Mexican Wrestling – Exciting & Influential

By Mike Lano – All Photos Courtesy of Mike Lano
WReaLano@aol.com

Wrestling has been blessed with a storied and brilliant history of great Hispanic wrestlers in America starting with Pepper Gomez who nearly became NWA World Champion, and a favorite foe of Lou Thesz.  In fact, the oldest, continuously-run wrestling promotion is that of Mexico City-based CMLL/EMLL.  Salvador Lutteroth founded it, reportedly in 1933.  Itâ??s still run by family member Paco Alonso who sells out Arena Coliseo (their Madison Square Garden),  and their many weekly TV and house shows that are engrained in Hispanic culture.

Some of the earliest stars of Mexicoâ??s lucha libre (which translates to freestyle fight pro-wrestling) were in-the-flesh superheroes there since taking the place of Superman and Captain America.  But instead of being mere cartoon characters,   they were actual people,  most often wearing mysterious masks born in part out of the Dia De Los Muertos passion.  They were a smash and soon names like Santo,  Blue Demon and more became TV serial and movie stars,  a tradition that still occurs with their famous wrestling sons.

Our own Mil Mascaras took the mystery and color of the mask to the nth level.  Starting his career in 1962,  he became such a popular icon and movie star that he was brought into the United States in 1967 by Los Angeles wrestling promoter Mike LeBell.  Initially paired with Pepper Gomez,   he was a smash never wearing the same mask twice.   His outfits and costumes were compared to Gorgeous George in terms of innovation and detail and soon he began main-eventing for Paul Boesch in Houston.   In the early 70â??s,  Giant Shohei Baba  brought him in for a historic masked legends match with Dick â??Destroyerâ?Â  Beyer and their 1973 contest is still called one of the greatest matches ever.   Mil and his wrestling brothers Dos Caras and El Sicodelico wrestled extensively worldwide,    and when Chicago White Sox owner Eddie Einhorn started his own rival league in 1975,  he naturally went with Mascaras as his world champion.  In fact,   Mil still holds that same IWA title,  which has to be a record in the business;   exceeding even Moolahâ??s legendary title reign.

The huge influence of Mexican wrestling or lucha libre is still felt worldwide and is observed in the many dives and flying moves today beyond what Antonino Rocca brought to us from Argentina.   Baba and in particular,  Antonio Inoki (NJPW promotion)  would send their developing talent (Dragon Fujinami, Tiger Mask Sayama, Ricki Choshu, etc) first to Mexico to pick up the high-flying style,  then to the U.S., Canada and Europe.   When they returned to  Japan as conquerors of these many styles blended into an even more exciting hybrid;   they were bonafide stars,   soon becoming world champs in various weight classes.

Wrestling in Mexico,  Argentina,  Brazil,  Bolivia,  and more have closely followed boxing with titles in various weight classes.   In fact,  CMLL still has many NWA named,  weight-based championships  from their decades-long association  with wrestlingâ??s oldest organization.   Beloved CAC President, the late Lou Thesz,  was always talkative about his various tours of Mexico and South America to cement that relationship.   â??I had many good matches with Canek in South America. Billy Robinson and I were happy to help there,  and I had one of my more memorable recent matches for Einhorn with Mil Mascaras at the Beacon Theatre in New York City in 1976.  Heâ??s still something special.   And the Mexican style really made an impact in Japan from the seventies on especially after Mil debuted there.  It made their hard-hitting style of wrestling far more exciting than it ever had before.  Any of the boys they sent to Mexico brought this style back and soon,  most of them were adopting it and it filtered everywhere.  It took the United States a few years,  but we eventually did too.  Thatâ??s the newer style you see today,  a lot of Mexican influence.â?

Wrestling families have been a cornerstone of CAC and wrestling overall,   and itâ??s one of the biggest traditions in all of Hispanic wrestling.  El Hijo del Santo (Son of Santo) presided over  his legendary fatherâ??s funeral,  where he was buried in his mask, boots and full wrestling outfit.  â??Itâ??s my honor  and duty to carry on what my father started doing in wrestling, â?? Santo Jr. told me in 1991.  â??Any son or daughter would be proud to try to do their best, if they have the ability,   to carry on the family name in wrestling.â?Â  Ray  Mendoza,  a legend not just in Mexico,  but California and Texas began an entire troupe of Villano sons one through five.  â??There are more wrestling families here in Mexico,  than I think anywhere on Earth, â??  said Cynthia Moreno.  â??My sister and I carry on,  Pepi Casas has sons Negro Casas,  Felino and Heavy Metal.  The Dynamite Brothers all  have sons wrestling.  Itâ??s just in our blood!â?

In the late 70â??s and early 80â??s,  Hispanic wrestler presence grew in many territories (LeBell,  Boesch,  Von Erich,  Blanchard)  mirroring the growing population in the U.S.  Mil Mascaras repeatedly main-evented in Madison Square Garden for Vince McMahon Sr after the IWA dissolved. 

WWE superstar Rey Mysterio Jr (nephew of the origina l Rey  Mysterio) is perhaps the most famous of todayâ??s Hispanic families along with Chavo Guerrero Jr.  â??The Guerrero family has done more for the wrestling business,  I think than any other family.  And thatâ??s saying a lot, â?? Rey said.  Chavo Seniorâ??s father Gory,  an early star throughout all the top cities of Mexico in the 50â??s and 60â??s,  also had his own successful promotion in El Paso, Texas with many stars like Gran Marcus traveling back and forth from EMLL. 

When Chavo Sr. was ready to make his mark,  he followed Mascarasâ?? path to Los Angeles in the summer of 1975.  In his debut there,   he won the Americaâ??s Tag Titles with area mainstay,  Raul Mata,  a spectacular   Mexican veteran credited with introducing the Hurricanrana and Topes (death-defying dives) in this country.   Soon Gory joined his son there in the ring, and helped with booking behind-the-scenes.    Slowly,  they introduced Goryâ??s other sons Mando and Hector who rocketed to international stardom and repeated world tours from their new base.  And a record breaking,  near 3 year run with various Guerrero family members battling Roddy Piper spilling over into Mexican rings.  Just as Gordman and Goliath had done years before them;  the Guerreros and lucha-style forced wrestlers to start working on the â??other side of the bodyâ? akin to driving on â??the other sideâ? in Europe.   In 1972, Fred Blassie said â??the Mexican wrestlers really  make you  change the style youâ??ve been accustomed to,  180 degrees.  You really have to keep up!â?
The Guerreros worked for WWF, the AWA, Bill Watts,  Roy Shire, Eddie Graham and most top territories.   But they always maintained their  beloved presence in El Paso which continues to this day.   Their incredible impact  and that of all Hispanic wrestlers and their totally unique style of wrestling is still felt daily,   having forever changed pro wrestling.