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Tuesday, September 05, 2023

Espectáculos Promociones Panama: Idolo! Kendo!

Idolo vs Kendo (mascara contra mascara) - 2 October 1988

MD: The atmosphere for this is absolutely off the charts. This crowd lived and breathed with every single thing that Idolo did and trash flew at every one of Kendo’s actions. In fact, I get the notion they flew just a little too close to the sun here and it impacted the trajectory of the match. Kendo ambushed Idolo early and it’s just not the Kendo we all know and put up with. There’s no aping of Kato Kung Lee’s shtick. There’s nothing but driving violence here. He drives all the way to a chairshot on the outside. That’s when we see a giant white object fly in from off screen at him. It’s probably a chair, but whatever it is, it’s dangerous and everything grinds to a halt with its arrival. After that they decide for some pleasant mask ripping by the apron and back in the ring to let the crowd cool back down a bit. When they go back outside again Idolo has the advantage. He actually has the advantage for a lot of the back half.

It’s not the first course correction I’ve ever seen but it’s a fairly unfortunate one. I’m all for big tecnico comebacks in apuestas matches and certainly by the end of this, Kendo’s mask is comically destroyed, but the strength in this one was probably going to be in Idolo eating a beating and Kendo causing a riot. Instead, we get a lot of Idolo sizing him up for his long distance karate strikes. I’m not going to say that Idolo is an emperor with no clothes, because I do fully think he understands how to set up a moment and milk it, and that’s as much a part of being a star in wrestling as anything, and the fans are completely behind him, but past one nice looking dropkick and him pulling it together for the dive that set up the finish in the tercera, he just wasn’t physically there by this point. The fans don’t care. I know if I was in this crowd, I would take his early stumbles as him just trying to power back after the start-of-the-match beating that Kendo gave him. I’d see it as valiant and not deficient and I think, for the most part, the crowd absolutely saw it as such.

That, in and of itself, lets you forgive some of the things that probably didn’t work here and focus on what did, like when they were throwing fists on their knees, masks torn apart and exhausted, or the submissions towards the end, with Idolo going deep on a crab, only to have Kendo tap his back, pretending to be the ref in order to escape. I did love the finish: Kendo recovered first after Idolo’s tope but he was overconfident because of that and turned away from his prone opponent. That allowed Idolo to slip in with a cavernaria out of nowhere. Post-match, Kendo didn’t seem very upset by the loss, but that seemed to be part of a tecnico turn. If he no longer had the mask to make him feared and beloved, best to take a jovial approach, hugging Idolo and getting the crowd back behind him for whatever might be next; they’d be more likely to buy into his shtick then. This one was all about the crowd, and what a truly special crowd it turned out to be.

GB: I’m not sure what to make of this match. I really regret not enhancing my Spanish skills more as these videos probably have the answers I need but the audio quality is just so low I can’t make head nor tail of anything in the post match. Thus, I’m left with more perplexing questions than answers.

What I know is that Kendo came into this match strong, having taken Tahur’s mask in December 1987. Idolo, of course, was hot off the Exterminador mask win and enjoying the fan adulation he had been missing out on as a rudo. That’s as much as I can find on this match. 

The Kendo we have here is in stark contrast to the Kendo we’ve come to know in Mexico and Japan. He’s equally in stark contrast to the Kendo we’ve seen in Panama. A year earlier he was valiantly offering to train El Baron in hand-to-hand combat in his fight against Kendo’s real-life cousin, Bunny Black. He was also avenging Kato Kung Lee’s honor in facing off against El Tahur in a title match that we covered earlier. He was a fan favourite tecnico. Here he’s pretty much a straight rudo without the quirks and stylations that make him so obviously Kendo.

You get the jovial side in the post-match reveal but that just furthers the confusion, in all honesty. If I was to make guesses, I think it’s more Kendo playing to the fans in the hopes that they pardon his loss and let him remask (as they allow by fan-approval in Panama) but, again, I’m not so sure.

Kendo is very open about his history and career. There are many interviews out there to listen to and he goes into a lot of detail regarding each stage of his career. He laments a little bit regarding an incident with Sandokan and he obviouly puts Panama over as how he got to Mexico but he doesn’t go into his return to Mexico nor his fights with el Tahur. It’s a rather odd omission as this was a central feud to his 1980s. He’s also a largely influential wrestler to the territory with his work with el Baron, Kato Kung Lee and inspiration for other karetakas such as Kuman Chu and Kent Sui:

In broad strokes, the Luchawiki article on Kendo is more or less correct. However, there’s a dramatization that Aguayo/Anibal “found” him and gave him his first clean break. Truth be told, Kendo was already a hot commodity in Central/South America. The Mexicans just speedtracked the process, if you will, as his name was growing to the point he’d arrive there eventually.  The real person I think we can tribute Kendo’s international success to is Johnny Piña who brought Kendo out of the Domincan Republic first. After all, even El Santo asked for Kendo by name in 1981 when looking for people to practice with his son before his debut:

Having himself debuted officially at 14 and having started training a little earlier (with the odd match or two at 12 and 13), you get the sense from Kendo that his trainers were incredibly harsh on him. We lament that Panama had mats in dingy basements but Kendo had none even of those luxuries. He broke into wrestling at the age of nine, having to find work after the passing of his father. He spent his time filling out water canisters for the arenas, making a mere twenty cents a time along with free entry to the fights. Through this he met José Martín, the local mask maker and ultimate inspiration for his real-life career as a tailor. His trainers, El Cirujano and Gran Castillo, had him learn to bump on the hard ground with the rationale that if he could learn to land here, he’d learn to land anywhere. They’d even have him weighed down by cinderblocks as he did neck strengthening exercises. Listening to him speak, though, you realise he was fond of this method of training and seems to hold it against  the younger generation for not dedicating their bodies in the same way he did.

Kendo spent the next eleven years travelling around the Dominican Republic making a name for himself before Johnny Piña brought him to Panama at the age of 26 where he worked for Samy de la Guardia. In fact, he would travel through seven different countries before even getting a shot at Mexico. The usual names come up but, interestingly, Kendo mentioned his times in Curaçao and Aruba - territories I’ve never heard much mutter about before! Thanks to the prominence of Samy’s booking, Kendo got to work with many big names that he’d never have the luxury to work with otherwise. Wrestlers such as Septiembre Negro, Perro Aguayo and Villano III all laced up their boots opposite or alongside him. This was his way in and he was determined to show off his abilities. He was saving for a ticket to Mexico, already, but this was the much easier route he thought. Perro Aguayo and Anibal were both impressed enough by the young wrestler and agreed to recommend his name to Franscisco Flores, the promoter of the UWA. They had told Kendo it was no guarantee, it was only a name-drop, but they’d try. So, gambling everything on himself, Kendo travelled back with them to Mexico on the 7th of May 1983, at the age of 27. He was playing a dangerous game as he had a contract to wrestle for a month and a half with a promotion in Colombia that started on the very same day. He was burning bridges on the hopes of this recommendation. Thankfully, it paid off. This was Kendo’s dream. It was Mexico or death, as he said, and the plucky karetaka succeeded.

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