Last night on Lucha Underground, Fenix and Mil Muertes put on a legitimate match of the year candidate in a casket match. I know what that sounds like to someone that hasn't seen it yet. A casket match? Don't those usually suck? Did they also put on a 5 star Kennel from Hell match? I know it sounds laughable on its face, but bear with me here.
I'm coming to this as someone who isn't a regular viewer of Lucha Underground as normally I'm not the biggest fan of Lucha Libre style wrestling. Puroresu is the in-ring style that appeals to my personal sensibilities. I prefer suplexes and headkicks to flips and dives, but this match last night was truly something special, something that should be able to appeal to anyone that just loves professional wrestling well performed. It absolutely deserves to be mentioned in the same conversation as Kota Ibushi v. Shinsuke Nakamura at Wrestle Kingdom 9, Tomoaki Honma v. Tomohiro Ishii at New Beginning and Brock Lesnar v. Seth Rollins v. John Cena at Royal Rumble when looking back on the best matches of the year come December.
What made the match special more than anything else was the philosophy to the form and the underlying psychology of the match. This wasn't just a good match that happened to be a casket match. This was a great casket match. The match completely revolutionized how a casket match should work, and made it into an appealing gimmick match that I'd love to see again.
The key to the gimmick was unlocked by these two last night. Put simply, the key to a great casket match is apparently to not focus on getting someone in the casket. Throughout the entire match, neither participant ever once opened or closed the lid of the casket. Not because the referees did it like in WWE, but because the casket was never opened until the finish, and neither party to the match opened or closed it.
But that is absolutely not to say the casket was not used to maximum effect. Instead, the casket functioned like a ladder in a ladder match, where the casket was able to be unhinged, and used as a weapon. Both competitors were mercilessly suplexed on to the casket, slammed into the casket, and otherwise dented the casket with their heads, backs, and broken bodies.
Beyond that, the ring psychology here was perfect. It was the opposite of a match like Daniel Bryan v. Kane, which was an abysmal casket match. That was about them both desperately trying to get the other in the casket just to win the match as soon as possible. It wasn't a feud ender. It was just trying to get the equivalent of a pinfall in a hokey gimmick match. The only even remotely good casket match in WWE history was Undertaker v. Shawn Michaels at Royal Rumble 1998, where Shawn unfortunately suffered a career threatening injury. This match though, had a thing that the Royal Rumble match did not have. It wasn't about the title. It was about a blood feud coming to an end. Undertaker vs. Shawn being about the title actively harmed the greatness of the match, because it forced Undertaker, who was trying to get the belt, to wrestle it like a normal match. It no longer was about maiming and destroying Shawn Michaels. It was about winning the title. Not to the laughable nearfall based degree of Bryan/Kane, but it still required Taker to try and get Shawn into the casket regularly throughout the match rather than focus on what his mission should have been: inflicting pain. This is a match type centered around the concept of death. A permanent ending. If your goal is just to get a win in the quickest, most painless way possible, then it defeats the entire purpose of having a casket match.
That was not the case here. It wasn't about getting the equivalent of a pinfall victory. It was about the Mil Muertes trying to end all 1,000 of Fenix's lives, and Fenix just trying desperately to survive. This motivation was perfect for the match, because it meant it wasn't focused around the casket as a finishing device, instead it was just to inflict pain. Fenix was always on defense, just trying to have at least one life left at the end of it, while Muertes was always on offense, and just wanted to punish Fenix for his sins. When it came to shoving someone in the casket to end this war...
For Fenix, there was never an opportunity.
For Muertes, there was never a desire.
Even though neither party ever really tried to finish the match until the end, the psychology was such that they never looked foolish for that, because each of their motivations made complete sense. If Fenix could have finished the match and got out with his soul intact, he would have loved to, but Muertes just wouldn't give him a chance. Any comeback from Fenix was so far away from the casket that he could never have expected to get Muertes in. And Mil Muertes didn't care about having a win in the W column. This wasn't about trying to move up the rankings to earn a title shot. This was about revenge. If he lost, so be it, as long as he took Fenix down with him.
I suppose I should slightly talk about the actual wrestling, which was top notch from both, but it was so thoroughly secondary to the brilliant story being weaved that it feels unnecessary. Mil Muertes was absolutely brutal, ripping Fenix's mask, beating him bloody by detaching the bottom rope and smashing Fenix with the metal piece that attaches the ropes to the ringpost, using the casket itself as a shield to block a dive attempt, and viciously suplexing Fenix into the casket that was set up against the ropes. Fenix on the other hand did brilliantly with his comebacks, conveying flawlessly that another life had passed but he had channeled a few hundred more.
And in the end, it was Mil's brief moment of compassion for the femme fatale that betrayed him that gave Fenix the opening he needed to survive. It ended how it was always meant to end, with Catrina opening the casket herself... and closing the door on Mil Muertes, after licking the Earth stone and tossing it in.
Simply outstanding performance by both men, Catrina, and the road agents that helped them construct this masterpiece.