Alright, it’s time for some LUCHA!
I once heard a famous saying about wrestling during the late 1990s when all sorts of crappy stuff started being shown. On wrestling, “In Japan it’s a sport, in Canada it’s tradition, in Mexico it’s religion, in the US it’s a joke.” And while most people would focus on that last one, today we’re focusing on the bit about Mexico. Today we revisit one of the most famous lucha libre matches in history, and one of the first to expose the huge American market to what luchadors are capable of.
It’s the emotional rollercoaster of a match that was Eddy Guerrero and Art Barr vs. Octagón and El Hijo del Santo from a November 6, 1994 joint WCW/AAA show called When Worlds Collide. It took place at the Los Angeles Memorial Sports Arena.
As a reminder, I am reviewing Five Star and almost-Five Star wrestling matches as rated by Wrestling Observer’s Dave Meltzer. It goes back to the 1980s and I’m going to pick different matches from different eras to see how they look today. Check out previous entries in my 5 Star Match Reviews series right here.
To understand and appreciate this match fully, it is critical that you understand the story behind it. For Mexicans, lucha libre is a massive part of their culture and heritage. Luchadores are icons and their craft is steeped in rich and layered traditions that are considered to be sacred.
Aside from standard wrestling matches, there are special matches called luchas de apuestas, which means ‘wager match’. This means that each wrestler/team puts something on the line in a winner-take-all sort of contest. We’ve seen such matches a few times in American promotions: Edge vs. Kurt Angle in their hair vs. hair match, Shawn Michaels vs. The Undertaker in their Streak vs. career match, Triple H vs. Kane in a title vs. mask match in 2003, are but some examples of this type of match.
But it goes far deeper in lucha libre. There is no deeper insult or more severe punishment than for a luchador to lose his mask. His mask is his identity, his persona, everything. Many wrestlers in Mexico spend years or decades wrestling under the same mask. To be unmasked is considered the death of that character as a luchador can NEVER wear the same mask again. And some wrestlers struggle after being unmasked because the fans just cannot buy them as ordinary-looking people.
Rey Mysterio is a perfect example of this. WCW management decided for him to unmask, despite his many protests. And after he unmasked, they proceeded to do nothing with him. Then, when Rey went to WWE, he wore the mask again. Lucha libre purists protested this because he had lost his mask and to wear it again was seen as a betrayal of their traditions. But Rey had to go to the lucha libre commissions in Mexico to get their blessing to wear it again since the match he lost it in wasn’t an official luchas de apuestas match sanctioned by those commissions. In simpler terms, Rey had to go to lucha libre court to get approval to wear his mask again. That’s how important it was to him to be able to wear the mask while also respecting the symbolism the mask carries.
Which brings us to this match.
This is a two-out-of-three falls tag team wager match. On one side, the team of Los Gringos Locos (Eddy & Barr) wagers their hair. Their opponents are Octagón and El Hijo del Santo, both of whom are traditional luchadors wearing and wagering their masks. That second name should ring a bell because it translates as ‘The Son of The Saint’. He is the son of the Silver-Masked One, El Santo, who is the easily the greatest luchador in Mexican history. It’s difficult to put into words just how revered El Santo is in Mexico. He was and is a greater icon in Mexico than Hulk Hogan in the US, Bret Hart in Canada, and Rikidozan in Japan…combined. To millions of people, he is THE luchador. Aside from his folk hero status, he also set the standard of preserving the significance of a luchador’s mask. Santo NEVER took his mask off for over forty years, and was even buried in it when he passed away.
And in this match, Santo’s son and his partner Octagón have wagered their masks. So if they lose, both of them must unmask and abandon their masks forever. For them – and indeed, for the Mexican people – the stakes couldn’t possibly be higher. It would amount to a national tragedy if those two had to unmask at the hands of two pro-American villains.
This is a two-out-of-three falls hair vs. mask match with a 30-minute time limit. But there’s an additional twist involved here. For a fall to count, both wrestlers on one side must be beaten.
Eddy and Santo start things off as the arena erupts in ‘Mejico’ chants. Santo scores an early arm drag but soon gets out-wrestled by Eddy who pins for a quick two-count. He escapes with a suplex but Eddy stays on him and shows Dynamite Kid-level agility. Santo escapes an armlock with a throw that sends Eddy flying out of the ring. He gets back in tags in Barr as Santo tags Octagón. Barr goes for a handshake then cheap-shots Octagon and Irish whips him. Octagón reverses things on Barr and sends him flying with an arm drag.
Octagón maintains control by dodging everything Barr does but Eddy comes in and attacks him from behind. Eddy sends Octagón out of the ring and the villains double-team Santo with a Doomsday Frankensteiner. What an incredible move. Then they do a suplex-frog splash combo on Octagón for another three-count to score the first complete fall.
Los Gringos Locos = 1; Santo & Octagón = 0
After a minute or so, the second fall begins. Eddy lands a bridging fallaway slam on Santo for a two-count then gets another two-count after a vertical suplex. Octagón tags in and Eddy plays the villain by getting to his knees. He even puts his hands behind his back and turns his cheek to Octagón, daring him to attack. Octagón hesitates, allowing Eddy to poke him in the eye and Barr slaps him in the face as he tags in.
Barr dropkicks Octagón a few times and quickly Tags Eddy back in. Eddy lands a topé and Santo attacks him, tired of the villains’ double-teaming. Eddy gets back body dropped out of the ring and the heroes double team Barr to send him down as well. Santo lands a diving elbow drop on Barr and reveres a whip from Eddy into a tilt-a-whirl headscissors. Eddy and Barr get whipped into each other then both get dropkicked out of the ring. The heroes fly over the ropes with dives onto Eddy and Barr. The crowd’s absolutely loving this.
Back in the ring, Santo goes for a sunset flip but Eddy kicks out at two. He slams Eddy and goes for a dive but Eddy cuts him off. Then Eddy lands a top rope Frankensteiner. Eddy pins with Barr’s help. Santo has been pinned. It’s do-or-die for Octagón since Santo can no longer interfere in the match.
The villains double clothesline Octagón then go for another two-on-one move, but Octagón reverses with a double facebuster. He charges but Barr lifts him up and throws him over his head. Octagón lands on Eddy’s shoulders in a precarious position. But Octagón reverses into a Frankensteiner pin. Barr doesn’t see what’s happening behind him, he’s too busy strutting around and mocking the crowd. Octagón gets the three-count. He has pinned Eddy. It’s down to a one-on-one match between Octagón and Barr. And Octagón takes advantage of Barr’s arrogance. He takes Barr down with a Russian leg sweep and applies some Japanese submission hold. Barr taps out instantly. It’s all tied up. The fans are going nuts.
Los Gringos Locos = 1; Santo & Octagón = 1
Santo and Eddy start things off for the third fall. Eddy goes for a powerbomb but Santo reverses into a frankensteiner but Barr blocks it at the count of one. Eddy applies a camel clutch but Octagón breaks it up with a kick. Santo returns the favor on Eddy with his own camel clutch, but Barr kicks him right in the back of the head. Ouch, that looked like it hurt.
Barr tags in and goes for a rib breaker, only for Santo to reverse into a cradle. He pins but Eddy breaks it up. Barr goes for an STF but again Octagón kicks Barr to break it up. The masked duo double team Barr and Santo suplexes him, but Eddy comes in and kicks Santo hard. You can hear people screaming with horror as Eddy enters the ring.
Octagón tries an armbar, but Eddy pokes his eyes again. Eddy applies the Gory Special submission hold, but Santo breaks it up. Now Santo and Eddy are the legal men as Eddy slams Santo. Eddy ascends the top turnbuckle but Santo cuts him off and lands an avalanche electric chair suplex. He goes for a pin but Barr breaks it up. The masked heroes get kicked out of the ring and Los Gringos Locos hit suicide dives in stereo onto them.
The video is a bit clipped, so it switches from Eddy going for a superplex to Eddy being kicked off the apron by Santo. Santo lands a sunset flip on Eddy to the floor. That looked great. Back in the ring, Barr and Octagón fight it out as the referee focuses on the two men at ringside. Barr dodges a kick and lands a spinning Tombstone Piledriver on Octagón behind the referee’s back for a three-count. This is extra dastardly because all types of Piledrivers are straight up banned in Mexico.
The villains are in full control now. They hit a lariat/bridging German suplex combo on Santo, but Santo kicks out. Superplex/frog splash combo on Santo. Again they pin but Santo still kicks out. Ringside, a stretcher is brought out for Octagón as he hasn’t moved since taking that Tombstone.
Barr and Eddy go for a lariat/dragon suplex combo, but Santo ducks and Barr hits Eddy instead. Santo kicks Eddy out of the ring. He avoids a charging Barr and dives onto Eddy from the top rope. The ref checks on them again, not noticing what’s going on behind him in the ring. Then, in a form of poetic justice, Blue Panther, who was ringside with Santo and Octagón, piledrives Barr, also behind the referee’s back. Santo crawls over to Barr and pins him. The referee counts one, two, and three! Barr has been pinned. The crowd is going absolutely bonkers over this.
It’s down to Eddy and Santo. Santo goes for a schoolboy pin but Eddy kicks out. Eddy lands a Ligerbomb but Santo kicks out at two. He follows with an avalanche belly-to-belly suplex for yet another two-count. While all of this is happening, Barr has not moved at all after taking a piledriver from Blue Panther. That’s how you sell a devastating maneuver.
Eddy lands a diving Frankensteiner for yet another two-count on Santo. Dragon suplex. Santo kicks out. Eddy goes for another. Santo reverses into a roll-up. The referee counts one, two, three! That’s it! There’s the match. The masked heroes have won and the villains will get their hair cut.
Winners after 19:20: El Hijo del Santo & Octagón
That was a very entertaining match with an old school feel to it. It was old school in the sense that it featured clearly defined heroes and villains and told a story the fans could really sink their teeth into. Santo and Octagón played the proud heroes while Eddy and Barr were fantastic as the animated, underhanded villains.
The match was also structured perfectly, giving the heroes more urgency and giving them a much higher mountain to climb as they fought from underneath. Octagón’s comeback in pinning both Eddy and Barr in quick succession after the bigger star Santo had already been pinned was a piece of storytelling excellence. He was the lesser star of his team yet he did the most work to save the both of them from imminent defeat. And he also took a thrashing as well, including an illegal Tombstone from Barr that took him out of the match completely and made people worry about his health. That made the fans even more passionate in their desire to see the villains lose, making Santo’s final victory all the more gratifying.
At the same time, there was something about Santo that kind of ruined this match for me. He basically no-sold a lot of his opponents’ offense in the last fall after Octagón had been pinned. And not in the ‘I’m-going-to-man-up-and-power-through-this’ sort of no-selling, but the ‘Screw-this-selling-I-have-to-get-my-shit-in-and-look-good’ sort of no-selling. Santo took some truly brutal-looking double-team moves yet still climbed the top turnbuckle and generally moved around like he hadn’t experienced any pain. That took me out of the match because it felt like Santo had nothing to really overcome. That made his heroic comeback, well, less heroic.
As for the action itself, it was great but not truly dazzling. The best work came from the villains, who really carried the match both in terms of in-ring work and in terms of character and story. Eddy and Barr had excellent tag-team chemistry and came up with creative ways to double-team their opponents while still acting villainously. Meanwhile, nothing that Octagón or Santo did was truly mesmerizing beyond Octagón’s clever Frankensteiner reversal and quick submission on Barr. Honestly, from watching this match I felt that Santo’s work was at a level lower than everyone else’s, even though he was unquestionably the biggest name in the match.
Final Rating: ****1/2
This is a match that was driven by its story narrative and character work more than its in-ring athleticism. And while the story is great – thanks to the dedication and creativity of Eddy and Barr – the in-ring action isn’t all that great in retrospect. And to me, a big part of that comes from the huge divide in skill between the heroes and the villains.
From watching this match I fully understand why so many wrestlers prefer to play villains/heels instead of heroes/faces. A heel has more creativity and control in laying out a match and getting a reaction from the audience. Their role is to basically ‘play keep-away’ with the face, creating the obstacle for the hero to overcome. And the face has the simple task of overcoming that challenge to make the audience happy. And the contrast in those roles was shown here. Eddy and Barr wrestled circles around their opponents while the heroes did relatively simple things to make the audience happy. And while keeping things simple can and does work, it hurts a match when there’s such a huge contrast between the talent of one side and the talent on the other.
This is still a fun match to watch, but not a true mind-blowing epic. And to be honest, I felt a bit disappointed given the magnitude of the stipulation. While Octagón did a great job of creating a sense of urgency before being pinned, I didn’t get the same feeling from Santo. That’s a shame since there was much more on the line for him than there was for Octagón. Had he done more to sell the damage to his body and been perhaps a bit more creative with his offense, this would probably be a better match in retrospect.
Check out previous entries in my 5 Star Match Reviews series right here. Thanks for reading.