They fly through the air! They shoot fire! They flip! They roll! They are Luchadores! Whether you’re into wrestling or not, Lucha Libre is an unmissable experience and one of my top things to do when visiting Mexico City. You may think about the highly popular WWE (World Wrestling Entertainment) and wrestlers like Cena, Undertaker, and AJ Styles but there is so much more to it than that. Lucha Libre is another staple of professional wrestling and in recent years has been designated an intangible cultural heritage in Mexico City. But to call this spectacle just “wrestling” would be doing a disservice to the wrestlers, known as Luchadores.
A Brief History of Lucha Libre
Wrestling history has its inception starting in 1863, thanks to “Mexican Strongman” Enrique Ugartechea who is credited with developing this freestyle wrestling, the prevalence across Mexico has only grown. What started as a regional sport had morphed into a nationwide phenomenon by the 1930s driven in large part by the Padre de la Lucha Libre Mexicana [Father of Mexican Wrestling], Salvador Lutterroth Gonzalez. In 1933 Gonzalez formed the Empresa Mexicana de Lucha Libre [Mexican Wrestling Company], today known as Consejo Mundial de Lucha Libre [World Wrestling Council] and its popularity exploded.
It was his vision that drove theatrics to the sport making it more widely received by not just men, but women and children. The introduction of masked Luchadores added a real-life superhero flavor to the events and created a sense of mystery. Who were these men?
Today, Mexican wrestling is second only to soccer in terms of popularity in Mexico and it’s easy to see why. With colorful masks, acrobatic moves, fire and lights, and so much drama, the enjoyment is contagious. Arena Mexico near the Roma neighborhood of Mexico City is the unofficial headquarters of modern Lucha Libre and is home to the CMLL. Matches run three times a week at Arena México and every year on September 21st a special tournament is held to mark the anniversary of the birth of the CMLL and on September 21st, 2021 I had the pleasure of attending the 88th anniversary event.
How to get tickets to Lucha Libre
Tickets to the Lucha Libre are available online or at the box office, but I recommend going to the box office. The online tickets are subject to several fees and it’s helpful to have the box office advise on where best to sit for the event. If you’re not sure about navigating this on your own, 800 pesos [$ 38 USD/$49 CAD] will get you a spot on a great organized tour.
I was fortunate to be accompanied by a local friend who also happens to be a tour guide in Mexico City. He was able to give me a brief rundown of how the event would go and help me navigate the hoards of spectators and vendors around the area. Treat yourself and get some ringside seats if possible. It’s always fun to watch this up close and personal.
What to expect
As you approach the Arena México you will feel how the atmosphere is electric and there was palpable excitement in the air. Food and merchandise vendors and ticket resellers engulfed the doors as you push your way through and make your way to your seats. When you enter the arena, you may be shocked at the size of it.
Known colloquially as the Cathedral of Lucha Libre, the Arena México is the largest arena ever built specifically for wrestling events. It holds up to 16,500 spectators on any given night and matches are televised from here across the country. The seats wrap around the ring in the center and a large stage and catwalk connect the change rooms to the ring.
When the wrestling show begins it will be an assault on all of your senses. Colorful spotlights spin around the arena, fire shots out of cannons on the stage, music pumps as the announcer’s voice booms and you and the crowd will go wild. The Luchadores often wear masks and are usually divided into two groups, the rudos and the técnicos, or the bad guys and the good guys, and the crowd is very vocal about who they are rooting for. It’s all part of the storylines incorporated into each wrestling match.
Two giant screens on either side of the stage flash with the faces of who is coming, first the good guys, then the bad guys. The crowd cheers as the blue and white trimmed técnicos descend the catwalk and make their way to the ring, pumping up the audience as they go. Once in the wrestling ring they climb to the top ropes and encourage the crowd to cheer louder to help intimidate their forthcoming enemies.
Suddenly, the lights flash to red and two angry, painted faces appear on the screens. A roar comes from a leather-clad man on a Harley as he shoots fire into the air from a handheld cannon and then they appear. This team of rudos are dressed head to toe in black leather, large tribal headdresses make them seem 8 feet tall and warpaint tears across their faces. It’s a whole gimmick to the wrestling observer. The crowd is on their feet, yelling and booing and chanting as the warriors stand confidently at the top of the stage. Full of vim and vigor, they make their way to the ring, taunting the audience as they go.
Now face to face in the ring the real show begins. The object is to pin your opponent for three seconds but how they get there is an exhibition. Wrestling moves consist of high-flying leaps from the top ropes, flipping and twisting maneuvers, and dramatic sideshows outside the ring using gates and chairs as weapons. The match is well-choreographed to maximize excitement and executed with professional force. Of course, the decisions on who wins are predetermined backstage but it’s still enjoyable to watch.
The entire event can be comprised of tag team matches, individual matches, and even a six-woman tag team match. The female Luchadores are just as gymnastic as the men, flying from the top ropes, throwing their opponents out of the ring, and performing athletic feats with precision, strength, and signature dramatics.
What happens after
When the wrestling tournament ended, you can follow the crowd back to the street to shop for some Lucha Libre wares. Everything you can imagine was on offer from masks to t-shirts, stickers to shopping totes. Colors and sparkles were bursting from every stall as you fight your way through the crowds and pick out your Luchadore merchandise.
The shopping experience here is intense, this is one area of Mexico where you are sure to be “gringo-priced” if you are not Mexican. Some stalls have prices listed but others don’t, be prepared to haggle, don’t take the first or even second price, and be prepared to walk away. Around the corner, there’s also an open shopfront where you can meet some of the Luchadores on the roster and pay a small fee to take photos with them.
The experience of Lucha Libre is one of my top picks for anyone visiting Mexico. A truly Mexican, cultural experience, Lucha Libre is an exciting night of entertainment with a rich history. Overwhelming at first, you’ll quickly find yourself cheering and booing along with the crowd and resisting the urge to perform flying air kicks on your way home.