CMLL & NJPW’s Fantastica Mania collaboration reaches ten years this week.
It’s a long time for any two promotions to maintain a healthy relationship. There have been bumps in the road recently, but it is remarkable what they’ve achieved in these ten years. Fantastica Mania began as a two-night special event is now an eight-show annual tour. NJPW’s confidence in this tour is strong enough to run four shows in Korakuen Hall in five dives, mirroring CMLL’s schedule in Mexico. Fantastica Mania did very well last year even with the increased output: it’s a safe bet the CMLL coming to Japan in January is going out draw NJPW going to the US in February. The average English speaking NJPW fan seems to loathe the Fantastica Mania tour, and the dual Road to New Beginning tours makes this tour easy to look past. Still, it’s not one the fans in Japan or the promotion ignore: it’s the most relaxed money-making shows the promotion runs all year. What NJPW is doing here seems to be working.
Except, if you’re a diehard fan of CMLL, these shows are working less and less. Every concept rusts after a time, but there festering issues too. Some of them are on CMLL’s side, some on NJPW’s, and it’s only the viewers who have to deal with it. These shows should be sufficient for the intended Japanese audience, who want no more than to see their favorites from Mexico once a year. It’s a less exciting watch if this is just extra CMLL streams to the many lucha fans already can watch.
CMLL Fantastica Mania kicked off early Friday night, with a show from Osaka. The meat of the tour begins this upcoming Thursday in Korakuen Hall. There are shows every night/morning except Saturday. All shows start at 3:30 AM CT and will be available on NJPW World with English commentary. A preview of the more significant matches, by way of looking at the issues with the shows:
Super Estrella Okumura
The main event of the tour opener is Okumura getting a 25th Anniversary main event in his home town. The Sunday Korakuen Hall show features a Stuka Jr. versus Okumura match. It is Okumura’s fourth straight year with a singles match on this tour. He’s the only person who’s wrestled on all of the shows. Okumura is not a big star in Mexico. He was once a sufficient luchador, but his quality has understandably fallen off following neck surgery. Okumura doesn’t feel out of place in CMLL; he’s mostly kept in trios matches, and he’s amidst a distressingly large amount of washed luchadors in Arena Mexico. Okumura has done great for himself positioning himself as a CMLL’s key international liaison, but it’s not great for the shows. Gedo & Jado don’t get booked as big a deal as Okumura gets booked on these shows.
There’s a lot of exciting people doing nothing at all on this tour. Fuego, Flyer, Audaz, and Dulce Gardenia are limited to meaningless tag matches. Luciferno is only a bit better than Okumura, but would at least be someone different. Stuka is popular with the international crowd, yet seems likely to be here to give Okumura back a win from three years ago. Okumura doesn’t need to go away; perhaps the never-ending appearances might be ignorable if he was just a tag wrestler. We’re unlikely to find out.
CMLL’s Staleness, Lackluster 2019 Bleeding Over Into 2020
Fantastica Mania typically includes rematches of CMLL’s biggest matches from the previous year. That couldn’t happen this year. CMLL’s Anniversario show was a seven-man cage match. (Fantastica Mania could’ve hosted the Negro Casas/Ultimo Guerrero final rematch; CMLL has instead treated that match as if never occurred.) The Homenaje a Dos Leyendas main event included La Bestia del Ring, who’s left the promotion. 2019 was a poor year for CMLL’s big ideas; there isn’t a lot of gold to mine.
That’s left 2020 Fantastica Mania as repeating itself. Satoshi Kojima peculiarly gets his third straight singles match for this tour, this time against Ultimo Guerrero. The family tournament comes back again, with last year’s third-place match, Angel de Oro & Niebla Roja versus Cuatrero & Sanson), the safe bet as this year’s final. Nueva Generacion Dinamita defended the trios championship against Angel de Oro, Niebla Roja, and Sobreano Jr. last year and will defend the trios championship against Angel de Oro, Niebla Roja, and Titan this year. There’s no rising star spotlighted either. CMLL has a staleness problem in Arena Mexico, and these cards suffer similarly.
NJPW’s reluctance to mix NJPW and CMLL talent on FantasticaMania
My most-anticipated Fantastica Mania is the Tiger Mask/Tiger match on the final night. I enjoy it when people with similar gimmicks fight it out. It’s a rare spotlight match for one of the more talented rudos in CMLL, who gets nothing to do in his home promotion. It’s also an NJPW versus CMLL match, which seems like a sensible thing to book on shows with both promotions included. Kojima versus Ultimo Guerrero is similarly intriguing. Guerrero can’t precisely mark off his usual checklist of high impact moves with an older heavyweight, so what they’ll try to do is a mystery. It may be a mystery with an underwhelming resolution, but at least it’ll be something different.
CMLL/NJPW Fantastica Mania has never been ROH/NJPW’s War of the Worlds. It has always been more about the intra-CMLL matchups than inter-promotional ones. A pivot towards a few more of those types of matches would’ve made up for the lacking stuff CMLL’s offering. It doesn’t even require the big guns or belts to do so. BUSHI, Shingo, and EVIL are the NEVER Trios Champions and are teaming on every show in Korakuen Hall. It’s hard to understand why one of their matches couldn’t be for those championships. Fuego & Ryusuke Taguchi were a beloved duo in past years, and bringing in RPG3K for a championship defense against them would’ve been a big highlight. There are deficiencies with the NJPW US shows too, but they are providing unexpected matchups from an unusual mixed roster. There’s little of the unexpected back in Japan; it is a missed opportunity.
The Best Ideas Are Left Out
Even if more NJPW versus CMLL is off the table, even if CMLL is stuck using the same people in about the same way, the organization of these cards is frustrating. Titan had an outstanding 2019. His match late in the year against Soberano Jr. is worth going out of your way to see. Titan’s matches earlier in the year against Barbaro Cavernario are similarly impressive. Any combination of those three in this environment would be an early CMLL Match of the Year contender. They’re not touching in a meaningful fashion.
Soberano is only part of the Family team tournament. Titan’s singles match in Forastero, a rudo who’s gotten a lot of 1v1 matches the last few months and impressed in about none of them. Barbaro Cavernario remains one of the most over CMLL guys in Japan but can’t break out of the “losing impressively to the top tecnico on the last day” role. Cavernario this time will be working for a crowd-pleasing if likely basic match with Caristico, once again existing only as a someone’s foil. Swapping Forastero & Cavernario’s roles would’ve helped these shows much, but it’s sacrificed to make Caristico look a little bit better to close them out.
These shows are Negro Casas’s first FantasticaMania. Casas was scheduled two years ago and missed it due to a late injury. He turned 60 just a day before this tour started. We all hope he’s around and in good condition for years to come, but there are no guarantees at his age. This FantasticaMania could be his final tour of Japan, and all he’s given is meaningless tag matches and a likely fourth-place finish in a tournament. If anyone was going to be honored on this tour, it probably should’ve been Casas.
These are all complaints about the creative part of the show. The business parts seem to be doing fine. Running Korakuen Hall shows to four days is a big statement of confidence in this concept. The Japanese fans keep coming, and that’s all that needs to happen for the tours to continue. Still, this concept could use a better effort than has been given this year, if they’re going to maintain that interest. The shows presented this year aren’t doing it.