Behind the Mask in Mexico City
It’s Sunday evening and the stadium seats at the Arena Coliseo in Mexico City are filling up fast. The lights in the stadium dim signaling the start to the evening’s events and the announcer climbs into the ring. Music blares from speakers overhead, girls in bikinis line up alongside the ring and masked men in colorful spandex emerge through a cloud of smoke. One by one the luchadores (wrestlers) tumble into the ring and climb up on the ropes. They’re greeted with shouts and cheers from the crowd.
It’s a scene that repeats itself each week, to the delight of hundreds of fans; but even if you’re not a big fan of wrestling, it’s still easy to get caught up in the excitement and spectacle of it all. Lucha Libre (Mexican wrestling) matches are a favorite attraction for visitors to Mexico City and routinely attract a large and diverse crowd made up of people of all ages, nationalities and economic backgrounds.
Lucha Libre, literally “free fight,” is the term used to describe professional Mexican wrestling. Lucha Libre emerged in Mexico in the 1930’s and grew in popularity over the next couple of decades, fueled in large part by the advent of the television and the emergence of luchadores as pop culture icons. In fact, lucha libre is so popular in Mexico that many masked luchadores stay in character outside of the ring as well; posing for photos, giving interviews or appearing in public wearing their masks.
The masks, or máscaras, help to define the character and personality of the luchador and getting unmasked by an opponent during a match is the ultimate insult. One of the most popular luchadores to ever fight in Mexico, the silver-masked El Santo (The Saint), first took to the ring in 1942 in Mexico City, and his career spanned nearly five decades. He continued to wear his mask after retirement and his character has since acquired folk hero status, having gone on to appear in comic books and movies. You’ll often see fans wearing the mask of El Santo at sporting events, parades and even protests.
Lucha libre matches are staged between tag teams, or groups made up of two, three or four members who take turns in the ring. It’s almost always the good guys, or técnicos, versus the bad guys, or rudos, and the técnicos almost always win. A typical match lasts just over two hours, during which time there will be four or five individual fights each consisting of several rounds. Not unlike professional wrestling in the U.S., there’s lots of comedy, drama, suspense and high-flying aerial maneuvers.
The excitement of attending a lucha libre match begins before you even enter the stadium. The luchadores often head out into the street to pose for photos with fans and there’s an open-air market that sets up outside the entrance to the stadium where you’ll find stall after stall of masks, t-shirts and other lucha libre paraphernalia. Plan to get there early and leave yourself plenty of time to browse the market; the tequila bottle toppers in the shape of luchador masks make great souvenirs!
If you go: There are two lucha libre venues in Mexico City, Arena México and Arena Coliseo. The 17,000 seat Arena México (Dr. Lavista 197, Doctores), hosts weekly matches every Friday night at 8:30pm. The smaller, but more centrally located Arena Coliseo (República de Perú 77, Centro Historico), hosts weekly matches every Sunday at 5pm and Tuesday at 7:30pm. At both stadiums, tickets can be purchased directly from the box office before the start of the match and range in price from 45 pesos (about $3.60) for balcony seats to several hundred pesos for ring side seating. Expect to pay around 90-100 pesos (about $7.20-$8) for good seats; close enough that you’ll be able to see all the action, but far enough away that you won’t have have to worry about a luchador landing in your lap.
Considerations: Cameras are not permitted at either of the venues. If you bring one you’ll be asked to leave it with security and pick it up at the end of the match. Don’t forget! If you’re not comfortable being separated from your camera then the best option is to leave it behind. Cell phones, even those with cameras, are allowed inside and are your best bet for taking photographs during the match.
For schedules and information about upcoming events visit CMLL.com.