Lucha Underground is a strange wrestling promotion that’s called a TV show for marketing purposes. It’s also a great source of news and confusion despite not having run any tapings in about a year. Maybe you heard a bit about things going on with LU during this long hiatus, maybe you don’t pay attention to Lucha Underground when they’re not airing shows but are curious now, maybe you’re just an onlooker trying to figure out how this works. Whatever the case, these are the four out of the ring topics which came up the most during this midseason break, and what we know about them right now
(Information is taken from interviews, podcasts, reporting and other sources. I don’t think anything here is all that secretive, but it is bundling a lot of information.)
Lucha Underground Season 3 wasn’t meant to have a midseason break. It was El Rey’s call (out of appreciation of LU)
The short version of this is “running a successful small cable channel in 2017 is really hard and may cause you to take some serious risks.” Even that much is not short.
El Rey, version 1.0, found a niche audience that liked it’s martial arts and horror movies and sampled other things but wasn’t big enough to compel enough cable systems to pick them up and enough advertisers to spend money there. LU’s own ratings were not impressive compared to other wrestling shows, but they’re easily the highest rated show on the network. They’re also the only surviving original show left on El Rey: the TV adaption of From Dusk Til Dawn concluded, and attempts at series like The Cutting Crew and El Matador never found an audience enough to sustain them. It left El Rey at a crossroads, trying to figure out what would work with the makeup of the audience they’ve reached at this point.
Lucha Underground’s return marks the start of an El Rey version 1.1. It’s not a total remake, you will still find dubbed movies on Friday nights, but there are changes. Lucha Underground is the one thing that seemed to work, so every new concept is something that might work like or along side of Lucha Underground. Wednesday night, in between LU and the repeat, a special on the Baja 500 will air. It’s an offroad car race with lots of action, and the special will focus on some of the stories behind it. Next Thursday, El Rey debuts Rite of Passage (a show with a lot of action based on mystical coming of age trials) and Man At Arms: Art of War (a show with a lot of action based on sometimes mythical weapons.) I hope you’re noticing a pattern.
El Rey didn’t decide on this direction until late last year, and it takes a while to produce these sorts of things. There’s no point in making adjacent Lucha Underground programming if LU is not still airing new episodes. El Rey took the gamble that people would still be with LU if they put them on the shelf for a while and brought them back when the new shows were ready. (That’s also why they went to a hiatus with no clearer return date than “Summer 2017”; those shows weren’t far enough along yet to know when they’d be ready.)
Lucha Underground had no idea their would be this shift when they were producing these episodes. The episode airing this Wednesday was taped way back in March 2016, more than half a year before any sort of decision was made. Instead, LU people were given a heads up that a hiatus was coming and asked which episode would work best as a break point. (They debated between after episode 19 – the one they actually went out on – or after episode 20. We can debate if they made the right pick later on.) El Rey wouldn’t have put Lucha Underground on the shelf unless they believed they could make this work. El Rey believes in LU and hopefully their belief will be warranted.
If you want to help out LU, give the new shows a try. It’ll help El Rey (and LU) to keep going on as it has if even one of them turns out well. There’s also no sign El Rey is in a make it or break it territory, but any media entity which can’t find a way to attract eyeballs is going to be in a little bit of peril in 2017.
Lucha Underground is on Netflix (but only in the US, Canada & Latin America so far)
Lucha Underground getting on Netflix has been a public goal of the company since the end of season 1, and it seemed long to be a discussion about how much Netflix was willing to pay for the episodes. They came to an agreement early this year (which seemed to still be a bit disappointing to LU) and the episodes were added to Netflix in the middle of March. (Not February. March. Not February. March.) You can watch them now, in glorious HD, if you’re a subscriber. No one with LU knows how well they’ve done, but we all can look thru Twitter and see people regularly stumbling onto the show via Netflix and enjoying it. That seems good.
However, if you are not in the US, Canada or parts of Latin America, you don’t have Lucha Underground on Netflix. You probably aren’t going to get Lucha Underground any time soon, and there’s probably not much Netflix can do about it.
Part of LU’s ownership plan to make money on this show of monsters, murders an armdrags to sell the show to different markets around the world. They’ve had some good luck with that: it’s on TLN in Canada, it’s on SamuraiTV in Japan, it’s on TNT in Geramy – and now it’s also on an over the air station in Germany too. Netflix gives Lucha Underground some money, selling it to TV networks gives them more money, and the theory is making it available on Netflix in a market will make TV networks less willing to put it on their air.
LU’s looked for TV homes in places like the UK or Australia or Brazil or elsewhere, and hasn’t found anyone willing to take on the show for whatever amount it is they want. Their strategy probably isn’t going to change any time soon, so those places without LU on TV are unlikely to get it any other means any time soon.
If you are someone who’s come to Lucha Underground thru Netflix, you should know that you’re going to have a decent wait for new episodes. Seasons will continue to only show up on Netflix sometime after they finish airing on TV, which means Season 3 won’t be available until at least the middle of October, if not a little bit later than that. In the meantime, if you don’t get El Rey on cable, both iTunes and Amazon are selling individual episodes the day after they air, and there’s some digital TV services (Sling, Fubo.TV) which offer El Rey live as part of their package of channels.
Pentagon, Fenix and others leaving AAA doesn’t seem to affect their Lucha Underground status. Prince Puma is a different story.
Last time Lucha Underground aired a new episode, Pentagon Jr. had not walked out on AAA and Fenix had not changed his name three hundred times. That seems very long ago. The short version is Pentagon (& Fenix) found wrestling in English speaking indies more rewarding than working in AAA, AAA started treating them like they were going to leave at any moment, and then that moment came.
This is the important thing, something no one on the outside understood early on but has been made clearer as time has gone on: Lucha Underground is not AAA, and AAA is not Lucha Underground. AAA owns part of LU (no one’s agrees exactly how much), LU has exclusive TV rights over any AAA luchador they use, and there’s a lot of people crossing over between both, but they’re independently managed and run. A wrestler’s status in one promotion is not supposed to affect another.
Lucha Underground officials have repeatedly said they want Pentagon back for a Season 4, they want Fenix back for a Season 4, they want Sexy Star back for a Season 4 – they want everyone back, and they also expect that everyone will be there. All the luchadors involved have also said they want to be back; guys like Pentagon & Fenix are appreciative of what Lucha Underground has done for their careers and how they’ve been treated there. Sexy Star, who’s limited her wrestling dates because she’s trying a boxing career, has said she’ll still find time to work for Lucha Underground. As far as everyone in that group of people are concerned publicly, this is a non-issue and everything will continue on as it has been.
The reason this is an issue is AAA. Reportedly, AAA luchadors were warned during season 2 that leaving AAA would cost them their spot in Lucha Underground. (And, in fact, Flamita never returned to the show as Nightclaw when he left AAA after season 2 – but we don’t know if he just didn’t want to be back.) AAA’s Dorian Roldan, who was likely behind that warning, has also come out in public to say everyone is welcome back to LU. It’s hard to know which side of that story to believe, and there’s been at least one reported attempt to remove any doubt from it – Pentagon was said to be offered a new LU deal which would pay him more and wouldn’t require him to go back to AAA, but would prevent him from working for any group in competition with AAA. It’s unclear if he’s signed, it’s unclear if he needs to sign.
It would be a tremendous no-win situation for Lucha Underground if they came back for a Season 4 with some of the most popular and identifiable people with the show all suddenly missing. Everyone seems super confident this will work out without that happening, and I don’t think there’s much to be concerned about that.
Ricochet/Prince Puma is a different situation. LU dearly wanted him to be on their show, and so gave him an option to leave his Lucha Undeground contract after three seasons. (Others, like Rey Mysterio Jr., are said to also have shorter deals, but most LU wrestlers were signed to seven season deals.) WWE can’t legally talk to Ricochet while he’s under contract to Lucha Underground, but it’s obvious they’d be making him a significant offer if he was available. They’ve offered and signed deals with stars from every major promotion in the world, it’s not going to by any different here. Ricochet will opt out, Lucha Underground may still make a great offer to keep him, but it’s tough to compete with WWE in a heads up battle.
Ricochet’s problem, his source of frustration, is a “three seasons aired” deal; LU contracts specifically prohibit their talent from appearing on another wrestling show while their season is still to air. If it was “three seasons taped”, Ricochet would’ve been a free agent as soon as last June. If El Rey stuck to the original Season 3 plan, Ricochet would be a free agent around now. Pushing back the season meant Ricochet instead has to wait until at least October, something like 16 months after the last time he wrestled in a Lucha Underground ring, to go talk to some one else about working on his TV.
(Pause here to note that even though Ricochet might be the only one who can leave LU after the third season, that 16 month delays pushed everyone involved in the series the same way.)
No one thought it would take this long, not Ricochet, not Lucha Underground. Ricochet’s been fortunate – or just been very good at what he does – so he’s gotten plenty of opportunities to work exciting places in the meantime. His LU’s deal does not affect NJPW TV taped in Japan, so he’s gotten to work there a lot – but he wouldn’t be allowed to work the NJPW TV taped in LA because Lucha Underground will still be airing. He wouldn’t be allowed to work for NJPW’s partner promotion ROH because it’s taped for the US. LU probably could’ve let it some of that slide because of hiatus, but they’ve held the line on protecting their content like so many other wrestling promotions.
Staring at a clock does not make it move faster. I’ve tried it a lot, and it doesn’t work. I wouldn’t blame Ricochet for doing it the next few months, though.
The Chances of Season 4 Are…Really Up To Whatever You Believe
El Rey definitely wants Lucha Underground back for a season 4 (and more). LU wants to be back for a season 4 (and more.) Even AAA, who might have reason to be conflicted a bit, have said they want LU to be back for a season 4. Yet, no one will actually go on record to say a season 4 is a go, and it’s probably not just because they’re waiting to make a big splashy announcement.
The problem is Lucha Underground does not make enough money to pay for itself, and AAA & El Rey alone can’t pay to keep it going. The show/promotion/brand is also owned by other investors, some well known and some not so much. It’s not public who owns how much, everyone who is involved, or exactly what they’d need to see to go forward with another season. We know MGM is one of the owners, and we can speculate MGM being able to sell Lucha Underground to stations like Germany’s Tele5 is a positive step for them, but we have no idea how much it means or what will be enough. We know that things like merchandising and live events have been pretty non-existent, which is a big failing if you look at at a wrestling company, but these investors might just see it as a TV product that can be monetized around the globe and those other things are just small potatoes. There’s plenty of shreds of evidence here to speculate on, but we don’t know what matters. It’d be easier if there was a cardboard thermometer so we could see how much heat LU needed to generate before they hit the magic mark to get Season 4, but there’s no singular indicator like that (not even the much obsessed about ratings.)
We do know all the same shortfalls have been there after season 1 and everyone decided to pick up the show not just for one season, but for two more at that time. Also, everyone associated with Lucha Underground, when asked, see season 4 as a virtual certainty, something the fans shouldn’t even worry about for a season. They’re confident there’s not even a story here. Sometime in October or November, they’ll be back taping once again with all the old crew reunited.
Still, the people involved have been talking about a Season 4 just needed to be funded since early this year, and then there will be firm taping dates. It’s not halfway thru the year, and there are no firm tape dates. (It’ll take just a moment for everyone to find out when there are some, since people will start getting pulled off indie shows.) Maybe there doesn’t even need to be funding until they get closer to the show and it’ll be find, but he lack of progress in other areas seems worrying. They did get on Netflix, they did add some foreign TV deals, but there’s been no evident progress in turning LU into a full fledged wrestling promotion in other ways. Their plans for live shows didn’t really pan out (limited to a handful of people working shows in Germany and Toronto), there’s still no way to buy a Prince Puma or Mil Muertes mask or most any other merch, they vanished in a lot of ways during the hiatus.
As a fan, I’d like there to be many more seasons of Lucha Underground. (And all of them in LA.) If I was an investor, I’d like to see signs of growth and I’m not convinced that’s happening or happening fast enough. It’s definitely possible Lucha Underground is coming back for a Season 4, but I’m not confident about it either way. I’m not going to argue with people who think it’s doomed or people who think it’s safe for sure – I feel like half the people I read strongly feel like they know it’s one or the other, and I’m just going to throw up my hands and walk away.
I am confident about Season 3: all of it will air, it’s been all taped, edited, and LU people saw the finished version of Ultima Lucha 3 about 10 days ago. I suspect we won’t definitively know about Season 4 until later this year. The Season 2/3 pickup didn’t happen until after Season 1 ended, so it’s at least possible this story could drift on for a while. I just wouldn’t let it impact your enjoyment of Season 3: while there are things which build onto the future, it’s a season finale built around resolving some storylines and final matches in big feuds. You’ll enjoy it no matter what happens next.