CMLL/New Japan FantasticaMania: Night Five Review
No time to waste sports fans; including this review I’ve got four columns to get out today, sleep to catch up on and errands to run. No sleep till lucha amirite? Come on Cult there’s no time for jokes either; just get to reviewing Night Five of FantasticaMania so we can get closer to pay dirt. Moses, hit me. No seriously, I need to stay awake. I SAID NO JOKES!
Blue Panther Jr. & Henare defeated Ephesto & Will Ospreay
In retrospect this was one of the high points of the show for me, even though this was shorter than Dude, Where’s My Car?. I haven’t always been impressed with Will Ospreay, but we’ve reached the point now where every time I see him I come away more impressed. He didn’t even do as much high flying here as usual, but the total package he presents now (the cockiness, the swearing) just adds a ton, especially when he’s selling the fear of being Swing Bottom’d by Junior. Speaking of Junior, he was terrific here too. I was a little concerned when I heard he’d been getting “so-so” reviews, but he looked every bit as good as he had during the middle of 2016 and it’s very encouraging that he worked so well with Ospreay while also breaking out a new move. With those two providing the sparks it allowed Ephesto to just do Ephesto things and Henare to look tough (although there were flashes that he has something quite special lurking in him). Good way to start the show.
Jushin Liger, Soberano Jr., Tiger Mask defeated Gedo, Jado, Raziel
Like the opener, this was short, sweet and used to showcase the young high flyer. And gorram did Soberano take advantage of the opportunity much like we all expected he would. He looked great hitting all of his usual spots, didn’t seem star struck by his legendary partners and generally just came across as a star. It helps that he was able to get the better of Raziel and even get the win over the veteran, an act that probably led to whoever books the Arena Mexico Tuesday show reacting like this.
Everyone else was fine too, though they were all clearly taking a backseat to Soberano (and rightfully so). Jushin Liger had what may have been the easiest night of his career; not a single high spot from him. Tiger Mask was more active and looked like he could’ve gone places if given more to work with, while Raziel provided the in ring spark for the rudos as Gedo and Jado tried to throw out more profanities than Will Ospreay. Your basic New Japan stuff I suppose. In the end they did what they needed to do and Soberano came out looking better than he did before. Granted he’s probably also doomed himself to putting over Raziel fifty two straight times once they get back to Mexico, but we’ll cross that bridge when we get there.
Hechicero & Okumura defeated Máximo Sexy & Stuka Jr.
I was figuring this match would mostly be set up for Hechicero-Máximo with a lot of comedy from Máximo. There was some of that before the match, but once the bell rang this turned into one of the more active matches of the night. Both Máximo and Stuka were flying around quite a bit, which isn’t that much of a big deal for the latter but certainly is for the former. Máximo is generally great whether he’s in big match mode or comedy mode, but it’s rare we get to see him do stuff like this. He’ll be better with Hechicero tomorrow, but it was nice to see him branching out and doing some dives. As such the rudos were there to serve as bases and did what they needed to do. Really the only thing I didn’t get about this match was why Okumura ripped Stuka’s tights; is Stuka’s life force kept in there or something? Other than that this was another fine match with better than expected work from the technicos and lesser work from the rudos. Provided Hechicero is allowed to do more tomorrow (he will) and Máximo brings this effort again (he should) that match has special written all over it.
Bushi, EVIL, Naito, Rush, Sanada defeated Atlantis, David Finlay, Hiroshi Tanahashi, Kushida, Ryusuke Taguchi
Escalation was the theme of this bout; well that and it’s pretty clear Rush needs to replace Pierroth and maybe even La Máscara in Los Ingobernables when he gets back. He and the LIJ squad followed the exact same rudo beat down formula you see a hundred times from Ingobernables in CMLL; the difference here was that EVIL, Naito, Sanada and Bushi are all awesome and thus the beat down was awesome. Seriously Rush; get new guys. Call Rey Escorpión and get him to return. Get Bushi or EVIL to come back with you to Mexico for an extended stay. Hell if you’re that desperate I can even get you in touch with a man who has Teddy Hart’s number. There’s a 95% chance you and Teddy kill each other, but at least it’s going to be entertaining for all of us leading up to it.
Getting back to my escalation point however, this was one of three matches tonight that started slow and gradually got more and more exciting, all while basing the match around the Rush-Atlantis interactions. Those were tremendous by the way; Rush couldn’t have been more vicious and loathsome as he did everything possible to humiliate Atlantis, while the legend was great as the fighting from underneath technico. In retrospect it’s really stunning CMLL never did anything with these two after Atlantis took Sombra’s match; the chemistry is clearly there and this match clearly showed that Atlantis remains an absolute beast when he was something to sink his teeth into. Thank Grodd New Japan is running this match tomorrow…but that’s another column. The only negative of them booking this around those two was that no one else got to do much aside from maybe David Finlay (who looks like he’s going to be a superstar someday soon). That’s especially jarring when you have guys like Kushida, Naito, Sanada and Tanahashi involved, though you get why they took a backseat. Hopefully they’ll have more to do for the last two shows.
Euforia, Kazuchika Okada, Último Guerrero defeated Juice Robinson, Mistico, Volador Jr.
This was a good time, for fans and the wrestlers. Volador and UG seemed to take themselves less seriously than usual, especially in the opening sequences where they messed around with each other’s mask. They turned it up when they needed to though and the final few minutes of the match were great, with Volador and Mistico flying around, Euforia and UG bulldozing their way through them and UG even getting the chance to catch a Volador dive and turn it into a powerbomb (that never gets old). I got the biggest kick out of Okada though. If you had told me right after Wrestle Kingdom 11 that Kazuchika Okada would be walking out to “We Will Rock You” while doing the Guerrero arm raise taunt all in preparation to sell for The Artist Formerly Known as C.J. Parker, I’d have assumed I’d have wandered off into some universe created by Hunter S. Thompson. Apparently not as all of that happened here and all of it was great. This certainly wasn’t Omega-Okada, but the second best wrestler in the world seemed to be having the time of his life paling around with the UG and Euforia, and even got to work a little rudo for a change. It was nice to see that side of him.
Hiromu Takahashi (Kamaitachi) defeated Titán
Hot take alert; this was the most disappointing match of the show. And I say that as someone who still thought this was one of the four best bouts with one of the best performances the show offered. Some are going to blame the pace of this match (which was pretty slow after the fast start) and Titán having to sell the leg most of the match. Those people are mistaken. Titán’s selling, and Titán in general, were the high points of this bout. I know people prefer to see guys fly around but you’re not getting consistently booked with New Japan if you can only fly around, especially when New Japan has enough guys who do that already. Titán needed to show something different today besides his aerial ability and he did just that; his selling was absolutely fantastic (100% than Dragón Lee’s selling last year, where he seemingly forgot about the injury by the end) and combined with the high flying he was able to do while selling really got the crowd on his side. He was terrific, and I can’t see any way he didn’t come across great to the New Japan hierarchy with this performance.
The problem with this match was Kamaitachi, and to a lesser extent the amount of time the two were given. Maybe it was just me but Kamaitachi looked off; he didn’t sell as well as usual (most notably on Titán’s attempt at a hurricanrana to the floor that came off as all sorts of awkward), he didn’t seem to have the same energy he usually has. It just didn’t come across as the same Kamaitachi/Hiromu Takahashi I’ve seen so many times before. Maybe the style of match and time restrictions limited him or caused his heart to not be in it as much, but he didn’t come across nearly as good as Titán did. Because of that this match suffered, not to the point where it wasn’t good but to where you sat back and said afterwards “this could’ve been so much more.” And it should’ve been. Maybe you can argue that these two don’t have chemistry or that the match looks different if Titán nails that hurricanrana to the floor, but regardless of the reason this just didn’t quite live up what I felt it would be. It was still a very good match with a great performance from Titán, but it ultimately came nowhere close to matching the main event and arguably might’ve been surpassed by either of the preceding tag matches.
CMLL World Lightweight Championship Match
Dragón Lee (c) defeated Cavernario
Exactly the big time main event you expected it to be and that’s despite the fact that this match also should’ve been better! Of course in this instance the match was held back not by performance but by Cavernario injuring himself towards the end of the match, leading to an abrupt conclusion. Take that away though and this was a spectacular main event that had all the makings of being a Match of the Year candidate before the injury. Dragón Lee remains as stupendous a high flying luchador in the business today and Cavernario may have actually proven himself to be even crazier with his performance here. These two basically traded big move after big move, big dive after big dive, insane spot after insane spot and it was truly glorious. It’s such a shame Cavernario hurt himself on that Poison Rana towards the end and for all I know the match goes on to rival anything we’ve seen in lucha libre in recent memory (though I must admit the image of Hechicero, brilliant as Cavernario’s second, putting Cavernario’s shoulder back into its socket was an image). In the end though it was still a terrific match and the leader in the clubhouse for best match of the tour. Let's just hope poor Cavernario is gonna be alright.
We’re done folks. I now immediately move on to preview tomorrow morning’s show before taking a break for a few hours to preview The Crash’s show tomorrow in Tijuana. See you soon!