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Lucha Libre: The Mexican wrestling phenomenon

by Sofia Navarro
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Lucha Libre is a sporting spectacle that has not only survived the test of time but also carved a lasting legacy within the fabric of Mexican culture. With its unique blend of athleticism and theatrical flair, Lucha Libre stands out as one of the most captivating and iconic variations of the wrestling genre worldwide.

While the origins of wrestling can be traced back to the ancient Greeks and their inclusion of combat sports in the Olympic Games, it’s important to note that Mesoamerican civilizations also had their own variations of the sport. In fact, warriors from these ancient cultures honed their combat skills through hand-to-hand confrontations, a fact evidenced by the remarkable Olmec warrior sculptures.

The first wrestling exhibitions in Mexico took place during the mid-19th century, coinciding with the French intervention. These were largely foreign exhibitions aimed at entertaining the masses. However, it wasn’t until 1863 that Enrique Ugartechea emerged as the first Mexican wrestler, laying the groundwork for what would later become Mexican wrestling.

Fast forward to 1922, when Salvador Lutteroth, a former lieutenant of the Mexican Revolution, stepped onto the scene. Today, he is affectionately regarded as the father of Mexican wrestling. Lutteroth founded the Mexican Wrestling Company, now known as the World Wrestling Council (Consejo Mundial de Lucha Libre). This historic move paved the way for the birth of Mexican wrestling as we know it. In September 1933, the company held its inaugural event at the legendary Arena México, featuring renowned figures like the Irish wrestler Ciclón Mckay and Yaqui Joe, celebrated as the only Mexican wrestler holding a world championship title.

From this pivotal moment, Mexican Lucha Libre began to evolve, developing its distinctive techniques, acrobatics, rules, and rich folklore. This unique blend of elements gradually propelled Lucha Libre into the hearts of millions, both domestically and internationally. High-flying maneuvers, ground-level holds, and the innovative use of ropes for propulsion became defining characteristics of Mexican wrestling, inspiring and influencing wrestling styles in other countries.

The 1950s saw the emergence of wrestling legends like El Santo, Blue Demon, El Cavernario Galindo and Rayo de Jalisco. These larger-than-life figures not only dominated the wrestling ring but also ventured into the Mexican film industry, leaving an indelible mark with their cinematic exploits. El Santo, in particular, became an iconic symbol of Mexican popular cinema.

Lucha Libre is much more than just a sporting event; it’s a cultural phenomenon deeply ingrained in Mexican society. It’s often described as a “sporting representation,” where each wrestler embodies a distinct character. From heroes to villains and even the enigmatic “Exóticos,” these personas symbolize moral values, representing either the forces of good or evil. Within the world of Lucha Libre, there exists a unique code of conduct—one that emphasizes spectacle and entertainment while discouraging genuine harm. Despite the theatrics, blood is sometimes shed, and a wound is undeniably a wound, highlighting the physical toll that this demanding sport demands from its participants.

Beyond the ring, Lucha Libre holds a special place in the cultural and social tapestry of Mexico City. In July of 2023, it was officially recognized as an intangible, popular, and cultural heritage of the city by the Ministry of Culture. Furthermore, academic institutions like UNAM have devoted resources to researching this multifaceted phenomenon.

In recognition of its cultural significance, the Senate of Mexico declared September 21st as the National Day of Lucha Libre and Mexican Professional Wrestlers in 2016. This date marks the anniversary of the Mexican wrestling company’s inception in 1933 when Salvador Lutteroth unveiled the Arena Modelo, now known as Arena México.

Lucha Libre isn’t merely a sport or form of entertainment; it’s a cultural practice steeped in tradition, storytelling, and symbolism. It’s a world where wrestlers are both athletes and performers, where the line between reality and spectacle blurs, and where courage, skill, and creativity shine. The high-flying acrobatics and calculated risks performed by aerial wrestlers epitomize the spirit of Lucha Libre—where every match is a testament to the daring, dedication, and valor of those who step into the ring. In this world, a wrestler is, in essence, a “potential daredevil,” where one wrong move or unfortunate fall could have grave consequences.

El Santo y Blue Demon, en el mundo de los muertos, 1969.

Lucha Libre isn’t just a sport; it’s a cultural treasure, a captivating spectacle, and a celebration of Mexican identity. As the Mexican proverb goes, “La lucha libre es como la vida misma,” (wrestling is like life itself) —a dynamic, complex, and unpredictable journey where heroes rise, villains fall, and the battle between good and evil plays out in the ring for all to see.

TYT Newsroom

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