Right around Thanksgiving I made a conscious decision to expand my wrestling horizons. Prior to that, the furthest I’ve strayed from mainstream WWE (or, back in the day, WCW) was NXT. But even my semi-monthly dose of Sami Zayn wasn’t quite enough, so I had to look further afield.
I don’t think I’m talking about of school when I say the topline WWE product has been…questionable for a decent length of time. Some of it is bad luck. With Punk leaving, Bryan injured and guys like Orton and Ambrose missing chunks of time to film movies, they were a bit like a basketball team playing without several starters. A losing streak is a losing streak, but it’s explainable under some circumstances. That said, it wasn’t just bad luck or timing. The, uhm, rumblings over the last several Raws boiled over last night with booking that is generously described as inscrutable.
And it’s not just storyline issues. As I pay closer attention, and have access to more content from the past and today with the Network, the contours and limitations of the WWE style become more apparent. So, instead of slogging through three hours of talk-heavy and logic-light RAW every Monday, I’ve started sampling. Or rather I sampled, because for now, I’ve found a home and it’s Lucha Underground.
This may sound like faint praise, but it isn’t: LU is the Baby Bear solution for my wrestling tastes. Much more exotic than WWE, but not completely foreign. More violent, but not barbed-wire and flames hardcore. Most importantly, it makes sense.
While WWE spins itself into increasingly recursive circles trying to “tell stories” which end up being little more than ad hoc justifications for forcing the aesthetic tastes of an aging iconoclast upon an increasingly incredulous audience, LU keeps it bare bones.
Everything about the production screams “sparse.” Not cheap in that early ECW metal guardrail and grade-school gymnastic mats sort of way, just uncomplicated. The biggest barrier to enjoying other promotions after WWE is the impression of unprofessionalism, an impression LU manages to completely avoid despite not having the bells, pyro and music licensing budget of WWE.
Because why focus on the presentation outside of the ring when you can’t compete on that level? Fine, there is no Bray Wyatt-style mesmeric entrance, but then the bell rings. And from that moment on, WWE’s plodding, highly stylized action is made to look like Roger Moore-era Bond films against LU’s Machete (with Daniel Trejo himself naturally at ringside for much of the action.) It’s comparing the ponderous, bloated, name-heavy Boardwalk Empire to the unrestrained and absurdly bonkers Banshee. One was important, appointment TV, the other is purely uncluttered entertainment.
Even with little understanding of luchador culture coming in, the frenzied pace, sensible booking and intelligent match construction of LU make it easy to acclimate. In fact, this very accessibility probably leads to the one drawback of the format: the crowd gives it up too easily. Like the rest of us, they are probably starved for quality, but with nearly every match delivering, the “this is awesome” and “holy shit” chants become a little too frequent. Perhaps they would be best saved for moments like Drago’s insane table splash on King Cuerno or the absurd triple high spot in the four-way eliminator between Cage, Argenis, Aerostar and Angelico.
But this is a minor quibble when compared to the action-filled episodes, impactful moves and refreshingly focused commentary. Having never ventured too far outside WWE before, I’m hooked. If you give it a chance, I think you will be too.