Tinieblas, one of the grandmasters of Mexican wrestling, looked on from a stage over the weekend as lucha libre wrestlers put on a free show for spectators at the open air plaza of Metro Insurgentes.
The young men donned studded collars, devil horns, masks and —of course— tight pants as they hurled insults, kicked one another in the chest and swung legs like pendulums around opponents. The high-risk theatrics were far more dangerous than when Tinieblas began his wrestling career in 1971, but the enthusiastic cheers and jeers of the crowd sounded the same.
Taking wrestling to the streets on a day of leisure struck Tinieblas as brilliant, since some fans lack the time or economic means to see a match in an arena.
“Right now, with the lucha libre that they are seeing, they purge their sadness, their unhappiness — so many things,” he said from behind a golden mask with black mesh over his face. Tinieblas, who is 80, conceals his identity even though he is retired from wrestling. His wrestling moniker means “darkness.”
“Lucha libre is a therapy. Instead of yelling at the missis when they arrive home, or at the mother-in-law, they arrive calm. They already yelled at the wrestlers,” he added with a chuckle.
The display on the concrete esplanade of one of Mexico City’s first Metro stations was put on by an arts foundation called LuchArte to commemorate 50 years of the city’s heavily trafficked subway system.
This particular station is ringed with concrete walls meant to evoke pre-Hispanic architecture, with the city’s tallest office towers looming within eyeshot of the base of the sunken plaza. The colorless plaza served as a bleak backdrop for a shootout scene in the 1990 science fiction film “Total Recall,” starring Arnold Schwarzenegger.
“I think that without the Metro, the city would be chaos,” LuchArte founder Iliana So told the crowd before the wrestling began on Saturday.
Annual ridership of the Mexico City subway system tops 1.6 billion in a sprawling metropolitan area with 22 million inhabitants. The lines span 140 miles (226 kilometers), making the capital’s subway one of the most extensive urban rail networks in the world.
Like riding the Metro, indulging in a lucha libre wrestling match is a quintessentially Mexican pastime. It’s the second most-followed sport in the country, after soccer.
“Mexicans identify with lucha libre because Mexican culture is very colorful,” said So, alluding to the bright colors of the wrestlers’ costumes as well as their flair for the dramatic.
The bravado on display over the weekend included a five-woman match filled with grunts, slaps, chest pumps, body locks and flips. An Aztec princess in fishnet stockings took on the bad girls with the help of a little person whose hits and punches drove the crowd wild.
“C’mon little one!” cheered a spectator as children chanted “Again, again!” every time the blonde woman with dwarfism entered the ring.
Retired police officer José Carlos Ehlers says he jumped at the opportunity to catch a free show. He brought his 5-year-old grandaughter Melani, decked out in a sparkly pink cape and wrestling mask. A daytime match in a safe location seemed like a strong sell, since crime in the city center has made nighttime visits to the arenas there more daunting.
Still, Ehlers has taken Melani, who herself aspires to be a wrestler, to arenas at night. Passion for wrestling runs in the family: Ehlers’ mother carted him and his seven brothers to three live matches a week throughout his childhood.
“It’s part of our folklore,” concluded the grandfather.