Few of Mexico’s cultural traditions have been hit as hard by the coronavirus pandemic as “lucha libre” wrestling. The death toll among wrestlers has risen dramatically and wrestling arenas are closed, throwing almost everyone out of work.
One enterprising band of aspiring young wrestlers, the three Olivares brothers in Mexico City’s Xochimilco borough, have put up an impromptu ring on one of the district’s famous “floating gardens.”
They plan to offer livestreamed online exhibitions for now — and when restrictions on live sports are lifted, to perform for tourists enjoying the newly reopened canals that run through the floating fields.
They now make their living selling flowers that they grow on Xochimilco’s artificial islands — known as chinampas — and peddle tacos and tortas elsewhere in the borough.
“We said: ‘Why not? We have the ring, we have the chinampa, we have everything,'” said the oldest brother, 25, who wrestles under the name “Ciclonico.” “So we decided to bring this beautiful sport to this gorgeous landscape.”
With river boat tours of the floating gardens just reopening — though public lucha libre matches before live audiences are still largely banned — the brothers are betting they can be part of the tourism rebirth.
Others wrestlers have already taken the sport online. Victor Gongora, who wrestles under the name “Herodes Jr.,” has been wrestling in matches live-streamed online for about $12, though people can pay as little as $3 to get tapes of the match after it’s over.
But he acknowledges it’s not the same without the roaring, swearing crowds that are a key part of the rowdy events.
“It’s part of the culture of Mexico. Lucha libre in Mexico has always been something done in arenas full of people,” said Gongora. “It’s the preferable way.”
But until arenas open — Gongora says his first match with fans at 30% capacity will be held next week — bouts that are transmitted online by video streaming are a temporary fix. “It is a way to help out with the expenses, just enough to get by on,” he said.
Many less technologically savvy wrestlers aren’t even that lucky.
“The majority of us come from very poor backgrounds, lower class families,” said the head of the Mexico City Boxing and Lucha Libre Commission, who wrestles under the name “Fantasma.”
“The savings they (the wrestlers) had are gone, they spent them already,” said Fantasma, who has helped arrange city support payments of about $75 per month for luchadores. “The situation is just critical, very, very bad.”
Gongora said some wrestlers he knows have had to sell gym and wrestling equipment to get through the five months since the arenas shut down.