Anyone who has ever watched "Lucha Underground" will tell you it's unlike any wrestling show you've seen before.
The promotion has a cast of characters that look and feel like a live-action graphic novel. For example, Mil Muertes and Catrina are an undead couple that can teleport wherever they please. Drago is a fire-breathing dragon luchador who is also part of an ancient reptile tribe. His close friend Aerostar can travel through space and time. Pentagon Jr., who is arguably the most popular performer on the roster, breaks arms as routinely as Brock Lesnar suplexes. Matanza, who is Lucha Underground's version of Braun Strowman, is a cannibalistic monster who lives out of a jail cell.
All of these characters might sound over the top for a wrestling show, but that is because Lucha Underground isn't a wrestling promotion. Lucha Underground is a television show with wrestling in it.
"We're trying to develop to give ["Lucha Underground"] a different feel. Something much more real and much more cinematic," said Dorian Roldan, the general manager of AAA and Lucha Underground. "For the last 30 years, maybe a bit more, WWE has been doing it in a manner that other companies, maybe TNA or ROH, were trying to follow. One of the visions of all the partners of the company was to do something different. We are not trying to compete against WWE. It's a wrestling TV show, but with another aspect that we are trying to create in a superhero community."
The concept for "Lucha Underground" began in 2012, when AAA (short for Asistencia Asesoria y Administracion), one of Mexico's biggest wrestling promotions alongside CMLL, wanted to expand to the United States. After some research, the Roldán family, who own AAA, instead partnered with producer Mark Burnett and writer-director Robert Rodriguez to create a new brand altogether.
"Lucha Underground" debuted on the El Rey Network in October 2014. The network is owned by Rodriguez ("Sin City," "From Dusk till Dawn," "Desperado"), whose gritty, action-packed style is apparent throughout the channel's programming. Rodriguez leads a team of behind-the-scenes figures that give Lucha Underground serious legitimacy.
Executive producers Eric Van Wagenen and Burnett have produced an endless list of successful television projects, such as "Survivor." Chris DeJoseph, the lead writer of "Lucha Underground", was a member of WWE's creative team from 2004 to 2010. At Lucha Underground, DeJoseph is afforded the freedom to write whatever he wants, no matter how outrageous it might sound.
"We like to do crazy storylines with crazy characters," DeJoseph said. "Really how that started, it was encouraged by Robert Rodriguez and Mark Burnett and even the El Rey Network and Eric Van Wagenen. They were like, 'Go nuts. Go crazy. Have fun. Make a wrestling show like it's your last time you're able to make a wrestling show.' That's kind of the awesome thing about the partnership, and how everything works is that they're very -- as opposed to creative with WWE -- they give me and my team freedom to be creative and to do wild things. Sometimes they're like, 'Oh my gosh, I can't believe you just did that.' As a creative person, it's awesome to not have my creativity hindered."
While "Lucha Underground" is known for its unique characters, it also features household names that give the show credibility among wrestling purists. John Morrison, who was part of WWE's system for nearly a decade, now goes by the name of Johnny Mundo and is the current "Lucha Underground" champion. Chavo Guerrero, part of the famed Guerrero wrestling dynasty, wrestles on the show but also is a producer backstage. Alberto Del Rio, who went by the name Alberto El Patron while on the show, played a major role during the first season before he left for his ill-fated return to WWE. But no single performer has given "Lucha Underground" more legitimacy than one of the most successful and popular luchadores in the history of professional wrestling -- Rey Mysterio.
"Having Rey Mysterio on the show is the biggest of deals. He is lucha libre," DeJoseph said. "He is the king of lucha libre. Probably the biggest -- next to Mil Mascaras -- I don't think there's ever been a luchador who has become such a huge part of pop culture and broken into the American television audience the way he has. He's a superstar all around the world. Having a guy like Rey -- who's not only probably one of the best wrestlers in the world, but one of the most famous luchadores of all time -- being on 'Lucha Underground' is a huge thing."
Lucha Underground reached out to Mysterio shortly after his WWE contract expired in 2015. Being in his 40s and having already undergone eight surgeries on his left knee, Mysterio was looking for something different that would put less wear and tear on his body. According to Mysterio, Lucha Underground has reduced his schedule by almost 75 percent.
"What really caught my attention the most, besides being such a fresh, innovative product, was the amount of days that were put into a yearly contract was just ridiculous compared to any other schedule that I had been a part of in any other major company," Mysterio said. "We were talking something like 65 days or something like that per year. For me at this point, it's life spans on my career. I still feel that I, not have something to prove, but I still have something to bring to the table."
With such a strong backing in the television industry along with talent that could stack up with any promotion in the world, Lucha Underground has made a name for itself in the wrestling business in less than three years of existence.
And after a recent monumental deal, that brand is about to get even stronger.
As of March 15, the first two seasons of Lucha Underground are available on Netflix, making it the first wrestling show to ever strike a deal with the largest streaming service in the world.
"It was something we were looking for since Day 1," Roldan said. "We are trying to present lucha libre in a totally new manner. Of course, having a partner as Netflix was something that we looking for. Because of our commitments and because Netflix is not really used to getting sports content, it was a little bit complicated, but I think right now it's working. We are having great results with them and we hope to have our next season over there in the next months."
Lucha Underground's connections in the television industry went a long way in securing a deal. The former El Rey Network series "From Dusk till Dawn" previously reached an agreement with Netflix, creating a relationship that started the conversation for Lucha Underground.
"That's a blessing for all of us," Mysterio said. "For all of us in Lucha Underground. For all of us in general that are part of our beautiful industry of wrestling. That just gives our product more exposure. When you talk about the amount of viewers that Netflix has, it's incredible."
To put the size of Netflix in perspective, the WWE Network recently announced 1.49 million paid subscribers on average during the first quarter of 2017. Netflix, on the other hand, announced over 94 million paid members globally during their first quarter of this year. And perhaps an even more important number for Lucha Underground, the El Rey Network is only available in 45 million homes. The USA Network, which broadcasts Raw and Smackdown, is available in over 102 million homes in the United States.
Lucha Underground hopes new viewers who have never seen the show on the El Rey Network will become fans through Netflix.
"For me, I discovered 'Breaking Bad' on Netflix, not on AMC," DeJoseph said. "It's kind of a similar thing. I stayed up all night watching those shows. Then when it came back to the network, I tuned in. Hopefully that will have a similar effect."
"I feel like from the beginning of Season 1, some of the best work of my career has been what I'm doing with 'Lucha Underground', and there's a lot of people that haven't been able to see it," Morrison said. "Previously, a lot of people might not have had the El Rey Network. Everyone gets Netflix. It's huge. I like for us to be in front of as many people as possible, because I'm giving everything I have out there in the ring every night and I want people to see it."
Perhaps the biggest benefit of the Netflix deal is Lucha Underground expanding to Latin America for the first time.
"For us, it's very important," Roldán said. "The second most important sport, at least in Mexico, is wrestling. The presence of lucha libre in some Latin American markets is also really important -- for example, in Peru, Columbia, Argentina. So to have [a deal] with Netflix, the first window of this product in Latin America for us, it's vital because we need a way to have presence in all those territories. With just one deal, we enter to all Latin America. Right now, we're looking for more windows to have much more exposure of our brand in Latin America."
While the Netflix deal was a huge step forward for "Lucha Underground," other factors continue to hold the show back. "Lucha Underground" is in the midst of a major break in filming, having not taped any episodes since last year. The series took an unexpected break midseason, leading to a 4½-month layoff by the time Season 3 returns May 31. Established veterans such as Mysterio and Morrison are able to appreciate the positives of taking a break from filming, but both also understand the downside for others on the roster.
"For me, it's been incredible," Mysterio said. "Especially for the amount of time I've been on the grind in this business. So, I have no complaints when it comes down to when are we gonna start shooting again. I do get kind of antsy, but it's a good antsy. I have patience for it to come back and to get rolling with another season. For the younger crowd, and I do put myself in their shoes, if I was in my early 20s, I'd be wanting to kick that season off right away. So it's very different after you've matured and you've been in this business for the time that I have."
While not ideal for all, Morrison has been able to take advantage of the schedule.
"The erraticness is a little tricky," Morrison said. "For me in particular, though, it's been really nice because this hiatus has coincided with the release of [my] movie, 'Boone: The Bounty Hunter.' It's enabled me to spend a lot of time promoting and finishing up the deliverables. Whereas, if I didn't have a lot of other projects like that to work on, the hiatus would be a little more worrisome."
"I'm not saying it's not frustrating. Yeah, it sucks to not know what you're going to be doing in the next couple months. There's been a couple times where taping things has been postponed and I've had my schedule cleared -- and then been told that we're not taping and I just turned down 15 shows over the course of a couple of months for nothing because I was available and I already said no. Yeah, that sucks."
No one from Lucha Underground, not even DeJoseph as he was writing the season, planned for such a lengthy break.
"The difficulty with taping all your shows in advance, and then having them air way after, is you hope that something is gonna get over and if it doesn't and then people watch it, it's something that you're stuck with," DeJoseph said. "It's kind of a roll of the dice. I think in the end it comes down to if we think we're telling a good story, then the fans will enjoy the story. We just have to cross our fingers and hope that what we're doing is the best effort possible."
While the hiatus has been frustrating for the talent, behind-the-scenes staff, and fans, the situation is out of Lucha Underground's control.
"It's not a decision from the Lucha Underground company. It's a decision from the channel," Roldan said. "Basically, they have a strategy, and we're supporters of the strategy that they use. I cannot say in the future we are not going to make these types of breaks. We are presenting for the first time the wrestling product in seasons, not in a regular weekly TV show. We are learning. We have a relationship and a partnership with the El Rey Network. It's huge and really important to us. It's something that wasn't planned, but if it's necessary in next seasons we can even work in the storytelling to have a better way to have these kind of breaks. I'm not really uncomfortable with these type of situations."
Lucha Underground has also yet to announce any future seasons, which has once again delayed filming that was originally slated to start in February. Roldan said that conversations are ongoing, and he hopes to make an official announcement for Season 4 "in the next couple months." Morrison believes the show will start filming again in the fall. Before then, "Lucha Underground" fans will have 20 more episodes to watch when the show returns on Wednesday.
At the very least, Season 3 sounds like it will be worth the wait.
"You can expect the best wrestling in the world," DeJoseph said. "You can also expect crazy drama. You're going to find out a lot of new secrets. New questions will be asked, as well. Things you thought were one way will maybe be revealed another way. You're going to find out more and more about these characters. And I believe that Ultima Lucha Tres is the best one that we've done so far. It's going to blow people's minds. It will end with the most shocking conclusion of any season that we've had so far."