What I find pretty awesome about travel is that it gets people doing things they normally wouldn’t do when at home. Take me, for example. I hate professional wrestling. I think it’s ridiculous. If someone gave me free tickets to go to a match in my home town and told me “Come on! Think of it as a cultural experience”, I’d say no and go back to watching the sky for midday stars. However. When I was visiting a friend in Puebla (Mexico) a few years ago, she asked if I wanted to see a lucha libre match. Knowing full well that it is Mexican professional wrestling, I essentially said, “Hell, yes!” Double standard, I know, but I can be discriminatory like that sometimes!
The words lucha libre means ‘free wrestling’. It is predominately in Mexico and other Spanish speaking countries but these days, lucha libre has penetrated North American pop culture to the point where it is even used in mainstream advertising (ie. my cell phone service uses an annoying animated lucha libre guy as its mascot). There are three main elements of lucha libre: colourful masks, fast hold sequences, and high-flying maneuvers. Oh and I can’t forget the names! When I went to the arena in Puebla, that evening was featuring names like El Felino, La Mascara, Mr. Niebla, Volador Jr., and Mistico. I was amused already.
Luchadores (Spanish for wrestlers) fight solo, in pairs, or in threes (trios). A match can be won by a luchador pinning his opponent to the mat for a count of three, by knocking him out if the ring for a certain amount of time, or disqualification. Matches are generally best two out of three. In terms of the ubiquitous masks, contrary to popular beliefs, not all luchadores wear masks. Many do but some choose not to ever wear one. However, some wrestlers have suffered the defeat of being ‘unmasked’ in a match where said mask was put on the line to settle a feud (luchas de apuestas – matches with wagers).
When I arrived at the stadium, I can confidently say I was probably the only tourist there. It was awesome. The room was set up with seating on all four sides with the wrestling ring in the middle. The seats were an interesting shade of turquoise and look like they came from metal barrels. I was very happy to be at the match with my friend as she was able to explain all the nuances to me. For example, there are two categories of luchadores – the Rudos who are essentially the “bad guys” and the Técnicos who are the “good guys”. People in the crowd cheer for masked wrestlers on either side and the wrestlers tend to ham it up for their cheerers. It can be pretty easy to see who is a Rudo and who is a Técnico – when a guy is being bounced on his head by three other guys, it’s pretty safe to say the former is a ‘good guy’ and the latter are the ‘bad guys’.
One (other) thing that is different with Mexican wrestling from American wrestling is that it can be visually appealing and awesome. No, I’m not talking about what the luchadores look like…seriously, a speedo and a jheri curl isn’t attractive, no matter how much flexing at the crowd one does. I mean more about the aerial moves some of these guys have. Watching them fling themselves at each other through the air and employing sneak high flying attacks, even I couldn’t deny that this was fun to watch. I even got into the spirt of things and scored a photo with one of the luchadores! I’m pretty sure the crowd around me was laughing at me, not with me. Ah well. There are times you play the tourist card and this was one of them.
So, do I recommend a lucha libre fight next time you’re in Mexico? Definitely! It’s entertaining both to watch the wrestlers and the crowd. It’s a cultural event that is not the usual art museum or food experience. Also, who knows – it may make a wrestling convert out of you! And you, too, can be the proud owner of a cheesy photo like this!