Lucha Libre

Lucha Libre

If you have never heard of it, lucha libre is like American professional wrestling, but with skull-hugging masks. The phrase literally means "free fight," and the performers are known as luchadores.

We signed up for the outing that our hostel offered, organized by a man called "Nacho." The hostel event gave us a chance to meet other travelers; we all started on the hostel's outdoor deck for free shots of cheap tequila and complimentary masks. I don't think of myself as someone with a large head, but that's how these masks made me feel. Fortunately we were both able to find ones that fit reasonably well for the group photos.

Until this point on the trip, we'd mostly encountered people who had come from further West in Mexico, or South from Guatemala, Nicaragua, Honduras or El Salvador. Most of the people we met had already been to places that we were heading, so at each step we were taking notes from fellow travelers. In Mexico City, however, many were just starting out their travels and planning to move East into the Yucatan where we'd already spent two months - it was kind of nice to be able to be dispensing the advice and stories for once.

Pregame time on the patio

These masks were not flattering for us!

After many shots, both tequila and group photos, we set off on a thirty minute walk to Arena Mexico. As a group of about 15, we didn't have time to explore the route to the arena but could see and smell tons of Mexico City street food to revisit on the way back.

The arena was a nondescript building on a normal city block with dozens of sidewalk vendors selling lucha libre masks, shirts, toys and snacks. Moving around inside was like navigating a parking garage, until we found our seats in the performance space.

A fight was underway when we sat down; there must have been at least seven that night and we didn't arrive for the start. As the night progresses they feature the bigger, better and more popular wrestlers. There was a huge difference between the normal beach body guys in the first matches, and the huge gym rat bodies in the last ones. Like at least an 80 pounds of muscle difference here; it was fascinating to see.

The Fights

The best part of the matches is the walkouts. Each wrestler has some kind of music, light show, stylistic entrance and backstory to come out to. As the night went on, we saw performers appearing from more and more entrances that we never saw initially. We couldn't understand the explanations about their personas but some of their intros were hilarious. Fans around us knew the most popular performers' catch phrases.

We had good seats near the camera crew filming the matches, maybe 50 feet from the boxing-style ring. Vendors walked up and down the aisles selling beers, cheladas, sandwiches, nachos, and more. I was smooth enough to spill about half a liter of beer on myself very quickly into the show and got to let that dry on my jeans for the rest of the night.

The crowd surprised me. Based on my notions of American professional wrestling (we've never been!), I would expect lots of teen and pre-teen boys with their dads and friends. Instead we saw entire families with boys and girls of all ages. It was more like an afternoon baseball game crowd than a monster truck rally. And everyone was in on the joke here - the families who were chanting the wrestler names during the walkouts were laughing at the antics on stage, and no one seemed to be taking the show too seriously, as I've been led to believe fans in the US do.

An unzoomed shot from our seats

This guy lost so bad they had to carry him off on a stretcher. The ring doctors came in and determined this.
A middle match walk out video. I love the enthusiastic backup dancers and the guys in masks getting loose

Overall the performance was fun. We saw some amazing stunts, but many had timing or reactions that were just clearly fake. I think American wrestling has higher production values and the real pros are much more professional. The performers at this event did get a lot of mileage out of loud landings on the mats for effect, and we saw a shocking number of chest slaps as a move. I guess you can't just be punching each other out right in a show like this.

We were a bit worried that the entire event would be too silly for us and we wouldn't be able to get into it, but fortunately we were completely wrong. It was a lot of fun and since no one was taking it too seriously, everyone could enjoy it for what it was. If you ever get a chance to go to an event like this, I'd strongly recommend it at least once.