Lucha libre (Spanish for "free wrestling" or free fighting) is a term used in Mexico, and other Spanish-speaking countries referring to a form of professional wrestling involving varied techniques and moves.
Mexican wrestling is characterized by rapid sequences of holds and moves, as well as 'high-flying moves', some of which have been adopted in the United States, and colorful masks. Lucha libre has also transcended the language barrier to some extent as evidenced by works such as Mucha Lucha and Nacho Libre. Lucha libre performers are known as luchadores (singular luchador).
History of lucha libre in Mexico
In the early 1900s, professional wrestling was mostly a regional phenomenon in Mexico until Salvador Lutteroth founded the Empresa Mexicana de Lucha Libre (Mexican Wrestling Enterprise) in 1933, giving the sport a national foothold for the first time. The promotion company flourished and quickly became the premier spot for wrestlers. As television surfaced as a viable entertainment medium during the 1950s, Lutteroth was then able to broadcast his wrestling across the nation, subsequently yielding a popularity explosion for the sport. Moreover, it was the emergence of television that allowed Lutteroth to promote lucha libre’s first breakout superstar into a national pop-culture phenomenon.
In 1942, lucha libre would be forever changed when a silver-masked wrestler, known simply as El Santo (The Saint), first stepped into the ring. He made his debut in Mexico City by winning an 8-man battle royal. The public became enamored by the mystique and secrecy of Santo's personality and he quickly became the most popular luchador in Mexico. His wrestling career spanned nearly five decades, during which he became a folk hero and a symbol of justice for the common man through his appearances in comic books and movies, while the sport of Lucha Libre received an unparalleled degree of mainstream attention.
Other legendary luchadores who helped popularize the sport include; Gory Guerrero, the father of late WWE legend Eddie Guerrero, who while never wore mask is credited with developing moves and holds which are now commonplace in professional wrestling; Blue Demon, a contemporary of Santo and possibly his greatest rival; and Mil Máscaras (Man of A Thousand Masks) who is credited with introducing the high flying moves of lucha libre to audiences around the world. He achieved international fame as one of the first high-flyers, something he was not considered in Mexico where he fell under the mat-power category
Masks (mascaras) have been used dating back to the beginnings of lucha libre in the early part of the 20th century and have a historical significance to Mexico in general dating to the days of the Aztecs. Early masks were very simple with basic colors to distinguish the wrestler. In modern lucha libre, masks are colorfully designed to evoke the images of animals, gods, ancient heroes, and other archetypes, whose identity the luchador takes on during a performance. Virtually all wrestlers in Mexico will start their careers wearing masks, but over the span of their careers a large number of them will be unmasked. Sometimes, a wrestler slated for retirement will be unmasked in his final bout or at the beginning of a final tour, signifying loss of identity as that character. Sometimes, losing the mask signifies the end of a gimmick with the wrestler moving on to a new gimmick and mask. The mask is considered "sacred" to a degree, so much so that fully removing an opponent's mask during a match is grounds for disqualification.
During their careers, masked luchadores will often be seen in public wearing their masks and keeping up the kayfabe of Lucha Libre while other masked wrestlers will interact with the public and press normally. However, they will still go to great lengths to conceal their true identities; in effect, the mask is synonymous with the luchador. El Santo continued wearing his mask after retirement, revealed his face briefly only in old age, and was buried wearing his silver mask.
More recently, the masks that luchadores wear have become iconic symbols of Mexican culture. Contemporary artists like Francisco Delgado and Xavier Garza incorporate wrestler masks in their paintings.
Although masks are a feature of lucha libre, it is a misconception that every Mexican wrestler uses one. There have been several non-masked wrestlers who have been successful, particularly Tarzan Lopez, Gory Guerrero and Perro Aguayo. Formerly masked wrestlers who lost their masks, such as Satanico, Cien Caras and others, have had continued success despite the mask losses.
Luchas de apuestas
With the importance placed on masks in lucha libre, losing the mask to an opponent is seen as the ultimate insult and can at times seriously hurt the career of the unmasking wrestler. Putting one's mask on the line against a hated opponent is a tradition in lucha libre as a means to settle a heated feud between two or more wrestlers. In these battles, called luchas de apuestas ("matches with wagers"), the wrestlers "wager" either their mask or their hair.
"In a lucha de apuesta (betting match), wrestlers make a public bet on the outcome of the match. The most common forms are the mask-against-mask, hair-against-hair, or mask-against-hair matches. A wrestler who loses his or her mask has to remove the mask after the match. A wrestler who loses his or her hair has his or her hair shaved immediately afterward."
The first luchas de apuestas match was presented on July 14, 1940 at Arena México. The defending champion Murciélago (Velásquez) was so much lighter than his challenger Octavio Gaona that he requested a further condition before he would sign the contract: Octavio Gaona would have to put his hair on the line. Octavio Gaona won the match and Murciélago unmasked, giving birth to a tradition in lucha libre.
* Máscara contra máscara ("mask versus mask"): two masked luchadores bet their masks, the loser is unmasked by the winner, and his real name is often revealed as well. * Máscara contra cabellera ("mask versus hair"): a masked wrestler and an unmasked one compete, often after the unmasked one has lost his mask to the masked one in a prior bout. If the masked luchador wins, the unmasked one shaves his head as a sign of humiliation. If the unmasked luchador is the winner, he keeps his hair and the loser is unmasked. * Cabellera contra cabellera ("hair versus hair"): the loser of the match has his head shaved bald. This can occur both between unmasked wrestlers and between masked wrestlers who have to remove their mask enough to be shaved after the match. * Máscara o Cabellera contra campeonato ("mask or hair versus title"): * Máscara o Cabellera contra retiro ("mask or hair versus career"):
In recent years, several luchadores have found success worldwide especially in both Japan and the United States. Notable luchadores who achieved worldwide success are Eddie Guerrero, Rey Mysterio, Juventud, La Parka, Super Crazy and Psicosis. It also inspired international talent such as Tiger Mask, Jushin Liger, Great Sasuke, Mike Quackenbush, and Vampiro.
Lucha Libre in popular culture
Lucha libre has crossed over into popular culture, especially in Mexico where it is the second most popular sport after Football (soccer). Outside of Mexico Lucha Libre has also crossed over into popular culture, especially in movies and television.
Movies and television
The motion picture Nacho Libre, starring Jack Black as a priest-turned-luchador was inspired by the story of real life Priest turned Luchador Father Sergio Gutiérrez Benítez who wrestled as Fray Tormenta to make money for his church. The American horror movie Wrestlemaniac is centered around the story of an insane luchador with abnormal strength; the titular villain is played by luchador Rey Misterio, Sr.. Rob Zombie's upcoming animated film The Haunted World of El Superbeasto stars a Mexican luchador named El Superbeasto.
Television has also seen shows inspired by Lucha Libre, especially animated series such as ¡Mucha Lucha!, Cartoon Network also produced an animated mini-series based on luchador El Santo. The world of Lucha Libre has also been used as inspirations for episodes of television series, most notably the 200th episode of CSI, "Mascara" centered on the investigation of visiting luchadores with connections to a murder. The WB television series Angel episode entitled "The Cautionary Tale of Numero Cinco" told the story of a family of luchadores called "Los Hermanos Numeros" who also fought evil. Angel must help the remaining brother, Numero Cinco, defeat the Aztec warrior-demon that killed his four brothers. Lucha Libre has also inspired televison shows outside of the United States; In the British TV show Justin Lee Collins: The Wrestler, Colins competes as the rudo El Glorioso, or The Glorious One, against the exotico Cassandro in The Roundhouse, London, ultimately losing and being de-masked.
Games and print media
Many fighting video games have featured characters based on luchadors, featuring both the masked aspects and the different wrestling style of Lucha Libre compared to traditional professional wrestling. In Tekken the characters King and Armor King both wear the "Jaguar Mask". In other fighting games characters are luchadors fighting in the tournaments for a living such as: El Fuerte from Street Fighter IV, Ramon, Tizoc, and Raiden from The King of Fighters , Lisa from Dead or Alive and El Blaze from Virtua Fighter. A Japanese wrestler, Takuya Sugi has actually wrestled as "El Blaze" in Japan.
In other games Luchadors are not part of the game but the cultural inspiration is still seen, for instance in the video game No More Heroes for the Nintendo Wii, the main character, Travis Touchdown occasionally finds luchador masks through-out the game, which re-teach him wrestling moves that you can use from then on. The game also features trading cards that feature the masks of past, legendary luchadors. Suda 51, game developer and head of Grasshopper Studios is known for his fascination of Lucha Libre and often includes them in his game, such as the character MASK de Smith in Killer 7 and was responsible for the collectible Lucha Libre masks in No More Heroes.
While Luchador comics are a well known phenomenon in Mexico, featuring wrestlers from El Santo to Cibernético, comics outside of Mexico also draw on the images and culture of Lucha Libre. The comic Sonambulo revolves around a crime fighting luchador who possesses supernatural powers. Doctor Eggman, the main antagonist in the Sonic the Hedgehog series, wrestles as "El Gran Gordo" (Spanish for, roughly, "The Big Fat One") in the Sonic X comicseries. The martial arts manga Tenjho Tenge includes a character named Kōji Sagara who fights in the lucha libre style. The anime Air Master features a luchador style character called Lucha Master.
Lucha Libre inspirations
Nike has designed a line of lucha libre inspired athletic shoes. Coca-Cola developed a Blue Demon Full Throttle energy drink named after the luchador Blue Demon, Jr. who is also the spokesperson for the drink in Mexico. Coca-Cola also introduced "Gladiator" in Mexico, an energy drink that sponsored CMLL events and who featured CMLL wrestlers such as Místico and Último Guerrero.
The Nashville-based Anglo band Los Straitjackets adopted personalized luchador masks as part of their stage show in the mid-1990s, and have since acquired a large Mexican following.
Lucha libre shows are broadcast weekly in the U.S. on the Galavisión and Fox Sports en Español Spanish language cable networks.
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