As Lucha Britannia champion Freddie Mercurio arced backwards, performing his trademark moonsault press from the top turnbuckle, time seemed to slow, his descent measured in seconds rather than fractions of them. Once he hit his target, east end bovver boy Fug, everything snapped back and the crowd exploded. Their hero had overcome enormous odds once more to leave the Resistance Gallery with the prized title belt.
That a resurrected rock idol is the face of a promotion that is so heavily populated by the undead – voodoo witch doctor Santeria leads an Army Of Darkness, which includes the Necrosi, Zombie Janey, and el Cardinal – is somehow fitting, although el Mercurio is no pasty-faced cadaver. A healthy glow warms his face as he engages the crowd in a sing-a-long, drawing power from their day-ohs.
It’s a glow that is shared by Lucha Britannia itself, packing over two-hundred thrillseekers into the tiny railway arch in London’s Bethnal Green that houses the Gallery, also home to various club and cabaret nights. And it’s cabaret that Lucha Britannia hangs its hat on, a wrestling show peppered with burlesque, comedy, and – on its February show – a hula hoop artiste.
Lucha Britannia exploded into life in 2006, the brainchild of Garry Vanderhorne, who is still very much in the driving seat today. He has surrounded himself with a crazy cast of characters, and the overall feel of the show is that it is organic and democratic. In a wonderful example of synchronicity, I finished reading Bob Calhoun’s Beer, Blood & Cornmeal: Seven Years Of Incredibly Strange Wrestling the night before, and Lucha Britannia feels very much like the trailblazing Californian promotion of the late 1990s.
The host for the evening’s entertainment, face awash with panstick, is Benjamin Louche, and if he looks a little like Pee-Wee Herman it’s definitely the Pee-Wee from that cinema that time. He keeps the evening skipping along, introducing the luchadores and loosely commentating on the matches, alongside cockney geezer Tony Two-Tops, and aided by the ring girls, Mamzelle Maz & Viva Ruin, glamazons in fitted corsets and stockings & suspenders.
The three matches that conspired to make the first half of the show couldn’t have been more different, although equally delightful. The show started with a Lucha Chaos match, a scramble by any other name, with nine luchadores vying for the winning pinfall. Included in their number were a Zulu prince, a monkey, an out-and-proud twink, three zombies, and Neo Britannico – a new incarnation of the previously unmasked Dark Britannico, now free from Santeria’s control. That Neo Britannico is portrayed by Will Ospreay, who only five days before took on New Japan’s IWGP champion AJ Styles, speaks volumes about the attraction of Lucha Britannia to wrestlers as well as fans.
Next up came a wedding. Yes, a wedding. On the previous show, Grandpa Bakewell, the elder statesman of tweed-masked Yorkshiremen, the Fabulous Bakewells, had proposed to his mail-order Thai bride, Lilly SnatchDragon. SnatchDragon, a burlesque performer when she’s not playing desperate-for-a-passport schemers, did a song and striptease routine as part of her vows, but the wedding was interrupted by irritating minor royal Reginald Windsor and his lacky, Payaso Pesadilla, the nightmare clown. Windsor claimed to have Lilly’s immigration papers and an impromptu tag match between the Bakewells and the villains, with the winner getting the papers, was made. The Bakewells, on a losing streak of several thousand matches, lost once more and Lilly was packed back off to Thailand in a shopping bag.
The girls were up next, with Zombie Janey Britannico and venomous frog La Rana Venenoso taking on reformed demoness Diablesa Rosa and her partner Astronomica. Evil once again triumphed, to send the show into the interval on a down note that only several tequilas and cervezas could cure. The crowd certainly tried that, anyway, and it seemed to work.
After the break, the nasty La Piraña and his silver lizard pal Lagarta de Plata fought a pair of unfrozen Vikings, Los Nórdicos. The Norsemen conquered their slippery foes, even if el Nórdico Fuego did lose one of his horns to Piraña’s teeth and el Nórdico Helado’s considerable booty came close to wiping out some of the fans at ringside. The crowd were then treated to a display of hula-hoop magic by the sparkly silver Dunja Kuhn, before the main event – the Lucha Britannia title bout – a three-way between Freddie Mercurio, Fug, and Santeria.
And this is where we came in, the hipster referee counting the one-two-three to signal that Mercurio had retained his precious title. The ring filled with the show’s babyfaces, all smiles and congratulations for the flamboyant frontman whose flips, forearms and facelocks had flummoxed his foes. Neo Britannico – his redemption story opening the show – was right in the middle, having helped get rid of Santeria. The crowd sang along with their hero again, with the age-old maxim of “send them home happy” never more truly adhered to.
Lucha Britannia may not be for everyone. But it is for everyone who likes fun. Their next show is on March 20th, again at the Resistance Gallery, and there’s a cavalcade of oddities awaiting you there. You have nothing to lose except your lucha virginity…