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201 Non WWE Matches to See Before You Die #7: Vampiro vs. Pentagon Jr.
[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 #7. Enjoy! And buy 'Plan's book!]
As with all forms of storytelling, professional wrestling is as just as much about the journey as it is the destination. Sometimes we forget that; we want so much to get to the end that we skip over everything that came before. More often than not, that's a mistake. An ending is only as good as the journey that takes us there; what would Punk-Cena MITB 2011 or Atlantis-La Sombra be without the back story? Earlier this year, Lucha Underground reminded us of that the hard way with an epic tale of two men that incorporated reality in fiction. A young man, destined for greatness, searching for his path, looking for the one who would lead him to blackest realm of nirvana. An aged veteran, weathered by years and wounds, looking for the one thing every person who has touched greatness and watched it slip away craves; one more good day.
Our story begins in 1991, when Ian Hodgkinson, a 24 year old native of Thunder Bay, Ontario, Canada, found himself at the doorstep of CMLL, looking for work as a professional wrestler. It was a long shot; Hodgkinson's wrestling experience was limited to indie promotions in Montreal, and his most recent gig had been that of a bodyguard for pop group/future laughing stock Milli Vinilli. Shockingly, CMLL owner Paco Alonso and booker Antonio Pena took him in, renaming him Vampiro Canadiense due to his love for vampires and his unique, punk rock inspired look. It was wise; Vampiro would become an overnight sensation that sold out arenas for over two decades for both CMLL and AAA, while also crossing over into Japan and most famously WCW. In fact, you could make the argument that second to Konnan, Vampiro may have been the biggest star in Mexico since the beginning of the CMLL/AAA era. But despite his success, Vampiro's greatness largely went unnoticed, thanks to lucha libre's obscurity in the states and the collapse of WCW just as he was hitting his stride. When he joined Lucha Underground in 2014 as a color commentator (his first exposure to American wrestling audiences since MTV's short lived Wrestling Society X in 2007), he was hardly recognizable; gone was the long dreds and slim frame of Vampiro, instead replaced with a clean shaven, towering figure who looked worn down by the years of damage he did to others and himself. It looked over for Vampiro; no scratch that, it was over for Vampiro. He was gone, dead, forgotten, leaving in his place the battered remains of Ian Hodgkinson.
As Hodgkinson looked to begin the next chapter of his career outside the wrestling ring, Pentagon Jr. was just beginning. Created by AAA as a foe for a future United States champion, Pentagon was supposed to be disposable, a means to an end before he faded away into thin air, or at least a new gimmick. Instead, his look, charisma and ability allowed him to scratch and claw his way to relevance in AAA's loaded talent pool, and by the time he had arrived in Lucha Underground, Pentagon Jr. was a name on the rise. But it wasn't enough; to get to the top, he needed guidance from a dark master, a Sith lord that would give him the power to truly become a man of cero miedo (zero fear, for those of you who haven't picked up on that yet). In search of his master, Pentagon became violent, breaking the arm of every single person he laid his hands on in the Temple until he came across Sexy Star. Brave and unwilling to back down, Sexy held her ground against Pentagon's evil ways, until even she could no longer withstand the fury of Pentagon's wrath. And as he went to break her arm the same way he'd done to so many others, the believers in the Temple stood in stunned silence, wondering who could save Sexy now that she could no longer save herself.
Perhaps it was an epiphany; perhaps the urge just never completely dies within you. Whatever it was, the person to save Sexy was Ian Hodgkinson, who rose from the commentary desk and ran into the ring to confront Pentagon. A powerful moment yes, but a dangerous one. Though his intentions were pure, Ian's actions awakened Vampiro, the monster inside of him that perhaps wasn't quite willing to go away just yet. And so the war began between man and beast, with Ian fighting every natural instinct of his being to revert back to the man he used to be. Pentagon, enraged that Hodgkinson has saved Sexy from being sacrificed and looking for acceptance from his mysterious master, zeroed in on him and began to exploit Hodgkinson's inner struggle. For weeks, Pentagon talked him, attacked him; at one point, he even poured gasoline on Hodgkinson, hoping to finally awaken Vampiro once and for all. It worked; finally, Hodgkinson could no longer contain the beast within, and Vampiro consumed him once more, accepting Pentagon's challenge for a match at Ultima Lucha. The stage was set; the young lion looking to finally gain approval from the dark force controlling him vs. the tortured legend in search of peace, in search of that moment he had been waiting his whole life for.
When Vampiro descended the steps of the Lucha Underground Temple, clad in a vampire pope costume that would've made Gary Oldman's Dracula swoon and be hailed as a conquering hero, it looked like it would indeed be his moment of glory. But the renewed spirit and energy of Vamp's disintegrated as Pentagon attacked him from behind to start the match. The full out assault continued from the ring to the stands to the floor, where Pentagon unleashed a brutal assault, including a slam to the exposed concrete floor and chair shot after chair shot after chair shot. The Temple fell silent, Vampiro's normal broadcasting partner and friend Matt Striker became distraught and the paramedics came from the back to wheel Vampiro out. In many ways, it's exactly what everyone thought would happen; how could a past his prime performer like Vampiro hang with the likes of a young superstar like Pentagon Jr.? But then a strange thing happened; as he was being wheeled off to the back, Vampiro rose from the stretcher, fought off the paramedics and stumbled back to the ring. It could've been just the last gasp of the famed gunslinger before he finally fell for good; instead, a burst of energy shot through Vampiro, as if he'd been transported back to his battles in the 90s with Konnan, Black Magic and countless others. And so, Vampiro did not die when he returned to the ring, but instead took Pentagon down with an impressive spin wheel kick. Thus, the Temple roared; this would indeed be a fight after all.
And fight did they did. For what seemed like a half an hour, Vampiro and Pentagon beat each other to pieces in the most diabolical ways. It wasn't pretty and it wasn't crisp, but it was poetic; two men from very different origins and backgrounds fighting for respect, falling through thumbtacks and feeling the burn of mercury as florescent light tubes were cracked over their heads. It was violence perpetrated by desperation, for neither man could turn back. A loss for Pentagon meant the wrath of his master, the loss of power after all he had worked for to get within a taste of it. As for Vampiro, he had come too far, sacrificed his chance to start again in order to embrace the darkness inside to come up short. Their desperation roared to life every time the crowd roared louder. And eventually, that desperation led to Vampiro making a mistake. With Pentagon down and out, Vampiro went for the one thing neither man had used in this match; a table. But it wasn't enough to just drive Pentagon through shards of wood, as Vampiro decided that Pentagon needed to be engulfed in flames. In a way, it was poetic retribution for the time Pentagon had almost set Vampiro on fire. But it never came to pass; Pentagon instead rose to his feet, life Vampiro up and slammed him through the flames. For all the punishment he had taken, for all the gas he still found left in his tank, that final slam proved to be too much for Vampiro to take. A pin later and Pentagon Jr. had indeed gotten his sacrifice for his master, while Vampiro lay burnt on the floor, the legend who came so close to redeeming himself before coming up just short.
Except it wasn't; in fact, it was all a lie. As Pentagon called out for his master to reveal himself, Vampiro shockingly screamed at his opponent to break his arm. Pentagon, merciless being that he is, complied, then again called out to his master. His call was answer...by Vampiro himself. And in a moment of clarity, the truth dawned on those in the Temple with their jaws on the floor. Vampiro had never left; Ian Hodgkinson had never retaken control from the monster within. Instead, Vampiro consumed him for good, and lay in wait for a moment to strike, a moment to prove to the world where he stood in hierarchy of lucha libre while also taking on an apprentice to continue his unholy work. All along, Vampiro had been manipulating Pentagon, driving him towards him deeper into darkness and towards the ultimate test, a test Pentagon had passed with flying colors. And as the two embraced to the sounds of cheers and stunned silence, it was clear that Pentagon had passed. Finally, he had found his master. Finally, Vampiro had found his moment. And finally, he showed the wrestling world what he was capable of, even after all these years.
It's safe to say that Lucha Underground, Pentagon Jr. and Vampiro couldn't be happier with the results from that match. Since then, Pentagon has become a household name in wrestling, and looks poised to be a superstar. Vampiro has meanwhile seen interest in his career spike at a rapid rate. He notably did a two part podcast with "Stone Cold" Steve Austin back in August, talking about both the match (Austin was a huge fan) and his career. He's gotten more interviews since, and has even resumed wrestling at several smaller wrestling shows. Indeed, the match with Pentagon Jr. was the thing missing from Vampiro's career, the kind of famous match that his WCW run and even his runs in Mexico lacked (at least to the American audience). It truly was a case of two men who walked into the ring one thing and walked out better than they were before.
If the season two trailer of Lucha Underground is any indication, that trend looks to continue for both men. Pentagon Jr. looks as dangerous as ever, while early glimpses of Vampiro suggest that Ian Hodgkinson is indeed trying to take back control from the monster within (whether or not that's a ploy or not is something we'll have to find out). Regardless of whether Vampiro is indeed killed off by his creator or if Pentagon and Vampiro indeed found that dark place they were heading to at the end of season one, their match at Ultima Lucha I will be talked about for years to come. I called it my favorite match of 2015, and that still stands; it wasn't pretty, it wasn't a technical masterpiece and it wasn't what you would call conventionally great. But it was great, hell it was a epic; a clash between two men in search of things that so many of us are in search for. In the end, Vampiro vs. Pentagon Jr. was something you could identify with, something you could feel, something you could cheer for even as the violence escalated. And in the end we all won. We the fans got a memorable encounter. Pentagon Jr. came of age and set himself on a course to become one of the best wrestlers on the planet. And Vampiro, at age 48, had that moment that solidified his status as a lucha legend. What a journey. What a destination to wind up in.
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