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LuchaLibre lives on in Guatemala

We picked them up in Zone 1, on the corner of third avenue this past Sunday afternoon – our friend Addison a tall, white, wirey, canche colocho, and the lean, well-postured and muscular figure of Cebero, the Austrian Guatemalan wrestler, strapped with his own 9 mm Spanish-made gun and dressed all in black – at one with the heavy metal persona he embodies. Cebero, not to be confused with his Wolfgang day-time persona, always carried his gun because “in Guatemala, everywhere you go, there are thugs that get mad at you for anything, a bad stare, walking on the wrong side of the street.” It was hard to miss them. Cebero smiled the biggest, most humble smile I’d seen on anyone in a while, thanked us as we got in the car and headed out.

We had to move quickly because we had to get Cebero to Zone 12 by 5 PM and negotiate how I was going to take videos at La Arena (where I learned upon arriving that they charged Q2,500 for any kind of professional filming). I was pushing my luck and I knew it, but I had to take that chance. Who would have guessed that LuchaLibre was still alive, but certainly not well, in Guatemala? This was no NachoLibre orphanage in the fields we were going to, it was one of the poorest, slummiest and unsafest parts of Guatemala City where there are no private parking lots for cars, the streets have that abandoned openness that makes for shooting ranges, hungry dogs, broken down cars and couples creeping quickly on the thin broken sidewalks. But no matter, today was “Ladies Get in Free Night” and we were rolling with one of the main wrestlers committed to his art form, regardless of the measley few quetzales paid per match. As we approached La Arena, Cebero throws on his mask and tries to find us a parking lot, to no avail, so he negotiates with the storeowner next door to watch our car.  We sent him off and parked the car, threw our cameras backpacks on and looked back (we hoped, not for the last time) at our car. Every half hour I would come out shoot different light or record different sounds as an excuse to see if the car was where we left it.

Inside, the arena was empty, cool, dark and quiet and the smell of butter on microwaved popcorn swarmed around the doorway. I was hungry, but I had to set up my tripod and hope the owner of the ring, who was also a wrestler, would be understanding enough to let me shoot. I sent the message back with a young boy that “I am an independent periodista who just wants to tell the story of a wrestler and the wrestling scene blah blah…” Five minutes later, the boy pulls my arm and says, “The owner says it will cost you.” Right, I say, shoo the boy away and keep shooting.

When the first match is about to start, I get the official public shaming. “Could the woman with her video camera please stop filming so that we can get on with the match?” Sigh, I shut off the camera and close the screen. “Could she please put the camera away?” I take the camera off the tripod. At this point there are about a hundred people in the ring watching me. I yell across the bleachers: “The camera is off!” The crowd repeats it. “Please put the camera and everything away,” the announcer politely says again over the intercom. Everyone watches me pack all my gear away again, except for my microphone and Zoom recorder. Then I’ll make it a radio story ’cause you can’t keep a journalist from her story! I grumble to myself.

The fight begins with nothing really out of the ordinary, except each subsequent fight is starting to fall into one of two camps: All Spectacle or This Is For Real. When two or three guy team up on one wrestler, things start getting fiesty and the 80-year-old woman behind me screamed: “Tear his f**king balls off!” I turned around and she smiled really sweetly. “I really like that wrestler,”she said. Later that evening the wrestlers took the fight to her:

The crowd was making itself known.

The rest of the matches did not disappoint and by the end of the evening I was off those bleachers and following the wrestlers around with my microphones as they pummeled one another. They made each other beg as I held my microphone near. My favorite moments include the fancy footwork fight:

The pummeling:

And at the end of the night, the ring belonged to the kids:

One thought on “LuchaLibre lives on in Guatemala

  1. Nic says:

    Given the popularity of wrestling in Mexico it has surprised me that it isn’t as popular here.

    The contrast between the Saturday afternoon entertainment beamed out on Fox and the above could not be starker.

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