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Making a Lucha Underground monster: The debut of Matanza

Violence

Aztec Warfare II was a historic night for Lucha Underground. Not only was a new champion crowned, but the most over monster in professional wrestling today was born: The Monster Matanza Cueto. But Matanza wasn’t an overnight success. His debut was slowly and masterfully planned and executed over the course of two seasons of Lucha Underground, culminating in his surprise No. 21 entry into the Aztec Warfare match.

Aiding my phenomenally fuzzy memory, I went back through Lucha Underground TV reports and put together a timeline of Matanza from his first mention in season 1 to his debut and crowning moment in Aztec Warfare II.

The Matanza Timeline

- We first learn of Matanza’s existence through Black Lotus. In around March or April 2015, roughly a year before Matanza’s debut, Black Lotus begins training with Dragon Azteca. She reveals that “Cueto’s Monster” is responsible for the death of her parents, and vows revenge.

- A few weeks later, Matanza appears off screen and is mentioned by name for the first time in a scene between Dario Cueto and The Crew. Cueto uses Matanza, who is locked in a cage (for your protection), to threaten The Crew, saying that if they fail him again (they had just been handed the trios championship on a silver platter but came up short), they will suffer at Matanza’s hands. Cueto also reveals that Matanza is his brother.

- After Black Lotus becomes fed up with fighting in silhouettes, she leaves against Dragon Azteca’s advice to The Temple to kill Matanza. Chavo Guerrero shows up and makes a deal with Azteca to protect Lotus in exchange for clearing his debt to Mexico (he dined and dashed one too many times I’m presuming). Meanwhile, after once again failing Cueto, Bael of The Crew is gruesomely killed by Matanza (is this our first murder on a pro wrestling show?).

- When Black Lotus arrives at The Temple, Chavo tells her he’s there to protect her, and then adds a bit of back story about his grandfather being there when her parents were killed, and that there is no love lost between the Cuetos and Guerreros. Chavo turns on Lotus quicker than you can say, “Lie, cheat & steal,” and gives her up to Cueto. Never trust a Guerrero named Chavo.

- At this point, Matanza’s back story takes a left turn into Crazy Street. While Black Lotus is locked in a cell near Matanza, Cueto explains that it was Dragon Azteca who killed her parents, not Matanza. In the season finale, Azteca tries to save Lotus, but in a shocking moment, Lotus kills Azteca, having seemingly believed Cueto’s version of the story. The season ends with Black Lotus, Cueto and Matanza leaving The Temple on a National Lampoon’s Vacation inspired road trip.

- While on “vacation” from The Temple, Cueto starts a sort of underground fight club/Matanza murder shack. Lotus lures in sprightly youths looking for a fight, Cueto takes their money, and Matanza kills them to death. Cueto also tells Lotus a story about his bad mum who was so bad that Matanza killed her, which made Cueto happy and ignited his love for all things violent. At this point, season 2 of LU has been well underway.

- After killing youngsters and making dough, Cueto feels it’s time to take his temple back. It’s here we get our first actual glimpse of Matanza, who has large arms and wears a blood soaked onesie. Meanwhile, Rey Mysterio has been training Dragon Azteca Jr, preparing him for war against Matanza and Dario. Rey tells a story about Dario’s father being obsessed with the dark side (huge Darth Vader fan) and sacrificing Matanza to a god. I think this means Matanza is the vessel for some kind of murder god, which would explain why he’s so murdery all the time.

- This brings us to Aztec Warfare II. After all 20 entrants had entered the match, Dario Cueto appears and introduces “The Monster Matanza Cueto” as a surprise entrant. Matanza literally destroys almost everyone who’s anyone in Lucha Underground: then-champ Fenix, The Mack, Aero Star, Texano, Joey Ryan, Dragon Azteca Jr., Chavo Guerrero, Prince Puma, and finally, to win the match and become new Lucha Underground Champion, Rey Mysterio (who was also making his in-ring debut for LU).

And that, ladies and gents, is how you make a monster. After nearly a year of teases and slow reveals, Matanza makes a “monster” debut, and instantly becomes a star, and the new force to be reckoned with in Lucha Underground. Even Bret Hart would be impressed with the excellence of this execution.

There was a lot of speculation before Matanza’s debut as to who the man behind the monster would be. Personally, I never really cared about WHO played the monster (it’s Chamorru Olympic wrestler Jeffrey Cobb of Guam, FYI). I was more interested in HOW the monster would be played. And I’ve got to say, I like what I see so far.

Matanza is like the pooling together of the best monsters in wrestling. He’s like the horrible X-Men Origins: Wolverine version of Deadpool, but good. He’s got the beast like qualities of Brock Lesnar and throws suplexes with equal or even greater panache, and the mystique and dark back story of the (early) Undertaker and Kane, except he can do backflips. While he’s not the biggest monster on the block, he’s by far the most impressive in pro wrestling today.

The Monster Mash

Matanza’s debut is all the more impressive when compared to WWE’s recent attempt at creating their own monster in Braun Strowman. Strowman clearly trumps Matanza in size, but in literally every other aspect, Matanza, after a single match, is the superior monster. Look at the impact he made in Lucha Underground in a single night. What has Strowman done?

Matanza is clearly the winner in terms of interesting backstory and character, but that’s an easy victory seeing as Strowman has neither. Seriously, what is Strowman’s story? Where did he come from? And more importantly, how has WWE not found the time to tell us? For all we know, Strowman is a Pokémon and Bray is his Pokémon Trainer. It’s Ash and Pikachu of the Bayou. Until I’m told different, that’s the story I’m going with.

Another aspect in which Matanza blows Strowman out of the water is talent and in-ring ability. Strowman has been protected in the ring since day one, featuring mainly in multi-man matches and a few brief singles encounters. He’s obviously got a way to go before he gets a big singles push. Matanza, on the other hand, showed more in the ring in one night than Strowman has shown since his debut in August 2015. The difference between strongman and Olympic wrestling backgrounds is as plain as day. At least that’s something that can be taught.

The Art of the Debut

The handling of Matanza’s debut really highlights one of Lucha Underground's greatest strengths, and in comparison, one of WWE’s most glaring weaknesses: storytelling. Lucha Underground isn’t just a great wrestling show, it’s a great television show. The in-ring action is very good, but it’s the characters and the show’s unique style and presentation that makes it stand out. Most LU characters are fleshed out and multidimensional. They have unique back stories and motivations.

Before Matanza even set foot in the ring, we’d already learned bits and pieces of his childhood, his upbringing, and how he became the man he is today. Plus he’s a key figure in an ongoing murder mystery. Recently, a wrestler on the show who had seemed like nothing more than a Cueto stooge turned out to be an UNDERCOVER COP! Tell me one defining characteristic of Erick Rowan (10 points if you said he’s a vintner. Bonus point if you know what a vintner is).

Now, compare that with the recent re-debut of Sami Zayn on Raw. Zayn made his original Raw debut as a surprise challenger for John Cena’s then-US title. Even though he lost, he made a big impact, but due to his unfortunate injury, WWE couldn’t capitalize on it. After a lengthy hiatus, Zayn returned in the Rumble and eliminated Kevin Owens. Then he disappeared until the March 7 episode of Raw where he attacked Owens. If you watch NXT regularly, Zayn’s motivations are clear, and you may even know about his pre-WWE history with Owens. But if you don’t, Zayn is just a guy who lost to Cena and hates Owens for some reason.

That’s WWE storytelling today in a nutshell. No vignettes, no backstory, no reason. A guy just shows up and we’re expected to care.

WWE has given the world some great debuts over the years with Undertaker and Chris Jericho’s as two of my personal favorites. Recently, it seems they’ve become content with surprise debuts, and NXT call ups with little to no build. There’s nothing wrong with a good surprise, but there’s also something to say about a slow build to an eventual payoff.

Luckily for us, the art of the debut lives on in Lucha Underground. Over 2 seasons, they teased the arrival of “The Monster” Matanza, and the debut did not disappoint. The big question now is how they follow up. Will Matanza create his own legacy in LU like The Undertaker in WWE, or will he be little more than a footnote in pro wrestling history?