CMLL has their annual birthday fiesta this Friday, celebrating reaching 85 years of existence. It’s the most disappointing lineup of the year.

CMLL’s Anniversario show will take place Friday night at 8:30 p.m. CT. CMLL shows are usually free, but this is an exception to the rule. You can buy the show for a one-time fee of $10 USD on internet.TV or you can view it with a $10/month subscription to ROH’s Honor Club service. (The cost is marked down to about $6 on internet.TV if you’re purchasing from a Mexican IP.) Both services will be offering the same stream, completely in Spanish and in the same quality as the usual CMLL feeds. Both will offer the show live and on VOD, though the VOD tends to disappear within days from internet.tv’s service.

The problems with this year’s Anniversario started on CMLL’s August 3rd show at Arena Mexico. It was their best show of the year so far, and ended with LA Park & Rush battling in the ring and on the microphone. Both men demanded to face each other in a mask versus hair match on CMLL’s Anniversario show and specifically wanted it to be a match with no rules given how many disqualifications tend to take place in their feud. Tickets went on sale for the Anniversario the next afternoon. Fans (and ticket brokers) eagerly secured their seat for what they hoped would be the big match, the culmination of a feud that’d been center stage in CMLL for the last three months and even longer in other promotions. LA Park versus Rush, mask versus hair, was finally happening.

LA Park versus Rush is not really happening. There were clues CMLL was playing a shell game. The top ticket prices for the 2018 Anniversario, at 2,640 Mexican Pesos, are under the 3,724 high for the Atlantis/Ultimo Guerrero and Atlantis/Sombra mask matches. The same August 3rd show also had Volador regain his NWA Welterweight Championship from Matt Taven. Rush got involved in the post-match with Matt Taven, turning tecnico by running Rush off. That was the real set up to the match CMLL wanted in the Anniversario show, not the promos they had at the end of the night.

The furious reaction from CMLL followers, especially on social media, has been predictable to everyone but CMLL itself. They seemed surprised when the media started asking what happened. The answers only revealed CMLL hadn’t planned to need an answer, ending up giving a few different ones that didn’t make any sense together. (They eventually landed on “It’s all AAA’s fault!”, the most comforting possible answer to their base.) Instead of admitting any fault, CMLL & Park have patted themselves on the back for never actually saying the match was official, so technically they were never lying. Those who had a problem with the match not happening have been framed as people who just complain about lucha libre on social media but never buy tickets and pointed to good ticket sales so far as proof they’re right. It’d be some interesting data to know how many of those tickets were brought in the two and a half weeks before the actual main event was announced, and how many after it’s been clear Rush/Park isn’t happening.

CMLL’s not without justification for ignoring the complaints of their fanbase. The 2013 Anniversario will forever be remembered as the show where the crowd chanted “FRAUDE” for the last hour of the show when they realized Atlantis versus Ultimo Guerrero wouldn’t be happening that year. The same building was still full the following year when Atlantis & Guerrero did happen. The same building will again be full whenever LA Park versus Rush happens. It’ll cost CMLL some goodwill, but CMLL is never much concerned with goodwill. CMLL is concerned with control and demonstrated it with how they handled everything.

There’s still a show here, even with a black cloud hanging over it. That cloud has hung over the promotion since the new main event was announced. The build to that match has featured matches that are OK at best and the secondary feud is not much better. There’s not much else going on. I look forward to the Anniversario every year for the big matches, and I do expect the matches to be good on this year’s show. What I’m really looking forward to is to be able to move past this funk, and onto anything else.

CMLL’s Anniversario show has six matches. Most of them serve no purpose other than to get people on the show, as normal. Another promotion might have been ready for the bad reaction to the main event and rounded out the card with one or two matches aimed at the disenfranchised fans. That’s not our CMLL.

The Mostly Irrelevant Matches

A women’s trios match with tecnicas La Jarochita, Marcela and Princesa Sugehit facing Dalys, La Metalica and Reyna Isis opens the card. Dalys is the dominant champion of the division that seems set on not building any challengers or new stars. The women’s trios matches all fit around her style, feeling very rehearsed and lacking impact or much excitement. The routines that are common to a regular CMLL fan are likely to be new to jumping in for just this show so this might get over better than usual. CMLL’s played with the idea of a Jarochita/Isis rivalry, and it could come up again here.

The second match is the one with the most notable lineup change. Mr. Niebla was scheduled to team with Peste Negra partners Felino & Negro Casas. Mr. Niebla instead fell off the wagon a couple weeks ago, and Mephisto will be participating instead. There’s a rumor going around that Mr. Niebla’s eleventh chance might have been his last; never believe it. Meanwhile, it’s great to see rising star Audaz (teaming with Niebla Roja & Angel de Oro) make his first Anniversario show. It’s likely only happening because Dragon Lee is trapped on a beach, forced to run obstacle courses and conduct charades with no end in sight and CMLL had an unexpected spot left open. Reality show purgatory gives Audaz’ his highest profile match so far, and he’ll probably steal it.

Nueva Generacion Dinamita (Cuatrero, Forastero, Sansón) has continued to be one of the most entertaining acts in Mexico. They’ve been downscaled in importance with all the indie names jumping ahead of them, but they’re still pretty reliable for a good match. Soberano & Mistico make for strong opponents, great targets for NGD’s teamwork and spectacular on their own in the biggest moment. Atlantis does not fit as well, but he’s got to be on this card somewhere.

LA Park, Hijo de LA Park, Caristico, King Phoenix (Fenix) and Penta el Zero M all were announced for this card early and so have to be here somewhere. (Diamante Azul does not have to be here, but he’s a large person and so here he is.) Grouping them together in an unbuilt trios match feels like a bigger idea fell apart, though they should’ve had plenty of time to come up with something for them. Penta came in to CMLL to feud with Caristico, CMLL built towards the match for a few weeks, and then just stopped doing it. Penta has a little bit busy for the last few weeks, but a Caristico/Penta singles match on this show would’ve added a lot. This trios match, in theory, could get it back on track, except Penta & Caristico are already announced as working The Crash the next week. It still might be interesting: working an Anniversario show is a bucket list item for Phoenix & Penta, one of the reasons they’re taking CMLL dates in the first place, and they’ll be motivated to make a memory.

The One Sort-Of Important Match

Klan (Ciber the Main Man, Scharly Rockstar, The Chris) challenging Los Guerreros Laguneros (Ultimo Guerrero, Gran Guerrero, and Euforia) for the CMLL World Trios Championship

If the main event is a match that makes no one happy, the only championship match on the show should make about one person happy. Los Guerreros (Ultimo Guerrero, Gran Guerrero, Euforia) put an end to the Sky Team’s three years run with the CMLL Trios championships specifically so they could have their own title match on the show. A rematch with the Sky Team isn’t in the card with Volador busy in the main event. The success of bringing LA Park, Fenix and Penta in have opened the door to other outsiders coming in, though CMLL hasn’t been as savvy with their next choices.

Cibernetico, Charly Manson and Zorro were among the biggest stars of AAA from the late 90s to late 00s. Of late, they banded together as Klan Kaoz on the indies, the lead heel group for a mid-level Kaoz promotion Zorro books in Monterrey. Ciber has had some success in CMLL in the recent past, so it seemed worth a try to bring the Mexico City to see if they’d work as a heel trio. Not every swing is a hit. The ex-AAA luchadors were terrible in their debut performance, missing moves left and right with the high flying tecnicos they were paired with, and generally looking physically shot.

The bad performance was compounded by laughable new names; CMLL’s billing these men as Ciber the Main Man, Scharly Rockstar and The Chris for trademark reasons, while they continue to wear gear with their ‘true’ names in every match. They’ve also lost the “Klan Kaoz” name after Zorro’s been removed as booker of that promotion, and are now the problematic “El Klan.”

Ciber and friends have done a little bit better while matched up with Los Guerreros. They’re still a square peg trying to make believe they’re round. The AAA guys got over in that style with brawling, blood, and promos, none of which they’re really allowed to do in CMLL. They’re been reimagined into some alternate universe version of Los Guerreros, built around team sequences and lots of action. The Klan is making a good effort at it, but it’s not really what they’ve ever been good at. It suits the Guerreros great though, especially Ultimo Guerrero. UG is a sometimes rudo in moves only, playing to the crowd more than most tecnicos, and here gets to be the noble villain defending his company from the outsiders for a while.

No big Ultimo Guerrero feuds happen at this point without Ultimo Guerrero wanting them. This one wouldn’t be so bad if El Klan could have good matches. They haven’t been able to, outside of one week. It wouldn’t be so bad if the fans were into it. They haven’t been. The Park/Fenix/Penta crew seemed to be a group of non-CMLL fans to support them. El Klan has not, and the regular CMLL fans are so loyal to their own promotion (and unaware of AAA history) that they don’t react to Ciber, Scharly, and Chris as anything special. The fans don’t hate these guys as either heels or outsiders to really get into booing them, with the only emotion coming from when spots go wrong or when the Guerreros finally win. Even more than the main event, this trios title match seems to be happening primarily to appeal to the people involved into it rather than the people paying to see it.

The One Actually Important Match

Matt Taven & Volador Jr. versus Rush & Cavernario, loser loses their hair

Rush is one of the most charismatic wrestlers on the planet in the middle of one of his best years. Volador is one of the athletically gifted luchadors in Mexico, who’s been able to hold up wrestling a demanding style under a heavy schedule. Cavernario is among the most favorite wrestlers of CMLL fans, a hard worker who often seems unfairly relegated to be the foil instead of the protagonist. Matt Taven’s adapted well to CMLL, and his 2018 run has been his best so far. These are four really big names to have in the main event, sure to be exciting and dramatic. CMLL’s taken a potentially great match and buried it under broken expectations.

The path to get to this match hasn’t been that long. Matt Taven won Volador’s title back in March, disappeared from CMLL for months, returned in August to immediately lose the title back to Volador, and suddenly turned tecnico by saving Volador from a Rush attack. Taven, Volador and random third partner Caristico were scheduled to face Los Ingobernables for a few weeks, only Terrible picked up an injury and Cavernario was slid into his place. (CMLL could’ve gone with Bestia del Ring instead, so this is a great outcome.) Cavernario and Taven and Volador and Rush fouled each other quite a couple of weeks, leading Volador to challenge Rush and Taven to have the bright idea to make it a tag match.

The tag match itself seems like the big problem on the surface. Rush & Volador are CMLL’s top stars under 40, neither has lost their hair, and both have been big parts of Anniversario main events in the past. They’d be a worthy main event most year, with bigger names than the last couple of years. The issue is Rush versus anyone comes off as a downgrade from Rush versus LA Park, especially when it’s Park’s nephew being the obvious setup man for the bigger match. Adding Taven and Cavernario muddies up the issue, and improves the match slightly, but it seems odd that one of CMLL’s biggest stars is going to be bald for the first time and it’s happening in a tag match.

Volador’s the most likely loser. He’s done interviews leading into the match noting he’s the underdog, with Rush being bigger and both rudos more likely to cheat their way to a win. Volador losing this way is a missed opportunity. Rush losing his hair to just about anyone would be criminal. CMLL still sees it as important to convince fans Park/Rush isn’t just a carrot on a stick, it is something they truly plan on taking place. They wouldn’t want to do anything to damage it.

Of course, what CMLL already has done has damaged the belief. People will buy tickets for this show and watch it because it’s CMLL Anniversario, and that’s just what you do if you’re a lifelong CMLL fan. People will buy tickets and watch LA Park versus Rush, if/when it actually happens, because that’s the match they genuinely want to see. It’s the in-between moments that CMLL has damaged. It’s a tougher sell to convince people that the fights and the promos matter if all of them can be ignored and overridden by a press conference.

If you’re not someone already following CMLL, this is a really hard sell at $10. The main event will be as good as it can possibly be, and everyone buys into the concept of the Anniversario show to work harder in regular matches, but it’s still truly a one-match card. It’s a great bonus if you’re already signed up to Honor Club, but a significant leap if you’re not already interested in the CMLL product. I’m a person who obviously is into CMLL, but even I’m skipping watching the CMLL Anniversario as it happens for the first time in a long time. I have some other plans for the weekend, and if CMLL can wait on doing Park/Rush, then I figure I can wait on watching what they do instead.