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Blue Panther Week is on its second to last day and that means it’s time to look at what has to be the most controversial match (in terms of finishes) in Blue Panther’s career. Every lucha fan worth their salt knows of his mask match with Villano V, a match that surprisingly ended with Villano taking Panther’s mask in a booking decision that remains polarizing to this day. In reality it’s only one part of a fascinating story. Let’s get to telling it.
It may come as a surprise to people who weren’t watching CMLL back in 2007 that the Blue Panther then was very similar to the Blue Panther of now. He was just masked, younger and his sons weren’t wrestling yet. Otherwise Panther had very much settled into the upper midcard/occasional main event role he occupies now and seemed poised to continue on that way forever, just like Frankenstein’s monster floating out in the arctic or something like that. Spoiler alert; plans changed! In the Summer of 2007 Panther got involved in a feud with former WCW luchador Lizmark Jr. and against all odds the two found themselves in the 74th Aniversario main event. Granted it was a cage match also featuring Atlantis, Dr. Wagner Jr., Mistico, Perro Aguayo Jr., Último Guerrero and the soon to be talked about Villano V (a sure fire sign that CMLL had a lot of feuds, no one had agreed to a price to lose their mask/hair and through them all in a cage) but hey, still something. And it became more than something when Panther wound up winning the cage match and unmasking Lizmark, arguably his biggest Apuesta victory since unmasking Love Machine. Just like that Panther was a player again in a loaded CMLL main event scene and he was seemingly given two feuds moving forward. The first was with Guerrero, a fellow Lagunero who, like Panther, is very much the same now as he was then; one of the best luchadores on the planet. The other was Villano V.
The second youngest son of lucha legend Ray Mendoza and (obviously) the fifth brother of Los Villanos, Villano V had built up a reputation as a great trios wrestler over his career and like Panther’s recent foe Lizmark Jr. had worked steadily for WCW in the 90’s in addition to his lucha commitments (if you enjoyed WCW lucha, then there’s a match you love featuring Villano V). That said, even on his best day he was not considered the wrestler nor draw that his older brother Villano III was and by 2007 he was considered past his prime, only brought back to CMLL because the promotion wanted to use him, Villano III and Villano IV as Los Villanos again. Villano’s fortunes drastically changed when he began feuding with Panther in early 2008 and suddenly a) started appearing in more events and b) started appearing less and less with his brothers. When stuff like that happens it’s usually a signal of two things; a youngster is getting ready for a push or said luchador is losing their mask imminently. Since Villano was no youngster and many in lucha libre circles thought Villano V would be working legends shows only if he hadn’t agreed to drop his mask, the second option appeared to be the answer. And with Panther as his opponent, many logically assumed he would be the one to unmask Villano.
Of course when people assumed that they assumed that it would be at a secondary show like Sin Piedad, Sin Salida, the Arena Mexico Aniversario or something along those lines. The actual Aniversario though? Not only did Blue Panther vs. Villano V not feel like an Aniversario headliner but it would have to compete with matches like Último Guerrero vs. Panther, Mistico vs. Averno, Dr. Wagner Jr. vs. Mr. Niebla and most importantly Mistico vs. Perro Aguayo Jr. That match in particular was seen as some sort of golden goose for CMLL considering Mistico was at the time El Santo reincarnated in the 2000’s and Aguayo had morphed into the top rudo in Mexico leading the top stable (Perros del Mal) all at the same time. If any match was going to headline the Aniversario, it would be that…provided everyone agreed to a result and no one got hurt. And that’s where things went all O.C. Season Three because both Mistico and Aguayo would get hurt in the summer, sinking that potential goldmine into the sea. And just like that Blue Panther-Villano went from being a possible b-show headliner to the main event of the biggest show CMLL would produce all year. And even that was only the beginning of what would be a chaotic August and September for CMLL.
If you’ve only been watching CMLL since 2015 then your experiences with the CMLL Aniversario build up is that there’s some outrage from fans over the choices CMLL makes but generally everything is straight forward. Or at the very least, nothing changes. The 75th Aniversario in 2008 couldn’t have been shakier on the road to it. Less than three weeks before the show the card called for a match between Rey Bucanero and X-Pac (yes, THAT X-Pac); a week later the match was removed and replaced by Dr. Wagner vs. LA Park after X-Pac supposedly had visa issues (in CMLL’s defense, Park-Wagner was a better choice). Matches that seemed destined to be on the show were left off; matches no one thought could make the show did. But nothing was on rockier ground than the Panther-Villano match and several times it appeared the match would be changed to a multi-man match or scrapped. The first instance of this was at the press conference announcing Panther-Villano, which was interrupted by Último Guerrero and Atlantis asking to make the match a four way. The angle ultimately went nowhere. The second, and more serious incident, was Villano V suffering a shoulder injury a little over a month before the Aniversario. If you go back and look at the timeline of CMLL shows, you’ll notice that Villano is working less and less heading into the big show (when he does work, it oddly enough wasn’t with Panther, another sign of CMLL’s confidence with this match). It was like how Niebla Roja disappeared leading up to his Aniversario match with Gran Guerrero, only far less serious. It was legitimately touch and go on whether Villano V could make the Aniversario and only towards the end was CMLL sure the match was a go.
Let’s soak that all in for a second and try to put ourselves in Blue Panther’s shoes. A year before this entire mess he seemed destined to settle into the comfortable role of beloved lucha legend in the upper midcard. Now he had been thrust into the Aniversario main event due to the injuries of CMLL’s top stars, with an opponent who was both injured and looked down upon, all while CMLL was seemingly scrambling and tinkering with the card of the show up until the last minute. The whole thing was absolutely mental and Blue Panther was right smack dab in the middle of it. Quite frankly, if I hadn’t known the end result of everything before reading about what transpired on the road to the Aniversario, I would’ve thought this whole fiasco would’ve wound up becoming one of the biggest disasters in the history of lucha libre. Little did everyone know.
As if it wasn’t already made clear, expectations were not too high for this Aniversario due to all the moving parts. In terms of quality, only Wagner-Park, the second match featuring Averno, Ephesto and Mephisto taking on El Hijo del Fantasma, La Máscara and Volador Jr. and the semi-main featuring Atlantis, Negro Casas and Último Guerrero defending against TNA stars Sonjay Dutt and the Motor City Machine Guns looked promising. That’s right; the expectations for Blue Panther and Villano V were at best minimal. Even less promising was the attendance outlook; looking back at luchablog’s blog he expected a decent (but below par) 12K attendance for the show, due to the card’s wonkiness and inflated ticket prices for the time (the best seats were going for $136.50 US while the higher up seats went for $19.50). The point is that very few, if any, lucha experts thought that this show would be a critical or financial success. It turned out to be both. The card exceeded expectations, except for Park and Wagner, which was exactly what everyone expected (awesome). And the event is noted for drawing 17,100 to Arena Mexico for a gate of close to $800K, much higher than projections (part of this was surely the fact that it was the 75th edition of the show). As I always say, if there’s one thing CMLL does better than messing things up its somehow falling face first into glory anyway.
All of this paled in comparison to the success of the Panther-Villano match however. It was undoubtedly the match of the show, one of the best matches in lucha libre in 2008, one of Panther’s best matches and I would dare say the best match of Villano V’s career. And keep in mind that he came into this match working on a bad shoulder! Instead of working around it Panther and Villano incorporated it into the match, with Panther working over Villano’s shoulder throughout the match. They also threw in two DQ finishes for the first two falls (with both men getting DQ’d for ripping the other’s mask off), a lot of high drama, white knuckle style lucha and some of the best Blue Panther suicide dives you will ever see. It was an absolutely phenomenal match and it ended just the way everyone expected with Villano pinning Blue Panther to win his mask. I’m sorry, I meant to say it ended the way no one expected when Villano pinned Panther to win his mask in one of the most shocking moments in the history of lucha libre.
I’m not joking either; not a single soul that I know thought Blue Panther was losing his mask to Villano V. As best as I can recall CMLL didn’t even expect it, right up until the day of the show when they decided to change the result. As I mentioned earlier, the general consensus for why Villano V was working with CMLL so much was so he could eventually drop his mask and then quietly head off to retirement. That was indeed the plan (more on this in a moment)…it just didn’t happen to involve Blue Panther. Or it did, it just involved him losing his mask in order to further build up Villano dropping his. Needless to say CMLL’s call to unmask Panther remains one of the most shocking and polarizing decisions they’ve made in the last ten years, which is saying something considering all of the odd decisions CMLL makes during the course of one week. It did at least lead to a very emotional post match scene when Panther unmasked, a prelude to some of the more powerful post match unmaskings that occurred just a few years later.
Any discussion about Blue Panther vs. Villano V must always include someone asking whether CMLL did the right thing or not by putting Villano over. There’s an argument that can be made for and against the move. On the one hand, it did lead to Villano dropping his mask at Homenaje a Dos Leyendas 2009 to Último Guerrero, who was both younger and not as established in lucha lore as Panther at the time (though he was a big star). It’s a fair point to say the win did more for him than it would’ve done for Panther. On the other hand, Panther’s unmasking unfortunately exposed him as older looking gentlemen, despite the fact that he was only 48 at the time he lost it (he arguably looked to be in his 60’s already). That quite frankly shouldn’t be a big deal, but guys like Atlantis have proven that being masked while being older does matter, at least in terms of mystique. There’s no doubt that in some instances Panther losing the mask aged him in a way that hurt his drawing power and probably ended any chance of him being a consistent main eventer for good. How long that would’ve been to matter or not is something we will never know.
Regardless of how you feel about the result, it has done nothing to hurt the match’s reputation. In my opinion it is all time classic CMLL Aniversario main event and if anything my respect for it has gone up even more knowing just what Blue Panther and Villano V were fighting against. I cannot be any clearer when I say this was not the match CMLL planned to have headlining the 75th edition of their biggest show. If Mistico and/or Perro Aguayo Jr. had been healthy then that match (or some other match featuring them) would’ve headlined and Blue Panther vs. Villano V would become a wonderful main event for another show some time in 2008. That alone was already working against Panther and Villano going into the match, and then it only got worse with Villano’s injury and CMLL’s uncertainty. It’s a credit to both men that the match not only didn’t fall on its face but prospered, and in many ways I have to think this is Blue Panther’s magna opus. I don’t say that to take away from Villano V because he’s great in this match, but Panther’s history of great performances and ability to lay out a match tells me that he was largely the architect of this match. He found the way to get the most out of Villano, the most out of himself and most importantly found a way to make this match the most dramatic experience possible for everyone watching. And he did it all with so many forces trying trying to wreck this match. There have been so many great works from Blue Panther over the years and I still believe his feud with Love Machine all the way back in the 90’s was his best feud. But this match with Villano V, given all the moving parts involved, is in my opinion his best. In a way it’s almost fitting that Panther’s most emotional, shocking and controversial moment would be his greatest.
That’s the story of Blue Panther and Villano V sports fans. Tomorrow Blue Panther Week will wrap up as we rank Panther’s ten best matches. Where will Blue Panther and Villano V rank? FIND OUT!
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