Earlier today American promotion Ring of Honor made, what I feel, was a pretty big announcement; for their shows next month in San Antonio and Dallas, Texas, the company would be bringing in CMLL legend, not star, LEGEND, Atlantis. My reaction was a mixture of happiness, sadness and then even more sadness when I read ROH’s description of Atlantis. You can read it if you so desire but the three paragraph, barely 100 word statement read of someone who briefly looked at Atlantis’ Wikipedia page, briefly touched on the important stuff and then filled the rest with a whole lot of generalized inaccuracies. In ROH’s defense, this clumsiness extends beyond Atlantis; I can’t recall a single description of a CMLL star they’ve brought in (and there have been many) that didn’t reek of laziness and a lack of attention to detail. This one just happened to piss me off more than anything because this isn’t just any run of the mill budding CMLL star or regular CMLL star. This is ATLANTIS! This is not a guy who should be reduced to a three paragraph description where fans are left afterwards scratching their heads and going “who the hell is Atlantis?” And that’s why I’m here to, in my own way, correct ROH’s mistake. Why should you get excited for Atlantis Ring of Honor fans? Let me tell and let me begin by answering that initial question you had.
Who is Atlantis?
Though his real name isn’t known due to Mexican tradition (you need to unmask before they reveal your identity) it is known he was born on September 28th, 1962 and that he debuted under the Atlantis name in as a 20 year old in 1983 (though it’s rumored he began working beforehand under a different name). The gimmick, as you could probably tell, was inspired by the warriors of Atlantis, the fictional lost continent from Ancient Greece that Disney co-opted into a shitty animated film starring Michael J. Fox. Atlantis was billed as one of the last warriors from the lost continent and, judging by his longevity, I’d say they got that right. If you were paying attention a minute ago to his debut date, you’ve figured out by now that Atlantis has been wrestling for at least 35 years, with his 35th Anniversary under the gimmick coming this June. During that 35 year career he has held 26 champions for at least 8,924 combined days (that’s a little over 24 years if you’re keeping track of things that way), main evented CMLL’s marquee show, the CMLL Aniversario, nine times (the 51st, 56th, 59th, 60th, 65th, 74th, 77th 81st and 82nd editions, with the 51st, 60th, 81st and 82nd Aniversarios all being huge singles matches) and at times has been both the number one technico and number one rudo for CMLL. Oh, and aside from a few indie appearances he has spent his entire career with the promotion, proving to be one of the most loyal luchadores in history along with fellow legend Negro Casas.
But for all the accolades, ticket sales and big shows the thing Atlantis will be remembered for the most are his big match Apuesta clashes. For those who don’t know, the Apuesta (or bet) match is the biggest match that can happen in Mexico, whether it is hair vs. hair, mask vs. hair or the most important of all, mask vs. mask. Since his debut Atlantis has carved out a reputation of being one of the greatest Apuesta workers ever. Many of these matches have gone on to become legendary in lucha libre lore, from his first one against Talisman at the 51st Aniversario to his defeat of Kung Fu in 1990 to his late career classic two and a half years ago at the 82nd Aniversario against La Sombra, a young man who you may now know as Andrade “Cien” Almas. But even among his legendary Apuesta matches lies two that stand apart; his 81st Aniversario clash with former partner turned longtime rival Último Guerrero (himself a frequent ROH visitor) and an epic clash with Villano III at the 2000 Juicio Final. Both matches are considered the standard when it comes to modern Apuesta matches, the Atlantis-UG match is one of the highest grossing matches of all time (that show made CMLL, aside from WWE, the only North American promotion to ever draw over $1 million at the gate. Over $1 million!) and the Atlantis-Villano match (voted the 2000 Match of the Year by Wrestling Observer Newsletter voters) is considered by many (including myself) to be one of the greatest matches both in lucha libre and wrestling history. So yeah; Atlantis is kind of a big deal.
How Good Was/Is He?
It’s one thing to be a big star; it’s another thing to be a big star and a great worker. So was Atlantis worthy of the big push he got from CMLL? Absolutely. Though he was never a revolutionary high flyer like Rey Mysterio, Juventud Guerrera, Fenix or Flamita, in his younger days Atlantis was a really strong high flyer known for his athleticism. He was even more impressive as an overall performer though, something that came through the most during a short but popular feud with Blue Panther. The legendary maestro and Daniel Bryan favorite has long been known as one of the greatest technical wrestlers ever and Atlantis not only held his own against him but often rose to Panther’s level. It was that solid foundation that allowed Atlantis to remain a strong performer as he aged, though even into his fifties he has continued to do crossbody’s and suicide dives. My personal favorite aspect of Atlantis; his ability to do a backbreaker. Until he returned from surgery, no one in the world could do a tilt-a-whirl backbreaker as smooth and as beautiful as Atlantis could. Even his submission, the legendary and heavily protected Torture Rack esq La Atlantida, can’t hold a candle to how Atlantis managed to make every backbreaker so perfect.
You may have noticed though I said it was the best before Atlantis’ surgery. And therein lies the problem if you’re expecting Atlantis to be the same man he was just a few years ago against La Sombra. In August of last year Atlantis suffered a knee injury that forced the legend out until January of this year; not only was it the longest period of time Atlantis had missed in his career it was also the biggest injury he ever suffered. On the one hand you could say he’s been very fortunate it took until the 34th year of his career to suffer that serious of an injury. On the other hand watching Atlantis these days would make you second guess any thoughts of that; aside from a few glimpses here and there (mostly with Guerrero) Atlantis has depressingly not been the same performer he was before getting hurt. The argument could be made that he returned too quickly in order to perform at FantasticaMania (true), that he’s still not 100% healthy (possible), that he can probably still turn it on when it matters most (possible) and that he’ll eventually be able to work himself back into the groove. Alas the evidence towards some of those theories isn’t strong at this point, and anyone expecting Atlantis to be his old self at these Ring of Honor shows might want to temper those expectations. That said there are still plenty of reasons to be excited to see Atlantis, most notably because of the answer to the next question.
How Often Has Atlantis Worked in the States?
This is where ROH was, in a way, painfully wrong in their description. ROH’s exact quote is that Atlantis “makes his return to the United States in his first recorded match in seven years in what may be just the second time in his career.” Nope, nope and nope. The appearance ROH appears to be referencing is Atlantis’ lone date working for cult promotion CHIKARA in 2012, where he teamed with long time rival and teammate Rey Bucanero in a losing effort against Chuck Taylor and anti-Tommasso Ciampa activist Johnny Gargano (man Atlantis has worked a lot with 2017 NXT stars, hasn’t he?). In reality Atlantis has worked shows in the US at least thirteen times since 2004, mostly appearing for American based lucha promotions Fuerza Mexicana de Lucha Libre and Pro Wrestling Revolution, the latter of which frequently streams their shows. So no, this will not be only the second time Atlantis has worked here in the states nor only the second time he will have appeared on a streamed show. However, it will be his highest profile US streamed/televised appearance since the 90’s when, and this will be the one that gets you, he worked a couple shows for WCW. That’s right; Atlantis, lucha libre legend, was briefly a member of WCW during the Monday Night Wars. There’s video proof and everything, which is both fortunate and unfortunate. The fortunate part is that, by searching Dailymotion and YouTube, you can see Atlantis wrestle on WCW Worldwide against someone named Len Denton and fellow underappreciated lucha star (in the states at least) Emilio Charles Jr. The unfortunate part is that Atlantis is mistaken for Lizmark Jr. throughout the match with Charles, which in WCW’s defense could’ve just been Atlantis filling in for Lizmark but more likely than not was WCW being WCW. It also shows how much WCW thought of Atlantis and why he never caught on there like many of his contemporaries, like Mysterio, Guerrera, LA Park and even Vampiro, did. All the more reason why Atlantis’ appearance at ROH is as big as it is despite his decline in skill…and all the more stupid that ROH bungled the whole announcement!
What Atlantis Matches Should You Watch?
The correct answer to this question is as many as one possibly can. I’m told however that not everyone has enough time to seek out every match ever so thus I’ll keep it to the most important to (while also shouting out the Sombra match because a) it’s awesome and b) Sombra is kind of a big deal now). First there’s the Último Guerrero match from the 81st Aniversario, amazingly just four years ago. I know Dave Meltzer’s opinion is divisive to some but I think we can all agree he knows a little bit about wrestling and he has said that this is a match to show someone when introducing them to pro wrestling. He’s right on the money. It’s a really worked match but it’s less about that and more about unbelievable spectacle; the electricity of the Arena Mexico crowd watching two of the biggest stars of the last two decades duking it out, knowing that one of them is going to walk away with their mask, their identity stolen by the other. That’s the ultimate power of the lucha libre and what makes the mask, and matches for the mask, so powerful compared to everything else out there, at least to me. And the emotion created from this Atlantis-UG match is unlike anything that came before it (save for one match). As a wrestling fan you owe it to yourself to experience these two wrestling each other as a sold out Arena Mexico (one of the three greatest buildings in wrestling lore) hangs on the edge of their seat. I should also point out that it’s pretty cool to watch the only non WWE event to draw over a gate of over $1 million. It’ll really help your wrestling hipster cred!
As you can see it takes a really special match to not make that the most famous of Atlantis’ career…which is exactly what his match with Villano III eighteen years ago was. I wrote about this match a few years ago on my old blog. I consider this to be my favorite match of all time, just ahead of CM Punk vs. John Cena from Money in the Bank 2011 and the first Kenny Omega-Kazuchika Okada bout. Both those matches had more awe inspiring wrestling from an athletic standpoint and Punk-Cena had nearly as much heat. But nothing has the combination of great wrestling, great storytelling, off the charts heat and above all else, transcendent emotion that Atlantis-Villano had. It’s overflowing with talking points. Villano III was the aging veteran who many thought had lost a step. Atlantis was the luchadore pushing forty who had had a great career but never had “that match” to put on his resume. Almost a year in the making the match was less the high flying lucha libre car crash most people believe lucha libre to always be (how wrong they are) and more an old school style bout about two luchadores who hate each other so much that they spend the whole match trying to not just win the match, but win it by submission. Can you imagine a more humiliating defeat in lucha libre, to not just lose your mask but to lose it by quitting?! And that’s in addition to the heat, the spectacle and the fact that Atlantis and Villano III are two of the greatest in ring workers in lucha libre history, thus allowing them to pull it all off. I still don’t know if I’ve ever heard a pop as loud as the one where Atlantis finally gets the ring with Atlantida and I’ll never forget Villano III, despite losing his mask and losing by submission, letting go of his pride and celebrating with Atlantis the fact that they pulled off something so extraordinary. There are two matches that have shaped lucha libre since it got noticed by the world in 1994; the When Worlds Collide Tag Match between Eddie Guerrero/Art Barr and El Hijo del Santo/Octagón, and this match. If you still don’t get what Atlantis is about from this column, you will when you watch this.
So there you go lucha and Ring of Honor fans; that is Atlantis, that is his history, that’s what you can expect from him when he appears next month and that’s why you should be excited. Hope you enjoyed that and, while he’s more than likely not going to be the same guy he once was, it’s still a pretty cool thing that he’ll finally get to be on US TV again and you should be excited for it, even if ROH gave you very reason to be excited for it. Hopefully they see this and add everything to it. And now I disappear. Till next time, one last Atlantis gif.
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