Lucha libre: Life Behind the Mask

Wrestling? Really? Really!

Really !

A little bit of lucha libre history
The current form started in the 1930s, although wrestling as a sport is 1000s of years old.

How the sport started and took root in Mexico is debated. The generally accepted story is that Salvador Lutteroth González witnessed a free-wrestling competition in Texas in 1929 and decided to introduce it in Mexico, which he did in 1933 [combining the resources of wealthy backers and his bingo winnings.]

The initial matches featured international participants, and were spread throughout Mexico and Spain. The outbreak of the Spanish Civil War in 1936 curtailed lucha libre events [called “catch” there} in Europe but stimulated the lucha libre scene in Mexico.

Rodolfo Guzmán Huerta, aka El Santo

The most beloved wrestler in Mexican Lucha Libre history. The career of El Santo (the Saint) began in 1935 and would stretch for more than 40 years.

El Santo was famous for his silver mask and the fact that he was never seen without it. More than any other wrestler, El Santo was able to keep his true identity and face a mystery and this served him well in creating a mystique which increased his popularity with wrestling fans across Mexico.

He would eventually became one of the most popular movie stars in all of Mexico, performing in movies such as Santo vs. the Vampire Women, Santo in the Wax Museum and Mummies of Guanauato.

Santo started out as a "rudo" (bad guy) in the ring, but years later (in the early sixties) decided that becoming a technico (good guy) would greatly enhance his career. A publisher named Jose Cruz started a "fumetti"-style comic book in 1952, featuring Santo's adventures fighting crime and monsters on a weekly basis, which popularized Santo into a near-legendary figure in Mexico. The comic book series (4 volumes) ran continuously for about 35 years, and is probably the most famous superhero comic book in Mexico.

His first of many Mexican film appearances was in "THE EVIL BRAIN", filmed very cheaply in Cuba in 1958. In this film, Santo played an unnamed masked agent who helps the police combat a mad doctor. It was quickly followed by "THE INFERNAL MEN", in which he played an unnamed masked man who aids a police agent in capturing some drug smugglers

It was only in 1961 when producer Alberto Lopez hired him to star as "El Santo" in the now-classic "SANTO VS. THE ZOMBIES" that his actual movie career began. Santo was paid less than $1,700.00

All told from 1958 to 1982, Santo starred in a total of 52 Mexican movies (2 of which were only cameo appearances). He co-starred in 9 of those films with the Blue Demon, another famous Mexican wrestler who also enjoyed a successful film career of his own.

Film clips

Like Santo, Blue Demon (when he wasn't in the ring) was out there investigating weird phenomena, hunting monsters and saving hapless souls from the likes of killer zombies, lecherous vampires and wacky mad doctors. His first appearance as The Blue Demon was in Mexico City in September 1948. Blue began his career in the ring as a "rudo" (bully or bad guy). In 1952, the famous wrestler SANTO beat and unmasked The Black Shadow in the ring, which triggered Blue's decision to become a technico (good guy) in the ring, as well as a legendary feud between The Blue Demon and Santo that culminated in Blue's beating Santo in a well-publicized series of matches in 1952 and again in 1953. Their rivalry never really ended in later years, although they appeared together in a series of horror films, since Santo always remembered his defeat at the Blue Demon's hands.

Back to the origins: Lucha libre follows a classic story line of good vs. evil, in this case “técnico” vs. “rudo’>

Técnicos represent characters with heroic and noble qualities, frequently based on comic books or folklore.

Rudos symbolize many of the negative aspects of Mexican life, and their characters are designed to evoke those feels felt towards dishonest cops, crooked politicians, mobsters, gangs, loud drunks, etc.

The techniques in lucha libre progressed from mere wrestling moves to choreographed routines filled with acrobatics, theatrics and drama.

The mask: It denies the opposition the knowledge associated with knowing one’s identity and therefore knowing one’s history, characteristics, strengths and weaknesses. The wearer assumes the characteristics represented in the mask, which are specially designed for each wrestler.

The mask, and sometimes the hair, are at stake in a match.

The loser in a match runs the risk of being unmasked, humbled, exposed. Unmasking is normally conducted with an air of dignity and respect [both of which are relative terms….]

Luchadores are traditionally more agile and perform more aerial manoeuvres than their North American counterparts. They execute high-flying moves by utilizing the wrestling ring’s ropes to catapult themselves towards their opponents, using intricate combinations in rapid-fire succession, and applying complex submission holds.

Lucha libre is also known for its tag-team wrestling matches. The teams are often made of up to three members, of which one is designated the captain. In trio matches, there are usually two referees. Generally, one is a heel referee (siding with the rudos) and one is a face referee (siding with the técnicos). Most matches are won by the winners of two out of three falls.

A successful fall in a match can be achieved by either pinning the captain of the opposing team or by pinning the other members. Falls often occur simultaneously, which adds to the extremely stylized nature of the action.

Lucha libre is huge in Mexico and in the Southwest US. Also in Japan and England.

Prices range from £20 for unreserved standing at ground floor level to £30-£60 for seating and up to £75 for ringside seats. The family matinee is priced at £20 for standing, £30-£50 seating and £60 ringside with child discounts available.

WWE vs. Lucha libre

WWE exists in about 100 countries [vs. 3] The wrestlers are much larger [but less agile and acrobatic] There are prizes, championships, etc.

The audience:

Because the ring is open on all 4 sides, and spectators surround the ring, the audience is an essential component of the spectacle.

The spectators exercise great power within the performance as they react to and judge the actions of the wrestlers. The opinions voiced by the audience shape the narrative of the spectacle. The wrestler will often ask the audience what action he should take and likewise, the audience will tell the wrestler and referee what actions they should take


Look, up in the sky ... Is it a bird? Is it a plane? No, it's Superbarrio -- a flabby caped crusader in cherry red tights who traverses the streets of Mexico City, defending the lower class.

His role is primarily symbolic as the protector of low-income neighborhoods. But on behalf of squatters and labor unions, Superbarrio leads protest rallies, files petitions and challenges court decisions

Yeah, fine, but it’s all fake, right?

Depends on how you define “fake”…..something to think about as you’re watching.

Also think about the role of lucha libre in the lives of these people: what does it offer them and their families?

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