KATIE LIN fell for Mexican wrestling (lucha libre) when living in Mexico City. How would a North East bout, staged as part of the ¡Vamos! festival, shape up?
WITHIN five minutes of arriving at the Star and Shadow Cinema in Byker, I managed to unmask the supposedly unmaskable.
Golden rule No 1 of lucha libre: never reveal your identity.
The wrestlers sitting at the back of the cinema entrance – a Bulgarian, two Brits and a Japanese – were unmasked and trying to organise the schedule for the night. Much to my disappointment, they were like open books, answering every question posed to them and unwittingly divulging their histories to me.
In this, their first test, they had failed miserably. Of course, I was already sceptical and this meeting didn’t help.
Having been to lucha libre matches in Mexico City, I was doubtful that Newcastle could squeeze all of the action-packed hyper-barbarity of a Mexican match into the modest social space of St Dominic’s Catholic Club across the road from the cinema.
Golden rule No 2: devise an awe-inspiring name. Among Mexico’s wrestling elite you’ll find names like Sangre Azteca (Aztec Blood) or Mascara Divina (Divine Mask).
On the bill tonight were El Skeletor (The Skeletor) versus Shadow Phoenix.
These matches are always carefully orchestrated, but the first set of the night was unabashedly rehearsed and, for that reason, didn’t generate much excitement from the crowd.
The real highlight for me, however, was the match between Mystery Man and El Dragon Feroz.
El Dragon Feroz was originally named High Flying Mexican Dragon but, unable to soar due to the room’s absurdly low ceilings, he was forced to change his name to the less misleading tag of the Ferocious Dragon – which he was.
Golden rule No 3: play fair if you’re a tecnico and play dirty if you’re a rudo.
In this Mexican version of the British pantomime, tecnicos – or technicians – play by the rules, and rudos – the baddies – are crude, rude and a PR nightmare.
El Dragon Feroz, our much-loved, crowd- pleasing tecnico, did a fantastic job of entertaining the crowd with grand lifts and hypnotising flips.
But the cheers that his impressive acrobatics and fine technique garnered only provoked fury in Mystery Man, whose laughable moves and bad attitude weren’t winning him any fans.
Granted, Mystery Man was as loathsome and manipulative as you could ever hope a rudo to be.
He was appropriately confrontational with the pseudo-Mexican referee Frankie Sloan, and gloated without restrain between eye-poking, taunting and mask-tugging.
Golden rule No 4: always keep a good trick up your sleeve. As the 20-minute battle neared its end, Mystery Man appeared to be pressing home the advantage.
With one final push, he cornered his seemingly exhausted opponent and delivered a hard, fast and crippling … slap? The crowd erupted in laughter.
But just as fast as his chest went red, El Dragon Feroz pulsed towards Mystery Man.
Not to be defeated in this comical combat, El Dragon Feroz quickly pulled at his opponent’s trousers and, just like that, the mystery behind Mystery Man was over.
Stunned by El Dragon’s trouser-tugging tactic, Mystery Man was swiftly taken to the ground and robbed of his title as victor.
Golden rule No 5: excite your audience.
In one word, Friday night’s demonstration was slap-tastic.
While it lacked the oily wrestler chests, popcorn sellers, vuvuzela chorus and midget wrestlers of Arena Mexico, it did have all the fervour and soul of Mexico’s very own lucha libre and, in my opinion, brought the right amount of rowdy into town for something of a sensational weekend.