Mexican Wrestling: A Sport-Spectacle With A Passion

Mexican wrestling is one of the most deeply rooted sports in the country and has generated a whole spectacle around it, to such an extent that it has permeated movies, music, and comics, being recognized worldwide for its colorful costumes and spectacular movements and throws.

Mexican Wrestling: A Sport-Spectacle With A Passion
The Olivares wrestling dynasty is originally from Xochimilco, Mexico City. They created the Chinampa Luchas. Image: Once Noticias

Mexican wrestling is a sport-spectacle that combines elements of physical skill with those of theatrical performance, which takes place in a ring. Although it exists in other countries, the relationship established with the audience is something very particular in Mexico, where there is an interaction between the wrestlers and the spectators and there is a constant game of making the audience angry or excited; it also has a comic part performed by the wrestlers.

The learning of Mexican wrestling has to do with specific sports techniques that characterize it, such as Greco-Roman wrestling, the "llaveo" and the "contra-llaveo". This sports show has captivated countless people and has been the subject of recent historical and social research. Wrestling becomes relevant because it is a phenomenon that attracts crowds and is part of Mexican traditions par excellence; proof of this is the declaration as an Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity by the Government of Mexico City in 2018.

Those who have been to wrestling matches know the fascination of watching the wrestlers, their masks, the audience, the context of the ring, and the atmosphere they generate. It is a space that involves children, young people, adults, and seniors and represents a very special environment of conviviality. In this context, it is convenient to delve into some of its most representative aspects, such as its history and characters.

A brief history of Mexican wrestling

Mexican wrestling was institutionalized by the businessman Salvador Lutteroth, who through his then newly created Mexican Wrestling Company and together with his partner Francisco Ahumada, organized the first wrestling event on September 21, 1933, where the Sonoran Yaqui Joe wrestled against the American Bobby Sampson.

Lutteroth, born in 1897 in Colotlán, Jalisco, is considered the father of wrestling in Mexico and is responsible for giving wrestling a unique and original meaning that remains to this day. It is from his work and that of his company that Mexican wrestlers began to emerge, who would later become national icons such as "El Santo", "Blue Demon" and the aforementioned "Mil Mascaras", "Dos Caras" and "Rayo de Plata".

Saint against she-wolves (Santo contra las lobas, 1972)
Rodolfo Guzmán Huerta, better known as El Santo, was the greatest star of Mexican wrestling and cinema. (Saint against she-wolves, 1972)

During the golden age of Mexican cinema in the 1950s, lucha libre made its appearance on the big screen with the iconic film La bestia magnífica (1953), starring Wolf Ruvinskis and "el Enmascarado de Plata," in which "el Santo" appeared for the first time. Over the next two decades, luchador films, as they are known, created an entire cult film genre with titles such as Santo contra las mujeres vampiro (1962), Las momias de Guanajuato (1970) and Los hombres lobo y Drácula (1972). In this golden period of lucha libre, wrestlers were immortalized on the small screen, in comic books and toys, which made them distinctive characters among children and teenagers.

Salvador Lutteroth is considered the father of Mexican wrestling.

The democratic spirit of wrestling, that is, the fact that all people can enjoy this spectacle regardless of age or economic situation, makes it a social phenomenon that has endured in the national culture to this day. Although the golden age is from 1950 to 1970, in the following decades it did not cease to be relevant.

Currently, there are several renowned companies in charge of promoting Mexican wrestling throughout the country and abroad, such as the Consejo Mundial de Lucha Libre (which has its origin in the Mexican Wrestling Company created by Lutteroth and changed its name in 1991), the Tres Veces Estelar AAA (which emerged in 1992 as an independent company from the Consejo Mundial, created by Antonio Peña Promotions) and several independent promoters.

Mexican wrestling is a sport that has stood the test of time.
Mexican wrestling is a sport that has stood the test of time. Photo: Cultura CDMX

Rudos vs. técnicos

The wrestling spectacle in Mexico has traditionally been divided into two camps since the 1950s: the rudos and the técnicos. This dichotomy symbolizes the struggle between good and evil. The former is defined as rude wrestlers, and cheaters, who do not respect the rules and whose purpose is to provoke anger among the public. On the contrary, the role of the latter is to follow the rules to the letter, to be the heroes of the children, and to fight the rudos. The essence of wrestling is, therefore, the never-ending struggle between good and evil.

Some of the most famous rudos have been "Fuerza Guerrera", "los hermanos Dinamita", "el Perro Aguayo", "L. A. Park", "El Pirata Morgan", among others. The most recognized technicians, besides "el Santo", are "Octagon", "la Parka", "Blue Panther" and "Tinieblas" and his inseparable partner "Alushe", just to mention a few. Several of these wrestlers from both sides are considered references to Mexican popular culture, as they have appeared in movies, television shows, and even comic books.

The costumes of the fighters vary depending on the character and his characteristics, the side, and his fighting technique. Some wear colorful masks and attire, others do not wear masks and their attire is less flashy. As for the wrestling technique, there are countless movements in pairs that are called keys and are intended to punish the opponent to the point of forcing him to surrender.

Mexican wrestling is a legacy of popular culture in the country.
Mexican wrestling is a legacy of popular culture in the country. Photo: Cultura CDMX

Wrestling is not a game

It is important to mention that wrestling has several types of fights, the best known is the two to three falls without time limit, that is, if a wrestler wins two falls, not necessarily in a row, he will be the winner, by putting his opponent flat on his back on the ring floor, by surrender or by disqualification for making a forbidden move. There are also betting fights where wrestlers risk their mask or scalp in the contest, with quite profound consequences for their careers.

Wrestling is not a game, and Emir, one of the authors of this article, has participated in wrestling and experienced how painful a well-applied wrench can be. Although wrestling may seem like mere entertainment, his bachelor's thesis research reveals that among practitioners it is serious, a way of life that involves risk. There have been wrestlers who have died in the ring, such as "El Perro Aguayo Jr.", "Sangre India", "Oro" and recently "Silver King", who died during a performance in London, England; other wrestlers have been injured for life, therefore, they must have a good physical condition, a broad knowledge of techniques and sports ethics.

The essence of the interaction between rudos and tecnicos combines the aspect of theatrical spectacle with that of sport. Both are indispensable to creating the mysticism of wrestling and attracting the public's attention.

Mexican wrestling arena.
Mexican wrestling arena. Photo: Cultura CDMX

The wrestling arenas

The spaces where wrestling takes place are called arenas. These vary in size and refer mostly to the space around the ring. In commercial contexts, they are of large proportions and offer the sale of masks, toys, food, t-shirts, and drinks, among other things. In other contexts, such as the patron saint festivals of the towns, the arenas are improvised, even placed in the street. The important thing is that for a wrestling event there are the minimum safety requirements for the wrestlers, such as an ambulance and paramedics. We can say that the spectacle of wrestling without a minimum form of the arena is not possible.

The big arenas are usually managed by large companies and the level of spectacle usually demands more, without detracting from the small arenas. The important thing is that to participate in an arena, regardless of its size, it is essential to have previous training, which is usually carried out in specialized academies where practitioners learn all the technical and cultural elements of Mexican wrestling.

For many people, this type of activity is a way of life and generates feelings of fraternity and solidarity that give individuals a sense of common belonging. Through wrestling, different sectors of society coexist for a moment to enjoy a social situation that unites and identifies them. Mexican wrestling dissipates, momentarily, the social and economic differences of the population, to immerse the spectators in a magical world of spectacle where passions and emotions merge with the bodily actions and dexterity of the wrestlers.

Authors: Emir Azael Gil Castillo and Sergio Gonzalez Varela, Sources: UASLP, Universitarios Potosinos No.238.