'Lucha Libre' brought to the masses
Alexandre Meneghini / Associated Press
Fans watch Mexican Lucha Libre wrestler Crazy Clown walk past them after leaving the ring after a May 20 performance with the Caravan Super Tarin traveling wrestling show on the outskirts of Mexico City.
Alexandre Meneghini / Associated Press
Mexican Lucha Libre wrestlers Caricia (top) and Medic Tercero perform during a Caravan Super Tarin traveling wrestling show on May 5 in the outskirts of Mexico City. The caravan brings wrestling to the capital's poorest neighborhoods, giving free performances to those who don't have the money to buy a $22 ticket to see a professional wrestling event at one of Mexico City's big arenas.
Mexican Lucha Libre wrestling masks are attached with clothespins to a wire, on display for sale in a school yard during a wrestling show in November in Mexico City.
In front of shacks or jammed onto the staircases of crumbling buildings, men, women and children who don't have the money to buy a $22 ticket to see a professional wrestling event at one of Mexico City's big arenas can cheer the Caravan Super Tarin traveling wrestling show, which on weekends gives free performances filled with kitschy glitz, masked avengers and snarling "rudos."
The Caravan Super Tarin is one of the larger street wrestling troupes that play Mexico City's working-class neighborhoods and one of the few that give shows free of charge. While the burgeoning street wrestling phenomenon may lack the big name stars of Mexico's television networks, it makes up for it but it bringing Lucha Libre back to its roots in Mexico's barrios, where people still revere the legendary "El Santo" or "The Saint," and wrestling is the second-most popular sport after soccer.
At these barrio brawls children jump into the ring and women join the fray, smacking wrestlers with brooms. The fighting sometimes spills into gardens and people's houses, and spectators will pass their preferred fighter a chair, a board, a lamp or any other handy object and tell them: "Hit them with this!"
The impact of the Lucha Libre in Mexico goes beyond that of other countries, incorporating Mayan mythology and becoming a recurring theme in its movies and culture. Wrestlers campaign with politicians and fight for low-incoming housing projects and other social causes. Superbarrio Gomez, donning red tights and a red-and-yellow wrestler's mask, became famous as a social fighter following Mexico City's 1985 earthquake, leading protests and rallies as he set out to fight corruption and injustice.
The Caravan Super Tarin will set up its makeshift wrestling ring on potholed streets, plazas or public markets in hardscrabble neighborhoods across Mexico City and its surrounding areas, wherever they are wanted. They've even wrestled for communities at trash dumps.
The wrestlers get into their costumes in tiny spaces, sitting on packing crates or in the homes of locals. A show can feature 70 wrestlers.
The matches serve a dual purpose: to entertain residents and to provide an opportunity for lesser-known or young wrestlers to catch the eye of a promoter.
"I have dreams of wrestling with the great ones, but I've been at it for three years and haven't received the opportunity," the youngest wrestler, 16-year-old Black Fury said from behind his mask, insisting on keeping his street identity a secret.
At a recent show children laughed and screamed when the snarling and beefy Big Mama -- in real life 34-year-old Alejandra Montes, who sells kitchenware in Mexico City's tough La Merced market -- charged onto the ring in a red and white skirt with red hearts. They cringed at the powerful Crazy Clown with his horned Harlequin headgear and bright spandex costume.
Street wrestling can also provide a home for lucha libre outsiders, such as the one-armed Leonardo Rocha who has wrestled for most of his life despite a birth defect that left him with a shortened limb. At the caravan, the 47-year-old Rocha puts on his black tights and wrestles as "Desafio," which translates as "Challenge" or "Duel."
"There are times when there is a lot of work, and others times when there is little. Right now the political campaign is under way so there are a lot of opportunities," Rocha said before Mexico's July 1 presidential election.
The leader of the caravan is Rafael Rojas Tarin -- or Super Tarin -- who heads the street vendors association that sponsors the shows.
For five years, Super Tarin's caravan has traveled Mexico's capital. Rojas Tarin originally was not a wrestler, working instead as an event organizer. But little by little he became more involved in the shows themselves until he found himself inside the ring as Super Tarin.
The caravan provides some economic support to its fighters, but none gets the 500 to 2,000 pesos ($40-$160) fee a local wrestler can command for a paid match. Sometimes fans will bring the wrestlers plates of food as payment.
Rocha said people always assume that rivals in the ring are also rivals in real life, but that's not so.
"To be a good rival you have to be a good friend," Rocha said.
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