Night of 1000 Masks

Throughout junior high and highschool, I was a bit of a closeted WWF fan. When one is in advanced classes and making good grades, one is expected not to partake in that ballet of the proletariat we call pro-wrestling. Professional wrestling pretty much is every bad thing that’s ever been said about it. It’s violent, goofy, dangerous, misogynist, trashy, and silly.

And c’mon; it’s fake.

Thankfully, I no longer had to live that lie in college. Partially because of the new environment, but mostly because of the era: everybody was watching wrestling in 1998. Finally, all of us could watch Raw with no shame. Though, if pressed, we could always feign appreciation on “a certain ironic level”. After all, who couldn’t enjoy the irony of a porn star fighting a roadie? It’s just like rain on your wedding day.

College was also a time for me to be tremendously lazy. You want an example? I copied and pasted the Iliad into a Clarisworks document, and had the computer read it to me so that I could watch television at the same time.

My indolence was not limited to the classics. It also spread to good old Spanish class. Each week for Spanish, we had to devote 1 hour to Spanish-speaking culture. They afforded us semi-optional (read as: Mandatory) cultural tables, we could go to nearby Mexican neighborhoods, see shows, Salsa dance or what have you.

Me, I watched Superman II on Telemundo.

The teacher let me get away with that for a couple of weeks. Rather than press my luck, I made the smooth transition from Telemundo to Galavision. Specifically, lucha libre.

Lucha libre got me through a year of Spanish class.

So last Friday, when I was presented with the opportunity get into a lucha event with second hand press credentials, I jumped. Well, not really, but I did feel that I owed it to Lucha libre.

That, and Mil Mascaras was going to be there.

Estimada fanaticada de Chicago, promociones Rocky Roman y Arenas de Chicago tienen el gusto de traerles una súper cartelera de lucha libre el viernes 25 de Abril en el Congress Theater.

At first, it seemed a little odd to have a wrestling event at Chicago landmark like the Congress Theater. It was built in 1926 as one of that era’s “Movie Palaces”. With it’s pseudo-Classical architecture, it seems more suited to the opera than lucha libre. Then again, the Congress isn’t too far from the Fireside bowl, which morphed from a bowling alley to a dirty and loud rock venue and then back into a bowling alley.

So maybe it is something in the water over there.

Any road, the guy who got me into the show works as a Chicago corespondent for SuperLuchas.net. Let’s call him Jose; that’s what his wife calls him. We arrived an hour before bell, and I got to experience the joy of entering the building far before those paying customers waiting in line out in the cold and wet.

Suckers.

After checking in with the promoter and shaking some hands, I was greeted to a sight that never ceases to amuse me (like watching a monkey smoke): A man dressed in street clothes, wearing an ornate mask, pulling a rolling suitcase.

Awesome.

The various guys in charge were all very nice and personable. Although, this thing could be related to the fact that one was convinced that I worked for Ring of Honor.

Another one kept calling me Lloyd; I don’t know what that was about.

After a few minutes in the lobby, Jose and I moved into the site of the event proper. Three or four luchadores were in the ring practicing body slams, and checking the tension of the ropes. We walked over to the backstage area, meeting and greeting myriad wrestlers. Local guys, guys from Mexico, tough-looking guys wearing pastel colored bikini briefs, skinny young guys, and old guys whose forearms fuse into their fists evoking images of ceremonial maces. There was a familiar looking guy with long hair who was pacing like a caged tiger amongst a sea of discarded red bulls. There was even one luchador who was slightly taller than my gigantic 6 foot frame. (Well, I felt gigantic that day. It’s hard not to when there are guys like Guerrero del Futuro running around. He might be 5 feet tall on his tip toes. Plus, I was wearing my trenchcoat because of the rain, so I was like the friggin’ Undertaker.)

Sadly, most of the wrestlers I met before the show were maskless, thus destroying all my previous notions of luchadores wearing their highly-embellished masks whilst grocery shopping, attending baby showers, going to the chiropodist, and so on. It’s like finding out there is no Santa Claus.

Jose and I were shown to a special section of seats for the sponsors, luchadores and their families. It was were the wrestlers made their entrances from backstage, to the ramp and into the ring. As far as I know, lucha libre tends to have those level ramps leading to the ring, as opposed to the “200 pound steel steps” of American catch-as-catch-can.

We stood back there a bit, watching the families pile into the former movie palace, watching kids get their pictures taken with rudos, watching one of the promoters duct-tape the ring skirt to the apron, and watching wrestlers hand the deejay homemade mix CDs which contained their entrance music. I lent the tech guys a light so they could smoke some cigarettes and talk to each other in technological jargon about capacitors and amps; people are the same wherever you go.

I spent a good chunk of time examining the ring ropes, all the while resisting urges to ascend the top rope and attempt a shooting star press. I was expecting thinly coated ropes or elevator cables, but the ring ropes felt like a garden hose. They were red, and demanded a tope con hilo which I was unable to supply. For safety and pride, that was the limit of my contact with the squared circle.

Jose conversed with some small spiky haired kid, whom I assumed to be another web reporter. Afterwards, Jose tells me that the kid was a wrestler named Rey Fuego and the two were discussing the details of his upcoming Mask versus Hair match.

My assumptions are often rubbish.

The show began, about 10 minutes late, with a promo between one of the promoters and the stable of that familiar looking long-haired guy. He called himself Valentine and had acquired, in the last half hour, a cast on his leg. They cut a long, intense promo during which I realized the limited utility of a North American spending 10 years studying Castellón Spanish.

The promo led directly to our first match. It was between Valentine’s evil girlfriend, dressed like a spandex dominatrix, and a lanky tattooed fella wearing a Spider-man mask. I believe at age 14, I had an erotic dream with a similar theme.

It is somewhat odd to see an inter-gender match in which the woman was the heel (I guess in this case, the ruda). It is also a bit odd to hear a bunch of little kids calling for Spider-man to beat up a girl.

Lucha is an odd beast.

Anyway, the ruda pretty much squashed the Spider, injuring his machismo, and cementing her as evil in the eyes of the crowd. She had some difficulty lifting the odd-shaped Spider-man simulacrum, but seemed to be a decent worker. She even busted out a sweet fireman’s carry into a powerbomb maneuver that somebody in the WWE should steal as a finisher.

The evil Valentine team made its presence known later on in the night too. One of their stable called Diabólico was soundly defeated by good guy (técnico) Impacto. After the match, Impacto was beaten down NWO style, took a couple of crutch shots to the back, and was FU-ed through a table by the evil woman from that first match. The FU had an interesting reaction. Half the crowd thought that it was a terrible, insult-to-injury thing. Not only do you beat the guy down, but a woman puts him through a table. The shame.

The kids in the crowd, on the other hand, consisted of John Cena marks. They popped just to see his finisher. That pop of good will was short-lived however, as the evil team ripped off Impacto’s mask. ~EVIL! The promoter came out and covered Impacto’s face with his sport coat, while Valentine put the mask on his crutch, squeezed some lighter fluid on it, lit it on fire, and
paraded around the ring with “blazing mask on a stick”.

Good times.

We were treated to some classic lucha style tag matches. Rey Fuego turned out to be pretty good, and so was his partner Comakasi (pronounced like the divine wind). To call lucha tag “hard to follow” is something of an understatement. Though there are some two on two, one fall matches, these things aren’t the norm. Generally lucha has three on three matches and these matches tend to be two out of three falls.

To further complicate matters, each trio has a captain. Generally, you win the fall by a) pinning the captain or b) pinning the other 2 guys. You can tag your partner, but you don’t always have to; you could also just roll out of the ring. You don’t really get a hot tag situation, and little attention is paid to things like “the legal man.” As such, two or three pins or submissions will occur simultaneously in these matches. The formula is just completely different than the standard U.S. tag match.

It was already a full night of watching super-heroic técnicos and wicked rudos with names like Discovery, Electron, and Bazuka. I saw a 400 pound black man dressed up like an evil teddy bear repeatedly punch another man in the groin. I heard various chants of “miedo!” I marveled at the blatant use of the rudo and téchnico. (Most American pro-wrestling companies wouldn’t introduce teams as the good guys and the bad guys; they’d just imply it through accents and flags.)

The main event was yet to come, the main event featuring the most famous luchador this side of Santo.

Mil Mascaras.

But before we get to that, a standard question exists: how is “Mexican” wrestling different from “American” wrestling. The standard answer is that lucha libre features more agility and high flying. This is only partially true. If you go to almost any wrestling show nowadays you are going to see agile high-flyers. It wouldn’t be too hard to track down a single ROH match with more top rope spots than an entire night of lucha. The night in question didn’t feature any firebird splashes, top rope ranas or anything of the sort.

Really the main difference is that lucha libre doesn’t use power moves as often, favoring wrist lock throws. A night of lucha is a night of knuckle locks, aikido-ish throws, and a general sense of hold the other guys hand and fall over to toss him.

It also seems easier to pin somebody in lucha libre, but that is probably because a typical match can feature six pinfalls. A midcarder in WWE can go a 6 months without being pinned, but a big star in Lucha Libre might be pinned every night of the week.

Anywho, the planned main event was to be a trios match featuring big names like Mil Mascaras and Tinieblas. Tinieblas, I had known previously, couldn’t make it do to Visa issues. (At least that is the excuse I heard.)

Two rudos were in the ring with little fanfare. I couldn’t make out the next introduction, but I assumed the next guy out was the rudo captain. I mean, this guy had “dick” written all over him. He walked like he had a rod inserted into a certain body cavity, strutting like a peacock with a ridiculous shiny cape in lieu of fancy plumage. He was the first wrestler, good or bad, to brush past all the kids in entrance section.

This guy must be the rudo to end all rudos.

Then it hit me. That’s Mil Mascaras, and he’s the good guy. THE good guy. He was sixty-five years old, and his skin resembled something you would find on an iguana. In the ring, he looked like he was five minutes away from a heart attack.

Yet, he refused to sell a damned thing. He didn’t bump; I don’t know if he could. He did a number of super-human spots that required a lot blatant assistant from the rudos. He wasn’t even particularly charismatic.

Obviously, his team won the match. Afterwards, Mil Mascaras gave a brief speech apologizing for Tinieblas’s no show. Then, he ran out like he had just robbed the place. He all but shoved children out of his way, and was not seen again. Mil Mascaras was the last one at the event and the first one to leave.

The rudos started fighting each other, at which time I assume Mil Mascaras had already made it to his car. Each rudo ripped off his own mask, stomped on it, and started forearming his partner in the collar bone. This lasted for about three minutes, then they hugged, picked up their masks and left.

I’m not sure that I will ever understand lucha libre.

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