CMLL and the Summer of Sam
One of the first things you learn when first tuning into CMLL is this; they don’t do feuds like everyone else. Anyone who’s watched a lick of WWE, New Japan, Progress, Impact, Lucha Underground, AAA, whoever will surely notice that feuds don’t just happen; there has to be a story, an angle, a reason behind it all. In CMLL? Not so fast my friend! Generally feuds there follow this pattern; rudo attacks technico in trios match, technico chases rudo around all match, rudo gets last laugh by either dirty win/DQ loss, challenges are made, and a singles match happens either next week or the week after (with a trios match filling up the week before). There may be a few deviations to that formula and sometimes it goes on longer than that, but that’s generally how it’s done, making CMLL’s big matches more about titles and competition than some sort of blood feud. So when a feud in CMLL does come along with more than just the simple formula, it has a tendency to get hot. Really hot; like San Diego in the summer time hot. And wouldn’t you know it, but CMLL is currently in the midst of one of those feuds right now, a feud that just a year ago seemed harder to believe than a Cubs World Series victory.
Why do I say that? Because a year ago, Sam Adonis was just another dude in the CMLL locker room. Obviously he was more than that; you’re no ordinary wrestler when you’ve wrestled all over the world, had a stint in WWE developmental and are the younger brother of Corey Graves after all. But besides all of that Sam was merely the new American guy in CMLL, a younger, just as tall version of Marco Corleone. Like Marco, Sam came in with a nice look, a good gimmick (pretty boy rudo), lots of charisma and decent ability. The problem is there are plenty of guys like that in CMLL who go nowhere, and most of us thought Sam would be the same before he left for greener pastures. Of course, most of us never thought that Donald Trump would wind up being president either, and that happenstance turned out to be the turning point Sam needed. The rudo had actually been wearing tights with Trump’s face on them ever since coming to CMLL, but it wasn’t till after the election that Sam took the gimmick to a whole new level, coming out dressed in a red, white and blue t-shirt while waving an US flag with Donald Trump’s face on it. Just like that, Sam Adonis was the man everyone loved to hate in Arena Mexico, Brian Cage’s least favorite wrestler, CNN’s favorite wrestler and the lone rudo not named Rush that CMLL could get fans to boo consistently. All that was needed now was for CMLL to not mess it up and for them to find Sam the ideal opponent.
The first part proved to be no problem. The second part was however, at least in the short term. You may asking yourself; how the hell could CMLL not come up with a good feud for Sam when they have a roster full of luchadors who could fight for Mexico’s honor against the evil foreigner. There’s two answers for that folks. First, CMLL spent a lot of time trying to make fans care about Pierroth this year. No, I don’t know why they were doing that either. Secondly, putting Sam against generic technico numero uno would’ve been a heated program, but it wouldn’t necessarily have been the best thing. CMLL needed to find someone who could mesh with Sam, someone who would be the perfect contrast to Sam’s cocky persona; pretty much they needed someone who felt like he could represent all of Mexico. There were a few attempts at the beginning of the year; Marco Corleone and Sam briefly seemed to have issues while Rey Cometa and Sam went as far to have a pretty decent Lightning Match in April. But ultimately neither proved to be a program that had legs for a variety of reasons, which left CMLL to continue to search…until they realized they had the right guy all along in the legendary Blue Panther.
Now, here’s something even some lucha fans may not know: Sam and Blue Panther haven’t exactly been kept apart this year. The two have seen each other a total of nineteen times in trios/singles action over the course of 2017, beginning in January when Sam defeated Panther in trios action. But the majority of these matches were throwaways, something for Sam to do while CMLL found the right guy and something for the 57 year old Panther to do while he waited for Bryan Danielson to become available next year. Wait… I mean while he waited for CMLL to give him one last major program. Yes, let’s go with that and ignore the first part! It was only in May where it appeared something could be starting between the two, leading to them feuding completely by July. All that was left was for CMLL to make a big match, and they officially announced that just a week and a half ago; Blue Panther vs. Sam Adonis, hair vs. hair, this Friday on August 4th. It’s the biggest match of Sam’s life, the biggest match Panther has had since Averno took his hair four years ago, and unless you’re Pierroth’s biggest fan the biggest Apuesta match CMLL has had all year. It also falls on the 20th anniversary of Lex Luger beating Hollywood Hogan to win the WCW Championship on the 100th episode of WCW Monday Nitro, but that’s neither here nor there!
Now, as I’m sure you can guess from how this column’s been building up, this feud has been a huge success and it’s been a huge success because it’s a more complex feud than CMLL usually does. You’d be correct! While CMLL has used some of the same beats they do for every angle, Sam Adonis vs. Blue Panther is more than just a “you’re a technico, I’m a rudo, let's fight!” program. For one, it’s obviously a patriotic angle, with the Mexican legend Blue Panther rising up to try and stop the “evil” American. It’s also caked in elements of the hallmark story called young vs. old; the hungry, cocky youngster looking to make a name for himself against the old lion, looking to prove he’s still got it in this brave new world we live in. If it were just those two things carrying Sam and Panther to their match Friday then this angle would still be pretty awesome. As it turns out, this feud has one other killer plot point that puts it over the top; the fact that Panther is feuding with a cocky, charismatic American twenty plus years after a legendary feud with another cocky, charismatic American named Art Barr. You’ve probably heard of Barr, be it his tag team with Eddie Guerrero or the legendary tag match he and Guerrero had against El Hijo del Santo and Octagón at AAA’s When Worlds Collide. But while the tag team and When Worlds Collide serve as his most famous moments, his greatest feud during his tenure in Mexico was wrestling Blue Panther as The American Love Machine.
How successful was Barr-Panther as an attraction? For starters, the two Apuesta matches they had (one for CMLL, one for AAA) reportedly drew a combined 38,000 fans (at least) in attendance, and that’s not counting the 8,000 or so fans that were turned away at the Arena Mexico gate and forced to watch the match on giant TV screens outside. Most importantly it established both men as stars. Before feuding with Panther and becoming Love Machine, Barr was considered little more than a “what if” performer who flamed out in WCW due to a reckless lifestyle and a controversial rape case. And while Panther had a reputation as a great maestro, he too wasn’t yet a star and looked as though his opportunity had been blown when a strike cooled his hot feud with Atlantis. As it turns out, all the two needed was each other. With Panther, Barr was finally able to show off his charisma and athleticism. With Barr, Panther finally proved to be the great technician/storyteller many always suspected. It was a rivalry that made both of them and it was a rivalry that never truly died until Barr tragically did; even in the famous When Worlds Collide match, Barr was forced to deal with Panther, who finally avenged a moment from their first that ultimately led to his allies, Santo and Octagón, taking home the W.
As such, the feud between Panther and Barr looms large over Panther and Adonis, in the best way possible. Most notably, Sam in recent weeks has taken to paying homage’s to Barr, coming out in Barr’s Love Machine mask and even performing the Frog Splash, Barr’s legendary finisher. It feels so much like the famous 90’s feud that you’d be forgiven for mistaking it as a remake. That’s not entirely true; in the 90’s, the Mexico vs. America thing was a bigger deal to the fans and wasn’t actually a major factor in the program. In fact, Art Barr was actually the technico going into both matches, a marked departure from what we see today. But the other core elements from that earlier rivalry remain the same for this. Panther may be older and established, but he still has something to prove. Sam, who is the same age now Barr was back then, is looking to prove he’s worthy of being a headliner in one of professional wrestling’s greatest arenas for years to come. At the core, that’s what both matches are about; not nationalistic pride (though it plays a part), but youth vs. experience, new vs. old, up and comer vs. legend. It’s the best similarity and best gift the Barr-Panther feud has given to this one, with one exception; for all his bluster, athleticism and charisma, Barr was never able to defeat Blue Panther. In fact, he lost both times via DQ, his ego and hatred getting in the way. CMLL may have never predicted they would wind up here all those years ago when Antonio Peña booked both those results, but it has nonetheless set up Sam Adonis with the ultimate opportunity; to take Blue Panther’s hair and avenge Art Barr’s defeats all those years later.
All of that and more combines to make this Blue Panther vs. Sam Adonis match one of, if not the, biggest matches in CMLL this year. Sure there have been matches that you could argue were more exciting, but none of those have the story, the build up that this one has. The possibilities are endless for where they can go. Blue Panther can win and lead Mexico in an all night party, while also setting him up for the American Dragon should Smackdown’s GM suddenly break free come next year. Sam could defeat Panther to a chorus of boos and move onto an even bigger program for the Anniversary Show, the end of the year show, Homenaje a Dos Leyendas next spring; whenever! And don’t get me started on how this match could end, considering all the possible callbacks these two can do from those earlier Panther-Barr matches. Whatever way you slice it, this match feels must see. It feels like a big deal. It is a big deal. A big enough deal to sell out Arena Mexico while 8,000+ are turned away and forced to watch the match outside? I’d venture to guess no, but with the way the crowds have been packing Arena Mexico lately I couldn’t swear to it. Whatever the number ends up being, all I can do is congratulate CMLL, Sam Adonis and Blue Panther on what they’ve accomplished. For the first time in a couple of years, they concocted a hot angle in CMLL that has layers. All they needed was a young man from Pittsburgh, a legend from the lagoon and the memories of a twenty five year old feud. Who knew it could be so simple?!