Living La Lucha Libre

Despite my best intentions, I failed miserably on Friday in getting media access to La Lucha Libre. Not only did they ignore my requests for a pass, but they confiscated all of the recording equipment – dictaphone, mobile phone and camera – that I tried to sneak in. Worry not – I will bring you a multi-media Lucha Libre experience if it is the last thing I do. In the meantime, here is a sense of the experience:

The Arena Mexico in Mexico City’s Colonial Centro was buzzing as people clambered over each other to gain tickets to the la Lucha por el Campeonato Mundial de Parejas – the global championship for doubles. This was a revenge fight – the week before had seen the infamous Dr. Wagner and Ultimo Guerrero defeat el Mistico y el Negro Casas. Now all were back for more.

In the capable hands of locals, we negotiated the steps of the city’s impressive arena that teamed with men, women and children, touts selling front row seats, and vendors pimping a million variations of the famous Lucha Libre masks (‘mascara’). The boiling crowd was illuminated by the harsh neon lights outside the stadium, and the aroma from stalls selling everything edible from tacos to hotdogs mixed with the smell of bodies crowded together, cigarette smoke, beer and the familiar traffic emissions of Ciudad de Mexico.

Men and women queued in separate lines, squashed together front to back, to await the thorough search from stadium security that resulted in the confiscation of your correspondent’s equipment, foiling my ambitious under-cover reporting project. Next time.

We bounded up the bare stone steps to the vast interior of the arena which is also known as the cathedral of Lucha Libre given its 70-year plus history. The massive, dimly lit space was packed to its full capacity of 16,500 people. The thunder of the crowd reached my ears and vibrated in my chest before we reached the end of the stairs, fuelling the adrenalin rush one gets as the best music gigs or at those dangerous moments in life. The tension in the air was palpable. Huge groups of excited young men belted out the staple, four-syllable staccato whistle at every opportunity that echoed around the stadium the entire evening. Translated, it basically means: ‘Fuck your Mother’. Welcome to Mexico.

Our plastic seats in the stalls were behind a metal fence, designed to stop zealous fans from lobbing paper beer cups and popcorn cartons down onto the audience below. The view of the fighting ring was regularly obscured by fervent fans, standing up to scream or whistle down into the arena below.

Lucha Libre is the perfect combination of real fighting skills and exuberant showmanship, at the core of which lies the phenomenal Mexican sense of humor which refuses to take life too seriously. Dressed in the famous lycra leotards which stretch from the crotch up over their shoulders the Luchadores threw themselves and each other around the ring in practiced, melodramatic moves that had the audience screaming and rolling in the aisles.

La Lucha’s biggest fans are Mexico’s working poor, known here as the ‘popular classes’, and entire families with tiny children were out in force, many of them sporting T-Shirts brandishing images of their favourite fighters. “Wagner! Wagner! Wagner!” chanted my side of the crowd, as all 98kg, 1.7 metres of Dr. Wagner threw his opponent clear out of the ring and onto the laps of the seated audience below. The crowd went wild for that – the more outrageous the moves the better, and more triumphant the fighter’s sequential glory dance.

When the fighters were actually inside the ring rather than cavorting on its edges, the Lucha appeared a combination of dancing and wrestling, the participants bouncing themselves against the ropes to gain momentum before launching themselves into their opponents with awesome gusto.

The fight was over quickly, not allowing the audience anytime for complacency. El Mistico and Negras Casas swept to victory to avenge their defeat earlier in the week, and my hosts – some of which had Dr Wagner emblazoned across their backs and fronts – left disappointed, shouting conversations at each other as they cursed the victims and gestured wildly with their hands.

It was a whole other wrestling match to get outside of the arena and reclaim my confiscated equipment. Vendors selling posters of the victors in their trademark masks competed with taxi drivers keen to make the most of the thousands of fans spilling out of the stadium into the warm Mexican evening.

At least the nature of La Lucha means its stars generally live to see another day, and there’s always an opportunity for a rematch.

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