Superheroes of the Salvadoran Kind
By: Kristi Hemmer
Photos: Lucas Paolo Krainz
Unbeknownst to most, in the center of San Salvador on Sunday evenings, good is fighting evil. Luchadores tecnicos (good) and rudos (bad) battle it out in a boxing ring while Salvadoran families watch, jeer the contestants and munch on fried shrimp balls. And good doesn’t always win in the Lucha Libre ring.
Lucha Libre (fight free) exploded in Mexico in 1942 with the sliver-masked El Santo (The Saint). Luchadores (lucha libre wrestlers) usually don themed masks that personify their fighting style. El Salvador followed the trend and produced many talented luchadores through the 1960s and 70s, commonly known as “The Golden Age” of Lucha Libre.
After buying my ticket, I needed to choose a side. I veered to the left: the tecnicos (good guys) side. The first fight was between Metallica (a woman dressed in a black cat suit emblazoned with silver lightning bolts) and El Diablo (the devil). The aerial moves were carefully choreographed but as El Diablo sprung off the ropes of the ring and belly-flopped onto the floor, teenage girls screamed from the background.
Lucha Libre is a show as much as a sport and while everything is choreographed, the fighters are actually hitting one another, which often results in broken bones, career-ending injuries and occasionally, death.
After several minutes of ring play, El Diablo left the ring and worked the crowd. With his bravado and mischievous grin, he was a big crowd pleaser. He leaned into the young boys and hit “alto cincos” in the first two rows. And then he spotted me. We made eye contact.
He yelled at the cameraman and pointed at me, “Mi novia.” Four long strides later, he was kissing me on the lips for the camera. The crowd went wild; I was an instant celebrity.
Tecnicos are the good guys who play by the rules and impress their audience with their integrated martial arts moves, whereas the Rudos have a reputation for being hooligans; they break the rules and fight dirty with moves like the faul (an illegal groin hit). The technicos represent fighters with heroic qualities, frequently based on comic books or folklore. The rudos symbolize many of the most corrupt aspects of Latino life such as the dishonest policemen, the drunks and the gangs.
The lights dimmed, and the final round of luchadores entered. Father of Death entered using his middle fingers to make a cross. I assumed he was a rudo. Then, Spiderman entered. The little boys in front row cheered as he squatted low and pretended to shoot webs from his wrists. He looked like a Jake Gyllenhaal who liked black beans, rice, corn tortillas and Pilsener a bit too much. I suspected he was a tecnico.
“Bon Jovi” entered in hot pants holding his groin. He flashed his biceps, surprisingly the size of limes and not mangoes, and puffed up his chest like a rooster. Rudo. Lastly, The Ninja came out and walked through the crowd. He had kind eyes and smiled at his fans while moving around the floor seamlessly and with grace.
El Salvador produced many well-known luchadores that fought internationally during The Golden Age. They include El Apache, El Bucanero, El Olimpico, El Aguila Migueleña (one of the country’s best tecnicos, who was killed while playing Russian Roulette with El Apache) and Kali Valdez (who fought as El Gladiator Cuzcatleco) among many more. While the sport has seen a decline due to the civil war and the introduction of other beloved sports, Lucha Libre still holds a place in the hearts of many Salvadoran fans.
When I returned to my hostel, I looked up Lucha Libre on eBay and found it had everything I needed to become a luchadora: mascaras (masks), an ARENA magazine to show me the latest moves and the videogame Lucha Libre AAA: Heroes of the Ring to practice my moves on Xbox 36.
I had everything I needed to fight. Of course, I would be a tecnico and fight for the good of the world. Just as I do now.
A Night of Lucha Libre
(This is NOT in Santa Anita!)
Do-It-Yourself for the Adventurous:
When: Every Sunday
Amatures - 5pm
Championships - 7pm (ends about 8:30pm)
Directions (Fights are held in 2 locations, same time/price):
Our favorite place to watch the fight is an underground parking garage with fluorescent bulbs dangling from the ceiling. Go here for more of a “Fight Club” feel with a more “realistic” show.
For a family excursion, try Restaurante Copa Cabana located off of Alameda Roosevelet 50 meters above Parque Cuscatlan. This is well-lit with tables to sit at with free, secure parking.
Take the Easy Route With a Tour:
From San Salvador – Luis Bautista (English/Espanol)
From the La Libertad area and San Salvador - Darren Clarke (English/Espanol)
(minimum 4 people from beaches)
Follow us on Facebook for upcoming international lucha libre events: facebook.com/wtf.elsalvador