By Liam Byrne @tvtimelimit
Ultimo Guerrero vs Mr Aguila 9/11/98
Mask versus Mask Match
Not all mask matches are created equal. Some of the biggest mask matches have headlined the most significant shows in lucha libre history, whilst it is just as likely that a luchador might lose his mask in a small independent event or even middle of the card of a fairly standard CMLL or AAA weekly. With momentum, exposure and the right positioning, a mask can become sought after, often over and above the title belts within a promotion. Every significant mask has to start somewhere.
When Ultimo Guerrero lost his mask to Atlantis at the 81st Anniversario show in 2014, it was a significant deal as both luchadors had already cemented themselves as legends of the sport. What made this a significant wager was the respective success in apuestas matches that each man had; Guerrero had defended his mask in at least eight contests, Atlantis in an even more impressive sixteen. With both men spending time in notable positions on the card throughout the past fifteen plus years alongside these win streaks, the masks had inherent value that cannot be faked.
The first apuestas match Guerrero would take part in was at another Anniversario show, the 65th, as he fought Mr Aguila, a wrestler who had some brief success as Aguila and Essa Rios in the WWF. Neither man had put their mask on the line before, yet Aguila’s unmasked work up north seemed to gift the result for the fans. However, as a stepping stone to further notable feuds and apuestas matches, it was a starting point. Only a year before, Guerrero’s decision to join CMLL had saved him from losing his mask in Promo Azteca; now, he was to begin to build a legacy over the next sixteen years that culminated in a lucha libre classic.
In the primera caida, Guerrero seemed to have taken control with vicious strikes and a brutal clothesline, yet a missed charge into the corner allowed Aguila to take flight, landing a twisting senton to the outside. With a cheeky nod to a WWF peer, Aguila landed a stunner after a kick to the gut, eventually picking up the primera caida with a Gory special into a pin that turned into a modified crab from the Gory setup which forced Guerrero to quit.
Guerrero came out for the segundo caida with renewed fury as he was only one decision away from losing his mask. Aguila once again would weather the early storm, blasting back at Guerrero with kicks to the chest and back to earn himself a two count. A clever trip by Guerrero to send Aguila to the outside seemed to be primarily about allowing Aguila to fly once more, hitting a springboard twisting senton off of the second rope. However, with the match back in the ring, a Guerrero missile dropkick to the back of the head, a judo style throw and a leg grapevine into a clutch pin earned him parity with the segundo caida.
Without even letting Aguila’s cornerman to get out of the ring, Guerrero would jump Aguila for the tercera caida, using an apron suplex to send him outside and allowing him to land an elbowdrop off of the apron. Unsurprisingly, Aguila took to the air for a third time, knocking Guerrero off of the top rope with a dropkick and landing another spinning splash to ringside. Aguila wasn’t through, landing a spinning huracanrana off of the top, only to miss a tumbleweed-style splash and almost lose the contest after a Guerrero sitout powerbomb.
Each man utilised cradles and flash pins in an attempt to sneak out the win but with no success. Another Aguila stunner allowed him to head to the top and land a 450 that is on the mark. Guerrero should be finished, but he kicked out at two. Further Aguila athleticism is cut off as a springboard armdrag is stopped with a Guerrero forearm. There is no messing around about the finish: an inverted superplex is followed by two throws and a sitting stretch that forced Aguila to submit in the middle of the ring. The result may have been somewhat obvious, but the commentary team still sell it like it is a huge deal and big win for Guerrero.
Which it was. A year after his arrival in CMLL, he had become a luchador who took masks. Super Parka and Villano V would be other notable masks he would win en route to his date with destiny against Atlantis. Unfortunately, it was not to be on that night. However, the beauty of lucha libre is that this only served to build the legacy of Atlantis’ mask, making it even more valuable than before – something that will make the moment he loses it (if he ever does) all the more important.