‘Lucha Libre En La Calle’: A Boyhood Love With Wrestling
From the late 1970′s through to the early 1990′s, my Uncle Paul would record wrestling onto tapes that he stored in my Auntie Joy’s walk-in closet. There were boxes and boxes of betas and VHS tapes full of wrestling videos taped from NWA (National Wrestling Alliance), WWF (World Wrestling Federation), AWA (American Wrestling Federation) and GLOW (Gorgeous Ladies of Wrestling). It was great. I swear my brother and my cousins would go to their house and never fail, sit in front of the tube watching tapes that he recorded earlier that week for hours.
My brother and I loved the Rock and Roll Express. You see we grew up in the South somewhat and so, it was great to watch a specific alliance and we were both pretty loyal to the NWA. We would always pretend we were the RnR Express and would wrestle our cousins and friends who would pretend to be the arch-nemesis team, The Midnight Express with Jim Cornette (he was the manager who always carried around a tennis racket, and it was assumed that it wasn’t a tennis racket but a crazy weapon used on unsuspecting opponents when they fell on the ground and the referee was caught not paying attention.)
I remember rooting for the Road Warriors, Animal and Hawk. A LOT! I mean shit it was the 80′s and the Cold War propaganda was in full effect. The Road Warriors would always be battling The Russian Team, Ivan and Nikita Koloff, Krusher Krushev, and some other one I don’t remember AND of course they were from the Soviet Union. The Road Warriors also feuded with the Four Horsemen. Now let me tell you, if you’re about wrestling and wanna fight about this, even though I’m a grown ass man, I will fight you. The Original Four Horsemen were the best branded group in professional televised wrestling. They had their own gang sign. They had the women. They had the belts. They had everyone trying to knock em off their blocks. They had the fans that booed them but deep down inside, actually loved their wrestling technique and style (that’s right I said it, wanna fight?) The Original Four Horsemen (and the only one that matters, what, wanna fight?) includes Ric “I’ll take you to Space Mountain…WHOOOOO” Flair, The Minnesota Wrecking Crew – Ole and Arn Anderson, and Tully Blanchard.
It was (at least I thought when I was younger), all about the South. I remember when Magnum TA fought Tully Blanchard for the Intercontinental belt…BUT in JAPAN. I was sprung. JAPAN? Really? That led me to learn about the Great Kabuki and others like The Samoan SWAT team…and one of the greatest pacific islander wrestlers EVER, Jimmy “Super Fly” Snuka. Outstanding! We are talking about wrestling is taking over the world. I was young. I didn’t know that wrestling had taken the world (pre-cable television, Vince McMahon) already. I didn’t know much about the Luchadores. I didn’t even know about the whole idea of Lucha Libre.
Fast forward to switching between “Saved by the Bell” and WWF, and BAM – Rey Mysterio Jr. “HOLY SHIT!” that guy is AWESOME! He was the novelty in mainstream wrestling. I didn’t know about the history until I was too old to care about even watching it. Lucha Libre huh?!? OK! The high-flying, acrobatic, jump way high off the top turnbuckle really made wrestling more exciting. It became, dare I say, compelling. It was now an international flavor. It had more complexities than before. Before it was blood, submission hold, chair across the forehead, blood…with the addition of other cultural and ethnic fighters…it became…more entertaining. YIKES. Again a novelty. The purpose of this post isn’t for the race relations in the world…but come on…there’s a connection (what wanna fight?)
I realized recently, how much wrestling carved out a lot of what I know today. I seriously loved the fact that I thought it was real until high school (what, wanna fight?). I believed in the camel clutch BUT not as much as the figure four. You wrestling fans know what I’m talking about. I used to force my brother to lay out so I could put the figure four leg lock on him. I used to suplex my brother the same time my boy Mark would suplex his baby brother (I love Mark but that guy liked the Ultimate Warrior way too much).
Another fast forward: I get a text from @gotgoat talking about, “We are going to take the kids to South Park.”
“WHOA! South Park? for what?” South Park is a neighborhood in Seattle, well known for its gang problem, its graffitti, its crime. Why would you want to take your kids there? (such a conditioned response from me…I actually love South Park for its cultural and ethnic diversity, aint that how it works though…cultural and ethnic diversity equals “gang problems, graffitti, crime”…anyways, wanna fight? disclaimer done, still wanna fight? let’s wrestle!)
“We’re going to take the kids to go see the Lucha Libre”
“LUCHA LIBRE!!! We’ll meet you there!!!”
So let me tell you about South Park. South Park is nestled in between West Seattle and Georgetown/Boeing Field along the Duwamish River. I know that before when I used to play a lot of Texas Hold ‘Em, the only way to get to the casino without having to take a 20 minute detour was over the South Park bridge that connected South Park to one of the main thoroughfares in Seattle’s Industrial District. South Park was well known for having really bad water and pollution problems because they had/have top soil contamination and the lack of city support to upgrade a lot of the underground water systems. Property value in South Park is SIGNIFICANLY less than any of the other neighborhoods in the city. When you mention South Park to a local, you will probably get the same response I gave @gotgoat, “Really…you’re going to South Park?” Again, it was a conditioned response for me…yeah, I’m a jerk, wanna fight?
My boy lived there in the early 90′s and he would talk about at least every other night he would hear gunshots. The day of the Lucha Libre event, I witnessed drug deals in plain sight/ daylight. Cops at a city neighborhood event? Nope. Nowhere to be seen. It was wierd. I ask my wife if she noticed and she said, “well even the cops are scared of this hood…PLUS there are luchadores here. No one’s going to mess with anyone because there’s a whole mess of luchadore’s here.” True that!
They’re like superheroes! The cops know that luchadores are like Batman and Superman to some folks.
The beauty of this event is that it was for the positive aspects of the neighborhood. It’s a strong cultural and ethnic community. It’s long time residents who refuse to leave and actually fight to be heard to the city council. For instance in between matches, they would hold raffles and when a kid would win the raffle and they were from South Park of another adjoining neighborhood, the crowd would cheer wildly. It was great. It was a community proudful of itself and of course trying to tell the world that they love themselves and their hood.
We get there a bit early. They are still putting the ring together. I talk to one of the organizers and he tells me that at least this year, we were able to secure a real wrestling ring and that in itself is a big accomplishment. It’s first year (last year) they had to use a junior boxing ring which is too small and way too different for the luchadores to do their thing. I go around and take a few shots and notice the neighborhood and try to capture those moments even though I know I really just wanted to shoot some luchadores. Luchadores who were traveling and who were also local started to stream in. The crowd started to grow larger. Our kids and all the other kids were running around the street wearing luchador masks or painted luchador masks.
Everyone did forget about the stereotype of the neighborhood. It was like people didn’t believe that this event could happen without something going down in light of all the bad things happening around the city this year.
Needless to say, the event was a success. All I heard from folks there, “I can’t wait until next year. This is going to be one of the best festivals in the city.”
It’s true. It will be.
I’ll leave you with some more photos and hopefully for some of you in Seattle, I’ll see you next year in South Park!
PS. I love the fact that I was able to get a “press pass” to shoot with my camera phone. I hope the big camera folks shooting ringside find my shots are cool enough to hangout with them. =)
@bradpuet (Twitter, Instagram)