It’s a little later than I’d like sports fans but here is the first column of Blue Panther Week! And what else would it be about but the man himself. To kick things off we’re going to take a long, long stroll down Blue Panther’s career, from the two luchadores that helped get his foot in the door to his greatest feuds/moments all the way to the present day. If you want to know just what has made Blue Panther a man worthy of celebration this upcoming Friday night, you will find it in here. Let’s get rolling.
Everyone who has amounted to anything on this mortal coil had someone who believed in them and helped them get their foot in the door. For Blue Panther, born Genaro Vasquez Nevarez on September 18, 1960, there were two people. The first was Halcón Suriano, who you should recognize considering this Friday’s cibernetico match is named after him. Born Juan José Espinoza Meza on June 26, 1936, Suriano was one of the first great luchadores to come out of La Laguna, a region in Mexico consisting of the cities Torreon, Coahuila, Lerdo, Durango and Gómez Palacio, Durango, where Panther himself was born and raised (Suriano was in fact born in Guerrero but trained in the Laguna area). Though he never became a big star in the Mexico City area, he has since become renowned as both a wrestler and a trainer; his pupils include Último Guerrero, Pimpinela Escarlata, Espanto Jr., Luciferno and Black Warrior among others. Oh, and of course Panther, who turned to Suriano after receiving initial training from Héctor Lopez. Under Suriano’s training Panther developed into the complete luchador you’ve seen over the past 40 years. It was also Suriano who recommended Panther to bookers in Northern Mexico, thus jumpstarting his career.
This brings us to Panther’s second important person; Réne Guajardo. Like Suriano, Guajardo was considered one of the best luchadores of his generation; unlike Suriano, Guajardo was a massive star, having been a top rudo for then EMLL throughout the 60’s and 70’s. By the time Panther had debuted in 1978 under the name El Cachorro, Guajardo had split with EMLL and become a promoter in Northern Mexico for the Universal Wrestling Association (UWA). He was the first major promoter to take Panther in at Suriano’s suggestion (despite having never seen Panther wrestle before) and was instantly blown away by the 19 year old. As such Guajardo would be the first booker to give Panther his big break, pushing him as a young midcard act in Monterrey. It was during this time Panther would also drop the Cachorro name (which his son, Black Panther, would eventually use as he was starting out) and embrace his famous character. Why Blue Panther you may ask? It seems to be as simple as a) he really liked the Panther name and b) wanted to pay tribute to his idol, lucha libre legend Anibal, who was famous for always wearing blue. Not unlike Moonlight Graham’s wife in Field of Dreams as it turns out.
I mean, we’re doing Blue Panther Week on this site just a few days before CMLL holds an event celebrating his career. I think it’s pretty clear that his body of work is pretty good. Let’s start with the superficial stuff first, and by that I mean title wins. Titles aren’t the same in Mexico but that hasn’t stopped Panther from wracking them up over the past forty years. All in all Panther has won fifteen titles, including the Mexican National Middleweight Championship (twice), the inaugural reign of the CMLL World Middleweight Championship, the CMLL World Trios Championships (twice), the Mexican National Trios Championships (three times) and the UWA World Junior Light Heavyweight Championship (twice). There were also his tournament victories, includes winning the inaugural Leyenda de Azul in 2000 and the 1999 Gran Alternativa with fellow La Laguna star Último Guerrero. And none of that begins to count the rest of his resume, which includes three headlining matches at the CMLL Aniversario (the 74th, 75th and 78th shows to be exact), several other headlining bouts between AAA, CMLL and the UWA and an 18-3-1 record in Apuesta matches. You don’t get that kind of resume if you’re just a regular Joe.
The amazing thing is that, for all of Blue Panther’s lore in CMLL, he didn’t set foot into the promotion full time until July of 1991 (he worked spot shows for them in the 80’s but largely remained loyal to the UWA). In fact, Panther had opened his own wrestling school before joining CMLL; quite the accomplishment of itself considering a) it’s usually the other way around and b) Panther’s gym was one of the first to train both luchadores and luchadoras. When he did finally show up he was pushed heavily and quickly became a big star thanks to a feud with Atlantis. Back then Atlantis was less the legend he is now but he made up for it by being one of the top performers in Mexico. Thus he and Panther clicked instantly, producing a classic match in August of 91 that established Panther as a top rudo. It was thought that the feud between the two would lead to a mask match and rumors persist that Atlantis was to take Panther’s mask sometime in late 91/early 92. Alas the match never came to pass and both luchadores moved on to separate feuds. Even still their battles are looked upon fondly, and they have occasionally recreated the magic in their later years, such as a brief mat sequence in the 2016 Leyenda de Azul tournament.
Panther transitioned from the Atlantis feud right into what would become one of his defining programs against a charismatic American called “Love Machine” Art Barr. We’ll go into more details tomorrow but suffice to say the career long feud between Panther and Barr has gone on to become the stuff of legend. Many consider it to be one of the most heated rivalries in Mexico over the past few decades, leading to not one but two gigantic Apuesta matches in two different promotions. The first battle, at the 36th Aniversario of Arena Mexico in April of 1992, was such a success that CMLL was forced to turn away thousands of fans from Arena Mexico and set up giant TV’s outside for them to watch. You know you’re over when you’re drawing that type of crowd. The second match, which took place in AAA in July of 1993, was also a critical and commercial success, not to mention the starting point for what would become one of the most successful stables of all time, Los Gringos Locos. All in all the feud never quite died even after the second match, and Barr and Panther would continue to feud with each other right up until Barr’s death in November of 1994. The feud remains so highly thought of that it would eventually become the inspiration for Panther’s latest rivalry. Don’t worry; we’re getting there.
You may have caught there that during Panther’s feud with Barr both men ended up switching from CMLL to AAA. That is accurate; Panther was in fact one of the first luchadores to make the jump to AAA when they formed in May of 1992 (Barr would join in the fall). Quite frankly you could argue that Panther’s next few years with AAA were even more successful than his several decades with CMLL. In addition to his continued battles with Barr, Panther would have classic matches with the likes of Angel Azteca, Super Astro and El Mariachi (Panther’s long time UWA rival El Solar), wrestle in several acclaimed trios matches with the likes of El Hijo del Santo, Eddy Guerrero, Fuerza Guerrera, Psicosis, Octagón and Rey Mysterio Jr. (among others), was part of classic shows like When Worlds Collide and the first set of Triplemania’s; he even got to tour New Japan ever so briefly. In many ways the golden age of AAA coincided with the golden age of Panther’s career…which makes it also fitting that AAA’s slide coincided with their relationship with Panther falling apart. Panther initially left AAA in 1995 after the peso crisis began to rock Mexico, but instead of returning to CMLL joined (and in some cases is credited with creating) the upstart promotion PROMELL, aka the promotion that would become the cult favorite promotion Promo Azteca. Panther would work for both PROMELL and CMLL on and off throughout 1995 and 1996 before returning to AAA in 1997. That was in fact the beginning of the end for their relationship as AAA decided to put Panther in a feud with Máscara Sagrada Jr. Sagrada Jr. was basically Máscara Sagrada…if you took out everything that made Máscara Sagrada a star and all that was left was a wannabe poser. Basically he was Imposter La Parka before Imposter La Parka was in vogue. Panther refused to work with him and thus jumped back to CMLL later in the year, where he’s remained ever since.
Panther remained a top star for CMLL upon his return, though he would eventually take on more on upper midcard/part time main event role as up and comers Mistico, Perro Aguayo Jr., Último Guerrero, Dos Caras Jr. and others became stars. His charisma and ability also led to him being turned technico in 2004, a role he’s played since. Through it all the great matches kept coming; some of Panther’s best latter day matches include battles with Averno, fellow legend Negro Casas, Virus and even El Hijo del Santo if you count the year 2000 as latter day Panther. Perhaps the best and most controversial of Panther’s later year bouts was his mask vs. mask match against Villano V at the 75th Aniversario in 2008. I say controversial because to the shock of everyone Panther lost his mask to Villano V, a move that no one appeared to expect at the time. The decision is still questioned today due to the unmasking revealing Panther’s aged face and Villano V not exactly being Villano III in the ring (in CMLL’s defense, it did lead to Último Guerrero avenging his La Laguna ally when he took Villano V’s mask a few months later). Even still it is considered one of the best matches of Panther’s career and at most all the unmasking did was reveal him as an older looking dude. That makes sense cause he was nearly 50 at the time!
Panther has plowed on ever since and has seen his role grow beyond merely being a luchador. In addition to training several luchadores (including his two sons), Panther is also involved behind the scenes with CMLL and for a time was the booker for their Tuesday Night show in Arena Mexico. To this day he is given a certain degree of control over his matches, and most bouts featuring him or his sons can be considered unique compared to the usual CMLL formula. With all that going on he still managed to find the time for one last major feud, one that would call back to his battles with Art Barr. This time the role of Barr would be played by Sam Adonis, a tall, athletic, old school American who became a top rudo in CMLL by embracing the gimmick of an Imperialistic, Donald Trump loving American. The two battled throughout the summer of 2017 an arguably had a hotter program than the eventual Aniversario main event between Gran Guerrero and Niebla Roja had. In the end Adonis defeated Panther to take his hair, ending the last feud Panther has had to date.
It should come to no surprise that Blue Panther is part of a big, and still growing, lucha libre family. The only surprise really is that he’s the patriarch of it, the rare first generation luchador these days. He should be proud that the Blue Panther family should turn into one of the greatest lucha libre families ever when all is said and done. There’s his nephew, Black Warrior, a highly regarded former CMLL star (he headlined the 73rd Aniversario against Mistico/Carístico) who will be making his return to CMLL for Panther’s Aniversario this Friday. There Warrior’s son Warrior Jr., a former IWRG Tag Team Champion with his dad who is only 21 years old. And then of course there are Panthers two sons, CMLL stars Black Panther and Blue Panther Jr. The two youngsters regularly team with their father and are both unique in their own way, with Black Panther sporting a great overall style (he’s considered to be one of the most underrated luchadores in CMLL) while Junior is one of the strongest luchadores in CMLL today. The trio will soon become a quartet, as Panther has another son training to become a luchador as we speak. With Black and Blue Panther already taken, I assume he will be going by Green or Red Panther. Or maybe just Hijo del Blue Panther. That makes more sense actually.
The One Thing You Know Blue Panther From But Didn’t Know It Was Him Till Now
Unless you looked him up upon hearing Daniel Bryan rave about him, chances are you don’t know a lot about Blue Panther if you’re an American wrestling fan only. Indeed, Panther’s appearances in the US have been few and far between over the years and no evidence exists to suggest he wrestled for either WWE or WCW. And yet, if you are a hardcore wrestling fan from the US, you have definitely seen Blue Panther before and you have seen him in one of the most famous tag team matches of all time; the El Hijo del Santo/Octagón vs. Art Barr/Eddy Guerrero classic from When Worlds Collide. Remember that guy with the blue mask who was in Santo and Octagón’s corner? Yeah, that’s Blue Panther!
It’s kind of amazing that, for all of Blue Panther’s great work over the years, the most high profile match he was ever involved in was a match where he was a second. Even still Panther played a key role in the legendary tag match, most notably in the third fall when he entered the ring to Piledrive his long time enemy Barr while the ref’s back was turned. Not only was this match a call back to their feud (we’ll go into it more tomorrow but let’s just say Piledrivers played a key role in the Barr-Panther battles) but it was righteous revenge on behalf of Octagón, who had just moments ago been eliminated from the match after Barr hit him with a Piledriver of his own. So while he wasn’t an active participant in the match, Panther still played a major role in one of the greatest lucha libre matches of all time and got to celebrate with Santo as Eddy and Art got their heads shaved in the ring afterwards. Considering Octagón became the type of guy to threaten young luchadores with armed bodyguards in his later years, I think it’s only fitting Panther got to have that post match moment and not him.
It’s fitting that CMLL decided to celebrate Blue Panther, Atlantis and Negro Casas this year because no three luchadores deserve it more. And yet even with this upcoming celebration it feels like Panther has gotten a bit of a raw deal. With Atlantis and Casas we have two luchadores universally recognized as all time great performers who were certifiable draws. Blue Panther isn’t seen the same way. He’s an all time great worker, and yet the greatest match he was involved in was one where he was a second. He was a great draw (especially in his feud with Art Barr), but he wasn’t given the headlining spot often enough to show it. In many ways he’s a legend that deserved better…but then again maybe that doesn’t matter so much when, in terms of ability, Blue Panther’s got to be one of the best wrestlers ever. His ability to be a top technico and top rudo at any given time is a quality that’s hard to come by. In a world where athleticism and dives are celebrated, Panther built a career on sound fundamentals, impeccable technical wrestling/mat work and the ability to base/sell for almost any move his opponent threw at him. And even after all that he could still do some dives; hell at 58 years old earlier this year I saw Panther do a crowd dive! Above all that perhaps his mind was his greatest gift, as shown in the way he has structured his matches so different from the norm, so unique in the way they stand out from your typical CMLL match. It really is no wonder that he’s become an inspiration for so many young luchadores and even non luchadores like Daniel Bryan, who should be thanked for putting a spotlight on Panther by praising him so much the last few years. And in the end that’s perhaps the most important takeaway I hope you, dear reader, have at the end of this week. More than just being a legend and a great wrestler, Blue Panther is and will forever be one of the all time great wrestling genius’. Few have been better and even fewer have been smarter.
That’s it for now sports fans. But never fear; there will be more Panther tomorrow!
Please change disks to continue…