Editor’s Note: The wrestlers agreed to interviews as long as they could be identified by their wrestling names.
By Luz Garcia Cubillos
Everyone has a passion, that inner motivation that, sometimes, makes people wake up in the morning, or embark on the wildest odysseys.
That is what drives “Los Luchadores Independientes,” a group of Latino pro wrestlers who transform themselves with colorful masks and outfits, and train into all hours of the night to pursue their dream of performing for a few hours in the ring.
When the night falls in Chicago, 17 Mexican wrestlers leave their lives and jobs and adopt secret identities to participate in Lucha Libre wrestling. They meet for training Mondays, Tuesdays and Wednesdays from 7 p.m. to 9:30 p.m. or 10 p.m., or on Sunday mornings.
“I have always loved la Lucha Libre,” said El Atomico, one of the masked wrestlers in the group. “This is a challenge for me and I wrestle with all my energy and from the bottom of my heart. At the end of the day, I know that I am achieving my goals and dreams.”
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.
To many, Luchadores are more than just athletes and performers who don elaborate-looking masks and gamble their identity in a wrestling match. In Mexico, a Luchador is considered a hero, someone the youth can look up to and to aspire to be.
Among the most well-known Luchadores is Rey Mysterio, who crossed over from the athletic lucha libre wrestling style to hold several titles in the World Wrestling Entertainment organization in the United States. While Mysterio earns millions of dollars in the WWE, many independent wrestlers, such as the Chicago Luchadores, earn very little money and have to promote themselves and their events.
Like many superheroes, Chicago’s Luchadores have a headquarters, a barren warehouse, at 1900 N. Narragansett Ave., that they modified into a training facility. There, they review the moves, improve their wrestling skills and instill in the younger wrestlers the fundamentals of the Lucha Libre or “free-wrestling style.”
The empty, gray walls are decorated with posters of wrestlers. The room has a well-tested wrestling ring, and in one of the corners, there is place that serves as a stage to take pictures. The wrestlers often say, “It is a modest and simple place but it is full of dreams.”
During the day, some of the Luchadores work as gardeners, mechanics and construction workers. Others work at a carwash or in in a textile or metal factory. Some go to school. Their ages range from 14 to over 50 years old. Some have more than 40 years of wrestling experience.
Bello Makaw, who has been wrestling for 17 years, said: “I work in construction, and I usually start at 7 a.m. Then after work, I train. In my job the real person, who I am, remains. When I go to the gym or the arena, I put on the character, and I talk and walk different. My character does not interfere my day job.”
Many of the wrestlers started in Mexico, where the Lucha Libre is part of the culture and the national identity. However, like many immigrants, they came to United States seeking for a better quality of life. In their careers, many had risked their lives, separated from their families, but they have not left their passion for that sport.
“I came to the Unites States with my wife,” said the wrestler known as Bazooka. “My mother was very angry, my whole family was upset. Finally I got divorced, I am living away from my family, but I am still wrestling,”
Like in the WWE, Lucha Libre free wrestling has two kinds of fighters: técnicos or face (good guys) and rudos or heel (bad guys). In los Luchadores, the técnicos go by names such as Discovery, Rey Fuego, El Atomico, Elektron, Flashboy and Swat Cat. They dance in the beginning of the show and during their ring entrances, and they have more fans.
They heels include Águila de América, El Infernal, Ángel de la Muerte, Rey Makawi, Yakuza, Bazooka, Ghost Night, Destructor Alpha, El Cobrita and Scorpion. Sometimes, those wrestlers are hated by the public for their bad attitude, character and usually they cheat to win fights.
Los Luchadores Independientes has its own arbiter (a referee), Oscar Campos known as “El Apenitas.” Campos, 57, started as a wrestler but illness and injuries led him to become a referee.
“I had a lesion in the ribs and in 1976, some kicks I got on the chest left me speechless and I lasted like six or seven months without being able to fight,” Campos said.
El Apenitas has not been the only wrestler to suffer an injury. For example, the wrestler who goes by the name Flashboy, 18, was injured in the back and was away from the ring for a month. El Aguila de América has scars on his forehead that reminds him that somebody broke a chair on his head. Swat Cat had a surgery on his knee, a bone in his elbow is chipped, and in a fight, he dislocated his shoulder and needed one of colleagues to re-set it.
That is why before going to the fights, some wrestlers pray to the Virgin of Guadalupe because in every encounter, they risk their lives. The spanks (bumps) burn, the kicks can knock the air out of their lung. There is no protection whatsoever, not even for low punches.
Many of the wrestlers do not have health insurance that could cover such a risky profession.
“The medical expenses come from our own pocket or the help from other colleagues,” said the wrestler known as Swat Cat.
However, the risky of this sport does not stop them and their love for wrestling makes them to keep going.
“I can be sick but la lucha is my life!” Ramos said. “When I put on my shirt, pants and shoes of referee, my black glove, there is a big change in me,”
The worse thing that can happen to a Luchador wrestler is to lose his mask. They protect their characters and their true identity. The wrestlers say many people who work or study with Los Luchadores do not know that they are professional wrestlers.
“That secret, it is the pride of being a fighter,” said Scorpion.
Wrestler Rey Fuego added, “It’s like Superman or Batman, we do not want people to know our identity, it is the magic of being a wrestler.”
The wrestlers say their families have differing opinions about their sport. Some family members support them and attend the fights matches. Others do not like to see their loved ones being hit and they do not understand the time commitment needed for the training.
The wrestlers translate that dedication into their characters, helping create their persona and give life to the masks they wear. Some of the custom masks are made in Mexico because is cheaper than in United States. The masks are priced from $70 to $1,500, depending on the material and the design.
Unlike the large, corporate organizations like the WWE, this Chicago group has no financial support or sponsor. Los Luchadores promote themselves through posters and on the Web, and book their own matches. Although there is not much compensation for all of the sacrifices, they are satisfied with the possibility to wrestle and give a good show to the public.
Said El Angel de la Muerte: Lucha Libre gives us an excuse to practice healthy lifestyle, because we do not drink liquor or smoke. We keep the youngest ones out of drug and trouble, keep our souls alive. La Lucha Libre is the spicy of our lives.”
How far do the Luchadores Independientes want to go with wrestling? With a smile partially hidden behind their masks, a group of them agreed, “Until our body resists.”
Want more? Watch this video about the lucha libre style of wrestling.