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201 Non WWE Matches to See Before You Die #17: Blue Panther vs. Love Machine
[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 #17. Enjoy! And buy 'Plan's book!]
You may have noticed, but I’m really, REALLY excited for the Sam Adonis-Blue Panther hair match this Friday. I’m thinking it was that column I wrote about the two yesterday that gave it away! Alas, while that was fun to write, it’s not nearly enough to keep me at bay, especially when there’s a rich history connected to the Panther-Adonis feud ala a certain other feud Panther had twenty five years ago. So guess what sports fans; we’re talking Blue Panther-Love Machine today by bringing in the good ole 201 series in to play. Why? Because in order to understand why this Panther-Adonis match is so cool and so important to some people, we have to go back in time. And with that, our story begins in 1991, the year Nirvana took the world by storm, JFK was becoming the greatest conspiracy thriller ever made and Blue Panther finally started to make a name for himself in Arena Mexico.
Now as I’ve said before, Blue Panther wasn’t just some slouch when he arrived in CMLL full time that year. He had made numerous appearances in Arena Mexico before, was considered a highly respected maestro in the Northern region of Mexico and even had the distinction of being one of the youngest luchadors to operate a gym where he trained up and comers (Blue Panther is also considered to be one of the first trainers to train men and women at the same time). But there’s a difference between being a respected performer and a star, and to that point Panther wasn’t close to the latter. Luckily CMLL saw something in him and quickly worked to rectify that mistake. The first attempt involved feuding Panther with Atlantis, then still at the beginning stages of his own legendary career. Initially it looked like Panther-Atlantis had all the makings of a legendary rivalry; thanks to an epic match for Atlantis’ NWA Middleweight Championship in August of 91. The match served as Panther’s coming out party and, in theory, looked to be the first chapter in what would’ve led to a gigantic mask vs. mask match between the two. Perhaps it did happen in some parallel world; unfortunately in this one, a wrestler’s strike happened in the fall of 91 that ultimately cooled the feud off. In the short term it looked to be a huge blow to Panther’s rising star. But the strike ultimately proved to be beneficial for two reasons; it allowed Panther to keep his mask (yes, Atlantis was supposed to beat him) and more importantly, it led him to Love Machine.
The son of Pacific Northwest legend Sandy Barr, then 25 year old Art Barr was considered by many who saw him to be a highly talented, highly charismatic performer. He was also something of a wild child, dogged by allegations of drug use and a conviction of first degree sexual abuse from 1989. Combined with his small stature and a weird, children based gimmick inspired by Michael Keaton’s character from Beetlejuice, Barr’s vices were enough to cost him his wrestling license and Oregon and a job in WCW. It would’ve been a bleak situation for Barr if he hadn’t struck up a friendship with a luchador you may all know; Konnan. The lucha libre legend had briefly worked for WCW around the same time Barr had, and Konnan was quick to offer his friend a gig with CMLL when the WCW deal went bad. With few options remaining, Barr jumped at the chance and was quickly given the gimmick of The American Love Machine, a masked American technico. As Love Machine, Barr would debut in CMLL in November of 91, and only two matches in was quickly put into a rivalry with...come on, like you need to guess. It’s in the gorram title!
That match, a trios bout also featuring Black Magic (Norman Smiley), Máscara Sagrada, Jerry Estrada and Pierroth Jr., had Love Machine come across as a star, beating Panther with a surprise springboard crossbody. But that wasn’t enough for the young American, who next week came back and ripped Panther’s mask right off. At that point it was clear what Love Machine’s intentions were and the feud was off and running, filled with mask tears, wild brawls and even a street fight in the Arena Mexico parking lot. The only time that happens in CMLL these days is when it involves Último Guerrero’s car! It was quite clear CMLL had something hot on their hands, so they officially made Panther-Love Machine, mask vs. mask an official bout on April 3rd, 1992, billing the show as the 36th Anniversary of Arena Mexico. This is where the myth of Blue Panther vs. Love Machine is lifted to new heights. Like I said, CMLL was aware how hot this feud was, to the point where they set up giant ass TV screens outside Arena Mexico for fans who’d be turned away. At the time it seemed like CMLL was overreacting, possibly due to their handling of the Rayo de Jalisco vs. Cien Caras mask match that saw many fans turned away with no way for them to watch the match. But that was Rayo de Jalisco and Cien Caras, two big stars, whereas Panther and Love Machine were two budding stars at best and unproven draws at worse. In a testament to how over the feud had gotten though, Panther and Love Machine proved CMLL’s decision correct; on April 3rd, over 26,000 fans showed up to see them collide, leading to a total of 18,000 fans inside of Arena Mexico and 8,000 more watching outside via the giant TV’s. That, my friends, is something else.
Despite Love Machine’s technico leanings and an awesome entrance where he rode out on a motorcycle, the Arena Mexico crowd was split between the charismatic foreigner and the local star Panther, with chants of “Mexico!” filling the air. Those chants were quieted quickly however as Love Machine launched into an attack of dropkicks at the start of the bell. A corner clothesline and a thrust kick confirm Love Machine’s control, and he keeps tight grip with a facebuster. It’s here we get the first signs of Love Machine’s anger towards Panther, as he takes the rudo to the apron and begins bashing his head against the turnbuckle post. This leaves Panther prone enough for Love Machine to hit a falling splash, giving us our first near fall of the night. Not satisfied, Love Machine plants Panther with an awesome snap Suplex and begins to descend the turnbuckle. I know what you’re thinking; HE’S GOING FOR THAT FROGSPLASH OF HIS! As Lee Korso would say, not so fast my friend! Instead of attempting his trademark move, Love Machine goes for a diving elbow drop. It’s a beautiful looking attempt that unfortunately misses the mark as Panther moves out of the way. Suddenly the tide has turned and the maestro has got a hold of Love Machine’s legs.
After working the legs over a bit, Panther sends Love Machine to the floor and the brawl is on. The rudo quickly sends Love Machine into the corner of the ring, where he exacts his revenge for having his head rammed into the turnbuckle post by doing the same to poor Love Machine! Panther heads back in, seemingly giving Love Machine time to recover, only to grab the technico to bring him back in and nail him with some chops. One Irish Whip later and Blue Panther appears to be hitting the first ever Alabama Slam in recorded history, followed by a DDT. There’s no cover though, and it becomes apparent why as Panther cranks in an Abdominal Stretch. So it’s a submission attempt then? Yes and no. Yes Panther was trying to get a tap out; it just wasn’t with that move. Instead, Panther nails Love Machine in the back while holding him in the Stretch, then picks him up to nail what has to be the greatest Double Underhook Backbreaker in history. Seriously, if this thing had been smoother, we’d have had to name it Miles Davis. Of course, because he’s Blue Panther, he decides to wrench down on Love Machine instead of letting go, thus creating a submission that puts enormous pressure on Love Machine’s back. And just like that, the rudo is up 1-0 on Love Machine and things are looking grim for the hero.
Not one to get down, Love Machine starts jogging around on the floor and appears to have regrouped. Naturally he’s jumped by Blue Panther immediately upon getting back into the ring, making Love Machine the 9,001st guy to have that happen to him. The rudo quickly begins focusing on the back and right leg, hitting a backbreaker and several leg attacks in the ropes as the crowd boos. For his next trick, Panther decides to put Love Machine in a surfboard stretch. I guess Panther forgot for a moment that the surfboard stretch hasn’t tapped anyone out since the 60’s. Luckily he remembers quick, breaks the hold and sends Love Machine in the ropes, where the technico finally rallies and hits a clothesline to send Panther to the ground. It takes a moment, but Love Machine regains his bearings and takes control with an Atomic Legdrop and a DDT for a near fall. He quickly follows that up with a Gutwrench Suplex that also gets a near fall, followed by a back elbow attack that, you guessed it, gets him a near fall. You may have noticed a pattern starting to develop there. Don’t worry folks; we’ll swing back to that in a second.
After stomping a mud hole in Panther (as the crowd chants for the rudo), Love Machine tosses him to the floor, drags him to the other end and nails another Snap Suplex. This leaves Panther prone long enough for Love Machine to get back to the apron and nail the highlight of the match; an excellent springboard crossbody. It’s all Love Machine at this point, and keeps the momentum by slamming Panther against the ring post again. But as soon as they get back into the ring, that same pattern you may have noticed before begins to rear its ugly head. To be clear, Love Machine keeps the momentum here and keeps it good, hitting a spinebuster, a sunset flip roll up, another DDT and a facebuster off the top. The problem is that Love Machine’s three covers lead to nothing more than three near falls, making it now six times Love Machine had Panther down, only for the rudo to kick out. As such, the story of this match is even clearer than crystal. Love Machine may be more charismatic, more athletic…hell he may even be better than Panther overall. But no matter what he does, he just can’t put the maestro away. And it’s after Panther kicks out of that facebuster that the match climaxes in a finish that only then CMLL booker Antonio Peña could design.
Fed up with Panther kicking out of everything, Love Machine gives the signal that this is it. He then picks up Panther and sets him up for one of the deadliest moves in the history of lucha libre; the Tombstone Piledriver (known in Mexico as the Martinete). Hey, now we’re finally getting somewhere; Love Machine will hit this, the match will be tied up and Panther and him will go back and forth for the third fall. Just one problem lucha libre newbies; the Tombstone Piledriver, hell most variations of the Piledriver, are banned in lucha libre. The moment you use one, you’re instantly DQ’d. Unfortunately for Love Machine, being relatively new to CMLL and all, he isn’t aware of what will happen when he hits the move, and despite warnings from the referee (Pompin, who is by the way still working for CMLL today), Love Machine nails the Tombstone, jumping and doing a twist as he does so. Just like that, the cocky young American has made the biggest mistake of his career and Blue Panther has claimed the mask of Love Machine as Arena Mexico bursts into a mixture of elation and shock. Love Machine pleads his case for minutes to anyone who will listen, while Panther is stretchered out, knocked silly from the Piledriver. An angry Love Machine let’s his emotions get the better of him, attacking Panther while he’s on the stretcher before he’s finally held back by officials. All in all, it takes nearly ten minutes before emotions calm down and Love Machine is revealed to the world as Art Barr. The story his face tells once we’re finally able to see it…well it tells the whole tale better than I could I suppose.
Ironically enough, this match was nowhere near the length most major mask vs. mask matches are. I didn’t keep complete track of the time, but I’m pretty sure this match fell just short of the fifteen minute mark, and has the rare distinction of being a mask match that ended in two falls as opposed to three. As such, I think that’s what ultimately prevents this match from being considered a “stone cold classic” by many fans. But even in the limited time, Panther and Love Machine both come across as stars, with Love Machine as athletic and as charismatic as you’ve heard and Panther every bit the smooth, sly, maestro of a technician. Even in just fourteen minutes or so, these two showed a special kind of chemistry that you couldn’t help but feel would be given a chance to grow later on. And if the finisher and Love Machine’s reaction weren’t a dead giveaway, allow me; this would not be the last time Blue Panther and Art Barr would meet in a big time singles match. Little did anyone guess at the time that the rematch would happen elsewhere…