Lucha Tributes: Blue Panther
It’s time! It’s time! It’s Lucha Tribute time! I’ve been getting so caught up in all the previewing and reviewing of lucha shows that I’ve forgotten to make time for some of the other projects I’ve wanted to tackle. Well no longer sports fans; today we’re doing a lucha tribute and it’s for one of the greatest luchadors of all time. No joke. This guy is a true maestro of lucha libre, one of the longest tenured veterans of the sport and a man even some American wrestling fans will know, though it’s not for the reasons you’d think. He also may be one of the greatest creative minds in lucha libre, and thanks to him he now has two sons that have quickly become two of my favorite performers and two young men poised to carry on their father’s legacy for years to come. Have I given it away yet? If not I’m about to. Ladies, gentlemen, guy who’s way too excited about La La Land sweeping the Golden Globes, this is a Lucha Tribute to a future Hall of Famer, one of the greatest in ring performers of all time and the master of Nudo Laguerno; he is Blue Panther.
What You Already Know
If you’ve been watching lucha libre for more than five minutes, Blue Panther is either your hero or one of your unsung heroes. For almost forty years, Panther has been a key member of the lucha libre scene, be it for CMLL, AAA, UWA and many more promotions. But while many of his contemporaries and peers made their claim to fame diving from anywhere and everywhere, Blue Panther’s trade mark for thrilling fans was with a mat based style that only Black Terry, Negro Casas and Negro Navarro have come close to matching. His technical work has been so good that he’s even acquired the nickname “El Maestro Laguerno”; this is important because only the greatest of lucha legends are given the title of maestro at any point in their career.
But in the twist to end all twists, the most famous moment of Blue Panther’s career was actually in the United States AND didn’t even involve him wrestling. By now everyone is aware of the legendary, five star When Worlds Collide tag team match that saw El Hijo del Santo and Octagón put their masks on the line against “Love Machine” Art Barr and future legend Eddie Guerrero. What many people forget is that both teams had a man in their corner for this match. Blue Panther was the man in the corner of Santo and Octagón, and he ultimately played a huge role in the match, hitting Art Barr with a Piledriver in the third fall that led to Barr’s elimination. This was a HUGE part of the match; not only did it eliminate Barr and leave the match to be decided by Santo and Guerrero, but Panther’s very illegal Piledriver was seen as very righteous, as it followed Barr eliminating Octagón with a just as illegal (and unseen) Tombstone Piledriver. It was basically the turning point of the match kayfabe wise. Without Panther’s Piledriver, it’s likely both Octagón and Santo lose their masks and good Grodd how’s that for an alternate wrestling universe? Instead Blue Panther hits the Piledriver, Santo goes on to pin both Barr and Eddie and here we are. For all his accomplishments in Mexico and beyond, those several minutes at When Worlds Collide may be the biggest and most important minutes of the legend’s career. I bet if he had known that he would’ve just retired right then and there!
What You Didn’t Know
Born Genaro Vasquez Nevarez in Gómez Palacio, Durango, Mexico, Blue Panther is one of the most famous luchadors to not be a second or third generation performer. I know; doesn’t it feel like every luchador is one of those when we do this column? In any event, he began training at the age of 18 in his hometown under the tutelage of Héctor López and Halcón Suriano. I know; who? Whereas most luchadors are trained by a famous performer or a parent, Panther ended up being trained by two guys are relative no names in lucha libre. López was a Gómez Palacio local who never made it out of the area. Halcón Suriano was actually a local legend in the Comarca Lagunera province (where Panther was raised), but outside of the area was never able to rise past undercard status. Whether they were just really underrated or someone missed the boat on them, they proved to be great trainers for Panther. By the time he debuted he was already considered to be better than many of the veterans. In fact the only criticism of Panther you can find from this period was his mask. Inspired by his idol Anibal, Blue Panther created a, well, blue mask with what looked to be a panther design on the upper part. Many lucha journalists openly mocked this mask when he first debuted, believing it to be low rent and with little staying power. Yes; people actually mocked the Blue Panther mask once upon a time. I’m pretty sure that has to rank somewhere between the Fingerpoke of Doom and Roman Reigns winning the 2015 Royal Rumble as one of the dumbest wrestling related things I’ve ever heard.
After burning through the local scene, Blue Panther got his first break via lucha legend René Guajardo. One of the biggest stars in luchador during the 1960’s and 70’s, Guajardo had become a promoter in Northern Mexico, working alongside UWA to create what is remembered as “The Northern Division.” After Halcón Suriano recommended his young trainee to him, Guajardo started booking a then 19 year old Blue Panther and immediately took a liking to him. The rest is history; before long Blue Panther was a mainstay in Monterrey, getting spot shows in Mexico City and eventually became a mainstay in the UWA, feuding with a who’s who of luchadors such as El Matematico, Solar, Black Man and El Hijo del Santo (Panther also teamed with future rival and legend Negro Casas during this time). He became so successful and revered as a luchador that by the age of 30 he had opened up his own gym and had begun training luchadors, notably becoming one of the first luchadors to train both men and women. I can’t find the exact number, but I think it’s safe to say Blue Panther has by now trained hundreds of luchadors, many of whom are probably significantly better off for it too.
If the 80’s were good to Blue Panther then the 90’s were like stumbling across a Sergio Leone spaghetti western marathon. He finally was brought aboard to CMLL (then EMLL) full time and quickly entered a feud with top technico Atlantis over the NWA Middleweight Championship (more on this later). The feud instantly made Blue Panther a household name across Mexico and established him as one of the top rudos in the country, which instantly caught the eye of CMLL booker Antonio Peña. This led to what is arguably the biggest feud of Panther’s career; a titanic struggle with a young American named Art Barr. Yes, the same Art Barr. Back then he was merely “The American Love Machine” a young masked technico brought to Mexico by Konnan. The feud would eventually culminate in a mask vs. mask match so huge that it not only sold out Arena Mexico but forced CMLL to turn away some 8,000 fans at the gate (CMLL would put large screens outside the arena so fans could watch). Blue Panther would emerge victorious in the biggest win of his career to that point, but the feud would never truly end. Soon Peña would bring both Panther and Barr to AAA where they continued to battle for years, including another Apuesta match where Panther shaved Barr’s head. The animosity and history between the two is ultimately what led to Blue Panther being the second for Santo and Octagón at When Worlds Collide, despite Panther being a rudo at the time. I’d say that feud worked out well!
Overall Blue Panther’s AAA run was quite good besides the When Worlds Collide tag; he headlined numerous events, had numerous classic matches both in singles and trios competition (notably against Super Astro and El Mariachi) and was involved in another When Worlds Collide match where he teamed with La Parka and Jerry Estrada to take on Pegasus Kid (Chris Benoit), 2 Cold Scorpio and Tito Santana (though Panther’s role in this match was largely to play peacemaker between Estrada and Parka). He also was afforded numerous opportunities to tour Japan, doing so for New Japan several times in the mid 90’s (he would also appear for All Japan in 2001, years after his AAA run). By 1995 however the peso crisis was hitting AAA hard and many luchadors were looking for other options. This led to Panther and fellow AAA star Fuerza Guerrera teaming up to create the indie promotion PROMELL. If you’re a lucha fan you may recognize that name and you should; PROMELL was the name of the promotion that would eventually become Promo Azteca in 1996. Turns out Blue Panther and Juventud Guerrera’s father were the initial founders of that before selling their share to Konnan and Jorge Rojas, which led to the cult promotion many people know and love.
Initially this didn’t affect Blue Panther’s relationship with AAA (who co-promoted shows with PROMELL), but eventually the two sides had a falling out and Panther went to work for PROMELL and CMLL again. He would briefly return to AAA in 1997 but the relationship was neutered for good when AAA put Panther in a feud with Máscara Sagrada Jr. Unlike the original Sagrada, Máscara Sagrada Jr. was…well he wasn’t exactly that good and Blue Panther rightfully felt it was beneath his skill to work with him. Ultimately he refused and went back to CMLL, where he has remained since. It’s believed to be the only time Blue Panther has ever refused to work with someone, although honestly, can you blame him? I wouldn’t have touched Máscara Sagrada Jr. with a hazmat suit.
Since returning to CMLL Blue Panther has more or less remained a top star for the promotion, though he has taken a step out of the spotlight in recent years. He has headlined the CMLL Anniversary Show three times (the 74th, 75th and 78th), the most notable being the 75th Anniversary Show where he lost his mask to Villano V in what had to be the greatest match of Villano V’s life (more on this later). This supposedly isn’t the first time Blue Panther was supposed to lose his mask; rumor has it a mask vs. mask match between him and Atlantis had been set up for the early 90’s, only a strike eventually led to plans being scrapped. If that’s true then that easily has to be my least favorite strike in the history of the western hemisphere. Alas Panther lost his mask to Villano instead and has since lost his hair to Negro Casas (Casas also lost his hair as the match was a draw) and Averno at the 80th Anniversary Show, leaving Blue Panther with a “disappointing” 18-2-1 Apuesta record. Despite that, he remains as sharp as ever in the ring and is often a big help to the younger generation of luchadors he works against. None have benefited more than his sons however; Blue Panther Jr. and The Panther.
Debuting sometime after 2011 (neither official debut date is clear), both Panther and Junior (as I’ve come to call him) have grown into really good luchadors. Panther was the quickest to develop, and unlike his father has developed a more athletic, high flying style complete with a great suicide dive and one of the better Frog Splashes I’ve seen in recent memory. Junior was meanwhile slower out of the gate than his brother, but really came on in 2016, enough so that he’s earned a spot on the FantasticaMania tour. His strengths are very much like his father’s; technical wrestling mixed with some power (as it should be considering Junior is built like a tank). The father and sons trio frequently compete together in CMLL as Los Divinos Laguneros (“The Divine Lagoons”, which is either wrong or the funniest name ever), where they frequently have great matches and seem poised to become trios champions some day. Recently Blue Panther has hinted he has a third son training to become a luchador, which means this trios team is either becoming an Atomicos really soon or Blue Panther is stepping aside to let his three sons run roughshod over CMLL. And no, I have no idea what this son will be called. I’d go with Green Panther though, just to be different.
This was, by far, the toughest call I had to make with this column. Why? Because picking your favorite Blue Panther match is like picking your favorite bottle of 7 Up; they all rule. The man has had so many great matches over the years that it’s almost comical. The battles he had with Último Dragón, Ángel Azteca, Super Astro, Felino, Negro Casas, Averno, El Hijo del Santo and Art Barr all could’ve easily been highlighted here and even though they weren’t I strongly suggest you check all of them out, not to mention all the excellent trios matches Panther has had a part in over the years. But at the end of the day there were three matches that I felt stood out above all the rest. The first is Blue Panther’s match with Atlantis for the NWA Middleweight Championship back in August of 1991. This is the match that launched Panther to prominence and has since gone on to be considered one of the best lucha matches ever. You can see why; the mat work between Atlantis and Panther is unbelievable at the start and the way they build to different styles as the match goes along is simply tremendous. It’s truly two masters crafting art.
The second match is from Blue Panther’s AAA run, when he wrestled El Mariachi on October 30th, 1994 (just a week before When Worlds Collide). You may be wondering who El Mariachi is; as it turns out he’s actually El Solar, another lucha libre maestro who took up the Mariachi gimmick when he signed with AAA in the mid 90’s. Panther and Solar had met numerous times during the early years of Panther’s career, but nothing quite compares to this match. In many ways it’s like the Atlantis-Blue Panther match, starting with mat work and just escalating from there. The difference (and I say this as a huge Atlantis mark) is that Solar/Mariachi is an even better mat worker than Atlantis and it shows; the technical wrestling/mat work these two put on here is so well paced and so crisp you could mistaken it for cruiserweight action. It’s brilliant, Blue Panther’s brilliant in it and if anything it goes to show you that Solar is quite underrated in his own right too.
My final choice is the match where Blue Panther lost his mask, the 75th Anniversary Show headliner against Villano V. It’s easy to look back on this match and think it wasn’t that good of a moment, considering Panther lost and all (there is in fact a decent amount of people still angry about that decision). At the same time, this match is a minor miracle of itself. Villano V isn’t what I’d call a bad worker but he was also nowhere near the level of excellence that his brother, Villano III, ever reached. Furthermore, this match wasn’t even intended to headline the Anniversary Show; it only did once Mistico/Sin Cara/Myzteziz/Carístico got hurt and couldn’t compete. And yet this match doesn’t just work, it’s a gorram classic. The heat from the crowd, the bad blood between the two leading them exchanging DQ finishes in the first two falls, the against the grain strategy of Blue Panther to attack Villano with aerial assaults (Panther does at least four suicide dives in this match, one that led to Villano cutting the back of his head), Villano going for (and hitting) three straight superplexes. This was a sight to behold and a match worthy of main eventing lucha libre’s biggest show, even with an ending that comes slightly out of nowhere. And the best part; this match took place in 2008, one day after Blue Panther’s 48th birthday and during his 30th year as a pro. To get this kind of match out of a guy like Villano V at this stage of your career; that’s a legend sports fans.
We (rightfully) tend to get so caught up in the accomplishments of guys like Negro Casas, Atlantis, Black Terry, Negro Navarro and even L.A. Park these days, largely due to the fact that they continue to be great despite being in their 50’s and 60’s. Too often we sadly forget to include Blue Panther. For almost 40 years he’s been a lucha libre constant of the highest level. He’s effortless played the part of rudo and technico. He’s sold out big shows. He’s had great matches with almost every luchador to lace up their boots in the last four decades. He was a key figure for not one, not two but three of the biggest lucha libre companies ever. And to top it all off, he was and remains one of the most creative men I’ve ever seen in the ring, a luchador who can make the simplest lock seem interesting, the weakest dive awe inspiring and the most basic trios match unpredictable. Watching his matches and the way he lays them out just makes you wonder how CMLL hasn’t given this guy a bigger role behind the scenes to plan out matches. He’s clearly a wizard at it, and outside of Negro Casas, Atlantis, Hechicero and Virus (when he’s allowed) I don’t think there’s anyone on the roster that gets the most out of everything he does than Blue Panther. There’s a reason Daniel Bryan went out of his way to rave about him during the WWE CWC and why Blue Panther was likely Bryan’s most desired opponent for a CMLL run. You put all of that together and Blue Panther isn’t just a remarkable luchador; he’s a straight out legend, and even if it’s great that he’s remembered for one awesome Piledriver he deserves more than that. Luckily the man remains so good at the age of 56 that I anticipate he’ll remain a high quality member of the CMLL roster for years to come. And better yet his sons should only get better, thus strengthening the chance for the Blue Panther legacy to grow long after the original has hung up the boots.
That’s a wrap sports fans. I truly hope you enjoyed. I’ll be back tomorrow to preview CMLL’s Tuesday show and talk a little Lucha Underground potentially. Till then, how about one last Panther Family photo?