This year’s Fantastica Mania is in the can and so let’s break down what you need to watch and what you can skip, folks. For full results, check out our dedicated posts right here, if you will— January 19, January 21, and January 22.
As always, I've got a very simple five point scale laid out where a 1 is total skip, 2 you can probably skip unless you love one of the folks in it, 3 is a match that's worth watching but not necessarily worth making time for, a 4 is a solid recommendation to make time for if you can, and a 5 is a must-watch.
Mind you, these are not star ratings. They're not meant to be absolute ratings in any sense, but rather a simple (and hopefully sensible) way to determine if a match is worth your time. A one is not necessarily a bad match, but rather just one I feel like you're best off skipping. I have my biases, of course, but hopefully I can make it easy for you to adjust for them.
Fuego vs. Okumura (2): The drama hit a high point in this one when Fuego slapped a liplock on Okumura’s manager / wife Mima Shimoda at ringside and Okumura ended up slapping HER for it rather than accepting her assistance, which, uh... Sure. Other than that it’s good solid lucha action to kick the show off, Fuego’s fun-loving tendencies clashing against Okumura’s need to be a dick in every circumstance. Not essential viewing, easily passed, but it goes down pretty easy.
Dragon Lee, Hirai Kawato, Satoshi Kojima, & Star, Jr. vs. Los Ingobernables (BUSHI, Hiromu Takahashi, Rush, & Tetsuya Naito) (4): Chaos early as Los Ingobernables go on the offensive before the bell, Naito even taking a good minute out of choking Dragon Lee with a t-shirt to choke Milano Collection AT with his foot on some poor woman’s lap. Things settle down as Kojima’s able to carve out a bit of control, Star, Jr. comes in and does some crazy flips, but again Los Ingobernables use That Damned Numbers Game to come out ahead, ripping Star’s mask off his face and putting boots to him before enjoying a bit of invisible soccer.
Kawato makes a valiant effort to make a save and Dragon Lee gets to clear house, which eventually gets us some of that sweet Hiromu/Dragon action we so crave, but the remainder of the match is a question of if Los Ingobernables can slip that wedge back in there and take the babyface team apart again. This is good stuff, and you should probably make a point of watching it.
Atlantis, Drone, Mistico, & Volador, Jr. vs. Barbaro Cavernario, Disturbio, Puma, & Ultimo Guerrero (2): This isn’t bad by any means, but of the matches here on night one, this feels most like a bog standard NJPW undercard tag, just full of lucha guys. You cycle through the matchups (Disturbio/Drone, Mistico/Guerrero, Cavernario/Volador, Atlantis/Puma) a few times, breaking it up with heat segments, but there’s nothing special here aside from the always-electric atmosphere for Mistico/Guerrero and Disturbio biting Drone’s nipple like he thinks candy’s gonna fall out. If you’re new to all these guys, you’ll probably want to watch this, if you’ve seen them do what they do, it’s a pass. Watch accordingly.
Angel de Oro (c) vs. Cuatrero (CMLL World Middleweight Championship) (3): Lucha mat grappling dominates early, nothing extraordinary but that’s always fun. Of course, de Oro turns the heat up with some dives in fairly short order. Cuatrero gains control for a bit, putting Angel through a submission sequence, turning a half-crab into an STF and inflicting a knee injury that’ll see the champion limp through the rest of the match.
Big triangle moonsault to the outside lands home and de Oro comes up lame from it but he keeps throwing dives because that’s what he knows and damn the torpedoes, including a Space Flying Tiger Drop at one point. And so it goes, the match coming down to a question of whether his leg will give out before he can retain his title or not. Good stuff, not blow-away awesome but worth the time if you have it.
Sanson vs. Soberano, Jr. (c) (Mexican National Welterweight Championship) (5): This is just pure, high octane, high flying lucha libre action from the jump. Springboard headscissors takeovers? Check. Moonsaults over the ropes and to the floor? Check. Rolling sunset flip countered into a powerbomb? Check. Tornillo? Check. Avalanche powerbomb? Check. Springboard crossbody to the floor? Check.
I could keep listing out every big spot in the match but suffice it to say this is a hoot of a match that deserves your time.
Gran Guerrero vs. Niebla Roja (c) (CMLL World Light Heavyweight Championship) (5): It is worth noting that Niebla Roja is dressed like He-Man and carrying a sword during his entrance.
The early going of the match is built around Guerrero’s power game vs. Roja’s speed, at one point Gran straight-up catching a flip dive and powerbombing him on the floor! Of course, Niebla isn’t the only one that can dive, Guerrero busting out a tope con giro as he feels increasingly in charge of the match, almost toying with the champion.
Thus you have a match where Roja plays the underdog, looking to stay in the fight long enough to find a miracle, and it makes for a pretty compelling main event. Plus Gran busts out a chokeslam, always love when a smaller power guy does big man power moves like that and there are some pretty slick exchanges as the match goes on. Watch it!
Disturbio & Puma vs. Drone & Star, Jr. (1): This is very much a tale of two matches-- slow and steady when Drone and Disturbio are in, and then Puma and Star turn the heat up. It’s not even that the Drone/Disturbio stuff is bad so much as the Puma/Star stuff is so enjoyable that it feels a slog to sit through Disturbio slowly tearing at Drone’s mask moments after Puma powerbombs Star off of the turnbuckles.
Thus, a match that ends up rather less than the sum of its parts. Pass, just maybe go see if you can find gifs of all the cool Puma/Star action.
Fuego, Ryusuke Taguchi, & Soberano, Jr. vs. Okumura & Roppongi 3K (SHO & YOH) (3): Cycling through the matchups, Fuego/Okumura is very much a reprise of their night one match, but SHO and Soberano really turn it up after, and YOH/Taguchi is somewhere between the two. The Funky Weapon has butt bumps for everybody... except for Mima Shimoda, who’s wise to his tricks and gives him a spanking after he, ah, tries to take a bite out of crime, if you will.
Anyway it’s a weirdly compelling mix of silliness and crazy exciting tag team action as the silly boys get serious. Wouldn’t set time aside specifically for this one, but worth a shot if you’ve got the fifteen minutes or so.
Atlantis, Hirai Kawato, KUSHIDA, & Satoshi Kojima vs. Los Ingobernables (BUSHI, Hiromu Takahashi, Rush, & Tetsuya Naito) (3): Kawato and Kojima clearly remembered how their last tag went and so this time the tecnico team gets the jump on Los Ingobernables. Of course, Los Ingobernables are still themselves, and inevitably they find that wedge and Rush is able to turn the tide on Kojima long enough to take him outside for an extended brawl to set up their match on the last day of the tour.
From there, it basically settles into being a slightly less entertaining version of that match, largely due to the lack of Hiromu/Lee pyrotechnics, as much as I dearly love KUSHIDA and Atlantis. KUSHIDA does have some good stuff with BUSHI here, and Kawato’s desperation run as the young lion who’s almost but not quite ready to hang with the big boys might even be a little bit better, but it’s just not quite as compelling as a whole.
Angel de Oro & Niebla Roja vs. Los Guerreros Laguneros (Gran Guerrero & Ultimo Guerrero) (CMLL Brother Tag Team Tournament First Round Match) (2): Lucha matwork from Angel and Ultimo early, Guerrero going after that knee injury from the Cuatrero match. Tags made, we get a reprise of Niebla/Gran (including that sweet chokeslam) until the Laguneros pull ahead for a bit. Some flashy double teams get de Oro and Roja a head of steam going. Double teams are the order of the day for a little bit until the Laguneros pull off a sequence that brings Angel’s knee back to the forefront and the match settles into him vs. Ultimo for a moment again before shifting back to Gran/Niebla until one of them overcomes.
This one just didn’t come together at all for me. Maybe you can tell from the way the recap text above reads, but I felt like I spent the back half of the match waiting for structure that wasn’t coming as they just kind of went back and forth doing stuff until it was time for the match to be over. Could be me, so I won’t pan it all the way, but I wouldn’t rush out to watch this one, folks.
Cuatrero & Sanson vs. Dragon Lee & Mistico (CMLL Brother Tag Team Tournament First Round Match) (2): Starting hot here, with Lee and Mistico immediately wiping the new Dinamitas out with dives! The tide turns soon enough, however, as they isolate Mistico, tear at his mask and generally beat him down until he can break free and tag Dragon in. Putting them through their paces, Orange Crush, poison Frankensteiner, Cuatrero and Sanson take everything he throws at them and keep ticking but it’s the diving Frankensteiner to the floor and opens things up all the way on our way to the finish.
I dunno, it’s weird coming right off complaining about a lack of structure but this one had a perfectly fine traditional tag structure and still fell flat. Particularly Cuatrero and Sanson, I don’t know if it was just an off night or what but usually they can hang as well as anybody but here they just looked utterly outclassed by Lee and Mistico. Ah well, they can’t all be winners, can they?
Barbaro Cavernario vs. Volador, Jr. (c) (NWA World Historic Welterweight Championship) (5): This is a back-and-forth instant classic between two men who know each other incredibly well and know that it’ll take every last trick in their arsenal to end it. In a lot of ways it’s a better version of Soberano/Sanson from the 1/19 show-- while that was packed with cool stuff start to finish and thus worth watching on those merits alone (don’t take this as selling that match short, though, it had structure to it for sure, an ebb and flow that made the spots all matter), this builds and calls back and perhaps most importantly has that indescribable visceral feeling that the best matches have.
Call it big fight feel, call it whatever you like, but this feels important, heavy with drama even though it’s hardly the culmination to some intricate story. There’s no build here beyond all the times these two have wrestled each other in the past, but it all comes together and makes for a really memorable match that, as I write this on Sunday night, seems like it’ll be hard for the last night of the tour to beat.
In short, if you watch only one match from Fantastica Mania 2018, this is it!
Disturbio & Puma vs. Fuego & Ryusuke Taguchi (2): Pretty standard opening tag stuff here, livened up by Fuego’s shenanigans. Particularly fun, a series of “down low” denials of what was either meant to be a high five or a handshake. A solid stretch in high gear towards the end and this makes for a fine match, if not exactly worth going out of your way for.
Chaos (Rocky Romero, SHO, & YOH) & Okumura vs. Jushin Liger, KUSHIDA, Star, Jr. & Tiger Mask IV (3): KUSHIDA and YOH starting off with a veritable clinic, shifting through the matchups, Rocky and Liger, then Star and Okumura and... a dance party breaks out? Mima Shimoda gets involved after, accidentally clobbering SHO and leaving Tiger an opening to beat her up and the match just completely breaks down from there but in a good way, mostly.
The best way I can put this is it’s the last day of school and everybody’s just here to have fun. Not essential, but very enjoyable.
Angel de Oro & Niebla Roja vs. Cuatrero & Sanson (CMLL Brother Tag Team Tournament Loser’s Bracket Match) (3): Cuatrero and Sanson well in charge through the early goings, some dives turn the heat up and get de Oro and Roja into it. Back and forth from there, trading big bombs, the match ends a bit abruptly but it’s certainly a level above their first round tournament matches. Worth a fair shot!
Atlantis & Hirai Kawato vs. Barbaro Cavernario & Gedo (Hirai Kawato Sendoff Match) (2): Brawling early as Cavernario and Gedo get the jump on the veteran and the young lion. They wipe Atlantis out but Kawato’s rarin’ for a fight and they manage to turn the tide and take things outside for a while. This, as it turns out, is a bad strategy, but not enough to take them out, and they fight valiantly a while longer.
If you watch just one Kawato farewell tour match, I’d make it the Los Ingobernables tag from the 19th, but this is a good solid match. I will admit to being a little disappointed with Atlantis this tour, hopefully it’s just rust from his recent knee injury and not father time catching up to him.
Drone, Soberano, Jr., & Volador, Jr. vs. Los Ingobernables (BUSHI, Hiromu Takahashi, & Tetsuya Naito) (3): LIJ attack at the jump as ever, and when the match settles down we get some awesome fast-paced action from Volador and Naito before Drone and BUSHI slow it down. Soberano in for only a moment as LIJ are rolling and Hiromu ends up taking Volador to the floor as BUSHI continues tearing at Drone. Volador and Takahashi have a hell of an exchange before Soberano comes in for real this time and clears house!
The tecnicos continue their rally, big triple dive, and the match trundles along from there to the finish. This ended kind of limply but anytime Volador or Soberano were in there it was enjoyable enough.
Rush vs. Satoshi Kojima (4): To shock of no one, this is a violent brawl right from the start, Rush waisting no time in taking Kojima outside and beating on him against the announce position, choking him with camera cables, a regrettable and brutal chairshot to the head, you name it. Bloodied and battered, the Captain of Bread Club mounts a comeback, DDTs outside and inside, all of his big spots, but can he put Rush away before el Toro Blanco overwhelms him again?
Chairshot aside, this was really good, and you should probably watch it.
Dragon Lee & Mistico vs. Los Guerreros Laguneros (Gran Guerrero & Ultimo Guerrero) (CMLL Brother Tag Team Tournament Finals) (5): Ultimo and Mistico to start, taking their time to soak in the atmosphere their matches always create in Korakuen Hall. Cycling through to Gran on Dragon but the Laguneros start to double team Lee and keep him isolated. Mistico gets some of the same but soon enough is able to throw enough dives to turn the table and put the heat on the Laguneros. Including, at one point, a Frankensteiner off the bleachers!
Gran and Dragon get into it with a wicked slap exchange, and the match proceeds from there, cycling back and forth between the two pairings and getting bigger and better, although I’d ding it slightly for running a little longer than may have been totally optimal. Even so, awesome match, definitely worth your time if you’re sitting down in front of Fantastica Mania.
There you have it, folks
Agree? Disagree? Feel free to toss in your two cents below, Cagesiders.