18 | NOV | 2019
Mask vs hair: the history of Mexican Lucha Libre
Lucha Libre is the most popular sport-show in Mexico – Photo: Miranda Perea/EL UNIVERSAL in English

Mask vs hair: the history of Mexican Lucha Libre

23/10/2019
18:25
EL UNIVERSAL in English/Miranda Perea
Mexico City
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With the exaggerated gestures and signature stunts from the wrestlers, the highly flexible rules and dramatization of the sport-show, and the noisy participation from the audience, Lucha Libre has become a quintessential part of Mexican folklore

Lucha Libre is an international referent of Mexican culture. The cultural performance is a sophisticated and dynamic show that combines sports, theater, rituals, and TV show’s characteristics which have made it the most popular sport-show in Mexico.

Many would define Lucha Libre with the Mexican saying of “Circo, maroma, y teatro” (circus, stunts, and theater): Circus refers to the origins of the sport in circus tents, “maroma” is the Mexican way to refer to body skills, and theater involves the masks, characters, and disguises. As to its objective, most would say they attend Lucha Libre events looking for relief.
 

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With the exaggerated gestures and signature movements from the wrestlers, the highly flexible rules, the noisy participation from the audience mostly comprised by the popular mass, Lucha Libre has become a quintessential part of Mexican folklore.

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The history
Curiously, the origins of Lucha Libre are not rooted in our country. Although there were wrestles and rituals in pre-Colonial times that could seem to be antecedents of this sport-show, there was not a linear development that led to what we know today as Lucha Libre.

This sport was first created during the 18th century in England, where it was first practiced among the elites and then used in public schools for discipline; later it got to the United States. It first arrived in Mexico during the 19th century with shows of strong men in circuses and fairs.

 
 
 
 

 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

Una publicación compartida de Consejo Mundial Lucha Libre (@cmll_mx) el

In 1863, during the French intervention in Mexico, Antonio Pérez de Prian learned Lucha Libre from a French man, but at the time the sport resembled Olympic wrestling. He was so passionate about the discipline that he opened the Hygienic and Medicinal Gymnasium in Mexico City’s downtown to teach Lucha Libre.

He kept teaching his knowledge in bull rings and circuses, where he improved his show with stunts. It was not until he fought American wrestler Henry Buckler, whom he defeated, that people got interested in the new sport. Pérez de Prian was known as El Alcídes Mexicano (The Mexican Alcides) and is recognized as the first Mexican wrestler. However, he migrated to Europe and all his efforts were put on stand-by.

In 1900, another French man, Michaud Planchet, organized a Greco-Roman wrestling event in which he introduced the discipline in Mexico. Three years later, Mexican wrestler Enrique Ugartechea fought against the Italian wrestler “Romulus.” Ugartechea was named the first Mexican Lucha Libre champion, which further increased the interest of the population in this sport. Little by little, Lucha Libre won the heart of Mexico until it became one of the most famous urban sport-shows in the country.

In 1933 Salvador Lutteroth González founded the Mexican Company of Lucha Libre (EMLL), known today as CMLL, which was the first Mexican company for the commercial presentation of Lucha Libre. CMLL had a great growth during the 1970s and has always been full of big wrestling stars and young talents.
 

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The first Lucha Libre fight in Mexico took place on September 21, 1933, in Mexico City’s Arena Mexico, which was a result, in part, of the discrimination and boycott Mexican wrestlers faced in the United States. The superiority of Mexican wrestlers compared to the American, the unfair treatment they received, and the decision to give our country a show of its own, are part of the founding myth of Lucha Libre.

With the popularization of Lucha Libre in our country, more wrestlers were needed, and some of them were scouted from police academies, as well as among sports and medicine students, who were trained by Gonzalo Avendaño at Arena Mexico’s gym.

The popularization of the sport-show in Mexico is reflected in the construction of its main venues: Colisseum Arena opened in 1943 with a capacity of 6,500 people. Thirteen years later, in 1956, a new Arena Mexico was inaugurated, with a capacity of 17,500 people, and is still considered in our days as “Lucha Libre’s Cathedral.”

 
 
 
 

 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

Una publicación compartida de Lucha Libre AAA Worldwide (@luchalibreaaa) el

The rivalry between heels and faces also dates back to 1933. American wrestler “Ray Ryan” used dirty tricks to win fights and since then wrestlers started to classify themselves in one of the two categories. Heels frequently use dirty tricks to win fights, while faces are seen as the “good ones.”

In a sense, Lucha Libre became a fight between the good and the evil, but we must bear in mind that it is neither a social nor a political critique, but a dramatization of justice within the same sport-show. Heels and faces usually have mask-against-hair wrestles in which the winner takes the most precious part of the identity of the loser; there are also mask-against-mask wrestles.

 
 
 
 

 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

Una publicación compartida de Consejo Mundial Lucha Libre (@cmll_mx) el

Regarding masks, they have become an essential part of many wrestlers’ identity. For masked wrestlers, guarding their identity is fundamental and being unmasked is considered a great dishonor. The first Mexican masked wrestler was El Murciélago Enmascarado (The Masked Bat) who premiered in 1938 and always wore a black mask and a black outfit under which he hid alive bats that he released when he climbed to the ring.
 

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In 1942, a wrestler with a silver mask and outfit premiered. El Santo, also known as “The Man with the Silver Mask,” became one of the most famous idols of Lucha Libre not only in Mexico but in the world. He started as a heel but became a face to win the sympathy of the audience who still consider him one of the best wrestlers of all time.

On January 29, 1975, the Universal Wrestling Association (UWA) was founded and became the direct competition of CMLL. Besides training young talents, the new Lucha Libre company signed stars like El Santo. Back then, El Perro Aguayo (Dog Aguayo), a heel who was standing out from the rest, immediately developed a rivalry with “The Man with the Silver Mask.”

 
 
 
 

 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

Una publicación compartida de Lucha Libre AAA Worldwide (@luchalibreaaa) el

Both Mexican wrestlers fought on September 26, 1975, in Arena Mexico for the National Wrestling Alliance championship where the “Nochistlán Dog” won. But things would not remain like that, for El Santo wanted to win his honor back and defied Dog Aguayo for a rematch: a mask-against-hair match that took place only one week later in the same venue. After a bloody wrestle, the face remained masked and deprived the heel of his hair.

On May 15, 1992, a new chapter of Lucha Libre in Mexico began. The AAA (Assistance, Assessment, and Administration) was founded in the Benito Juárez Auditorium in Veracruz, the first time a Lucha Libre company was born outside Mexico City. The AAA has focused on giving shows throughout Mexico and pioneered in the TV broadcasting of wrestles.

Nowadays, AAA and CMLL are the most representative companies of Lucha Libre in our country. Within its ranks, we can see women wrestlers, little and exotic wrestlers. However, Mexican Lucha Libre has had to face competition from wrestling companies from Japan and the United States, such as the World Wrestling Entertainment (WWE), New Japan Pro-Wrestling (NJPW), and Japan Women’s Wrestling (JWP).

Hence the importance of supporting Mexican wrestlers and attending Lucha Libre events in Mexico to keep this international referent of our country alive and to recognize the effort, passion, and dedication of its athletes.
 

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The wrestlers
In a special event organized by Fuerzamanías, a Lucha Libre private promoter company founded by wrestler Fuerza Guerrera Jr, EL UNIVERSAL in English had the opportunity to interview wrestlers Magic Jr, Laredo Black, and Blackbelt Master, who shared their experience and gave some advice for those interested in this sport.

Magic Jr met Lucha Libre through his family. Many of his relatives have been immersed in this world: his grandfather “El Duque,”(Duke) his uncle “El Duque II,” (Duke II) his father “Magic Sr,” as well as his brother. “It is the best legacy my family has given me. I’m very happy to be able to fight in the ring and to be a part of Mexican folklore.” He asserts that Lucha Libre is his life.

 
 
 
 

 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

Una publicación compartida de Consejo Mundial Lucha Libre (@cmll_mx) el

For Magic Jr, the wrestling legacy is very heavy, for, despite his wrestling family origin, his path has not been easy, “People critique you; they think all you have was a gift, because you’re somebody’s son, because you’re a junior, but that is not the case. Since the beginning, I’ve made a name for myself and have tried to honor my father.”

Magic Jr is a masked wrestler, which involves an added obstacle since he has to protect his identity on the ring. Proudly, he says that although he has risked losing his mask in fights, it remains with him, and asserts that he will defend it as many times as needed: “I defend my mask with my life because it is my most precious belonging.

Regarding the tradition of Lucha Libre in Mexico, Magic Jr thinks that, despite the foreign wrestlers who have brought other styles of this sport to our country, Mexicans know that Lucha Libre is local. He invites people to keep attending the shows at Arena México and Colisseum Arena, but also other private or independent events, “There are many wrestlers that are giving their 100% and give their lives on the ring for the audience.”
 

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Laredo Black is a young wrestler from Tamaulipas, Mexico. He started wrestling when he was only 10 years old because he comes from a family of wrestlers, “I have it in my blood,” he says, “Wrestling is a continuous work of effort, both physical and mental. Talent must be polished.”

For those who want to join the world of Lucha Libre, Laredo Black’s advice is for them not to practice it at home, “The stunts, punishments, and tricks made by wrestlers, everything you see on TV, is done by experienced people who have specialized training. The best thing is to train in a place where coaches know what they’re doing.”

Anyone with a passion for Lucha Libre can become a wrestler. Such is the case of Black Belt, who developed a love for this sport at a very young age. He remembers watching his idols, Atlantis, Tinieblas, and Místico, great wrestlers whom he admires and whose steps he tries to follow.

 
 
 
 

 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

Una publicación compartida de Consejo Mundial Lucha Libre (@cmll_mx) el

Black Belt does not come from a wrestling family, however, he has been in Lucha Libre for 7 years as a professional wrestler. For those who want to become a part of Lucha Libre, Black Belt says that he suggests training with a real Lucha Libre coach, to start from the basis of the sport which is Olympic wrestling, and to build their way up to Lucha Libre. “They have to learn how to defend themselves. Lucha Libre must be done with respect.”
 

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The fans
An important part of Lucha Libre are its hardcore fans. One of the characteristics of this sport-show is the involvement of its fans, who yell and support wrestlers on their fights and who attend the events no matter what.

In a Lucha Libre fight, fans will usually yell things such as “We want blood!” or “Destroy him!”, nevertheless this is done in a festive tone and not with the intention to pursue violence per se. The audience as a collective is also part of the show.

Laura Mateos and Erika Romero have been passionate fans of Lucha Libre all their lives.

For Laura Mateos, it all started with her mother, Petra Martínez, “She always liked Lucha Libre a lot. Instead of taking us [her children] to the park or to the church, she took us to watch the fights.” It was her mother who left her whole family the legacy of the love for Lucha Libre. “Even with her wheelchair, we took her to watch the fights. She was a heel: She threw bottles to the wrestlers and yelled at them.” Laura’s mother was a Lucha Libre hardcore fan until the end: This year, when she, unfortunately, passed away, her family put a picture of Lucha Libre next to her.

 
 
 
 

 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

Una publicación compartida de Consejo Mundial Lucha Libre (@cmll_mx) el

Laura’s favorite part of Lucha Libre is the intensity, the beating, the strength. She would like everyone to notice that it is an admirable profession. “As fans, we feel the adrenaline, the yelling, the joy of being present, the action, and interaction with the public. I hope this sport never ends.”

For her part, Erika Romero has been a Lucha Libre hardcore fan since she was a little girl. She is Perro Aguayo’s top fan, as well as of Perro Aguayo’s Son. The loss of both wrestlers was a hard hit for her, but she still supports new wrestlers, like Magic Jr, whom she follows to different shows.
 

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By chance, Erika’s father took her to a wrestle and since then she developed a love for them. “When I was young, I used to say that I wanted to become a wrestler when I grew up, but for some reason, it didn’t happen.” After being asked what side she is on, faces or heels, she says “Half and half” with a laugh, and adds that she wants “people to experiment the passion for Lucha Libre; it is a very rewarding experience.”

Some fans have taken their passion for Lucha Libre beyond the ring and the arenas. Such is the case of Coronel Paz (Colonel Peace), a hardcore fan who created a character related to Lucha Libre in order to do positive actions. As Colonel Peace, besides making new friends, he visits hospitals and orphanages and tries to motivate people to give their best and to overcome their obstacles.

Colonel Peace mentions his character was born not only from his love to Lucha Libre but also from the objective of always giving fans what they deserve, “I used to go frequently to arenas and many times I hoped for a smile from my favorite wrestlers, my heroes, to no success. That is one of the reasons I created this character, to give time and attention to the fans that support this sport.”

He has been on social networks with this character for two years with the idea of promoting positive feelings like humility, kindness, and modesty. For all Lucha Libre fans, his message is “Follow, respect, love, and support Lucha Libre. Love everyone, your friends, family, yourselves, so that you have the opportunity to contribute to your community.”
 

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