Lucha Libre (Wrestling)
Lucha libre (Spanish for "free wrestling" or "free fighting") is a term used in Mexico, and other Spanish-speaking countries referring to a form of professional wrestling involving varied techniques and moves.
Mexican wrestling is characterized by rapid sequences of holds and moves, as well as "high-flying moves", some of which have been adopted in the United States, and colorful masks. Lucha libre has also transcended the language barrier to some extent as evidenced by works such as ¡Mucha Lucha! and Nacho Libre. Lucha libre performers are known as luchadores (singular luchador) ("fighter(s)").
In the early 1900s, professional wrestling was mostly a regional phenomenon in Mexico until Salvador Lutteroth founded the Empresa Mexicana de Lucha Libre (Mexican Wrestling Enterprise) in 1933, giving the sport a national foothold for the first time. The promotion company flourished and quickly became the premier spot for wrestlers. As television surfaced as a viable entertainment medium during the 1950s, Lutteroth was then able to broadcast his wrestling across the nation, subsequently yielding a popularity explosion for the sport. Moreover, it was the emergence of television that allowed Lutteroth to promote lucha libre’s first breakout superstar into a national pop-culture phenomenon.
In 1942, lucha libre would be forever changed when a silver-masked wrestler, known simply as El Santo (The Saint), first stepped into the ring. He made his debut in Mexico City by winning an 8-man battle royal. The public became enamored by the mystique and secrecy of Santo's personality and he quickly became the most popular luchador in Mexico. His wrestling career spanned nearly five decades, during which he became a folk hero and a symbol of justice for the common man through his appearances in comic books and movies, while the sport of Lucha Libre received an unparalleled degree of mainstream attention.
Masks (mascaras) have been used dating back to the beginnings of lucha libre in the early part of the 20th century and have a historical significance to Mexico in general dating to the days of the Aztecs. Early masks were very simple with basic colors to distinguish the wrestler. In modern lucha libre, masks are colorfully designed to evoke the images of animals, gods, ancient heroes, and other archetypes, whose identity the luchador takes on during a performance. Virtually all wrestlers in Mexico will start their careers wearing masks, but over the span of their careers a large number of them will be unmasked. Sometimes, a wrestler slated for retirement will be unmasked in his final bout or at the beginning of a final tour, signifying loss of identity as that character. Sometimes, losing the mask signifies the end of a gimmick with the wrestler moving on to a new gimmick and mask. The mask is considered "sacred" to a degree, so much so that fully removing an opponent's mask during a match is grounds for disqualification.
During their careers, masked luchadores will often be seen in public wearing their masks and keeping up the kayfabe of Lucha Libre while other masked wrestlers will interact with the public and press normally. However, they will still go to great lengths to conceal their true identities; in effect, the mask is synonymous with the luchador. El Santo continued wearing his mask after retirement, revealed his face briefly only in old age, and was buried wearing his silver mask.
More recently, the masks that luchadores wear have become iconic symbols of Mexican culture. Contemporary artists like Francisco Delgado and Xavier Garza incorporate wrestler masks in their paintings.