April 2, 2009
AAA conquers America all over again
By MIKE LANO - SLAM! Wrestling
SAN JOSE, Calif. -- The Mexican wrestling promotion AAA brought a tight, exciting tour to America this past week, including a stop on Sunday at a nearly-packed, enthusiastic HP Pavilion Arena.
The second half of AAA's current American tour restarts April 2nd debuting in Las Vegas at the Orleans Casino Arena, April 4th at San Diego's Sports Arena and then April 5th at the 50-year-old famous L.A. Sports Arena where the Lakers basketball team used to play, most recently home to the L.A. Clippers.
The HP Pavilion, home of the San Jose Sharks hockey team and Strikeforce MMA, seats 18,000 and is known as the Shark Tank by locals. The arena rocked during the main event as technico superstars Charly Manson, just returned in the last month after a long injury, Cibernetico, who has been unmasked for the past decade, and AAA heavyweight champion Ricky "El Messias" Banderas beat The Black Family group consisting of Dark Oz, Dark Cuervo and Dark Scora, who submitted to the returning Manson.
Charly Manson's character began as a visual take on scary singer Marilyn Manson but with mass murderer Charles Manson's name included. He debuted as a rudo with his "dark followers", but is now a beloved and hugely over technico face.
"This is my first time wrestling in the States, and we're getting a big reaction everywhere we go. Not just by Mexican people, lucha libre fans either. All kinds of fans. I'm very proud to be able to show what I can do here too," Charly said backstage before going out for the main event.
At the end of the show, Manson, Cibernetico and Mesias destroyed rudo referee Tirantes Jr., forcing him into a corner and chucking chairs at his crotch after DDT'ing him. That certainly sent the crowd home happy, although in lucha, both CMLL and AAA recognize masses of fans chanting and cheering exclusively for the heels -- "100% Rudos" were written on tons of signs in San Jose.
The following lineup and results were basically the same on March 27th in Fresno, CA as well as the next night in Sacramento at Arco Arena which is where their hockey team and WWE regularly run. AAA's first official American tour in some 15 years hit many of the countries growing Hispanic markets with full weekly, Galavision TV penetration.
Their opposition, the older CMLL promotion, is shown on smaller Fox Sports Espanol as well as Canal 52, but it's also definitely worth watching for Mystico, Black Metal, Perro Aguayo Jr and an equally amazing roster of talent and legends. CMLL claims it's history goes back to 1932, which makes it the oldest, longest, continuously running wrestling company on the planet. Santo Sr, Blue Demon, Mil Mascaras, Canek, Dos Caras, Negro Casas, Dr Wagner Sr, Angel Blanco, Ringo Mendoza, Ray Mendoza and his hijos (sons) hooded as rudo Los Villanos, and so many others worked for the latter company.
As for AAA, it has been around since 1992, when the late promoter Antonio "Tony" Pena broke away from the established CMLL/EMLL to form the new group.
Long-time rudo announcer Arturo Rivera opened the San Jose show plugging photos and autographs with stars like La Parka after the main event. He then got serious for a moment and dropped character, helping fans pay homage to the late Abysmo Negro. Abismo who died March 22 at only age 32, began his AAA career as masked technico wrestler. Many fans cried during during the emotional video tribute on all the screens, and I'm told it's been the same for every AAA show where they've done that. Well done and classy job.
As for the in-ring action, to start the show Piminela Escarlata and Mascarita Sagrada (not the original, who's still out on the indie circuit ala AAA's original Mascara Sagrada), beat Decnis (one of the regular-sized Glamour Boys) and Mini Abysmo Negro, who the crowd showered with cheers although he's supposed to be a rudo, but in light of the death of his taller counterpart, he went with it and kept telling the crowd he loved them back in pantomime.
The Glamour Boys essentially portray transvestites, and no one is safe from their kiss attempts -- not ringside photographers, referees, opponents, the police, or ringside security guards. Piminela told me backstage that "it's a big deal for me coming to the Bay Area, where alternative lifestyles are all over and tolerated. I've only been here now twice, this is our second tour here in the last year. So I really try to go out with my costume and outrageousness, I brought in a French parasol and am wearing more outrageous clothes and spangles than ever, just for San Francisco people. I get a big reaction wherever I go in Mexico, but this means a lot here to also be accepted."
In the second bout, Jack Evans, who was waving a Canadian and U.S. joint tiny flag, like the Fabulous Rougeau Brothers, and Joe Liger beat Crazy Boy and Super Fly, who looks like a young Jimmy Snuka if the original wore a half-mask. Evans stole the show as he had in WSX with his gymnastics. In fact, he and Teddy Hart are cheered in many of AAA's cities more than their own high fliers because they continue to push the envelope.
In the third match, Vampiro -- who got the biggest pop of the night -- forced heel referee Tirantes Jr.'s hand down for the three count to pin the original Silver King, who is back under a mask after being unmasked in Japan and WCW. Of note is that Tirantes Jr. is more actively involved as a heel ref, unlike his dad who merely did the old 1977 Los Angeles Roddy Piper-as-ref fast count on the faces. He actually will hold one of the technico faces, while the heels pummel him and he often kicked away the hand or feet "legally" touching the ropes, but for the heels, would immediately make the face break the hold.
Before intermission, Vamp went into the adoring crowd post-match and created a mob that many of the security guards said could have turned into a riot in a second. They love the guy. He recently beat Konnan with the stipulation that Arturo Rivera had to have his head shaved.
The fourth bout had The Psycho Circus (Killer Clown/Psycho Clown/Zombie Clown) beating the wildly popular La Parka (not the original), Laredo Kid and Rocky Romero, who replaced the deceased Abismo on the tour.
Romero was back to New Japan immediately after the show, and is happy to be back in AAA. "I used to work for the older company, CMLL, but now I'm with AAA. I'm glad to be off the indie scene, NJPW and AAA are pretty great places to alternate working in. I wish nothing but the best for ROH and NWA," Romero said.
Until it was time to go out one by one, each of the matches various participants waited in a pitch black curtained-off room a few feet from the gigantic AAA entrance sign; and a few bobbed their heads coming out, unable to see anything as they were doing so. Everything behind the stage and gorilla positions was kept visually, totally dark. Romero said "it's way too dark in here, I can't see anything!"
AAA has once again changed the 80-year-old lucha libre game since Pena started the company with its WWE-like atmosphere, but only a few things are open to improvement and that's just when they tour the States. They need more gimmicks to sell like they do at their shows in Mexico. There were tons of fans who would've purchased AAA's own magazine, programs, and anything they could get their hands on, which isn't a complaint. They just missed out on a potential big revenue stream for their wildly popular athletes. There was only a small selection of well-done non-professional lucha masks (Abysmo Negro outsold that of La Parka's and the rest by a wide margin according to the vendor manager) and some T-shirts but that's about it. Action figures, capes, toys, and the like would also have done big business.
Arturo Rivera told me the Galavision AAA TV show, which repeats several times every Saturday and Sunday, is about two or three weeks behind the original airings in Mexico, so again he'd already lost his hair in a match stipulation where Vampiro finally was able to wrestle and defeat Konnan. Those two have a long history in lucha as enemies and both were responsible for AAA overtaking the older CMLL promotion in the ratings, buyrates and attendance, skewing to a younger demographic. Konnan has done a great job with the book in AAA, almost reinventing the company and making it cool again. His frustration in TNA seems to have propelled the artist in him to revitalize AAA, which was languishing a bit until he returned to both AAA and Mexico.
"Now, his booking genius has really helped us grow in so many ways," Arturo said. "He's really given this company all the knowledge and potential to where we're doing incredible numbers and things since we lost Tony (Pena). He really turned AAA around and we're again the number one company."
Konnan's on-camera character has been amassing nearly all the top rudo talent to take over AAA from Tony Pena's sister and her husband Joaquin, who plays a Vince McMahon Jr. babyface owner better than the original. Konnan has gone so far as to abscond with Pena's ashes, which resulted in the return of Vampiro in his Guardian Angel gear as babyface commissioner, who was disallowed from decking any of the rudos, even when they slapped or taunted him. That was until two weeks ago, when his injury healed and he was finally allowed by the Athletic Commission to wrestle -- and defeat arch rival Konnan.
With various stars jumping over like Rocky Romero, Silver King and Alex Koslov from CMLL, AAA will continue to be in tremendous growth mode.
As an aside, the whole weekend brought back a lot of memories for me.
I was Ron Skoler's p.r. person when he first brought AAA to the U.S. from 1992-1994, culminating in the AAA pay per view. I helped set up radio and newspaper interviews, and aided with the production of the English and Spanish programs given free to fans for AAA's debut in Chicago and at Madison Square Garden's smaller venue, The Paramount Theater. The Marquez Brothers were a partner then and are again promoting the last year of AAA on U.S. tours. They own El Mexicano brand of Hispanic cheese and food which is the top seller in Mexico and the U.S. Those early '90s tours introduced American fans -- hungry for rapid, athletic action -- to Rey Mysterio Jr, Psycosis, La Parka, Super Calo, Fuerza and Juventud Guerrera, Jerry Estrada, Heavy Metal, Santo Jr, Octagon, the incredible minis and many others.
Dr. Mike Lano has been covering pro wrestling globally since 1966 as a reporter/historian/photographer and is at firstname.lastname@example.org.