AEW’s Lucha Dilemma

In recent weeks, more lucha libre talent have made their way onto All Elite Wrestling programming, including the main event segment of Dynamite this week when Chris Jericho beat Atlantis Jr. via submission. It was a full circle moment for “Lion Heart,” as he worked with the elder Atlantis early in his career in Mexico, and the veteran luchador was at ringside for the bout.

Make no mistake about it, lucha libre can be a wonderful and exciting style of pro wrestling. The vibrant and passionate Hispanic culture adds so much to the atmosphere. The fact that drugs and corruption, much like it has done to the country as a whole, in the business in Mexico have kept lucha from truly showcasing how amazing it can be is truly disappointing.

You’ve heard for years how it was thought that a lucha libre organization could flourish in the United States because of the increased Latino population, and while I don’t think a full-fledged lucha group could make a dent on the national level because the style and presentation is completely different than the pro wrestling that the general public is familiar with, it goes without that aspects of the lucha genre can definitely draw money in the United States. A lot of it would have to do with the introduction and presentation of the stars involved, and as one-dimensional as it was, Rey Mysterio’s presentation as the lucha legend in WWE is an example of how it can be used to draw major money. When WCW was foolish enough to unmask Mysterio, the WWE merchandised it and used the design to help make him one of the most popular stars in the history of the company.

As far as something pure lucha libre, that works on a more local or regional level because it can be tailored to those specific fans. Keep in mind, on a national level, the target audience is the casual fan so the product has to be as broad as possible. So, obviously, the national presentation of lucha libre in America can definitely be profitable, but it’s also a balancing act.

As with most things on AEW shows, the ham-handed attempt to book lucha stars wasn’t a measured approach at all, at least for the majority of the past few weeks. Without explanation or a video package to hype their arrival, a group of CMLL talent began a feud with The Blackpool Combat in recent weeks. Besides the fact that the vast majority of the TBS audience has no idea who they were, it’s also possible that even a portion of the diehard AEW fan base was unfamiliar with the talent because lucha is somewhat of its own niche, even among diehard American fans. It’s nothing against Excalibur, but one of the reasons that Mike Tenay was so valuable for WCW and thus why the luchadors became a staple of the Nitro program, is that Tenay explained their background and presented them in such a professional manner. On the flip side, the Jericho/Atlantis match at least had a story behind it and an easy narrative for the audience to follow throughout the segment. There was context to who Atlantis was as a previous opponent and mentor to Jericho, and it was a chance for the now-veteran Lion Heart to compete against the second generation, the same way his father had matches against Jericho early in his career before he showed up as Lion Heart in WCW.

However, news made the rounds just a few days ago that could impact the new working agreement between CMLL and AEW.

The Wrestling Observer reported that there’s a list of 19 CMLL performers that are in danger of getting their work visas canceled because of some type of issue with the paper work. Among the names, Volador Jr., Hechicero, and Mascara Dorada are listed as those that might not be allowed to work in the United States. The trio were some of the CMLL talent that appeared on AEW TV to start the feud with the BCC. PWInsider’s Mike Johnson reported that the list of luchadors had work visas sponsored through the independent promotion Full Blown Pro Wrestling in Texas. When there was an issue with the visa, the independent promoter was told that he would be held responsible if the issues weren’t resolved. Johnson reported that CMLL told the Texas promoter that they would handle the issue, but didn’t and weren’t in contact with Full Blown Pro Wrestling management so the promoter contacted the US government to let them know that he terminated his working agreement with the Mexican group.

This could affect not only the CMLL talent that AEW has already used on TV, but it might also be difficult to bring other CMLL wrestlers into the company, depending on their specific visa status. Considering that there was an influx of talent and even an angle that suggested that the BCC would wrestle at Arena Mexico, it appears that this wasn’t a one-off type of deal for CMLL talent to be featured on AEW television, and some have speculated that perhaps the Mexican group will be apart of the next Forbidden Door pay-per-view later this year.

Nothing about Tony Khan’s management style suggests that he’s prepared, but it should go without saying that if he was going to feature foreign talent on his television program for any extended period of time or they were going to be used in any role on importance, their visa status shouldn’t depend on an independent promoter. We’ve seen countless times that money is no object for Tony so it’s nothing more than a complete oversight that the CMLL talent were booked on his shows without AEW being in control of their visa status. Money talks and if Khan was willing to sponsor the talent himself then the cancelling of work visas wouldn’t have an impact on the talent available to AEW.

Obviously, the US government isn’t going to overlook the work visa issue, especially because a work visa being granted is expensive, which is why there are rules in place for the visa process since it’s basically a way for the government to generate more money. Given the current political climate, and the fact that some of the CMLL talent that might get their work visas cancelled have worked on national television, it’s an issue that will have to be resolved if Tony wants to continue the working agreement with the Mexican league. Since it involves branches of the government, the work visa process can be extensive and probably something Tony Khan should’ve looked into before he had the Mexican group beat down a few of his top stars.

You will occasionally hear that a WWE talent has to return to their native country for a few weeks to get a fresh work visa, but that’s essentially a technicality because of how long a permanent work visa, a green card, or even citizenship takes to be approved by the US government. The fact that the entire CMLL angle might have to be scrapped because some of the talent will have their work visas completely cancelled is another example of mismanagement from Tony Khan in AEW.

However, this might be a red flag for Tony to simply maintain the roster of luchadors that he already has for his promotion.

The political scene in Mexico is actually more silly and petty than the politics in the United States. Despite being a different company, if CMLL talent are booked for AEW then the full-time AEW talent that work for AAA can’t appear on the same show because of rivalry between the two Mexican groups. This even included the promotions that CMLL works with, as the lucha league has a working agreement with New Japan so that’s why AEW talent that works for AAA didn’t appear at the Forbidden Door pay-per-views. Should Tony Khan really try to juggle the politics of Mexican wresting just to get a few CMLL talent on the show, especially when the visa issues complicate the matter even more?

While Bandido is still sidelined with a wrist injury, and Vikingo suffered a very serious knee injury at a small show in Mexico that required surgery a few days ago, All Elite Wrestling still has many talented luchadors on the roster. Pentagon and Rey Fenix are money. Rush signed a full-time deal with the promotion last year, and there are other Mexican deal also signed to AEW contracts. When you take into account the political hurdles and the visa issues, maybe Tony Khan should chalk the CMLL experiment up as a lesson learned as a promoter and use the TV time to feature the roster that he signed to full-time AEW deals.

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Until next week
-Jim LaMotta

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