When I did Part 1 of this post, I talked to some people via Twitter about the last time they were genuinely surprised by wrestling. The subsequent blog post was about those moments that we truly “marked out” for, and why they got the reaction they did. I had mentioned wanting to break a pop down, so that’s what we’re going to do today. Let’s take it apart and see what makes it tick.
Now, not all pops are the same. The pro-wrestling wikia has a great breakdown of different types of pops, if you’re interested in learning more. One situation that came up repeatedly on Twitter when discussing surprises was Brock Lesnar defeating The Undertaker at Wrestlemania XXX. But my question is this: is a surprise really a pop? I don’t think so. I think, if anything, a surprise can MAKE you pop, but the pop in and of itself is a separate thing.
Two days ago, episode 9 of Lucha Underground aired and brought us the show’s second incarnation of Aztec Warfare. For those of you new in town, Aztec Warfare is a 20-luchador match which begins with two individuals in the ring and a new participant entering every 90 seconds. The only way to eliminate someone is by pinfall or submission – there are no count outs and no disqualifications, so the match quickly becomes chaotic. The episode (and thus, the match) takes up the better part of an hour and features many of the fan favorites from the LU promotion. For those of us who have been avid Believers, Aztec Warfare is a great moment in the season for many of the major story arcs to intersect with one another, and creates a new jumping-off point from which to build the next part of the season. If such a phrase were ever to be used, I would say Aztec Warfare 2 was the textbook definition of a “Pop Fest”.
The King Comes to the Temple Over the past eight episodes, we have seen a story unfolding in which Rey Mysterio Jr. has been training Dragon Azteca Jr. for his debut inside the temple. Each week, we learn a little more of their story, until finally in episode 8 we see that Dragon Azteca Jr. has received an invitation to compete in Aztec Warfare 2. But he’s not going alone – Rey Mysterio Jr. has received one as well, and debuts in the Temple at number two. This is a great pop. The audience knew he would be in the match, but we didn’t know when he would be entering. For him to come out at number two, knowing it would be a treacherous battle going the distance, the audience couldn’t help but cheer for the mayhem in store. In other promotions, Rey has been overused in badly-developed scenarios or pushed at inappropriate times. This was a brilliant use of his talents, and I personally haven’t been that happy to see him in over a decade. (Pop: 7/10)
Opportunity is Knocking One of the best matches (see also: potential future post) of Lucha Underground season 2 was a No DQ match between Cage and Taya. The match was originally billed as being Cage vs. Johnny Mundo, but Taya came out and proved she could hang with The Machine. The match was violent, and of course Taya’s cohort Mundo had to get involved and eventually cost her the match. So when the two of them were already in the ring for Aztec Warfare, it seemed like an aligning of planets when Cage was the next entrant. Johnny Mundo tried all he could to get rid of Cage, including putting him through Catrina’s office window. But in the end it was a cinder block to the head that knocked Cage out, and Taya, ever the opportunist took the pin. This was a great moment for the only woman in the match to pin her biggest opponent, and because it meant the deliciously violent feud between Taya, Mundo, and Cage is not yet over. I know Taya is a heel, but when the referee hit the three count on Cage, I popped big time. Girl power! (Pop: 6/10)
Slay the Dragon, Slay the Slayer If you watch the Facelock Feministas podcast that I do with my girl Sarah Slam on Wednesday nights, you know right now two of our most favorite wrestlers in LU (Jack Evans and PJ Black, affectionately called “Jack and Black”) have teamed up against Drago and Aero Star in what will likely be a high-flying, spot-heavy tag feud to end all tag feuds. We saw the first rumblings of this when cocky Evans pinned Drago using the ropes and started referring to himself as the Dragon Slayer. When PJ Black was Evans’ next opponent and caught the dragon’s mist by accident when Drago attempted to interfere, he sided with the rudo. Drago attempted to exact his revenge on Evans in a backstage promo, but Black came to Evans’ aide – before Aero Star appeared to even things out. Once these talented gents were in the ring at Aztec Warfare, all bets were off. Drago and Evans spent a good amount of time trying to kill one another before PJ Black entered, followed soon after by Aero Star. In the end, we saw a beautiful double-pin in the ring to let everyone know these four aren’t done. Most impressive was the stunning Top Rope Destroyer (an elevated version of a Candian Destroyer) that Aero Star used to slay The Dragon Slayer – who fell beside Drago as Aero Star and PJ Black got the pin while I covered my mouth in absolute shock. Absolutely the best spot of the night, hands down. (Pop: 8/10)
Zero Fear of Death There was only one promo in the Aztec Warfare episode, right at the top of the show, between Fenix, Pentagon Jr., and Catrina. This is when we find out that Vampiro’s student was not invited to the Aztec Warfare match, as punishment for putting his hands on Catrina a few weeks earlier. Here is where the concept that “a good pop is a surprise pop” comes into play. Much like the excellent pop at Wrestlemania 31 when we were all so engrossed in the beating Brock Lesnar was delivering to new Suplex City resident Roman Reigns that we forgot about slimy Seth Rollins and his Money in the Bank briefcase, we forgot about Pentagon Jr. and Catrina. The Aztec Warfare match had less than fifteen minutes left when entrant number 20, Mil Muertes and his mystical valet Catrina, entered The Temple. We knew Mil was destined to regain his title, as Catrina had secured the final entry spot for her luchador. Except Mil never really had any chance at all, because crowd-favorite Pentagon Jr. had snuck in and quickly attacked 1,000 Deaths with a chair – at which point I was screaming and chanting along with The Believers – CERO! MIEDO! CERO! MIEDO! After the ex-Lucha Underground champion was sufficiently pummeled, Pentagon Jr. rolled him into the ring where Rey Mysterio Jr. took the pinfall, and there was once again zero fear in The Temple. But not for long… (Pop: 9/10)
This Is My Temple After Mil Muertes had been counted out, Catrina went ballistic. We haven’t seen Catrina lose her cool like this all season. She immediately turned her attention on Pentagon Jr., who quickly departed, and then on his master Vampiro. She banished him from her sight and when he tried to argue, she hit him (HARD.) But while her attention was on the commentator, she neglected to feel a chill fall over The Temple, as the Devil himself had come to reclaim his thrown. For weeks, we’d seen the original proprietor of LU standing outside a make-shift temple, feeding unsuspecting wanna-be believers to his monster brother. Now, after months away, Dario Cueto was finally back home and he had brought Hell with him. The Believers came unglued – and Aztec Warfare spiraled into chaos as Cueto’s brother Matanza made quick work of the remaining nine luchadors and claimed the Lucha Underground Championship. (Pop: 10/10)
A good pop has structure, like a good story. They don’t always follow typical climactic structure; sometimes a monumental pop really is just a big surprise, like Shane McMahon showing up on Monday Night RAW back in February. Sometimes the best pops are ones you could probably have seen coming a mile away. We all knew eventually Dario Cueto would be back, it was just a matter of how and when. That’s where the real magic comes in.
What is a pop? It’s the pay-off you get for allowing yourself to get worked, whether it be just momentarily or for weeks or even months at a time.
Feels good, don’t it?