The Most Valuable Mask In Mexico

L.A. Park, better known as La Parka, has one of the most distinctive masks in lucha libre, a culture with dozens of iconic masks. The Day of the Dead-inspired skull underneath a hood, along with a full-body skeleton costume, is as iconic to many wrestling fans as the masks worn by Rey Mysterio Jr, Dr. Wagner Jr, Blue Demon, and even the legendary El Santo.

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The skeleton man, as La Parka, was a fixture of the defunct World Championship Wrestling (WCW) league in the 1990’s. He was a big part of the mainstreaming of lucha libre to American audiences that that company ushered in, alongside fellow masked luchadores Psicosis, Juventud Guerrera, and of course Rey Mysterio Jr. Parka set himself apart with his oddball skeleton getup, but he also became known for a kind of comedic version of “hardcore” (read: a hyperviolent no-rules wrestling style that leans harder on weapons use than traditional moves) wrestling. Parka would almost always be seen wielding a steel chair – in fact renaming himself “The Chairman of The Board” – but also strutting around like Ric Flair or Jeff Jarrett. It was strange, to be sure, but also strangely compelling.

Fast forward more than 20 years later, and L.A. Park is on a collision course with Rush, one of CMLL’s winningest, and possibly most hated, wrestlers at CMLL’s 85th Aniversario show in September.  This match will be an apuestas match – meaning that while Rush will put his delightfully long, flowing hair on the line, Park will put his distinctive mask – his very identity – up against it. Rush is a veteran of apuestas matches, and has never lost one. Since 2010, Rush has claimed the hair of Loco Max, Yoshi-Hashi, El Terrible, Shocker, Negro Casas, and Maximo Sexy. Park is decidedly the underdog here.

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Since his stint in WCW, Park has dropped any semblance of comedy from his act and, though the old skeleton getup betrays a bit of a beer gut these days, he’s become even more well-known for ultraviolent, bloody matches. Rare is the occasion that an L.A. Park match stays in the ring for very long these days, and he can more often be found brawling far into the crowd.

Adding to the intrigue of this pairing is the fact that it might never happen at all. It’s already unlikely; Park and Rush work almost exclusively for two different companies – AAA and CMLL, respectively – who take their rivalry with each other very seriously, not unlike the WWF and WCW rivalry in the 90’s. Until a few years ago, it was completely unheard of for stars to cross over from one company to the other, which is why it was so shocking and explosive to see Park emerge onto the garish CMLL stage during one of its weekly Puebla shows from Arena Mexico. Add into the mix the fact that Park is notoriously unreliable and unpredictable, a kind of modern lucha equivalent to Bruiser Brody or Brian Pillman, and you create that rare and kind of beautiful razor’s edge between a compelling wrestling angle and utter disaster waiting to happen. It’s entirely possible that Park will say or do something on live TV, simply not show up, or one of either AAA or CMLL pulls the plug, which would jeopardize the match. It’s that teensy bit of very-real uncertainty that makes the prospect deliciously captivating.

And this has happened before. A series of matches between Park and Rush in the summer of 2015 was brought to a screeching halt when Park made some post-match comments that were so offside and off-colour that CMLL promptly fired our bony friend and sent him fleeing to AAA, which still employs him.

Then there was the match that made this rivalry boil over. As part of Park’s relationship with CMLL’s then-associated promotion, Elite, he clashed with Rush at Arena Mexico again. That infamous July 14, 2016 encounter remains one of the most compelling matches in modern lucha. You can and should watch it here:

Great a match as it was, it was inconclusive.  When the management decided to call off the festivities with a double-disqualification (much to the chagrin of a crowd that was ready to start throwing chairs), Park and Rush decided to go “off script” and kept brawling all over Arena Mexico. The bloody debacle caused Park to be fired (again!) and Rush to be pulled from the main event of the CMLL 83rd Aniversario show.

Time is a weird thing, friends. Once a property that was persona non grata in CMLL and Arena Mexico, LA Park finds himself not only headlining AAA’s biggest event of the year, Triplemania, where he’ll put his mask up against three opponents (Psycho Clown, Pentagon Jr., and El Hijo De Fantasma/King Cuerno), but about a month later he’ll put his mask up yet again, headlining CMLL’s Aniversario against Rush. It’s hard to overstate how unusual this is, just as it’s hard to argue against LA Park being the most important luchador on the planet right now.

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But then again, perhaps none of this will ever happen. Maybe Park will go on one of his now-infamous diatribes after a match and get himself blacklisted.  Maybe he’ll chuck a refrigerator at an opponent and get banned from Arena Mexico. By the time you read this, the match could already be off the table. If it does happen, we’ll see Rush lose his hair for the first time, or we’ll see L.A. Park lose the most valuable mask in lucha. Either way, it wouldn’t be an LA Park match if it were anything close to a sure thing. And that’s just what I love about it.

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