Thursday, November 01, 2007

CMLL Pays For Overexposure of Mistico

The scenario sounds familiar. In fact, it has happened a number of times to a number of different wrestling companies. Now, it is happening again. Although the landscape is different, very different in fact, one of the most talent rich wrestling promotions in the world could be on the verge of a serious collapse. Tough times could be ahead.

In 1996, WCW hit the jackpot with the NWO. The promotion that brought together the stars of the 1980s, the top WWF stars of the 1990s, plus some of the best young wrestlers in the US, Mexico and Japan helped ignite the wrestling business to another “boom period”. The spark that started the fire was the NWO. In fact, WCW’s take on the UWF-New Japan wars of the early 1990s got over so much that they expanded it to the point that nearly everything in the promotion revolved around the NWO. WCW’s big draw was the NWO, but when it came time to start pushing the next big thing to prevent the product from becoming stale, they balked. Instead, they stayed with the NOW as their ace in the hole, thinking that having those three letters on top would keep them the number one promotion in the US forever. Instead, the company’s business went down the tubes.

At the same time the NWO was hot and drawing huge money for WCW, the WWF was getting murdered. However, they also had something people were drawn to almost as much as the NWO - Steve Austin. Eventually the WWF did the same thing as WCW, and their promotion became centered on Austin and his war with Vince McMahon. However, in contrast to WCW, the WWF also found a way to build up Foley, HHH, the Rock and others, so that when Austin was put on the shelf and the focus of the promotion was forced to change, the WWF was able to surge and show staying power.

There are books and websites and tons of material discussing at what point WCW actually started their demise. I always thought the point where WCW screwed up was the debacle of Starrcade 97. Although WCW did good business after that, they were never full able to recover from the matchmaking and promotional blunders that took place on that card – a card with the highest buyrate ever at that point in time.

The same thing is currently happening in CMLL. Right now. Instead of the promotion being built around a hot group like the NWO, it is built around Mistico. The story behind Mistico is that he was a poor orphan living on the streets of Mexico City, who was taken into an orphanage, where it was somehow discovered that he had an amazing ability for wrestling. The famous wrestling priest Fray Tormenta, whom the movie “Nacho Libre” was loosely inspired by, took Mistico under his wing and trained him to be a great wrestler.

Mistico was special not only because he was a wholesome religious lad, but because he his amazing athletic ability was the work of God himself – who personally guided Mistico to victory after victory. Mistico debuted in the CMLL midcard and started getting pins over guys more experienced and higher on the card than him – thanks to God. It was almost like Goldberg in WCW.

The thing was, Mistico appealed to everyone that attended shows in CMLL’s arenas. He was like a taller leaner Rey Misterio Jr. in the ring. Before too long, everything in CMLL was revolving around Mistico. Rudos were lining up to challenge him, since it was guaranteed to be a sell out man event facing off with Mistico in a singles match. Helping him greatly was the fact that two of the most popular wrestlers in Mexico, Hijo del Santo and Dr. Wagner Jr. took Mistico under their wing and teamed with him on a regular basis against said rudos.

Much like the NWO in WCW however, CMLL had so thoroughly integrated Mistico into their cards, their matchmaking, and their promotion, he soon became overexposed. And, since God was helping Mistico win all of his matches, the “smart” fans in Arena Mexico started to turn on the company’s biggest star.

The first hint of this was when Black Warrior turned on Mistico - people cheered him because they were tired of Mistico. “Rudo Fans”, which are a group made up of mostly men who attend CMLL shows, backed Warrior as they understood why he turned on the glory hound Mistico.

Kids and women continued to cheer “El Principe de Plata y Oro” however. Warrior was an impressive veteran rudo who took full advantage of the spotlight a feud with Mistco provided; Warrior exposed the chink in the Mistico armor. Mistico’s rivals should have then been exploiting that, and promoted as on the same par as Mistico. Instead, Warrior was downplayed, and for most of the summer of 2007, he was not even booked on major CMLL cards.

Dr. Wagner Jr., a rudo-style wrestler, became one of the most popular fan favorites in all of Mexico after the passing of his legendary father a few years ago. In 2005, Wagner was the fan favorite all the rudos were lining up to wrestle, because that was where the money was. In fact, CMLL still attempted to promote and push Wagner as a rudo against other popular fan favorites such as Atlantis and LA Park, only to have fans turn against them and side with Wagner.

During this past summer, Wagner was once again put in this position by CMLL – only this time against Mistico. Anyone with half a brain could see what CMLL was thinking here – Wagner is a rudo in style, and him as a rudo against Mistico would do huge business. In reality, many fans were already lukewarm towards Mistico, who was being shoved down their throats to no end. Sure, he still had his fans amongst children and women, but most of the men populating Arena Mexico were going to cheer anyone facing off with Mistico. Anyone with half a brain could see that Wagner facing off with Mistico was only going to take more away from Mistico’s fanbase.

Wagner befriended his enemies and did what he had to do to get matches against Mistico – just to prove that he was the better wrestler. Finally the match was made, and when the two faced off last July in their first ever one-on-one encounter in Arena Mexico, it was one of the biggest matches of the year.

However, this match could possibly have been CMLL’s version of Starrcade 97. Wagner had Mistico defeated, powerbombing him on the hard wooden floor outside the ring. Then, that rudo that Wagner befriended, Ultimo Guerrero, interfered and laid out Wagner. Mistico slid back into the ring and got the pinfall, at which point a full scale riot ensued. 18000 fans in Arena Mexico came to see Wagner win. Wagner should have won. What they did not want to see was Mistico get a bullshit win over Wagner that he didn’t deserve.

The situation still could have been salvaged however. After the match, Wagner and Guerrero were laying out challenges as fans littered the ring with trash; it made sense that CMLL would heavily push a feud between Wagner and Guerrero which should have made a lot of money, afterall, it was the number one fan favorite against the top rudo. Instead, CMLL deemphasized Wagner, and a public battle began that saw Wagner leave the company.

You can’t shove a something down the throat of people if they do not want it - but CMLL has nothing else. If the feud progressed to that point, Wagner vs. Guerrero for masks could be the type of match that draws and does the type of business that Atlantis vs. Villano III did for CMLL in 2000. Maybe even Rayo de Jalisco Jr. vs. Cien Caras type money. The big feud that followed the Wagner debacle was Blue Panther and Lizmark Jr. – and attendance quickly dropped as Mistico sat on the sidelines healing up injuries. Just as how WCW could not part with the NWO, CMLL won’t halt Mistico's push, because they have nothing to follow it. Mistico working semi-main events or lower on the card doesn’t seem like an option to CMLL - for whatever reason.

The boos and the trash pelting the ring showed that the fans are behind Wagner – just as the WCW fans were behind Sting. Just like Sting in 97, Wagner was screwed out of his place atop the hottest wrestling company in the world. There is nothing wrong with the guy that was your top draw being put on the back burner. That is how you keep a guy fresh for when the next moneymaking program comes along.

The only thing to point the blame at is CMLL’s matchmakers and promoters. Mistico is their Hulk Hogan. While Hogan was always a draw when he had a top-notch opponent that was a threat to him, when he had no Piper or Andre, or Sting, or Savage, he was not the same draw. Plus, when Hogan was on top of the WWF and even WCW, there were other draws in the company. Warriors, Rude, Luger, Flair, etc. With the talent roster CMLL has, they should be having spectacular cards and making fistfuls of cash with Mistico anywhere on the card – even at the top. However, Mistico is the only guy that CMLL pushes as a star. In the mind of the fans, that makes everyone else second-class.

Perrito Aguayo is a star that should be pushed as an equal to Mistico. But, no one is allowed to expose those chinks in the armor, because that might hurt the draw. Will little kids come to cheer for their hero if he is left battered and bloody by the Guerreros every week?

Wrestlers like Averno, Mephisto, Volador Jr., Stuka Jr, Sombre, Valiente Jr. – are the future of CMLL. None of these guys get to face Mistico, because they might outshine him. Perrito, Guerrero, Wagner, Warrior, and a handful of others should be promoted as Mistico’s equals or more – not as guys a half step behind. There is no reason Mistico needs to hold four of CMLL’s championships at once. CMLL is guilty of a lot of dumb decisions recently.

CMLL brought back the well past their prime and out of shape Villanos. Supposedly the Villaos are close to retirement, and are looking for a hot feud to put up their masks before they wind their carriers down. Villano IV however, blew out his knee shortly after debuting. After the injury, CMLL kept III & V around – and they had a series of terrible matches they seemed to be randomly thrown in that didn’t draw a lick.

In smart circles, it is known that Mistico is under a long-term contract to CMLL, which underpays him. Recently CMLL and Hijo del Santo had a very negative falling out (similar to Wagner) due to CMLL not wanting to pay Santo what he was getting from other promoters around Mexico and the US. While it is never a good idea to screw up your entire roster's payroll for one guy, CMLL no longer can bring in Santo to spike attendance like they used to do.

In Mexico, heavyweights are not generally the focus of the company as they are in the US. A legitimate heavyweight that they use regularly is Marco Corleone, aka Mark Jindrak. Instead of pushing him as a huge gringo threat to the heavyweight title, he is booked as a babyface pretty boy… in a group with Shocker, who no shows more often than not. Corleone is by no means straight out of the 1990's All Japan, but he could bring something to a heavyweight division if they booked one. Instead he is just a big pretty American they have on cards.

A great tag team in Perrito Aguayo and Hector Garza is not even used as such. Instead, Perrito is mildly pushed as a singles wrestler (getting pushed against Mistico in main events on occasion), and Garza works the second tier arenas. And their group, the Perros del mal, is a huge draw for the ladies. A feud with Negro Casas & Mistico over the CMLL Tag Titles would probably draw money.

The wildly popular Mascarita Sagrada II jumped from AAA to CMLL, and was promptly remarketed as Mascarita Dorido, and booked to debut outside of Arena Mexico on a secondary show to no fanfare. This was after CMLL made a huge deal about signing him away from AAA.

Finally, Wagner leaving CMLL. Wagner not only was a ridiculously popular wrestler who drew money, but he also booked big independent shows, and trained a lot of CMLL talent. While supposedly Santo is looking to start his own promotion, Wagner has enough talent and venues to actually start a group that could have some success, if he desired.Wagner has said repeatedly he has no interest in going to AAA.

So, time will tell. CMLL will never go out of business, as they own their own arenas and are on solid financial ground – after all they have been around 75 years. The wrestling business has been hot in Mexico for about five years now – as hot as it was in the US at the height of the Monday Night Wars. AAA is still doing great business – although with a smaller roster and less shows. Will CMLL continue to do less than 10000 fans at Arena Mexico for big shows with the way they are booking, or will things get even worse?

Much like the demise of WCW, only time will tell how it all will unfold.

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