“Did that really just happen?” A lucha libre wrestler had tried to roll into the ring, miscalculated, and slammed down hard on the concrete.
Instantly, the arena erupts in laughter, and the wrestler begins yelling at seemingly every single person in attendance (under a thousand of us). T.J.’s lucha libre has begun to reveal a bit more of its character.
A few years back in Mexico City, I was lucky enough to see my first lucha libre. Loud, louder and louder; jolts of ear-piercing rings and horns accompanied by copious amounts of beer, laughs and mariachi music. That pretty much sums it up. But now I’m in T.J., close to the border. Will it be different?
The first gladiator makes his way to the ring as Bob Marley’s “Stir it Up” plays. Wait, what? That’s gotta be his favorite song. “Dementor” enters the ring next. He proudly exposes his generous love handles along with tights that look to be painfully suffocating. It becomes a two-on-two battle with lucha libre players scrapping all around.
Sometimes they actually look like real hits. Other times, a slap “lands” a clear foot short, yet somehow sends the opponent onto the mat reeling in pain. And I have to give kudos to some insane top-rope swan dives ten feet down to the arena floor.
But now the first waves of boos begin – and not subtly either. There’s a seven-year-old Spiderman sitting with his dad in front of me. I say to dad, “Your son can fight better than these guys.” He loves it, and immediately relays the message to the ring.
I’m not sure what to think of the event, but then I spot a lady selling micheladas. I’m thirsty, and all questions are momentarily answered.
It’s intermission; the $8 michelada is going down smoothly while the air pulsates with “Gangnam Style.” Not just once – one and a half times. It’s a classic tune, so I can’t knock the DJ for the extra half. Here comes fight #2 with the first warrior striding to the ring. Metallica’s “Enter Sandman” begins, and I realize there will be no mariachi tonight. Thank you.
The more I watch, the more I find myself thinking: “Why are these 40-plus-year-old guys jumping around wearing leotard suits like they just lost a dare?” “Did that guy really just adjust his ponytail before acting like he got knocked down?” And so on.
Tijuana's Lucha Libre
The wrestling spectacle that is Tijuana's lucha libre.
But then an understanding arrives – somewhere in between when the vendors run out of beer (seriously) and the last fight an hour later. I feel dense for not getting it at first: we’re having an absolute ball. It’s all about the laughing, pointing, cheering, booing, heckling (just make sure to protect your beer – watch the video), and getting into the lucha libre story. The missed hits and ill-timed tumbles become part of the package. It’s almost as if those mishaps were planned.
Wait a second, did that fighter really mean to miss the ring and slam onto the awaiting arena floor? Man, I might need to spend another night with lucha libre…T.J. Style.