Wrestling is a tricky business in terms of writing, mainly because on the surface it’s so simplistic that there’s only so much you can do. Writing satisfying stories is easy because a lot of the time it’s the same working tropes being used over and over again.
The problem is that whenever there’s a real breakout story, it ultimately means that we’re doomed to get lesser versions of it from here to eternity. Stuff like Steve Austin vs. Vince McMahon or the New World Order get watered down repeats that usually never stack up to the original.
From that late-90s era, one of the more intriguing storylines was the introduction of Kane. While overshadowed by all the other big names of the time, Kane was a storyline that worked because it mixed mystique, patience, and payoff. It wasn’t like when Giant Gonzalez, Great Khali, Braun Strowman, or even the Undertaker simply showed up and wrecked shop. They spent five months directly heralding his appearance and even that was built off of Undertaker and Mankind’s long-running feud.
Kane showed up at Badd Blood: In Your House, where he became an instant star and finally gave the man behind the mask, Glenn Jacobs, a persona with longevity (he’s still doing his thing nearly twenty years later). He was treated like an invincible god and while his one-day title reign was a bit of a misfire, his introduction and follow-up was mostly fantastic.
While El Rey’s Lucha Underground will likely never reach the heights of mainstream success as WWE, one of the things that’s garnered such a fanbase is the show’s excellent storytelling, blowing other wrestling shows out of the water. Despite its love for over-the-top, grindhouse fiction and the use of supernatural and science fiction concepts, Lucha Underground’s storylines are incredibly tight and logical most of the time, usually only derailed by the injuries of the wrestlers.
Recently, in the ninth episode of the second season, Lucha Underground crowned a new champion via a wrestler’s first televised match. Usually, such a thing is frowned upon, but it worked out as even though it was “The Monster” Matanza Cueto making his debut, it was a payoff to a year and a half of build!
Lucha Underground built on the seeds of that initial Kane storyline and so far it’s been an improvement and a testament to the show’s strengths.
Technically, the coming of Matanza was hinted at as early as the first episode. Lucha Underground is run by Dario Cueto (played wonderfully by Luis Fernandez-Gil), an enigmatic and devious Spanish millionaire who hosted the show from his Boyle Heights arena “The Temple.” As he orchestrated the matches and sowed seeds of greed and conflict, he would also constantly be seen with a key around his neck while choosing to never explain it when brought up.
Similarly, he also kept a red bull statue on his office desk, which he seemed to hold dear.
While the show started out fairly basic in the initial few weeks and tried to find its footing, there were a couple of odd segments in those early episodes. With nobody else to confide in, Dario would be seen in some kind of dungeon setting, having one-sided conversations with someone in a cage. Most notable in these early instances was when Dario was about to introduce the Lucha Underground Championship. Dario admired the belt and talked it up while smugly refusing to let his caged companion hold it out of fear of it being destroyed.
In other words, early on in the show, when Prince Puma and Johnny Mundo were at odds with Big Ryck and the Crew while Fenix started up his lengthy rivalry with Mil Muertes, we the viewer were left with the knowledge that there was some kind of caged beast waiting to one day be unleashed.
That’s one of the nice touches about the show. In Lucha Underground, it isn’t portrayed 100% as a fake sports show like WWE, TNA, ROH, etc. When Kane showed up, Vince McMahon started screaming, “THAT’S GOTTA BE KANE!” because Vince’s character knew just as much as we did. On Lucha Underground, we’re the only ones who see the backstage stuff. The crowd isn’t shown anything and the commentators are portrayed as being in the dark. If Mack and Cage have an altercation in the locker room, the commentators would be unaware of it unless someone in-story actually told them about it.
That means that a LOT happens on Lucha Underground that only we, the viewers, know about. That includes a ridiculous B-plot happening throughout season 1. For a handful of episodes, a mysterious spy woman named Black Lotus was sneaking around the Temple, showing up in various background shots both during matches and during backstage segments. Eventually, she confronted Dario, demanding information on “Matanza.” Dario played dumb and shrugged it off, claiming he had no idea what she was talking about.
Eventually, Black Lotus found the cage and was prepared to fight the monster because it murdered her parents when she was a child. Before she could do that and basically commit suicide by challenging the beast, she was captured by a then-unknown assailant and found herself in the home of aging luchador El Dragon Azteca. The kung-fu luchador spent a month or two training Black Lotus in hopes that she would one day be ready to kill Matanza.
But there was another wrinkle in the story. Dario had a trio of goons named the Crew – Mr. Cisco, Cortez Castro, and Bael. They failed to capture the Lucha Underground Trios Championship despite having it handed to them on a silver platter. To show he meant business, Dario introduced them to Matanza Cueto…his “baby” brother. Although viewers couldn’t see Matanza, the Crew were collectively disturbed by his presence.
Shit got real several weeks later when the Crew failed yet again. This time, Dario said that one of the Crew had to die. Cisco and Cortez decided to shove Bael towards the jail cell and off-camera, Matanza apparently ate the man’s face off! Blood splattered all over the place and Bael was dead.
Regardless, Matanza wasn’t 100% at the top of the food chain. A storyline was going on where Mil Muertes – the luchador counterpart to the Undertaker, basically – died and was resurrected into his true form, going from top tier wrestler to God tier. At Dario’s office, Mil Muertes’ manager/familiar Catrina (who is a teleporting ghost, by the way) confronted Dario and demanded a title match for Mil. She dropped some knowledge that she was very aware of Dario’s cage monster and how even that creature was nothing compared to what Mil Muertes had become. Dario was less than thrilled.
Towards the end of the season, Black Lotus decided she was ready and left Dragon Azteca behind to kill Matanza herself. She ended up getting captured, but rather than kill her, Dario kept her in a separate cage across from Matanza while planting the idea in her head that Dragon Azteca was the one who killed her parents. When Dragon Azteca arrived to rescue her, Black Lotus murdered her teacher.
Rather than being pleased with this development, Dario freaked out and said that killing Dragon Azteca would bring forth a huge war, like some kind of luchador mafia thing. The two of them rode off, taking three things with them: a ton of cash, the red bull statue, and Matanza. During the final minutes of the first season, after forty hours of TV to its name, we finally got our first glimpse at the monster himself.
Nobody really knew what to make of it.
Of course, the question came of who could play Matanza. Who could they get to fulfill the role and actually pull it off after all this build? The go-to joke (at least, I pray it was a joke) was the Great Khali, but it was agreed that it had to be someone physically impressive or all this was going to lead to a gigantic letdown.
While the first season of Lucha Underground ended with Dario Cueto off the grid with his demonic brother and his new henchwoman, the new Lucha Underground Champion Mil Muertes ruled the Temple. Catrina took over as proprietor while their flunkies, the Disciples of Death, held the Trios Championship.
As for Dario, he was training Matanza to get back into ring shape in his own special way. Dario and Black Lotus would find people looking for wrestling action and invite them to their very special wrestling show. For $20, they would be allowed entry into Dario’s new Temple, followed by Dario locking the door and trapping them with Matanza, who would literally tear them to pieces.
During this time, Dario also gave Black Lotus and the viewers some backstory. When Dario was a child, his mother was terrible and abusive. She constantly hit the two brothers and when it seemed like she was going to go too far, young Matanza grabbed the red bull statue and beat her to death with it. Rather than see it as a traumatic experience, Dario looked back at it fondly, noting it as the moment when he realized how much he loved violence.
All the while, there was a new El Dragon Azteca out there. El Dragon Azteca Jr. spent months training under the legendary Rey Mysterio Jr. in order to prove his worthiness and avenge his late mentor. Unlike Black Lotus, he finished his training. During the training, Mysterio laid down some more exposition. Years ago, Dario and Matanza’s father went insane in his thirst for power and sacrificed Matanza so that an actual Aztec god would take over the boy’s body. That’s why he’s this vicious monster. Matanza is possessed by a god.
In another interesting way to tell the story, Lucha Underground released four free digital comic books online. Each told stories of what certain wrestlers were up to in-between seasons and was considered completely canon. This includes Mil Muertes murdering Big Ryck in order to explain his disappearance from the second season.
While Rey Mysterio Jr., Mil Muertes, and Pentagon Jr. each got their own issue, the final one was about Dario and Matanza. Written by Fabian Rangel Jr. and drawn by Jamie Jones, the comic didn’t fill in too many blanks. A lot of it was reiterating events we already knew, such as Dragon Azteca’s death, the origin of the red bull statue, and the whole practice of luring idiots to their death at the hands of Matanza.
What was important was that in this format, we got our first real look at Matanza Cueto.
This was released around the time of the second season’s seventh episode. In the eighth episode, Dario decided that Matanza was finally ready. It was time to return and reclaim the Temple. Shown on TV for the first time, Matanza walked outside, covered in fresh blood.
More notable on that episode was the main event, where Fenix was able to defeat Mil Muertes via roll-up and become Lucha Underground Champion. Catrina’s hold on the Temple was imploding and this came close to driving her over the edge. The following week, they were prepared to have a 20-man Aztec Warfare Match (a Royal Rumble-type match with pins and submissions instead of over-the-top-rope eliminations) for the #1 contendership. Catrina changed it so that it was for the title with Fenix at #1 and Mil Muertes at #20.
Keep in mind, this was taped well before the 2016 Royal Rumble, so they had the idea first.
At #20, Mil Muertes walked to the ring with Catrina as various other opponents, including Fenix, still fought in the ring. Pentagon Jr. – the show’s antihero star who is like Stone Cold Steve Austin meets Scorpion from Mortal Kombat – was barred from competing in Aztec Warfare, so he snuck out from the crowd and assaulted Mil with a chair. Mil was thrown into the ring, immediately got pinned by Mysterio, and Catrina’s plan went up in smoke.
As Catrina completely lost her shit and screamed at Vampiro (commentator and Pentagon’s master), the countdown began again. Matt Striker explained it as just a glitch, but once it counted down completely, Dario Cueto appeared with mic in hand. He was back, he was in charge, and there would be a 21st competitor: “The Monster” Matanza Cueto.
For the commentators and many in the ring, they didn’t know what to make of Matanza because they weren’t aware of his existence to begin with. Catrina was aware of him. Mysterio and Dragon Azteca Jr. were aware of him. Presumably undercover cop Joey Ryan as well. And we the fans knew about him for a year and a half. Dario’s prisoner. His monster. His brother. His murder weapon. His pet god.
While the fans in attendance weren’t 100% caught up on the backstory due to how far in advance the show was taped, some did recognize Matanza’s real life identity by his stature and move set. He seemed extremely similar to “Mr. Athletic” Jeff Cobb, a man who wrestled dark matches for previous Lucha Underground shows, unmasked and wearing a generic singlet.
Cobb, an Olympic wrestler, tried to get into WWE, but they didn’t like his lack of height and iffy mic skills. Luckily, as Matanza, the latter part was unnecessary. While he’s under six-feet-tall and stands at the same height as Dario, he still has the advantage of being built like a brick shithouse.
In the next few minutes, Matanza vindicated both his existence as a gimmick and storyline as well as Cobb’s strength and athleticism. He stood in the ring against six of his nine remaining opponents as the crowd chanted, “THIS IS AWESOME!” They attacked all at once, but he shrugged them off and picked them off one-by-one.
Fenix? Taken down by the Wrath of the Gods (a scoop powerslam twisting the opposite direction). The Mack? Taken down by a German suplex. Aerostar? Another German suplex. Texano? A sitdown powerbomb. Joey Ryan? Three rolling, deadlift, gutwrench suplexes. El Dragon Azteca Jr.? Chokeslam. Chavo Guerrero? Standing shooting star press. Prince Puma? German suplex. Rey Mysterio Jr.? Wrath of the Gods.
And just like that, Matanza Cueto was Lucha Underground Champion. 48 episodes of build led to an amazing payoff as a masked monster of a man stared at a championship belt as if he couldn’t comprehend what it was.
Since then, it’s been about the next payoff: how does one stop Matanza? As dominant as he was at Aztec Warfare, especially against top competitors, he still took on a bunch of guys who were fatigued. A week after, he took on Pentagon Jr., the man people consisder to be the true star of the show. Matanza completely destroyed him and sent him to the hospital. A week after that, he took on a fully-rested Fenix and once again came out the winner.
This time, Fenix was saved by the most unlikely of saviors, Mil Muertes. The show ended with the two evil monsters – a god and the personification of death – having a bit of a showdown and building to an eventual clash of the titans.
The two are set to square off on the thirteenth episode of the second season, giving us a new version of Undertaker vs. Kane (and possibly the first watchable version of such a match) and I can’t wait to see where it goes.
Lucha Underground is the best, you guys.
Gavin Jasper still has his fingers crossed that the show will reveal Cage as a literal cyborg. Preferably if built by Professor Scott Steiner in a lab coat with the sleeves torn off. Follow Gavin on Twitter!