On Monday night I was sitting with a new Mexican friend and his daughter on the high concrete bleachers in the Arena de Puebla. We were all screaming swear words (which I will be including in my Spanish vocab count) at a muscular man standing triumphant on the ropes of the ring wearing only tights, boots and a brightly coloured mask. Welcome to Lucha Libre.
On my way back to Oaxaca from Havana, I spent a couple of days in Puebla, Mexico. Puebla is known as a beautiful city, famous for its Talavera pottery and has more churches than you can poke a stick at; but the real drawcard for me was the Monday night fights: Mexican wrestling, otherwise known as Luuuucchhaaaaa Liiiiibbrrraaayy!
Lucha Libre (lu-cha leb-ray) which translates to free fighting is one of Mexico’s oldest and most popular sports, right up there with baseball. Mexico City is the place to see the matches, but every Monday night the luchadores make the 2 hour trip to Puebla to do it all again for an adoring crowd.
Lucha libre wrestlers are known as luchadores, and generally fight in tag teams of two or three-member teams. Luchadores are traditionally divided into two categories, rudos (bad guys) and técnicos (good guys). Its pretty easy to figure out who is who as the rudos break rules and change things up all the time. Just when you think the good guys will win the bout, the rudos do something to make the crowd scream, swear or just gasp at their deviousness.
Mexican wrestling is especially known for its masked wrestlers – although not every wrestler will decide to fight using a mask. The masked luchadors have huge followings, and you can buy your own mask outside the venue should you find you have left home without it. Many people in the crowd had come in their masks – which they then wore all night to my amazement. Obviously you can eat and drink in those things.
During the course of a match a wrestler may be pinned against the ropes and the crowd teased with the shaming possibility his mask will be removed by the stronger luchador.
If a luchador decides to fight in a mask, they will then not be seen in public without it (aside from those tedious trips to the supermarket you would assume). Whilst waiting outside the arena beforehand, I watched one luchador arrive with his gym bag, wearing track pants, a t-shirt and his mask.
For the entire 2 hours I was entertained. The luchadores are seriously good at what they do and their balance and gymnastic ability is amazing. One luchador set up for a move by balancing on the top 2 rungs of the rope before bouncing off and slamming some other poor guy into submission.
Each luchador played to the crowd in character, demanding support and encouragement (especially the rudos) before executing some high-octane move off the top ropes of the ring. One of the bouts on Monday was 2 teams of female luchadores, something that was enthusiastically welcomed by the crowd.
Amusingly the luchdor dressed as a nurse was in the ring about to get clobbered when she held up her hand for the other luchador to stop. She then gyrated around in a Marilyn Monroe type shimmy, and after raucous applause, the bout continued and she got smacked out of the ring.
Men roved around the arena providing food and drink to the audience during the matches. I saw one guy with a wooden crate of pepsi bottles on his shoulder bouncing up the down the stairs all night, but my favourite was the guys who kept coming out with the fish dinners – 3 fillets perfectly aligned with a spring of coriander on a bed of Styrofoam.
Lucha Libre is hilarious, entertaining and totally unlike any sport I have watched.
On Monday night there was a silver masked guy who all the girls follow – quite possibly for his abs, because of course he has a mask on. The other luchadores did not let him win a point all night and instead kept squashing him into the mat (technical terms here) which served to get all the females in the crowd vocally upset.
There is also a move called suicida where the luchador launches himself off the top rope of the ring and swan dives onto a luchador sprawled on the floor outside the ring – generally including taking down the first couple of rows of audience as well. One poor guy, presumably on a date got challenged to a fight after the luchador decided he would rather the girl himself.
Now, which mask should I buy…