A very Mexican Sunday afternoon

To escape the gringo bubble of San Miguel we went to a wrestling match in Querétaro

My husband and I have lived in Mexico for about 17 years but we can’t claim we know the country or its people all that well. Some Americans clustered in San Miguel may rhapsodize about how much they looove Mexicans and all things Mexican, or rave about some new restaurant’s enchiladas that are “to die for.”

But in truth, most expats live in an almost hermetic bubble. They attend English-speaking churches, eat at a half-dozen hangouts where one can enjoy dinner without hearing a word of Spanish, or buy a house comfortably near other expats. A determined few might try to learn Spanish, though I suspect that for most, their fluency never gets past a few key phrases to tell the housekeeper to clean the kitchen or do the laundry.

Coming atcha!

So when our friend Joe invited us to a lucha libre, or Mexican professional wrestling, event in Querétaro, where he lives, the prospect piqued my curiosity—and it lived up to my expectations. It was an afternoon in another world, in turn hilarious, fascinating and thoroughly entertaining. For $250 pesos each we got ringside seats, from which to get an up close view of the faux-macho maneuvers and acrobatics of the wrestlers, while listening to a cacophonous chorus of whooping and hollering—and much laughter—by the crowd, seasoned with shouted Mexican vernacular obscenities, some of which I hadn’t heard before. Ringside seats also bought you a chance that a beefy wrestler flying off the ring might land on or near you, which in fact, one of them did.

Not a Sunday matinee at the opera, but a hell of a lot of fun.

Up, up and away.

Mexico’s lucha libre dates back to the 1930s and bears some resemblance to professional wrestling in the U.S., but you wouldn’t mistake the two. Lucha libre wrestlers all wear masks (though a few at the Querétaro matches didn’t) and use the equivalent of stage names. The biggest legend was El Santo, whose full wrestling name was “El Santo, el Enmascarado de Plata” (The Saint with a Silver Mask) but his closely guarded real name was Rodolfo Guzmán Huerta. From wrestling, Santo branched out to comic books and some cheesy movies. He died in 1984 and was buried with his mask on.

Lucha libre plays out according to rules of combat and certain moves, such as the “plancha” in which one wrestler lands flat on his back and his opponent lands on top of him. The matches we saw in Querétaro, though, didn’t seem that neatly choreographed. At one point, two contenders slapped each other on the face, and then one slapped the referee. Later, one grabbed a leather belt and tied his opponent to one corner of the ring. I confess ignorance, but doubt such moves are part of the official lucha libre playbook.

On the ropes.

The Querétaro Arena, a run down venue with capacity for just a few hundred people, hadn’t come near a can of paint, or other improvements, in decades. The neighborhood, near the city’s historic center, seemed similarly down-and-out. We left our cars at our friend’s place and took an Uber to the arena. As we approached the driver mentioned the graffiti-marred colonia was bastante fea, or “pretty ugly.” It certainly was light-years away from the fancy shopping centers and hilltop residential areas of this otherwise hyper-prosperous city.

The spectacle was mostly risible and good-natured. One contender showed up wearing an ankle-length cape with yellow fringes and a fur-like collar that vaguely evoked Liberace, along with a Batman mask. Another wore a mask with horns that may have been intended to be threatening but really looked ridiculous.

Young wrestler wannabe.

I had imagined buffed contenders with glistening, sculpted physiques, but I abandoned that notion shortly after we arrived. With few exceptions, the contenders weighed in at somewhere between chunky and paunchy. One was a guy in his late fifties, with a vanishing hairline and gold teeth, who was taunted by some in the audience who shouted “abuelo” or “grandpa.”

Beefcake or not, however, the wrestlers surprised with some pretty daring leaps and acrobatics. The mat in the ring seemed to be a trampoline-like surface that produced ominous whams! and bangs! when someone landed on it but actually protected the wrestlers from serious injury. Whatever mishaps occur are likely accidental rather than purposeful aggression, and just in case, there was young paramedic on call, and two ambulances outside.

In fact, the matches that we watched for a couple of hours seemed like equal parts macho posturing, comedy and lowbrow theatrics. The audience was mostly families with kids who seemed to be in on the joke, and didn’t mind the occasional raunchiness. Some kids came wearing masks and capes and had their pictures taken with the wrestlers, while adults showed their appreciation at the end of the matches by throwing coins and paper money on the ring, which the wrestlers and the referee eagerly collected.

13 thoughts on “A very Mexican Sunday afternoon

  1. Pingback: Welcome, old timers and newcomers – Rancho Santa Clara

  2. Pingback: Check Out The New Rancho | El Gringo Suelto

  3. This is a hoot! My head electrician, Antonio, is a big fan of lucha libre and one of these days I hope to go with him. Like you, I have never seen it in person before.

    Nice start for your new blog. Congratulations!


    Kim G
    Ajijic, Jalisco
    Where there seems to be some kind of lucha between the gangs and the police.


  4. Karen Quinn

    Love your new website and design! Bravo!
    Several years ago we saw a short lucha libra match in the building next to/connected to the old Gigante mall near Luciernaga. It WAS a hoot!


    1. There is a lucha libre circuit in San Miguel I should check. I think it’s for young kids. Maybe I’ll check it out though I don’t know how much of that I can take lol. Thanks for your comment. Al


  5. fredyorkstephenscom

    Al !!!!!!!! Loved the blog. This is the first time I’ve know any Gringo whose ever been to a Iucha libre…much less actually admitted it in public! Sounds like fun…sorta. Love the new blog site. Cheers!


  6. babsofsanmiguel

    Welcome to the world of Mexico! IF interested, you might check out the Mexican rodeos in the countryside as well. John and the kids love to go……..I am reading this from your posting on SMA Frequently Asked Questions or whatever the name of it is…..I will subscribe to this later.


  7. You’ve never been to Lucha Libre?? My goodness. That’s almost as nuts as living in Mexico and never trying tacos. And you’ll learn the Spanish you really need in day to day life…😉

    We used to go regularly in CDMX. Even my mum loved it. Nuff said.


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