First time gringos make the mistake of grabbing seats in the front rows in order to get close to the action. The real event, however, is behind them. Tuesday night Lucha Libre matches at Guadalajara's Arena Coliseo are not about wrestling. They are a parity play performed by audience and wrestlers alike where cultural norms are mercilessly lampooned. They are an absurd and calamitous burlesque and nothing is sacred.
The wrestling, of course, is fake, a form of performance fighting where violence is mimed and the spectacle of tasseled musclemen and top rope flips is all just misdirection. Power slams are followed by extensive and elaborate peacocking, wherein the victim can recover and the cycle repeat itself. It is showmanship as a form of sport that any fan of pro wrestling north of the border will recognize.
But unlike American wrestling, the farce extends beyond the ring and out into the stands, where the Republic’s four centuries of class warfare is played out by a willing audience. There are two levels of tickets: upper or lower section, the price difference a de minimis 40 pesos (roughly $2 USD). Ticket choice is driven less by pecuniary concerns than by personal identification: the upper section takes on the anima of the poor, the urban, the proletariat; the lower is for the rich, the güeros, the ruling class. These roles, whether fitting or not, are embraced by the fans, who've gone so far as to have shirts made proudly claiming their status of "being 1000% poor".
During ingress, the upper section crowds around above the entrance hall and taunt the men and women entering beneath. No one is spared and no gibe too crude. The presence of children does nothing to soften the language. This is where, with the help of locals, you can learn that donut is slang for vagina, that chingar is a regional synonym for “fuck”, and that no insult has any worth unless it is spiced up with a puta or two. As the matches begin, the upper and lower sections go at each other with vulgar chants and ruthless insults, the action in the ring a mere set piece, like a tv left on at a bar. Calls of Putos los de abajo! (The ones below are whores!) are met with Putas los pobres! (The poor are whores!). Individual shouts of Chingas a su madre! fill the time between chants. But just as in the ring, it is all farce, a parity of anger absent of any aggression or resentment. A particularly foul comment is met with a chuckle or, if landing on a skilled target, a quick repartee. Smiles and laughter abound on both sides of the chainlink fence.
Even Mexico’s machismo culture is mocked relentlessly. Female wrestlers are called out to show their dicks. Men standing too close to each other are harangued to make out. One of the night’s headliner, Maximo Sexy, sports a neon pink mohawk, a miniskirt draped over his singlet, a sequined shirt saying KISS ME, and gold lame shoes. He is femininity, his opponents then fighting to prove their masculinity. When victorious, Maximo appeals to the crowd who then chant “Be-so! Be-so!” at which point he attempts to lay a kiss on his dazed victim who melees desperately to avoid emasculation. This plays out to the delight of the audience, who seem unconcerned that the wrestling has since transformed into a Satyr play. And when he eventually subdues his victim and lays a long wet one on him, the crowd erupts.
Amid all this nihilism there are moments of real tenderness, too. An aging and portly wrestler named Blue Panther, his body showing the wear of nearly four decades in the sport, receives the warmest welcome and the most heartfelt support when he almost defeats the current belt holder, a chiseled upstart draped in tattoos and long black hair named Dragon Rojo. Both los pobres and los de abajo cheer passionately for him and seem genuinely invested in his victory, booing fiercely in unison when Dragon pulls a late reversal that pins the Panther. They then throw coins at the ring in disgust at the apparent fix. Nothing is sacred.