Local Obsessions

Letting Off Steam at a Lucha Libre Match in Mexico City

by Daniel Schwartz
Lucha The headline match. Photo by Daniel Schwartz.

A visit to the lucha libre arena can be a good way to let off steam.

MEXICO CITY – Things were going to get crazy. It’s practically guaranteed at the incredibly entertaining Mexican mass spectacle of lucha libre. That said, nothing could have prepared me for what I would witness at my first wrestling match at Arena Mexico. We arrived two hours late, just as the semi-final fight was wrapping up, on the advice of our local guide, who assured us that what we really wanted to see was the headline match. She wasn’t kidding.

Following a brief break, during which cheap beer and chili-dusted snacks were solicited en-masse from an armada of mobile vendors, the evening’s top talent descended on stage in grand procession. There they were: Two Americans, a Canadian, a Mexican, an Italian, and a Japanese luchador. It was a three-on-three, and in traditional lucha libre fashion, there were good guys (técnicos) and bad guys (rudos). Can you guess which side the gringos played?

The fight commenced with a howl from the crowd and a cameo from a scantily clad model carrying a placard displaying the number of the round. She would appear throughout the match, but never as a main character: All eyes were glued to the stage as the melodrama played out, luchador pile-driving into luchador, the sound of slap-punching and chest-beating filling the air.

As the fight continued, it became clear that the crowd had its role to play, too. Every takedown triggered a frenzied response from the peanut gallery: People shook their fists and screamed obscenities as luchadors, particularly rudos, celebrated tiny victories with grandiose gestures like grabbing their crotch or flipping off the crowd. Should a poor luchador have his mask torn from his face in defeat, the entire stadium would jump out of their seats, barking at the moon like manic hounds, myself included.

In the context of the fight, which was clearly premeditated, such theater was to be expected. Here’s how it all went down.

Act one: Rudos own técnicos. Juice Robinson, the slimiest of the bunch, massages his family jewels in victory, then kidnaps and drop-kicks the arena’s resident midget, who is dressed in a blue gorilla suit, to everyone’s collective disgust.

Act two: Piggybacking off the hurt feelings of the blue gorilla, the técnicos makes a comeback. Gringos down.

Act three: Somehow, the crowd favorites fall at the hands of the North Americans. Everybody boos, myself included.

Clearly, no one was pleased with how the match progressed. Throughout the course of the night, hearty expletives like “fuck the U.S.A.” and “pinche gringo,” translating to roughly the same thing in this context, were being thrown around with such frequency and intensity that I began to wonder if all visiting teams drew so much ire or whether we, for reasons too long to list, had this one coming.

To everyone’s great surprise, the técnicos came out on top. Sort of. As the victors walked off the ring, arrogant as ever, a luchador from the losing squad swiped a big cup of beer from an audience member and chucked it full-speed at one of the gringos. The crowd completed the escort by pelting them with a hailstorm of candy. Our jaws dropped. We all erupted in laughter.

As we walked out of the stadium, energized by such a cathartic display of emotion, we wondered whether what we had seen was simply an orchestrated play on stereotypes or some kind of timely statement. In the end, there was no way of telling. Nor did it really matter. The energy on the street was jovial. Friends recapped the match. Families chased down children in luchador masks. It was just another night at the arena.

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