Wresting, as a product, has been very weak as of late. In the mid to late 90’s, wrestling was deemed so much more acceptable due to the size of the people that watched it. Someone new to the scene had their selection of products, and even now, the “Monday Night Wars” are something that are held in high regards. The Monday Night Wars were two competing shows, World Wrestling Entertainment (WWE, known then as WWF or the World Wrestling Federation) and WCW (World Championship Wrestling.) In short, WWE managed to win over most of the viewers with several well-placed storylines. In the end, WWE ended up purchasing WCW and consuming the corporation. Afterwards, other wrestling promotions started to fall to the wayside, ECW (Extreme Championship Wrestling) included. However, fast-forwarding to 15 years after the fact, WWE’s product has drastically changed and is aimed at a much younger audience.
This is where Lucha Underground best serves its purpose, as a gritty alternative to WWE. Lucha Underground is a Mexican-based wrestling promotion shot strictly out of Boyle Heights, Los Angeles. Lucha Underground mixes the heritages of two styles, the acrobatic Mexican Luchador style with the strong-man must-win style that United States professional wrestling territories are known for. The result is a hybrid that has been seen very little over the many years of professional wrestling’s popularity, and the end result is a television show that is not only the most excellent choreographed fighting but an excellent television show.
In the 90’s, known as the “Attitude Era” for WWE, wrestlers kept in something known as “kayfabe.” Kayfabe is the art of story telling through wrestling, and is similar to the idea of suspension of disbelief. Wrestlers usually kept in kayfabe – Hulk Hogan, for example, was never really known as Terry Bollea. Kayfabe is what made all the fancy, flashy moves hurt and gave purpose to all the fake strikes. Kayfabe was highly popular because viewers didn’t have such insight to the inner workings of the business, which is quite the contrast now due to the availability of the internet. As times advanced and technology began to progress, more and more people became aware of the inner workings of the business. The deviation between Lucha Underground’s and WWE’s answers to “smarks,” kayabe lingo for smart marks or viewers who are interested in the details of how fixed works play out, becomes evident here.
World Wrestling Entertainment Inc. – WWE
World Wrestling Entertainment, Inc. or WWE (NASDAQ:WWE) is now aimed at a younger demographic, and unfortunately this really causes the product to suffer; it is overly clear who the writers want to be good guys and bad guys. There is no real gray area of morality, you’re either good or bad. The “diva’s division,” the women’s division in WWE, is also more of a mess – women change factions and alignments so much that the entire thing is a trainwreck to watch. WWE also suffers massively from non-linear continuity. For example, a wrestler will beat Opponent B, and Opponent B goes on to win the championship. Shouldn’t that first wrestler be entitled to a match for the championship? WWE tries to present itself as a high-level athletic corporation run by a generic authority bad-guy figure, aptly named “The Authority,” but unfortunately forgets that the parts that make the story whole are more interesting than the whole story being told at once. The lack of any real direction in their writing and booking (booking is deciding who wins and what the outcomes of the results are) combined with the limitation of their performers’ in-ring work causes WWE to be a laughable, almost shallow product of the promise it once delivered. During “big moves,” a camera will zoom in and out on the wrestler, which looks completely unprofessional no matter what. This becomes apparent really quick and is rather nauseating, and the idea of it is scummy – power moves can be presented in much better fashions than trying to zoom in on someone. Not to mention that wrestlers are pulling their punches and not trying to actually hurt each other, WWE’s camerawork often leaves a lot to be desired. They’ve shown no signs of improvement, either, as SmackDown (the B show, aired on Thursday nights allowing for 2 nights of editing) is also poorly shot with such amateur techniques.
One immediate difference in Lucha Underground is the camerawork of the staff. Lucha Underground utilises a warehouse for their stadium and does not travel, so this allows for more dynamic camera positions – there are numerous crane cams and hard cams from all 4 sides of the ring, allowing for more camera positions alone than the WWE already promises. One example of camerawork that springs to mind is the Prince Puma and Mils Muertes match, at the end of the first season (and only season… for now.) The cameraman places his camera down on the mat when Puma and Mils climb the turnbuckle, and when Mils slams Puma into the mat, the camera bounces up and down with their bodies, creating a Godzilla-like stomping effect. Not only is the camerawork better, but the focus on a Luchador-style brings the show in line with an acrobatic circus. Masked luchadors flip over the ring and off the ring in ways that definitely wouldn’t be allowed in WWE, which is a testament to not only their skill but their guts in believing in their ability. Bigger wrestlers even take place in jumping “spots,” (a spot is a pre-planned sequence intended to amaze the crowd), which makes the show even more entertaining. Wrestlers that are the size of defensive linemen are performing springboard backflips off the top rope (Cage), spinning body drops off the corner out of the ring (Bengala), and suicide dives (Big Ryck). Not to mention, women are allowed to wrestle men and intergender matches are even encouraged (the Trios championship is typically held by a team of two males and a female.)
Which is Better – Lucha Underground or WWE?
I can’t get enough of Lucha Underground’s product, honestly; Lucha Underground is everything ECW needed to be in order to properly compete with WWE. It acknowledges itself as a wrestling product meant for an older demographic (bad-guy Authority figure Dario Cueto said it himself, “I am looking for wrestlers who want to uphold courage, tradition, and violence”), and the image really comes together from that point. The very presentation of Lucha Underground is gritty, but is an incredibly refreshing breath of fresh air for the professional wrestling genre. The only thing holding Lucha Underground back is the lack of visibility for the product. Unfortunately, Lucha Underground is only available on the El Rey network, which requires a specific cable package or a user to sign up for the online TV service Sling. If I haven’t convinced you to check out Lucha Underground instead of WWE or even if not just to check out Lucha Underground to see if maybe you’d enjoy it enough to get back into wrestling, then the episodes are all out there for you to watch for yourself.