Before the existence of All Elite Wrestling, another wrestling company came along and revolutionized the business: Lucha Underground. For four seasons, the professional wrestling promotion featured premiere athletes fighting in the underground temple by using action, characters, and cinematic presentation. Before cinematic matches existed in WWE, AEW, or Impact Wrestling, they were born in Lucha Underground. Plenty of big names came and went throughout the 127 episodes. Former WWE Champion Rey Mysterio, former WWE United States Champion Ricochet, former AEW World Tag Team Champion Pentagon Dark, Jake Strong (AEW’s Jake Hager), Brian Cage, Johnny Mundo, Fenix, Killshot (Shane Strickland), and Kobra Moon (Thunder Rosa) were some of the notable names in the company.
Out of the gate, Lucha Underground was praised for its unique style and tremendous wrestling. The promotion felt like the second coming of ECW but featured an interesting twist that other promotions likely frowned upon. It was a free-for-all amongst the roster, meaning that men could fight women and vice versa. And I don’t mean the WWE way when the company has a one-sided affair that sees women dominating, but men actually hitting women. Bloody bouts such as Chelsea Green vs. Pentagon Dark or even Taya Valkyrie vs. Brian Cage were the norm in the promotion. The style was truly unique, but unfortunately, Lucha Underground’s methods of wrestling were a big contributor to why the promotion was unable to find mainstream success. At the end of the day, Lucha Underground was a niche product for its time. Like ECW. It’s not easy watching a promotion where unrestricted violence against women is allowed. It was a cool gimmick that allowed the company to stand on its own and it helped that Lucha Underground was actually a good product.
The promotion masterfully fused television storylines and wrestling, something that WWE, AEW, and Impact Wrestling failed to do with their version of cinematic matches. It set the standard in the evolution of wrestling, but fans couldn’t get past the men vs. women aspect. As I mentioned above, the violence was never held back when it came to men vs. women. The female competitors were blasted with superkicks, steel chairs, or whatever wasn’t held down, and they were never seen as below their male counterparts. In truth, it was cool that matches like these happened and women were treated on an equal playing field as the guys. There wasn’t a women’s and men’s title, and it allowed for a different blend of storytelling that wasn’t seen anywhere else. However, Lucha Underground wasn’t exactly advertiser friendly. Despite the world knowing by now that wrestling is scripted (or in most people’s minds, fake), this type of violence is essentially a no-no and it’s the reason the company couldn’t reach beyond their network. There’s a reason why WWE rarely has a man touch a woman, even if it’s male vs. female: They understand the huge amount of backlash they’ll get and given their kid friendly content, violence against women on a supposed family product will turn advertisers away. However, it wasn’t just the fact that advertisers weren’t a buying what Lucha Underground was selling, but most fans couldn’t simply stomach this notion. Notice that I’ve barely touched upon the storylines and characters. That’s because Lucha Underground was highly praised for its boldness and telenovela-type content. But the other section couldn’t look past women beating equally powered men. There does need to be a certain amount of believability when it comes to the sport, and it wasn’t realistic to many that Taya Valkyrie was on the same level as former Impact World Champion Cage.
Now, they man on woman violence was a huge detractor amongst the mainstream and some fans, but it was noticeable that the quality of Lucha Underground slipped each season. Part of that had to do with the budget dropping as the show wasn’t producing the ratings required to sanction huge funding. Plus, huge names that built-up the Lucha Underground empire disappeared as the seasons went on. What made the series exciting and lively was somewhat a shell of its former self. New characters didn’t make up for big losses such as Rey Mysterio or Prince Puma (Ricochet) and the uncertainty of LU’s future weighed over the heads of many fans of the product. Lucha Underground was unique and thankfully, Major League Wrestling has brought back the promotion in small form. However, if the promotion sees a return in the future, the men vs. women angle will always keep it from gaining mainstream attention.