Segunda Caida

Phil Schneider, Eric Ritz, Matt D, Sebastian, and other friends write about pro wrestling. Follow us @segundacaida

Tuesday, April 30, 2024

AEW Five Fingers of Death 4/22 - 4/28 (But really just LA Park vs Rush)

LA Park vs. Rush Elite 4/21/24

MD: Rush is basically a Finger of Death and this promotion has elite in the title and AEW didn't give me any of the usual suspects to work with this week so this is game. I haven't seen a Rush vs Park match for a while and this felt like coming home. Let's break this down a bit. Park is 58. He's hanging on admirably, one of the most talented, most charismatic wrestlers ever with an amazing presence. So much of what made him great when he was younger wasn't based on athleticism but instead on being larger than life and being able to milk every moment. That's not to say he wasn't athletic when he needed to be, but it was the personality that you couldn't look away from. Rush is in his mid-thirties. He's no longer the brash upstart. He's fully formed, dangerous, deadly. You watch him and you get an uncomfortable sense of violence and unpredictability, of someone who is unhinged and could do anything at a moment's notice. In wrestling, that's gold.

These are primal, forever opponents, but not necessarily peers or rivals. Park's middle age, even the beginnings of his old age, have in part been defined by his wars with Rush. Meanwhile, Rush himself truly became a man warring with Shocker and Casas, sure, but most especially with Park. Neither made each other, for both have had rich careers outside of one another, but neither would be who they are now without the other. Perhaps more than anything else, they allow each other to be their truest, darkest, brashest, most demented, most over-the-top selves. And that's saying a lot. They understand the power of a moment, the resonant mood that can be created by taking it slow, by building to impact, by hitting as hard as possible, by letting the blood drip and flow and stain.

Here, they attack each other right from the start, then they pull back to meet face to face in the ring, to build that anticipation back up so that they can just charge forth once again. It's equal between them to start, familiarity and animosity mixing with punches and kicks, simply throwing their bodies at one another. Rush dodges a shot in the corner and takes Park's head off, gaining control. They spill to the outside and the lucha beatdown begins. This encounter will mimic a three fall lucha match in its own way, despite being one fall: a bit of feeling out, a rudo beatdown (mimicking the end of the primera), a big comeback (as if in the segunda), and then exciting back and forth action to the finish (which would be the tercera). Rush uses Park's belt, beats him around ringside, tears at his mask. I have been watching decades old Principe Island matches lately and you can see the face of young Park in the torn up mess that is current Park's bloody visage, like watching Darth Vader remove his mask.

At one point as Rush is doing damage on the outside, the fans start to chant for Park. Wrestling sits on a spectrum; well, it sits on many, but for the sake of this post, there's one that counts. On one side are two wrestlers just calling it, just laying the bricks of violence and mayhem and emotion in response to each other and the crowd, leading the crowd, following it, reacting and resonating. On the other is the sort of choreography we saw this last week from O'Reilly and Ospreay, lifted to greater athletic heights due to the planning and practicing involved, intended to inspire a certain emotion and reaction in the crowd, but left with no room to negotiate, no room to deviate. It's not necessarily a value judgment (for you probably want it to fall somewhere in the middle, like most things in life) but the older I get the more  one seems more engaging and worthwhile than the other, the more that one seems to be the true writhing, beating, living spirit of pro wrestling and the other a sort of artificial exhibition. At the very least, the ability to make it seem organic and unplanned creates the sort of immersion and suspension of disbelief which leaves even the most inspired Rube Goldberg machine of counters and headdrops feeling cold and distant. So when the crowd started to chant for Park, Rush paused, looked to them, expressed his fury and disbelief, hearkening back to the time when he was a beleaguered young tecnico that the crowd had turned upon nightly, his own origin story. He rushed towards the crowd, snatched a small round table, lifted it to the ringside area and began to batter Park with it. Was it something he had scouted out before the match? Was it an opportunistic moment fueled by Rush channeling a wellspring of relatable inner rage? Who knows? But it was the most compelling thing I saw all week in wrestling, I can tell you that much.

The comeback was perfect as well. Rush set up Park for the corner dropkick, only to stop, kick, roll back, and hit the Tranquilo pose. Usually Rush playing with his food like this would just lead to a brief break in the action, a bit of grousing from the crowd, and a continued beating. Park was more than familiar with it, however, and sitting watching it, his mask torn, his faced blooded, it inspired a bubbling rage within him. He forced his way to a feet, reared back... and was stopped by the ref. Ah, the usual BS of 2000s Park heel ref antics, right? Here though, a wonderful thing happened. Rush, after cheapshotting Park, reached into his tights, pulled something out and handed it to the ref, who immediately pocketed it! He paid him off in the moment. What a great (and rare) tiny touch to underpin the worst thing in lucha with just a little bit of logic. I would have even been ok with another two or three minutes of rudo ref nonsense beatdown to follow this. Instead, Park came back quickly, bloodied Rush up viscerally, and they rolled into an exciting final third. Park hit a spin wheel kick. He took both the German off of the ropes and a belly-to-belly from Rush (even though he really didn't have to). Maybe even more importantly, they blistered each other with headbutts. Eventually, the ref got back involved, slow counting and then taking both errant and fully intended shots from each wrestlers, allowing them to foul one another for mirrored nearfalls. It led to a ref ending up coughing up blood, the combatants headbutting each other into mutual oblivion slumped into a near embrace, and the commissioner throwing out the match.

Post-match they made the usual grandiose challenges, but there was something greater underpinning it, something more genuine, more gripping, something that spoke to deeper themes of aging and rivalry, of bitter respect, even of love. Rush wouldn't outright say he loved Park, but he did call him the sort of bastard that he would, could, even did love. When he claimed to want Park's mask, it wasn't to humiliate him but so that the old bastard could finally retire, so that he could rest. Meanwhile, Park seemed to almost welcome it, knowing he couldn't stop until the raging fire that burned between them finally went out, an obsessed Gerard ever hunting Dr. Richard Kimmel (or Javert and Valjean but with the ages reversed). Wrestling can be this: sprawling brutality, flared egos, an oppressive, sensational mood where every punch makes it feel like you're watching deities battle one another, that deals with themes of respect and love, of aging, of hubris and being trapped by one's own masculinity and the need to look one's self in the mirror and to be able to take pride in what one sees, even if what one is seeing is a skeleton mask ripped to shreds. This can be wrestling at its most transcendent, but only if you let it be, only if you can find it, if you can embrace it, if you can leave empty sugar-sweet thrills behind and delve into the waters of this darkest, murkiest substance instead.

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