It was a little after 11 p.m. on November 11th, 2016 and I was sitting in front of my computer screen fighting back tears (and not just because of who won the Presidential Election a few days earlier). The semi-main event for that night’s CMLL Super Viernes had just ended and with it, so too ended the CMLL career of Máscara Dorada.
It’s not like hadn’t seen it coming. Truth be told we knew there was an expiration date regarding Dorada and CMLL going back to the Spring, when the then 27 year old signed up for WWE’s Cruiserweight Classic under the name Gran Metalik. After he impressively cut through Tajiri, Akira Tozawa and Zack Sabre Jr. to make it to the tournament finals (where he lost in a great match to TJ Perkins) and even got a RAW match on September 19th, the writing was on the wall and it was just a matter of when. November 11th just happened to be that when. Alas it didn’t stop us from being sad, especially me; a newbie to covering lucha libre, I had only recently just discovered and fallen in love with the “king of the ropes” and his unbelievable talent. And now here he was, leaving to go to a company I had stopped watching a year before for a multitude of reasons, while the rest of us were left to watch the mailed in three way trios tournament that followed him on that show, followed by many similar mailed in matches (and shows) since.
But the tears didn’t just come from sadness. That was part of it, but the other emotions involved were brought on by the beautiful conclusion Dorada’s final CMLL match represented. You see, Dorada hadn’t just been killing it in the CWC every few weeks; he was killing it EVERY SINGLE NIGHT in 2016 between CMLL, WWE and even Lucha Libre Elite. For my money, no one (save maybe Pentagon Jr.) was better than Máscara Dorada in 2016 and no one put forth the effort he did night after night, despite the fact that he had a six figure contract waiting for him. Besides his final evening, nothing summed up Dorada at the time more than the night of October 14th, when Dorada teamed with Dragón Lee and Guerrero Maya Jr. to take on Euforia, Gran Guerrero in Niebla Roja in the third match of a twelve match show (CMLL held Block A of the Universal Championship Tournament that night). If ever there was a match to take it easy, that would’ve been it…and instead the match went on to be the best thing on the show, with Dorada stealing the night with this breathtaking moment.
You have probably seen me post that gif many times in my columns for this site and there’s a reason. First, it’s completely and utterly spectacular, both due to Dorada’s outstanding athleticism and the one of a kind basing only an underrated legend like Euforia can provide. It’s one of those moments that will live on for years once you’ve seen it. But most importantly it encompassed everything Máscara Dorada was about. Here was a man with a WWE contract and every reason to be taking it easy in the twilight of his CMLL career continuing to go the extra mile, continuing to see just how far he could go in his quest for greatness. We already knew Máscara Dorada out of this world by that point, but that night…hell that entire run proved there was no one else in the world quite like him. So when he wrapped up a month later on November 11th, in a delightful six man tag with Atlantis and Diamante Azul against Cavernario, Felino and Negro Casas (with Casas putting him over by letting Dorada pin him with La Casita), the emotion from it all wasn’t just sadness that this was over, but the overwhelming nature of what he had accomplished. I will never forget that match, I will never forget the incredibly touching and moving tribute the entire CMLL locker room paid for him after the match (which caused a visibly emotional Dorada to nearly pass out himself) and I will never forget the feeling I had watching him stand on the ropes, waving good bye. For the first time since I stopped watching WWE, I sat there and thought to myself “surely…surely, there is no way that even WWE and Vince McMahon could screw up a talent like this.”
Now we hit the fast forward button. It is January 29th, 2020 and I’m sitting in my kitchen, trying to cope with the next half of this column. It’s been a little more than three years since Máscara Dorada said good bye to CMLL, joined WWE and became Gran Metalik. It’s also a little more than three years since I started kicking myself for those hopeful thoughts as Dorada waved goodbye to Arena Mexico. Why; because as it turns out, WWE and Vince McMahon really can screw up a talent like him.
To say that Máscara Dorada’s three plus years as Gran Metalik have been underwhelming would be insulting to the term underwhelming. I already knew how bad it was before today, but upon looking up some stats in preparation for this column it turned out to be even worse than I thought. Since Dorada first appeared as Gran Metalik on that September 19th RAW, there have been a combined 341 episodes of RAW and Smackdown. How many has Gran Metalik appeared on? The answer is 24; 24! That means that Dorada has appeared on approximately 7% of WWE’s main TV shows in the past three years, a number I’d guess is likely around the lowest for any main roster WWE talent that isn’t Epico and Primo Colon. It doesn’t get much better the further you look; of the 56 WWE PPV/Network specials since September of 2016 (note I’m not counting NXT, NXT: UK, Halftime Heat or the all female Evolution PPV), Dorada has appeared on 7 (approximately 13% of them), with 4 of those appearances being on the pre-show/kick offs. Even 205 Live, the show that in theory should’ve featured Dorada heavily, has only seen him appear in 40 of the 161 shows (25%). Altogether, in Dorada’s three plus years with WWE as Gran Metalik, only 71 of his 171 matches these past three years (which by the way is only 35 more matches than what he wrestled in all of 2016) have taken place on TV or PPV (if you count 205), while the rest have all been Main Event, house show or dark match appearances. The good news is Dorada has at least challenged for the Cruiserweight Title twice (not counting the CWC final) and the tag titles (with Lucha House Party members Kalisto and Lince Dorado) twice; the bad news is all four of those title matches took place on house shows. And that is all with only one mention of the Lucha House Party, a trios stable that seems to only exist because Metalik, Dorado and Kalisto are all Hispanic and in the WWE world it appears Hispanics can only be friends with other Hispanics.
That is all very rough right there if you’re a fan of Dorada/Metalik, and at times it seems to have been equally as hard on him. It’s always impossible to tell with wrestlers on social media these days in regards to what is and isn’t a work, but several times Dorada has gone on Twitter to supposedly lament in his position. Back in December of 2018 Dorada tweeted out a poll asking whether he should return to CMLL or go independent if he were to leave WWE; over 4,000 fans voted on it before Dorada eventually deleted the tweet (for those curious, the majority of the votes asked him to go independent). But the most notable moment of discontent came on October 13th when Dorada posted a tweet (that is in fact still up) that was as simple as it was sad; “I miss you Máscara Dorada.” Even a year and a half later it still breaks my heart (to some degree) to read that Tweet again, even as I continue to come to grips with the fact that it may not mean as much as I would’ve liked it to at the time.
Since that Tweet, and really even before it, a lot of us lucha fans had been waiting for the moment when Gran Metalik would finally cease to exist and Máscara Dorada could fly again, be it for CMLL, AAA, New Japan or maybe even an AEW. And each day it becomes more and more apparent to me that, if that day comes, it won’t be for a long time. I have no idea when his contract ends, but the likelihood is that, like his Lucha House Party Kalisto, Dorada is going to re-sign with WWE or already has, likely for big money to keep doing what he’s doing; nothing. To say that this gnaws at me from time to time, especially recently, would be correct, as my Lucha Central colleagues can attest and prove via our Facebook chat. I do not believe in many things, but I do believe that Máscara Dorada, whether he’s under that name, Gran Metalik or whatever identity, is one of the most talented luchadores in the world. I want to see providing the same type of thrills that a Fenix, Laredo Kid or Hijo del Viking provides, I want to see him have the chance to resurrect a lifeless CMLL; I want to see him do it all because there is nothing a man of his talent can’t do. And instead we are left to watch him get six minutes with Rey Mysterio Jr. in a match that led to nothing (despite everyone’s excitement at the time), little to no storylines besides “THE LUCHA HOUSE PARTY LIKES TO HAVE FUN!” or “The Lucha House Party gets squashed by Lars Sullivan” and extended periods of time where he doesn’t work at all (tomorrow it will have been one month since Dorada wrestled a match for WWE). It is easy, as a fan, to look at all of that, to look at all the stats and to look at where Dorada once was and just be left wondering “how the hell could someone put up with being treated like this?” And believe me, there are many days when I don’t understand it.
As fans and even as writers, regardless of what field in sports or entertainment, we are guilty of having certain notions. We are known to believe that loyalty trumps all (it doesn’t), we believe athletes/coaches/performers owe us (they don’t) and in many cases we tend to believe that money isn’t the be all end all. That last point is something I struggle with the most. Save for the time I took a job as a dishwasher (a job I quit immediately because the pay wasn’t worth my state of mind), money has never been the driving force behind anything I have done. Maybe it’s because I’m a sap, maybe it’s because I’ve seen too many people (including some in my own family) unhappy at their craft despite how much they were getting paid but at the end of the day I would rather starve doing what I love at the best of my ability than be miserable making boat loads of cash, half assing it for a job I can’t stand. And the part of me that feels that way looks at Dorada being wasted away by a promotion that clearly doesn’t care for him or value his worth beyond “we don’t want him working elsewhere” and I can’t understand it…until I remember his family. And it’s at that point where, as much as one part of me doesn’t get it, the other part of me does.
The truth is, while I do believe there’s nothing wrong with valuing happiness over money, I also am aware that I only have to provide for myself; I don’t have a wife and kids depending on me to carry my end of the bargain. When Dorada signed in 2016 he was already married and had two daughters; a third daughter would later be born in 2018. While I have never been fortunate enough to communicate with Dorada, I would venture to guess that if you asked him, no amount of matches, no push and no titles would compare to his three kids and his wife. And so it leaves Dorada and other guys we may find to be supremely talented and underutilized (Cedric Alexander is someone that comes to mind) with a difficult decision; do I do what makes me happy or do I do what will best provide for my family? For a long time I admit I didn’t even get this part. But these days I realize that while it’s very easy for me to say “choose happiness over money” or “you can find a place that pays equal and gives you better opportunities”, the reality isn’t that simple. It never is. It doesn’t mean the situation doesn’t upset me and it certainly doesn’t mean I have to respect WWE for lording that type of money over Dorada or anyone else’s head in order to keep them from going elsewhere while not actually valuing them at what they pay. But that’s WWE’s fault, not Dorada’s, and as much as I would love to see him remind us why he’s one of the best in the world again, I’d much rather he be a hero to his daughters than a writer for Lucha Central.
And so I guess we leave it at that. In the long run I doubt this will do much to make me feel better as time goes on. There will surely be times when WWE either jobs Dorada and his buddies out to another over pushed hoss or when he doesn’t appear at all that I will once again retreat into the confines of old Dorada highlights, wondering what might’ve been if WWE had actually treated him like the star he was in 2016 and not just another guy in a mask. But I hope after this article now that I’ll at least have some perspective when I do this. A few people know that this is an article I have wanted to write for a long time; hell it’s an article I did write to an extent awhile ago, albeit more from a different lens. But I couldn’t because I didn’t get it; I didn’t get that it wasn’t as simple as the way I saw it and I didn’t get that it was possible that being the artist wasn’t the most important thing in Dorada’s life anymore. Whether that is the case or not I cannot say for sure, but after dismissing the notion for so long that he couldn’t possibly be happy where he was, I cannot sit here and do that again. Maybe just maybe Dorada is alright with life as Gran Metalik, as the guy who makes a lot of money while not being able to work the way he once did, as the guy who had to sacrifice greatness as a luchador in favor of greatness as a father. And you know what; I can live with that. But even in acceptance I am left with one thought and one thought alone. And it’s this; I miss you Máscara Dorada.
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