El Día Nacional de la Lucha Libre
September 20, 2016 7:36 AM   Subscribe

By unanimous proclamation of the Senate of Mexico, tomorrow is El Día Nacional de la Lucha Libre, or the National Day of Lucha Libre, Mexico's variety of professional wrestling.

The day has special significance as the 83rd anniversary of the first wrestling card promoted by Empresa Mexicana de Lucha Libre (Mexican Wrestling Enterprise), which would later become Consejo Mundial de Lucha Libre (World Wrestling Council), the oldest continuously operating wrestling promotion in the world. EMLL/CMLL dominated Mexican wrestling for decades before a disagreement between its head bookers (writers), Juan Herrera and Antonio Peña.

Peña wanted to move to a more athletic, high-flying style and emphasize younger wrestlers, so he left CMLL in 1992 to found Asistencia Asesoría y Administración. AAA's style, more outlandish plotlines, and more aggressive touring (CMLL holds nearly all of its events at Arena México in Mexico City) and international cross-promotions with American and Japanese organizations led it to arguably greater success.

Lucha libre crossed over into mainstream popularity in Mexico to a much greater extent than it ever has in the U.S., starting with El Santo, a masked luchador who starred in dozens of movies and comic books as a wrestler who fought mobsters, zombies, and vampires in addition to his wrestling foes. El Santo wore his mask for his entire career in and out of the ring, flying separately from other wrestlers so he could take it off for airport security without revealing his face. He removed it in public only once, on a talk show that aired days before his death in 1984. The Mexican Supreme Court ruled earlier this year that masked luchadores have the right to maintain anonymity due to their profession.

The importance of masks led to the lucha de apuesta ("match with wager"), where luchadores put their masks, hair, or other "bets" on the line as the result of the match, with the loser unmasking (a great shame, but often a reason for a switch between tecnico and rudo or other redefinition of the character), shaving their head, or even retiring from lucha libre entirely. Luchas de apuestas are taken very seriously as the final resolution of longstanding feuds: luchador Wikipedia pages have special sections for their lucha de apuestas records.

The exótico is another tradition of lucha libre -- male luchadores who reject the traditional trappings of machismo. It started with Dizzy "Gardenia" Davis (a Texan) playing a heterosexual but effeminate man (which reportedly inspired Gorgeous George to become one of U.S. television's earliest stars with a similar gimmick). The exóticos were careful to point out that they were heterosexual and only working their gimmick to disarm their opponents, until the 1980s, when Los Exoticos "celebrated lucha libre as a means of upward mobility for themselves specifically as homosexuals". Eventually, some exóticos gained acceptance as tecnicos (good guys), and Cassandro won the now-defunct UWA World Lightweight Championship in 1992. The current CMLL World Heavyweight Champion, Máximo Sexy, wrestles as an exóticos.

CMLL and AAA are the undisputed Big Two in Mexico, but the lucha libre style has spread around the world, from the ultra-campy Lucha Britannia ("10,000 Volts of Sexy Mayhem!") and Lucha VaVOOM ("Mexican Masked Wrestling and Sexy Striptease") to the Japanese-hybrid-style Michinoku Pro and the Mark Burnett and Robert Rodriguez production Lucha Underground, a dark, mythical, heavily Latinx show (AAA is a co-owner and major contributor of talent). Other Latin American promotions feature primarily localized lucha-style wrestling, such as Bolivia's fighting Cholitas.

Want a sample but don't speak Spanish? Here's one of the highest-rated lucha libre matches of all time, from AAA's 1994 When Worlds Collide pay-per-view (co-produced by World Championship Wrestling, the main competitor of the then-WWF). Tecnicos Octagón and El Hijo del Santo (El Santo's son, both in storyline and in real life) took on La Pareja del Terror, the rudo (bad guy) pairing of Eddie Guerrero and "Love Machine" Art Barr. The match is a classic two-out-of-three-falls lucha de apuesta, with the Terror Team putting their hair on the line against the tecnicos' masks. It is (so far) the only match from a lucha libre promotion to earn a five-star rating from Dave Meltzer's Wrestling Observer newsletter. It was Barr's last match, as he died 17 days later due to a heart attack, likely brought on by drug and alcohol abuse. Guerrero would go on to a decade-long ascent to the top of the American professional wrestling industry (along with many other luchadores and much of the lucha libre style) before his death in 2005. Octagón and El Hijo del Santo reamined with AAA for the next 20 years, with El Hijo del Santo retiring due to spinal issues in 2014 and Octagón leaving the promotion the same year for the independent circuit.
posted by Etrigan (12 comments total) 27 users marked this as a favorite
Awesome post, Etrigan. I'm a lifelong pro wrestling fan, but truth be told, I don't have a ton of exposure to lucha libre. I've been meaning to watch Lucha Underground, because it sounds super great, but I can't get El Rey from my cable provider.

Also, Cassandro, previously.
posted by uncleozzy at 8:25 AM on September 20, 2016

In honor of this special occasion....

Bart: Does that mean I can stop training to be a Mexican wrestler?
Homer: No! Now practice preening to the crowd, El Guapo! Come on, preen harder! Make them hate you! You feed on their hatred and you are so hungry!
Bart: No me gusta!
posted by Roentgen at 8:27 AM on September 20, 2016

No Mil Mascaras?
posted by benzenedream at 8:41 AM on September 20, 2016 [1 favorite]

I have SO MUCH wanted to get into Lucha for years now, but keep bouncing off in frustration. I am hoping someone in this thread can point me toward some resources. I am most interested in the classic movies from the 60s and 70s, but modern stuff is OK. Where to watch, view, or purchase for someone in Washington state, USA? Where to find subtitles, possibly? Where to read commentary and blogs in English? Or Spanish to help me learn better... And thank you for all the great links in this post, I will be checking out each one of them.
posted by seasparrow at 8:50 AM on September 20, 2016

FANTASTIC post! Last night Monday Night Raw had a retrospective on Eddie Guerrero and I'm 100% ready to visit every link in this post over the next few days.

(oh, Alberto Del Rio, what have you done?)
posted by kimberussell at 9:20 AM on September 20, 2016

I am most interested in the classic movies from the 60s and 70s

I can't speak to the modern stuff too much, though I do like some of the legacy performers, but for me the connection I made was via the lucha genre films. I stumbled on this site in the mid-nineties and it provided a window to a world of which I was very ignorant and after watching a couple I was pretty much hooked. In those pre-Youtube days, the tape trading community I connected with via various now defunct forums provided me with my viewing so I'm not sure where to find that material now other than the obvious. Filthy light thief made an epic post about El Santo years ago that could also be a great place to start (at least as far Santo is concerned).
posted by Ashwagandha at 10:11 AM on September 20, 2016 [2 favorites]

I've talked about this before here.

Growing up in Mexico I read about as many lucha libre comics as I read fantastic four and Batman and other superhero stuff. And in my mind, they were in the same league.

When they had events at the Arena Coliseo I could go and see the real Perro Aguayo, get an autograph from the real Rayo de Jalisco.

I ask you people who did not have the privilege to grow up a lucha libre fan in Mexico to imagine what it would have been like to be able to meet the REAL Batman and see him beat the shit out of the REAL Penguin right in front of your eyes. Not just some dude in a cheap suit at the mall, or a millionaire actor in the movies. The real actual in the flesh comic book superheroes grunting and sweating and swearing so close you could smell them.

This national day is going to be huge! I may have to arrange my yearly family visit around this date next year.

And if you like weird absurdist humor, and can read Spanish, get your hands on some El Santos vs. La Tetona Mendoza comics.

disclosure: I may have done some underage drinking and smoking in the company of JIS and Trino, and although being high and Tapatío helps to get the humor in Santos vs. Tetona, it is not a requisite
posted by Doroteo Arango II at 11:01 AM on September 20, 2016 [9 favorites]

Tecnicos Octagón and El Hijo del Santo (El Santo's son, both in storyline and in real life) took on La Pareja del Terror, the rudo (bad guy) pairing of Eddie Guerrero and "Love Machine" Art Barr.

It should be noted that Guerrero and Barr were at this time no longer the Terror Team, but had mutated into their most successful gimmick: Los Gringos Locos. They nearly incited riots when they would enrage crowds by doing "wetback" swimming motions while wearing stars-n-stripes tights.
posted by mightygodking at 1:27 PM on September 20, 2016

It should be noted that Guerrero and Barr were at this time no longer the Terror Team, but had mutated into their most successful gimmick: Los Gringos Locos.

I was under the impression that Guerrero and Barr were always La Pareja del Terror, while Los Gringos Locos was them plus Konnan and Madonna's Boyfriend etc., but I accept that I may be misremembering.
posted by Etrigan at 1:34 PM on September 20, 2016

Recommended soundtrack
posted by andycyca at 2:47 PM on September 20, 2016

I guess I should finish Guacamelee in honor of this day.
posted by Charlemagne In Sweatpants at 3:56 PM on September 20, 2016

Hey, today's Google Doodle is an El Santo tribute.
posted by uncleozzy at 4:50 AM on September 23, 2016 [2 favorites]

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