What Makes a Luchador?: On FTR vs. Lucha Bros

This past Saturday night at All Elite Wrestling’s All Out PPV, the Lucha Brothers clashed with their once-unlikely new multi-promotional rivals FTR, setting a blazing pace for the massive show while also attempting to answer the question of “who is the greatest tag team in lucha libre?”

If you haven’t been paying much attention prior to this point, the question might not make a ton of sense with FTR in the equation. And yet, with a mixture of Moroder-lite entrance music, robes, and (eventually) masks, FTR turned expectations on their heads and served up a match that likely put a glimmer in the fabric-surrounded eyes of AAA legends like Blue Demon Jr. (or at least Dax and Cash would tell you as much).

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Right now, FTR is the self-proclaimed best tag team in lucha. To be a “self-proclaimed” anything is to take a step in forging one’s own truth. For better or for worse, when FTR makes such a loaded statement with the level of conviction they exercise, they do so because they know and aim to distinguish the frame of reference from which they want their work seen.

FTR is generally understood to be a team that utilizes rawboned offense to prove that it doesn’t take a mask and some flag-emblazoned knee pads to be a Lucha tag team, but this time they brought all of the above accoutrements anyway, as if to prove some sort of point. It’s provocative from the jump—it feels not unlike seeing someone from the school’s anime club don a flag that doesn’t belong to them, taking interest to a point of potential mockery. And still, stolen valor clad or otherwise, the men of FTR fought with the blunt and firm striking force of AAA or CMLL’s big match guys. FTR have built up a reputation as wanting to be as tough as the kind of guys you saw in NWA or territory days. Last weekend, when FTR lit up the Lucha Brothers one slow and sadistic hit at a time, the matches that came to my mind were bloody bouts featuring cultural and physical heavyweights like Dr. Wagner.

Coming into a match like this, one would not be blamed for instantly putting the metaphorical ball in the Lucha Brothers’ court. They have been on the tear of a lifetime during the past few years, particularly on AEW’s All Out where they were part of a cage match that’s now seen as a defining moment for the company. While the Lucha Bros spent much of this match in their comfort zone, peppering in a series of increasingly complex maneuvers at a rapid pace so as to leave FTR with little time to respond, the hottest moments in the match were often preceded by bursts of connivance from the people in proximity to the ring. FTR spent a lot of time absorbing punishment, on the receiving end of flips they’d probably have you know they hated, but they built the match up with straightforward pounding violence aided by some light Tully Blanchard interference.

The wrestling itself between FTR and Lucha Bros might have offered a familiarity bordering on comfort at this point, but a clear match highlight was FTR’s seemingly sarcastic and all-too-effectively-aggravating lucha shtick. They hit every note that you’d expect from a team that reminds you they’re all business: silly masks, half-hearted Eddie Guerrero reference unworthy of the term tribute, and ambiguous finish quite worthy of argument and potential reconsideration. This is truly the stuff of seasoned pro-wrestling experts, and although FTR lost the match against the Lucha Bros, they ultimately won a greater war by ensuring they’ll stay on the tip of everyone’s tongues for a little while longer.

What makes the greatest tag team in lucha, exactly? Is it competing for the right belts, wearing the right gear, doing the right actions, or something only those blessed by fate can ever claim to be? FTR wants you to consider their goals here, essentially: they are looking beyond pairings with those that are strictly like-minded or no-frills heavy hitters. They are looking beyond their comfort zone, or at least the comfort zone fans believe they’ve been in. For now, it looks like FTR will continue to more akin to provocateurs than luchadores, but their forthcoming tag title match in AAA is sure to add more considerations for the big picture. If you ask FTR directly, they’ll probably tell you that what makes the greatest luchador is winning the greatest lucha matches.