‘Lucha Libre’ in London

July 3, 2011 14:00 0 comments

The infamous Mexican wrestling spectacle, stormed through London once again at the weekend, live at Camden’s premier venue, The Roundhouse.

Laura Cronk

The sport, whose name translates as ‘free fighting’ combines gymnastics, drama, character, costume, and combat into a theatrical showpiece not for the faint hearted.

The phenomenon in recent years has enjoyed huge success in Japan, the Philippines and of course the U.S, and London could be next, according to rave reviews from the sport’s last visit to the UK capital in July 2008.

Timeout describes Lucha Libre as ‘one of the best nights out in town’, while according to Kulturflash magazine it’s ‘truly worthy of every extravagant piece of praise you can heap on it’.

So just what is fuelling Lucha Libre’s enduring and trans-national appeal? As a night of entertainment, you’d be hard pushed to beat it. The masked and caped luchadores ‘are like superheroes you can touch’ says Lucha Libre television and radio commentator Carlos Hernández Váldes. Many of them are transformed into comic book heroes, their pictures appear on Mexican stamps, elevated to superstardom and national hero status.

These luchadores are the técnicos (good guys), pitched against the rudos (bad guys) in an eternal war of good versus evil- at times a mere soap opera, at others a grudge match of life and death proportions.

In recent years, explains Váldes, an unprecedented shift of support to the rudos has occurred; coinciding with the popularity of TV shows such as the Sopranos, where moral preconceptions of the good guy and the bad guy are challenged, and video games in which it is increasingly popular to play the villain’s role.

The question is, is London’s Latin spirit strong enough for Lucha Libre? El Hijo Del Santo, a prominent Mexican wrestler, describes the sport as ‘Magical. It transcends language.’ A growing Mexican population in London could help spread the appeal, but it is in fact Brits themselves who are fuelling the most demand.

Gary Vanderhorne, creative entrepreneur, runs the Resistance Gallery in Bethnal Green, home to Lucha Britannia, the first association for Mexican wrestling in London. It’s in fact more of a cabaret burlesque night than what Mexicans would recognise as the true sport.

But from Lucha Britannia came the idea for the London School of Lucha Libre, which opened its doors in November 2010. Seven months on, and demand for classes keeps growing.

British fighters leave their day jobs behind, pass through strict stages of training from highly qualified wrestling professionals, and receive an official Lucha name and mask. Patrick is one such British fighter.

He works in marketing by day, but in the ring he is ‘Johnny Lavelle’. He describes the ultimate Lucha dream as: ‘being one of the guys, the heroes out there, who everyone sees’. Lindsay, alias ‘The Highland Lass’ says ‘even the bumps and pains make me happy’.

This is sporting dedication rare in Britain. But it could still be a while before Lucha attains the following here that it enjoys in the motherland.

In Mexico, the sport has transformed from a guilty pleasure to an accepted middle class leisure activity: front row seats in the Arena de Mexico go for more than 500 pesos, ten times the daily minimum wage. It could take some time before Britain’s middle classes swap their theatre and ballet for Lucha, but with a young population seeking ever new thrills and escapism, and the sport’s phenomenal success in North America and Japan, Patrick’s Lucha dream could be closer than he knows.

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