The Top 50 Luchador(a)s of 2016: 50-41
I don’t know if you’ve noticed sports fans but 2016 is soon to be one for the record books. And thank Grodd; the only thing that could make this year worse is if M. Night Shyamalan announced he was remaking Buffy the Vampire Slayer today. For all the bad there was some good however, and for the next five days I’d like to focus on some of the good in lucha libre. And no it’s not the best matches lucha libre had to offer, though that’ll come in good time. What I’ll be doing is ranking just who the best luchador(a)s of 2016 were!
So how did this list come together? Did I bring in a team of lucha experts to help vote on the matter? Did I just pick out lucha names from a hat and determine the order in that fashion? No and no. As it turns out picking names from a hat is a good way to get you discredited and getting a team to get votes in on time is REALLY difficult, a lesson I learned the hard way earlier this year. So I set out to do this by myself, and while even I cannot see everything lucha related this year I think I’ve seen enough to qualify myself as worthy to write this list. As for what qualifies a luchador(a) to make this, well it’s pretty simple; they have to be a luchador(a), it helps (but doesn’t eliminate them from the list) if they worked one of the big lucha libre promotions for most of the year (Lucha Underground, CMLL, AAA, ect.) and they needed to be really, REALLY good at what they did. So if you’re a luchador(a) who did those three things this year, you’re probably on the list (note; there's obviously more to it than that, and I'll go further into detail as we go through the list). Get it? Got it? Good. So let’s begin this shindig by counting down luchador(a)s 50-41. And no, there will be no honorable mentions this time around; if you were too busy getting stabbed and missing shows to just barely make this list than you aren’t worthy of being discussed in any form (*cough* Berto *cough*). Moses, get the meme out before that burn wears off.
50. Blue Panther Jr.
If this were “Luchador(a)s Cult Loves with All His Heart” list then Junior would be quite high on the list. I absolutely love this guy, which is something considering I had no desire to see him at all earlier this year when he was a slow, plodding youngster who was clearly the third wheel of the family trio. Then we got to August and all of a sudden Junior was faster, stronger, smoother and at times even better than his long lauded brother (The Panther) in the numerous trios matches they took part in. And he didn’t even need an ROH run to do all of that! He still needs to get a tad smoother in the ring and the lack of a good first half and a stand out singles match (the closest Junior got to those were a couple of Lightning Matches against Bobby Z and Virus) keep him here at 50. But that strong second half of performances gets him on here and, barring a horrible unforeseen series of events, will likely be his lowest showing on this list throughout his career. Trust me folks; Blue Panther Jr. is going to be big. And he’s not the only one in his family who will be.
The first of four luchadors who worked for WWE this year make the list and I’m not really sure what surprises me more; that Kalisto beat out Andrade “I really want to leave and become La Sombra again but I can’t…I mean, Cien” Almas for the final spot or that Kalisto is that low. On the one hand the former Sombra is a better overall talent in Kalisto, which just goes to show you how poorly WWE handled Almas during his run this year that he didn’t come close to sniffing this list. On the other hand Kalisto looked poised to have a breakout year when it started, winning the US Championship twice during the winter alongside some pretty decent matches with Alberto Del Rio (LOL) and Ryback. Then he lost the title, got stuck in “creative has nothing for you” land, cut what had to be the funniest promo in lucha libre this year that wasn’t supposed to be funny (“good…lucha…thing…DAMMIT!”) and got hurt. Put all that together and it’s enough to take you from a potential top twenty spot all the way to the edge of the list. Look on the bright side Kalisto; at least you’re not Alberto Del Rio! Well that and you’re still really talented, would be wanted by every lucha organization if WWE somehow let you go and will probably make this list year after year as long as you stay healthy and don’t talk about “good lucha things.”
48. The Panther
Junior’s brother sneaks in ahead of him, but just barely. Like Junior’s placement on the list it’s a little surprising considering Panther has always been considered the further developed talent of the two. But while he started the year off well, Panther seemed to regress just as his brother was starting to figure it out. In fact I was so disappointed with Panther by October (where he couldn’t have looked less motivated if he was Ben Kingsley in Prince of Persia mode) that he arguably could’ve found himself off the list. Then his quick run in Ring of Honor happened, the motivation came back and so did Panther; he was fantastic during the final two months in both trios and singles action, most notably when he and Junior were taking on Sansón and El Cuatrero. I don’t know what caused Panther to lose the drive, but the ROH run got it back and improved his performance enough that he just slide in here. The lesson as always sports fans; don’t lose your motivation. It’s why Junior nearly overtook his brother and why both made the list while Virus, more talented than these two combined, did not.
It’s obviously a difficult task to put together a list like this when there’s so much talent in lucha libre today. You can’t just be really good to stand out; you actually have to be involved in things and do stuff during the year. That’s why a guy like Blue Panther or the aforementioned Virus doesn’t make it; yeah they’re great but I can’t say you’re one of the best luchador(a)s of the year when you’re not really allowed to show it. Why do I bring this up? Because that’s why Angelico, my favorite wrestler on planet earth right now, is only at 47. If I had done this list a year ago he would’ve been in the top ten for sure, after an awe inspiring year between his time in both AAA and Lucha Underground. Unfortunately Angelico got hurt early this year, then got hurt again later in the year and as a result ended up working 40 fewer matches in 2016 than he did in 2015. Has anyone mentioned how much 2016 sucked yet?! That he still managed to be one third of the Lucha Underground Trios Champions (with Ivelisse and Son of Havoc) and one half of the AAA Tag Team Champions (with Jack Evans) while also being a part of one of the two best matches of Triplemania, despite all the injury issues, is the biggest reason he’s able to slide in onto the list anyway. It’s also the biggest sign that Angelico will be right back where he belongs in 2017, which is ahead of Jack Evans on this list. I feel dirty just having to rank Evans higher.
46. El Cuatrero
If a year was only six months than the brother’s Cuatrero and Sansón would be significantly higher. These two have been absolutely outstanding since latching onto the CMLL cards full time in the second half of the year; regardless of what the rest of the card looks like, you know that Cuatrero and his bro are delivering a good match at least when they come out. Unfortunately for them they weren’t featured heavily earlier in the year; hell they weren’t really featured at all from what I remember, and thus their lack of screen time keeps them on the low end. Like Panther and Junior, expect them to be even higher next year. The only thing that would shock me less is the inevitable mini classic Junior and Sansón will put on when they face each other in singles action. It’s happening folks; Zeuxis adding Princesa Sugehit’s mask to her collection isn’t as much of a sure thing.
44. Ángel de Oro
You could make the argument that Ángel de Oro deserves to be lower, higher or even off the list. It was that crazy a year for him. I’d argue few had a more uneventful first nine months of the year then Oro did. He coasted through trios matches, had the worst big singles match of the year when he lost his CMLL World Light Heavyweight title to La Máscara (in fairness, La Máscara wasn’t on the ball that day either) and his only highlight, a CMLL World Middleweight title match with Dragón Rojo Jr., was largely due to Rojo carrying Oro to the finish line. The fact that Oro makes the list and (spoiler alert) Rojo doesn’t even after that match makes one feel a little guilty; until you remember that Oro was one of the best luchadors alive from October on. That was when both Ring of Honor and New Japan (inexplicably to most) brought Oro in to work a few shows for them, and upon returning to CMLL he was a completely new man. I guess the taste of the highlife that is Japanese and US wrestling (the former of which he’d experienced before) got his juices flowing again and he could do no wrong for the final three months, culminating in a fantastic Lightning Match with Negro Casas four weeks ago. It definitely earned him a spot on this list, though the lackadaisical first nine months of the year make it harder for me to put him higher. It also honestly makes it hard for me to predict where he ends up next year. I could see Oro getting as high as the top twenty and I can see him on the outside looking in. To sum it up; we better hope ROH and New Japan want him for another run next year. That’s the key.
43. Texano Jr.
Did you know Texano is the AAA Mega Champion right now? Cause I wouldn’t blame you if you didn’t. There are so many things that led to AAA has been a failure this year but one of the most glaring flaws was how they allowed their top champion to become an afterthought. I can’t tell you how Texano won this title and I can’t tell you what he did with the title outside of having an okay triple threat match with Brian Cage and Dr. Wagner Jr. at Triplemania. Come on AAA; this is a 32 year old second generation luchador who’s one of the more underrated performers in wrestling, one of the few bright spots the company has and, again, YOUR TOP CHAMPION! He should be given enough to do to make the top twenty five of this list and instead he can’t make the top forty. Honestly the only reasons Texano’s on this list is a) because he’s AAA Mega Champion and b) because of his work in Lucha Underground, where he had an underrated gem with Daga early in the year and is now finally starting to get over thanks to a feud with Cage. A company where Texano’s a midcarder is using him better than the one WHERE HE’S THE GORRAM TOP CHAMPION! Seriously Dorian; get your fucking shit together.
42. Sexy Star
When you become the first luchadora to hold a world championship for a televised wrestling promotion, in the same year you held another major title and had a Match of the Year contender, you’re not being left off any list. Sexy Star did all of that in 2016, starting with defeating Mariposa in that legendary No Mas match that even Sexy’s biggest critics praised, continuing with her winning the Gift of the Gods Championship at Ultima Lucha Dos and culminating in her winning Aztec Warfare III to become Lucha Underground Champion. The historic nature of her 2016 gets her onto this list easily and, if it were anyone else, probably would have her close to the top ten. That said, performance does matter and while I don’t believe she’s nearly as awful as some do, there’s little question that Sexy left a lot to be desired in ring aside from that Mariposa match and a few others. Thus I can’t in good conscious put her above this spot despite her historic year.
Another example of a luchador(a) who wasn’t given much to do this year, which is funny considering Drago is currently one third of the Lucha Underground Trios Champions with Fenix and Aerostar and one half of the AAA Tag Team Champions with Aerostar. Even with that though it just kind of felt like Drago was in standstill all year. The only top notch performance of his I can remember was the nunchuck match where he and Aerostar took on Jack Evans and P.J. Black; beyond that he more or less faded into the LU men’s room while Fenix and Aerostar stood out more. That said, a down year for Drago is still a better year than most and I expect this new storyline LU has him working with Kobra Moon will significantly help his stock going into 2017. For this year though, he just didn’t do enough aside from the title wins to justify being higher on the list. I guess even dragon’s have “off” years.
That’s part one sports fans! Tomorrow I’ll bring you luchador(a)s 40-31, as we work our way closer to the king (or queen) of lucha. As a soon to be listed luchador would say, it’s gonna be fun! Till then, time to break out the SCULLY!