Yesterday at AAA’s press conference officially announcing their Madison Square Garden show in September, AAA head of creative/legend Konnan shared a story about the last time AAA had been in New York. That show took place in July of 1994 in the MSG adjacent Paramount Theater, at a time when AAA was arguably the hottest wrestling promotion not just in North America, but the world. As told by Konnan, after the show AAA booker/founder Antonio Peña pointed to MSG and said to Konnan “someday.” At the time, when WWE had a stranglehold on any wrestling show taking place at the Mecca, Peña’s goal sounded crazy. Ironically it wasn’t even his craziest dream; as all this was going on Peña was plotting a course that would lead to AAA running in the 130K plus Estadio Azteca arena in Mexico City, hoping to sell out the building with a massive hair match between Konnan and Love Machine Art Barr. Barr’s tragic death and the collapse of the Mexican peso later that year killed any hopes of that dream, but it, along with the idea of running at Madison Square Garden, offered a glimpse into Peña’s mindset. In an industry where so many wish to play it safe and stay in their own lane (much like Peña’s former employers CMLL), the former luchador turned creative genius believed that anything could be accomplished, no matter how impossible it seemed. All it took was a little vision and a little belief.
A year ago today AAA had absolutely none of that. Twelve years after Peña died way too young of a heart attack the promotion looked incapable of effectively running a show out of my father’s garage, kept afloat only due to reputation, two financially strong Triplemania’s and an enormously popular top star in Psycho Clown. Beyond that it looked hopeless. For nearly two years the onscreen product ranged from mind numbingly boring to hysterically bad, drowning in nonsensical storylines, long matches featuring luchadores long past their sell date and the occasional shoot by Sexy Star. Off screen was somehow even worse; for awhile it seemed you couldn’t go a week without hearing of someone departing from the company. First there was the acrimonious split between Konnan and AAA, followed by Fenix, Pentagon Jr., Jack Evans, Daga, Garza Jr., Angelico, Taya, El Mesias and Johnny Mundo amongst others. Each departure seemed worse than the last and each one (save the departures of Sexy Star and Alberto El Patron) and each one featured a story that made AAA and its management look absolutely abysmal. Things were so bad during this time that at one point I wrote a column on AAA’s collapse (right after Pentagon, Fenix and Daga bolted) called The Decline of Lucha Civilization; you know things aren’t good when you got writers covering you throwing out titles like that. By the time AAA rolled out three of the worst shows I’d ever seen in my life during the middle of March (in Cuernavaca, San Louis Potosi and Monterrey respectively) I was ready to throw in the towel on the promotion. Forget Peña’s dreams of running out of Madison Square Garden or Estadio Azteca; it didn’t seem like AAA would be capable of accomplishing the dream of lasting five more years at the rate they were going.
Some people would tell you that’s still the case now; those people, the same ones that only watch AAA clips on Botchamania or think the Young Bucks killed it in their (thus far) only AAA appearance, are not to be trusted. Almost immediately after those three shows occurred AAA did the impossible; they reunited with Konnan, who left the Tijuana based promotion The Crash after the latter wouldn’t allow him to work for both them and AAA. No one could’ve possibly imagined reconciliation between the two sides given their split two years earlier and yet there Konnan was, shepherding the promotion he helped develop into a country wide phenomenon with Peña twenty years earlier. His first big idea, bringing the stable MAD from Tijuana promotion to MDA to AAA, ultimately didn’t catch on as much as many hoped. By the time AAA ended 2018 however anyone who watched them noticed a miraculous change. The undercard became a beacon for show stealing matches; young talent like Hijo del Vikingo, Myzteziz Jr. and Poder del Norte were given pushes; new concepts like AAA’s successful Lucha Capital competition (shown on Facebook watch) appeared; shows overall became consistently watchable (and for the most part good to very good); AAA’s big show Triplemania delivered in a way the event hadn’t in several years; the effort level of incumbent AAA stars like Psycho Clown and Aerostar increased. Most importantly though, top talent started coming back. In 2018 alone AAA saw former stars like Pentagon, Fenix, LA Park, Taya, Jack Evans, Teddy Hart, Laredo Kid, Juventud Guerrera, Brian Cage and Killer Kross all returned to AAA, all making a strong impact and in some cases (Laredo Kid) elevating their game to career best work.
Thus far in 2019 the follow up has been even better; more stars have returned (Daga), the shows have been terrific (including a February 10th show in Tepic which I feel has been the best wrestling show of 2019), a partnership with upstart All Elite Wrestling promotion was formed (in addition to AAA’s already existing partnership with Impact Wrestling) and now we have yesterday’s announcement of this MSG show. There’s even another AAA show in Tijuana tonight that would likely have been a strong show on an already crowed Wrestlemania weekend if AAA had chosen to run in New York. In less than a year AAA went from the laughing stock of the wrestling/lucha world and a promotion I wouldn’t have trusted with a frozen pizza to a promotion poised to sell out the world’s most famous arena while putting on good shows and partnering with credible promotions. It’s not always been perfect; for better or worse AAA is still AAA (over the top, not always organized, ect.). But that does little to change the fact that AAA’s turnaround this past year is one of the most unfathomable, remarkable things I’ve ever seen in my twenty some years as a wrestling fan. How did it happen? How did AAA, as Obi-Wan Kenobi would say, turn the ship around? I’m just one man with a keyboard, but besides all the returning talent (and existing talent stepping up) AAA’s resurgence fittingly has to do with two individuals with strong ties to AAA’s founder Peña; his nephew and his creative partner/close friend.
There’s no doubt that Dorian Roldan hasn’t been the perfect general manager for AAA; I think he’d probably admit that himself these days. While in many ways Dorian proved to be more forward thinking than his mother Marisela (Peña’s sister and current owner of AAA since Peña’s passing) and father, the late Joaquin Roldan, the past two years showed he was either more similar to them than thought or unable to curb their influence. Fair or not he was the figurehead of the promotion as all the big stars left, all the controversies happened and AAA seemed less concerned about putting on decent shows and more about just selling tickets. And that’s not even counting all the issues regarding Lucha Underground, a promotion Dorian has been heavily involved in (mostly in trying to keep it alive) that recently has featured controversies that make AAA’s past issues look like a minor inconvenience. There’s an argument to made, before April of last year, that the only thing AAA had successfully done under Dorian’s watch was booking Psycho Clown vs. Dr. Wagner Jr. for Triplemania XXV and delivering it. Beyond that there wasn’t many nice things you could say about Dorian; hell I didn’t.
But a funny thing happened last year. Somewhere along the way Dorian had what so many wrestling owners, GM’s, bookers, persons of power don’t have; a moment of clarity. It is very rare for someone in wrestling to suddenly change their viewpoint but Dorian did. I know this because he brought Konnan back, even after the split between the two sides was so bad it seemed unlikely they could ever do business again. I know this because luchadores like Pentagon, Taya, Fenix and the works all returned, even when in tit seemed like AAA and some of them (notably Pentagon and Fenix) seemed destined for court battles. Obviously AAA and Dorian were never going to say no to Pentagon and Fenix returning (AAA never wanted them to leave) and Konnan’s presence has been a big help in smoothing over concerns formerly departed talent may have. But Konnan alone couldn’t turn this around by himself, nor could he get a deal with Madison Square Garden and AEW done on his own. That is Dorian. Slowly but surely he has found a way to become someone capable of running the business side of things while also being able to put his ego aside (something the Roldan’s have had issues with before) and giving Konnan the breathing room to put his vision out there for all to see. Maybe that doesn’t deserve as much credit as I’m giving it; after all, these are qualities I feel you should have to begin with. But compared to where he was a year ago, Dorian Roldan has come a long way and as he has, so has AAA. Several always thought he had the vision (I recall Jack Evans pointing this out a long time ago); he just needed to put the pieces together. Slowly he has.
It helps that Dorian has had Konnan as the director of his picture. As previously pointed out, much of what has happened this past year is because Konnan returned. His close relationships with Pentagon, Fenix, Taya, Jack Evans and so on and so forth helped bring them back in while also creating an environment that made them want to stay. His eye for discovering new talent and putting them in positions to succeed, always one of Konnan’s strong suits, remains as outstanding as ever. His ability to take journeymen like Laredo Kid and turn them into borderline superstars has been inspiring. Creatively speaking, even when Konnan’s storylines haven’t always clicked like he would’ve wanted, he has still been able to fill out AAA shows with enough good matches and interesting happenings to keep fans interested. Most importantly though Konnan possesses the same vision that Peña once had. Like his mentor and friend, Konnan believes that AAA can be more than a well known promotion in Mexico that draws big once a year for Triplemania. It can be the promotion that sells out Madison Square Garden; it can be the promotion that breaks through in Europe or Japan; it can be a promotion that can dominate the West Coast of the US just like it did in the 90’s; hell maybe one day it can even sell out Estadio Azteca (note that I am not suggesting that’s the plan for anyone getting excited). AAA has had eyes on expanding these past several years but I’m not sure they ever strongly believed it possible. I know Konnan does, and his fingerprints are just as much on this MSG deal and the AEW deal as Dorian’s. He believes, like Peña believed, that AAA can do anything, be anything, and that he, along with Dorian, is the man to make it possible.
And truthfully, I believe he is. The best thing about Konnan’s return to AAA last year is how right it feels. Even while he was off booking strong shows from The Crash, booking Aro Lucha or helping to improve Impact and MLW behind the scenes, there was just something off about him not being in AAA. That’s because, for all the legitimate gripes Konnan had against AAA and all the animosity there’s been the two sides on multiple occasions, the two sides are so intertwined that they just aren’t the same without each other. After all without Konnan there is no AAA as we know it now; sure it likely would’ve had some success out of the gate thanks to Peña’s genius, but it wouldn’t have been the same without Konnan’s star power and his ability to discover people like Rey Mysterio, Psicosis and Juventud Guerrera. Likewise, would Konnan have been as big a star without AAA and Peña to help him? AAA and Konnan without each just feels weird, and an AAA taking the steps it is now without Konnan would’ve been even weirder. I cannot speak for Konnan, but I have to imagine there’s no place he would rather be right now than putting AAA in the position they’re in. This, all this, exists because he and Peña, 27 years ago this May, thumbed their nose at the lucha libre establishment and created (at the time) a revolutionary company the likes of which lucha libre had never seen. It is only fitting that now, all these years later, Konnan is the one to help shepherd AAA towards accomplishing the dreams he and Peña had all those years ago.
Thus far he, along with Dorian and the help of an incredible cast of luchadores, has done so. AAA will indeed run in Madison Square Garden, just like Antonio Peña planned. I would not bet on them running in Estadio Azteca any time soon but it’s AAA; you never know what they may have up their sleeve next. In the end the most important thing is that the possibilities exist again. Yesterday, in the halls of the world’s most famous arena AAA stood as powerful as I can remember in these times. There was an executive, a creative genius and a group of talent, all once divided now coming together again to show bring the dream of a visionary to reality. A year ago I thought that dream, or any dream Antonio Peña may have had, had died alongside him. I never thought, as much as I hoped, that AAA would be in the position it would be today. I’ve never been happier to be wrong. AAA is alive; the dreams of Antonio Peña are alive; the goal in sight again.
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