The landscape of television is constantly changing, especially amid a global pandemic. Unfortunately, that means there are casualties including filmmaker Robert Rodriguez’s El Rey Network. The channel, known for its unique cultivation of Latin-infused programming, left the airwaves January 1 after Univision’s decision to divest.
A major part of its legacy will arguably be Lucha Underground, a promotion-series that ended in 2018 after four seasons. The show brought a fresh coat of paint when it came to the presentation of pro wrestling. The solid hard-hitting action in The Temple was accompanied by captivating vignettes and videos. Ones that at times made it feel like you were watching a film.
The slick production brought cinematic elements to the forefront like never before in the genre. An argument can be made companies today were influenced, or at least inspired, by what LU’s innovation. There was grittiness too when the story called for it. The same can be said for the more violent encounters built up over weeks and months at a time leading into the Ultima Lucha finales. Another aspect of the promotion making it stand out was the fact there were seasons with breaks in between to prevent audience fatigue, keeping the product fresh.
Rodriguez, joined by fellow executive producers TV heavyweight Mark Rodriguez, Eric van Wagenen, Anthony Jensen and Chris DeJoseph, created a world (at times otherworldly) for its characters to play in that kept viewers or “Believers” invested. With talent from Mexico’s Lucha Libre AAA Worldwide heavily featured, fans were also exposed to talent they might have not discovered otherwise.
The show provided a platform for current names making waves across the board in the industry. Names like Fenix, Pentagon, King Cuerno (WWE’s Santos Escobar), The Mack (Willie Mack), Killshot (Isaiah “Swerve” Scott), XO Lishus (Sonny Kiss) and inaugural champion Prince Puma (Ricochet), the list goes on and on. LU broke ground on the way women were perceived as the likes of Sexy Star, Kobra Moon (Thunder Rosa), Ivelisse and Taya Valkyrie were in major roles within a level playing field.
Chavo Guerrero, Rey Mysterio, Vampiro and Johnny Mundo (John Morrison) were even seen in a fresh light. They went all in and brought a level of star power for the casual fans to take notice. Matt Striker and Vampiro did a good job helping paint the picture and provide the soundtrack for what was unfolding inside the ring. The venue was almost a character in its design, giving the fight club-Aztec battleground vibe.
And who can forget Dario Cueto (and father Antonio), the onscreen authority figure and giver of opportunities. The man behind the character, Luis Fernandez-Gil, was an actor and didn’t come with the traditional pro wrestling background. Yet he thrived in the position, becoming an important and beloved part of the program. One part of LU that may go under the radar were the appearances of Lorenzo Lamas as the corrupt Councilman Delgado. The “Renegade” fit in well.
Similar to other companies, Lucha Underground wasn’t perfect. We’ve read the behind the scenes stories regarding finances, contract disputes and everything in between. But what was produced for 127 episodes in Los Angeles, California should be applauded. Despite the obstacles, they grew a dedicated fan base and generated genuine buzz. There is an appreciation for what Lucha Underground managed to accomplish without the resources of a WWE or an AEW. A feeling that will only be renewed in the years to come as more people discover the show.