Monday, November 03, 2014

Quick Hits Volume VIII: Lessons from Lucha

It is time for your Wake-Up Call…

You very well might be aware AAA wrestling from Mexico debuted a new project here in the US by the name “Lucha Underground.” It premiered on the brand new cable channel El Rey Network this past Wednesday, October 29. If you are a wrestling fan, I highly recommend finding time to check out this new product. At least from the first episode, it gave me a strong impression of high quality and entertainment from the get-go. It was also a breath of fresh air in many ways for me as a fan, which I will go into more depth. I think there are some lessons TNA can already learn from “Lucha Underground.” I hope you are ready for yet another edition of Quick Hits.

Immediate Sense of Purpose

At the outset, you got a strong explanation of the purpose of the organization. It went into the history of Lucha and how it applied to the new project. Then, it gave an introduction to Dario Cueto, the kayfabe President of Lucha Underground, who exclaimed his desire to find the best fighters in the world for his personal enjoyment. But immediately, you understood why fighters were coming to the dingy building to fight in front of the onlookers with a cash incentive offered up by Cueto. This simple explanation gave a clear reason why each match was taking place. You understood Cueto as the heel easily and how he was going to manipulate the organization. There was already a plot to follow with strong elements.

In modern wrestling and on occasion in TNA, there are some questionable events or matches that happen, logically speaking. For example, I never understood why MVP and Kenny King called out Chris Melendez in their feud in the first place. Or just last week, why would Davey even give James Storm’s offered awakening the light of day? Did not the Wolves just beat two of the greatest tag teams of all time to make a name for themselves? There is a potential for TNA to really ruin a good set of wrestlers in this story arc. There is some room for improvement here and there.

What “Lucha Underground” has going for it from the first episode is simplicity in the story. But more importantly, it hit all the right notes to hammer home the general premise, the players, setting, and all other necessary elements to understand. The beginning of a story is one of the most important things to get across, and this show did everything it needed to on that front. In fact, it excelled in all the introductory factors. Such a quality in the first episode leads me to believe communication of the story elements will be a strong point well into the future. TNA would benefit from paying attention to the story methodology of “Lucha Underground.”

Strong Identity

Put simply, the Americanized Lucha show knows what it is. It has an identity that comes across clearly and communicates the traits without issue. “Lucha Underground” comes across like a fight club sort of wrestling organization, which is consistent with the statements of Mr. Cueto. The wrestlers are fighting for pride and money, simple enough. You can clearly see it is a proverbial playground for Cueto as he is already manipulating events. The show integrates the Lucha elements and blends them nicely into an American style of presentation. Over time, there will be more layers added, but at this point, it is easy understand what it is going for.

One essential weakness of the current TNA product is the identity issue. It has done a much better job in recent months on grasping at one but still has a way to go. From the New York tapings, there was a reemphasis on the secondary divisions, reinstituting the six-sided ring, and young talent, while also emphasizing wrestling as the crux of it all. It has faded somewhat since then as TNA has struggled to keep emphases on everything it was trying while keeping a fairly active roster and other second-tier storylines. For example, the X-Division has recently lost focus as the tag team tournament has been underway and other storylines to keep certain characters front and center have progressed. Repeated resets have hindered the ability to maintain a strong identity, and TNA is playing catch-up on that front.

Again, it is obvious TNA could learn a thing or two from the Mexican-based show. The people behind “Lucha Underground” knew what it was going to present and did it; it stuck to its guns. They did not try to throw everything and the kitchen sink against the wall to see what would stick. They already had the adhesive applied. There was an apparent plan in place. TNA had this philosophy in place at one point but have lost it for period of time. They need to make such decisions and stick with them for the long haul, something in which the Lucha show makes a great example.

Innovative Production Applications 

Perhaps the most noticeable aspect to “Lucha Underground” is how well it stands out from other wrestling productions. They hired an experienced television production company to write and produce the show. As a result, it feels like you are almost watching a movie compared to other wrestling products. They utilize camera work that is usually used in regular television shows but not in wrestling so much. They film away from an arena setting for different scenes in between matches, which is quite unique in the wrestling world. They also capture different camera angles in the arena to help the different feel to the show, such as a camera pointed down directly above the ring, which engrosses the viewer into what is happening. There are all these little extras that are not used much or at all in wrestling from a production standpoint that add to the uniqueness and set the product apart.

And this is not really a knock on TNA at all. In fact, TNA has been innovative in its own ways over the course of its 12 year history. It had some innovative applications of reality-style filming when Eric Bischoff’s production company began working with TNA that was unique. Obviously, the company has its own unique match styles and other original ideas. What TNA could use help on is a holistic approach to the matter of somehow setting it apart from the rest of the pack. TNA certainly is different in some ways to other wrestling companies in presentation aspects, but it has a lot of identifiable similarities to other major promotions, whether WWE, ROH, or perhaps larger independents.

I would submit “Lucha Underground” has an edge in uniqueness of presentation, though. I find it really hard to compare it to any other wrestling promotion (in a good way). I would not suggest TNA copy Underground’s style but rather find its own holistic approach. It has veered away from its reality TV style of camera work in recent months, not doing as much of the hidden camera kayfabe and backstage segments as they used to. TNA of course has been maintaining a pretty high quality of good to great shows, but there is a lot they could do to not forego quality while developing its own standout production methods. I thought they were on that sort of verge with the unique reality style, but they are trending toward simply in-ring located shows with a bit of backstage thrown in, which is very traditional. “Lucha Underground” demonstrates you can still have a quality, true-to-itself wrestling show and find your own production style niche.

What an X-Division Could Be

Obviously, the Lucha show will feature the much faster paced Luchadore style of wrestling. If you have not seen the premiere episode, you missed an excellent matchup between Prince Puma (Ricochet) and Johnny Mundo (John Hennigan). The match felt to me what TNA’s X-Division should be. The X-Division still seems to be going in and out of importance, as it has lost focus over the last month, which hopefully will not stay the case. In “Lucha Underground,” the fast paced action is the base of the wrestling action.

With the recent reboot of the X-Division in TNA, there was a return to more high flying and intensity (still a sight for sore eyes). However, the action itself has slowed down generally compared to what the X-Division used to be. If TNA could combine the renewal of intensity and high flying to the division with the added swiftness seen from these two, there would be even more reason to be excited. I will leave it there, as the X-Division does not seem forgotten about as it was. This fan would just like to see it maintained consistently with renewed fervor and speed.

Do not get me wrong. I still enjoy TNA to a greater extent than I do“Lucha Underground.” The wrestling comparatively thus far is still better in my mind. I would take the recent Roode versus Lashley bouts any day over the Puma versus Mundo match. However, it does not hurt to take some lessons from various places. This new product caught me by surprise with some of the innovative and strong elements it presented, particularly from its production. Trust me, you can still be a TNA fan and also like yourself some Lucha.

…Think with Purpose….