Dragon Lee vs. Kamaitachi: A Rivalry Ranked
In the past year and a half, wrestling fans have been treated to what might just be the best rivalry of the modern age. No it wasn’t Cena vs. Punk, Bryan vs. The Authority, Bullet Club vs. New Japan or even Vampiro vs. Pentagon Jr. (blasphemy I know); this rivalry took place in CMLL between a young second generation luchador destined for greatness and a New Japan outcast looking to prove his worth to his country and the folks of Arena Mexico. Overall, Dragon Lee vs. Kamaitachi have fought ten times one on one (and hundreds of more times in multi-man matches) since first crossing paths in the fall of 2014 in a rivalry built on competition over the CMLL World Lightweight Title and Kamaitachi’s growing angst as Dragon Lee continued to best him. All in all Dragon Lee vs. Kamaitachi produced moments of raw emotion, the loss of a mask, controversy, a title change and some of the greatest matches lucha libre has seen in a long time. It’s been so good that, despite Lee’s 6-4 advantage over Kamaitachi, you can safely say no one has walked out of those matches a loser. Well, except the fans who threw money into the ring because of how epic those matches were.
Now, with the rivalry seemingly set to conclude this Friday on CMLL’s Super Viernes show, I thought it be a great time to take a look back at the fantastic battles Lee and Kamaitachi have had. What makes this different about my earlier write up on their feud you ask? This time, I’ve gone back and watched all the available Dragon Lee-Kamaitachi matches and ranked them 9-1 (unfortunately I couldn’t find their two out of three falls match from the June 6th Sabados de Coliseo show, hence why it isn’t reviewed here). For those of you who’ve been fortunate enough to catch all these matches previously, use these as a way to get even more pumped for Friday’s match. For those of you who aren’t familiar with CMLL, Dragon Lee or Kamaitachi, use this as an opportunity to watch two young wrestlers come of age in lucha libre’s most famous hall. If you love wrestling, Dragon Lee vs. Kamaitachi is a must watch. Let’s see why. Begin the countdown!
[note: For those unaware, CMLL matches, both singles and multi-man matches, are generally contested under two out of three falls rules. Only lightning matches, which feature a ten minute time limit, are one fall. Important info to keep in mind]
9. Match #2: Lightning Match (Super Viernes 1/9/15)
You’d think that the first match between Lee and Kamaitachi would be the one where they’d struggle the most; in fact, it was the second match that produced the sloppiest affair they would ever have. Even still, this is a great effort by both, with some solid brawling (the aspect that likely led to most of the sloppiness), the usual high flying and a well booked finish that saw Kamaitachi unmask Dragon Lee while the ref was distracted to pull off the win, officially kicking off the build towards a mask vs. mask match between the two (more on that later!).
8. Match #8: Lightning Match (Super Viernes 11/27/15)
This match was like a preview to a really great movie; crisp, quick, full of highlights but lacking the meat. Of course, a Lee-Kamaitachi match lacking meat is still better than half the wrestling out there so we won’t complain too much. Perhaps in the end this match will be remembered for a) Kamaitachi busting out the Canadian Destroyer for the first time against Lee in one on one competition and b) Kamaitachi actually winning this match clean. That’s right, for the first year of this feud, Kamaitachi never beat Dragon Lee unless it involved an illegal unmasking or flat out corruption. Man, I nearly spoiled stuff!
7. Match #5: Lightning Match (Guerreros del Ring 7/6/15)
Of all the Lightning Matches these two had, this was perhaps the one with the best story, which saw Kamaitachi dominate most of the match followed by Dragon Lee regaining momentum towards the end, only to lose because the referee favored Kamaitachi. The excitement of the longer bouts wasn’t quite there, but both men hit every note and came out of it looking good. Can’t ask for much more there.
6. Match #1: Lightning Match (CMLL on Fox Sports 10/17/14)
As I said earlier, you’d think the first match between these two would be one of the worst bouts they ever had. Not so fast my friend. As it turns out, the only real problem with this match was that they had no story to it seeing as it was their first one on one encounter. In the end it didn’t matter; you can see instantly that Dragon Lee and Kamaitachi clicked from the moment the bell rang and set a foundation for what would eventually build into such a wonderful feud. Don’t underestimate the importance of Lee getting the victory here either, starting the recurring theme of him getting the better of his rival and driving Kamaitachi into an obsessive rage.
5. Match #6: CMLL World Lightweight Championship Match (Lunes Arena Puebla 7/13/15)
After four straight matches of riding the lightning, we finally find ourselves getting to the longer, bigger matches of the rivalry. I guess you can say the Lee-Kamaitachi lightning matches were like regular season games, whereas these bouts were the postseason. This contest, one of the only two Lee-Kamaitachi matches on this list not to be in Arena Mexico, clearly seems to be a transitional bout from the mask vs. mask match to the later battles of the CMLL World Lightweight Title. There’s some rough edges here and some experimenting that kind of hurt the flow, and the mask vs. mask match ultimately pushes ahead here thanks to the emotional roller coaster that was involved there. Even still, this is a bonkers good match that hits most of the right notes and begins to spell out the growing angst of Kamaitachi as he gets close to beating his rival and just falls short. Recurring themes people; they’re very important.
4. Match #3: Mask vs. Mask Match (Homenaje a Dos Leyendas 3/20/15)
I know; its borderline blasphemous to have a mask vs. mask match only top out at #4 on a countdown and it’s even more so when that match involves two greats like these guys! Ultimately, there’s a few rough spots and botches in this match that take me out of the flow, and even with the emotional stakes the mask vs. mask stipulation produced, it doesn’t quite hit home the same way the top three matches did. That’s the last bad thing you’ll hear me say about this match however. It’s excellent, it features these two going full out for the very first time, it had Dragon Lee breaking out that unbelievable leaping over the rope hurricanrana to the outside (a move I’m pretty sure only two other people in lucha/wrestling can do right now) and dammit it’s Dragon Lee and Kamaitachi fighting for their masks! What the hell isn’t to love there? Most importantly in the long run however is the result; before this match, this was squarely a competition (albeit a heated one) between two young guys looking to prove they were better. Dragon Lee’s victory here and the unmasking of Kamaitachi turned it all the way around, making it all about Kamaitachi’s quest to humiliate his rival the way he was and Dragon Lee’s ability to hold him off every step of the way (more on that to come).
3. Match #7: CMLL World Lightweight Championship Match (Titanes del Ring 8/30/15)
I expected this match to be as low as fifth on this list behind the mask vs. mask match and the earlier title match at Arena Puebla. Not to rip off Lee Corso again but not so fast my friend! As it turns out, this match is killer and up until the top two matches on this list takes the rivalry to a whole new level. Oh yes, there’s the spots we know and love, but this match also features some outside brawling, an awesome dive off the Arena Mexico stage and a stronger, more focused effort from Kamaitachi that forced Dragon Lee to dig even deeper than before. Ironically enough though, the biggest addition to this match wasn’t a move from either competitor, but CMLL’s decision to focus the camera on a young Asian woman in the crowd. That woman, now known as the Kamaitachi fan, helped make this match with every celebration towards a Kamaitachi move and every sad face when Dragon Lee regained control. I haven’t seen a fan help out a wrestling match or feud this much since… ever. Sorry Zach Gowen, you’re in second now.
2. Match #9: CMLL World Lightweight Championship Match (Super Viernes 12/4/15)
Remember when this was both the best match these two ever had and the final match they’d have for the foreseeable future? Pepperidge Farm remembers and so do I. It may not be the best match these two ever had, but this match is still just flat out magic, a showcase of everything these two learned over a year of facing each other combined into one big ball of awesome. When I say this match had everything, I mean it; the moves, the emotion, the drama, the Kamaitachi fan and in an amazing twist, a false ending for the ages. The records will show Dragon Lee was victorious again, but what they won’t show is that Kamaitachi looked to have won, only for the decision to be reversed. Considering how close Kamaitachi came each time to beating Dragon Lee only to fall short (not to mention that his actions post match in attacking Lee’s second Maximo led to the loss of his hair), this finish looked to be the death nail in his quest to finally get one over his rival.
1. Match #10: CMLL World Lightweight Championship Match (CMLL/New Japan Fantastica Mania Day 6 1/24/16)
In a wonderful twist however, that December 4th match wasn’t the last time Lee and Kamaitachi squared off, leading us to the best match these two have ever had and, thus far, my Match of the Year for 2016. Wrestling under one fall instead of the usual two out of three fall rules employed by CMLL, Lee and Kamaitachi did what they did best; raised their game. We saw the greatest hits, we saw variations of them and we saw some new stuff, including Kamaitachi working Dragon Lee’s leg and three submission spots where both men made me believe the other might tap (an unheard of possibility prior to this match due to the stakes). In the end, Kamaitachi finally got his moment by beating Lee (a moment that he couldn’t have sold better) proving once and for all that he could indeed win the big one and that maybe he just need a haircut and to be in Japan all along to do so! Best of all, it meant that this battle wasn’t over and now the onus, for the first time, has fallen on Dragon Lee. Now he’s the one who needs to answer the questions, dig deeper to get his belt back, prove he’s still the better man and oh my goodness I’m getting myself more excited for that match friday!!!