CMLL’s annual anniversary celebration is this Friday in Arena Mexico. They’ve stacked the card with a major mask match and secondary hair or mask match the last two years. This year’s show has the same high quality main event, but the undercard is mostly thrown together with no rhyme or reason. CMLL is billing a secondary important match, but one where the stakes are already decided. This show should have good matches, but it’s not a show built around having good matches or plot advancement. The 82nd CMLL Anniversario is about extracting as much value out of the last of a trilogy of mask matches while exerting as creative effort as possible.

This is a rough show to preview because there’s not a purpose about most of these matches. The matches exist because it’s standard practice to have an undercard. Perhaps it’d be a better use to explain who won the lottery to be on this card than talk about the matches — but even then, I’m not sure how many people will be watching this show who don’t already know most of these people. CMLL unpredictably decided to dip their toe in the iPPV water for the first time ever with this show – it’s $10 USD at http://cmll.cleeng.com/ — but are strangely not going to provide video on demand service. You’ll have to watch it live to watch it all. With ROH also running a PPV that night, those of you who are willing to sample a non-WWE PPV have a more familiar alternative. With AAA’s TripleMania failing on all levels last month, people might not be willing to take another chance on a lucha libre offering so quick. (CMLL, in a strange email last weekend, noted that over 1,000 people had created an account on the iPPV site for the show, but few people had actually gone as far as putting money down.)

If you’re brave enough to take the chance on a company who may not know what they’re doing, here’s what you’ll get:

Esfinge, Fuego, The Panther vs Disturbio, Puma, Virus

An assemblage of random midcarders. Virus, Disturbio, and Esfinge all have connections to the recently completed En Busca de un Idolo tournament. Esfinge was a part timer from Guadalajara who seemed to be the in-house favorite to win despite coming off as an interchangeable CMLL flyer – he’s the Egyptian themed one. Esfinge ended up fourth, one spot behind Disturbio. That entertaining rudo seemed to be stuck going nowhere in opening matches before his recent success (aided by another competitor missing a match and friends who know how to manipulate voting scripts). Disturbio doesn’t at all look like the kind of guy CMLL push, but they’ve felt obligated to do more with him at least for the moment. Virus was Disturbio’s coach in the tournament. Very little of the coaching is shown, but Disturbio’s indicated Virus helped him a lot.

As for the rest, Fuego, still the fiery dancer, guarantees at least one good entrance. The Panther was one of the four great new luchadors from last year’s Busca tournament, but has had nothing to do for the last twelves. That may be better progress than the excellent and underutilized Puma, who actually defeated Rey Cometa for his mask on this show three years ago only to get stuck in the midcard while his victim moved up, and seems to have been slotted downwards of late.

CMLL could’ve put twenty other guys in these spots and had a match with about the same meaning. The rudo team is slightly higher ranked, but it’s a coin toss.

Guerrero Maya Jr., Máximo, Stuka Jr. vs Dragón Rojo Jr., Pólvora, Rey Escorpión

A team with an actual identity! Dragon Rojo Jr., Pólvora and Rey Escorpión are back together as the Revolucionarios. They were before, then Dragon turned tecnico for reasons no one can remember, then a year passed and everyone realized that was a terrible idea, and now they’re back together. (Pólvora helpfully explained this away as a secret plot so Dragon could spy on the tecnicos and find out who they’re sleeping with.) They’ve been positioned as a secondary rudo team and used to set up wins for everyone because they’re good at it. They stand a chance of actually getting a win over the group of randomly selected tecnicos. Maximo’s the current CMLL heavyweight champion, really, not even kidding, has actually been good by the abysmal standards of that title. Guerrero Maya Jr. was the runner up from the En Busca de Un Idolo, dashing his dreams of a trip to Japan for the moment. (The actual winner of that tournament, Boby Zavala, is not booked for reasons no one can figure out) Stuka exists, as he always does. This match exists, because something must. Again, the Revolucionarios – especially Rey Escorpión – are losing to everyone in such volume that it’s a slight concern they may be on the way out again, but this seems like a decent time for them to pick up an actual work.

Dark Angel vs Princesa Sugehit

A rare midcard singles match with no time limit and nothing on the line, but the story isn’t the match on this one.

Dark Angel announced a month ago that this would be her final match in Mexico, after a ten year run with the company and a few years longer than as an independent wrestler in Monterrey. The Canadian born luchadora made a name for herself and CMLL created a women’s division around her. There are native women who were arguably more talented and definitely more honored, but they had also been around for years without getting CMLL to notice. Dark Angel got noticed when she was still in Monterrey. This same Princesa Sugehit took her mask back then, which probably was the best thing for Dark Angel then. Lots of American and Canadian women came through Monterrey for a few months in the early 2000s, wrestling the locals and losing a mask and getting back to the places they knew better. Dark Angel stayed, and a lot changed because of that decision. Dark Angel is leaving too after facing the person who unmasked her, more than a decade later.

Dark Angel heading to NXT as a trainer is one of the worst kept secrets in wrestling – that’s what happens when they actually put you on TV for a cameo – but she’s avoided talking about it publicly out of deference to both her current and future employer. It does put a damper on the whole thing for me; Dark Angel isn’t leaving because she’s leaving wrestling, she’s leaving because she got a much better job offer from somewhere else, and because CMLL hasn’t been competitive enough to offer her enough to get her to stay. It’s great for her to get the opportunity, but it’s a bit like CMLL is celebrating it’s own failures – or their own self enforced minor league status. There’s also a bit of insincerity in the whole thing; if CMLL really felt Dark Angel was a big enough star to build the second biggest match on the biggest show of the year, why has she only been in meaningless trios matches for years? (Dark Angel last known title shot, something usually given without much thought, came in 2008.) It feels like we’re getting this match on this show because it was easier/cheaper than doing another apuesta match, and that’s kind of unfair to Dark Angel.

This match will be great, because these two know each other well. Dark Angel won the warm up match in Puebla, and she may well win again in her last match. It scarcely matters if Sugehit loses, and it’s more about what’s going to create the better farewell moment. That moment is probably going to be the second most memorable on this show.

Felino, Mr. Niebla, Negro Casas vs Dragon Lee, Mistico, Valiente

The matchmaking of the first two matches seemed indifferent. This one is more outright neglect. On one side, three of the most high flying speedy tecnicos who are at their best with talented and motivated rudos to base for them. On the other, two guys who are completely dedicated to goofing around as much as possible. The Mr. Niebla troubles are well known – and everyone’s quite amazed he was booked on this show. Partner in crime Felino isn’t going to show up drunk, but he’s usually not going to make you happy he showed up at all. A long underrated midcarder (like his son Puma is now), Felino finally got moved to big matches just as soon as he wasn’t any good any more. Maybe it’s a case of just not caring, and he’ll find a dusty unused switch to flip back around for this night, but this match generally seems like the person in charge has no idea what a good combination of people might look like.

Maybe this is all some weird test to see how much Negro Casas can do with a lot of obstacles. Casas has to overcome his own partners, the spotty nature of some of his opponents, and his own injured bicep. Casas did have a great match with Dragon Lee earlier this year, and this match might work if they can recapture some of the magic. On the other hand, it’s an Anniversary show, and Mistico always ends up with a La Mistica for the win on this show, and it’s hard to trust the other two to take it. The whole point of the La Mistica is to get Mistico over as a tecnico in front of this crowd, only this crowd will absolutely cheer the veteran rudos over him. This is a self defeating match.

Shocker, Último Guerrero, Volador Jr. vs Marco Corleone, Rush, Thunder in a relevos increíbles match

CMLL didn’t totally defeat themselves at this show. They were fairly obviously setting up Ultimo Guerrero versus the atrocious Thunder as the main event for this year’s show. You may remember Thunder as the man unable to completely remove his shirt from last year’s show. He’s not much better now. CMLL’s backed away from the abyss, if only for a few months, and slotted them on opposite sides of this rudos/tecnicos teaming up match. Along for the ride are the two top guys (Volador & Rush) who have nothing particularly to do at the moment, thanks to a promo.

This is the match which was supposed to include Dr. Wagner Jr. (instead of Marco Corleone) and LA Park (Shocker). It’s a good bet the crowd will let CMLL know they’re not happy about those changes. It’s a different match with the substitution, a far less interesting one. The Rush/LA Park story (and the lesser played Wagner/Volador one) is gone, and the new guys don’t really have anything to do here. There is a bit of a dangling plot, as Thunder was feuding with Marco and later Rush before aiming Ultimo Guerrero. Maybe it’ll come back here, but it’s also likely everyone involved has forgot.

The more Rush & Volador this match has, the better it will likely be. The more Thunder & Ultimo Guerrero it has, the more you should go look for some popcorn.

Atlantis vs La Sombra, mask versus mask

True story: I was at the show that set up this match. Not a single person who saw the angle thought they were actually setting up this match. (If you were booking on crowd pops, you would’ve stuck with Thunder/Ultimo as the main event) It seemed so absurd that they would throw together these two in a mask match on a month’s build. A month later, there it is. It’s a match.

This breaks the usual rules of promoting and yet it seems like it’s going to work. Advance tickets are strong, and everyone figures this’ll be a sell out and match last year’s record setting gate. The match lacks any great storyline or promotional build, but it does have two well established characters and one very important prize: Atlantis’ mask – this isn’t selling out if it’s just Sombra versus Mistico or any normal tecnico. This is essentially the third year where CMLL will get a record setting gate for the anniversary show drawn around Atlantis’ mask. Atlantis was always a borderline WON Hall of Fame for good reason, but this run ought to get him in twice.

If it’s working, should you change it? The million dollar gates appear to come to an end as soon as Atlantis losses his mask. It’s possible CMLL could’ve drawn similar houses with big LA Park or Dr. Wagner mask matches, but those are off the table after the relationships quickly fell apart. There’s no one left with a mask from that era who would mean this much and could have a credible match. (CMLL could always start exerting actual effort in their booking, but let’s not go crazy.) Sombra, if he remains with in good standing with CMLL for another decade, would eventually mean as much but this is a promotion who appears to be sustaining itself on a few giant gates a year and not much else. Atlantis losing his mask would greatly reduce the biggest gate. Sombra losing his mask would not.

Of course, CMLL is in this position because they haven’t done a great job of building stars of today to replace the stars of yesterday. Their fans, older leaning, have been trained that real stars are the legends of previous eras (and reacted appropriately strong when Wagner & Park made their two week return.) Sombra – or Volador, or Rush, or whomever – are never going to received like major draws unless they’re treated like major draws. Atlantis winning pushes the star debt off another yet, but it’s going to come due at some point and it’s going to be an even bigger problem when it does.

The build to this match has been odd, even beyond the time compression. Sombra’s beaten Atlantis in almost every match, and left him laying the one time Atlantis won. Atlantis has never, not even in a preliminary fall, submitted Sombra to the Atlantida. That’s the move Atlantis regularly defeats everyone else, and has been the big finishing hold in his mask wins. They’ve teased the move once, the last meeting between the two, where Sombra escaped and pulled Atlantis directly into his Shadow Bomb finisher. That spot looked great, and looked like exactly the spot you’d save for the third fall of the mask match, making it strange to give it away a week early. CMLL has a very patterned formula for booking it’s feuds, and this sort of domination by one party means the other party is usually going to take the big match. It’s possible CMLL might be purposefully subverting expectations, but the careless way they’ve thrown together the rest of the card suggests they haven’t put all that much thought into any of this.

(Sidepoint that should not be taken as news: There’s also a weirdness about the scheduling of the show. It’s moved at least three times, and was being changed around much later than usual. Add the suddenness of this feud, and there has to be at least a minuscule chance there’s another story going on here, one we might not find out about until Saturday. I don’t know anything, and people I’ve talked to don’t know anything, but where before it seemed impossible for Sombra to go to WWE – he doesn’t speak much English, he’s not their style of wrestler – the recent signing of Kana for NXT makes the impossible look very slightly possible. Sombra’s 25, he also just lost a title for no apparent reason, he’s tried out for WWE before, he’s in great shape, he’s a potential latino star when WWE is still looking, and his hiring alone could be used as validation against Mexican racism charges. No one’s even hinted at this, but no one was saying anything about Kana to WWE before she showed up in the NXT crowd. Again, I don’t know anything, this is just over-thinking all possibilities – it’s more about how the landscape has changed in the last year.)

I was absolutely sure Sombra was winning when this match was announced. The lead up, intended or not, has done a great job of convincing me the outcome is in doubt. I just can’t pull the trigger on picking Atlantis to win; it would be illogical to serve Sombra up to him to lose when there might have been other options and there’s nothing but circumstances to suggest Sombra might leave. CMLL does not book by logical rules, so either outcome will not be a surprise, but I believe we’ll see Atlantis’ face on Friday night.