Today I had the rare instance of some spare time on my hands. Only an hour or so, but as I make my way through Paramedic school, trust me, even fifteen minutes of free time has become an all too precious commodity. There are a lot of wrestling matches and events I have saved to watch. My DVR has some, my laptop is bursting with video files, and I have too many YouTube and DailyMotion playlists, period. In an attempt to remain somewhat current I decided on firing up the second season of Lucha Underground. I had been a fan of the first season, even if certain aspects of the series lost me the longer the season went. Still, I enjoyed the first season and the positive buzz over the newly minted second season had my interest piqued.
As the first episode came to a close I knew that I needed to write something about Lucha Underground. I was convinced that someone had already written about the topic I had in my mind. I did a cursory search, then a deeper search, and then finally asked a few people who I know regularly write about Lucha Underground. None of them had truly tackled the topic I had become fascinated with. Lost amid the hubbub over inter-gender action, bloodletting, violence, and in-ring action was the idea of Lucha Underground as a new type of art within the traditional performance art matrix of professional wrestling.
Before we go any further I do feel the need to clarify. I’m not talking about the pre and post-match vignettes. Those have been staples of wrestling for some time now. Lucha Underground’s approach of having said vignettes be for the audience only also isn’t anything new. The approach taken by Eric van Wagenen and Chris DeJoseph in terms of storytelling outside of the ring has been used by the World Wrestling Federation, World Championship Wrestling, Total Nonstop Action Wrestling, and Extreme Championship Wrestling just to name a few promotions. In every way what happens outside of the ring on an episode of Lucha Underground is wrestling standard for a film or television style approach.
Where the film or television style approach is most interesting in Lucha Underground is in the way it is applied to the in-ring action. There is editing at play in just about every Lucha Underground match. Sometimes it is very heavy, such as a match between Mack and Cage from the first season where it is rumored that large chunks of the match were removed because they didn’t flow well. Other times they are minor edits, so tiny in scope that they are barely noticeable. Heck, often those edits are so tiny that there existence doesn’t seem to matter. They do matter though, every single edit that takes place within the presentation of a wrestling match matters.
The reason I believe the in-ring edits found in Lucha Underground matter is that essentially Lucha Underground is changing the base art form of professional wrestling. They are taking what has always been a performance art and augmenting it into the common form found in television and film of produced art. I know what you’re saying, World Wrestling Entertainment has had production teams for decades now. That is true, but there is a distinct difference in the way that the two promotions tackle the production of a wrestling match. Allow me to elaborate if you will.
When a traditional wrestling company like WWE edits the in-ring action it takes place on the fly. They may switch a camera angle here or there, pull back to show more of the action, zoom in to show the mightiness of the struggle taking place, etc. For some of their taped shows they play with crowd noise and they may occasionally make an edit to a match when they feel some sort of egregious mistake has been made that will result in one or more performers looking bad. To WWE, and just about every other wrestling company, the in-ring action is still a performance meant to stand on its own.
Lucha Underground is different, so different that I’m surprised it hasn’t shocked many a wrestling fan. The traditional tenets of pro wrestling are present, and the trappings of the standard approach to filming a pro wrestling match are the base from which Lucha Underground begins. From that starting point the producers take the performances in the ring and mold those performances through edits until they have gotten an end product they feel is more aesthetically pleasing. The producers of Lucha Underground are not relying on the performance art of pro wrestling in-ring action to sell their product. Rather, they are presenting their audience with a produced art version of pro wrestling.
The result of the editing and molding that the producers inflict upon any Lucha Underground match is a product wholly unique within the pro wrestling landscape. That’s one reason, of many, for why among a hardcore group of fans (that is small, but hopefully growing) Lucha Underground has become such a hit. In a wrestling world where every promotion uses the same approach to in-ring action Lucha Underground has found a way to stand out. In doing so they have moved away from the more traditional performance art style of pro wrestling and into the produced art style found in episodic television or feature films.
I appreciate both approaches to the filming of a pro wrestling match. The key for me, at least, when it comes to the style Lucha Underground has chosen is that even with all the editing I think the performers still manage to put their own imprint on the artistic product. The difference is, they are no longer the true arbiters of their own art. They are players within an artistic presentation that has become larger than their individual performances. The wrestlers who appear on Lucha Underground are just the same as the actors on a hit television show or in an award winning film.
This may require wrestling fans to think differently when it comes to Lucha Underground. I’m not saying that one needs to watch Mil Muertes versus Ivelisse and ignore the work those two wrestlers put in during that match. Instead, with the way Lucha Underground is presented it would benefit wrestling fans to give the director, or producer if there isn’t a director, of the episode that match took place during equal credit. I don’t think wrestling fans are at that point quite yet, although I do believe that Lucha Underground is pushing wrestling fans in that direction.
What does all of this mean for Lucha Underground? It means it’s different, unique, a product that has stepped out of the monotone and recycled world of most wrestling productions and attempted to become something completely else. In that regard Lucha Underground has succeeded. I’ll still watch traditional performance art wrestling and enjoy the hell out of it. I’ll do so because I am a pro wrestling fan. At the same time I’ll keep enjoying the hell out of Lucha Underground because I am able to recognize it for what it is, what it is trying to do, and enjoy its uncommon take on what a wrestling can be. Lucha Underground doesn’t present perfect wrestling match after perfect wrestling match, nor is it a perfect episodic television show. It is something different, with an approach that should be making people think about how they critically assess the wrestling they watch. For that reason alone I salute Lucha Underground and plan to keep tuning in for many weeks to come.