The word legend is thrown about a little bit too easily these days. It seems that all you have to do to become a legend now is to do something fairly remarkable once, have classic “bants”, or just stay somewhere long enough that people forget a time before you were there. But true legends are rare, and when those legends are the sons of true legends, it’s even rarer.
There is no bigger legend in lucha libre than el Santo. His fame transcended the sport into mainstream popularity across the whole of Mexico, and even seeped into the counter-culture through his Santo versus the monsters series of movies. While not in Santo’s league, Dr Wagner was the greatest of the evil medicos in lucha libre, and formed La Ola Blanca – the White Wave, because they wore white masks and overwhelmed their opponents like a tidal wave – with Angel Blanco, one of the greatest tag-teams of all-time.
Both men saw their sons follow them into the sport, and those sons were deemed worthy of carrying on their fathers’ names when the originals retired. El Hijo del Santo and Dr Wagner Jr, with sixty-two years of experience between them, have carved out legends of their own, and one day will pass on the masks to their own sons, who have already begun training. This is lucha libre tradition in action.
El Hijo del Santo and Dr Wagner Jr (and Angel Blanco Jr, for good measure) were all at the York Hall, in Bethnal Green, last week for the Greatest Spectacle of Lucha Libre, four shows across three days promoted by Lucha Libre World. The intention was to bring a true Mexican feel to east London, with a cast of luchadores supplemented by Bolivian fighting Cholitas and the home-grown talent of Lucha Britannia. With tequila on tap, and the smell of tacos wafting in from the bar, they certainly made the effort, and largely succeeded.
Proceedings kicked off on the Thursday night, with a half-full hall (undoubtedly affected by the Tube strike) enthusiastically welcoming the luchadores to London, and then continued in the same vein on Friday, to a bigger audience still. They ran a matinee on Saturday afternoon, which saw two-hundred souls escaping from the beautiful sunny day outside, before finishing with a sell-out on Saturday night to end the run in a most satisfactory way.
Considering that ¡COMO NO! was running Lucha Future across town at the Royal Albert Hall, and that the audience for lucha libre is a niche to begin with, I’d say they could be very happy with their draw, and I’d certainly hope that it was enough to see them sooner rather than later.
I went to the Saturday matinee show, because I was in town for Lucha Future, and I was excited to see both. El Hijo del Santo wasn’t new to me, but Dr Wagner Jr was, and it’s always good to meet someone whose face you have tattooed on your arm. Plus, I was suffering from Lucha Britannia withdrawal symptoms, having missed their June show (and I’ll miss their July show, too), so that was a big draw, too.
The York Hall was transformed into a very different venue than I’d seen RevPro at last month. The building was fundamentally the same, but the lighting created a powerful ambience, and the presence of large letters spelling out LUCHA LIBRE on the stage left no-one in doubt as to what was on show. Although I’d paid for the cheapest balcony seats the nice lady in the ticket office said they were trying to make a more intimate atmosphere and moved me down onto the floor, where I took a front row seat I didn’t deserve but greatly appreciated.
Then the show started, with the dapper MC creating a pleasantly sleazy, kinda retro vibe, in mysteriously-accented English. He introduced the show, and then the first match – a Lucha Britannia title match between Cassius and Pure Britannico.
The other shows in the run saw Lucha Britannia provide multiple-participant matches, and it’s rare to see a singles match at their own shows across the road from the York Hall at the Resistance Gallery, so this was a nice surprise, and gave both men the room and time to impress the crowd, most of whom had no idea who they were. And impress they did, with a near-faultless match which saw the usually técnico Britannico play rudo so that the ultra-camp Cassius could receive the big cheers. Cassius won to retain his title, and I got a sweaty hug afterwards, so that was nice. I think.
The fighting Cholitas were out next, with veteran Carmen Rosa taking on Elizabet La Rosa Corazones, her younger – and more evil – opponent. They did their stuff and, while it wasn’t a MOTY candidate in any shape or form, it was fun, fun, fun, and something completely different to anything I’ve ever seen in a wrestling ring before. Elizabet got the win, although Rosa had a hold of the ropes while referee Mano Negra counted three. Boooooooo!
The next match saw Mascarita Sagrada and Octagoncito, the minis, collide in a bout full of dives and comedy, as is their wont. This was the original Mascarita Sagrada – not the one seen recently on Lucha Underground – and the original Octagoncito – and not the one on AAA TV, who was across town with Lucha Future – and they had a sweet little match, no pun intended, for Mascarita Sagrada’s WWA Minis title.
Octagoncito won the match, and the title, and that led neatly into the interval, during which children flooded the ring and had an impromptu battle royale. Security eventually cleared the ring of little ones, save for one tiny fella who, when the security guard held out his hand for him to take it and leave the ring, simply shook it and carried on running around. Future star, right there.
The second half of the show kicked off with WWA Light Heavyweight champion Heddi Karaoui – a luchador from France! and therefore a heel to the British crowd – meeting the challenge of Rayman, a third generation wrestler from the Rayo de Jalisco dynasty. They had a decent match and Rayman was better here than I’ve ever seen his father be, but he lost to Karaoui after shenanigans involving an unseen low blow.
That left the main event, with the técnico team of el Hijo del Santo, exótico Cassandro, and Brazilian capoeirista Zumbi fighting Dr Wagner Jr, Angel Blanco Jr, and Magnifico II. With Cassandro toning down his act for the predominantly family audience, it was left to the youngsters Zumbi & Magnifico II to do the lion’s share of the work, although the veterans also got their licks in, much to the delight of the crowd.
After a delay while the cleared up the glass from an EXPLODING LIGHT! the match settled into a fun, traditional lucha main event, and the good guys – who else? – got the win to send everyone home with a smile on their face. El Hijo del Santo, who is rumoured to be retiring very soon, led the técnicos in taking the applause of the crowd, before everyone stumbled out into the bright July sun.
I had such a fun time at The Greatest Spectacle of Lucha Libre and I can’t believe it would have been possible not to. The local Lucha Britannia stars stepped up to the plate and did not look out of place, and the rarity of seeing the fighting Cholitas and the minis was appreciated beyond the quality of their matches.
But the crowning moment was a final look at el Hijo del Santo and finally getting to see Dr Wagner Jr. Like I said, “legend” is thrown around a little bit too easily these days but every once in a while you see someone who truly deserves it. Thanks to Lucha Libre World I got to see two genuine legends of the sport, and I hope they won’t be the last.
(The Greatest Spectacle of Lucha Libre was promoted by Lucha Libre World as part of the Year Of Mexico in the UK. There is live lucha libre from Lucha Britannia every month at the Resistance Gallery in Bethnal Green. See luchabritannia.com for details.)