Ah, Brussels. To me, the very name conjures up an image of the people of Brussels going about their lives and their work in the city where they work and live. Of course, whatever else you may think, there is one thing we can all agree on - Brussels is not in Oxford. Yet, that is where I found myself on Sunday morning, nine hours before the Cirque Royal hosted the second of two Todo X El Todo shows which I had a ticket for.
I set off at half five of the morn, first by car (Suzuki Swift, my flat to the bus stop), then by bus (Oxford Espress, bus stop to Baker Street) then by underground train (underground train, Baker Street to London St Pancras). I have never travelled on the Eurostar before, and it was an enjoyable experience. Recent air journeys has conditioned me to associate checking in and passport control with invasive personal searches and ludicrous restrictions on hand luggage contents, so it was refreshing to meet the bored eyes of an attendent who couldn't care less if I went through the scanner laden with metal coins and have packed in my bag a bottle of (non-clear) Apple Tango. Ha! The fools. They won't be so care-free when I work out how to make an explosive device out of metal coins and (non-clear) Apple Tango. I concede that the prototypes have been failures, mainly looking like damp metal coins.
I watched some of disc three of the New Japan set on the train (Killer Khan vs. Andre is a really great match, Bret Hart vs. Tiger Mask is a really bad match) and listened to Immortal's 'Pure Holocaust' on the iPod, then arrived at Brussels Midi at 12.30pm, Belgian time, and took the metro to Madou, the final leg of the journey. It was at this point I stepped outside for the first time since Baker Street. The first thing you notice about Brussels is how cold and wet it is during a freak storm which killed fifty people in France that day. I walked towards Grand Place for a quick ham and cheese omlette, chips and a Tongerlo Dubbel (brune, if you're asking), Belgian beer being a secondary reason for making a day trip to Brussels. Back to the theatre for 2.30pm, collected tickets, took seats.
The Cirque Royal was a really nice venue, seating down to floor level all the way around the ring, then a huge ring of balcony seats going up a long way. According to Santo, the Saturday show was a sell-out. This was not, however, but most of the lower seats were full. The crowd was a mixture, plenty of masked children in Rey Mysterio t-shirts with parents, some older rowdy teens and then plenty of couples both young and old who had gone out for the Sunday to watch some lucha libre. There was no-one there who looked liked they be chanting at a wXw show, for example.
The show started about twenty minutes late, which is practically early by most lucha shows standard. There were two annoucers, one in French and the other in Flemish due to the biligual status of Belgium's capital. I was waiting for Terry Wogan to summarise it in English (a niche joke, at best). They were probably doing the standard "lucha for non-lucha fans" spiel about lucha being about good vs. evil, technicos vs. rudos and then, out of nowhere they are both saying "Black Terry", and I shot out of my mental happy place where I retreat every time foreign languages are spoken around me. Black Terry is my favourite luchadore in the world, I was thinking only last week how I may never see him live as he doesn't seem to be one of the guys who does Santo's European tours. And there he is, first guy out. In a referee's top. Mother of fuck. Who flies Black Terry out to Belgium just to referee? I will tell you now: it was not a Jesus who loves me.
Anyway, we are five paragraphs in, so let's talk about the wrestling. The opening match was the minis title match, with Octagoncito against Mascarita Dorado (who, unless I've forgotten what he normally wears, was dressed as a mini el Hijo del Santo. A Santitocito, if you will). I thought this worked well as an introduction to the style, which is a good idea on a show promoted as much to art fans as to die-hard lucha fans. They started simple, with the rowdy teens ironically cheering every takedown and moved on to some arm drags and other lucha rope running stuff. They seemed to be having some problem with the ropes, which were too loose. Also, Dorada ended up botching a springboard moosault after slipping off the top rope. Octagon drew boos by pelting Dorada in the chest a bunch of times, and it was nice to be amongst people who aren't desensitised to that. Slaps to the chest, as we shall see, were a great way of getting heel heat on this show. I think I was hoping for something more spectacular though, Dorado seemed quite restrained. This wasn't, for example, the exhibition that Dorada vs. Pequeno Damien 666 was from last year, but then Octagoncito is nowhere near the base that Damien is.
Next up was Solar vs. Negro Navarro. They were wrestling an una caida match, so we got a sixteen minute matwork masterclass, as they worked through some of their extensive repetoire. They build up from simple takedowns to longer counter wrestling sequences and more unlikely submission and while I'm aware this may be a minority interest - it did not strike me that many people around the arena were watching this thinking to themselves, "here's the WKO100 third best wrestler of 2009" - I found it mesmerising. I think I may have been sat agog because I had the sense that the little Mysterio-shirted kid next to me was looking at me as if to say, "Whats so great about this? Where's the 619?". "Screw you, little kid", I said back inside my brain, "and watch these two guys take each other down in 619 different ways". Yes, I'm quite the quick thinker when I have time to write down an imaginary conversation nearly a day later.
I guess, objectively, it was about standard for them, but there were a couple of thing I found from seeing the live version. Firstly, they never stop talking. It's either meaningless noise or Spanish (the happy place again beckons), but it really adds to the competitive one-upmanship. Secondly, one of the reasons they work so well together is the way they split to roles. Solar is constantly interacting with the crowd, posing, encouraging them to cheer, whilst Navarro is nearly stoic, occasionally nodding his head when he knows he's been bested or sniffing in derision. Standing there, he looks like the toughest human being on the planet, it is an aura that almost can not be quantified, and only live performances do it justice. After about fifteen minutes of matwork, Navarro slaps Solar in the chest and the audience really react, whilst he slowly turns his head around to look at the most vocal with a slight smile and menace in his eyes. Just a tremendous performance.
After an interval of thirty minutes, they introduce a title match between Angel Blanco and Hurracan Ramirez Jr. This wasn't particularly good, and was the time during the show when my brain really went, "you booked this over a Black Terry match? He's standing right there, and he would have made Ramirez look amazing". Angel Blanco did some decent bumping, but this mainly struck me as not having many ideas, and the ones they did have weren't really well executed. They even did two near identical tope spots.
The main event was Cassandro and El Hijo del Santo vs. Magno and el Hijo del Solitario. Right up front - this was the most fun I have ever had watching a wrestling match ever. Before I start wheeling out superlatives, this was a best of three fall match with a classic formula: technico fall, rudo fall, comeback technico fall. Cassandro comes out and I will say (as a tribute to Eric), he was wearing a fabulous two piece robe radiating the same brilliant blue as the heavens from where he descended. This is what he was wearing the night before. He had unreal hair both days, looked truly beautiful and felt a confusion I had not felt since my corporal beatings in the headmasters office during my boarding days at Repton. I have seen two recent Cassandro matches previously, yet from those and (mostly) from this, I have no problem calling him the most spectacular wrestler, anywhere, in the world.
I love the reaction he got, which was identical to the first time I saw him in the London show. I didn't understand the tradition of exoticos in lucha libre, assumed he'd do an entertaining gay or drag queen act with a load of schtick. What nobody expected is the extent of his athletic gifts. His first armdrag and flip up are met with a collective "Wha?". From then on he continued to amaze a crowd that was already won over. His execution is perfect. His workrate is tireless - he'll go from one takedown, to a quick hip shake at the crowd then run straight into the next sequence. He drops in comedy spots before doing something else. I loved his rope running bit where he prances over Solitario. I got the impression from the short video on Belgian TV that on the first night Santo, maybe the luchadore with the all-time most beautiful opening fall work, did a lot more of his spots in the first caida. In this match he took a back seat and allowed Cassandro a complete showcase. They also both seemed to be having a great time, Cassandro was smiling almost constantly between bits, which could only add to the enjoyment.
Santo is someone I love watching so much that providing I see him once in a year, for long enough to go, "yeah, he's still El Hijo del motherfucking Santo", he'll appear in my list of the best wrestlers alive. I also really enjoyed the rudos. El Hijo del Solitario was hugely entertaining, from the moment he camply ran to the ring lip-syncing to AC/DC's 'You Shook Me All Night Long', thrusting himself into the turnbuckle. He ran up into the crowd at the start to shout at a teen, followed by Santo who walloped him in the middle of the people. Both rudos bumped all over and did everything they needed to do in a match all about the technicos. They both also had some really stiff strikes, I remember Cassandro taking an audibly nasty right hand from Magno to the side of the head, and Santo ends up sprawled across the front row while Solitario chopped him right in the chest. In fact, the rudos were so aggressive in the second fall that they had the old lady (and many others) next to me covering her eyes after a series of strikes, then a senton, then a double team assisted front lungblower.
The deciding fall finished with stereo topes (the ring rocking as our technicos hit the ropes at the same time), Santo's like a dart and Cassandro's with a little giro. Our seats were above to exit right in front of the ring, so the dives came towards and then under us. The visual of seeing Santo and Cassandro dive out of the ring and then right out of sight was amazing. The whole theatre, young children and elderly couples alike, cheered and laughed and clapped in awe and it was just a fantastic moment.
After the show I followed a similar route to the one I took there, only in reverse. I forwent stopping around afterwards for photos to make sure I made my train, only realising when I got there how much time I would have had to spare. In keeping with a theme I listened to Immortal's 'Sons of Northern Darkness' and watched a couple more New Japan matches, but mostly half-slept. I got home at half ten, British time, and then did the other half of the sleep. A good day.