On my journey of watching wrestling that I missed or going back to look at historical matches, I decided to deep dive on lucha libre, an important part of my people’s rich history. Then once I started going down that route and watching these matches, it made me remember so much from my childhood.
One of my earliest connections to lucha as a kid growing up was my Father coming back from Mexico or from the valley with lucha costumes. It made my sibling and me so happy seeing him come back with a Spiderman, Batman and a Superman lucha costume. It came with masks that barely fit and the capes with their logos on them that tore when pulled on. It made my brothers and me so happy just to be wrestling around in them on our beds and trampoline.
Growing up when I would go with my Grandma to our flea market that we owned at the time. My Grandma cooked her Menudo (spicy Mexican soup) and my Grandpa would roam the dark flea market because I was too scared to roam around with him so I would sleep on top of the storage freezer. She would let me sleep until the sun came up and then she would give me my bean/cheese taco and potato/egg tacos, a typical tradition when I would go with them. She would turn on her novelas when she was alone but on Saturday and Sundays in the morning the station would play lucha libre for me. I wish I could remember what promotion it was but I’m sure it was a AAA show because of the presentation being bright and colorful. Then later on in the morning when the vender’s would show up, I would walk the flea market to see if I could find cool toys and stuff but I was always drawn to booths that had wrestling stuff like toys, dvds, games and lucha masks from Mexico.
I remember that was my first time seeing the legendary Blue Demon and El Santo mask. I’ve never been so fascinated by two men I’ve never seen before. The stories this guy or my Dad would tell me of these guys being bigger than life characters would make me so happy. I never saw the matches, but it was the stories of them wrestling and them being movie stars that got me. What also got me in awe of them was how the luchadores would never take off their masks especially when they were in movies, they always kept them on to “protect their families from the bad guys”. Sounds dumb now as an adult, but as a kid these guys felt like real life superheroes to me.
I discovered WWE because I owned and played SmackDown vs RAW video game with my cousins. That eventually led me to watch WWE’s shows. It was exciting to see someone like Rey Mysterio and Eddy Guerrero on my TV even though they were older videos (which at time I thought was happening in real time) a total young Manny moment. I loved Eddy Guerrero so much he was one of my childhood heroes. I wanted that scarface inspired shirt so much because it reminded me of my Grandpa’s special scarface VHS tape. I just wanted to lie, steal and cheat, just like Eddy. I thought if I could do that just maybe I could have a low rider like him, wrestle and hit the frog splash on TV like him too. It was cool because he was from Texas just like me and not that far from me too, so I thought if he could make it then so could I.
Then one of the hardest things happened to me. Finding out that my Father was in prison as a kid and we were going to see him. What made it so much easier on me was finding out he was in prison in El Paso, the place where Eddy was from. It made the trip so much easier because I thought maybe if we stopped at Walmart or somewhere to eat maybe I’ll see him. Spoiler: That didn’t happen. But it made seeing my Dad a lot easier nonetheless.
After the first real big hit of my childhood happened was when I discovered that Eddy Guerrero had passed away. It happened randomly when I was scrolling through what might’ve been early youtube just to look for wrestling videos, but what I found was more devastating. I remember coming across the Raw memorial show for Eddy and I remember breaking down and crying non stop because I always wondered why I never saw him on TV when I was watching around 08’. Finding out someone I “loved” as a fan died really hurt me so much. I just thought he was hurt or retired and it gave me hope that I could eventually meet him. All the times I would go visit EL Paso to see my Dad in prison and I would get excited about the small possibility I’d get to meet him when we stopped at Kmart or Walmart. But it hit me that was never going to happen. I just remember crying.
After that Eddy stuff happened I remembered being at my friend’s house who was a couple years older than me who was also a huge wrestling fan. He played one of the only wrestling DVDs he had; WrestleMania 22. This took me out of my slump because on that DVD it had Rey Mysterio winning the World Heavyweight Title. I remember thinking that someone that looked like Rey could do that, then maybe so could I. It was so awesome that moment reminded me of the stories I remember hearing of El Santo and Blue Demon.
A few years later my Dad got deported back to Mexico, so my Mom sends me and my other Brother to Mexico to see him. I don’t remember much of what we did on that vacation but the only thing I do remember was going to this Museum that had an exhibit of the history of Lucha Libre. I had no idea what they were talking about at all since I couldn’t understand Spanish, but my Dad did his best to translate for us. So I wandered off and saw the Holy Grail: An El Santo Mask and Gear on display. I was so happy I wanted to touch it but my Dad caught me in time. We stopped in front of this TV that was playing the funeral of El Santo. I just remember thinking how cool and important this man must’ve been and I wish I could’ve seen him wrestle. He had an open casket funeral where the whole town came to see him off, but even in death he still wore his mask. I remember my Dad telling me he was buried with it and how he had this huge statue that people could go visit. As a kid hearing more of these stories just kept adding to this bigger than life character that actually existed.
I wanted to be just like these luchadors. I wanted to wear a mask like them and wrestle for years and have people love me like they had and maybe one day have people visit me when I died like El Santo did. That’s the legacy that Santo and Eddy had in my eyes. But just like a lot of kids going into their teenage years, I just stop watching wrestling.
After getting into ROH, NJPW, AJPW and All-Japan in the 2010’s, I decided to deep dive Lucha again. I watched classic AAA and CMLL matches from a young Rey, Blue Demon Jr, Santo Jr, Eddy, Art Barr, Atlantis, Blue Panther, Konnan etc. But the match changed my view of wrestling and showed me what lucha libre is, was a CMLL match Atlantis vs Villano III mascara contra mascara (Mask vs Mask) that happened 03/17/00. It showed the passion and emotion behind lucha libre. Two men fighting for their families’ legacies because if you come from a family of luchadores you don’t want to disrespect your families legacies by losing that mask (look at me talking about wrestling like it’s a shoot). You could feel the urgency from Atlantis and Villano wanting to win this match. Atlantis, the valiante babyface, showing his will to win no matter the cost, and the visual of them covered in their own blood is powerful. Then the crowd is cheering and begging for Atlantis to not give up and to beat Villano. Both men showed their heart, fire and that mexican fighting spirit that Mexicans are known for, it was just electric. Both men are firing up trying to gain the upper hand on one another. Arena Mexico is roaring letting Atlantis know he isn’t alone in there, but then Villano gets him in his finisher on him.
Both men are showing so much heart that they eventually split the crowd. The hated heel starts to get cheers, but that doesn’t help once Atlantis gets Villano in the La Atlantida. Vilano loses the match losing his mask. He doesn’t do the typical heel stick, he thanks the crowd and to show respect to the crowd and his opponent he takes his mask off with respect. He turns babyface by giving his mask to Atlantis telling the crowd his real name and age.
This opened my eyes to what lucha libre is; it’s a sport built on respect and honor. There is tradition behind these rules and people come and fill arenas like Arena Mexico to show their support and respect to their heroes. Lucha will continue to be apart of my life and continue to be apart of Mexico’s rich history.