Free Fighting or Lucha Libre is a term used in Mexico and other Spanish-speaking areas to refer to a certain form of professional wrestling involving varied techniques and moves. Outside of these areas, the term is synonymous with the professional wrestling performed in Mexico and other Latin American countries.
Mexican wrestling is characterized by rapid sequences of holds and moves, as well as spectacular high-flying moves, many of which have been adopted in the United States, and colorful masks. Lucha libre performers are known as luchadores (singular luchador).
The rules of lucha libre are very similar to American singles matches. Matches can be won by pinning the opponent to the mat for the count of three, making him submit, knocking him out of the ring for a count of twenty or by disqualification. Using the ropes for leverage is illegal and once a luchador is on the ropes, his opponent must release any holds and he will not be able to pin him. Disqualifications occur when an opponent uses an illegal hold, move, or weapon, hits his opponent in the groin (faul), uses outside interference, attacks the referee, or rips his opponent's mask completely off. Most matches are two out of three falls (dos de tres caídas), which had been abandoned for title bouts in North America and Japan in the 1970s.
History of lucha libre in MexicoEdit
In the early 1900s, professional wrestling was mostly a regional phenomenon in Mexico until Salvador Lutteroth founded the Empresa Mexicana de Lucha Libre (Mexican Wrestling Enterprise) in 1933, giving the sport a national foothold for the first time. The promotion company flourished and quickly became the premier spot for wrestlers. As television surfaced as a viable entertainment medium during the 1950s, Lutteroth was then able to broadcast his wrestling across the nation, subsequently yielding a popularity explosion for the sport. Moreover, it was the emergence of television that allowed Lutteroth to promote lucha libre’s first breakout superstar into a national pop-culture phenomenon.
In 1942, lucha libre would be forever changed when a silver-masked wrestler, known simply as El Santo (The Saint), first stepped into the ring. He made his debut in Mexico City by winning an 8-man battle royal. The public became enamored by the mystique and secrecy of Santo's personality and he quickly became the most popular luchador in Mexico. His wrestling career spanned nearly five decades, during which he became a folk hero and a symbol of justice for the common man through his appearances in comic books and movies, while the sport of Lucha Libre received an unparalleled degree of mainstream attention.
Other legendary luchadores who helped popularize the sport include; Gory Guerrero who is credited with developing moves and holds which are now commonplace in professional wrestling; Blue Demon, a contemporary of Santo and possibly his greatest rival; and Mil Máscaras (A Thousand Masks) who is credited with introducing the high flying moves of lucha libre to audiences around the world. He achieved international fame as one of the first high-flyers, something he was not considered in Mexico where he fell under the mat-power category.
Lucha libre style of wrestlingEdit
Luchadores are traditionally more agile and perform more aerial maneuvers than professional wrestlers in the U.S. which, more often, rely on power moves and strikes to subdue their opponents. The difference in styles is due to the independent evolution of the sport in Mexico beginning in the 1930s and the fact that luchadores in the cruiserweight division (peso semicompleto) are often the most popular wrestlers in Mexican lucha libre. Luchadores execute high flying moves characteristic of lucha libre by utilizing the wrestling ring's ropes to catapult themselves towards their opponents, using intricate combinations in rapid-fire succession, and applying complex submission holds. Lucha libre has several different weight classes, many catered to smaller agile fighters, who often make their debuts in their mid-teens. This system enables dynamic high-flying luchadores such as Rey Mysterio, Jr., Juventud Guerrera and Mistico, to develop years of experience by their mid-twenties. A number of prominent Japanese wrestlers also started their careers training in Mexican lucha libre before becoming stars in Japan. These include Gran Hamada, Satoru Sayama, Jushin Liger, and Último Dragón. With so many weight classes, Mexico has the largest number of professional wrestlers in the world.
Lucha libre is also known for its tag team wrestling matches. The teams are often made up of three members, instead of two as is common in the U.S. These three man teams participate in what are called trios matches, for tag team championship belts. Of these three members, one member is designated the captain. A successful fall in a trios match can be achieved by either pinning the captain of the opposing team or by pinning both of the other members. A referee can also stop the match because of "excess punishment". He can then award the match to the aggressors. Falls often occur simultaneously, which adds to the extremely stylized nature of the action. In addition, a wrestler can opt to roll out of the ring in lieu of tagging a partner or simply be knocked out of the ring, at which point one of his partners may enter. As a result, the tag team formula that U.S. tag matches tend to follow doesn't apply to lucha libre because the race to tag isn't a priority. There are also two-man tag matches (parejas) as well as "four on four" matches (atomicos).
Masks (mascaras) have been used dating back to the beginnings of lucha libre and have a historical significance to Mexico dating back to the days of the Aztecs. Early masks were very simple with basic colors to distinguish the wrestler. In modern lucha libre, masks are colorfully designed to evoke the images of animals, gods, ancient heroes, and other archetypes, whose identity the luchador takes on during a performance. Virtually all wrestlers in Mexico will start their careers wearing masks, but over the span of their careers a large number of them will be unmasked. Sometimes, a wrestler slated for retirement will be unmasked in his final bout or at the beginning of a final tour, signifying loss of identity as that character. Sometimes, losing the mask signifies the end of a gimmick with the wrestler moving on to a new gimmick and mask. The mask is considered "sacred" to a degree, so much so that fully removing an opponent's mask during a match is grounds for disqualification.
During their careers, masked luchadores will often be seen in public wearing their masks and keeping up the kayfabe of Lucha Libre, other masked wrestlers will interact with the public and press normally, however, they will still go to great lengths to conceal their true identity; in effect, the mask is synonymous with the luchador. El Santo continued wearing his mask after retirement, revealed his face briefly only in old age, and was buried wearing his silver mask.
More recently, the masks that luchadores wear have become iconic symbols of Mexican and Mexican-American culture. Contemporary Mexican-American artists like Francisco Delgado and Xavier Garza incorporate wrestler masks in their paintings.
Although masks are a feature of lucha libre, many Americans wrongly assume that every Mexican wrestler uses one. This is false and there have been several non-masked wrestlers who have been successful, particularly Tarzan Lopez and Perro Aguayo. Formerly masked wrestlers who lost their masks, such as Satanico, Cien Caras and others, have had continued success despite the mask losses.
Luchas de apuestasEdit
With the importance placed on masks in lucha libre, losing the mask to an opponent is seen as the ultimate insult and can at times seriously hurt the career of the unmasking wrestler. Putting one's mask on the line against a hated opponent is a tradition in lucha libre as a means to settle a heated feud between two or more wrestlers. In these battles, called luchas de apuestas ("matches with wagers"), the wrestlers "wager" either their mask or their hair.
The first luchas de apuestas match was presented on July 14, 1940 at Arena México. The defending champion Murciélago was so much lighter than his challenger Octavio that he requested a further condition before he would sign the contract: Octavio would have to put his hair on the line. Octavio won the match and Murciélago unmasked, giving birth to a tradition in lucha libre.
- Máscara contra máscara ("mask versus mask"): two masked luchadores bet their masks, the loser is unmasked by the winner, and his real name is often revealed as well.
- Máscara contra cabellera ("mask versus hair"): a masked wrestler and an unmasked one compete, often after the unmasked one has lost his mask to the masked one in a prior bout. If the masked luchador wins, the unmasked one shaves his head as a sign of humiliation. If the unmasked luchador is the winner, he keeps his hair and the loser is unmasked.
- Cabellera contra cabellera ("hair versus hair"): the loser of the match has his head shaved bald. This can occur both between unmasked wrestlers and between masked wrestlers who have to remove their mask enough to be shaved after the match.
Luchadores are traditionally divided into two categories, rudos ("bad guys", or "heels", literally "rude ones"), who bend or break the rules, and técnicos (the "good guys", or "faces", literally "technicians"), who play by the rules and their moves are much more complex and spectacular. "Técnicos" tend to have very formal combat styles, close to Greco-Roman wrestling and martial arts techniques, where as "rudos" tend to be brawlers. Técnicos playing the "good guy" role, and rudos playing the "bad guy" role is very characteristic of Mexican lucha libre, which differs from U.S. professional wrestling, where many technical wrestlers play the role of heels, and many brawlers play as "faces" (e.g., Stone Cold Steve Austin). Although rudos often resort to using under-handed tactics, they are still expected to live up to a luchador code of honor. For instance, a luchador who has lost a wager match would prefer to endure the humiliation of being unmasked or having his head shaved rather than live with the shame that would come from not honoring his bet. Rudos have also been known to transition into técnicos after a career defining moment, as was the case with Blue Demon, who decided to become a técnico after his wrestling partner, Black Shadow, was unmasked by the legendary Santo. Tag teams are sometimes comprised of both rudos and técnicos in what are called parejas increibles (incredible pairings). Parejas increibles highlight the conflict between a luchador's desire to win and his contempt for his partner.
Luchadores, like their foreign counterparts, seek to obtain a campeonato ("championship") through winning key wrestling matches. Since many feuds and shows are built around luchas de apuestas ("matches with wagers"), title matches play a less prominent role in Mexico than in the U.S. Titles can be defended as few as one time per year and wrestlers usually only wear their belts during big events and title defenses.
Lucha libre uses a more specific weight class system to classify titles. Popular weight classes include; heavyweight, light-heavyweight, welterweight and middleweight. Lightweight and super-lightweight titles are also used. The "Cruiserweight" division is often associated with the lucha libre style of wrestling, even though in Mexico, the term light-heavyweight (peso semicompleto) is used due to a different weight class system. In recent years, weight classes have been mostly nominal and there are occasions when a wrestler will have titles in two different weight classes. However, title matches are still major events and many shows are built around them.
Lucha libre is currently experiencing a boom in popularity due to the emergence of a new generation of stars, most notably, a masked wrestler named Mistico, whose high-flying style and technique is attracting record crowds in Mexico.
Female professional wrestlersEdit
Female wrestlers known as luchadoras also compete in Mexican lucha libre. The CMLL World Women's Championship is the top title for female wrestlers in the CMLL promotion. The AAA Reina de Reinas Championship is the top title for female wrestlers in the AAA promotion. In 2000, the all female promotion company Lucha Libre Feminil (LLF) was founded.
Luchadores in the U.S.Edit
In 1994, AAA promoted the When Worlds Collide Pay-Per-View in conjunction with the U.S. promotion company World Championship Wrestling (WCW). When Worlds Collide introduced U.S. audiences to many of the top luchadores in Mexico at the time.
In Peru the term "cachascán" (from "catch as can") is used. Wrestlers are called cachascanistas. In Argentina, in addition to lucha libre, professional wrestling is also referred to as "catch", or catch as catch can.
Promotions using lucha libre rulesEdit
- Asistencia Asesoría y Administración (AAA)
- Consejo Mundial de Lucha Libre (CMLL)
- International Wrestling Revolution Group (IWRG)
- Universal Wrestling Association (defunct)
- World Wrestling Association (Promociones Mora)
- Xtreme Latin American Wrestling
- Lucha Libre Feminil (LLF)
- Michinoku Pro Wrestling
- Osaka Pro Wrestling
- Pro Wrestling KAGEKI
- Toryumon / Dragon Gate
- Universal Lucha Libre (defunct)
- Chikara Pro
- Incredibly Strange Wrestling
- Lucha Va Voom
- Mexican Wrestling Association (MWA)
In the media and popular cultureEdit
- A fanciful take on the lucha libre concept can be seen in the animated cartoon ¡Mucha Lucha!
- The motion picture Nacho Libre stars Jack Black as a priest-turned-luchador (somewhat similar to the real-life lucha libre personality Fray Tormenta, aka Father Sergio Gutierrez Benitez).
- Nike has designed a line of lucha libre inspired athletic shoes.
- Coca-Cola developed a Blue Demon Full Throttle energy drink named after the famous luchador.
- In 2007, Cartoon Network produced an animated series based on the luchador El Santo.
- The Nashville-based Anglo band Los Straitjackets adopted luchador masks as part of their stage show in the mid-1990s, and have since acquired a large Mexican following.
- Rob Zombie's upcoming animated film The Haunted World of El Superbeasto stars a Mexican luchador named El Superbeasto.
- Luchadores have become a staple in many fighting games, characters include:
- Suda 51, game developer and head of Grasshopper Studios is known for his fascination of Lucha Libre and often includes them in his game, such as the character MASK de Smith in Killer 7 and the collectible Lucha Libre masks in No More Heroes.
- The anime Air Master feautres a luchador style character called Lucha Master.
- Raz from the game Psychonauts fights four different Lucha Libre wrestlers during the Black Velvetopia level of the game.
- In the online cartoon series Homestar Runner, Strong Bad wears a luchador mask, and is referred to as a "wrestleman."
- The ABC Family television show The Middleman episode entitled "the sino-mexican revelation" features luchadores.
- The American horror movie "Wrestlemaniac" is centered around the story of an insane luchador with abnormal strength; the titular villain is played by actual lucha libre wrestler Rey Mysterio.
- Paul Allatson (2007). Key Terms in Latino/a Cultural And Literary Studies. Blackwell Publishing. ISBN 1405102500.
- Lucha Wiki
- From Parts Unknown (Pop-culture resource for Mexican wrestling, lucha films, and masks, notes on live appearances, blog and a discussion forum)
- Pro-Wrestling Title Histories of Mexico
- SuperLuchas (Top Mexican Lucha Libre Magazine in spanish language )
- Lucha World (English language Lucha Libre discussion forum)
- SoCalUncensored Lucha Forum (Lucha Libre discussion forum covering Tijuana and Southern California)
- Super Libre (Mexican Lucha Libre On Line Magazine in spanish language )ca:Lluita lliure
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