How Robert Rodriguez’s Lucha Libre Telenovela Helped Me Love Professional Wrestling Again
Sometimes you just want to watch guys pretending to be dragons and hell demons do some crazy flips.
I've been a huge pro-wrestling fan since I was a kid. I started watching wrestling in the late 90s during the boom period of WWE and WCW, where what was happening in the squared circle was at the height of pop culture. During elementary school, my friends and I would recreate our favourite matches, hitting each other in the back with foreign objects or trying to get a leg up for a super kick, before an adult inevitably stopped us. We had T-shirts and action figures. We had bootleg VHS of pay-per-view matches. Everyone agreed that wrestling was awesome.
Around high school this opinion started to change. As we got older it was harder to ignore the fact that wrestling is super embarrassing. At its core every wrestling show is based on a couple of beefy dudes slathered in baby oil doing a choreographed underwear fight for the right to wear a giant gold belt. There was also the fact that, at the time, the most popular wrestlers were a trash talking redneck, a grown man with a sock puppet, and a guy whose catchphrase was to point at his dick and yell "Suck it!" (Editor's note: That guy is now an executive at a billion dollar company.) One-by-one, my friends stopped watching, abandoning the WWE in the same way they abandoned Saturday morning cartoons. They said that wrestling was juvenile and dumb, and while it was hard to argue these statements, I still tuned in. I couldn't explain it, but there was something about the form I just liked.
For years I'd watch pro wrestling like I'd watch pornography: always in an incognito browser and always with my headphones on. WWE runs a "comedic" necrophilia angle. I kept watching. The company holds a gay wedding that ends in a brutal beat down of the grooms. I kept watching. They force a little person to dress as a leprechaun and throw him headfirst into a steel cage. I still kept watching. Wrestling was my secret shame. I would not talk about it in public. I recognized that most of the content on WWE programming was maddeningly stupid, but there wasn't a viable alternative to the product they were putting out. All of that changed with Robert Rodriguez's Lucha Underground.
Lucha Underground is a wrestling program that runs on the El Rey network. The show incorporates elements of pulp, sci-fi, and b-movie horror in addition to its acrobatic and highflying lucha libre style. The result is like if someone combined the scripts for Fight Club and From Dusk Till Dawn and filmed the whole thing like a telenovela. It's awesome in the same way something like The Rocky Horror Picture Showis awesome. The whole thing is campy, violent, and over-the-top fun.
The show has more in common with the Marvel Cinematic Universe than it does with any other form of sports entertainment. Lucha Underground's plot revolves around the evil Spanish businessman Dario Cuteo, who has set up an illegal fighting operation in order to honor the old Gods of the ancient Aztec tribes. All matches are held inside a Los Angeles warehouse called The Temple. Performers include a time traveling spaceman, the immortal personification of death, and a Mexican royal who dresses like a puma. The announcing team is made up of a former schoolteacher and a fucking vampire. Among the supernatural characters are some of wrestling's more recognizable names, including Johnny Mundo—formerly known as John Morrison—and the legendary Rey Mysterio Jr.Over the course of its two seasons Lucha Underground has established these character's motivations and goals, taking them through feuds that reveal the larger narrative of the show. For example: The company's current champion is a stocky rage monster named Matanza, the in-canon brother of the Lucha Underground's figurehead. We recently learned that as a child Matanza was possessed by an unstoppable vengeance demon hell bent on destroying the ancient Aztec's old Gods. He's been running through any competitor that challenges him. If all this seems like a bit much to take in, think of how your co-workers feel when you're trying to explain the latest episode of Game of Thrones.
As a wrestling fan, Lucha Underground feels like a gift. I understand that in-ring action, combined with cinematic vignettes, and a Mortal Kombat-esque plotline, is going to be something you're either into or you're not, but for the first time in a long time I feel like I could share my love for the art form without immediately turning red. What I like about Lucha Underground is that it hits on all of those notes that drew me to wrestling as a kid: larger than life characters, performing unbelievable stunts, all fighting for the right to be the best at what they do. The show exists within its own fictionalized universe, and if you're willing to suspend your disbelief long enough to believe that a personification of a dragon is fighting the personification of a bird—which has literally happened on multiple episodes—then it's much easier to palate the inherent ridiculousness of wrestling as a whole.
Mythical creatures doing crazy flips to honor the ancient Aztecs makes sense to me. Pretending that all of the fights are real doesn't. Besides, I never wanted reality in the first place. I want something bigger. I wanted pro wrestling.
And with all that being said...does anyone want to come over and watch the show? Please?
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