Here at SXSW, I was lucky enough to attend Lucha Underground’s very first live show outside of its home at the temple in Boyle Heights, Los Angeles, “Lucha Underground: Austin Warfare.” For those unfamiliar with Lucha Underground, it is a relatively new and very unique wrestling program, produced by Robert Rodriguez for his television network, El Rey. Over the course of its first season last year, Lucha Underground quickly became the most entertaining and anticipated wrestling show each week, making the many other wrestling television options look like tired, boring, old jokes. “Lucha Underground: Austin Warfare” brought the same great-quality, fast-paced, high-flying wrestling action seen on the show to a ravenous Austin crowd and may end up being the most exciting thing I will get to see here at SXSW.
A perfect venue for the kind of up-in-the-crowd action for which Lucha Underground is known, the Austin Music Hall was intimately squeezed full of fans sitting on wooden folding chairs or looking down from the 20-foot balcony. Throughout the event, luchadores frequently used that intimacy, those chairs, and at one point even that balcony to produce a one-of-a-kind wrestling experience for the people packed inside. In addition to the wrestling action taking place, live Latin rock (more specifically, Cumbia) from El Conjunto Nueva Ola, a fun band of masked musicians started the show, filled the space between matches, and kept the crowd going with this-side vs. that-side chants. This whole thing was just so well done and looked like a ton of fun for everyone who performed.
Okay, on to the matches: First up was a four-way with competitors Drago, Aerostar, Son of Havoc, and clear favorite Pentagon Jr. For this to be the first match of the night would seem crazy for any other wrestling promotion, since all four of these luchadores are willing to do whatever it takes to put on the best show possible and it became evident very quickly that was what they intended to do. Each luchador got to have the spotlight at one point or another with Son of Havoc busting out his space flying tiger drop onto two opponents, Pentagon Jr. being the brutal cunning masked maniac we all love, and Drago flying around whenever possible. But Aerostar had the move of the night when a few minutes after being pushed over the top rope through a table (about 3 feet in front of me, yes!), he was seen on the aforementioned 20-foot-high balcony throwing caution to the wind as he dove onto everyone else outside the ring. As Vampiro might say, damn dog! The match ended with Pentagon Jr. securing the victory and giving the fans a quick promo in Spanish ending with his trademark declaration that he has Zero Miedo.
When the ring was cleared of the carnage from the first match, which included Aerostar needing to be stretchered out, Vampiro came out to hype the crowd up about the main event of the evening and say a few words on how special this event is to everyone in the back. He was soon interrupted by his “doctor” who informed him that Austin was a dangerous place for the still-recovering Vamp, since we are not so far removed from the events at the end of season one and he is surrounded by alcohol, violence, and rock music. Instead of listening to the be-suited psychiatrist, Vampiro slammed some beer given to him by an audience member and delivered a monstrous choke slam to the pencil-necked do-gooder. This, obviously, had the crowd going nuts, and served as a great tie in to the television show, making this event not just feel like a one-off.
As Vampiro left the ring, villainous, head boss Catrina came out, serenaded by boisterous jeers, to let us know that while Fenix was supposed to be cashing in his Gift of the Gods title shot to take on Mil Muertes for the Lucha Underground championship, instead Fenix would be taking on Mil Muertes in a match where if he wins, he will be able to challenge for the title on the next “Lucha Underground” show (which would be airing tonight on El Rey), but if he loses he will never be able to challenge for the championship again. That match was next up. The audience was treated to the speed and agility of Fenix as he dazzled and out-maneuvered the brawn and size of Mil Muertes. After some nice back-and-forth, along with a bit of foul play from the ever-present Catrina, Fenix was able to pick up the win by way of a roll-up. As referee Marty Elias’ hand hit three on the mat, everyone in attendance shot to their feet and chants of Fenix… Fenix… Fenix… echoed through the building.
As the between-match music subsided, ring announcer Melissa Santos stepped in to inform us that the “following lucha would be for one-fall.” It would feature Ivelisse against real full-of-herself newcomer Taya. This match was really the only low point of the night, as neither performer could outdo the crazy antics of the first match nor the pounding, high-stakes drama of the second. It was by no means bad, and Ivelisse looked dominant in her victory, which she gained via tap out to a leg lock. It also had some good heel work from Taya, who will be a character to look for as the series continues.
The main event of the evening featured Team Mundo taking on Team Cage in a trios match. Johnny Mundo came out first to introduce his team and to really get the crowd to hate his guts; to great effect! Mundo brought out The Darewolf P.J. Black and Jack Evans as his partners, each of whom gave short promos running down Cage and the fans in attendance. This culminated in Jack Evans going on an overly-long rhyming monologue about how there is nobody that Cage could bring out who could possibly beat this great team of luchadores already in the ring. He was interrupted by the machine himself, Cage, who rebutted a few of Evans’ points, praised the live Austin crowd, and introduced Prince Puma as the first of his tag partners. Puma came to the ring and took the microphone. There was a moment of tense silence in the crowd as the Prince Puma on the show has been mostly mute and nobody knew if he would break with that to give us some words. He did, also praising the crowd and saying that Cage is known for coming from the 559, he himself is from the 323, and we are here in the 512 – to which everyone in the crowd quickly caught on and deafening chants of 619…619…619… started breaking out. And, we were correct, as Puma let us know that indeed, the most famous representative of the 619 would be the third member of the team. And out came Rey Mysterio! The place went absolutely nuclear!
The match itself was amazing, with everyone getting a chance to look impressive and do some signature work. As expected, there was an early tease of the 619 move, which was violently thwarted by P.J. Black. Cage looked great as a hulking monster amongst the lithe luchadores by which he was surrounded. Prince Puma, possibly the most entertaining and varied luchador on the whole roster, was nothing short of brilliant in his flawless execution of moves that just look impossible. The high point of the match was a spot where all three members of Team Mundo got knocked face first, slumping onto the second rope of three different sides of the ring and each member of Team Cage simultaneously delivered 619s to their downed opponents. That must have been something of a dream for young guys like Puma and Cage, who may have grown up watching Rey wrestle (also, pretty hilarious to see meaty Cage awkwardly cram his body between the two ropes). Shortly after that fabulous moment, tons of finishers did the final damage on Team Mundo and a three-count was made. Rey and Puma took some time on the microphone to give appreciation to the crowd and promised that Austin would host Lucha Underground again. End of show.
Outstanding! This was a perfect translation of what it looks like to watch “Lucha Underground” on TV, with a riled up audience in attendance, jaw-dropping, lightning-fast action in the ring, and well-written, tightly-conducted drama to keep the storylines fresh and interesting. Whether this experiment is an indication that more live shows outside of the temple might take place is yet to be seen, but as far as I could tell from the energy in the building, it would seem cruel for such an entertaining event to limit itself to Boyle Heights. Lucha Underground: Austin Warfare, a rousing success!