playing the background. The audience was playing along, my friends and their troupe were acting out what was being played on the screen, and it all felt jarringly similar to the event I had just seen an hour ago, of which I could only “let myself go” for a brief pocket when Mike Quackenbush literally dove out of his shoes after Max Smashmaster. I found myself, not enjoying the show and being in the moment, but observing the crowd and the movie itself, not really sure if this is what I wanted. And the Rocky Horror Picture show, like CHIKARA and most indy wrestling today, made me long for two films that resonated with me, the same way Lucha Underground does. One being the 1985 genre-mixing martial-arts/kid-from-Harlem cult classic—Berry Gordy’s The Last Dragon. The other; the 1995 adaptation of Mortal Kombat.
When World Championship Wrestling was still on the rise, and Stagger Lee Marshall still made weasel jokes at Nitro parties, there was one character that captured my imagination like nothing else before. Of course, I am talking about Glacier. The helmet-wearing martial arts combatant with the kata entrance stood out like a sore thumb in the context of pro wrestling, but I loved every aspect of it with all my heart. You will say that it was just a rip-off of Sub-Zero from Mortal Kombat. You will say the “Blood Runs Cold” angle was like a terrible martial arts movie put into pro wrestling. Mortis, Wrath, The Sinister Minster Jim Mitchell, all in the name off good vs. evil and an ancient samurai helmet that supposedly contained mystical powers. I was completely and fully aware of exactly what it was. And I loved it for being exactly what it was. And that should give insight as to what Lucha Underground is for me.
I am long past the days of pro wrestling needing to feel “like a fight” for me. That was really only a pocket in time where Bryan Danielson was rebelling against all mainstream pro wrestling mandates as ROH Champion, and was undeniably captivating, from his anti-tanning mantra, to his entrance music being a referendum on all early 2000s aggro-metal in Europe’s basketball arena classic “The Final Countdown”. I am long past the days of feeling like I need to be in on the joke. I’m beyond grateful for CHIKARA for pushing the limits and telling stories that felt like what I needed while still never losing its sense of whimsy. But that childhood whimsy was never quite the itch I needed to be scratched, and CHIKARA hit my spots at times, moments like Archibald Peck traveling through time and meeting another version of himself were few and far between.
The lingering motif of the second season of Lucha Underground for many was Mil Muertes sitting on a throne composed of the bones of his victims—a very obvious tribute to Mortal Kombat villain, Shao Khan’s throne in Mortal Kombat 2. Watching combatants maim one another for his own entertainment, as well as potential challengers. No, this is not all about Mortal Kombat for me. This about more than going to a wrestling show and playing along. This about more than going to a wrestling show and doing crowd chants.
There is supposed to be something at a pro wrestling event for everyone. In recent times, I rarely feel that there is something for me. The performers that are just “working” and “playing to the crowd” do not adjust the contrast and sharpness in my fandom’s eyes, anymore, whereas the Broken (now Woken) saga created by Matt Hardy and all its lore and mythos and its numerous installments inspired me to create a cosplay. Cheering the good guys and booing the bad guys in 2018 feels almost painfully passé, whereas a man who believes that he is the living embodiment of an ancient spirit blessed by seven mystical gods to defeat the forces of darkness in an ongoing spiritual war, where his brother’s apparent morphing abilities are only tied together by his willingness to risk life and limb in this war. In the context of a pro wrestling genre that still tries to ground itself somewhat in reality (Joey Ryan notwithstanding) Matt Hardy’s Broken/Woken Universe and Lucha Underground have allowed me to come to a vivid and vibrant realization, as if the Aztec Gods & the Seven Deities invoked the high chief Jamel Irief and gave sight to my world-worn eyes.
Pro wrestling needs some fucking mythos. Some lore. Some supernatural, mystical, power-metal-album cover, glowing-power-up, mythos.
Because in the absence of Lucha Underground, in the wake of the slow crawl back into Matt Hardy’s Woken Universe, and with the celebration of 25 years of Monday Night Raw being the Coca-Cola of the wrestling genre, I have seen my wrestling fandom evolve from being more invested in the more esoteric than most of the Monday Night Wars era, to my righteous indignation during the mid-2000s, to the listless ennui today.
I really need a hit of some Totally Sweet Alabama Liquid Snake.
In Loving Memory of my one-off fanfic, Super Happy Funtime Wrestleshow and Lucha Underground’s descendant, Wrestling Society X.