When you’ve watched as many 5-Star matches as I have, you start to develop your own standards of what’s great and what’s not, what’s deserving and what isn’t. This match is a case of the latter.
I’ll be blunt: I genuinely think this match shouldn’t have ever gotten 5-Stars by Dave Meltzer or anyone else, for that matter. I’ve watched it several times and no matter how hard I try, I couldn’t find anything in it that puts it on the same level as the greatest matches of all time.
So for this review, it isn’t a question of whether a match is 5-Stars or not. Instead, it’s a question of how BAD this match really is. And just how bad is this supposed “great” match? Read on to find out.
Today we revisit the Escalera de la Muerte (ladder of death) match between the Lucha Brothers and The Young Bucks from AEW All Out 2019.
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.
The Bucks prided themselves on being the most influential tag team on the independent scene. Their goal with AEW was to really re-emphasize tag team wrestling in an age when it was largely ignored. Whenever they had high-stakes matches, they resorted to using ladders more often than not. They considered themselves the ultimate ladder match tag team and that it was ‘their’ stipulation. So when the Lucha Brothers hyped themselves up as the best tag team to use ladders, the Bucks got…insulted? Offended? Something like that.
So the Bucks hoped to prove once again that they were the best tag team in the world and the Lucha Brothers had something to say about that. Both teams were known for high-flying offense and ‘creative’ ladder-based offense. A lot of fans were excited to see this match-up, especially since it continued the longstanding feud these two teams had in both AAA in Mexico and on the American indy circuit.
This match originally took place on August 31st, 2019, on the same night as this true 5-Star epic between WALTER and Tyler Bate. This match was actually rated *****1/4 by the Wrestling Observer’s Dave Meltzer. It briefly enjoyed the status of Meltzer’s highest-rated tag team match ever, only to be outdone by another Bucks match from Revolution 2020. It was rated ****1/2 by John Canton of TJRWrestling. With all this high praise, let’s see how well it holds up.
This is for the Lucha Brothers’ AAA World Tag Team Championships. The two sides begin with…a taunt exchange. The Lucha Bros keep repeating ‘zero fear’ in Spanish while the Bucks fire back with ‘zero balls’. The Bucks then spit on the Bros and the chaos begins. Both Bucks charge but run into synchronized thrust kicks. Fénix tosses Nick to the floor as Matt escapes Penta and ducks a diving nothing. The Bucks hoist Fénix up for the Indytaker aided Tombstone (he should escape easily since he’s relatively healthy but he just stays in position for no logical reason because, SPOT). Penta has to run around the ring to stop the diving part of the Meltzer Driver (why can’t his brother just drop down anyway since he does the most important part of the move anyway?) and Fénix escapes. He charges into a corner but Nick kicks him. Nick goes for a springboard out of the corner but Penta kicks him to keep him in place. Fénix capitalizes with a powerbomb and holds Matt in place so that Penta can land a diving kick to the ass. Matt bails to the floor and both Lucha Bros go for coordinated dives, only to run into a ladder being thrown at them. Back in the ring, the bucks hit a tandem pop-up dropkick to both Brothers, followed by a bucklebomb/enzuigiri combination and a catapult/jump kick/backbreaker/springboard double stomp combo right after that. The bucks pose on the giant ladder setup ringside, only for Fénix to kick one of them in the face and for Penta to jump onto that same ladder and hit a diving splash. Fénix does another spot right after whereby he springboards off the top rope, over the ladder, and onto everyone else below.
Penta sets up a smaller ladder in the ring but both he and Fénix get pulled off as they climb it. Both Bucks whip both Brothers into the ropes but the brothers dodge their attacks and jump onto the ladder and climb it once again. Some sloppy brawling leads to simultaneous lucha-style arm drags by Fénix onto Matt and Nick onto Penta. The two springboarding wrestlers jump onto the ladder from the ropes and then get pulled off by the other two wrestlers, who both brawl atop the ladder like the first two. But their brawling gets interrupted by both Nick and Penta, who hit stereo rolling RKOs onto their respective opponents. Nick and Fénix brawl and then end up on the apron. They kick each other and end up in obvious setup position. Matt and Penta look at each other, and instead of attacking one another they do coordinated spears through the ropes that send everyone tumbling through tables setup ringside.
Penta gets up first and sets up a ladder in a corner. He goes after Matt’s leg and then tries to whip him into the ladder. Matt reverses it and Penta ends up on the floor, and then Nick comes out of nowhere and hits a running swanton dive onto Penta on the floor. Meanwhile, Fénix goes for another diving move but Matt counters into his rolling northern lights suplexes. He hits four in total, including one onto the ladder. Both Bucks setup some complicated ladder spot but Penta escapes and Fénix hits a springboard hurricanrana out of nowhere that sends Nick onto that same ladder. Penta kicks Nick and holds Matt in place. Fénix takes Nick’s arm and lands another overly-convoluted arm drag onto Matt (letting go of Nick) that doesn’t justify such laborious setup. Penta kicks nick again and then he lands another ‘crazy’ crossbody block, leading to more loud applause from the crowd.
The Lucha Bros setup another ladder but get cutoff as soon as they start climbing. Matt press slams Fénix and spears Penta and then moves the ladder that was already in perfect position. It’s patently obvious what’s coming. Nick jumps onto the apron, kicks Penta, and hits a springboard facebuster onto Fénix in the ring followed by a quebrada onto Penta on the floor. Nick jumps from the apron onto that moved ladder, only for Fénix to knock it over. But Nick doesn’t fall; he lands on the rope and jumps off of it to dive onto Penta. Now Penta climbs the same ladder (instead of moving it closer to the title belts) and Matt pushes it this time. But Penta basically copies Nick and does his own quebrada to the floor. Matt climbs the ladder (instead of moving it back into the perfect position it was in moments ago; after all, he was the one who moved it) and reaches out for the title belt that he knows is out of reach. Penta cuts him off and hits a neckbreaker off the ladder.
Penta sets up the big ladder by the ropes and lands a calf kick on nick. Nick reverses an Irish whip and sends Penta to the floor then lands a suicide dive through the ladder to the floor as well. Meanwhile, Matt and Fénix brawl through the ladder until Fénix pushes Matt’s throat into the bar connecting the two sides of the ladder. Then he lands a springboard Canadian destroyer and Matt sells it like death. He’s splayed out, possibly unconscious, and Fénix sets up not a ladder, but a table. Matt gets up fairly quickly so Fénix places him on the table and climbs the ladder (which is setup by a corner). Fénix climbs it but Matt recovers way too quickly and meets Fénix at the top of that ladder. Matt goes for a superplex but Fénix blocks it. Meanwhile, Penta moves from the ropes onto the ladder and Fénix slides down so that Penta can hit a diving Canadian Destroyer from the ladder through the table.
More chaos ensues as Nick drags Penta onto another table setup on one side of the ring and Fénix does the same to Matt on the other side. The two aggressors taunt each other from across the ring, but instead of going after each other to save their respective brothers, they do coordinated splashes from the ladders through the tables below. This match is getting absolutely ludicrous, and not in a good way.
Nick and Penta get up and brawl ringside as a ladder gets setup between the ring and the barricade. Nick runs onto the apron and lands a corkscrew DDT through what’s left of one table and then sets up two more next to each other by the entrance ramp. He cuts Fénix off from climbing a ladder in the ring and goes for a powerbomb but Fénix escapes and hits a superkick. Then he turns around and Matt superkicks him. Penta pulls Matt off the ladder but Nick goes after Penta and locks him in a sharpshooter as Matt traps Penta’s neck under the ladder and locks in a crossface. Fénix gets up and climbs the ladder which forces Nick to release his portion of the hold. The Bucks attempt the Meltzer Driver and take an extremely long time setting up (Fénix could’ve escaped several times during that long, drawn-out sequence). But before the Bucks can make up their mind, Penta superkicks Matt and then turns his attention to Nick. He pleads for Penta not to knock the ladder over but Penta does an overly-long taunt and knocks him over anyway. Matt goes falling through one of the two tables as Penta and Nick battle atop the ladder in the ring. Nick falls down a bit as Penta reaches for the ladder. But then Nick bounces back and rips off Penta’s mask. Penta jumps off to conceal his face and then kicks Fénix in midair as he tries to cut Matt off. That momentary distraction allows Penta to knock the ladder off with one hand as he keeps his face concealed. After getting the chance to put his mask back on, Penta joins Fénix on the ring apron. Penta and Fénix hit a package piledriver/diving dropkick combo through a ladder. Both of them climb the ladder setup in the ring. With both Bucks out of commission, the Lucha Brothers safely pull both title belts down. The champions retain! Finally, this match is over!
Winners and STILL AAA World Tag Team Champions after 24:10: The Lucha Brothers (Pentagón Jr./Penta El Zero Miedo/Penta Oscuro and Rey Fénix)
This match was so overrated. It was one of the silliest and phoniest matches I’ve ever seen. It looked less like wrestling and more like a dance routine. Yes, those exact words have been used by me and others online before. But I’m only saying it because it’s true. The Bucks just irk me with their unnecessary flips and blatantly-choreographed sequences. If I (and other viewers) can point out obvious logical flaws and questionable decisions in what they’re doing as it’s happening, you know a match isn’t up to par. To call this a 5-Star match is an insult to the men and women that’ve worked much harder and made a much greater (and more positive) impact on the wrestling business.
The biggest problem I, like many wrestling fans, have with the Bucks is that most of what they do is so clearly co-operative in nature. They focus on these complicated high-spots that even the most clueless of viewer can clearly see is being done with both sides working together. This goes against the core concept of a pro-wrestling match: that it’s a competition. The Bucks’ and the Lucha Brothers’ emphasis on co-operation and choreography over competition and combat is what makes it so hard for me and many other current and former fans to really buy them as great wrestlers. What sensible wrestler would see his own brother in peril and instead of cutting his opponent off, he runs alongside his opponent to hit the same move? Why should spectacle and ‘big MOVE’ take priority over telling a story and building tension? Seeing all these moves land yet mean nothing, such phony striking, such blatant cooperation, and such a complete disregard for realism and believability is more insulting to the viewer than it is engaging.
I’ve seen hundreds of the best matches of all time; I’ve seen all of the highest-rated matches by the likes of Meltzer, Pro Wrestling Illustrated, and countless online fan lists and databases. And I’ve been to Cirque de Soleil live. This match was more like Cirque de Soleil than it was a wrestling match. The only difference between them is that Cirque de Soleil performers treat everything seriously whereas the Bucks and whoever they work with (not ‘compete against’; ‘work with’) treat everything – including themselves – as a bad tongue-in-cheek joke. And if you treat everything you do as a joke, it shouldn’t come as a surprise that viewers won’t take you seriously either and therefore won’t invest their time into watching you.
When this match first took place, I read that much of its appeal came from it resembling ‘a series of car crashes’. Well, whoever first wrote that failed to take one thing into account: a major reason car crash videos are so popular is because they’re unpredictable. You have no idea when something will happen and how the entire sequence will play out. That unpredictability was nowhere to be found here. This match was like a staged car crash: it had the same idea but everything was so phoned in and blatant that any sense of tension and unpredictability went out the window. It was so cheesy and silly that it did make a mockery of wrestling. It wouldn’t surprise me if someone either in the arena or watching at home saw this nonsense and convinced themselves they can be wrestlers. These guys made it seem like all it takes to be a professional wrestler is a mild amount of acrobatic skill and the ability to market yourself to legions of salivating fans that’ll eat up anything you offer to them as long as you present it as ‘alternative’.
Obviously these guys’ creativity and daring to do something different deserves mention. And yet, wrestling – like other forms of entertainment – has that threshold at which point believability goes out the window and the lack of realism causes the medium to reach a level of self-parody. These four guys did some crazy and athletic stuff. Big deal, so what? Why should any of what they did matter here when nothing was sold or built upon? There was no layering, no sense of urgency, no progression towards anything. It was just coordinated move after coordinated move with an ending that had no build and was no less dramatic than any of the hundred or so spots that took place before it. Each big spot existed on its own and didn’t play into anything else. It was as if each of them had a mental checklist of what spots to do and once each one was on they moved to the next one without any sense of flow.
Final Rating: ***
Not since the AAA Six-man from January 1993 has a match been so undeserving of its praise. This match was underwhelming and way too silly to deserve any sort of high praise. It was another your-turn-my-turn display of coordinated and cooperative stunts. Just like when Martin Scorsese said that Marvel films aren’t cinema, I honestly think that Young Bucks acts aren’t wrestling; they’re 99.9% a mix of choreography and phony stunt work and 0.1% any tiny semblance of grappling or combat art.
This is one of those acts for which clichés and wild expressions were created. It was eye candy and not eye protein. It was, as Jim Cornette would say, as phony as a football bat. It was senseless, empty, lurid, over-the-top, and above all else, silly. It had little-to-no psychology, logic, progression, direction, spontaneity, selling, or believability. You can say that this match was another story told through action all you want, I’m not buying it.
I know some people enjoy ‘brainless entertainment’ that doesn’t require much thought and is easy consumption. But that’s like filling your stomach with fast food and saying that it’s on the same level of quality as a Michelin-star restaurant or haute cuisine. Maybe it’s a matter of stylistic difference; but to me, this match doesn’t match-up at all to any 5-Star classic.
At this point, you’re probably asking, ‘why does all of this matter?’ Well, it matters because pro wrestling is going in a questionable direction. AEW is the second-biggest wrestling company in the US but it’s a distant second. Acts like this are so niche and so ‘built-for-the-existing-audience-and-no-one-else’ that outsiders or curious passersby will look at stuff like this and laugh at it. Stuff like this doesn’t attract new viewers or convince lapsed fans to rejoin the fandom; it’s so tacky that it turns people away because it’s such a mockery of something many people once enjoyed. To call this a 5-Star match (or worse, something higher than that) is a clear sign that the standard has dropped in recent years.
It’s funny; that famous ladder match between Shawn Michaels and Razor Ramon from WrestleMania X was and still is a 5-Star classic whereas this one and others like it are not. Why? Because Michaels/Razor was a wrestling match with the ladder as a storytelling device within the match whereas this match and its ilk are ladder-base spot-fests with minor semblances of wrestling sprinkled in to give it the illusion of wrestling. Those two are wildly different things, and only the former still deserves the praise.
There are many matches way more worth watching than this one. Are you looking for a great weapons-based spot-fest? TLC II is still king on that front. Do you like crazy lucha libre? Rey Mysterio was killing it all throughout the 1990s both in the US and in Mexico and those matches of his were all way better than this. Are you still a big fan of the Young Bucks and want to see them at their best? They had a great match with Omega & Hangman and a passable one with FTR. And if you’re just looking for a truly out-of-this-worldtag team match, I have many I’d recommend over this one.