A técnico is supposed to follow the rules.
Each week, Gabriel Romero’s drive to Sunday mass takes him past “El Ángel,” the golden statue at the heart of Mexico City that haunts his memories and inspires his future. Spurred by the memory of his parents, Gabriel is drawn to the secretive world of lucha libre, where wrestling, performance art and big business collide. Under the conf icting mentorships of one of lucha libre’s famed gay exótico wrestlers and an ambitious young luchador whose star is on the rise, Gabriel must choose between traditions which ground him but may limit his future, and the lure of sex and success that may compromise his independence. Surrounded by a makeshift family of wrestlers, Gabriel charts a course to balance ambition, sexuality and loyalty to f nd the future that may have been destined for him since childhood.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Erin Finnegan is a former journalist and winemaker who lives in the foothills outside Los Angeles. A lifelong sports fan and occasional sports writer, she has had to dive out of the way of f ying luchadores at matches in both the U.S. and Mexico. Her first novel, Sotto Voce, received a starred review from Publishers Weekly and a Foreword Reviews Indiefab Silver Book of the Year Award. Get to know Erin at Erin-Finnegan.com and on Twitter at @eringof nnegan.
LUCHADOR ~ EXCERPTS
Stand on the rope. Center your weight. Balance. Tune out everything outside the ring. Focus on nothing but the leap, the next move, and how you land it.
* * *
They braved the stutter-stop congestion of Paseo de la Reforma, using it to cut through the park past the museums and onward north, hoping to beat the afternoon crowds that would later close the avenue. It was the same every. Gabriel, slumped in the backseat of his godparents’ Mercedes Benz, ticked down the moments until the golden landmark triggered his weekly pre-mass sacrament. He drifted off into a silent world of his own, watching the posh glass and steel boutiques of the chic boulevard not quite push the city’s aging mansions out of their way.
In moments, they would pass Monumento a la Independencia, the golden angel of victory most people simply called El Ángel. It reached high above the center of the traffic circle mere blocks from the cathedral where he worshipped with his aunt and uncle each weekend—even though there were a dozen churches between their home in Lomas de Chapultepec and the Zócalo.
The statue could be seen from kilometers away along the wide, tree-lined avenue. Each week as they drew closer, he watched for it, a golden beacon in an azure sky.
* * *
The new wrestling troupe was already assembled when Gabriel arrived: the Bam Brothers, rudos from East L.A. whose costumes of torn T-shirts and camouflage pants looked more thrasher rock than lucha libre; CaCa, a mini dressed like a parrot whose gimmick involved fake bird droppings, and his wrestling partner, Super Hiss, whose Lycra costume was covered in a snakeskin print. Gabriel’s opponent arrived last, burrowed into a dark, oversized hooded sweatshirt and warm-ups.
The wrestler unzipped the sweatshirt and removed the hood to reveal a curvy and intimidatingly fit woman with dark hair and a rock-solid scowl. Standing about five-foot five, she had the cut frame of a professional athlete and the attitude of a CFO.
She walked up to Gabriel and held out her hand.
“You must be Ángel,” she said. “I’m Lola, but in the ring, they call me Electra. I’m your rudo.”
Gabriel had never seen a luchadora square off one-on-one against a luchador, and the prospect of fighting a woman left him off balance. His words tripped off his lips.
“Gabriel,” he said, taking her hand. “I mean no offense, but there’s got to be a mistake.”
“And here we go,” Lola huffed. “Are you saying that no one told you I was going to be your first opponent?”
Ray stepped behind Gabriel, clasping his shoulders in his hands.
“You don’t want to hold back against Electra, Gabe. Lola here used to be a serious boxer—the light welterweight champ.”
“Two years running,” she said, finishing the sentence.
“She’s badass, Gabe. She can hold her own.”
* * *
Once Gabriel had thought that he had a sophisticated knowledge of lucha libre. But the more he spent time with Miguel, the more he realized that his understanding of the sport and its significance in Mexican pop culture—even Mexican political movements—was on a novice level at best.
Lucha libre was no longer the simple entertainment of his childhood. Leaps, flips, and locks were trained, drilled, and earned. Masks were symbolic and served a purpose in defining characters and telling their stories. It was not just the show on television—“A circus,” Miguel would complain—but a serious mélange of art, sport, and metaphor that Gabriel was only beginning to understand.
The more he learned, the more he wanted to absorb. Campus gradually took a back seat to the gym, his new source of higher learning.
So he listened to Miguel and did as he was told—usually—to ensure that his education continued. If that meant standing by a piss-soaked pillar outside a crumbling civic arena to meet someone he couldn’t identify, he’d do it.
In many ways, the little venue reminded him of Arena Coliseo, the one-time boxing arena in north-central Mexico City now dedicated full-time to lucha libre. Arena Coliseo was close to fans’ hearts for its history in the sport—and its cheap beer—and had seen better days. Its beach ball-colored seats were crusted with grime and acrylic paint. The sound system squawked. Its lighting bore down on the ring with little concern for staging. It didn’t hold a candle to the relative glitz of Arena México, its cross-town rival that featured light shows, fog effects, booming music, and ring girls—all on display for the weekly lucha libre broadcasts.
“Excess,” Miguel would say, if the topic came up, though Gabriel took it with a grain of salt. La Rosa had wrestled on some of those broadcasts, after all, and with some of the flashiest costumes and biggest entourages of all the luchadores.
Miguel clearly preferred Arena Coliseo, despite its aging surrounds. He said it brought fans closer to the authentic purpose of lucha libre—the good-versus-evil narratives played out by the técnicos and rudos each week—rather than light shows and loud music. Gabriel suspected this was why Miguel still agreed to perform in these small, unsanctioned, questionable events outside of the city.
* * *
The announcer appeared amid clouds of stage smoke, and the crowd erupted in cheers. He was well known from years of televised lucha broadcasts and his signature introductions, which extended the words so the crowd could join in. Dressed in his gray sharkskin suit and black T-shirt, he was escorted down a smoke-shrouded ramp to the ring by two bikini-clad ring girls, and as he took center stage, another one handed him a microphone.
“¡Bienvenidos a la Iglesia de la Lucha Libre!” he announced, his standardintroduction. The crowd was his willing congregation and game to worship at the church of lucha.
A boisterous back-and-forth raised the collective energy of nearly five-thousand fans before the start of the first bout and fueled the decibel level as well as the arena’s beer sales.
“What are we here for?” the announcer asked, pointing to the highest reaches of the packed arena.
Like a drunken assembly, the crowd bellowed back, “¡Luuuuuuuuu-chaaaaa!”
* * *
As they neared the stage, the entourage peeled away to reveal its leader. Ensconced in the center of the circle danced a luchador unlike any other on the afternoon fight card. With shimmering dark hair moussed high, and pink glittery eyelids lined in dark kohl stood La Rosa, the self-described Queen of the Luchadores.
La Rosa didn’t wear traditional tights, or a wrestler’s singlet, or even the trunks that the Blue Devil preferred. The wrestler wore a flesh-toned bodysuit hand-painted with roses like those worn by the dancers, leaving the impression that La Rosa was covered in nothing but flowery body paint.
The colorful luchador wore knee-high wrestling boots, though they were not black, or red, or even silver like the other luchadores—but instead a deep shade of metallic magenta with flowered inlays.
“Who is that?” Eduardo asked.
Gabriel stared at the wrestler, shaking his head. Though not tall, La Rosa had the frame of a male athlete, with muscular thighs that looked as if they could strangle a man. They betrayed years of training, but the character and the costuming were a dramatic departure from the machismo typically on display in the ring.
“He’s an exótico,” Gabriel said, hushed.
He took it all in, his eyes wide. He’d heard of exótico wrestlers before, but he had never seen one in person. He knew that in the early days of lucha libre, they performed as dandies, well-dressed wrestlers who lavished female fans with flowers and kisses. Modern exóticos were the only luchadores who performed as openly gay—and they were largely perceived as a drag act, comic relief for the fight card.
La Rosa climbed the ropes and stood on the turnbuckle. He faced out toward the crowd, arms outstretched, hips swaying with the music. As cheers echoed across the arena, La Rosa leapt heels-over-head into the ring, landing solidly on the mat, only to resume his bump-and-grind dance.
The crowd roared its approval.
“Rosa’s the técnico!” Gabriel exclaimed, shouting to be heard over the crowd noise. “I thought exóticos usually played the rudo.”
If that were true, the heel in the match would have had more fans than the hero, because La Rosa’s fans were numerous and vocal. Along the rails of the highest balcony, a boisterous cheering section had waved rainbow flags the moment La Rosa’s name was announced. Though some booed the luchador, their jeers were easily drowned out by La Rosa’s rowdy fans, who joined in an organized chant: ¡Chiquitibum a la bim bom ba!¡Chiquitibum a la bim bom ba! ¡A la bio, a la bao, a la bim bom ba! ¡Rosa, Rosa, Ra Ra Ra!
* * *
Though he entrusted the development of Gabriel’s technical skills to Arturo, Miguel insisted that Gabriel continue his own, unfathomable tutoring. It was classroom work, of sorts, a training of Gabriel’s mind that only Miguel could explain—but steadfastly refused to do so.
His unconventional training included handing Gabriel a list of research assignments. Study the rise of the PRI and the role of Superbarrio in the emergence of opposition politics. Watch and compare the El Santo movies of the 1960s to the El Santo movies of the 1970s. Contrast and compare American professional wrestling performance to lucha libre.
“I know who El Santo is. My dad used to watch his movies with me when I was little. But how is watching Santo vs. las Mujeres Vampiro relevant to my getting a pro license?” Gabriel asked. He spat out his words in a rapid-fire complaint.
Miguel smirked and tossed a magazine across the room. “Read this,” he said.
Miguel nodded, as if acknowledging a secret he hadn’t shared.
“A thirty-year-old magazine? I wasn’t even born yet.”
“That’s the point, college boy,” Miguel said, going back to work, smiling to himself.
* * *
“You’re going to wrestle with us?”
“I’d like to,” Gabriel said.
Gabriel turned his beer bottle clockwise, picked at the moist label, and then spun it counter-clockwise.
“Something’s on your mind,” Miguel said. Gabriel’s focus stayed fixed on the bottle.
Turn, pick, spin. Repeat.
“Look at me,” Miguel said. “Spit it out.”
Gabriel stopped, tapped his fingers on the table, and finally looked up, meeting Miguel’s eye. “Are you going to make me an exótico?”
“Are you going to make me be an exótico?” he repeated with more force.
“I can’t make you anything,” Miguel said.
“I heard I would be an exótico, that I don’t have a choice.”
“Who told you that?” Miguel asked. Gabriel glanced to the end of the bar, and Miguel’s gaze followed. “Gabriel, look at me. You’re a rookie. You’re just starting out. And I don’t represent the leagues. As far as I’m concerned, you can be whatever you want. But the future? I can’t predict that. You become a league wrestler, and they’ll have a say in the character they want you to play.”
Gabriel looked down, grim and silent, poking at his cuticles. Miguel wasn’t telling him anything he didn’t already know.
“You have choices, you know,” Miguel added. He narrowed the gap between them to be heard over the din of the bar, as if sharing a secret. “You don’t have to join a league.”
“But then, I’ll never get to the top,” Gabriel said, not bothering to look up.
“Does that really matter?”
Miguel dipped his head, forcing Gabriel to make eye contact. He didn’t move until Gabriel acknowledged him, albeit with a grunt.
“I told you, you have choices to make. You’re a good wrestler. You could become a great luchador. But success? Only you can decide what that means to you. Is it money? Television? Fame? Then you become a league luchador and you play by their rules.”
“And an exótico?”
“Maybe,” Miguel said. “Or is success something else, Gabriel? Is it being the luchador that you want to be? Not letting an empresa decide that for you? Then maybe you stay independent.”
Gabriel measured the words, sometimes acknowledging with the slightest of unconscious head bobs, occasionally glancing over to where Arturo stood at the bar.
That didn’t go unnoticed.
“No one can make these choices for you. Not me, not anyone else.”
Somehow, Miguel knew, and acknowledged it without the judgment Gabriel expected. “Whatever you decide, understand that at some point, you’re going to have to sacrifice for it.”
“I don’t understand.”
Miguel leaned back in his chair and looked at the ceiling, as if the dim bulbs and acoustic tiles held the answer to life’s great mysteries. “You will.”
* * *
Luchador will be published by Interlude Press on Erin Finnegan at Erin-Finnegan.com, on Facebook at facebook.com/ErinGoFinneganand on Twitter at @eringofinnegan.. Connect with author
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