Yes, everyone loves The Rock, and you’ve no doubt been cultivating an ironic appreciation of John Cena since his film-stealing turn in Trainwreck, but otherwise being a fully-grown wrestling fan can be… thankless. To be fair, we’re no longer in the era when bra-and-panties matches were a thing, or when a plotline was resolved by a pensioner giving birth to a hand, or when the real-life chairman of the company was making his employees kiss his naked buttocks on TV, but still. It’s only a few years since crowds were cheering women getting smashed through tables by the good guys, and they’ve still got a guy under contract who eats real worms. Say what you like about pro wrestling being a physical form of live theatre, that’s a tough sell when your Tinder date starts talking about how she just went to an acoustic punk songwriting workshop at the Roundhouse. But if you still want to watch men in spandex leaping off turnbuckles and open-palm-chopping each other across the chest, there’s an alternative: Lucha Libre (direct translation: free fighting). Here’s why it’s your new favourite thing.
Every WWE match follows essentially the same format: a bit of punching, a brief exchange of moves that all the real fans recognise (sometimes known as the Five Moves Of Doom), then an exchange of finishers – the number required dependent on the importance of the match: one each for a Raw fight, up to six a side at Wrestlemania. Lucha Libre wrestlers have no time for that sort of business. “Tecnicos” – the Lucha equivalent of good guys, or US-style wrestling “babyfaces” – use a ludicrous selection of technical moves, while “Rudos” (the bad guys/heels) go completely underhand with low blows and referee-distraction.
It’s Like Real-Life Comics
The nuances and backstory behind each WWE wrestler can take months to comprehend. John Cena, for instance, is a one-time rapper who really likes saluting; current champ Roman Reigns is a bad guy turned good guy who gets booed by the fans because they want him to be a bad guy; and the Undertaker is… almost certainly not an undertaker – maybe some sort of zombie? Anyway, in Lucha, it’s much more simplified: almost everyone wears a crazy mask signifying an animal, god or ancient hero, you pick someone to whoop for, and everyone happily goes nuts.
You Can Cheer in Spanish
Be honest: ever since you saw off Narcos over a bank holiday weekend, you’ve had a hankering to start throwing out the odd “malparido”, but ordering your chicken tinga “con queso” at Wahaca isn’t scratching the itch. No hay problema – when you’re watching the Luchadores, your Escobar-tinged attempts at a proper Latin American accent are actually encouraged, and the chants are easy enough to follow. Start with “Lu-cha! Lu-cha!” (“Fight! Fight!”) and toss in a “Cero miedo!” (“No fear!”) when your blood gets up.
Yes, this year’s Undertaker/Shane McMahon match included one of the most insane bumps you will ever see (Shane-O-Mac’s flying elbow off a 20-foot cage) but what you’re not seeing in that clip is the endless wheezing and rolling around it took to get to that point. Wrestling matches between the WWE’s biggest stars are occasionally a bit like a U2 concert – for every air-punching moment of sheer joy, there’s a solid 20 minutes of posturing. In contrast, most Lucha matches include half a dozen or more athletic, energetic wrestlers, all competing to outdo each other. Sometimes, even the referee gets bored and slams someone if the flying lariats aren’t happening fast enough. Earl Hebner never used to do that.
Consider this: you could do a Stone Cold Stunner. Your dad could do a Stone Cold Stunner. By contrast, even the most low-tier Lucha match tends to open with an expertly choreographed exchange of wristlocks, reversals and tumbling before escalating into an all-out display of suplex variations that look like they might legitimately kill a man if done wrong. Spinning reverse neckbreaker? Yes please.
…and Insanely Acrobatic
The hallmark of Lucha is its high-flying moves, and barely a match goes by without a couple of springboard moonsaults off the ropes, turnbuckles or (occasionally) ringside fencing. And it’s not always intricately planned. “I personally have only taken one class of gymnastics,” says Luchador and former WWE wrestler Magno. “All the acrobatics come out naturally when the crowd is present! So you can and will see the unexpected.” Including, perhaps, a large gentleman in a clown mask sailing into the crowd.
And it’s Grown-Up
Let’s be honest, this is the main one. The WWE is essentially a show designed to be accessible to children, even though it once included a plotline about a man accidentally eating his own dog. Lucha Libre is a thoroughly grown-up affair, and Lucha Britannia – the UK’s version, which has monthly shows in Bethnal Green, east London is about as child-friendly as dubstep night at Fabric. Also, you can drink tequila. Ay!
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From 2008 to 2018, Joel worked for Men's Fitness, which predated, and then shared a website with, Coach. Though he spent years running the hills of Bath, he’s since ditched his trainers for a succession of Converse high-tops, since they’re better suited to his love of pulling vans, lifting cars, and hefting logs in a succession of strongman competitions.