I am a huge pro wrestling fan, most notably of the Mexican lucha libre variety.
And he’s back again folks! What can I say; I couldn’t stay away, especially after you all just spent the last six hours wanting to eat your brain from out of your skull. Luckily I have the remedy for those who seek it. Once again I’m breaking out the lucha tribute today, but where the last one was on the greatest recluse that ever lived, this one is on a promotion.
It’s a promotion you’ve never heard of, but hot damn you’re going to wish you had by the end of it regardless of how well I knock this bad boy out of the park. You all know about the existence of such lucha libre powers like CMLL and AAA and how the war between them led to the huge lucha boom of the 90s. What you don’t know is that there was another promotion caught in the midst of this war that ended up revolutionizing lucha libre with a fearless owner, an outside the box mindset, and a talent roster so amazing the cast of Warren Beatty’s new movie said hot damn. Ladies, gentlemen, extraterrestrials looking to get into wrestling; this is the story of the lucha libre’s ECW and the original Lucha Underground, Konnan’s Promo Azteca.
What You Already Know
This section is going to be shorter than Dude, Where’s My Car?. You may have heard the name Promo Azteca used for a smaller indie promotion out in California called Promo Lucha Azteca (not the same thing).
If you’re an old school WCW fan, you may recall hearing the Promo Azteca name brought up during matches involving Konnan and some of the other luchadors. Scratch those two things and outside of being the most diehard of lucha diehards you’ve never heard of Promo Azteca. It’s a myth, like the island of Atlantis, Ryan Lochte’s robbery, or a good Paulie Shore film. Trust me on that last one folks.
What You Didn’t Know
Where to begin?!
Let’s start with the origins I suppose, which begins with Promo Azteca not being Promo Azteca. Indeed, the promotion launched in 1995 under the name PROMELL (Promotora Mexicana de Lucha Libre) and was run by the famous luchador Fuerza Guerrera (Blue Panther’s Wikipedia article lists him as being PROMELL as well, but since there’s no other mention of that we’ll just note that here and otherwise ignore it!).
Guerrera (who yes, is Juventud’s father for all of you wondering) promoted shows with AAA for that first year but by 1996 had decided to sell the promotion off. Who bought it? None other than Konnan, fresh off a falling out with AAA and a new contract with WCW. Assisted by Jorge Rojas and the Mexican network TV Azteca, Konnan’s quickly renamed PROMELL Promo Azteca and set out to turn the upstart promotion from an indie into a national powerhouse. And unlike most upstarts, Promo Azteca immediately got off to a great start.
Why is that you may ask? Well, thanks to his reputation in Mexico, Konnan had been able to serve as a sort of recruiter for WCW in bringing in lucha libre talent; it’s the reason why many of the luchadors wrestling fans fondly remember today got their start in the US.
After bringing them to the states Konnan was able to then convince most of the luchadors (many of whom were his good friends) to abandon AAA and come join Promo Azteca due to
- AAA’s money woes that cooled their relationships with their top stars and
- many luchador’s desires to keep working in Mexico on their off days.
All that was needed was WCW’s permission and before long Promo Azteca had what might be the greatest lucha libre roster in wrestling history. We’re talking stars from AAA and CMLL here. Konnan, Rey Mysterio, Psicosis, both Guerrera’s, La Parka, Atlantis, El Hijo del Santo, Negro Casas, Black Magic, Val Venis (as Steele), Abismo Negro, Súper Crazy; that’s just the guys I can remember off the top of my head. Hell even Vampiro, who wasn’t close to being Konnan’s best friend at the time, was a mainstay for Promo Azteca during 1997/1998. If nothing else you can’t say Konnan wasn’t a master recruiter. Even Nick Saban doesn’t get that many top prospects in a single year!
But it wasn’t just the talent that made Promo Azteca great. Ever the sharp mind for the business, Konnan set out to create a true alternative to the lucha product AAA and CMLL were producing at the time. Whereas the two lucha powerhouses continued to go by the old school two out of three falls formula for matches, Promo Azteca adapted the American style of one fall matches. Konnan also drew heavily from his old promotion ECW, being the first lucha promoter to combine lucha libre with hardcore wrestling. Those two aspects meshed with the ultra-talented roster Konnan assembled quickly made Promo Azteca just as hot, if not hotter, than AAA and CMLL combined. That’s not hyperbole; it was legit doing great business and looked as though it could be a serious challenger to both AAA and CMLL as the top promotion in Mexico.
Which then leads us to the ultimate question; what the blazes happened? Like everything else that ruins the great things in life, politics happened. As Promo Azteca was starting to gain speed in Mexico WCW was looking to branch out and steal more talent from Mexico. Already having the bulk of the Promo Azteca roster and with WWE reaching a working agreement with AAA they went right to CMLL. In theory, it wasn’t a bad idea, until you consider that Konnan and CMLL owner Paco Alonso had been on bad terms since Konnan bolted CMLL in 1992 to help Antonio Pena form AAA. Furthermore, it appears that not only did WCW want to work with CMLL for their talent but also wanted to quell the growing influence of Konnan.
What that influence was beats the hell out of me considering Konnan was not much more than a fifth string nWo member at the time but that’s something you’d have to ask Eric Bischoff I guess. An attempted truce between Konnan and Alonso ended up falling through and shortly after that, the wheels came right off, Ben-Hur chariot race style.
All of sudden, WCW became cautious over their performers appearing on Azteca shows, not wanting them to suffer injuries and then be unavailable. Again, why they suddenly became concerned about Promo Azteca’s hardcore style after having no issue for the first two years is a damn mystery, but I digress.
WCW would ultimately forbid any WCW contracted talent from appearing on Promo Azteca and the luchadors, probably wanting to keep the big checks they were getting from WCW, complied. That, along with the promotion losing their TV deal (TV Azteca bumped the show for the Olympics and then never aired it again) and Konnan’s attention being diverted due to his push as a nWo Wolfpac member led to Promo Azteca closing its doors for good on November 19th, 1998. The final main event of the show, for those wondering, featured the legendary Mil Mascaras, Lizmark and an ultra young Mr. Niebla defeating Scorpio Jr., El Texano and Bestia Salvaje in trios action. I’d say that’s going quietly, but you can never apply the term quiet when Mil Mascaras is involved.
There’s unfortunately not that many matches from Promo Azteca available on YouTube and the few that are (such as a Súper Crazy vs. Venom Black match) are in very poor quality. Never the less even the best matches can’t make up for the three clips I’m going to show you. First, there’s a compilation of dives (in great quality) all from Promo Azteca that the great Rob Viper assembled some time ago. It gives you a taste of just how much high flying awesomeness the promotion contained and how much more extreme it was even compared to what luchadors were doing in WCW, AAA and CMLL at the same time. I’m not joking; there are some legitimate Lucha Underground style topes in these clips, which is pretty amazing when you consider that Lucha Underground was a decade away from existing at the time and wasn’t even a twinkle in DeJoseph’s eye. Or maybe it was how should I know?
Aside from those great dives, the best thing I’ve seen from Promo Azteca is, wait for it…A REY MYSTERIO JR. RUDO TURN! Do you spit and double-takes now friends because you read that correctly. Mysterio, who has wrestled as a technico his whole career minus a few months as a New Blood member during WCW 2000, actuall turned rudo during in Promo Azteca back on October 29th, 1997. That night Lizmark Jr. defeated Psicosis to claim the El David 97 trophy, followed by Mysterio and El Hijo del Santo coming down to ringside to celebrate. Psicosis would insight a brawl where in the cross fire Santo and Rey, both wanting to tear down Psicosis, would actually come to blows. Before you know it things have escalated quickly and Mysterio is attacking Santo, and you just don’t attack Santo and get cheered afterwards. The beat down eventually saw Konnan and Rey Mysterio Sr. get involved and by the time it was over the heat the three generated was so over the top that a near riot was incited. I’m not even kidding; it was a similar scene to the time ECW fans threw chairs in the ring at Cactus Jack and Terry Funk. A crazy moment and one of the few times you can enjoy Rey Mysterio reveling in his darker side.
For most American fans, Wrestling Society X (somewhere Kevin Kleinrock just fist-pumped) and ECW have long been considered the inspirations for Lucha Underground. While you can certainly see the influences in both (more so the former than the latter), I think the biggest influence came from Promo Azteca, at least from an in-ring style.
To put it in simple terms Promo Azteca was far, FAR ahead of its time and perhaps was even more revolutionary to lucha libre than AAA was. It abandoned the old school two out of three falls format in favor of fast-paced one fall bouts. It introduced hardcore into lucha libre in a way that hadn’t been seen before. Best of all is that it featured what might be the greatest roster ever assembled, a squad of some of the best luchadors ever to bring Mexico a mix of the best high flying, brawling and mat-based lucha libre possible.
You could argue that some of those things it introduced have become a burden to lucha libre (look no further than AAA, who was heavily influenced by Promo Azteca and now uses the ideas introduced and a much higher rate than they should) but you can’t argue with that roster and with its innovative ideas. It’s frankly a damn shame that WCW dismantled it the same way it dismantled itself; there’s a universe out there right now where WCW is the king of North American wrestling while Konnan is in charge of Mexico with Azteca. As such Promo Azteca’s legacy is that of a promotion gone too soon and a glimpse of what lucha libre can be like when it’s at it’s out of control best.