CMLL has its 89th birthday party this Friday, and the gift they’re giving themselves is a new young star.

Arena Mexico will host a four-team one-night tournament leading to a mask or hair final and a women’s mask versus mask match. Most expect it to end with Atlantis Jr. successfully defending his mask for the first time in the same building his father has done many times. That coronation and the other feuds give this Aniverasrio a little more backstory than usual. Big CMLL shows are generally easy to watch if you only dip into the group once a year, but this one might be better if you know why everyone hates each other. 

CMLL’s Aniversario show takes place Friday, September 16, and a special Independence Day early bell time of 5 pm CT. (That’s 3.5 hours early.) TicketMaster Live will sell the show on iPPV for around 198 Mexican pesos (plus fees), a little over 10 USD. The PPV stream is live only with no VOD. The top matches will air on TV in Mexico next week, and CMLL will post those on their YouTube channel on October 2. 

CMLL has tried a bunch of new small ideas this year. Some have been improvements, and some have been just confusing. The one that will strike most people as confusing is CMLL running far fewer three-fall matches. The last promotion in the world to use this format is slowly moving away from it. Most every match on this show will be a one-fall limit. (We’re only not sure about the second match.) It’s something the luchadors seem to be pushing for, one of a few quiet modernizations the promotion’s gone through this year.

Atlantis Jr., as a new top star, is a more visible change. This night is likely crowning him with his first mask win. It’s not a certainty that’ll happen – Stuka & Atlantis Jr. will have to win twice to earn their mask match, and chances remain for other scenarios – but CMLL is pointed towards that conclusion since spring. The older Atlantis has been one of the most recognizable faces of CMLL for nearly thirty years, and CMLL has set up his son to take over the role since debuting three years ago. Atlantis Jr.’s ascension isn’t about carrying the company singlehandedly, just building him into a big enough star that his mask on the line can carry a big show. You can’t prove you’re worthy of being in top matches without actually being in top matches. CMLL has created this multi-stage tournament to allow others to help shoulder the load for this show.

Four teams of rivals – Atlantis Jr. & Stuka Jr., Atlantis Sr. & Fuerza Guerrera, Ultimo Guerrero & Averno, and Soberano Jr. & Templario signed up for a one-night tournament. (That last team later changed; I’ll cover it in a bit.) All four pairs wanted to and agreed to have their apuesta match as the Aniversario main event. Only one of the pairs will have that match on this night. The main event is an honor, so this is a winner’s advance tournament, and only that winning team will get to have their apuesta match that night. The concept is that CMLL makes them earn the opportunity rather than the CMLL itself deciding or having a team fall back into their desired match. 

Atlantis Jr. & Stuka Jr. are the most likely of the four pairs to get their mask match. Stuka Jr. himself was a young guy who earned mask victories to establish him as a signature CMLL character, and this is his chance to pay that gift forward. He’s got an easily recognizable pilot mask, a few trademark moves, and a long stint as a semi-main event guy. Stuka also has a son training to debut. Agreeing to lose a mask helps find a spot for Hijo del Stuka. Stuka Jr. will probably still be around for a long time – the original Stuka lost his mask to Perro Aguayo and carried on for many years – and he’s unlikely to get a brighter spotlight than this one.

If the smart money is on the Atlantis Jr./Stuka Jr. team, the heart pick is the Atlantis/Fuerza Guerrera pair. Atlantis is the hero who’s faced every challenge and won with his mask intact. Fuerza Guerrera is the villain who’s repeatedly talked about how much he sincerely wants to have those mask matches until it comes time to sign a contract. Guerrera’s most often ducked Octagon, who has been stuck on the outside complaining that Guerrera never committed to him as he’s committed to Atlantis. This scenario is happening in CMLL, so it was always only going to happen with Atlantis. Octagon probably should direct his complaints with the ghost of Antonio Peña for never making this happen in AAA. The reality might be Guerrera never thought enough of Octagon to put him over in the most significant way possible and always preferred stringing him along for work while hoping for a better opportunity. Like, with Atlantis. 

Either Atlantis or Fuerza Guerrera losing their masks would be a historic event, a true legend getting unmasked when it looked like they would end their career masked. It’d be such an important match that it seems improbable to happen in a tournament like this. CMLL could’ve instead announced only that Atlantis/Guerrera mask match, doubled the ticket prices, and sold out Arena Mexico instead of going through this whole setup. Both men are also showing every day of their age. Fuerza Guerrera repeatedly has performed barely better than Ric Flair’s latest retirement match, and Atlantis can’t get up with the help of the ropes. Mexican wrestling fans have a high tolerance for low-quality wrestling out of their heroes – they’ll complain about bad wrestling, but then they’ll buy tickets for the next show all the same – but there’d be no sense in asking these guys to struggle through three matches on one night. None of this is how a normal promotion would run an Atlantis versus Fuerza Guerrera mask match if that were indeed the plan.

CMLL isn’t always normal, and that’s the wildcard here.

Most fans realize there’s a 95% chance they’re not seeing Atlantis & Fuerza Guerrera face off in a mask match on Friday. 5% of a genuinely historical event is still a high percentage. Perhaps the fear of missing out on that drove the shockingly fast ticket sales. This year’s show was nearly sold out two weeks before the event, a profound change for a ticket base that usually waits until the day of the show. The rest of CMLL shows aren’t selling nearly as well; for whatever reason, CMLL has convinced their fans they can’t afford to miss out on this show.

There are still two other teams involved.

Averno & Ultimo Guerrero is the sole pair with their hair on the line, justified by it being the first time either will get shaved bald. These two are feuding over who was the better rudo in the last decade, not the most heated issue. Ultimo Guerrero has won the sole significant win, and Averno’s part-time status hasn’t given this much juice. Averno losing his hair is the cheapest out of the eight and the one most likely to lead to upset fans. The last pre-pandemic Aniversario ended with Ultimo Guerrero winning the hair of Negro Casas to much ridicule, and coming back with another Guerrero win would sour a positive year. Averno and Ultimo Guerrero are presumably here because they’re the best choices to get Atlantis & Fuerza Guerrera through a safe tournament match.

Templario and Soberano Jr. were the fourth pair, a rivalry of equally matched young wrestlers pushing each other to higher ground. Templario got the last victory in the final of Leyenda de Plata, one of CMLL’s best matches of the year. Templario also got a damaged shoulder off an Ultimo Guerrero move, requiring surgery and putting him out of this tournament. Dragon Rojo Jr. stepped in. There’s a little history to draw on: Rojo (surprisingly) beat Soberano for the CMLL Middleweight championship back in April and (also surprisingly) retained the belt more recently over NJPW’s Robbie Eagles. Dragon Rojo Jr.’s return from retirement has been a whole of nothing, just existing to fill out main event trios matches, so any notable singles win he gets is out of character. That specific win over Soberano was enough justification for an emergency sub, and Rojo’s status weirdly makes him a more valuable piece. Rojo’s in a sweet spot of being a big enough name that fans would see him unmasked as a ‘fair’ outcome for an Aniverasrio show, and he’s not such a big name that CMLL might convince him to do it. Dragon Rojo is unlikely to get a built-up mask match – he’s too much of an injury risk, even after being healthy most of this year. This night might be his one chance at an Aniversario mask loss if he ever wants to do it and if CMLL hasn’t come up with a better option. CMLL typically decides who will lose their mask before announcing a match), but Dragon Rojo is a perfect fail-safe option if CMLL has cold feet about Atlantis Jr. and Stuka Jr.

CMLL sets the tournament bracket via battle royal, which is always silly and even more so when only four teams are involved. That means we won’t know who faces who in the tournament until midway into this show. The best setup seems like Atlantis Jr. & Stuka Jr. defeating Dragon Rojo Jr. & Soberano, Ultimo Guerrero & Averno getting past Atlantis Sr. & Fuerza Guerrera in the first rounds. That would leave Atlantis Jr. & Stuka Jr. beating Ultimo Guerrero & Averno in the final to set up the mask match. That’ll pair the oldest duo with the best choices to get them through a match without many problems, and Guerrero & Averno can handle it easiest if the crowd gets mad at them for canceling their dreams of Fuerza Guerrera or Atlantis losing a mask. Atlantis Sr. winning even one match would signal that CMLL has different plans. There’s an unspoken CMLL rule that fathers and sons are not allowed to wrestle, so one Atlantis advancing means the other can not. The older Atlantis advancing would signify something wild is about to happen.

The other apuesta match is straightforward. La Jarochita and Reyna Isis have feuded all year and agreed to a mask match on this show. Isis declaring she’ll unmask Jarochita and expose her as secretly ugly is about as deep as this one has gotten. Jarochita shined in the empty arena era as much as anyone could in that situation. The early capacity restrictions forced CMLL away from booking trios, and Jarochita stood out when she got to wrestle more 1 vs. 1. Isis has improved both with her work and her personality. This women’s mask match is a safe bet to be good and carried to a higher level by crowd reactions.

CMLL can’t go more than two weeks without running a tournament. The Copa Independencia suitably ends on the day of Mexico’s independence. Mistico won the first spot in the final, as expected. The second spot (for one person) went to Volador Jr. & Angel de Oro (two people) after going to a double count-out as the final two left in their block. It’s a result CMLL never does in a year CMLL is doing a lot of little things it never does. They’ve also invented a strange way of handling three-way finals this year: instead of all three men simultaneously, there are two singles matches. A CMLL referee will put balls in a bag, the two wrestlers who pull out matching colored balls fight first, and the other wrestler fights the winner. (CMLL’s done this twice so far, and each time the wrestler reactions have been so spontaneous as to feel like these might be shoot drawings.) Angel de Oro has been fantastic in big matches this year and deserves to be on the Aniversario card in some fashion. A tag match with his brother (Niebla Roja) against Volador & Mistico might have made much more sense, but I’ll take what I can get. Copa Indepencia is just another one of a dozen competitions CMLL runs annually. Volador and Mistico have won one already, and it’d be nice to see Angel de Oro rewarded.

CMLL has two trios matches to open up the show. The national trios champs Los Atrapasuenos (Rey Cometa, Dulce Gardenia, and Espiritu Negro) face fellow tecnicos Fuerza Poblana (Guerrero Maya, Stigma, Arkalis) in what should be an easy fun opener and a cetain defense for the champ. Los Infernales (Hechicero, Euforia, Mephisto) face Negro Casas, Star Jr., and Titan in the one match that seems to exist to get a few more people on the card. Star Jr. is one name who hasn’t made these shows in the past and may go crazy trying to prove he belongs. 

There are few things better in wrestling than a full house in CMLL’s biggest arena, and this should be a robust vocal turnout. (CMLL’s done an atypical solid job of micing their crowd this year, too; it’s the gap between them and AAA this year.) CMLL’s given much attention to this card, and their fans have been receptive. Nothing here looks like it will challenge MOTYC consideration on paper, but the right night and crowd might push one of these through.

It’s an easy PPV buy for those following the promotion and should be an exciting night for those who don’t, as long as you’re around to watch it live.