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201 Non WWE Matches to See Before You Die #12: El Hijo del Santo vs. Atlantis
[A long time ago in a War Rig far, far away, a young War Boy named 'Plan wrote an excellent column series called 101 WWE Matches to See Before You Die. It was perfect, so perfect that it's now a book you can buy on Amazon! There was just one problem; it only focused on WWE matches! Thus, as a fellow War Boy, I've taken it upon myself to take a look at the other stuff, compiling a list of 201 Non WWE Matches to See Before You Die. This right here is entry #12. Enjoy! And buy 'Plan's book!]
Celtics vs. Lakers. Brady vs. Manning. The Toronto Maple Leafs vs. themselves. Cubs vs. Cardinals. Batman vs. Superman. Buffy vs. Angel. Joey Chesnutt vs. Kobayashi. Why am I listing off famous match ups? One because it’s fun to do and secondly because we the general public eat them up like they’re friggin snack packs. Almost nothing captures the attention of people more than big time super duper stars colliding to prove who the best is. It doesn’t matter if it’s for a sports title, a hot dog eating contest or just some chosen girl trying to save the world from her soulless vampire ex boyfriend (DAMN YOU WHEDON!); we will be there to watch and we will be riveted throughout. That’s just how it works when you put two entities together and give them stakes. The problem is that these encounters never happen enough, or when they do there’s not nearly as much on the line as you’d like. To get a situation where the best of the best are tangling for more than just bragging rights; that’s the dream right there. I guess that’s why in wrestling it’s called the dream match, although I suppose it could be called that because people actually dream about these matches happening. Yeah that sounds better.
Such a dream match was given to us by CMLL back on November 11th, 2005, and for once this match would’ve been big even without stakes. In one corner was El Hijo del Santo; you know, the guy who wears only the most famous mask in lucha libre history, the man who took part in the most famous match in lucha libre history and one of the greatest performers of all time. In the other corner was Atlantis, arguably the most famous luchador at the time aside from Santo and Rey Mysterio who was only a few years removed from having the second greatest lucha libre match of all time. These two wrestling together was big enough in its own right, especially since CMLL had never done a singles match between the two despite both working in CMLL at the same time for almost a decade. And then CMLL added some stakes; I’m talking well done stakes. The match was the final of the Leyenda de Plata tournament, CMLL’s most famous competition and a tournament named after Santo’s father, lucha libre’s greatest star El Santo (del Santo has previously won this tournament in 1999 and had been runner up on two other occasions). On top of that the match took place shortly after the long time technico Atlantis had suddenly undergone a mood change. Gone was the beloved technico, replaced with an arrogant, spiteful, rule breaking personality that allowed Atlantis to become a rudo for the first time in his career. If both of those factors weren’t enough then CMLL added two more elements to put the match over the top by giving Atlantis and Santo two (Matt Hardy voice) WONDERFUL seconds. Atlantis was accompanied by his new partner and the man who turned him to the dark side Último Guerrero, while Santo was accompanied by a young luchador called Mistico. I swear I’ve heard that name somewhere before…
The match starts off establishing that this Atlantis isn’t your dad’s Atlantis. He meets Santo as he’s walking down the stage and proceeds to beat down lucha libre’s most famous son before he can even get his cape off, before taking him to the ring and doing the same. Atlantis’ mascot KeMonito (best known for the gif featuring Guerrero kicking him into oblivion) doesn’t take too kindly to this, only to get pushed away by Atlantis and then picked up by Guererro, who flings him to Atlantis so he can drop him on poor Santo. This is apparently the last straw for KeMonito who washes his hands of Atlantis and leaves. The legend isn’t phased, as he continues to beat down Santo and punctuates it with a devastating one two combo that doesn’t even involve any moves. In the span of a few seconds Atlantis would not only rip and tear Santo’s famous mask, but he would then remove his famous white mask to reveal a pitch black version. If the Arena Mexico fans weren’t already convinced that the Atlantis they loved was gone forever, this was the moment that made it so.
The next few minutes are more of the same Atlantis domination, with him keeping Santo grounded both in and out of the ring while he taunts the fans and even nearly throws the ref out of the ring (WHY ATLANTIS WHY?!). It’s Santo though and eventually he fights back with a couple of knees that send Atlantis to the floor, allowing us to have our first dive of the evening. Slowly both men get back in the ring, where Santo gets a two count following a roll up. It’s here Atlantis makes the mistake again of complaining to the ref for some reason, allowing Santo to get a hold of his mask. And oh boy! If there’s one thing to take away from this match, it’s never to tear at Santo’s mask because he will retaliate by pretty much ripping yours right off your face. That’s precisely what he does to Atlantis, ripping his mask so well I dare say it’s on the level of the Villano III-Atlantis mask rip and even the Vampiro-Pentagon Jr. one. In the words of that lawyer guy from National Lampoon’s Van Wilder, oh it’s on!
Unfortunately for Santo Atlantis takes none of this lying down and immediately takes back control. And well, he doesn’t like his mask being torn at either and decides to get his revenge by trying to pull off Santo’s mask, a mask that may I remind you has never been taken off from either Santo or his father save for El Santo’s final public appearance. Atlantis doesn’t quite manage to get it off, but he loosens it enough to the point that…well we’ll get to that. In the meantime Atlantis takes complete control once again, taking the match outside to body slam and elbow drop Santo on the stage. Back in the ring he continues the onslaught, complete with powerbombs, school boy roll ups and an arm breaker. For a lesser dude this would be enough for Atlantis to walk away with the trophy. Not Santo; the prodigal son refuses to die and gets out of everything.
Thanks to this resiliency and Atlantis’ continued squawking at the referee, Santo is able to get the momentum going and quickens the pace. We get a lot of quick shots and near falls from both men over the next few minutes, culminating in Atlantis seeming to get the win after he reverses a Santo roll up in the corner. Just one tiny problem; Atlantis grabs onto the ropes after rolling Santo up, right in front of the ref who breaks up the pin and leads to another confrontation with the ref. The distraction allows Santo to roll Atlantis up for a two count and firmly puts the momentum in his favor. A backdrop and a flying headbutt later Atlantis is on the outside, soon to be followed by Santo who hits an even more gorgeous suicide dive on his rival with as little room to spare as possible. It’s in this moment and the next few that show just how brilliant a performer Santo was even in his 40s. Atlantis briefly looks like he’s about to regain control on two occasions, first with a crossbody attempt and then a moment later when he props Santo up on the turnbuckle. Both times he ends up with absolutely zip; Santo would reverse the crossbody into a pinfall attempt and then turn what looked to be a Superplex into a hurricanrana out of the ring, followed by an absolutely breathtaking crossbody. Much like Muad'Dib on Arrakis, the Son of the Silver Saint has awakened!
For a moment this looks like it’ll be it, as Atlantis teases walking out on the match much to the chagrin of the audience. Instead he comes back in, and after both men nearly get each other in their respective submissions (the camel clutch and Atlántida respectively), things take a sharp twist leading into one of the best finishes I can recall seeing. Finally, after being kept at bay all match, Último Guerrero finally makes his presence felt, tripping up Santo as he comes off the ropes. Seeing this from the other side of the ring, Mistico jumps up to warn the ref and like everyone and his brother before him only serves to distract the referee. With the official nowhere to be seen, Atlantis props up Santo on the ropes for Último Guerrero to get in some strikes. But the UG chooses not to do that, oh no; no he decides that the best thing to do is pull of del Santo’s mask. That legendary silver mask.
If I haven’t done a good job of stressing how important that mask is, allow me to do so again; no mask in the history of wrestling has more significance and meaning than the mask of El Santo. No, not even Rey Mysterio’s. That silver mask has become a piece of Mexican folklore, thanks to not only El Santo’s success in the ring, but his success in movies, comic books; almost any medium you can think of. It’s the mask he defended at least 37 times during his career and the mask his son had defended over 60 times prior to this match, including (I’ll say it again) a match considered to be the greatest and most famous in lucha libre history. To have that mask torn up is blasphemy enough; to have it ripped off completely during a match is the most evil thing a rudo wrestler can do. That’s just what Último Guerrero did, allowing Atlantis to roll up Santo while the legend covered his face to protect his identity. The crafty Atlantis positioned himself over Santo’s face, covering it from the ref who predictably turns around and counts the one, two, and three. One quick re-masking later while a furious Mistico argues with the ref and Atlantis and UG celebrate their victory, an even more dastardly moment once the Leyenda de Plata plaque down, a plaque, oh by the way, that just happens to feature the El Santo mask on it. Naturally this celebration and the acts leading up to it are too much for Santo and Mistico to take and the post match turns into a pretty exciting brawl that ends in a stalemate. In retrospect it appears as though the great finish and post match shenanigans were the start of a massively hot angle between Santo/Mistico and Atlantis/UG that could’ve led to an even bigger money matches down the road.
Naturally of course this was less the beginning and more like the beginning of the end. El Hijo del Santo would only work before leaving CMLL in early 2006, a move that fractured his relationship with CMLL boss Paco Alonso and has kept him out of Arena Mexico ever since. During that time Atlantis’ reputation has only continued to grow. He would eventually turn technico again after a great six year run as a rudo and go on to take the masks of both La Sombra and the man who helped him win this match Último Guerrero in what would’ve been the two best matches of his career if not for the classic he had with Villano III. The matches have enhanced Atlantis’ stock so much that a mask vs. mask match between him and Santo now would probably draw the closest thing to a Wrestlemania crowd that lucha libre has ever seen, or so certain so called lucha libre experts have claimed (who is that guy? I wonder!). As such, Santo’s falling out with Alonso likely means that this Leyenda de Plata final will remain the only time these two have competed one on one in a major match for a major promotion, a crime so great that only UG’s unmasking of Santo is greater.
It’s also the reason why this match is on the list. Let’s make one thing clear; this is a very good, at times great match but it’s certainly not the greatest match of either man’s career nor a match that has or will be talked about for years to come. But the reason to see it isn’t to bask in the glory of its excellence or to try and turn it into the long lost classic that it isn’t. The reason to see it is to see a match involving four luchadors who would each go on to be four of the biggest stars lucha libre has ever seen. It’s to see two of the best ever go at it to prove they were the best, the thing we always crave and always want to see. Most importantly to get a taste of what might and could be if Santo and Atlantis were to ever meet again with more time and even bigger stakes on the line. Oh sure we like our big match ups, but we also always want more. El Hijo del Santo vs. Atlantis is all about wanting more, all about what should’ve been, what might’ve been and what still could be. You know, if people got over stuff (looking at you Paco).
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