In an industry dominated by machismo, climbing to the top of lucha libre is a challenge for the “manliest” of wrestlers.
No one knows this better than Cassandro, one of the most famous exótico luchadores to come out of Mexico. Saúl Armendáriz — a.k.a. Cassandro — began wrestling over 27 years ago as Mr. Romano, a rudo (bad guy). But even with a mask and a rude attitude, audiences were quick to catch on to Armendáriz’s sexuality. So instead of acting like something he wasn’t, Armendáriz dropped the bad guy routine and began flaunting his natural flamboyance, saying, “If I’m going to make the transition (to exótico), I’m going to make it the whole nine yards.” Since that time, Cassandro has earned a reputation for being one of the greatest showmen in lucha libre, while also winning matches and fans along the way. The New Yorker recently featured Cassandro with a short documentary, which is available here for free.
Wresting or lucha libre is a cornerstone of Mexican popular culture. The ring is a symbolic battlefield where issues such as morals (good vs evil, rudos contra tecnicos!), gender identity, sexuality and class are solved through punches, kicks, voladoras and plenty of melodrama. Legends such as El Santo, Blue Demon and Tinieblas have become important icons in Mexico and overseas, and lucha libre remains a multi-million dollar business. Luchadores come out of every corner of Mexico and often travel as far as Japan to showcase their athletic prowess and histrionic skills.
So when a beloved luchador passes away thousands, if not millions, of fans mourn him or her, remembering all the high drama that they gifted us. So when news broke that popular wrestler La Parka passed away, many were left brokenhearted.
La Parka, aged only 54, died as a result of injuries sustained in the ring.
His real name was Jesús Alfonso Huerta Escoboza and he was a force of nature full of charisma. He adopted a ring persona that resonates with millions of Mexicans: he personified Death itself, with whom Mexicans have a peculiar relationship that verges on the religious. La Parka reminded us of the religious figure of La Santa Muerte, patron saint of many in the most vulnerable sectors of the population.
La Parka sustained injuries in the ring back in October 2019 and these injuries ultimately led to his untimely death. The fall was horrific, as TMZ reminds us: “La Parka — aka Jesus Alfonso Escoboza Huerta — did a leaping dive through the ropes at an opponent in Monterey, Mexico … but tragically hit his head on a guard rail before falling to the ground.”
La Parka was born in the northern city of Hermosillo in the state of Sonora. He had a long and successful career, as CNN reports: “He won titles including the Triplemanía Cup and Antonio Peña Cup. He was also the top winner of King of Kings, an annual tournament produced by Lucha Libre AAA Worldwide.” Rest in peace, legend!
There needs to be a serious discussion about combat sports and potentially deadly injuries.
His kidneys failed. He was put on assisted breathing when he started presenting issues, and he died the next day when his lungs and kidneys failed. The wrestling association for which he worked, Lucha Libre, AAA said on Twitter. “We are very sad to report that our friend and idol of Mexican wrestling Jesús Alfonso Escoboza Huerta ‘LA PARKA’ has passed away. We extend our support and condolences to his whole family and raise our prayers so that they may soon heal from this.”
There are some who think that wrestling is not dangerous, but fighters often end up disabled in their old age or, as in the case of La Parka, die as a result of injuries sustained in the ring. There has to be some serious debate around the risks involved in professional wrestling and in other contact sports such as boxing. It is a long, difficult conversation that needs to be had sooner rather than later.
Wrestler Latin Lover, who retired while still in good health, released a social media message lamenting his friend’s passing and saying that he left wrestling to avoid a similar fate: “They don’t know how it hits me that this happened, so I retired, so I wouldn’t end up dead. I quit that job because the only way I could be home was to be hurt.” Professional luchadores often fight well into their 50s even though reflexes deteriorate, which can lead to fatal injuries. Lucha libre is like a well-coordinated dance with the only difference that a misstep can leave you disabled for life or even dead.
People are sharing their memories of him.
Thousands of fans enjoyed his work inside the ring for more than three decades, so whole generations saw his evil antics and funny moves unfold. He was one of those luchadores that people love to hate.
And even pictures of his actual face, which was hidden under the now iconic mask.
Wow, he looked totally badass even without his mask on. He was a sort of rock and roll cowboy biker dude kinda guy! This photo was released by his family by mistake, but now fans are using it to honor the man who dared to become Death.
Mexican wrestling is much more than mere popular entertainment. The theatrical mix between professional sport and kitsch spectacle is where popular fears and desires meet, where good and evil fight, and where the audience can let go of worries and just scream their lungs out. Even though the main fights take place in the legendary Arena Mexico in Mexico City, wrestling matches are staged all throughout the country. The mythology or rudos against tecnicos, or the buenos contra los malos, has permeated Mexican imagination for decades. Of course, legends like El Santo and Blue Demon also filmed now classic B-movie projects that pit them against monsters and all sorts of inmundicias.
We have chosen some of the most popular luchadoresof all time, both classic and recent, so you are up on your lucha libre game when you next chat with your abuelito and primos. Lucharaaaaaan de dos a tres caidas, sin limite de tieeeeempo!
1. Psycho Clown
If you were terrified by the movie IT then this wrestler is your worst nightmare. Born on December 16, 1985, this enmascarado has taken on three personas: Brazo de Plata Jr., Kronos, and his current Pyscho Clown. He is obviously a rudo and his extravagant outfits are worn alongside Monster Clown and Murder Clown, with whom he forms the team Los Psycho Circus. He is obviously a big fan of KISS.
2. Bestia 666
In a primarily Catholic country, being named after The Antichrist is great publicity when it comes to selling yourself as a rudo. Leonardo Carrera Lizarraga was born on May 14, 1989, in Tijuana, a wrestling crazed town. He built his impressive physique playing American football as a defensive back, but after a few injuries he decided to follow on his father’s footsteps: his dad was Leonardo, better known as Damian 666, a persona of clear Satanic overtones.
3. Mil Mascaras
After El Santo and Blue Demon, Mil Mascaras is perhaps the most venerated Mexican wrestler of all time. Aarón Rodríguez Arellano was born on July 15, 1942, in San Luis Potosi. He comes from a wrestling family. His brothers are Dos Caras and Sicodelico. He starred in over 20 films and became the face of wrestling worldwide, taking on the legacy of the two great ones, El Santo and Blue Demon.
4. Dr. Wagner Jr.
Juan Manuel González Barrón took his name from that Cold War tradition of naming villains with German names. He was born on August 12, 1965. His first moniker was El Invasor, but it wasn’t until he became Dr. Wagner that he really found his footing. In the early 2000s, he fought regularly in Japan, an expanding market for the kitsh paraphernalia of lucha libre.
5. Espectro 1
Antonio Hernández Arriaga was born in 1934 and died in 1993, aged 59. He was a pioneer in introducing elaborate theatrics into the world of lucha libre: he would usually be carried into the ring in a coffin, which added to his personalida de ultratumba. His legacy was carried on by his nephew, Espectro Jr.
6. Blue Demon (no, we hadn’t forgotten about him of course, nomas faltaba!)
One cannot talk about Mexican wrestling without mentioning this true legend. Alejandro Muñoz Moreno was born in Nuevo Garcia, in 1933 and died of a heart attack aged 78, in the year 2000. His blue mask is a national treasure. He was the son of farmers and started his wrestling career in 1948 after his coworkers noticed his huge hands, ideal for the sport. He was a rudo, and often fought alongside The Black Shadow in a team known as Los Hermanos Shadow.
7. An now…. el enmascarado de plata, the unrivaled El Santo!
Lucha librewould not have become a huge national and global entertainment industry if it wasn’t for Rodolfo Guzmán Huerta, the unparalleled Santo, who was born on September 23, 1917, in Tulancingo, a small town in the state of Hidalgo. His legacy in the ring was built over five decades, and his status as a popular icon derives from his acting career in over 50 movies between 1958 and 1982. He became an industry in himself. His kitschy films, by the way, are now being studied as serious examples of Mexican surrealism. He died in 1984, aged 66.
8. Rayo de Jalisco
Another great legend, an old-fashioned wrestler that with his simple black mask captured the imagination of millions. He was born in 1932 and died in 2018, aged 85. Because the wrestling world is pretty much concentrated in Mexico City, this hero from Jalisco really resonated with Guadalajara natives. He also partook in the luchador film genre in titles such as Superzam el Invencible (“Superzam the invincible”; 1971), El Robo de las Momias de Guanajuato (“The Robbery of the Mummies of Guanajuato”; 1972), Vuelven Los Campeones Justicieros (“Becoming the Champions of Justice”; 1972) and El Triunfo de los Campeones Justicieros (“The Triumph of the Champions of Justice”; 1974). They are true masterpieces of campy moviemaking.
9. Blue Panther
Genaro Vázquez Nevarez is a true performer! Instead of acrobatic jumps from the ropes, he developed a style known as “Ras de lona”: he would defeat his opponents through locks, holds, takedowns, and submissions. He overpowered his adversaries with indomitable strength and skill in applying knots to their legs!
10. Charly Manson
This dude obviously took his name from the famed serial killer Charles Manson. His real name is Jesús Luna Pozos and he was born on February 17, 1975. He is obviously a rudoand his style is characterized by Satanic themes and heavy metal music, to which he often walked into the ring. His bad ways also defined his life outside the ring: in 2011 he was sentenced to jail after he got into an altercation with two police officer. He was released in 2015 due to good behavior.
11. Super Muñeco
Formerly knows as El Sanguinario Jr., this wrestler was born in 1963 and his ring persona was clown-like. His real identity has not been revealed yet. He is the son of another professional wrestler, El Sanguinario, on whose legacy he took before finding his calling as Super Muñeco. He often teamed up with El Hijo Del Santo, which increased his popular appeal.
12. Dragon Lee
Mexican lucha librehas expanded globally, in part because of the multinational personas that its wrestlers take. This is the case of Dragon Lee, who obviously references Bruce Lee and Hong Kong action cinema. He comes from Jalisco and is a young legend: at merely 24 years of age he has captured the sport’s imagination. He is one of the good guys. He tales a lot of risks, like jumping out of the high rope and towards the outside of the ring.
13. Demus 3:16
OMG, this dude is like really scary. He was born in Tijuana in 1980 and has established himself as a household name of el bando de los rudos. He has had other ring names such as Mini Eskeleto and Troll, all referencing dark forces. He has won several championships and is married to a female professional wrestler, Hiroka Yaginuma.