In March 2000, Atlantis faced Villano III in a blood-soaked, heart-wrenching battle that soon became one of lucha libre’s most beloved treasures. After winning over 50 masks across his career, ‘King Arthur’ lost his identity that night, revealing himself to the world… 20 years later, his son would have a Lucha de Apuestas worthy of the Villano name, one that would exemplify the importance of the mask tradition in lucha libre while also capturing the essence of that legendary Atlantis vs. Villano III battle. 

Since 2018, Villano III Jr. and Aéreo had been steadily building a rivalry in Ciudad Juárez and after backstage attacks, singles, championship and even a Bull Terrier match, a Lucha de Apuestas was inevitable. The stage was the José Neri Santos arena, Aéreo’s home and Ciudad Juárez’ sports cathedral. 

The two out of three falls stipulations is a tradition in lucha. The first two falls are usually short and irrelevant, but somehow the third fall is a long, epic clash. This formula can be hit or miss, and often feels quite nonsensical. Fortunately, Villano vs. Aéreo didn’t follow the rule. In this match, every fall counted and had a story of its own.

The first fall was a ‘llaveo’ struggle. A counter-fest with tremendous chain and mat wrestling that wasn’t too on the nose and never felt heavy. All the holds performed here were not just to show off… they had a reason. Every move was applied with the objective of attaining mental dominance over the opponent. Villano and Aéreo wanted a complete victory, one that would prove physical and mental superiority over the other. They were trying to back up all the nasty things they said to each other during the last two years. Who knows more technical wrestling? Who has his foe’s number? Who would humiliate his opponent by making him tap out? Getting a submission win so early in a Lucha de Apuestas match would be a huge confidence boost… but Aéreo went a step further: he used the Atlántida to make Villano III Jr. tap out. Yes, Villano had been submitted with the same hold that vanquished his father. Aéreo even kneeled while applying it, just like Atlantis did 20 years ago and just like that, he had humiliated the Villanos dynasty. If you didn’t think this was personal, now there was zero doubt.

How could Villano III Jr. recover from such a big blow? Aéreo was on top of the world, and during the first minutes of the second fall, had the complete control of the match. Villano was overwhelmed and everything he tried, would fail. Things were going so bad that he had a bad landing and immediately clutched his right leg. The injury looked serious and the referee would not allow Aéreo to get near. All his momentum was gone… and then, Villano struck. It was a ruse. Physically he had been unable to overcome Aéreo, so he used his brains to immediately take control of the bout. 

Things got worse for Aéreo when Villano III Jr. hit him with a tope suicida. Both heads crashed and blood started pouring out of them. Sounds familiar? The exact same thing happened during Atlantis vs. Villano III. But this time, the pink wearing luchador managed to capitalize. After some drama involving paramedics, Villano III Jr. dragged his opponent into the ring, hit a package piledriver and a super senton to win the second fall. Aéreo got the first victory via technical prowess but Villano tied the match with sheer wit and brutality. 

The two first falls felt important and prepared the crowd for the violent affair that would ensue. A top rope german suplex was a good little encapsulation of things to come. Calling it a suplex feels too much, it was a throw. Villano climbed the top rope, took Aéreo’s waist and just launched him to the mat. It was nasty, but that’s the game they were playing. That’s what it takes to defend your honor.

The match kept escalating. Two desperate men bleeding and using every object at their disposal to get the upper hand. And when that wasn’t enough, Aéreo launched himself from a towering metallic structure toward his opponent. Paramedics rushed to the aid of Villano but Aéreo stopped them. There is no mercy in Lucha de Apuestas.

The third fall reached a critical point. The frenzied competitors exchanged moves in the middle of the ring: one mistake and it could be all over. Every counter was crucial, every hold looked painful and reaching the ropes was like finding an oasis in the desert. Aéreo used the Atlántida once more but Villano immediately launched his hands towards the aforementioned oasis.

Until this moment I hadn’t mentioned a controversial piece in every good lucha puzzle: the ‘second’. Rey Escorpión was there, vigilant, watching over Villano III Jr’s shoulder, ready to strike at any moment. 20 years ago, Scorpio Jr. had been Villano III’s second, but that match was all honor and the late ‘Rey Arturo’ refused any help whether it was from Scorpio or the referee. However, the scenario was different this time. Villano III Jr’s career is just burgeoning. He holds a championship in AAA, he’s headlining a packed show in Ciudad Juárez top building. Getting the mask of one of the most beloved wrestlers in the north of México would be a huge stepping stone. Villano knew he had to do everything in his power to achieve victory, and when you have such a dirty, experienced figure such as Rey Escorpión in your corner, honor can get in the bin.

Escorpión’s first intervention backfired: he gave Villano a glass bottle, but Aéreo managed to steal it and smash it right in his head. Aéreo knew he was close to victory so he built one final piece of sadistic art: a chair structure that would serve as Villano’s bed and a landing area for his next dive. Before executing the maneuver, Aéreo hesitated, maybe due to fatigue or just fear… those seconds of doubt were his perdition. Aéreo soared through the air but didn’t find Villano’s body, just chairs. The referee started the count and the two hurt men were forced to drag their bodies to the ring. Logic dictates that such an important match could never end with a count-out decision so this looked like another device to create drama… but all of a sudden, the black venom struck. Just as Villano III Jr. entered the ring, Escorpión Jr. pulled Aéreo away from it. The count reached 20 and the match was over.

There was confusion in the crowd and a definite vibe of disappointment at the way the match ended. Through clenched teeth, Aéreo had to unmask and present the mortal name of Carlos Antonio Puertas Puentes to the world. Villano III Jr. did not care: he had achieved the most important win of his career and exalted the Villano dynasty in the process. In fact, this was the second time a Villano had unmasked a Ciudad Juarez hero. In 1988, his father had conquered the beloved Flama Roja and now, Aéreo had fallen. The Villanos own Juarez.

Villano III Jr. started crying. The battle had left him bloodied but the joy was palpable. “My dad… he’s up there and he gave me the energy to triumph”, he claimed in the post-match interview. He knew he had lived up to the name of his family: 20 years after his father lost the most important match of his career, Villano III Jr. had just started his path to greatness. He showed every virtue that made ‘King Arthur’ famous and put the world of lucha libre on notice.

The Villano name lives on.