To those uninitiated the much respected website Death Valley Driver Video Review is putting together a list of 1001 matches to see before you die called the DVDVR 1001. This is my project where I am reviewing every match in the DVDVR 1001, and we’re jumping way ahead to #194,
This is a Mascara con Mascara match.
For each and every one of us, there are matches that define what wrestling can truly be. These are the matches that we can return to time and time again, and we know that it doesn’t matter how many times we’ve seen the match. We know that it doesn’t matter that the result is no longer a surprise to us. The veil has been lifted in every possible way, yet we return, and return, and return. It’s because these matches are special, not just because of what happens but because of what they bring out in us as fans.
It’s ok to admit that we get lots of flak for being wrestling fans, maybe not as much as in the past, but still. That’s why the matches that make us stand up and shout, “See? Do you see now? This is why I watch, this is why wrestling is amazing!” are the matches that we can go back and watch until the tape no longer works. They are special because professional wrestling is special. These matches stick out because wrestling is a sport, a form of entertainment, a battle, a tome on the world around us, and so much more. Professional wrestling is both the most simple and the most complex. And when it is right, oh, when it is right there’s nothing that quite matches up with the genuine emotion and art that is professional wrestling.
One of the matches that I can return to over and over again is a famous match. Among Lucha Libre fans it is perhaps the most famous match, or at the very least one of the most famous matches of all time. It is the match that cemented a legacy and began another run towards a legacy. The match in question came about at a time when wrestling was hot the world over. It seemed as if wrestling was only going to get bigger and better moving forward. Mexico, Japan, Canada, Europe, it didn’t matter where you were — the idea we all had was that professional wrestling wasn’t just here to stay, it was taking over in the best possible ways. Not shortly after this match professional wrestling faded, the boom period ended and a relative bust period began. The years that followed weren’t an actual bust, but rather a steady decline into a decidedly average territory. Professional wrestling was still popular, but it had found its market and it was done progressing.
This was perhaps truest of all in Mexico, where everything after March 17th, 2000 felt like a failed attempt to be as big as that day. There were plenty of great matches, hot angles, and historic moments to come. But, the world of Lucha was never quite as big as it was on this day. There was never again quite the amount of scurrying for footage of a match. Even as the footage from Mexico became more and more readily available, nothing to come ever truly touched the fervor within the wrestling community as a whole over Atlantis versus Villano III.
The build to this match had been very good. Some have argued other Apuestas matches were built better. Maybe they were, but for what was delivered in the deciding moment, the build for this was really good, I felt. It was a simple build, villain versus hero, old versus new, with tradition to spare. That’s the brass tacks, but there’s so much more under the surface of this one. Villano III is the rudo, but he’s the fan favorite. Atlantis is the tecnico, but he’s readily booed at times. There’s a struggle for dominance, which is at its core about respect, passing the torch, and family. Layer upon layer, upon layer makes up the heart of this affair, with bloodlines, actual blood, desire, dreams, fears, and reality strewn about.
From the very moment Villano III walks onto the stage the crowd is literally losing their shit. This is one of the most rabid crowds I’ve ever borne witness to. More than being just loud, they are invested. There are moments when the excellent camerawork from Televisa catches entire groups of people just staring, almost slack-jawed at what is happening in the ring. They are so invested in what they are watching that they are scared. They’re scared that their guy will lose, that he will be unmasked. Their hero is in the ring, and whether that is Villano III or Atlantis, the thought of said hero losing is almost too much for the crowd to bear.
Before the bell rings, we’re made to know that this contest will be honorable. Rudo referee Babe Richard is in the ring, and there’s not a single doubt that he is going to do everything in his power to help Villano III come out the victor. Atlantis objects, he’s the tecnico and he wants a true and honest contest after all. But, it’s not Atlantis who sends Richard to the back, but rather it is the rudo who steps up to the plate. This isn’t a match that results in a simple win or a loss, it’s about being the better man, it’s about Villano III proving the Mendoza family belongs in the minds of every Lucha fan as soon as they think of the best Luchadors. Villano sends Richard to the back, because he is going to win, and he’s going to win because he is our hero.
The first few minutes consist of traditional Lucha matwork, and it is riveting. The groundwork is being laid, both men are showing that they are the others equal. This will be a back and forth contest, for the spectators there’s not a moment’s hesitation as to the validity of this fact. Of course, Villano gets in his digs here and there, beginning the fisticuffs as soon as he can. Villano is honorable, but he wants to win, and that means getting down and dirty. It also means going after Atlantis’ mask; ripping and clawing it, shredding it apart as he attacks the very essence of Atlantis.
Then everything changes, and for the better. It shouldn’t be possible because the match was already pretty damn great. But, when Villano comes flying through the ropes with a Tope Suicida and makes head to head contact with Atlantis, everything changes. Atlantis gigs, of course, and he’s a bloody mess. His mask is torn, and now his skin is torn as well. With every trickle of blood, it’s as if his ability to win is lessened. This is a clear win for Villano, that is until Villano gets up and is bleeding profusely from underneath his mask. Both men are hurt, and what was a wrestling match has now become a fight for survival.
The thing is, that’s exactly what Villano wanted. The dirtier the match, the more that these two men have to trudge through the muck and the mire, the more it favors Villano. What follows is around ten minutes of dominance from Villano. He batters Atlantis around the ring, working over his cut, tossing him to and fro, and stretching the tecnico like he doesn’t even belong in the same ring with the great Villano III. All the same, Atlantis gets his flash pinfall attempts in, and every single one of them feels like it could be the end of the match.
A very important factor in this match is that it is a one fall contest as opposed to a best two out of three falls bout. That makes every pin attempt feel like it is super important. Each time one man has the other in a nearfall situation, I bought it. Atlantis and Villano truly made me believe that this match was going to end any second. I wanted Villano to win, I wanted that to happen just as badly today as I did back in 2000. Every time he had Atlantis rolled up I thought he was going to win. Just as every time Atlantis turned the tables on Villano I was convinced that was the moment when my hero would be conquered.
From the clutches of defeat Atlantis found new energy, and following a spectacular Plancha to the outside he presses Villano. He continues to go at Villano, weathering hold after hold and getting in some of his own. With each passing second the match is turning against Villano. It skipped right by being on even footing and went straight in the favor of Atlantis. He’s the bloodier man, the man who has had more of his strength sapped, yet at the twenty-minute mark he is powering out of super neat Villano submission attempts and countering with his own. The crowd is absolutely fretting at this point, with fans of either man almost having no idea how to react anymore.
The end stretch is an absolute gem, about seven to eight minutes of pure, unadulterated, orgasmic professional wrestling. There are multiple stories being brought to fruition, two wrestlers giving it their absolute all, a referee who is always in the right place, and a crowd who find themselves equally excited and scared to death. Within that stretch, there’s a moment that may be my favorite in all of pro wrestling. It’s when Villano escapes La Atlantida, and the crowd is beyond stunned. Those cheering Atlantis can’t believe that the unthinkable has happened, and those cheering Villano are preparing for the worst while hoping for the best. The intense desperation that Villano shows after the escape is the stuff of legend. There’s a hunger behind his Clotheslines, a wanton desire to end the match that is brought about by fear of another La Atlantida.
It’s that same fear that ends up being Villano III’s downfall. He’s so concerned with putting away Atlantis. So intent on clubbing away at him and using every last bit of energy he has to finally reign victorious that he begins to leave himself open. Atlantis is all too aware of this, and he’s using all of his energy to weather the violent storm of Villano, knowing that his opportunity will arise. When it does, when Villano charges in and is caught in another La Atlantida the crowd is hushed. Villano is struggling, he’s refusing to give, in those scant few seconds, the crowd believes in their hero more than they have ever believed in him. As Atlantis drops to his knees you can see the defeat in the eyes of the crowd, palpate the despair that is overtaking them. It happens quickly, but it feels like an eternity because when heroes die it is never quick and is always arduous.
Villano wants no more, he’s given his all and he has no choice. Yet, in defeat, certain things haven been accomplished. He has cemented the Mendoza legacy as a great one. He has taken his place as a rudo crowd favorite. And he has helped propel Atlantis to a level of stardom that he would not have otherwise attained. His brothers crowd him, his father, Ray Mendoza, begins to undo his son’s mask. As a father’s hands tremble, as his eyes well up for all his son has given, Villano does what he must, he exalts Atlantis. He praises Atlantis, and the crowd cheers not only their vanquished rudo hero, but the new star that was born right in front of them. Atlantis and Villano III accomplished one of the hardest feats in all of pro wrestling, they managed to come out of a match as hard fought equals in the eyes of the fans; they both emerged as heroes.
There are matches that define professional wrestling. There are matches that fill us up, allow us to understand why we love this god forsaken art form so much. Atlantis versus Villano III is such a match, and it is a match that has stood the test of time. Is this the greatest match of all time? I’m not sure, but I know an argument could certainly be made, heck I just made such an argument. What I do know, and all that matters to me is that on this day two Luchadors showed us everything that is great about professional wrestling. This art form is more than meets the eye, and on this day it was transcendent, and great, and romantic, and everything anyone could ever hope for. On this day Villano III and Atlantis proved that pro wrestling is the very best.