Tonight’s CMLL Super Viernes is a big one. It features a rematch of a very strong NWA World Historic Welterweight Championship match from March, with Matt Taven defending the title against Volador Jr.; perhaps even bigger is the main event, which sees three men who appeared in AAA last night (Fenix, LA Park and Pentagon) taking on Rush and the Ring of Honor Tag Team Champions the Briscoe Brothers. Pretty big deal. But while that’s all extraordinary, the reason this show will be sold out (or close to it) is because of the fourth match tonight, a legends match featuring four all time greats (Atlantis, Fuerza Guerrera, El Solar and Blue Panther), one hanger on (Octagón) and the man of the hour, Negro Casas. You may have heard that tonight is celebrating the 40th Anniversary of Casas’ long storied career, the same way CMLL did with Atlantis a month ago. That was massive, and yet this somehow feels bigger. Not just because of the card surrounding it but because of Casas. Despite being 5’7 and 174 lbs at best, he has grown to become larger than life itself in the eyes of many fans. Over the years I have tried, twice, to write at length about the legend that his Negro Casas and I came away disappointed with my efforts both times. I don’t know if today will be a “third time’s the charm” moment but it doesn’t matter; there are unfortunately people out there who don’t know the wonderful story that is Negro Casas’ career and I intend to tell it with the best of my ability. So let’s get to it. You want to know why CMLL is going all out to celebrate the career of one Negro Casas tonight? Here’s why.
Casas and Lucha Libre
The story of Negro Casas begins, as all things do, with his birth as Jose Casas Ruiz on January 10th, 1960. From the beginning it was pretty clear Casas would be successful in one athletic field or another, and in fact he spent his youth playing football, volleyball, American football and baseball. But his true love would become lucha libre; his early heroes were lucha libre legends Anibal, the great El Solitario and Casas’ own father, Pepe Casas. Yes much like almost every other lucha libre star out there, Casas comes from a family crawling with luchadores, beginning with his father. Oddly enough Pepe would go onto to be surpassed by Casas and his two younger brothers; the long time CMLL veteran El Felino and former AAA star Heavy Metal. Then again it’s not that surprising given that Pepe was apparently giving all three of his son’s pointers at an early age. As legend has it, Casas and his brothers would attend their father’s wrestling matches and, as taught by him, would cry on command in order to gain Pepe sympathy from the crowd! How awesome is that? Even more awesome is how the family has continued to grow as a lucha libre dynasty since. Today Casas now has at least five nephews and one niece who compete as luchadores, including Nanyzh Rock, IWRG stalwart Danny Casas, former CMLL lower card wrestler Canelo Casas, Destroyer, CMLL mid carder Tiger and former CMLL star turned independent star Puma King (the latter two are Felino’s sons). Casas himself has two daughters with his wife, CMLL World Women’s Champion Dalys (herself the sister of luchadore Veneno), who have since gone on to marry luchadores Diamante (formerly of CMLL) and AAA ace Psycho Clown. Yes, not only does Psycho Clown get to be the ace of AAA, he also gets to be Negro Casas’ son-in-law. Good deal.
Back to Casas’ origins. Clearly he was destined to give lucha libre a go given his family’s ties to the business and he began training while still in school with his father and luchador Raul Ruiz. This brings us to Casas’ debut (either in August or October of 1979), which according to legend is a strange one. Still training at the time, Casas was at a show to support his father…only the promoter came up to him to say that Pepe Casas hadn’t shown up. Since he hadn’t, the promoter decided that his son would take his place or else Pepe would be banned from lucha libre! And that is how Negro Casas, under the name Pepe Casas Jr., made his lucha libre debut with only a few minutes’ notice and nothing but street clothes to work in (he is said to have won this match for those curious). But there was yet another twist; upon returning to the back Casas found his father and the promoter waiting for him. It turns out it had all been a ruse orchestrated by Casas’ father and the promoter in order to see how Casas would react in the situation. I must confess that I’m not 100% sure this is true (Casas supposedly told the story in an interview once but I was unable to find it while researching) but you can’t deny its one hell of a story. And if it was true, clearly Casas showed he could handle the pressure because that’s all he’s been doing for the last forty years.
And what a forty years it’s been. Casas spent his first decade or so bouncing around the major lucha libre promotions, including stints in the Universal Wrestling Association (UWA), the World Wrestling Association (WWA) and of course CMLL (then EMLL), where he quickly made a strong impression on Paco Alonso thanks to his great matches with Fuerza Guerrera. He finally became a fully fledged CMLL guy in the early 90’s and, while still continuing to appear for certain indie promotions, has pretty much joined Atlantis in being CMLL’s biggest, most consistent mainstay of the last twenty five years. That’s a lot of time to rack up accomplishments and Casas has a ton; altogether he has won thirteen titles for CMLL (including six tag team titles, tied with Último Guerrero for the most reigns in history) and five tournaments, with only Carístico equaling the amount of Leyenda de Plata’s Casas has won.
But if you really want to measure Casas’ importance to CMLL, look no further than his Aniversario resume. Casas first appeared at CMLL’s biggest show in 1981 (the 48th edition of the Aniversario) in a match against Fuerza Guerrera. It seems that he didn’t appear again on the show over the next decade (though certain records of that time are hard to come by) before appearing again at the 59th Aniversario in 1992. The ball hasn’t stopped rolling since. All in all Negro Casas has made 27 Aniversarios appearances, including 26 straight Aniversarios appearances (1992 to 2017), up to 9 semi-main events, up to 6 main events and six straight appearances in either the Aniversario semi-main or main event from the 74th Aniversario to the 79th. Even the Undertaker during his streak didn’t make that many consecutive appearances at Wrestlemania for WWE. Not only does it speak to Casas’ durability but how much CMLL (who you may have noticed isn’t the most consistent organization) trusts him both to deliver a great match and draw a house. It goes beyond the Aniversario too; only Atlantis has appeared at CMLL’s second biggest show, Homenaje a Dos Leyendas, as many times as Casas (each has appeared fifteen times, with Casas headlining three of those shows) and just this year Casas was called upon to headline the New Year’s show Sin Piedad, in a match against Sam Adonis. Unsurprisingly, that match was the first great match of the year.
Still, while that’s all impressive, there are many wrestlers out there who have had long, successful careers without being all that charismatic or even good in the ring. The amazing thing about Negro Casas is, throughout these forty years, his ability to remain one of the most charismatic performers in lucha libre history and an unbelievable in ring worker. A look at Casas’ portfolio will show an endless amount of great matches and rivalries with all sorts of lucha libre royalty, from legends like Guerrera, El Dandy, Chris Jericho, Eddie Guerrero and Blue Panther to modern day stars like Rush, Volador Jr., Adonis, Carístico, Dragón Lee and even guys like Ángel de Oro and Soberano Jr. All of which makes it more ironic that arguably his greatest matches and greatest rival is a luchador CMLL would like for you to forget in El Hijo del Santo (we’ll get more into that later). Just as important as his in ring ability has been Casas’ generosity. If you’ve been a wrestling fan for more than five minutes then you’ll know how cutthroat wrestling can be. I’ve never heard that about Negro Casas. North American stars like Chris Jericho and Norman Smiley have both raved about how Casas helped and encouraged them during their time in CMLL. In his book, the late Eddie Guerrero recalled how it was Casas who encouraged him to go to Japan, a decision that ultimately helped lead Guerrero to superstardom. Even without those stories it’s easy to tell how much Casas cares about helping young talent, whether it be as simple as taking booking with guys like Soberano or Dragón Lee as much as he can or how overjoyed he looked in putting Máscara Dorada (Gran Metalik) over in his final match. I have heard many a bad thing about certain professional wrestlers over the years, but I’ve yet to hear a bad thing about Negro Casas. That may be just as impressive as the fact that he’s just as good now in Year 40 as he was in Year 1.
Wrestling Outside of Mexico
It’s tempting to say, because he is still unfortunately an unknown to many fans out there, that Negro Casas has pretty much been a Mexico only guy throughout his career. That’s not entirely true, especially during the 90’s when Casas was very much a frequent guest of New Japan. In fact he worked several tours from the promotion from 1990 to 2001 and would eventually return for more tours on and off between 2006 and 2012 (Casas was scheduled to appear on the joint CMLL/New Japan tour FantasticaMania this year but was kept off due to injury). The early 90’s being the height of the Super Junior era in New Japan (at least till recently) meant Casas was involved in many milestone events. He was the lone luchador (and CMLL representative) to take part in the legendary first Super J-Cup and would later repeat the feat in the 1996 J-Crown tournament, which he took part in thanks to holding NWA World Welterweight Championship. Unfortunately Casas was bounced from both tournaments in the first round (though his match with Shinjiro Otani from the J-Crown is quite underrated), but hey; not many people can say they were part of such monumental tournaments in wrestling history and he can. Overall Casas was more successful outside of tournament action in Japan, with several memorable clashes in singles and trios action with the legendary Jushin Thunder Liger and a few bouts involving Guerrero and Chris Benoit. I wouldn’t say Casas had nearly the same amount of success in Japan that he did in Mexico, but there’s no doubt that Casas is highly respected over there as well, which made it all the more unfortunate he couldn’t make FantasticaMania this year.
That brings us to the question, what of Casas in the US? This appears to be the source of Casas not having as big a reputation as he should because Casas never really got the chance to work in the US. In a Talk is Jericho podcast from 2017, both Chris Jericho and Norman Smiley revealed they had approached Eric Bischoff about bring Casas into WCW, only for Bischoff to rebuff the suggestion because “there were too many Mexicans already on the roster.” Never mind that Casas brought to the table something different than Rey Mysterio and Super Calo! Ultimately Casas’ lone exposure in the US would come from WCW’s rival, WWE (then WWF). Yes, unbelievably, Negro Casas worked for Vince McMahon from November of 1998 to March of 1999, during the height of the Attitude Era! So how come you don’t remember Casas during the time? That’s because he and long time rival El Hijo del Santo only appeared for WWE on their D list show Super Astros. Super Astros (no relation to lucha legend Super Astro) was WWE’s attempt at TV show completely in Spanish, with Carlos Cabrera and Hugh Savinovich calling the action as lower card WWE stars mixed it up with lucha talent like Casas and Santo. It never caught on and as such neither did Casas, who never appeared for WWE again after his last appearance in March.
Since then his appearances in the US have been so scarce that it appears many of them have gone unrecorded; even more alarming is that Casas appears to get few inquiries from US promotions (notably Ring of Honor, which only works with CMLL), despite the increased awareness in lucha libre thanks to Lucha Underground and the raised profiles of CMLL and AAA. But perhaps this is only a concern to fans and not so much Casas; in a recent interview Casas insinuated he rejected chances to go work more in the US and elsewhere because his fan base was in Mexico. You can’t help but respect that outlook, even if I still do feel Casas deserved more recognition given his ability.
Believe me when I say there are almost too many to even list! Not a year has gone by since Casas first burst onto the scene that he hasn’t delivered at least one match going out of your way for. In recent years my favorites have been his battles this year with Soberano (including a match where Casas, who I remind you is 58 years old, took a top rope powerbomb), his excellent hair match with Sam Adonis earlier this year, his hair matches with Rush and Volador Jr. from a few years ago; hell there’s even a Lighting Match Casas had with Ángel de Oro from December of 2016 that is worth your time just because it encompasses everything that makes Casas great, from technical skill to his undeniable charm and charisma. For stuff ten years or older, you can’t go wrong with Casas vs. Carístico from the 76th Aniversario, any match he had with Liger or El Dandy…again pretty much anything involving Casas is going to be enjoyable and best of all it’s easy to find in the age of YouTube. Hell if you want you can even check out some of Casas’ work on Super Astros, including a tag match he and El Hijo del Santo had against Taka Michinoku and Mr. Aguila (then known as Papi Chulo) right before Casas departed.
But let’s say you didn’t have time for that and can only check out the essential stuff right? Well then the choice is easy; you have to watch anything with Casas and the aforementioned Santo. I’ve saved this part for here because, of all of Casas’ great accomplishments, great matches and rivalries, his best work in my opinion was with the son of the most famous luchador in history. The rivalry between Santo and Casas dates back to their days in the UWA and WWA in the 80’s, where they fought over the UWA World Lightweight Championship. Santo defeated Casas for the title, spring boarding to the two into a long, grueling feud that culminated in Santo taking Casas’ hair in an outstanding match in July of 1987 (the match took place in the Olympic Auditorium in Los Angeles, making this the greatest match Casas has likely had in the US). The feud never truly died after that match but it would cool until the mid 90’s, when Casas actually started to beat Santo in singles competition, first for the NWA World Welterweight Championship in December of 1995 and again at the 63rd Aniversario in September of 1996. Santo’s two losses to Casas would become the catalyst for a double turn in November of 96, where the popular rudo Casas turned technico and Santo surprisingly turned rudo for the first time in his career. The angle, coming off the heels of the Mexican peso crisis and bolstered by a legendary three way Apuesta match featuring Casas, Santo and El Dandy in December, turned CMLL business around and led to a near year long storyline that culminated in yet another Santo-Casas classic in the 64th Aniversario main event, where Santo emerged victorious again. The two would eventually bury the hatchet and go on to form a highly successful tag team in the late 90’s/early 2000’s, winning the CMLL World Tag Titles three times and having several great matches with Los Guerreros del Infierno (Rey Bucanero and Último Guerrero) along the way. But even long after their truce, the rivalry between the two remains a defining point for both of their careers and is must see for anyone getting into lucha libre.
Negro Casas isn’t just one of the greatest luchadores of all time; he’s one of the greatest wrestlers of all time. There is no debate in my eyes, unless you’re someone who has never seen him perform. I liken him as a lucha libre hybrid of Ric Flair and Bret Hart, a performer with the ability to capture the audience with just a look who can also deliver a great match with anyone. The difference between Casas and those two is that Casas has now been doing this at a high level for forty years. Forty years. I was already familiar with Casas before I started watching CMLL full time and, because of his age; I thought I would be seeing him after his best years. Nope; he is in many ways just as good now as he was at his peak, keeping in remarkable shape while adapting his style to keep himself healthy. And even then he’s still able to do crazy stuff like top rope powerbomb bumps, sunset flip powerbombs to the floor and so forth, a sign he retains that rebellious spirit one lucha great once described him as having. It’s a privilege to watch him wrestle now just as much as it is to watch some of his classic matches of old and I’m pretty optimistic we’ll be doing a 45th Aniversario for Casas in CMLL just five years from now. But maybe that’s just because I, and I think many others, don’t want to ever see Casas hang them up. I still remember watching Máscara Dorada’s CMLL farewell a few years ago (one Casas was a part of) and getting as emotional as I ever have over a wrestling moment. That will be nothing to the day Casas decides to retire; it frankly may be the saddest day in the history of wrestling for me. And again, I’m still relatively new to this. If that’s how much Negro Casas matters to me, imagine how much he matters to those who have spent all 40 years of his career watching him work his magic.
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