The first CMLL Aniversario post-Paco Alonso is a forgettable drag. There are technically four big matches with something on the line Friday night in Arena Mexico. Only one has captured any interest. The actual main event is the result of a bait and switch, for the second year running. The Aniversario brand remains strong, and so turnout is expected to be the same, but the oldest promotion in the world is deep into a rut.

CMLL’s 86th Aniversario, the celebration of the founding of the promotion in 1933, takes place this Friday night in Arena Mexico. The show will stream live on Honor Club & Fite as part of the $10/month subscription. Ring of Honor is also planning on releasing an English language version of the show on their network later this week. CMLL routinely puts up their Friday night shows on their YouTube channel complete early Saturday morning. You should keep in mind that you’re paying for live access knowing it’ll likely be available for free later.

CMLL has never been an ambitiously booked company, so a lackluster Aniversario card isn’t a significant change. Some of the same people have been in charge of the cards for a couple of decades. There haven’t been any notable changes in that programming department following Paco Alonso’s passing and Sofia Alonso taking over as the promotion’s leader. There may have been changes elsewhere. A widely discussed rumor earlier this month had the owning family quietly taking away power from Sofia Alonso and bringing in Salvador Lutteroth III to be in charge. This story doesn’t appear to be completely accurate – Lutteroth III has been working in CMLL all along, we just don’t have comprehensive knowledge about how their office works – but sources indicate there are tighter budget controls in CMLL which have affected wrestler pay. The situation may have been set up to protect everyone in case Sofia Alonso can’t do the job as well as her father, but it also makes it tougher for her to succeed. Alonso had been regularly appearing in public immediately after taking over the company and hasn’t been seen since that rumor.

Those budgets limits may have changed the Aniversario main event. CMLL spent months building towards a Ciber The Main Main (ex-AAA Cibernetico) versus Ultimo Guerrero, hair versus hair match on this show. Guerrero kept asking for it, Ciber kept putting it off. In a wrestling miracles a few days before the Aniversario press conference, five other people suddenly decided they too wanted to be in a hair match, and it suddenly became a cage match. The reality is Ciber and CMLL could never agree on a price for his hair. CMLL picked an alternate cheaper option.

The switch from Ciber/Guerrero follows last year’s switch from LA Park/Rush to the Matt Taven & Volador Jr. versus Rush & Cavernario main event. There’s a couple of crucial differences. LA Park may not be willing to lose his mask at any price, at least any reasonable price. Ciber’s hair isn’t cheap, but it might have been at least realistic. LA Park versus Rush was also a super-hot feud at the time. No one outside of maybe Ultimo Guerrero seemed all that interested in his issues with Ciber. They had no chemistry in their matches, which only succeeded when they went so far horrible as to become an amusing farce. The subtext of their feud was a battle of CMLL and AAA top stars, a Mexican equivalent of Triple H versus Sting, only if no one cared. This year’s Aniversario problem wasn’t that the intended main event is no longer happening, but that CMLL had spent so long building up to something unappealing and had nothing else appealing ready when it fell apart.

CMLL has attempted to fix the problem by offering quantity to replace the quality. A CMLL big show typically has two, maybe three big matches, so they’re offering four this time. It just still doesn’t feel all that big.

Audaz, Rey Cometa, Stigma vs Misterioso Jr., Tiger, Virus

CMLL opens with a typical big show early trios. There are some talented midcard luchadors involved and also a couple of others. Tiger has been among the best midcard rudos in the promotion over the last year, making something out of a lot of nothing matches. He remains stuck going nowhere while his brother Puma King adventures around the globe. Rey Cometa has put in the effort to freshen up his look and has similarly gotten nothing out of it. Figure on the rudos taking this one.

Diamante Azul, Dulce Gardenia, Titán vs Hechicero, Hijo del Villano III, Rey Bucanero

A group of guys who don’t quite fit together is in the second match trios anyway. Diamante Azul has been in and out of action due to a groin injury. It’s limited him even when he has wrestled, though recent surgery hopefully fixed it. Hechicero will attempt to get something out of him. Dulce Gardenia remains the big CMLL project of 2019. Bucanero will be there to do all the same spots he did with Maximo a generation prior. Titán is killing time here until his next NJPW trip, but will at least provide a good test of Hijo del Villano III’s progress. This one seems sure to have the técnico happy ending.

Dalys versus Metálica © for the Mexican Women’s Championship

A late change to the card just announced on Wednesday. Dalys won the first-ever CMLL Universal de Amazonas tournament, earning a shot at the CMLL World Women’s Championship. A trip to the doctor revealed Marcela wrestled for weeks on a fractured ankle and needed to stop doing that. (She’s not expected back until maybe December.) Secondary champion Metalica was plugged into the spot to keep CMLL’s promise of a women’s title match.

That makes this a rematch. Dalys defeated Metalica to win the Universal tournament in an abomination. Dalys ate up Metalica in the contest, Metalica gassed by the time she was to make her comeback, and Dalys just defeated her quickly. Metalica had been considered the best of the under-40 CMLL women and will need a much better match this time to restore her reputation. Dalys was probably going to win the World title from Marcela. Dalys wins everything. The only hold up for another win is if she might consider the national championship a lesser prize and would prefer to wait for the world title. Metalica surely isn’t winning. There is just an outside chance of a draw. I’d still bet on a Dalys win.

Ángel de Oro, Mephisto, Niebla Roja vs Euforia, Gran Guerrero, Soberano Jr. in a Relevos Increíbles match

This match is now built around father Euforia & son Soberano getting to the team, as they’ve done a lot this summer. The duo was among the better units in June’s Copa Dinastia. Chavez brothers Angel de Oro & Niebla Roja won that competition. They might be greeted with boos here, as CMLL big shows often negative towards clean técnico acts. Gran Guerrero is rather good, Mephisto is not what he used to be though still better than many others who might have been in that spot. I guess the Chavez side will win. This looks like a good match which won’t be remembered a week later.

The story here that matters is Soberano is a quiet replacement for Dragon Lee. CMLL’s said nothing publicly about the change. CMLL had not told Dragon Lee he was off the card before everyone else found out. Both Dragon Lee and Barbaro Cavernario had been told not to work PWG’s Battle of Los Angeles tournament, due to them being on the same card as AAA wrestlers. Dragon Lee defied CMLL, worked the PWG shows, and now is not working CMLL shows as a consequence. CMLL had Dragon Lee advertise for three shows this week. Dragon Lee worked none of them, and it is unknown when he will wrestle for CMLL again.

There’s a glaring problem with CMLL’s plan to punish Dragon Lee by taking away his bookings. A plethora of other promotions would happily give him work the moment Lee decides he no longer wants to be an Arena Mexico wrestler and CMLL’s actions can only push him in that direction. Dragon Lee has bemoaned facing the same guys over and over and looking for new challenges, the talk of a person who was already open to looking elsewhere. He might have already left if he didn’t also have NJPW to stretch his legs. Dragon Lee is not believed to be under contract to CMLL (or anyone else.) It has been his choice to keep it that way, not wanting to be bound to anything at this age. If Dragon Lee can maintain his relationship with NJPW while even no longer linked to CMLL, it may be an increasingly appealing option. By CMLL removing Dragon Lee from this Aniversario, they may have pushed him into not being around for the next one.

(Rush is the other noteworthy missing person from this card. He happens to have ROH work on this day instead. It is a failing of CMLL scheduling this show for the same night as an ROH PPV which is the problem. That conflict does not explain why Rush has been missing from most every other CMLL card this month amidst never-ending rumors of Rush going independent. All these things can be smoothed over and have been in the past; those Rush rumors have been going on for years without him leaving CMLL. Still, the relationship between the Munoz family and CMLL is the volcano everyone’s watching, wonder if this is the moment it’ll finally blow.)

Microman versus Chamuel in a mask versus mask match

The one match on this show making everyone happy is the one-meter tall man defending his mask against a villainous ex-clown. Microman and Chamuel are the CMLL Micros division, with the surprisingly agile son of KeMonito pulling off fancy moves with the expert basing of Chamuel. Other micros have occasional moments, but these are by far the best two guys of this size CMLL has to offer. Microman is the purest babyface in Mexico, and will undoubtedly get the win in this one fall match.

There is a fair debate on whether it should be happening. There is no next worthwhile feud for the Micros once Microman unmasks Chamuel. Those two have gotten better over the two and a half year existence of this division, while everyone else has stagnated or gotten worse. It’s unlikely a Microman versus, say, Zacarias el Perico match is going to happen next or is even really possible. On the other hand, maybe that’s precisely why now is the time to do this match. The novelty has worn off a bit because of the lack of growth and new faces, and it will likely be a colder bit a year from now. Nothing is meant to last forever. Perhaps it’s better the big match happens now, rather than lose it if the division drifts apart.

La Nueva Generacion Dinamita (Cuatrero, Forastero, Sansón) © vs Carístico, Místico, Valiente for the Mexican National Trios Championship

La Nueva Generacion Dinamita continues ascending the CMLL ladder. This trios title match should be a good match, though there’s just no anticipation to it. The fight was announced out of the blue, with an only slight build up after the fact. Carístico, Místico, and Valiente are not a regular team, just a group of name wrestlers thrown together. (The lack of regular técnico trios since the last iteration of the Sky Team lost the world trios titles previous year has been an ongoing issue.) There is a neat visual of the two Místico doing La Místicas at the same time. That’s pretty much all this aspires to be.

The national trios titles seem beneath the tecnicos. They’re also really below NGD. The three rudos should’ve long ago graduated to the world trios titles, except they can’t seem to do that while still being national champions and they can’t lose those. A shock title change to move the Dinamitas on and to provide something of meaning on the show seems in the offering.

Último Guerrero, Big Daddy, Negro Casas, Cavernario, Volador Jr., Gilbert el Boricua, and Ciber the Main Man in a cage match where the loser will lose their hair

So, there’s this, a Frankenstein monstrosity.

Gilbert, forever waiting for his shot at Ultimo Guerrero, got involved when Ciber was taking his time stepping up to the challenge. The Gran Prix ended with Big Daddy pinning Cavernario, Cavernario helping Negro Casas defeat Big Daddy, and Big Daddy helping Volador beat Casas when everyone else thought the match ended. A few days later, everyone’s signing a blank piece of paper for a cage match. The standard rules for a CMLL cage match are everyone having to stay in the cage for around ten minutes, everyone is then free to climb out and escape over the top, and the final two left in the ring will have a single fall match to determine winner and loser. The hype is always everyone will stay until the last moment to corner their rival. The reality is everyone bailing as soon as they can. The action is rarely entertaining, usually with not much thought put in.

Big Daddy is Texas wrestler Big Daddy Yum Yum, most infamous for his NJPW stint. He will be main eventing CMLL’s biggest show of the year in his sixth match with the promotion. This circumstance is as confounding as it sounds. Big Daddy came to Mexico in late June/early July for a little over a week, trained with CMLL, impressed Ultimo Guerrero, and got a spot on the second biggest show in Mexico of the year. He’s been an entertaining promo who hasn’t fit in at all on the wrestling side. Big Daddy seems like the latest attempt to replace Marco Corleone with another tall foreigner with a good body. He looks a long way from accomplishing that.

Most of the people in the match have acknowledged they have no idea who Big Daddy is. The fans are the same. CMLL hasn’t done much to fix that. If CMLL is truly price-conscious, there will be no cheaper option in any year than asking Big Daddy to take the hair cut. It would also be a dark test to see if the brand name of Aniversario is invincible, or if the inevitable vocal unfavorable fan reaction would translate into business losses. Big Daddy losing his hair would be among the more cynical bookings moves a major lucha libre group has done in a very long time. It seems too cynical even for CMLL.

That leaves six others for possible losers. This cage match wouldn’t be happening if Cibernetico or Ultimo Guerrero agreed to lose, so they’re not dropping a fall in the cage either. Volador lost his hair one year ago, so he’s unlikely to do it again. I think both he and Cavernario are now big enough names that they’d be in a singles match by themselves if CMLL wanted them to lose their hair, so a cage match seems to eliminate them both. That leaves Negro Casas & Gilbert el Boricua.

CMLL has been strangely unenthusiastic about the former Mesias & Mil Muertes. He’s not close to what he was at his best in Lucha Underground or AAA, but he’s still a lot better than Ciber has ever been. Gilbert does have an alternate masked personality he can slip into, and he also might not get another chance to get this sort of payoff. It does still seem a little beneath him. It may not be beneath Negro Casas. Casas’ 2009 Aniversario main event was thought to be the last time CMLL would dare use a man of his age in the main event of their biggest match of the year. He’s back a decade later, a legend who can take a hundred losses and still be the most popular man on the show. Casas is the odds on favorite to take one more loss here.

Figure out who might be him is the harder puzzle. The build suggests it’d be Big Daddy’s win, though that’s likely to be rejected almost as severely as if Big Daddy lost. Volador avenging his loss from last year would also probably get heavily booed by the Casas supporters. That might be fine. Volador’s shown signs of returning to the rudo side, a move he’d seem to enjoy, and a win to an adverse reaction might move that along. My wish is for Casas’ executioner to instead be his closest ally, Barbaro Cavernario. It would be a way to take the bland cage match setup and twist into a memorable ending. The only hint of it happening is Casas and Cavernario not even talking about the possibility. If Casas is going to lose his hair one more time, it stands to be more use giving it to CMLL’s great rudo hope rather than be another line in a long apuesta table for Guerrero or Volador or Ciber.

It’s silly for me to expect that, though. CMLL believes they simply need to announce an anniversary card to get people to show up. Cavernario/Casas would be something happening, and they’re not currently doing happenings. Not doing much at all has caused the current decline in CMLL and a big surprise ending would be a way to snap out of it, but it’s unclear if CMLL even notices there’s a decline. This show is just about continuing as they have for 86 years, CMLL fans should expect nothing more from the promotion.