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Day 219 – We Is the Crowd (Lucha Libre in Guadalajara)

May 17, 2011

Location: Guadalajara, Mexico

Date: Tuesday, May 17, 2011

The crowd is power.  The crowd is the surge of humanity. The ebb. The flow. The crowd is barely contained chaos. The mob crowd is the antidote to the antiseptic, safe, I-scrub-everything-with-an-antibacterial-wipe modern American world. It’s the thrill of the unpredictable. The rush of the uncontrollable. The crowd is the force that will not be denied.

The crowd was in Thailand; I loved it then. Tonight I discovered that the crowd attends Mexican lucha libre.

I, therefore, love lucha libre.

Look. I know. The idea of enjoying Mexican wrestling—masked men in tights who wrap their legs around each other and body thrust man flesh into the ground for three seconds—is totally insane. But unless you’ve gone in person to a lucha libre fight night, you’re missing the fun. You’re missing the crowd.

When you see lucha libre on TV what you see is wrestling. Ostensibly, that’s what lucha libre is (literally: free fighting). But the cleaned up version shown on your moving-picture-box cannot compare to the in arena experience.

Guadalajara boasts one of the premiere wrestling venues in Mexico. Today, on a whim, I joined a tour group headed to a slate of matches at the city’s wrestling venue. Our group left from a bar modeled after a London double-decker bus. Our transport to the fights was one such iconic double-decker, open rooftop and all.

The first surprise of the night: 95% of the nearly 100 people on the bus were Mexican. Many were from Guadalajara. When I asked one of the locals, “Why take a tourist bus?” he replied, “Because it’s more fun to go with more people.”

Our red, wheeled behemoth wound its way into a sketchier part of town and disgorged its cargo on the steps of the stadium. Before entering the building, all the men were subjected to full pat downs. The ladies only had to open their purses—it was the last bit of chivalry they were to receive.

Inside, the chaos began. I grabbed a beer and immediately lost track of my group. (Guess it’s not just White people that all look alike.) When I showed an usher my ticket he waved me towards a section to the left of the ring and said something about “the red seats.” The red seat area was empty.

I fell back on Travel Rule #9 (“Do whatever you want until someone stops you, whereupon act confused and speak only English until they get so frustrated they forget to punish you.”) and just picked a seat in front of the red ones but nearish to a group of Mexicans. As the night progressed, the section filled.

A match was in progress and once it finished the winner preened for the crowd while a live Mariachi band (I think. . .I’m not a Mexican music connoisseur and these guys weren’t in costume) played a lively piece to placate the crowd (in other words: lots of trilly trumpet). While we waited for the next battle, the arena stationed a phalanx of scantily clad women on the ramp where wrestlers made their entrance. A few indulged the crowd with a little shake and most happily took pictures with fans who asked.

And we ain’t seen nothin’, yet. There was wrestling, of course. Guys in masks. Outrageous costumes. The card built from one-on-one matches to tag teams to three-on-three tag teams. There were crowd favorites like the guy dressed in garb reminiscent of indigenous Mexicans. There were villains like the wrestler who draped himself in the flag of Puerto Rico and later the unmasked giant Japanese wrestler. Often, the villains won.

There even was an old (50-ish) fat wrestler in the three-on-three main event whose gimmick was that he was, um, fat. Guys would run at him and bounce off. One muscle-bound foe tried to piledrive “Porky” (the chanting crowd’s nickname for the oldster) and just ended up falling over and getting crushed by Porky’s belly. The crowd ate it up.

But the crowd ate itself up even more. The gym was only about a third full, but if you closed your eyes you’d never know. The crowd never stopped screaming–at themselves.

The crowd was divided into the “haves” and the “have-nots.” There were people like me who paid to sit on the floor. For a bit less you could sit further back on concrete risers behind a chain link fence. These two crowds were at each other all night.

Pobres ! Pobres! Chingas a tu madre!” screamed the people on the floor. “Poor people! Poor people! You fuck your mother!”

The “poor” folks in the risers would grin with glee and would turn around and join in the chant, yelling at the “poorer” people behind them. Those “poorer people” would turn around the face the arena wall and chant at no one. When that died down you’d see a scrum of pobres huddle up behind the chain link to plan their response. Then they counterattacked.

Es tu madre! Es tu madre!” They screamed, tomahawk chopping the air with their right arms. “It’s your mother! It’s your mother!”

The rich watching from below would laugh and turn around and join the chant. Now you had a mix of poor and rich yelling at the other “rich” people further away. Soon the whole arena would be yelling at rich people who presumably were hiding behind the arena’s opposite wall. Then the cycle would begin again.

The crowd’s voice wasn’t limited to poor versus rich. The crowd would scream, “Vuelta! Vuelta!” at every girl that had the guts to leave the arena to go to the bathroom. “Turnaround!” they chanted, urging her (and often her friend) to let them check her out. Lest you think it was just piggish men, note that all the young ladies in the crowd would join in the chant, as well. The crowd was the crowd—it just wanted to exert its muscle. (Note: Most women obliged with a smile on their face. The little grandma who left early, however, did not, much to the disappointment of the crowd.)

The crowd yelled at pairs of guys that left the arena that they were going to a hotel. It yelled at seated couples to kiss. It yelled at a blond girl with her boyfriend that she liked. . .umm. . .hot dogs. It was madness.

The chants amongst the poor and the rich, though, were at the heart of the crowd-on-crowd rowdiness. Most chants were in Mexican slang I didn’t understand. I did recognize a lot of swearing. At one point a guy yelled, “Hey! Come on! There are kids here!” (There were. Lots.) The crowd laughed. He did, too.

The raucous, profane atmosphere is the reason why when you watch lucha libre on TV that (1) you can barely hear the crowd noise and (2) the crowd noise you do hear doesn’t always seem to match the fight’s action.

That’s because the crowd only occasionally watches the match.

Which was, by the way, spectacular. Fighters would get thrown out of the ring and the crowd would scramble out of their seats to avoid being crushed by 250 lbs of leotard encased muscle. Wrestlers would pause mid-fight to take pictures with fans. They’d grab beer from audience members and throw them on their opponents. Beer which was quickly replenished by the beermen dressed in brightly-colored polos running in and out of the stadium with loads of libations–the fuel that stoked the surging crowd.

The crowd would interact with the wrestlers, cheering at their favorites (“cheering for” does not quite capture the vehemence with which the crowd cheered). Cursing out the bad guys. Chanting in support of the heroes (“Porky! Porky!”)

It was chaos. It was beauty. It was an education in dirty words. In lucha libre, there’s the show that you watch and there’s the show you’re in (“All hail the crowd!”).

At the end of the night, the arena emptied. The wrestlers in the main event waded into the throng to take pictures with adoring fans. Our group reassembled up the road at our giant red bus. The open top ride back to the bar rocked as people on board chanted at each other. “Vuelta!  Vuelta!”  We had been the crowd. We were the crowd, still.

GALLERY: No bonus pictures. What, you want more pictures of scantily clad muscled men?

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2 Comments leave one →
  1. Juanito Sanchez permalink
    May 15, 2012 11:00 am

    I think this a wonderful way we that Mexicans can express feeling of us to our great nation. Good things es in the future of Mexicanos. Viva Mexico!!!!!!!!

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