Who is Saúl Armendáriz, The Openly Gay Luchador That Inspired the New Movie ‘Cassandro’?
By now, you might have heard of upcoming movie “Cassandro,” starring Gael García Bernal as the openly-gay luchador “exótico” Saúl Armendáriz. The Mexican-American wrestler rose to fame in the late 1980s after training for lucha libre as a teen in Juárez. He later became known as “Rose Salvaje,” and later, “Cassandro.”
As shown in the trailer, the movie, which premiered in Sundance, circles around Armendáriz’s intense life story. Set to the soundtrack of Celia Cruz‘s “Yo Viviré,” the El Paso, Texas-born wrestler soon becomes more than just a luchador. In fact, he finds himself as an exótico, a lucha libre wrestler who performs in drag.
However, while some exóticos performed in drag as a joke or bit, Armendáriz was gay in real life. As per The New Yorker, most exóticos were straight — until people like Armendáriz and his friend and peer Baby Sharon came along.
In the trailer, you can see how Armendáriz rose to fame and was a beast in the ring (and yes, we get a glimpse of Bad Bunny‘s character, too). One scene shows the wrestler’s lover warning him: “You’re pushing things. The other wrestlers think you’re getting too big.”
“Ladies and gentlemen, you are a witness to history,” the wrestling announcer says as García Bernal — as Armendáriz — enters the ring. “The birth of a legend.”
Here are nine facts you might not know about Mexican lucha libre exótico Saúl Armendáriz, otherwise known as Cassandro. Strap your seatbelts on, because it’s a ride.
1. Armendáriz grew up on both sides of the border, having a difficult childhood
As the exótico explained to The New Yorker, he grew up on both sides of the border: in El Paso, Texas, his birthplace, and Ciudad Juárez, Mexico. He told the outlet, “I went to school in El Paso, but on Friday my sisters and I would run over the bridge to Juárez.”
While he loved lucha libre, he also loved things like playing patty-cake. This didn’t make his “machista” father very happy. Armendáriz recalls how his dad “did not want a gay son.”
He also remembered being severely punished as a boy, and how his father beat his mother before his parents divorced.
Armendáriz also seemed to confess to the outlet that he was sexually abused as a child. “Boys in the neighborhood, including my own relatives, used me as a sex toy.”
2. After quitting school as a teen, he set his sights on lucha libre as a character named “Mister Romano”
As per Vulture, Armendáriz started his lucha libre journey after quitting school at 15 years old in Juárez, Mexico. However, his beginnings were very different from his eventual Cassandro persona. According to RFI, his first 1988 lucha libre character was named Mister Romano.
His initial gladiator-esque persona wore a mask and was inspired by the famous luchador Rey Misterio. At that point, Armendáriz performed as a rudo, or villain.
However, his friend and peer, Baby Sharon, pushed him to consider being an exótico, instead.
Armendáriz explained to The New Yorker, “It was Baby Sharon who encouraged me to step out of Mister Romano.” He told the outlet that Baby Sharon was one of the first openly gay exóticos. He followed suit.
3. The wrestler’s first exótico persona wasn’t named Cassandro — and he reused a quinceañera dress for his entrance
Interestingly, once Armendáriz became an exótico wrestler, he didn’t initially choose the name Cassandro. He actually started off as Rosa Salvaje.
Even more amazing, though? He remembers every item of clothing he wore for his entrance as Rosa Salvaje. He told The New Yorker, “For my entrance, I wore a butterfly blouse of my mother’s. I wore the tail of my sister’s quinceañera dress. And then, to wrestle, a woman’s bathing suit.”
He also said his entrance as Rosa Salvaje felt like the day he officially came out as gay. He explained, “I thought it was a secret that I was gay, so I thought I was coming out. But everybody already knew. I was the only one who didn’t know.”
4. Armendáriz recognizes he changed lucha libre history as “always being openly queer”
The famous exótico explained to ChileVision how he “changed the history” of lucha libre.
“I have always been open, queer,” he explained. “But I have changed history, because before, exóticos were clowns in a circus, a joke.”
“But I decided to show that I was above the ring because I was a good luchador and I have prepared myself for 30 years,” Armendáriz described. “Homosexuality has always existed in lucha libre, but I wanted to dignify exóticos with respect, that we can be just as great.”
5. The wrestler became the first exótico world champion in 1992
Armendáriz proudly told ChileVision, “I was the first exótico world champion in 1992.”
As explained by RFI, the wrestler was already known as “Cassandro” by that point. He won the Universal Wrestling Association’s World Lightweight Championship in October 1992 against fellow wrestler Lasser.
That’s not all. He described, “I have won three world championships, I have fought in the Louvre museum two nights in a row.”
Still, the rise since his beginnings in the late 1980s has been anything but easy. “It has been a process to get to where I am now.”
6. Where did Armendáriz’s eventual stage name Cassandro come from?
While sometimes people refer to him as the “Liberace of Lucha Libre,” a gesture to the flamboyant American pianist Liberace, the wrestler became famous as “Cassandro.” But why that name? According to The New Yorker, Armendáriz was forced to change his stage name because of a bet. Still, his new name had a beautiful meaning.
As per the outlet, the wrestler made a bet with exótico Johnny Vannessa during a match. The loser would have to change his name — and well, Armendáriz — AKA Rosa Salvaje— lost.
Knowing he had to change his name, the wrestler got inspired by one of his friends: a brothel keeper named Cassandra from Tijuana. He reportedly “adored” Cassandra and looked up to how she helped people off the streets.
7. The wrestler has had quite a few health scares on and off the ring
According to the exótico’s interview with The New Yorker, he has had a few near-death experiences. For one, a female audience member in Guadalajara actually stabbed him during a match. “I was beating up one of her heroes. She got me right here, under the rib cage,” he explained.
Even more, Armendáriz attempted suicide when he was 20 years old, just one week before a high-pressure match. He was set to compete against acclaimed lucha libre wrestler Hijo del Santo. Armendáriz felt everyone was “against” him.
“The pressure was too much,” he said, leading to his suicide attempt. Thankfully, fellow exótico Pimpinela Escarlata found him and he recovered.
As per The Hollywood Reporter, Armendáriz also suffered a stroke that impaired movement on one side of his body, as well as his speech.
8. One thing the wrestler finds much scarier than a lucha libre fight? Surprisingly, a red carpet
While getting possibly beat up by a luchador isn’t too scary for Armendáriz, a red carpet is.
In fact, he explained to Morelia Film Fest that being on a red carpet is much scarier than being in the ring. “Everything, from the recognition people give you, to the protocol of being in a limousine where you can’t lower the windows, and they open the door for you… It’s all chaos but it’s amazing.”
While at the premiere of the 2019 documentary about his life, “Cassandro, the Exotico!,” he said he “only had three hours to change.”
Still, he thought, “Que padre, it’s my moment,” he said. “I am very blessed and very thankful for everything. I opened up in this movie not for people to see the luchador in me, but so they could identify with me.”
9. Now, the famous luchador is excited for the new movie’s portrayal of his life
Fast-forward to today and the acclaimed exótico is very pumped for the release of the upcoming movie “Cassandro.”
He told Dallas News, “[The team] know their work well. [Director] Roger Ross is an Oscar winner for his documentary [“Music by Prudence”].”
“[Actor Gael García Bernal] is a Golden Globe winner, so I think this is all coming with a blessing,” he explained.
As per the interview, he also said he is “excited” for García Bernal to portray him.
“Cassandro” will play in select United States theaters on September 15 and stream on Prime Video on September 22.
If you are considering suicide, call 800-273-8255 or text TALK to 741741.
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