I saw this article in today's Chicago Tribune. I've never heard of any local lucha feds, though having moved out to the burbs 2 years ago I'm a bit out of touch with things in the city. Any other Chi-towners know a bit more about this, who puts these on, when, etc?
Before a Lucha Libre fight, Jose "Salsero" Vargas psyches himself for his role as a "rudo" by throwing his body into walls, then reading the Bible.
He slips into his blue leotard and red tights and glides into the ring to play out the culturally rich wrestling conflicts that appear to marry theater and a World Wrestling Federation grudge match.
Popular in Los Angeles and Texas, luchas are just starting to build momentum in Chicago, where a handful of promoters and their wrestlers are trying to fill auditoriums.
"We are only beginning," said Anibal Flores, part-time promoter for the year-old International Wrestling Council that stages matches in Chicago. "We have to give time, time."
Lucha Libre started in Mexico in the 1930s when it was introduced by a promoter who had seen a professional wrestling match in Texas. Twenty years later, Mexicans of all ages and social classes crowded lunch counters and living rooms to watch luchas on television.
Many wrestlers are anonymous, masked in the tradition of American superheroes and Mexico's Aztec warriors, said a Lake Forest College professor who wrote a dissertation on Lucha Libre, or "free fight."
"Fans like it because it's Greek drama. You have people personifying abstract principles and going at each other," said Heather Levi, an assistant professor whose doctoral thesis was titled "Masked Struggle: Social Context and Performance of Lucha Libre." "It's life at large."
By the early 1950s, masks for luchadores became symbols of wrestlers' characters and national heritage. They've become folk art objects and sometimes are passed on within families.
Luchadores can bet their masks on a match.
A humiliating experience
If lost, it can be a humiliating, painfully dramatic moment when the audience sees its hero's face for the first time. Mexican wrestler Nacho Barrera, 42, used to be known as "The Galaxy," but had to give up that identity when he was 20 because he gambled his mask and lost.
"I felt like crying. I worked real hard for it. . . . I was trying to make me a famous name," he said. "Once you lose it, it's back to the bottom again."
Lucha Libre evolved into something quite different from American professional wrestling, Levi said.
"In the United States it seems a lot of the spectacularity, [the flashiness] of wrestling depends on wrestlers' bodies. Wrestlers are supposed to be huge," she said. "In the U.S., if you think of what a mask does, a mask hides some truth. In Mexican culture, there's a way in which a mask reveals, rather than hides. It can show a deeper truth."
The cultural heritage of Lucha Libre has caused it to be promoted on a much smaller scale than the WWF, which has been mass-marketed since the 1960s, said John Molinaro, online reporter for the Slam! Sports Web site. Lucha would have to dilute its traditions, he said, to become as mainstream and widespread, although the sport attracts thousands to arenas in Mexico.
Different than the WWF
"Lucha is not a spinoff. It has developed from its own sense of culture and geography. It's a totally different product, with a different emphasis and inspiration behind it," Molinaro said.
"Just because of the cultural significance of the mask and the story lines involving family honor -- I don't think that speaks much to American wrestling fans. That's something specific to the Latino culture. I don't think we are ever gonna see a time where Lucha Libre is as popular."
On a recent night, 100 fans clap and yell, rattling the wobbly stadium bleachers in Bessemer Park's humid, blue auditorium as they watch a lucha match unfold.
El Borincano strides into the ring, hidden behind a villainous mask, and yells back at the boisterous crowd.
"I don't care who likes me or who doesn't like me!" he rages, playing the "evil" part in the Hispanic wrestling spectacle.
His "good" opponent, La Zaeta Azul, wearing a royal blue mask and pants that contrast to El Borincano's costume emblazoned with the Puerto Rican flag, doesn't stand a chance against the heavyweight champion. La Zaeta cowers as Borincano leaps off the ropes and body-slams him into oblivion.
And the winner is . . .
Evil triumphs over good this time at the morality-play-on-a-mat. As much entertainment as sport, the contests are theatrical and designed to incite the audience, not unlike the matches of the much more heavily promoted and popular WWF.
At Mexican lucha matches, the crowd is whipped up by an elderly woman who, by tradition, sits in the front row and chastises the "rudos" or bad guys -- just to make sure no one misses the message.
Luchas thrive in cities with large Hispanic populations, as well as in Japan. In the United States, they typically draw a few hundred people compared with the thousands that pack a WWF bout, probably because of less sophisticated marketing and a cultivated culture that allows transplanted Mexicans and Puerto Ricans to shout for their countries as represented by battling luchadores.
Roger Sadowski, 27, who drove to a recent match in Chicago from West Suburban Montgomery, goes to several luchas a year.
"It's kind of like the `Rocky Horror Picture Show,'" he said between shouts of "Feel no pain!" "It draws the audience into the experience."
Melody Blanchette, 27, of Bradley, is engaged to wrestler Hardcopy Coryell and loves the luchas.
"The whole adrenaline of it all -- you get hyped up," she said. "You want to get in there and do it with them."
Members of the crowd reach out and high-five their heroes, who are fervent fighters by night or weekend and car salesmen or construction workers by day.
Protecting the mystique
El Borincano, 31, protects his mystique by closely guarding his identity and refusing to reveal his name. He doesn't sleep in his mask, but pulls it on within blocks of the site of a lucha to stay in character.
"From my part, I don't get along with anybody. I'm a luchador rudo. I'm gonna get in there and finish off my opponent," even if it means throwing chairs, said El Borincano, who when he's not wrestling is a truck driver.
Some wrestlers, whose earnings depend on the success of the promoters, body slam for titles well into their 50s in front of crowds who don't notice graying, thinning hair and pudgy bellies, or simply don't care.
Fans sometimes wonder if the matches are fixed. A referee determines a winner when one of the wrestlers is pinned flat on his back for three seconds. Those thrown outside the ring have 10 seconds to get back in and resume the combat.
"We don't decide beforehand who's going to win. If you do, it's not Lucha Libre," Vargas said.
The Illinois Department of Professional Regulation, which monitors boxing and used to oversee Lucha Libre in Chicago, decided as of January that it was more entertainment than sport and didn't require regulation, said Sean Curtin, the department's chief of general investigations.
The Chicago Park District hosts a number of luchas and requires the promoters to carry $2 million in liability insurance.
Wrestlers can enjoy lifelong fame through devoted fans of all ages.
Marie Burciaga, 54, of southwest Chicago, who brought her granddaughter Rebecca to a recent match to watch "Big Time," Marie's son, defines Lucha as entertainment with discipline.
"Sometimes you'll like the heel -- it's like picking your favorite movie star. There's just one you're going to like," Burciaga said.
Rebecca, 7, cups her mouth with both hands and shouts, "That's what you get!" as her uncle wrestles his opponent.
Nicole Buchhaas, 17, of Monee, wears a white-hooded sweatshirt emblazoned with "Mr. Karate Jr.'s #1 fan" in black letters. She's accompanied by friend Christina Spaniel, 18, of Crete.
"This is more real than how they play it on TV," Buchhaas said.
"They don't talk crap," Spaniel added. "They get right to the wrestling."
Luchadores, tired and beat up as they may be after matches, usually sign autographs.
"When fans talk to you, they tell you about their families or how they wanna be wrestlers. It's kind of important," Barrera said. "You really owe everything to the fans. If it wasn't for the fans, you wouldn't be anybody."
"You used it to shove your miserable daughter down our throats week in and week out...not anymore!" - Ric Flair gives me hope, Raw 3/18/02
"I thought it was cool how HHH just tossed Jericho out of the ring and made him vanish, possibly into another dimension, at the end of the match." - Dr. Unlikely says the funniest thing I've ever read on Wienerville.