Behind lucha libre’s comedy and theatrics lies generations of dedication


As the solar set within the late afternoon, folks began submitting into the churchyard in San Pedro Yancuitlalpan, Puebla, sitting on folding chairs that had been positioned round a small platform. But they weren’t there to attend a Mass. They had been there to attend one of Mexico’s extra spectacular sporting occasions: lucha libre.

Lucha libre actually means “free fight” however is usually translated as “freestyle wrestling” and has been round since 1863. Enrique Ugartechea is credited with inventing it in that 12 months, basing it on Greco-Roman wrestling.

Although common from its very starting, it was primarily a regional occasion till 1933 when the Empresa Mexicana de Lucha Libre (The Mexican Lucha Libre Enterprise) was fashioned and the game started gaining nationwide consideration. Then, in 1942, a luchador (wrestler) identified solely as El Santo (The Saint) donned what has change into essentially the most recognizable image of lucha libre: a masks, giving the members an air of thriller that continues to today.

In his wake, nearly all luchadores now put on masks, and some by no means seem in public with out theirs.

“Lucha libre is about tradition and family,” defined Rob Sheen, the occasion’s announcer. “It is an amazing show.” Sheen has labored as an announcer for eight years. “I am the third generation in my family dedicated to lucha libre,” he continued.

Even within the ring, fighters mug for pictures and take moments to have interaction with the viewers.

His father and grandfather had been each luchadores. “I like it first for tradition, second for conviction and third for its passion,” he mentioned. “It is a contact sport — totally.”

Although passionate in regards to the sport, he’s by no means been a luchador.  “I am dedicated to announcing,” he mentioned. “It is safer.”

But his 14-year-old daughter, Estefanía Nobali Meléndez Rojos, who was sitting close by, plans on following in her grandfather’s footsteps.

“I love lucha libre,” she mentioned. “My grandfather taught me the moves.” She mentioned she’ll begin coaching when she’s 15.

Her grandfather additionally influenced Sheen’s older daughter, who has been coaching for seven years to change into a luchadora. When Meléndez was instructed that this appeared like a very long time, she replied, “You never stop training when you are in the life of the lucha.”

Shortly earlier than the match started, eight luchadores arrived with small luggage and backpacks, becoming their costumes and masks inside a small trailer. Then, as Sheen introduced the start of the primary match, 4 luchadores filed out.

lucha libreOne of lucha libre’s signature wrestling strikes: the helicóptero.

The matches featured groups with two luchadores every, one group serving because the técnicos, the opposite because the rudos. The particular person fighters or groups of fighters usually play one of the 2 roles: the técnicos are the great guys, the rudos, the dangerous guys.

A match is received when a luchador is pinned to the mat and the referee counts to a few or when a competitor is knocked out of the ring for a depend of 20, though the referee’s counting pace different significantly at this occasion. Until the very finish of a match, the luchador all the time obtained again into the battle simply earlier than the depend ended.

As Sheen mentioned, lucha libre is a contact sport — completely.

There are strikes with names like plancha (the place a luchador jumps from the highest rope onto an opponent who’s mendacity on his again), the centón (a plancha variant by which the luchador lands on his again atop his opponent) and the helicóptero (which includes, as its title suggests, spinning an opponent).

Although the piledriver, the place a luchador is slammed head-first onto the bottom, is meant to be unlawful as a result of of the chance of critical harm, it’s nonetheless utilized in matches and was used on this occasion.

Whatever the transfer, nearly all of them ended with a luchador touchdown — forcefully — on the skinny mats that lined wood slats, one thing that needed to damage. There had been additionally punches and kicks and heads being slammed into poles or stepped on. But, actually, nearly all of these assaults had been pretend.

lucha libreA luchador takes a seat on an obtainable lap.

No one within the viewers appeared to thoughts.

The crowd, which was considerably sparse and quiet at first, grew in dimension and rowdiness because the matches wore on. There had been derisive shouts of “¡Cuidado! ¡Cuidado!” (watch out!) when somebody was tossed out of the ring; ¡Otra! ¡Otra!” they shouted when an opponent was hit.

There was additionally tons of (largely) good-natured trash-talking between luchadores and spectators.

But, because the bottles of tequila being handed across the crowd emptied, the taunting grew in quantity. One critically inebriated man ill-advisedly grabbed a luchador for a second or two. Fortunately, the luchador reacted calmly — at first.

When the person continued to yell and curse, although, the luchador crooked his finger and mentioned, “Ven” (come).

The challenger correctly beat a hasty retreat.

lucha libreThe agony of defeat.

Luchadores are extremely devoted to their sport. Tiger Boy, a member of Fabuloso Técnicos, who has been a luchador for seven years, educated for 10 years earlier than his first match.

“It is a passion for me. It is to be with people,” he mentioned. “I train every day for two to three hours. It is very hard, but I like it.”

Although Tiger Boy is the primary member of his household to take part in lucha libre, Cometa Boy Junior, one other member of the Fabuloso Técnicos, is one of 5 members of the family who’re luchadores. “It is the ultimate thing I wanted to be,” he mentioned.

People clearly loved the match and, together with the trash speak, there was tons of laughter. Should you go to a match, don’t sit within the entrance row. Luchadores tossed out of the ring typically land on folks sitting there. Other occasions, they’ll simply stroll over and sit on an obtainable lap.

Because of the pandemic, precautions have been taken at lucha libre occasions. “Some luchadores have masks that have been fitted with cubrebocas (medical masks),” Sheen mentioned. “They all use sanitizing gel and all have to be vaccinated. It is a rule.”

The sport is extraordinarily common in Mexico, and some of the children at this occasion mentioned they dreamed of being a luchador. But not everybody thought that was such an incredible thought.

lucha libreA baby will get an up-close have a look at a fighter who was tossed out of the ring and landed on a chair.

“It is fun to see how they hit,” admitted Marlen Popoca Fernández, “but I do not want to be a luchadora because there are many punches, and some of them are real. I do not want to be punched.”

Joseph Sorrentino, a author, photographer and writer of the ebook San Gregorio Atlapulco: Cosmvisiones and of Stinky Island Tales: Some Stories from an Italian-American Childhood, is an everyday contributor to Mexico News Daily. More examples of his images and hyperlinks to different articles could also be discovered at  He at the moment lives in Chipilo, Puebla.


lucha librePosing, flexing and trash speaking — with each opponents and the viewers — is a component of lucha libre’s showmanship.


lucha libreEven stepping in your opponent is an appropriate transfer.


lucha libreThe notorious and supposedly prohibited piledriver.


lucha libreA spectator grabs at one of the fighters, able to situation a problem.

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