The Mask of Santos

Lucha Libre
The History of Mexican Pro-Wrestling

October 8th, 2004




Lucha Libre, which translates literally as Free Wrestling or Free Fight, is a Mexican passion that hails from at least as far back as the 1930s. Matches have sparked riots that have shut down large cities. Its almost mythic heroes who battle evil and corruption have inspired generations in movies as well as the ring. Long before the World Wrestling Federation brought back wrestling to the United States, Lucha Libres costumed heroes and villains were developing the moves that would make the WWFs founders very rich. Its an important part of Mexican culture and thus, an important part of California culture too.

Empezar Nebuloso

Popular wrestling, as we know it now, began in Europe in the 1900s in Switzerland. The style of fighting they developed was called schwinger, or swinging, and was very popular, quickly spreading to the UK, Austria, Germany, France and Spain. Similar to Greco-Roman style wrestling, it is still practiced in some areas of Europe. It was in Spain where it really caught on and began to develop.

In Spain it was called catch as catch can, but was later shortened to just catch. By the late 1940s, probably through cross-pollination with Mexico, catch had been dropped in preference to Lucha Libre. Up until the Spanish Civil War, the sport was run by the Corporacin Internacional de Catch and featured wrestlers from all over the world, even Japan. Many boxers were drafted into wrestling. The more colorful and exotic the wrestler, the better. Borrowed too from boxing were its corporate structure and the corruption. Wrestling matches were moved from town to town, often being held in the town square or hall. The matches moved to each town on a set route and timetable called a circuit, generally coming back to the same town each year at the same time. After the war, Lucha returned again to Spain, but by the early 1960s it had petered out and remains so until this day.

Cruzar Polinazación

Don Salvador Lutteroth Gonzalez
Don Salvador Lutteroth Gonzalez
There are many stories; most are apocryphal, about how Lucha made the jump to Mexico. One story has it that the French brought it in the 1860s. Another more romantic story says that it was started by dueling Italian theatre companies in 1910 to raise public interest and their box office returns. One story that is certainly true is that a Spanish boxing promoter made two demonstration tours through Mexico in 1921 and 1923.

The generally accepted story is that in 1929, Don Salvador Lutteroth Gonzalez witnessed a wrestling match in Liberty Hall, Texas, and decided to give it a go in Mexico. By 1933 he had combined a small number of rich backers together with the proceeds of a large bingo win to start the company Empresa Mexicana de Lucha Libre. Ten years later, they had built their first arena - Arena Coliseo.

From the start Gonzalez was all show. His first year lineup included an international cast with wrestlers like Bobby Sampson from the United States, Cyclone Mackey from Ireland, and Yaqui Joe the Indian wrestler. It was a great success and it expanded, opening up circuits across Mexico.

Up until the start of the Spanish Civil War in 1936, many wrestlers would tour both in Spain and Mexico, but with the start of the war Spanish wrestling shut down and many wrestlers, trainers, and promoters moved to Mexico. This greatly improved both the quality of the game and its management. They brought with them tighter organization and better promotion. Mexican wrestling was set to explode, but it had to wait for a spark to set it off.

El Santo

Rodolfo Guzmán Huerta, a native of Hidalgo, Mexico, entered the world of the Free Fight as a teen in 1930s. He originally wrestled as Rudy Guzmán, but then opted to take the tradition of the Mexican masked man, el luchador, as El Murcielago II and later as El Hombre Rojo, with somewhat limited success. He spent his first five years developing his natural technical skills and in the creation of popular personas.

In July of 1942 he debuted as El Santo (The Saint), winning an 8-man battle royal held in Mexico City. By this time he had become one of the most technically capable men in the ring, and one success led to another. What made him different from other wrestlers at the time was that he expanded the art, adding new move after new move. Many of his moves are now commonplace in modern pro-wrestling, but 40 years ago they had never been seen. On top of this, he exhibited a kind of nobility in the ring that inspired and won the hearts of the crowds. But it wasnt just his success in the ring that endeared him to the Mexican people.
In 1958 he debuted in his first film Cerebro del Mal or Brain of Evil. Santos feature films were a huge part of Latino culture. He was the Mexican equivalent of John Wayne, eventually staring in over 50 films. He was the biggest wrestler in the world of Lucha Libre and became arguably the single most famous entertainment figure in Latino culture of the 20th Century. Brain of Evil

El Espíritu

Xo and Gina from Love and Rockets
Since the beginning of time, every society's mythology has included battles between good and evil that determines the future of mankind. We reenact those battles in our rituals, usually in a sacred space such as a temple, a church, or La Arena Coliseo.

Lucha Libre never strays from the familiar pairing of technico (or cientifico) against rudo. The struggle between good and evil is presented in some form in every match. The technicos represent characters with heroic and noble qualities, frequently based on comic books or folklore. The rule-bending rudos symbolize many of the most negative aspects of life in Mexico, and their characters are designed to evoke the same feelings as their real life counterparts; the dishonest policeman, the drunks, the gangs, the mobsters, and so on.

Mexico's Lucha Libre has undergone significant changes since its Greco-Roman origins. Little by little the techniques have become more and more acrobatic, theatric, and spectacular. One of the most distinct characteristics that it has developed is that of the mask. To wear it is to defy the opposition, to deny them your identity and assume the traits symbolized by the mask itself. To lose it is to be forever humbled before your foe, and to be exposed as being too human. The moment of unmasking is the point of highest dramatic tension in Lucha Libre; it is conducted with an air of respect and dignity fitting the instant of ultimate revelation. The moment when the face of the man will emerge from beneath the mask of the character.

El Comercio
Libre has come a long way from the days of matches in the village square. Today its not only big in Mexico and the United States, but in Japan too. The EMLL or Empresa Mexicana de la Lucha Libre not only still exists but it has achieved the notoriety of being the oldest wrestling promotion company in the world. Pitted against it is the AAA or Asestencia Asesoria Administracin. The AAA is run by Antonio Pena and owned by Mexican television station Televisa. It was formed in 1992. Both companies manage competitions in Japan, Japan as yet not having its own competing management organization.

The EMLL owns at least six major arenas in Mexico, dedicated just to the sport. I suspect that the AAA has a similar organization, but both rely on rented venues for their events. The AAA has the added advantage of owning a television network. There are many semi-independent arenas and gyms associated through the circuit system to one of the two main companies. There are many more independent promoters who run independent exhibitions, living from day to day on their meager profits.

For the big organizations though, Lucha Libre is big business and its center in the United States is Los Angeles. Events regularly pack the LA Sports Arena and turn a hefty profit on pay for view channels.

What does it take to be a Lucha Libre wrestler? Its pretty much the same as making it in the WWF. You pay to attend a school/gym, either an official one or an independent. In Japan you live in the gym. In the Americas you are on your own. If you show promise, you are allowed to spar, get clobbered in minor matches, and perhaps even someday propose a new character. You can also wrestle as an independent, but not in the big arenas and generally not for the big money or even no money at all.

La Personas

Lucha Libre events are important places for people to vent frustrations. In the Anaheim Indoor Marketplace in Orange County, as it does in Mexico, the wrestling ring serves as a valve for the release of simmering tensions:

Looking like a hardcore Vanilla Ice, American Rebel appeared before his match on Sunday and riled up the crowd with the following pleasantries:

"You half-baked beaners should learn English, damn it! You fat, piss-drunk, chicharrn-eating wabs! None of you belong here! I see a lot of wasted space in my country [gesturing at his own muscular chest] occupied by you wabs [jabbing his finger at the audience]! All of you Mexicans can kiss my great white ass!"

By this point, the capacity crowd is in an uproar, hurling insults back at Rebel in both English and Spanish. Grandmothers scream, "Fuck you, asshole!" Little kids throw food into the ring. At one point, a boy who appears no older than 7 yells, "Vete a la madre, pinché! pendejo!" (" Go to hell, fucking asshole!")

Rebel, wearing a mask of incredulity, points directly at the kid and yells, "Ill call la migra on you, you little piece of shit!"[1]

It's not just race. The wrestlers reflect the fears and biases of their fans. That day there were two rudos, gang members Cholo and Lil Cholo, and a transvestite, Rosa Salvaje whose grappling technique, kissing wrestlers and getting them into sexually suggestive positions, seemed designed to play off the homophobia of the Mexican men and fighters.

The arena is owned by the Martín family. The father not only runs the business, but wrestles in the ring as El Genio. He is the arena choreographer and carefully designs scenarios and wrestler personas. Martín guides his wrestlers to specifically play off the crowds antagonisms, but leaves to them to add their own spin.

The events are family affairs with the audiences filled with everyone from grandmothers to babies. They are not just places to vent anger and frustration -- they are classrooms too.

José Luis Aldaco of Santa Ana brings his entire family wife, two sons, two daughters "to let a little steam out by yelling a lot." A landscaper by trade and a native of the Mexican state of Jalisco, he has no fear of exposing his children to the violence of the matches. "Its entertainment for the entire family," he says. "They can tell the difference between right and wrong."[2]

The arena presents strong stereotypes and simple straightforward moral messages much as the tradition of consejos do at home.

Apédice A -- El Juego

The rules differ depending on the type of match. There are singles, tag teams, trios matches, and special stipulation matches. Most of the matches are trios matches called relevos australianos, two three-man teams pitted against each other. In most team matches, one man is designated as team captain. If the captain is pinned or his two teammates are pinned, then the match is over.

Its not just men wrestling, women wrestle too. Theres a title to be won for just about anyone, even midgets. Midget wrestling is very popular and midgets will often team up with the heavier weight class athletes too.

This is a very abbreviated list of wrestling moves to give you an idea of what goes on in the arena. There is a great list at along with a lot of other terms and the basic Spanish you need to understand what is going on.

Plancha body press
Crotch body slam
Desnucadora power bomb
Guillotina leg drop
Martinete head 1st throw, like a piledriver or tombstone
Patadas voladoras drop kick
Quebradora backbreaker (usually done off the rope with a spin)
Rana cradle, pinning move
Senton back bump onto opponent
Tope headButt, usually diving through ropes, translates into "speed bump"
Mortal 180 or 360 degrees flip
Lance spike blow, everything from a knee drop to a Stardust press counts
Quebrador con grio tilt-a-whirl backbreaker

Apédice B -- La Familia

Its not just families in the seats, there are families in the ring too. Old ring fueds are followed closely. The audience follows the lives of great wrestlers, watching their children closely to see who will step into the ring next to carry the character on.

Father: El Santo
Son: El Hijo del Santo

Father: Gory Guerrero
Sons: Chavo Guerrero, Hector Guerrero, Mando Guerrero, Eddy Guerrero
Grandson: Chavo Guerrero Jr.

Father:AAA referee Pepe Tropi Casas
Sons: El Felino, Heavy Metal, Negro Casas

Father: Ray Mendoza
Sons: Villanos I, II, III, IV, and V

Father: Dr. Wagner
Sons: Dr. Wagner Jr., Silver King

Uncle: Rey Misterio Sr.
Nephew: Rey Misterio Jr. (Oscar Gonzalez)

Father: Fuerza Guerrera
Son: Juventud Guerrera

Father: Perro Aguayo
Son: Perro Aguayo Jr.

Uncle: Super Parka
Nephew: La Parka

Uncle: Blue Panther
Nephew: Black Warrior

Uncle: Pirata Morgan
Nephew: Rey Buccenero

Father: Lizmark
Son: Lizmark Jr.

Father: Humberto Garza
Sons: Hector Garza, Humberto Garza Jr.

Apédice C -- Atribuimos Las Photografías

Santos Mask (title page), Santo Wrestling, Cerebro del Mal (page three)
The Professional Wrestling Hall of Fame

Don Salvador Lutteroth Gonzalez (page two)
Consejo Mundial de Lucha Libre

Xo and Gina (page four)
Love and Rockets, Number 41, May 1993
Camp Vicki, by Jaime Hernandez

Son of Santo Toy (page four)
El Bastardo de Plastico!

Wrestling Scenes (page seven)
Japan Pro-Wrestling

Apédice D -- Bibliografía

Switzerland, The People

History of Pro-Wrestling In Spain
Valentin Maldonado

Empresa Mexicana de la Lucha Libre

El Santo
The Professional Wrestling Hall of Fame
Steve Slagle, The Ring Chronicle

Mexican Lucha Libre
Mike Lightning Quackenbush

Lap! Pow! Slap!
Business Mexico, July 2001 v11 i7 p59
Sergio Ulloa FAQ

Japan Pro-Wrestling

Asestencia Asesoria Administracin

IWC AAAs spin on Lucha Libre takes wrestling world by storm
Amusement Business, Jan 2, 1995 v107 n1 p10
Dan Denton

Lucha Libre USA

Revolution Pro-Wrestling (a wrestling school)

Bloody Glory In A Mask
Los Angeles Times, Dec 26 2001, Richard Marosi

[1] Orange County Weekly, Lucha F@!#%n Libre!, Gustavo Arellano, Vol 6 No 22, Feb 2 2001
[2] Orange County Weekly, Lucha F@!#%n Libre!, Gustavo Arellano, Vol 6 No 22, Feb 2 2001