Las Luchas! — Mexico’s “Professional” Wrestlers

Last Friday night, I went to see the fights at Arena México. Built to house boxing matches for the 1968 Mexico City Olympics, the arena is now used as a venue for “professional” wrestling, or las luchas. My memories of watching wrestling on TV when I was younger helped to prepare me for the experience, with the overstylized drama, elaborate costumes, bizarre plot lines, acrobatic moves, and fake fighting. And, of course, Mexican wrestling is also notorious for “those guys with the funny masks.” (Apologies on the lack of photos! …The arena officials ban cameras.)

But las luchas in Mexico is more than just entertainment, it’s a cultural phenomenon and a window into part of the national psyche. The masks, for example, serve the dual role of both anonymyzing a fighter as well as being exploited by his opponents in order to emasculate him. To really get my head around the experience and figure out what it all means, I’ll probably need to go back… it was, in many senses, overwhelming. Perhaps exceeding the spectacle in the ring is that of watching the fans, groups of which who wore matching costumes, brought bicycle pumps to drive air horns(!), and looked as if they have been attending las luchas as religiously as they do church on Sundays.

Each of the fights we saw featured six luchadores, divided into two teams of three, that would fight in the ring. I had expected the fights to be a bit more structured, with the “official” wrestling only between two luchadores at a time. However, the organization of these fights would quickly deteriorate into a free-for-all, with all six wrestlers performing combo moves in the ring. In one of the early bouts, a very little man accompanied one of the teams out to ringside. I don’t know what the socially accepted term is these days, so I’ll just refer to him as the “little man” or the “wee luchador;” he was about 3′ tall… and dressed in a blue, hairy gorilla suit. I must admit, it was a strange sight….

During the middle of the fight, the wrestlers on the other team grabbed the little guy, pulled him into the ring, and began to “beat” on him. I honestly can’t remember how the crowd reacted, my attention was completely fixated on the post-body-slam motionless body, blue ape suit and all, lying prone in the center of the ring. To heighten the drama of the moment, one of the arena’s medical staff came out, lifted the little man, and carried him out, laid flat in his arms.

Some may say it’s exploitation. But to me it’s no more exploitative than everything else about las luchas, the bikini-clad ladies, stereotypified wrestlers, Mexican-good-ol’-boy announcers, and the fanatics who pay upwards of 300 pesos to watch. In that moment, I could do nothing but stare, gape, and break down into laughter.

México, D.F.

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