The Top 50 Luchador(a)s of 2016: The Top Ten
Ladies, gentlemen, true believers and nonbelievers alike; we have made it! We are at the end of my Top 50 Luchador(a)s of 2016 series, mere minutes (or hours, depending on if your reading speed is super slow) away from finding out who was the best luchador of them all this past year. I’d say it’s been a fun run ride, wouldn’t you? So let’s take this home and begin the trek towards lucha libre in 2017. Moses, do you have one last outlandish meme for us?
10. T.J. Perkins
I mean, he did win the WWE CWC guys, one of the most respected and critically acclaimed wrestling happenings of 2016. If that and a dark match for Lucha Underground isn’t enough to get you into the top ten then I don’t know what is. I can tell you what’s enough to keep you only at 10th though, which is getting turned into a Scott Pilgrim supporting character who only talks video games and isn’t allowed to do half the stuff that made T.J. Perkins one of the most underrated luchadors for years. Yes I’m still bitter about that. That aside, it was still overall a break out year for TJP and if there’s a Grodd in the sky WWE will figure out a way to better utilize him in 2017. And hey, at least he can say he’s doing better than Sin Cara, Kalisto, Andrade “Cien” Almas and Gran Metalik right now. And now I’m bitter again.
9. L.A. Park
20 years and a few more pounds after his heyday, L.A. Park not only remains one of the most colorful luchadors alive but he’s somehow even more captivating than he was fighting Jerry Estrada and swinging chairs in WCW. He’s like Ricky Henderson, if Ricky Henderson stole bases dressed in a skeleton costume. Beyond that all you need to know about Park’s 2016 are two things. First, he singlehandedly became the talk of the lucha world back in May when he worked an AAA show one night and then appeared in Arena Mexico for an Elite show the next, leading to some foolish writers (i.e. myself) wondering if Park could successfully finagle his way to headlining the Anniversary Show, Triplemania or even both. Second, he had that match with Rush that even a few months later remains one of the most unbelievable things I can recall seeing in a wrestling ring. It was the perfect example of great brawling in wrestling and two men who had so much control of the crowd that they managed to stop a potential riot after the unintended DQ finish, just by continuing to fight anyway. The original La Parka did more stuff in 2016 than that obviously (I enjoyed that cage match with Carístico more than most) but he didn’t have two; those two moments were enough to land him in the top ten and in a weaker year that match with Rush may have gotten him in the top five. They were that strong, and proof that even after all these years few luchadors can capture the attention and the imagination like L.A. Park can. Now imagine what he could do with that in a place like the Temple (somewhere, my friend Oliver is getting excited about Park vs. Pentagon again).
It was a year for Fenix. I’d argue he, along with King Cuerno and his brother Pentagon, carried Lucha Underground during the early stages of season two, where he traded the Gift of the Gods Championship with Cuerno and briefly won the Lucha Underground Championship from Mil Muertes. Even when Fenix faded from the main event scene he still kept a high profile in the Temple by becoming one third of the Lucha Underground Trios Champions, making him the first ever Triple Crown champion in LU history. What elevates him higher though is the work he did outside LU. Lest we forget Fenix was involved in three of the best matches at PWG’s Battle of Los Angeles this year, including an awesome singles match against Will Ospreay and two (all caps alert) AMAZING tag matches with Pentagon against Chris Hero/Tommy End and the Young Bucks. He was a big hit for Chicago’s AAW promotion as my Rudo Can’t Fail editor Wayne can attest too. Hell Fenix even managed to have an underrated gem of a match in AAA with Daga before that relationship burnt to the ground. It was a truly great year for Fenix and it should be an even better 2017, especially if he gets work for another promotion in Mexico (The Crash! The Crash!). Not bad for a luchador who certain users at Cageside Seats claimed was “boring” after he lost the Gift of the Gods Championship to King Cuerno. Yes, that happened and yes I can’t believe those people are allowed to comment on wrestling either.
7. Bárbaro Cavernario
Say what you will about CMLL’s ability to elevate young stars but when they go for it, they get it right. Cavernario, perhaps even more so than Dragón Lee, is proof of that. After a slightly disappointing 2016 Cavernario exploded this year. His CMLL World Welterweight Championship match with Máscara Dorada back in March was an early year gem. A rematch of his 2014 hair vs. hair classic with Rey Cometa was brilliant. His work in La Peste Negra, alongside Negro Casas, Felino and occasionally Mr. Niebla (when he was sober) was often good to great. And then there were the back to back classics with Volador Jr. in late September/early October. It’s one thing to have one Match of the Year candidate with the same guy; it’s another to have two with the same guy in back to back weeks when the pressure is on to top what you previously did (and you could argue it was three straight weeks considering Volador and Cavernario battled often in the Reyes del Aire cibernetico to set up their first match). Those two did it and Cavernario looked every bit the equal to Volador along the way, securing his high spot on this list and a high spot in the CMLL hierarchy for a long time to come. And that’s the scary thing. Cavernario has been a mid card to upper card fixture for awhile now and yet is still only 23 years old. This guy is the future; if he isn’t main eventing an Anniversary Show in the next five years then everyone in lucha libre has failed.
After two years of toiling away on the lower ends of the CMLL cards, Hechicero finally got his chance in 2016 and by Grodd did he make the most of it. He had the best Lightning Match of the year with Soberano Jr., won the NWA World Historic Light Heavyweight Championship from Rey Bucanero in a severely underrated match, retained his reputation as one of the most unique and creative luchadors around even in the most useless of trios matches, and even found the time for two quick runs with New Japan and Ring of Honor. Oh, and he continued to have great matches in his hometown of Monterrey, including two noteworthy bouts against Negro Casas and Máscara Dorada (those names just keep coming up huh?!). If you want to know who best represents the definition of hard work in lucha, Hechicero is your guy. He should be a contender for number one on this list next year provided CMLL keeps him high up the card and don’t be surprised if he ends up with a (Mike Francesca voice) YOOOGE mask match sooner than later.
5. Dragón Lee
Eh, he only won the main event of the biggest lucha libre show in 2016 (in a great match), had two more Match of the Year contenders with long time rival Kamaitachi (in both Japan and Mexico), had another fringe Match of the Year contender with Pólvora and, to this point, has had the most successful transition from CMLL to Ring of Honor (check out his match with Will Ospreay and Marty Scurll sometime). Dragón Lee was always easily in the top five for this year. I actually think he could’ve done better too and there’s a few times I wish Lee was more creative and less hung up on his routine (and good Grodd does he need to stop with the standing Spanish Fly). But that’s a minor quibble and even if he just did his regular routine from here on out Dragón Lee would be a top ten luchador of the year. He’s that good. The question for him is how long before WWE makes a serious offer to snatch him up and what CMLL will do to try and keep him. Me personally, I’d give Lee a big Anniversary Show match every year, starting with him vs. Cavernario. The best young technico vs. the best young rudo pretty much sells itself, no?
4. Pentagon Jr./Pentagon Dark
He’s the top star of Lucha Underground, the best gimmick in all of lucha libre and the most over luchador in all of AAA, despite their best efforts to sabotage him. True story sports fans. In 2016 alone AAA did everything they could to screw Pentagon up, be it marring his Reyes del Rey victory by making the match all about Imposter La Parka, tainting his AAA Latin American Championship win over Psycho Clown by having Pagano interfere and then having him lose the championship at Triplemania to Johnny Mundo in a match that put the “eh” in meh (I’ll see myself out). And even after all of that Pentagon remains the most popular guy in AAA by a country mile. He’s gorram Roldan proof! I don’t know if it’s the body of work outside of AAA (between LU, AAW and PWG only Fenix matched Pentagon’s body of work) or because he’s just that damn cool, but I’m pretty sure Pentagon could withstand anything at this point. Look for 2017 to be his coronation, particularly in Lucha Underground. He will win that LU title folks; I know some people think it may never happen, but now that he’s received his comeuppance all that’s left for LU to do is bring Pentagon back white hot and slow burn whatever’s left till his big moment. It’s coming soon, to a theater near you.
3. Negro Casas
At 56 years old Negro Casas is the oldest man to make this list, a true testament to how great he remains even after all these years. And this was one hell of a year for the veteran. He was CMLL’s top rudo to start it, managing to get just enough out of a feud with Super Parka (remember that guy?!) to set up a hair vs. hair match with Volador, a match that saw Casas move and bump better than guys half his age (it’s a shame that matches MOTY candidacy was wrecked by Tirantes being Tirantes in the final stage). That match more than likely cost him a couple of months this year, but other than the time he missed Casas remained excellent. His match with Hechicero in Monterrey was an excellent old school lucha contest, he matched his Volador performance by keeping up with Ronnie Mendoza and Flamita in an excellent triple threat at DTUNuev9, his performance against Ángel de Oro in a November Lightning Match was something to behold and, perhaps most importantly, he enthusiastically put over every young luchador every chance he got. One of the defining moments of lucha libre in 2016 was him being a part of Máscara Dorada’s final CMLL match, where he smiled as he took a tope from Dorada and then was the one leading the post match celebration for an overwhelmed Dorada minutes later. The only thing missing from Casas’ 2016 was a bonafide Match of the Year candidate, and his endless charisma, enthusiasm, effort and ability more than make up for it. Perhaps 2017 will be the year it all ends, but I wouldn’t be shocked to see Casas remain one of the best luchadors for a few more years. I hope he does; watching him work is like watching Kenneth Branagh in a Shakespearian production. He may truly be the greatest I’ve ever seen.
2. Máscara Dorada/Gran Metalik
In 2015 Máscara Dorada wound up in New Japan on a one year excursion and inexplicably ended up getting lost in the shuffle, aside from a really good match with Kenny Omega (aka the best wrestler alive right now). He was sent back to Mexico after FantasticaMania and proceeded to have the best year of his life. Forget that he was the breakout star of the WWE CWC, forget that almost everyone else on this list had a great match with him this year; the effort this guy brought in night after night for both CMLL and WWE was Negro Casas like. Many guys pace themselves in matches; Máscara Dorada never did, even after he had signed his WWE contract and had everything to lose by going all out and possibly getting injured in Arena Mexico. Once you combine that with the endless amount of high quality wrestling and high quality moments Dorada had this year do you get a guy who was better than every other luchador in the world, save one. He amazed me every time I watched him, and I’m blown away by the fact that WWE has yet to use Dorada as Gran Metalik since he joined them full time. Case in point; Dorada’s last match for CMLL was the beginning of November. His only appearances for WWE since then have been a handful of Florida house show matches, with no appearances on RAW or WWE’s 205 Live Show. It’s inexplicable to me that a talent like Dorada isn’t be used to his full potential, and it makes you wonder what exactly is going on there.
1. Volador Jr.
I must admit now that Volador Jr. is far from my favorite luchador. There’s many times he reminds me of Rush and Último Guerrero, in that he doesn’t always put forth his best effort and stubbornly refuses to differentiate from his well tested formula. But even with those flaws I cannot deny that, from beginning to end, not even Máscara Dorada had a better year than Volador did. The best trios matches CMLL had of 2016? Volador was the best worker in them. The best cibernetico/multi-man matches of 2016? Volador was either the best or second best worker in them, most notably in the 2016 Grand Prix where he briefly morphed into a cross between Superman and 1997 Lex Luger. And how about the never ending amount of great singles matches? Mephisto, Negro Casas, Carístico, Máscara Dorada, Will Ospreay, Jushin Thunder Liger, Michael Elgin, Kushida, Último Guerrero, Cavernario and Valiente all had great matches against Volador this year, with several of them being Match of the Year contenders. That’s an amazing amount of great work between Volador’s CMLL and New Japan stints, against some of the best workers in the world. Certainly Máscara Dorada had something similar, but in the end I just don’t feel, even with the WWE crossover appeal, that he had the year Volador had. In 2016 he became the top technico CMLL needed, one of the best wrestlers in the world whenever he chose to be and by extension, the best luchador of 2016. Congrats to you Volador.
That’s it sports fans; those are the top 50 luchadors of 2016. I hope you enjoyed this list and I hope you didn’t disagree with me too much! I’ll be back later with at least other column, possibly two if I feel up for reviewing tonight’s Super Viernes show. Till then, let’s get SCULLY’S thoughts on the full list.