Wed, Oct 15, 2003 - Page 16 News List

Acrobatic wrestling takes off big time

The eternal fight between good and evil is played out every week in the wrestling ring in Mexico - and it's becoming popular in Japan too

REUTERS , MEXICO CITY

Wrestlers perform during a show at the Mexico City Arena Coliseo. Wrestling, known in Spanish as Lucha Libre (Free Fight), is more acrobatic than its professional wrestling counterpart in the US and has taken off in Japan. Lucha Libre wrestlers are traditionally either good guys, known as craftsmen, or baddies, the rule-breakers, who will pull any dirty trick to win.

PHOTO: REUTERS

To the blaring sound of the Queen anthem We Will Rock You, wrestlers dressed in scary masks and long colorful capes take to the stage in front of thousands of screaming Mexican fans.

With names like Black Abyss, Starman and Great Warrior, the wrestlers are heirs of the decades-old wrestling tradition of Free Fight, a raucous mixture of sport, circus and pure show.

Free Fight, known in Spanish as Lucha Libre, is more acrobatic than its professional wrestling counterpart in the US and Europe and has taken off in Japan.

The rules are mostly the same as in US professional wrestling but Mexican fighters use less force than US wrestlers and specialize in spectacular leaps.

Fight fans are passionate.

Every Sunday, Dolores Garcia, a women in her 70s, sits at the front row of the Arena Coliseo auditorium in Mexico City, where 4,000 people attend Free Fights once a week.

"Kill him, kill him," she shouted at her favorite, a long-haired wrestler known as Canadian Vampire, who wears Lycra pants with fuchsia and silver stripes.

`Free fight'

Garcia regularly attends fights with her children and grandchildren. Tickets cost between US$5 and US$10.

"I have been coming since 1950 but not for the kids, for me. I want to get up there and hit the Rulebreakers but I can't," she said.

In Free Fight, wrestlers are traditionally either good guys, known as Craftsmen, or baddies, the Rulebreakers, who will pull any dirty trick to win.

Black Abyss, dressed in a red body suit and mask, is an unashamed Rulebreaker who will stoop to assaulting an opponent with an aerosol spray if need be.

"Black Abyss is not of this world. He comes from another galaxy and is an evil being who is exiled because of his badness," the wrestler said. "But a meteorite diverts him to Earth where he is mutated into a professional wrestler.

"But out of the ring we are normal human beings," he said. Free Fight wrestlers rarely reveal their real names so as not to spoil the mystery surrounding their character.

One wrestler who could not hide his identity was Rodolfo Guzman, who as the silver-masked Santo was the most famous figure in Free Fight's 70-year history.

Santo, or Saint, starred in some 50 often-surreal thriller and science fiction films in the 1960s and 1970s as an incorruptible hero who fought zombies, criminals and other evildoers. He died in 1984 but one of his 10 sons fights on as Son of Santo.

Salvador Lutteroth, a fighter in the Mexican Revolution, is credited with organizing and promoting the first Free Fights in the early 1930s.

For wrestling television commentator Alfonso Morales, the success of Free Fight in Mexico is related to its role as a pressure valve in a country beset by poverty.

"This is a spectacle that will never end as long as the necessity exists in this country," he said.

"There are few countries where you find these sudden bursts of action, this hysteria. The Mexican wrestler has show, the magic of the masks and, unlike in the US, the wrestlers are not so muscly. Their strong point is aerial jumps," he said.

Getting up close

Soccer continues to be the most popular sport in Mexico but wrestlers say Free Fight allows them to get close to the public.

"It lets you get in touch with kids and the youth and you get into a character. In soccer you have almost no contact with the public," said wrestler Octagon, a former professional soccer player with first-division club America.

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