By Julie R Butler
Superheroes may have hit the big time for the rest of the world starting in the 2000s (witness X-Men, Spider-Man, The Incredibles, and the whole Marvel Cinematic Universe, for example); but Mexico has had its own living, breathing superheroes ever since El Santo stepped into the wrestling ring wearing his legendary silver mask back in 1942. Thus began the tradition in lucha libre of masked wrestlers, who have become Mexican folk heroes, representing the battle between Good and Evil in the ring as well as on the silver screen and in comic books, video games, and beyond.
While Mexico’s freewheeling freestyle pro wrestling characters have both entertained and inspired multiple generations of Mexicans for over half a century, lucha libre has also been making its mark on the wider world on a number of fronts – and that’s what this article is here to celebrate.
Lucha Libre in the United States
The US audience was not exposed to lucha libre until the When Worlds Collide event in 1994, which is billed by the WWE Network as “The best pay-per-view you’ve never seen.” Nowadays, folks in the United States can watch weekly broadcasts produced by el Consejo Mundial de Lucha Libre on Galavisión and LA TV Spanish language cable networks.
Lucha Underground also continues to promote events in the United States, in addition to the four seasons of the TV series they have produced so far.
And if you’re up for the ultimate spectacle, there’s LA-based Lucha VaVOOM, joining burlesque, comedy, and Mexican wrestling together into one high-energy extravaganza.
El Hijo de Santo vs. Blue Demon Jr.
Photo by Flickr user danksy, CC BY 2.0
Lucha Libre Cinema in English
Although there were many lucha libre films produced in the 1960s and early 70s, only four of the 52 movies starring El Santo, “the John Wayne of Mexican cinema,” were dubbed into English and distributed in the United States:
- Santo contra los zombis (1961), a.k.a. Invasion of the Zombies
- Santo contra las Mujeres Vampiro (1962), a.k.a. Samson vs. the Vampire Women
- Santo en el museo de cera (1963), a.k.a. Samson in the Wax Museum
- Santo contra el doctor Muerte (1973), a.k.a. Santo Strikes Again, The Masked Man Strikes Again
Photo by Marrovi, CC BY-SA 4.0
Then, in tribute to the fabulously campy original lucha libre films, a trilogy of movies starring another renowned Mexican luchador was produced in English, starting with Mil Mascaras vs. the Aztec Mummy (Mil Mascaras: Resurrection) in 2007, followed by Academy of Doom (Mil Mascaras: Academy of Doom) in 2008 and Aztec Revenge (Mil Mascaras: Aztec Revenge) in 2015 – thus introducing the drama and fun of lucha libre to whole new audiences around the world.
More Lucha Libre in American Pop Culture
You know you’ve achieved true success when you’ve reached cartoon status; and indeed, the ethics of the lucha libre hero have been illustrated to children across the English-speaking world through the El Santo inspired animated TV series ¡Mucha Lucha!, where nearly everyone in the town of Luchaville has their own mask, costume, and signature wrestling move.
For adults, there’s the book trilogy and FX series by Guillermo del Toro and Chuck Hogan called The Strain, which follows a retired luchador known as Angel de la Plata.
And finally, we can’t talk about the effect lucha libre has had on the American psyche without mentioning the movie Nacho Libre, starring Jack Black as a priest-turned-luchador. The movie was inspired by a real-life Mexican priest who wrestled under the name Fray Tormenta.
At Shoptezuma, we have several t-shirts that celebrate Lucha Libre, check them out here:
¡Viva Lucha Libre!