The Decline of Lucha Civilization
This past weekend was supposed to be all about FantasticaMania; instead four luchadors arrived in Tijuana and snatched all the attention away. On Saturday night, The Crash promotion welcomed Pentagon Jr., Daga and Garza Jr. into the fold. What’s the big deal you may ask? Well how about the fact that all three had been contracted to AAA just the day before and had even worked AAA Guerra de Titanes 24 hours earlier? Talk about a ballsy move. Pentagon, Daga and Garza may not have been the first dudes to bolt AAA for greener pastures (in the past year and a half Alberto El Patron, Carístico, Fenix, Sexy Star and Jack Evans all flew out the door faster than shit through a goose) but they certainly were the loudest. Now armed with two high quality luchadors (and Garza Jr.), The Crash has constructed a roster to compete with anyone in Mexico, provided they land a TV deal. And AAA…well it looks grim folks.
Of course no one wants to talk about that. People are far more interested in what this means for Lucha Underground considering their “relationship” with AAA and the fact that several of the luchadors now populating The Crash also work for them. The truth of the matter is that things will only change on that front if LU wants them to change. As far as I can tell LU contracts remain separate from AAA contracts; you’re not required to work for AAA in order to work with LU (this was proven this past season when Sexy Star worked all of season three and even got pushed as a World Champion despite walking out of AAA a month before season three tapings began). So barring Lucha Underground caving into peer pressure you will see Pentagon, Fenix, Jack Evans, Sexy Star and maybe even Garza Jr. and Daga (provided Daga is brought back to life in the LU universe) in season four. That’s not the issue; it’s scenery for a group of fans desperate for certain luchadors to become cogs in a vast machine up north. The real issue here is that AAA, once considered to be one of the three biggest promotions in the world, is in trouble. Not a little trouble, not some trouble; hell not even big trouble. This is the sort of trouble you only see in films that feature a grenade being launched at the villain and it’s too late for him to move. They’re at DEFCON…whatever the highest DEFCON is. Pentagon, Daga and Garza Jr. leaving may not have been the lone killing blow but it was certainly a fatal move; think Lex Luger and the Outsiders leaving WWE for WCW in 1995/1996, only if WWE was on the verge of dying and those three decides to shit in Vince McMahon’s coffin before slamming it shut. This is bad folks, and it’s amazing when you consider what a giant AAA used to be not just in Mexico but the wrestling world.
How did we get here? How did the promotion that came into existence by guys jumping ship become the place where luchadors jump from? I’ve been thinking about it a lot ever since this past Saturday night and I’ve reached this conclusion; over the past decade five events have occurred within the confines of AAA that I believe have led us to this point. Two of the events were the result of stupidity; one was the result of poor planning and worse luck than a Cleveland Browns draft; two others were tragic. Together they’ve transformed AAA from Shambala pre Nathan Drake to Shambala post Nathan Drake, with a bleak looking future ahead. What are they? So glad you asked.
1. The Death of Antonio Peña
The less educated lucha/wrestling fan probably doesn’t realize this isn’t the first time AAA has been put in this situation. Back in 1996, following the downturn of the Mexican economy and a couple shady business practices, Konnan spearheaded a mass walkout of AAA’s biggest stars to WCW in the US and Promo Azteca in Mexico. Back then most people believed AAA, despite three of the most creative and successful years in wrestling history, was done. Instead AAA founder/booker/promoter Antonio Peña got up off the mat and responded by pushing a new core group consisting of Octagón, Latin Lover, Heavy Metal, Abismo Negro, Hector Garza and Cibernetico among others, as well as repackaging several luchadors as new versions of old gimmicks (leading to the creation of another La Parka, Psicosis and Máscara Sagrada among notable gimmicks). As such AAA was able to withstand the departures, the peso crisis and refocused CMLL; sure they didn’t attain the same success as the 1993-1995 period but they were able to comfortably maintain and at times thrive for the next decade.
Unfortunately Peña died in 2006 from a massive heart attack at only 55 years old, and while this may be overstating things I think it's safe to say something was lost from the company after his death. Say what you will about some of Peña’s methods but at the end of the day there are few people in the wrestling business who have ever possessed his drive, his ambition and most importantly his creativity. You could make the argument that 1994 AAA is the best wrestling promotion to ever exist and it all happened on Peña’s watch. After his death AAA as a whole lost everything he brought to the table and, with the exception of one man, hasn’t recovered those things since. I don’t know where AAA would be today if Peña was alive but I know they wouldn’t be here.
2. The Departure of Konnan
Now you’re probably wondering, “If Peña was what held AAA together, why didn’t it flounder after he died?” The truth is it would’ve if not for Konnan, AAA’s former big star turned biggest enemy turned biggest backstage asset. Konnan and Peña repaired their relationship before Peña’s death and following that Konnan was largely in charge of booking shows and recruiting talent to AAA. He did a masterful job; 2006-2016 featured a boatload of fresh talent being brought in (including the entire Lucha Underground roster) and hot angles from the L.A. Park-La Parka feud, the rise and fall of La Legión Extranjera, the arrival of Perros del Mal, the Faby Apache-Billy Boy storyline and countless others. It wasn’t always perfect but overall AAA had momentum and buzz under Konnan’s watch as one of the head honchos. Ever since he’s been let go by AAA? Hasn’t been close to the same. It’s no coincidence that’s the case, nor is it any coincidence that a lot of the talent leaving for The Crash (a promotion Konnan now has a hand in) are guys/gals Konnan brought to Mexico in the first place.
3. The Rise of Marisela Peña, Joaquin and Dorian Roldan
Even with Konnan maintaining power following Peña’s death, he’s had to split the bill with, at least, three different people; Peña’s sister Marisela, her husband Joaquin Roldan and their son, Dorian. Since Peña’s death all three have been heavily involved with the affairs of AAA, with Marisela providing the cash while Dorian and Joaquin keep the ship operating. This went fine for the first ten years; the problem is that it was going fine because Konnan was also there hiding a lot of the flaws. As it turns out the Roldans are as cut out for the wrestling business as I am the National Hockey League. Forget the fact that they’ve lost Alberto El Patron, Carístico, Cibernetico, Sexy Star, Fenix, Jack Evans, Pentagon, Daga and Garza Jr. in the past year and a half and look at why they lost them (well except Cibernetico). You’ll see the Roldans are about as ambitious and creative as post Signs, pre Split M. Night Shyamalan; they take no chances, they haven’t moved any young luchadors up the card save Psycho Clown and Texano (both who were already hot commodities anyway) and they’ve inexplicably continued to rely on guys like Imposter La Parka, a dude who’s been over the hill for at least a few years and was never that great to begin with. Combine that with business practices so shady that they make TNA look on the up and up (it’s very likely the Roldan’s have screwed the AAA/LU guys out of a good chunk of LU money, among other things) and I’m confident in saying that the Roldan’s aren’t cut for the wrestling business. The closest would be Dorian, and it’s become apparent that man’s best skill is letting folks walk all over him more than anything else (another reason for LU fans not to worry).
4. The Death of Perro Aguayo Jr.
Don’t underestimate this point folks. Perro Aguayo Jr. was AAA’s top rudo at the start of 2015, leader of one of the two hottest stables in Mexico (Perros del Mal), was poised for big feuds with Alberto El Patron, Rey Mysterio and Carístico (then Myzteziz) and more than likely was going to wind up in Lucha Underground sooner or later. Then he tragically died (at a Crash show of all places), none of those big plans and AAA has never been the same. Maybe Perro eventually bolts along with the rest of these guys for all I know, but good Grodd I don’t feel comfortable saying that for sure. Perhaps everything is different, perhaps nothing is. I just know, much like with Peña’s death, AAA never fully recovered from Perro’s passing.
5. Triplemania XXIII
Ironic that the promotion that got on the map because of pay per view may have been mortally wounded by another. And make no mistake folks; Triplemania XXIII was the beginning of the end. The failure of that show from both a technical and creative standpoint took all the other issues AAA had (Peña’s death, Perro’s death, the Roldan’s control) and snowballed it out of proportion. I’d bank that the failure of this show played a part in Alberto and Carístico leaving (as well as their mutual disdain for the other), Rey Mysterio deciding to commit to AAA less, the dissention between Konnan and the Roldan’s spilling over to the point where Konnan was out and the Roldan’s had full control; all of it. Certainly the issues that plague AAA now wouldn’t just go away; the Roldan’s would still be the Roldan’s and the absence of Peña and Aguayo would be difficult to ignore. But there’s no doubt in my mind that the blame for that show was ultimately put on Konnan and his guys, whereas a successful show would’ve likely just kept things the same as now. The symptoms were there for AAA’s downfall; this event led to the full blown disease. Because of it Konnan is gone, leading to the Roldan’s taking control, leading to more luchadors being gone and down the rabbit hole we all go.
Have we reached the bottom yet? Not quite but we’re getting there. It will be two years since that Triplemania debacle and as of right now sixteen of thirty one luchadors on that card no longer work for the company (including all four men from the two main events). That’s over 50% folks and I’d venture to guess that number is going to climb before the year is out. And the irony is none of this happens if, save for maybe Perro’s death, any of those things I just listed end up differently. If Triplemania was a success, we aren’t here. If the Roldan’s don’t fire Konnan, we’re not here. If Antonio Peña was still alive today, running AAA at the still relatively young age of sixty five, I can assure you we’re not here. And yet we are, with talent rightfully running from AAA as fast as they can, the Roldan’s showing the competence of Keanu Reeves essaying Shakespeare and everyone from the lucha community to wrestling critics laughing and waiting for the next AAA mistake. It’s truly unbelievable. If you had told me back on the first week of August in 2015, the same week Lucha Underground’s Ultima Lucha and Triplemania were set to air, that AAA would fall flat on their face within a year and a half, I wouldn’t have believed it. Now I sit here wondering if AAA will be around in the next two years. Nothing last forever folks; one day even WWE will shut its doors for good. But that day may be coming very fast for AAA unless something is changed.
Can I let you in on a little secret; I hope it does. Make no mistake; I’m right alongside the luchadors who walked out of AAA giving the Roldan’s the finger and the people within the lucha community laughing at them. I have no sympathy for them and as far as I’m concerned they deserve this. But I think it’s easy to forget that while the Roldan’s are the figureheads at the moment, they are not AAA. AAA is When Worlds Collide, Triplemania II-B, Máscara Sagrada vs. Black Cat, L.A. Park vs. La Parka, Abismo Negro, La Legión, Konnan vs. Jake Roberts, Faby and Billy Boy, Blue Panther vs. El Mariachi, El Hijo del Santo and Octagón vs. Eddie Guerrero and Art Barr, Antonio Peña and his dream of putting 130,000 plus in Estadio Azteca to see Konnan vs. Art Barr. That's just the stuff I can think of. No matter what has happened to the promotion in the past few years and no matter how much the Roldan's try they cannot erase those wonderful things. Can it be that again? I hope so. I just don’t know if the promotion can survive long enough for someone to ride in on the white horse and save the day from the Roldan’s. But then again maybe it’s too late; maybe enough bridges have been burned that I’m the only one left wondering and hoping. I can’t say I blame people, but I also can’t say I don’t feel bad for those three initials. While everyone else is out and about wondering about this and that, and I’m just sitting here ruing the decline of lucha civilization.