Though its popularity has waned in recent years, lucha libre, or wrestling, remains one of Mexico’s most avidly followed spectator sports. Over a dozen venues in the capital alone host fights several nights a week for a fanatical public. Widely available magazines, comics, photonovels and films recount the real and imagined lives of the rings’ heroes and villains, though the nightly telecasts are now a thing of the past.

Mexican wrestling is generally faster, with more complex moves, and more combatants in the ring at any one time than you would normally see in an American or British bout. This can make the action hard to follow for the uninitiated. More important, however, is the maintenance of stage personas, most of whom, heroes or villains, wear masks. The rudos tend to use brute force or indulge in sneaky, underhanded tactics to foil the opposition, while the técnicos use wit and guile to compensate for lack of brawn. This faux battle, not at all unlike WWE on-screen antics, requires a massive suspension of disbelief – crucial if you want to join in the fun.

One of the most bizarre features of wrestling was the emergence of wrestlers as political figures – typically still in costume. The most famous of these, Superbarrio, arose from the struggle of Mexico City’s tenant associations for fair rents and decent housing after the 1985 earthquake to become part of mainstream political opposition, even challenging government officials to step into the ring with him, and acting as a sort of unofficial cheerleader at opposition rallies.

The most famous wrestler of all time, however, was without doubt El Santo (“the Saint”). Immortalized in more than twenty movies, with titles such as El Santo vs the Vampire Women, he would fight, eat, drink and play the romantic lead without ever removing his mask, and until after his retirement, he never revealed his identity. His reputation as a gentleman in and out of the ring was legendary, and his death in 1984 widely mourned. His funeral was allegedly the second best-attended in Mexican history after that of President Obregón.

In Mexico City, fights can usually be seen on Tuesdays at the Arena Coliseo, Peru 77 (Metro Allende) and on Fridays at the Arena México, Dr Lucio 197 at Dr Lavista, Colonia Doctores (two blocks south and one east of Metro Balderas, but not a good area to be in at night). Tickets are sold on the door.

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