Lucha Libre

Yesterday, I finally got to see some live wrestling. Admittedly, I got side-tracked from the venture early on when we decided to have lunch at the race-track opposite.

The Mexicans are fans of flat racing. It’s fast paced and addictive - involving (mainly) thoroughbreds in very short sprints, around a lap or, at the most, a lap and a half. The restaurant is tiered and as the first arrivals we were given pride of place overlooking the finishing post. This was just too good to be true. We watched the horses arrive, saw the jockeys saddle up in the nearby paddock and then placed our bets. Three hours later, when we had all won once, we decided to call it a day and late afternoon we headed for the wrestling.

The fair was held in a huge exhibition centre that was full of stalls selling masks, T-shirts, badges, stickers and other memorabilia together with mock rings for children to have wrestling lessons. I don’t know why, but the various stands reminded me of the Ideal Home Exhibition in Earl’s Court. In Mexico, they too have this exhibition, but ideal homes are the dream of a few, so the masses flock to the more affordable wrestling fairs and the gain is immediate and just as long-lasting. Here, rather than taking photographs of eco heating systems you can have your picture taken with a masked,  semi-naked man, often one of the former Greats in the wrestling world.

The central ring where the fights took place was packed to the rafters and you could hear the roars of crowd from outside. Wrestling is evidently treated as a family occasion and there were plenty of children sporting T-shirts of their favourite stars and babies barely out the prams sat on their mothers’ knees. Much of the merchandise is aimed at kids.

When we arrived woman in shiny, brightly coloured latex were in the ring. They were wrestling in pairs – the bad girls (in shorts) with peroxide hair against the good brunettes (who were marginally better covered).  Then it was time for the men who, arrived in threes, and were greeted by shouts and jeers from the crowd. One of the most arresting of these was Maximo, a rotund figure with pink Mohican hair and a black and gold leotard to match.

Maximo camps it up – blowing kisses at his opponents and threatening to lick them when he has overpowered them with a powerful kick to the groin. I was surprised by his antics, given Mexico’s macho-ridden society, but the audience’s enthusiastic response was even more unexpected. Maximo was on the side of the “good guys - La Sombra (the Shadow) and El Valiente (the Valiant) - and in wrestling, the good guys always win.  But although his amigos were the muscle-bound heroes of comic books, the audience genuinely seemed to love Maximo the most.

Between rounds, as the wrestlers are introduced, bikini clad beauties strut down the walkways and at one point we even had two of them in the ring dancing to drums. A few days ago, I wrote in the Guardian that Mexicans love film more than theatre; but as I now realise all this colour and spectacle IS theatre. This is choreographed stage-fighting (some bouts are inevitably better than others and the most revered wrestlers are the most skilled performers). The wrestlers model themselves on particular archetypes (these divide into the ‘roughs’ and the ‘technicians’), many wear masks to add an air of mystique and good always vanquishes evil.

Close-up, you can see the flaws in the stage-craft, which makes me think that wrestling must be more impressive when watched on TV. But what you miss is the roar of the crowds, the excitement and the sense of spectacle. And when one of the better looking wrestlers, takes off his shirt an erotic element comes into play. It is no surprise to learn that wrestling  is very popular with women here.

The same story is played out again and again and the audience never seem to tire. In fact, they seem to gain some sort of catharsis by the experience; a similar sensation that, in ages past, would have overcome an audience upon watching a Greek tragedy. Outside the ring, so much of the violence in Mexico is carried out with impunity. In wrestling, the message is simple: The bad are always punished and the righteous are rewarded for their endeavours and receive adulation.

The referees look like wax works from the 1950s – even their suits are dated. The swaggering of the stars and their dare devil stunts, the over-stated costumes that remain the height of kitsch from lurid greens, screaming pinks, silver gold and leopard-skin and the wrestlers’ balancing acts on the ropes, their frequent contortions and back flips all recall the circus ring. Despite this, wrestling evidently wants to be taken seriously. There were T-shirts in the exhibition hall that proclaimed “Wrestling is not a circus, it is a passion.”

In one thing, I was to be disappointed. I have not yet experienced the world of midget wrestling but I was there in the front row when ‘the minis’ took to the stage/ring and I was hollering with the rest of the crowd. You never know, this may become a regular outing for me.

(This is a pic of 'the minis' wrestling, which was most impressive. I love the sense of humour of the burly guy's 'ViP'!  And they really were opposites in stature. To get an idea of their height, note the  position of the ropes - top left  of the photo)