It’s one of those sentences you never thought you’d write: lucha libre is like a bus – you wait ages for a show in London and two come along at once. Because, while ¡COMO NO! are presenting Lucha Future in the Royal Albert Hall, Lucha Libre World are hosting The Greatest Spectacle of Lucha Libre across town in Bethnal Green, at the famous York Hall.
Where Lucha Future will feature the best current stars of lucha libre – or at least the ones plying their trade in the AAA promotion (which, three or four withstanding, are the best current stars of lucha libre) – The Greatest Spectacle of Lucha Libre will instead present two of the sport’s legends, some of the weird and twisted variations of the discipline from Bolivia and our own shores, and a supporting cast that will give a solid flavour of just what lucha libre can be, in all its forms.
El Hijo del Santo, its headline star, is a genuine living legend. The son of a man so revered that statues of him have been erected all over Mexico, el Hijo del Santo has carved out his own position in lucha libre and popular-culture history, starring in movies (like his father), cartoon series, and comic books. The famous silver mask, passed down from father to son, is iconic, and el Hijo del Santo has yet to be seen in public without it. I met him once, in an art gallery bar on a university campus in Essex, and to say the man has presence is a huge understatement.
Another second-generation star with a mythos of his own is Dr Wagner Jr, also appearing on the Lucha Libre World show. His father, the original Dr Wagner, was one of the first evil wrestling physicians, a trope still bafflingly popular in Mexico today, and the son has carried on that legacy, even working a little magic into his medicine, once famously turning one of his opponents into a kitten in a backstage skit on TV.
Also on the plane from Mexico are Boby Zavala, Ray Man, Zumbi, French luchador Heddi Karaoui, and Angel Blanco Jr, the son of Dr Wagner’s original tag-team partner. They are joined by mini–luchadores Masacarita Sagrada and Octagoncito (who will also appear for Lucha Future), and also by Cassandro, one of the top exóticos working today. The exóticos are sexually-ambiguous, male luchadores who use feminine appearance and outrageous behaviour to undermine their macho opponents. They’re enormous fun and Cassandro is one of the best.
Showing that lucha libre works its way into cultures outside of Mexico, The Greatest Spectacle of Lucha Libre will also feature, for the first time in the UK, the wrestling cholitas of Bolivia, as well as the stars of Bethnal Green’s own Lucha Britannia. The cholitas are indigenous Aymara & Quechua women, who thrill the natives of El Alto, a suburb of the Bolivian capital La Paz, high up on the Andes plateaus. Their unique outfits – bowler hats and multi-layered skirts – instantly mark them out as something very, very different from your usual fighting women.
Lucha Britannia, on the other hand, might look very familiar, and that’s because they mix aspects of lucha libre with the more recognizable American and British styles, as well as a huge dollop of the grotesque, the burlesque, and the carnivale, into something immediately fascinating and engrossing. Running monthly shows across the road from the York Hall, at the compact Resistance Gallery, they’ve created a cast of characters that feel very real for all the fact that they’re zombies, lizards, dead rock stars, and scrapyard cyborgs.
As well as presenting four wrestling shows, The Greatest Spectacle of Lucha Libre also encompasses movie screenings (including the documentary El Hombre Detrás de la Mascara, about the legacy of both Santos), art exhibitions, a wild after-party at the Resistance Gallery, and a promise to turn the York Hall into a “retro-style Mexican Arena .”
It’s a shame that, in the Year Of Mexico in the UK, both lucha libre shows are hitting London on the same weekend, but maybe it’s also an opportunity. Because, for a few days, the lucha libre enthusiast and the curious bon viveur alike can immerse themselves in Mexican culture, see some legendary lucha libre superstars, and drink a few tequilas along the way. I intend to be at both Lucha Future and The Greatest Spectacle of Lucha Libre, because why wouldn’t you? Maybe I’ll see you there.
(The Greatest Spectacle of Lucha Libre takes place at the York Hall, Bethnal Green, on July 9th-12th. There’s a special matinee show on the 12th which will enable you to make a day of it if you’re already planning to go to the Albert Hall that night. Details are available here)