Saturday, May 23, 2015

The War of La Parka: A Lucha Libre Legend

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At the end of the day, there's nothing more important to someone than their name. It means everything. You can take away money, you can rob one of all prized possessions, but it would never be the same as robbing someone of their name. You do that, and their reputation crumbles, their identity falls apart, their life breaks down before their very eyes. A name means everything, and it's the basis for the story I'm about to tell you. Hopefully it doesn't kill the meaning to inform it's a pro wrestling story.

On June 6th, 2010,  AAA put together one of the most unique main events in the history of Triplemania, the promotions biggest show of the year. It wasn't fought over a heavyweight championship, it wasn't a massive multi man match for company control, it wasn't even for a well built up secondary title. Instead, Triplemania's main event was a battle over a name, a battle nearly two decades in the making that had greatly affected the careers of both participants and the promotion that created the name. It's a story not known to most wrestling fans here in the states, and it's a story worth telling. So sit back, crack open a Pepsi and settle in. This here is the tale of one lucha libre's great modern day feuds. This is the War of La Parka.

Chapter 1: La Parka's Many Masks

In 1992, frustrated by his ideas being shot down by CMLL higher ups, former wrestler turned booker Antonio Pena created the promotion we now know as AAA (Asistencia Asesoría y Administración). Almost overnight, AAA became legitimate competition for CMLL, largely due to Pena signing away talented young luchadores who had been held down in favor of CMLL's old guard. One of the young luchadores Pena signed was Adolfo Tapia, a 27 year old luchadore who had bounced around in the lower levels of lucha libre since his debut in 1987. Having a brilliant mind for the business, Pena created a new character for Tapia, one of a masked luchadore decked out in a skeleton costume, a homage to costumes used in Day of the Dead ceremonies. With that, La Parka was born.

L.A. Park, the original La Parka, in WCW

Almost immediately, the gimmick was a success. Tapia, it turned out, was a highly charismatic performer, and he quickly one over the crowd due to his unique look and colorful personality (La Parka famously strutted and danced his way to the ring, and would often bring a chair with him that he would air guitar to). Think Shinsuke Nakamura if he dressed up like Skeletor. For the next few years, La Parka become one of the most popular luchadores in Mexico, and seemed destined to be a top star for years to come. Alas, this was around the time the US was beginning to take note of just how exciting a style lucha libre was. It wasn't long till Tapia was noticed, and he and the La Parka gimmick bolted to the States, first for a brief run with ECW and then a highly memorable run in WCW, where La Parka would become the self proclaimed "chairman of WCW", beat Randy Savage (it was in fact Diamond Dallas Page in the costume, not Tapia, during that moment) and eventually get swallowed up whole by the awful Vince Russo/Ed Ferreira era.

While Tapia was having his run up north however, Pena came up with another idea. Since he was the one who designed the La Parka gimmick, he held the rights to the character in Mexico, allowing him to put someone else in the skeleton costume. Once again, Pena chose a lesser known talent in Jesus Escobedo, who like Tapia had more or less floated around before getting a shot in the suit. And wouldn't you know it, Pena struck gold again, as Escobedo turned out to be just as charismatic a performer as Tapia. For the next few years, La Parka Jr. (called that on the belief that Tapia would return to AAA at some point) proved to be a success for AAA, even as business had declined in the wake of luchadores leaving for WCW and WWE.

Antonio Pena, the man who created La Parka

Then the shit hit the fan. In 2003, with WCW long gone and WWE having no interest in any luchadore outside of Rey Mysterio and Ultimo Dragon, Tapia returned to Mexico. The only problem was that he didn't return to AAA, opting to go to CMLL instead. Pena, hurt by the decision and again, still owning the rights to the character he created, filed a lawsuit against Tapia in order to prevent him from using the La Parka name. It worked; despite having used the La Parka character since its inception, Tapia was forced to give up the name and for a time his classic appearance. He would go on to take the name L.A. Park (short for La Autentica Park), while Escobedo had the Jr. dropped from his name and officially became the new La Parka. The legal battle served as a double edge sword. On one hand, the controversy, along with the popularity of both Tapia and Escobedo, made fans clamor for a match between the two to see who indeed deserved the right to be called La Parka. On the other, the lawsuit, and several countersuits by Tapia that followed, seemingly burned the bridge between the two parties, and when Pena died of a heart attack in 2006 without making peace with Tapia, it appeared the dream match fans wanted was out of reach.

The new La Parka, signing autographs

Chapter 2: The War Begins

If there's one thing about the wrestling business however, it's that one must never say never. On March 12th, 2010, AAA held their annual Rey de Reyes event, the lucha libre equivalent of WWE's King of the Ring. The main story going into the show had been the slow building feud between AAA owner Joaquin Roldan and his son Dorian, who had broken away from his father and joined up with Mexican legend turned invader Konnan. During the show, Dorian was seen talking to a man in the shadows, promising that this was his time. After Konnan defeated Cibernetico, Dorian and the man, dressed in a trench coat and his face concealed, came down to the ring and disposed of El Mesias, who had come to Cibernetico's aid. In one of the most shocking moments in AAA history, the man took off his disguise to reveal himself to be L.A. Park making his first appearance in AAA in over ten years. La Parka would come down to ring side moments later, and the two had to ultimately be separated by security. Fans went nuts, and it was clear the fight they had long wanted was within their reach.

Park would appear again for AAA a week later at a TV taping, attacking La Parka and putting him through a table. However, Park disappeared once more after that appearance, and would go on to claim in numerous interviews that his appearance was a one off, with him having nothing to prove now that he had taken care of, as he put it, the "poor imitation." In reality, AAA had developed a well booked work, intending to use the past issues between Park, La Parka and AAA to captivate fans. It worked, and a month later Park  had returned, attacking his nemesis once more. The stage was set for a challenge, and La Parka, fed up with the attacks, officially challenged Park to a match at Triplemania. Evidently because he's a nice guy, he also threw in a catch; Park would get to pick the stipulation.

The two La Parka's face off

Now I don't know about you, but it seems pretty clear what stipulation would be picked, right? Likely sensing that, AAA dragged out the issue for a few weeks before having him give his answer during a press conference on May 12th (Park actually accepted the challenge two weeks earlier, but chose to wait to reveal the stipulation). To the surprise of no one, the stipulation for the match was that the winner would get the rights to the La Parka name, thus ending the fourteen year debate on which man (Tapia or Escobedo) was the real La Parka. A week later, the contract was signed, and the fans finally had the dream match they always wanted. All that was left was to ride out the last few weeks of build up (which involved Dorian, by this point Park's onscreen manager, having La Parka arrested for piracy in a clever angle), and it would be there. The only question was, could it live up to the years and years of hype?

The Match

Triplemania finally arrived on June 6th, and to the surprise of no one, L.A. Park vs. La Parka served as the events main event match. You could sense the electricity as both men came to the ring, each wearing near identical La Parka costumes and each coming out to Michael Jackson's classic song, "Thriller" (in Mexico, copyright laws pretty much don't exist. It's wonderful as far as entrance music goes). In a shocking turn of events however, the crowd was seemingly split 60/40 in favor of Park. This was in spite of the fact that Park entered the match as the rudo (the term for heel in lucha libre, in case you're reading me for the first time), and was accompanied to the ring by Dorian, one of the most loathsome individuals in AAA at the time. If the crowd couldn't set the stage for the spectacle of what was to come, nothing could. And yet, both Park and La Parka had a few more surprises up their sleeves.

A bloodied La Parka takes a beating from L.A. Park

It's time to be real here. This was a hotly anticipated match, perhaps the most anticipated match in Mexico in recent memory when it happened. But no one, and I mean no one, could've possibly thought the match would be a classic. Both Park and La Parka were in their mid 40's at the time, well past their prime, and the presence of Dorian and Joaquin at ringside indicated this match would be more about spectacle and interference than high quality in ring action. Boy, was everyone wrong. Not only did those two deliver, but they delivered in full force, a combined performance that was at times brutal, at times intense and at every point exciting. Watching the match, I was surprised to see how well both men moved; if I hadn't known their ages, I would've thought Park and La Parka were twenty years younger than they were. That their ability to physically hold up coincided with some excellent storytelling is what ultimately made everything work. Losing wasn't an option for either man; they had to win, they needed to win. Everything depended on it. That's how much the stipulation meant. And it was that energy from them, that storytelling, that kept the crowd on their feet for the whole match, beginning to end.

And how did it end? After accidentally taking out the referee with a suicide dive, Park was able to take control of the match once again and brutally tombstoned La Parka onto a chair. Fed up with the cheating, Joaquin came in the ring to confront Park, who then took said chair and threatened AAA's owner. Evidently, this was a bridge too far for Dorian (who had otherwise gleefully supported Park's actions throughout the match), and he came in the ring to save his father. In a shocking move, Park turned on Dorian, shoving him away and then clocked Joaquin with a chair to a surprising amount of cheers. Dorian quickly recovered and attacked Park with the chair, but before he could serious damage was run off by, get this, Perros del Mal! Yes, Perro Aguayo Jr's promotion, having come to terms with AAA on an invasion angle just a few days prior to Triplemania, arrived right in the nick of time, chasing off Dorian and moving a wounded Park over a motionless La Parka. One corrupt ref later, and L.A. Park was the winner, officially proving himself to be the one true La Parka. The rest of Perros del Mal (including Park's son, Hijo de L.A. Park), hit the ring to celebrate, with Perro and Park cutting promos to close the show as the AAA roster angrily tried to get at the stable from outside the ring. As far as closing segments go, this might be the Blade Runner of lucha libre.

Halloween and Damien 666 pull a partially unmasked L.A. Park to victory


There's plenty of instances where big time events don't live up to the hype. L.A. Park vs. La Parka wasn't one of those. This was a dream match that exceeded the hype, a spectacle with story, a brawl with technical skill, a tale of two men fighting for a name they both felt they had claim to. Professional wrestling, whether it's the lucha libre or American style, works best when there is urgency, when the stakes feel real, when the story is something right out of the world we live in. The War of La Parka was just that. It took Adolfo Tapia's struggle to regain the name that made him a household name, it took Jesus Escobedo's struggle to overcome being the sequel to the original, and turned it into a lucha libre legend. The best comparison to a WWE match I can give is the Rock-Hollywood Hogan match from Wrestlemania X8, only with better in ring quality. It's that good. So don't wait, and don't just take my word for it. The usual ending isn't going to happen in this column. Instead, I'll leave you to go out, find this match on the internet or on DVD, and take 45 minutes of your time to sit back, relax, and enjoy professional wrestling as it's meant to be. You won't regret. Trust me, no one else who has seen it has.

A quick postscript; despite winning the match, Tapia wasn't allowed to take back the La Parka name, as the Mexico City Boxing and Wrestling Commission (yes, there's a commission down there that rules on a fake sport. I don't get it either) ruled the match void due to outside interference. Thus, Tapia was forced to remain L.A. Park, while Escobedo remains La Parka. Tapia later said that the name didn't matter, though whether he believes that or not is something you'd have to ask him.

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