With the homogenised WWE-style spreading across the world, turning shows from Birmingham, Alabama, to Birmingham, England, and Frankfort, Kentucky, to Frankfurt, Germany, all but identical, it’s heartening that some corners of the globe still retain their traditional styles.
While Japan has its own strong style of wrestling, and pockets of the World Of Sport style cling on in the UK, one definitely unique form is the lucha libre of Mexico, still the predominant discipline in that country. Lucha libre, which translates as “free fight” but don’t get too hung up on that, developed in the mid-nineteenth century but exploded in the early-twentieth, when Salvador Lutteroth, a former wrestler from Ciudad Juarez who had served in the Mexican revolution against the forces of Pancho Villa, established the first nationwide promotion, Empressa Mexicana de Lucha Libre (EMLL).
Lutteroth’s EMLL dominated the Mexican wrestling scene, which nevertheless continued to thrive in small towns and big cities across the nation, and its stars were the foremost proponents of the lucha libre style, and commanded big appearance fees (a cut of which, even from the independent promoters, went to Lutteroth and his office). There were attempts to challenge EMLL (which latterly adopted the moniker CMLL, or Consejo Mundial de Lucha Libre), most chiefly from the Universal Wrestling Association (UWA), but the Empressa, as it was known, reigned supreme until the 1990s.
Then, under the auspices of former CMLL booker Antonio Peña, Asistencia Asesoría y Administración (AAA) was formed, with some of CMLL’s top talent, and the two have been in a war ever since. It’s a fight that AAA have gotten the upper hand in of late, presenting fan-friendly, American-influenced booking, leading to the five or six pay-per-view-style shows they run every year. What’s more, when American fans (and, by extension, those of us on these shores that follow the American scene) think of luchadores, they’re probably thinking of fighters who debuted or made their name in AAA.
When Rey Mysterio Jr, Psicosis, Juventud Guerrera, and La Parka made a huge splash on WCW TV in the late 1990s, they were AAA guys. The first lucha libre PPV transmitted to US homes, 1993’s When Worlds Collide, was promoted by a US-affiliate of AAA. And the stars of the critically-acclaimed Lucha Underground show on Robert Rodriguez’s El Rey network? Yep, AAA.
And, at London’s Albert Hall on Saturday July 11th, the stars of AAA (& Lucha Underground) are coming to the UK. Some of them have appeared here before, and there have been entire lucha libre shows promoted in the UK (some by the promoters of the July show, ¡COMO NO!, but more of that later), but this marks the first time that, while not branded as such, a pure AAA show has made the transatlantic transfer.
With former AAA Megacampeon Texano Jr, AAA Cruiserweight title holder el Hijo del Fantasma, and members of the tag-team (parejas) and six-man (trios) championship teams making the trip, it’s a stacked line-up, and even includes the mini wrestlers and two of the luchadoras, women wrestlers who mix it up with the men when they have to.
¡COMO NO! first promoted their Lucha Future brand in 2011,with a trio of shows at the Roundhouse, in London, and have since presented shows from Gateshead to Brighton. ¡COMO NO! Began in 1986, bringing Latin American culture to the UK, and have promoted the La Linea festival since 2001. Lucha libre was a natural expansion of their remit, and they’ve brought over some of the biggest names in lucha libre in that time.
For the Albert Hall show, they’ve promised living legend Blue Demon Jr, whose father was a movie star in the unrivalled heyday of lucha libre in the 1950s and 1960s and has since carved out a legend of his own, alongside Villano IV, another second-generation stand-out. Also along for the ride are AAA main eventers Texano Jr, Psycho Clown and La Parka, as well as stars of Lucha Underground such as Fénix, Drago, Sexy Star, el Hijo del Fantasma (who works there as King Cuerno), and the breakout star of 2015, Pentagón Jr.
Although Lucha Underground is not available on UK TV, you can find it in the darker reaches of the internet if you look hard enough, and the El Rey network are kind enough to upload generous highlights, including a full match every week, to their YouTube channel. AAA’s Sin Límite, a weekly TV show roughly equivalent to WWE’s Raw, is uploaded to their YouTube channel in its entirety every week, and is eighty minutes of compelling entertainment, even if your Spanish is as limited as mine.
Lucha Libre is not everyone’s cup of tea. It requires a suspension of disbelief above and beyond even that necessary for everyday professional wrestling. But that’s given back in spades – the investment you make in swallowing your adult cynicism is repaid a hundredfold in sheer delight at the colourful spectacle that develops before your eyes. With 2015 named as the Year Of Mexico in the UK, what better time to find your lucha love, and I can’t think of a better place to do it than at the Albert Hall. The only thing you have to decide is, are you rudo or técnico…?
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STARS OF LUCHA FUTURE
Who doesn’t love a dancing skeleton? Not the La Parka you might remember from WCW TV but no less entertaining or formidable for that. Fond of wielding a chair to get his business done, he is the chairman of AAA.
Scaly veteran who has made a huge impact on Lucha Underground, as well as making strides up the card in AAA. A high-flyer, he is billed as coming from la inframundo, or inside the Earth…
El Hijo del Fantasma
The son of Fantasma, a bona fide lucha libre legend, he has made his own name in both AAA and Lucha Underground where he works as King Cuerno. He has the finest topé suicida – suicide dive – in the business.
Another second generation star, Texano Jr carries a bull rope to the ring and isn’t shy to use it on his opponents. In AAA he usually brings his own referee, the rudo el Hijo del Tirantes, to the ring, so it’s no surprise that his limited time in Lucha Underground has been marked by disqualifications.
Part of the nightmarish trio, Los Psycho Circus, Psycho Clown is an unabashed good guy, or técnico. The rest of his team – Monsther Clown & Murder Clown – are also popular. Mexico is odd!
One of the breakout stars of 2015 so far, Pentagón Jr is a violent rudo who gets the biggest cheers in Lucha Underground, where his trademark is breaking the arms of his defeated opponents.
Another astounding high-flyer, Fénix is also another of those who’ve made a splash in both AAA and Lucha Underground. In the latter he is embroiled in a blood feud with Mil Muertes, the man of a thousand deaths.
The daughter of lucha libre legend el Apache, Faby (and her sister Mary) have been at the top of the luchadora tree for the last decade. AAA (and Lucha Underground) is not afraid to throw its women in with the men, and she can hang with the best of them.
The masked Sexy Star is one of AAA’s bad girls, but fights on the side of right in Lucha Underground, where she stands up for the downtrodden, and has made it personal with Pentagón Jr.
One of the mini wrestlers – which range from short guys to actual little people – Octagoncito is beloved to Mexican fans. Created to ape the regular Octagon, he has outlived his “senior” counterpart and is always challenging for the AAA Minis title.