On this Sunday evening, inside an empty nightclub on the eastern edge of the city, hundreds of Angelenos have gathered to watch the spectacle of Lucha Libre. The first match involves Kid Tornado, Malice and Apocalypse. A minute into the match the announcer tells the audience that Apocalypse is in fact Donald Trump’s son. The crowd eats it all up and lets him have it. All the frustration, all the fear – the young man calling himself Apocalypse takes it all in. That’s his job. “You piece of shit!” “Coward!” “Animal!” If pretending to be Trump’s son just so that a family of five can curse at him for fifteen minutes makes the world a better place, then let him have it. Tonight Apocalypse, like Batman, becomes not the hero we deserve, but the hero we need.
The underbelly of Los Angeles is vast, rich, and in its own bizarre way, beautiful, swimming in Tecate and shitty tequila. LA is the city where people come to make their dreams come true – for actors, writers, musicians, designers, and sometimes strawberry pickers. On this Sunday evening, inside an empty nightclub on the eastern edge of the city, hundreds of Angelenos have gathered to watch the spectacle of Lucha Libre. Where others might dream of fame and fortune, the dreams of these working class families are much more modest. In a tumultuous time, Lucha Libre becomes the escape valve these spectators need.
Lucha Libre is a quasi-religious institution among Mexicans, and Los Angeles has a vibrant Lucha Libre culture beating deep in its heart. From the backyard brawls with unknown and sometimes untalented luchadores to the extravaganza of Lucha VaVoom, LA is where the legends go to make and keep their dreams coming true. LA is not just famous for Hollywood, it’s also the capital of Mexicans in spandex unitards and colorful masks beating the crap out of each other.
Tonight’s event is in the medium tier of local shows. There are four matches on the card and depending on their mood, the crowd gets to cheer or jeer for either the bad guys (rudos) or the good guys (tecnicos). This isn’t WWE-level production or UFC-level athleticism, but what they lack in budget and physique, the wrestlers make up for in earnestness and heart. Promoters all across town rent out makeshift venues where they can fit a ring and a few hundred chairs just so people can forget about rents, deportations and hardships of all sorts for a few hours. Young and old, boys and girls, the powerful and the disabled, the documented and undocumented – everyone comes, and everyone is welcome. It’s a ritual, a community celebration as primal as the battle between good and evil.
No moment captures this gorgeous poetry and communion better than tonight’s main event, the final match between Negro Navarro and Blue Panther. Two legends long past their prime, they now draw crowds on the fumes of their reputations more than the beauty of their matches. Make no mistake, these are two of the best luchadores the world has ever seen. But they are also both in their 60s, and however valiant an effort they make, they are shadows of the titans they were a quarter of a century ago. But that doesn’t matter to this crowd; these people are here to be entertained.
Two minutes into the match, both warriors are dripping with sweat. As Navarro and Panther grapple and twist and shout it’s clear that the pain they are going through is completely real. There will be no flying in this match, no fantasy moves, just real, honest old-school Lucha Libre. If today’s stars emulate the celebrity of Kanye West, then these two masters are Kurtis Blow – no gadgets, no flash, just pure heart, experience and immortality.
Negro Navarro conquers Blue Panther but before they leave the ring, the rarest and most humbling of things happens: children, old men and women get out of their chairs and surround the ring, offering money to the luchadores. The people shower them with hardearned dollar after hard-earned dollar, adding up to a few handfuls of singles Navarro and Panther will share. But it was never about the money. It's about solidarity, community, and of course tequila. And the show must go on.