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201 Non WWE Matches to See Before You Die #4: Los Gringos Locos vs. El Hijo del Santo and Octagon
[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 #4. Enjoy! And buy 'Plan's book!]
Before Wrestle Kingdom 9, before Triplemania XXIII, there was When Worlds Collide. Broadcast on November 6th, 1994, the AAA event became legendary for several reasons. First, it served as the first time in wrestling history that a non US wrestling promotion would have a major event broadcast on PPV. Second, it was made possible by Eric Bischoff and WCW producing the show, a move that made the broadcast possible and eventually led to WCW swiping several stars from the show for their own use. And finally, it was, as most legendary shows are, great. Action packed, high flying and loaded with colorful characters, When Worlds Collide proved to be a vastly entertaining show from open to close, and has been called by many wrestling pundits and organizations (including WWE) as the best PPV you've never heard of. That's not entirely accurate though, because most wrestling fans have heard of one match from the card. As well they should; it was a match loaded with three wrestling legends (one both in Mexico and the United States) and built around two legendary families whose history in lucha libre stretched back almost fifty years. Oh, and it also might be the greatest tag team match of all time. Small detail.
In 1992, four years before When Worlds Collide, 25 year old Eddie Guerrero began working for AAA after a few years as a lower rung talent in CMLL. Almost immediately, AAA booker Antonio Pena put Guerrero in a tag team with another former CMLL star, El Hijo del Santo. This wasn't by accident; Guerrero's father, Gory, had been one of the greatest and most innovative stars of the formative years of lucha libre, while del Santo's father El Santo (a contemporary of Guerrero's) was considered to be the greatest/biggest star ever in Mexico (think Hogan and Rock levels except with folk legend implications). That, coupled with the fact that Gory and Santo had been a very successful tag team during their peak known as La Pareja Atomica, made their sons natural fits for tag team partners. But Pena, on a creative roll at the time, had something bigger in mind. A fan of the Four Horsemen stable in WCW, Pena wished to create a top rudo stable of his own for AAA. The idea was simple; use the Guerrero/del Santo tag team to build momentum for both guys, followed by Guerrero, jealous over the Santo name being a bigger deal than the Guerrero name, turning rudo. Guerrero would be joined by Art Barr, a troubled but exceptionally talented young wrestler from Portland, Oregon, who would plant the idea in Guerrero's head that del Santo was overshadowing him. Pena theorized that such a turn would bring massive heat to both Guerrero and Barr, effectively making them top rudos while also starting a white hot feud with the beloved del Santo. He was correct.
Guerrero's turn, which took place in the spring of 1993, was an immediate success, as he and Barr, taking on the gimmick of American superiority, quickly became the most hated rudos in lucha libre (Guerrero would later refer to them in his book as the "D-Generation X of Mexico"). They soon expanded the group (albeit against Guerrero and Barr's wishes at first), with Konnan (a lifelong technico prior to his turn), "Madonna's Boyfriend" Louis Spicolli, Black Cat and numerous others joining. It set up a great rudo/technico dynamic; on one side was Guerrero, Barr and Konnan, while the other side had del Santo, the popular Octagon (brought in by del Santo to replace Guerrero) and lucha legend Perro Aguayo Sr. Everyone had a feud. While Konnan and Aguayo Sr. became the top program as far as main events, the Gringos Locos/del Santo and Octagon feud was the real highlight. For a year, the teams waged war over the AAA World Tag Team Championships, until Guerrero and Barr effectively stole the titles in the summer of 1994 thanks to a crooked referee. With When Worlds Collide on the horizon, del Santo and Octagon finally resolved to put the feud to bed once and for all, issuing a bold challenge to their rivals. The two teams would face each other at When Worlds Collide, only not for the tag titles; instead, it would be a Lucha de Apuestas match, with Octagon and del Santo putting their masks on the line and Los Gringos Locos putting their hair on the line.
You may be wondering now why that stipulation matters more than fighting over tag gold. Simple; much like the Villano III-Atlantis match I wrote about days ago, the mask raised the stakes. Octagon, at the time, was perhaps the most popular masked luchador in Mexico, and commentators Chris Cruise and Mike Tenay point out during the match that Octagon's mask is the top selling mask in the country. As for del Santo, well, he was only wearing the most famous mask in the history of lucha, the silver mask that his father used to become a mega star, the silver mask his father went into the Earth wearing (obviously not the same one, but you get the drift). To put the masks on the line, to risk their legacy and the legacy of the greatest luchador that ever lived, to risk humiliation at the hands of two rudos who would've never stopped bragging about such a victory; it gave the match a sense of urgency almost too large. In fact, there's evidence that it almost was too large for WCW, who several times tried to get the match changed to a singles between Guerrero and del Santo (including the day of the show). In the end, they lost out, and we all won.
The match, second to last on the card, proves to be an example of when back story and in ring greatness meet. Wisely, AAA elected to have this match under the standard lucha rules (2 out of 3 falls match), the only one on the card to do so. It immediately paid off once Los Gringos Locos took a commanding 1 fall to 0 lead, a tour de force of Frog Splashes, top rope hurricanranas and mockery (both Guerrero and Barr frequently used a swimming motion to mock illegal Mexican immigrants swimming the Rio Grande to get to America, while Barr also frequently yelled out "THAT'S MADE IN AMERICA!". Great rudo work). Things got even bleaker when del Santo was pinned during the second fall, giving Guerrero and Barr a 2 to 1 advantage on Octagon in order to eliminate him, give them the match and the two most famous masks in lucha libre. You could cut the tension and fear in the audience with a knife. All it would take is one mistake, one great move by the evil duo, and the heroes would be vanquished. Except, Octagon wouldn't go quietly. In the blink of an eye, the ninja warrior came from underneath, stole a pin on Guerrero and got Barr to submit with is La Escalera submission. The crowd roared and del Santo embraced Octagon like he just stopped the world from ending. Because frankly, he may have done just that for both del Santo and himself.
As I said the other day, there comes a turning point in every legendary contest that makes it, well, legendary. Octagon's brief flurry of offense to tie the match up at one fall a piece may not have been flashy, but it was that moment. Suddenly, things were even, and suddenly, both teams have a lot to lose. And so the desperation begins to kick in for both sides. We begin to see some dives outside and inside the ring. The action becomes quicker and yet slower, as exhaustion kicks in and no one wants to make a mistake. The rules are then bent; Barr, dastardly rudo that he is, takes advantage of a referee distraction to hit Octagon with a tombstone piledriver, a move "banned" in lucha libre due to the numerous neck injuries that have been caused. Three seconds later and Los Gringos Locos is one pinfall or submission away from unmasking their rivals, while Octagon is left in a comatose state (he eventually is carried out on a stretcher).
It's then when del Santo has, dare I say, the greatest ten minutes of his career. These days, it's easy to mock the sort of "overcoming the odds" story presented in wrestling, especially when it's someone like John Cena or Roman Reigns as the protagonist (two men who couldn't be underdogs if their name was underdog). But here, with his mask, his father's mask, hanging in the balance, the Son of the Silver Saint turns an underdog story for the ages. Guerrero and Barr hit him with everything; a clothesline into a German Suplex combo, followed by a superplex and a frog splash, all of which should put del Santo away. But he kicks out, the will to not let his country and his father down too strong. He gets a brief flurry off a mistake and manages to hit an impressive dive to Guerrero on the outside. It's here he gets an assist; Blue Panther, a luchador who accompanied del Santo and Octagon to the ring and unwilling to let his friends be unmasked, entered the ring while the ref is distracted by everything outside. In a stroke of poetic justice, Panther picked up Bar and hit him with a piledriver of his own. A crawl back into the ring by del Santo is all it takes to get the pinfall, and it's down to him and Guerrero, the two men who started it all. Guerrero is desperate; he tries everything and everything. Move after move, strike after strike, he tries to put del Santo away. But he can't; del Santo just keeps coming, patient, waiting. And finally, he catches a frustrated Guerrero in a roll up. The match is over, the masks are saved, the crowd goes wild, and in a tearful, yet hilarious moment the hair comes off for both Barr and Guerrero (selling till the very end how important the result was).
You may be saying to yourself; man that's great, how did AAA follow all of it up? And that's where this gets tragic; they didn't. Two weeks and three days after When Worlds Collide, Barr would die at his home in Portland, his official cause of death never confirmed (it's largely believed to be drug related). His death had a profound effect on both AAA, who was forced to scrap a planned Konnan vs. Los Gringos Locos feud, and Guerrero, who went from having his greatest moment of his career at that time to losing his best friend in the blink of an eye (as a tribute to Barr, Guerrero adopted Barr's frog splash has his finisher for the rest of his career. Yup, that's where he got it from). Los Gringos Locos as a whole was disbanded soon after, and by 1995, the only luchador from that match still working with AAA was Octagon (he would continue to work with AAA till 2014, when they had a massive falling out). del Santo would return to CMLL, where he helped revitalize the promotion and continue to cement his legacy as one of the greatest modern lucha stars. Guerrero meanwhile went up north, first wrestling for ECW, then WCW and eventually WWE. He would overcome numerous drug and alcohol issues to eventually become WWE Champion, and is today considered one of the greatest wrestlers ever. Tragically, he too died way too young on November 13th, 2005, ten years ago today.
Certainly, there is no coincidence that I'm writing this entry on one of Guerrero's best matches on the ten year anniversary of his death, nor just a week after the 21st Anniversary of this match. But as much pain as there is associated with this match considering the fates of Guerrero and Barr, it's also a shining example of their unbelievable greatness, as well as del Santo and Octagon's. Certainly, you could argue that Guerrero had better matches, and you could even make the same argument for del Santo and Octagon. But I'm not sure there was ever any bigger, even the Wrestlemania matches Guerrero had. Truly, this match was, in a lot of ways, so much more than wrestling. It was about two sons of two famous fathers trying to fighting to save legacies while creating their own. It was about a young, brash American from Portland looking to make himself into something (which, if Barr hadn't died, without question would've happened). It was about a man sticking up for his friend. It was about masks, glory, humiliation, desperation, and a whole lot more. It transcended wrestling; it still transcends wrestling. That's a rare thing to do, and whether you appreciate the lucha libre style or not, it's something that elevates this match into the pantheon of all timers. And hell, I've never seen a better tag match. The Rocky Horror Picture Show song "Science Fiction/Double Feature" has a line it that goes "But When Worlds Collide, I'm going to give you some thrills" (in fairness, there's also something about George Pal, a bride, and those thrills being terrible. But we'll just ignore that). On November 6th, 1994, a day known as When Worlds Collide, we did indeed get those thrills.
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