CMLL celebrates the tenth anniversary of the restart of their women’s division this Friday, but maybe celebrate isn’t the accurate word. It’s more an observation of the occasion, with a twelve woman cibernetico relegated to the second match in a not very packed lineup. CMLL’s sent current women’s champion Marcela to the media to promote the cibernetico, and she’s done interviews criticizing the company for not giving the women enough of a chance. This is not exactly a festive party, but probably the one right for moment deserves. It’s may also be the one that points the way things are going.

Women’s wrestling has it’s own strange history in Mexico and CMLL. Troupes of American women made tours to Mexico and headlined shows, including the WWE’s Mae Young main eventing the historic Arena Coliseo on a few occasions. Mexican women also wrestled, but on a smaller scale. The Mexico City government banned any women from wrestling start in the 50s, as part of a crack down on anything that were believed to harm the morals of the citizens. Women pushed for the ban to be removed in the 80s, only for the government to ‘discover’ there actually had never been a law on the books banning them. The local wrestling commission switched to claiming they had no idea any woman wanted to wrestle or was trained to do so, an amazing belief given women already were wrestling right across the city line. Luchadors were finally permitted back in Mexico City and enjoyed a wave of popularity. They were at least a bit a novelty and a cause, but those first wave stars (and those who had been wrestling away from Mexico City for years) mythologized as legends.

It felt apart in the mid 90s. I’m not sure exactly why; so many things were falling apart in lucha libre in the mid 90s that it’s tough whatever was going on with women’s wrestling wasn’t a priority. Maybe that’s the reason. Maybe it’s as simple as Antonio Pena being an advocate for different types of people in wrestling and CMLL didn’t find the same enthusiasm once Pena left to found the touring AAA promotion. (AAA’s historically done a little better with women, but has scaled back over the last year.) Maybe the severe reduction of jobs in the industry meant those few spots left were going to inevitably going to the experience men over bringing in new women. Whatever the reason, CMLL was nearly out of women’s wrestling. They still had a few matches, but the title was transferred to Japan and later just became an indie title. The nadir was the second reign of La Diabolica, who was awarded the title when the previous champion gave up on CMLL and jumped to AAA, held the belt for two years with no known defenses, and lost the title when she also gave up on CMLL and jumped to AAA. The title sat vacant for two more years; plenty of promotions in Japan have done well with only male wrestlers and CMLL appeared to be joining them.

A Canadian changed Mexican wrestling. Lucha Libre Femenil, a tiny Monterrey based promotion, was regularly bringing in foreign women to face the locals. They’d be given a masked identity, lose it before leaving town, and usually not totally enjoy the time in between. One woman was given a small, Robin-like domino mask, hiding just about nothing, lost it to a local, and decided to keep the masked name and the new home. Sarah Stock had been wrestling in Canada under other names, but Dark Angel was born in Mexico. The SuperLuchas magazine took a liking to her, and saw the value of putting an attractive luchadora on the cover frequently. SuperLuchas convinced CMLL to give Dark Angel a shot. CMLL had dropped all women’s wrestling outside of a few matches a year, pairing up visiting Japanese wrestlers with indie luchadoras as a favor to joshi promotions. In a way, Dark Angel was just another foreigner they were giving a token match (and as a foreigner, had to be the heel.) CMLL brought back previous champion Lady Apache, to give themselves someone to build around should the idea actually work, and used the same two indie luchadoras as always to round out a 2v2 match.

July 1st, 2005: Lady Apache & Marcela (tecnicas) versus Dark Angel & Amapola (rudas)

The women got over, and they got over right from the first match. CMLL shifted course, bringing those same four back two weeks later while also hiring a half dozen other women to deepen the division. The fans gravitated to Dark Angel, so CMLL flipped her to the tecnica side after a month. The extraneous indie luchadors, Marcela and Amapola, turned out to be excellent technical wrestlers, forged by hundreds of matches in tiny Mexico City arenas and some experience in Japan, only missing some regular work on a big stage to prove themselves. There were more like them too, who had been inspired by the first post-ban wave of luchadoras and diligently working in less than ideal conditions hoping to get the same chance.

Those first twelve months of the relaunch seem like the high point for the division. It was the period most focused on Dark Angel, as she came up just short to Marcela for the restarted CMLL Women’s championship and took Amapola’s mask. (Dark Angel’s been with CMLL the whole ten years, but hasn’t gotten to do much since – there’s a theory that you don’t need titles and feuds if you’re already over, and maybe that’s what happened here.) The bigger women’s matches still tended to be in the semimain position on major cards, and the title matches were good. Marcela and Amapola’s long running rivalry produced a dozen very watchable matches, Japanese transfer Hiroka came out of obscurity to have a great six month reign, Lady Apache had consistently good matches (and was the behind the scenes leader) and luchadoras like Princesa Blanca and Princesa Sugehit added to the depth. Not everyone was great, this was All Japan Women by any means, but the people on top tended to come thru in big matches. If CMLL simply had create a montage of those last ten years, and leaned heavily towards the first half, it’d be a pretty great look back.

The level of quality has faded away near the end of the decade. A lot of it’s just the make up of the roster. Many of the people who were on top ten years ago are still on top today, but a step or two slower. The depth has been drained by luchadoras leaving to have children or just move onto other goals in life. CMLL’s inability to create new stars to replace the declining ones has hurt them in all aspects, but maybe more so with their women. There are plenty of aspiring luchadors in Mexico, but there seems to be a gigantic stumbling block preventing them from improving to anywhere near the level of the generation prior. Most young luchadoras seem to debut at a certain level of performance and never get much better unlike, and it’s not very clear why from the outside.

Instead of giving their young luchadoras a chance to change that perception, CMLL’s added women who might not have gotten a shot in any other promotion. (Luchadoras in Mexico hide their ages, but the newcomers all now all over the age of 35.) Ex-AAA luchadoras Tiffany & Estrellita came in as part of an Invasion gimmick, while Dalys La Caribena had a kickboxing background and also a marriage to top star Negro Casas. Tiffany was a great wrestler and character, but age had caught up with her. Estrellita’s positives mostly have to do with her look. Dalys was a novice starting very late. All three tried hard, but dragged the quality down as soon as they were put in major positions. Their additions contributed to an overall aging of the women’s division without raising their profile. CMLL booking committee particularly saw Estrellita as a star, but the crowds seem to only cheer for her entrance and catcall her matches. The problem wasn’t simply these particular women, but an overall pessimistic feeling of favoritism and cronyism all too common in Mexico. Te first group of women in the restarted division had earned their positions on merit, while late arriving were being gifted spots thru connections. That may not even be true in their cases, but even the appearance of that very familiar Mexican behavior can kill enthusiasm.

Those three women will all be in the 10th Anniversary cibernetico on Friday. Goya Kong was also supposed to be in the match, but no longer will be. She jumped to AAA a week ago, looking for a better opportunity. Goya is the daughter of legendary comedy wrestler Super Porky Brazo de Plata. His charisma (and many of his spots) passed down to his daughter, who was one of the most over people in the CMLL when she left. All the cheers, the ease at getting a reaction, meant little for her career. It could’ve been her size or her youth or some other reason, but Goya was given nothing but endless meaningless trios matches. She may not get a great deal more in AAA, but Goya will at least start with a chance to be on opportunity. Which is remarkably similar to those La Diabolica days. Goya’s not the only reminder: over the last four years, the main women’s title has mostly been used as a way to give a big win for visiting Japanese wrestler. They get to claim to be a star internationally, CMLL presumably gets a nice payoff, and no one who actually regularly works for CMLL gets the credibility bounce from winning the title. The exact same thing took place before the division was shut down last time.

There’s some hope for the CMLL women. Guadalajara’s Silueta and Puerto Rico’s Zeuxis are the best of the younger group. They’re just not as good Amapola & Marcela were, and no one’s close to the star power of Dark Angel. (Even if there was, it’d have to happen some other way – those magazines that made Dark Angel and others are just about gone.) CMLL has other young luchadoras, but they’ve made little impression. The original Dark Angel, Marcela and Amapola are still around, but it’s unlikely they still will be when the next big anniversary celebration rolls around. CMLL’s shows are all strained by not having enough work for all the male luchadors they employ. If the next star isn’t found, if the women’s division can’t find a way to become valuable again, then CMLL will reach a tough crossroads where they have to consider giving those spots to someone else. It’s not over, but it’s heading that without a change.