The Reality of Wrestling: WWE in Mexico

The latest edition to The E’s global empire

One claim that Vince McMahon can make about his wrestling promotion that is 100% accurate would be that he has a global wrestling promotion. The E is the only wrestling promotion on the planet that is well known the world over and tours internationally on a regular basis. They are also the only wrestling promotion on the planet to benefit from international pay-per-view buys (those helped put Wrestlemania XXIII over the top as the most bought wrestling PPV ever). The live gate numbers from tour dates in countries such as Australia, Ireland, England, and France in recent years—during a time where the product has taken a downward shift and the only recently made mega star would be John Cena—is further evidence that this promotion can go basically wherever it wants, and plant its flag. While Japan may be the one area on this planet with a wrestling tradition that The E likely will never be able to plant their own flag in (not for lack of trying), the last two years in the country of Mexico and its wrestling landscape proves that this empire is still potent.

P.C. Says: The E’s takeover of Mexico might be short-lived, but it’s definitely shaken things up south of the border

At the beginning of 2008, wrestling in Mexico was still thriving with both of the country’s major promotions—CMLL and AAA—putting up great numbers both on television and at the arenas. The stars of yesteryear were still drawing big, but unlike Japan, the new blood was putting up big numbers of their own. Not only that, but AAA more than CMLL did allow a lot of foreign talent and young talent to gain a kind of exposure and serious push that they hadn’t yet received anywhere else (Kenzo Suzuki may be the prime example of this). Cibernetico and Mesias were AAA’s two biggest young draws and were showing the promise of becoming two of the biggest stars in the country, but the honor of biggest wrestling star in Mexico belonged to CMLL wrestler Mistico, another young talent who had become the biggest draw in the country a few years earlier. To emphasize how big this guy was just a short time ago, he was the Mexican equivalent of Steve Austin or The Rock in terms of fan support and drawing power, as WWE and TNA made multiple attempts to sign him, The E coming the closest. As 2008 progressed, all the hope and promise for the future took a major hit as a series of events put both of Mexico’s major promotions at a proverbial standstill that sent them back to the drawing board. First, Mistico goes down with an injury near the middle of the year and would not return until near the end of the year; at the time it was speculated that Mistico was forced back too soon due to the massive slide in CMLL’s numbers during his absence. Then the worldwide economy crisis begins hitting Mexico pretty hard, forcing both major promotions to cut off bringing in foreign talent—something AAA has always done and benefited from in most cases—along with a drop in attendance at major shows and house shows. Finally, Cibernetico’s unprofessional and very public break-up and exit with AAA combined with Perro Aguayo Jr.’s attempt at a new promotion, Perros Del Mal, sent everything into chaos to end 2008.

It was during this time that The E announced a deal to finally get onto Mexican television. The timing couldn’t have been more perfect as the television viewership was beginning to plunge and with live gate numbers already plunging, the opening was there for something (or someone) new to come in and make an impact. Considering AAA had gone to a much more sports entertainment approach near the beginning of the last decade—combined with Konnan’s return to AAA as a booker—the product that The E would be selling wouldn’t be something new, but at the same time, the way it was presented and the people who presented it would be. Plus, The E had two major advantages going into their venture south of the border: their name & its value and Rey Mysterio. I hinted at this above, but the lack to create multiple megastars in the last decade hasn’t hurt The E because (with their purchase of the American competition in 2001), they are wrestling to the mainstream public almost worldwide. Even in countries that have wrestling promotions (like Mexico, Britain, and Australia), the name WWE is synonymous with wrestling. Then, there’s the fact that The E has on its roster the most successful Mexican wrestler in recent American wrestling history, and he’s coming home.

It was almost too easy for The E to make its presence known in 2009. The economic crisis’ most immediate impact on wrestling in Mexico was that with more and more people have less money to spend, the number of house shows that promotions ran went down rapidly; this specifically hurt AAA as their contracts with their wrestlers are predicated on how much work they can find for their workers and without house shows, those number of working dates began to go down adding another financial difficulty for AAA to deal with. With CMLL, they continued to run T.V. tapings and major shows at their base arena, Arena Mexico. However, due to the economic crisis and the tumbling numbers even after Mistico’s return, they were forced to resort to an old trick in Mexican wrestling: discounted tickets for children—like The E, a major source of Mexican wrestling’s fanbase—to the tune of under $1 a ticket for kids! While for T.V. tapings this would’ve been just another tactic to try and guarantee a good visual of the crowd for television, the fact that CMLL used this for the majority of their major Arena Mexico shows even to this day makes it a move made out of desperation to keep the fanbase around. In addition, the T.V. ratings for The E were an instant success and regulated AAA and CMLL’s numbers to TNA levels by comparison. And as for Aguayo Jr. and Perros del Mal: they had a T.V. deal in place, but it fell through at the last minute and the only real T.V. deal they have at the moment was a pay-per-view deal with iN Demand for pay-per-view broadcasts.To date there’s only been one PPV from the promotion.

Back to the economy crisis causing wrestling fans to cut back and not go to as many shows: this meant that they had to pick and choose which shows they spent their money to go. Considering how instantly The E was taken in after first airing in Mexico, combined with the Rey Mysterio factor, it wasn’t much of a surprise that The E has been able to draw a full house of 20,000 for each of the major shows they’ve ran at Palacio de los Deportes (the big arena AAA uses in Mexico City) during the last year. Each time in the arena, The E has basically run a house show lineup with Mysterio on top, sat back, and watched the process.

The E’s takeover and the decline in popularity of Mexican promotions in Mexico during 2009 and into 2010 ended up with AAA being in the news very often with none of the mainstream coverage being beneficial to them. During 2009, Mesias was at the heart of a scandalous story involving him and several AAA wrestlers getting in trouble with the authorities for an incident involving drugs in their van as well as an encounter with a noted drug gang. There was Abismo Negro’s tragic death under unusual circumstances in the dark within a noted gang-filled area of Mexico after suddenly and without reason jumping off the bus he was riding on that night. There was Vampiro’s two noteworthy run-in’s with the law during the last year: the first had Vampiro leap from his own home upon hearing intruders enter leading to an injury upon landing that sidelined him for several months, the second came just before Triplemania this past June 6th when he and several others were apparently carjacked and kidnapped briefly before being released at a remote location. In the second incident, the deed seemed to have been done by a gang notorious for carjackings. Both stories came under suspicion right away due to Vampiro’s persona and behavior outside the ring over the years, specifically the second incident where Dave Meltzer noted that the carjackers not recognizing who Vampiro was was particularly off due to him still being very popular in Mexico and the fact that he started the Mexico chapter of the Guardian Angels in 2007. The second story wasn’t even given much mainstream press, likely due to the fact that nobody really knew whether to believe it or not. And possibly most damaging to AAA was the dissolving of El Hijo del Santo’s return to AAA. The ending of his brief return saw El Hijo del Santo go to the papers and bash AAA from how they run their shows to how they run their promotion; this specific story also included similar comments from Juventud Guerrera, who had been fired from AAA after a locker room incident with Konnan in 2009 that was caught on tape.

However, all the news within AAA and CMLL has not been all bad in the past two years. While the main issues (popularity, profitability, image, standing in Mexico) have been largely negative, it really hasn’t been all bad.

Possibly the best news to come out of AAA in the past two years is that the sports entertainment experiment may be over. AAA’s approach, which had been somewhat new (at least how they did it) to Mexico, was instantly copycat once The E moved in. AAA will likely be booking in a WWE style for the rest of their days (especially taking Konnan’s time in American pro wrestling into account), but the emphasis has apparently been put back into the in-ring product being the drawing card, ala the “glory days” of AAA (1992-1995). Not only that, but the ability to bring in foreign talent again as 2009 progressed has seen AAA form working relationships with TNA, Ring of Honor, Pro Wrestling NOAH, and All Japan Pro Wrestling, which has livened up their lineups from the onset of these work agreements. This wrestling recession in Mexico also has benefited AAA in that it was the catalyst for them finally being able to bring back Adolfo Tapia, the original La Parka (now known as L.A. Park due to AAA owning the name), after more than a decade away from the promotion. That time was filled with lawsuits over the name and character as well as negotiations about bringing Tapia back that had always failed. This time, they didn’t fail as Tapia was back in AAA at their Rey de Reyes show this past April, and the two La Parka’s faced off in the main-event of Triplemania XVIII. Tapia wasn’t the only elder statesman of Mexican pro wrestling to be brought into AAA over the last two years. As mentioned earlier, El Hijo del Santo was brought in last year for Triplemania and the conclusion of the (now re-started) angle of Konnan’s foreign legion group trying to take over AAA. But more productive have been the additions of Dr. Wagner Jr. and his brother Silver King; Wagner Jr. has won the AAA super mega heavyweight title twice in the past year and Silver King’s recent heel turn on his brother has likely set up a singles program down the line for the two. And while none of these returns produced anything more than instant results (long-term momentum based on their returns has not materialized), instant results are all that is desired at this moment as AAA can afford to stay stable.

For CMLL, stability would be a godsend as their T.V. numbers have taken the biggest hit with record lows even recently despite plenty of changes that have produced qualitative results, but haven’t quite added up to the dollar signs the promotion could use. In a move that has helped revitalize wrestling somewhat in Japan, CMLL has done several (and still have at least one) interpromotional angles using talent from Perros del Mal, IWRG, and wrestlers who had recently left AAA in a stable. The only international work agreement that CMLL has taken part in during this time has been one with New Japan. However this agreement has been on and off since the late 70’s, but has recently been used by New Japan as a way of getting more of their young talent seasoning through some experience in Lucha Libre, a long time staple of nurturing young talent in Japanese pro wrestling. The most noteworthy of these would be the almost instant popularity of Taichi, Tetsuya Naito and Yujiro Takahashi (wrestling under only his first name at the time). Both Yujiro and Taichi have had main-event event singles matches on major cards at Arena Mexico over the past year that have done good attendances and have had incredible heat from the live crowds considering how little name value the two have internationally compared to other New Japan wrestlers that have been in CMLL in the last few years such as Jushin Liger and Hiroshi Tanahashi.

The one thing that CMLL has done that has probably impeded any progress they could make in this period of time has to be heel turns of their big stars. These are turns meant to be shocking and create a potentially new drawing tool for the wrestler (think how Hogan’s drawing power changed when the nWo was formed in ’96). Unfortunately, through lack of commitment one way or the other, they’ve all produced little and have either been abandoned or have fizzled out quickly. While Hector Garza’s turn in a six-man against a Japan contingent wasn’t as surprising, the most surprising turn of recent time in Mexico had to be Mistico’s heel turn early this year. This could be compared to WCW turning Goldberg heel in 2000 or Austin being turned heel at Wrestlemania X-7 because it is your biggest face draw turning heel. Austin’s turn didn’t increase his drawing power, but it also didn’t kill it the way it did for Goldberg as that turn was the last straw for many still watching WCW at that time. In the case of Mistico it was an immediate success, but not long-lasting. The attendance numbers for CMLL shows and crowd heat for Mistico matches were up for a little bit, but it didn’t do anything for the T.V. numbers. However, once the noise stopped and the attendances went right back to where they were, Mistico simply proclaimed he was a face again after months of using heel tactics—low blows, ripping at opponent’s masks during matches, and bragging about how great he is to the fans—and still wrestling in a somewhat heel fashion (think Steve Austin at the beginning of his face turn in late ’96- early ’97). The other big turn, and one that is still ongoing, was the Volador Jr. heel turn. This worked as a bit of a double turn as Mistico was feuding with Volador Jr. in the aftermath of Mistico’s heel turn, but when Mistico turned face again (sort of), Volador Jr. suddenly turned heel, ala the RVD/Sabu double turn at ECW’s first PPV back in ’97. Of course, Volador Jr. could be face again by the end of the year, and he might even be teaming with Mistico by then, such is the weirdness of CMLL’s handling of their big stars as of late.

The Mistico heel turn is also something of a missed opportunity for CMLL. Every face that achieves a level of fame and popularity the way Mistico had and still does to a certain degree, has one big heel turn in them that can set the wrestling world on fire if handled correctly; people are still waiting for Cena’s in the states. Hogan’s was handled correctly by WCW and they made their run to the top off of it, Flair’s turn in forming the Horsemen in the mid-80’s is the stuff of legend when it comes to establishing someone as a heel who had always been teetering one way or the other. In the case of Mistico, it probably would’ve been better to tease it through this year by having him show frustration in being a face with some big match tag losses, or miscommunication of some sort with some of the other faces in CMLL before finally snapping at a big show and going full blown heel on not only the face wrestlers of CMLL, but on the fans too. Then you would have a renegade heel that people would despise because of the betrayal factor of the turn, but eventually would find cool and/or would just start cheering him again, thus allowing for an eventual face turn. This process could be multiple years in length if handled correctly, and could produce a lot of money if the star is big enough; Mistico’s star is still big enough where a built up heel turn could’ve been more headline worthy.

Even if The E’s numbers in Japan haven’t been that great since the days when Hogan and Savage and The Ultimate Warrior were the main headliners, the fact is The E is an unstoppable force at the moment. That could be in part because wrestling’s popularity worldwide is at its lowest in at least fifty years and that The E is the only true titan (pardon the pun) left standing; they don’t do great PPV numbers anymore minus Mania and their T.V. ratings haven’t been at the numbers they’ve been at since the mid-90’s, but they still make money every other way possible. The quick sweep of Mexico is proof of how Vince has once again used other promotions’ mistakes against them and changed the wrestling landscape of an entire country in the process. If that isn’t an empire, please tell me what is.

The Reality is…June 6th may have started the comeback for Mexico’s home promotions. Both CMLL and AAA ran major shows—Triplemania XVIII for AAA and Sin Salida for CMLL—with both shows doing at least 14,000 paid, and CMLL had regular ticket prices for this show. An even better sign would be that recently AAA’s T.V. ratings moved up almost two whole ratings points overnight from where they had been stuck at for over a year, and they’ve stuck there for the most part. Not only that, but SmackDown!’s ratings have been falling in Mexico as of late—a surprise considering Mysterio was world champ on the show—and AAA has come very close to beating SmackDown! on several occasions over the past two months. While this is not to say that AAA or CMLL will be back to where they were by 2011, I do believe that things are looking up. The economy stabilizing in Mexico could create a market where all three could co-exist, but the interpromotional stuff is still needed (see the New Japan/NOAH feud still going strong) to keep interest. A four-man group from Perros del Mal “invading” AAA could help them with their major shows through the rest of this year as Perro Aguayo Jr.’s name alone on a AAA card equals dream matches and Super Crazy, Damien 666, and Halloween could also help create fresh matchups in the undercard if not in some fun main-event tags. The thing is, this is the first instance of a long-lasting slump at the box office in Mexican wrestling history as these have always been the wrestling fans that wouldn’t leave even when a boom period was done. When El Santo and Blue Demon and Gory Guerrero’s popularity began to fade, the fans stayed and cheered on El Hijo Del Santo, when basically all those who made AAA in its first years as a promotion left for ECW and WCW, the fans stayed and got behind a new group of wrestlers, and when those left or began to fade, then came Mistico and Cibernetico and Mesias. Boom periods in wrestling are like waves: they peak and then they fall back into the calmer tides before rising up again. There are plenty of examples of this from America and Japan, but for wrestling in Mexico, it’s as if the wave instantly fell out from under them and that uncertainty of what lies beneath ate them up from the inside during the fall. But now I think they’ve landed in somewhat calmer waters and are forced to actually swim for the first time in ages, looking for that next wave.

SEVEN MATCHES UNTIL WE MEET AGAIN

Dr. Wagner Jr. Vs. Jason the Terrible, Big Japan Pro Wrestling, 1997

Jason the Terrible was a hardcore wrestler from the IWA that featured the first Terry Funk/Mick Foley meetings. Big Japan was the Indy version of IWA and FMW (the other big hardcore promotion in Japan) that just celebrated their fifteenth anniversary. This was the beginning of Wagner Jr.’s time in Japan that would see him become quite the tag wrestler in New Japan.

Andre the Giant, Bam Bam Bigelow, & Dr. Wagner Jr. Vs. El Canek, Fishman, & Villano III, CMLL, 1990-1992

I’m leaning towards ’92 on the date considering Andre’s condition. Bam Bam was back in The E by the end of the year while Andre died in early ’93. Canek is CMLL’s version of El Santo in terms of their all-time great star and got wins (not all by pin or submission) over Hogan, Andre, and I believe Lou Thesz in a very short span in 1984 (it was something like a month encompassing all three wins). Each member of the all-Mexican team in this match continued to be big names within Mexican wrestling specifically in CMLL with Canek winning the inaugural CMLL tag titles with (ironically) Dr. Wagner Jr.

El Hijo del Santo Vs. Blue Panther, CMLL, 4/9/2000
Part 2
Part 3

If you thought Lucha Libre was all over-the-top spots and jumping off the top rope, PLEASE check this match out. Mat wrestling in Mexico? You better believe it, and these are two of the better guys to show you how it’s done. El Hijo del Santo is the son of the Mexican icon (not just in wrestling), and Blue Panther is the “legend that can still go.” Considering he debuted in ’78 and this match was over twenty years into his career, the term fits.

Mil Mascaras & Dr. Wagner Jr. Vs. El Canek & Dos Caras (not sure on the date or promotion)
Part 2
Part 3

Mexico’s version of a legend’s dream tag. I mentioned Wagner Jr. and Canek’s credentials above. Dos Caras was Konnan’s big rival at the beginning of AAA. Mil Mascaras is one THE all-time legends of Mexican wrestling, not just for his work in Mexico. He was the first masked wrestler to wrestle at MSG, he’s wrestled just about everywhere there is to wrestling on the planet at one time or another and was during his heyday one of the best one the planet. Yeah, he wasn’t the best guy out of the ring, but how familiar is that (kick ass wrestler, not so great person) in this business?

Hair vs. Mask, 2/3 Falls: El Hijo Del Santo & Octagon Vs. Eddie Guerrero & Art Barr, AAA, 11/6/1994
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Part 3

From the When World’s Collide pay-per-view, AAA’s only U.S. PPV to date. Yes, this is the match you’re thinking of. The one that bought Eddie his ticket to ECW and eventual fame in the U.S. The one that has been given five stars basically across the board. The match that was all kinds of cool and all kinds of awesome at the same time. Featuring some of the best selling of a piledriver you’ll ever see (the piledriver was outlawed down there, so using it required selling it like death). The match is also a bit tragic considering Barr would be dead 17 days later. Thus the world was robbed of a Los Gringos Locos invasion of ECW.

Quick note: the Los Gringos Locos stable is one of the most tragic stables ever as Guerrero, Barr, and Spicolli all died due in some part to drugs, and Black Cat died in 2006 leaving Konnan as the sole survivor of the group. And he’s not in the best of shape these days either.

El Hijo Del Santo Vs. Negro Casas, Pro Wrestling Peace Festival, 6/1/1996

This is basically a quicker version of what these two were doing in Mexico at this time. It’s short (too short), but you get the idea. If you like it or are intrigued by what you see, I would definitely recommend finding something of theirs that is longer and from Mexico as the crowd will also be better.

Jushin Liger, Tiger Mask (Koji Kanemoto), Octagon, & El Hijo Del Santo Vs. Eddie Guerrero, Blue Panther, Psicosis, & La Parka, AAA, 5/15/1994
Part 2

From Triplemania II. Look, most of these guys you should know of, seen, or at least heard of. If you haven’t, I’ve got nothing to say to you. If you have, and you haven’t started watching, what’s wrong with you?

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