Since last 2014, the El Rey Network has been airing a lucha libre show called Lucha Underground. Not only is it a fun, insane wrestling show, it introduces the lucha libre tradition to American audiences who might not be familiar with this high-flying form of wrestling.
You have young guys like former Lucha Underground Champion Prince Puma, who would jump off of almost anything and risk it all in and out the ring, and veterans such as Mascarita Sagrada, who wrestles in the mini division back in Mexico but can still lay the beat down on his opponents. If you’re familiar with American wrestling promotions such as the WWE and the late WCW, then you’ve probably heard names like Konnan and Chavo Guerrero Jr. They’re in Lucha Underground, too. The very first televised match of LU featured Chavo and Blue Demon Jr., the son of one the biggest lucha libre legends of all time.
The fact that you can tune in on Wednesday nights to watch masked men with ridiculous storylines (Mil Muertes, one of the bad guys, is the sole survivor of a 1989 earthquake in Mexico City) clash against each other like almighty titans is a very big deal for people like myself, who grew up watching AAA and CMLL matches on Sunday afternoons with Dad. Sure, I spent a lot of time watching what was then the WWF and WCW shows, but it was the style of these luchadores and the gusto with which they performed their signature moves that kept me coming back to the Mexican tradition.
I haven’t been a big fan of wrestling for a while. Personally, I find the current WWE a bit stale and tired, and I don’t get to sit down and watch AAA matches all that often anymore. But I have watched a ton of Lucha Underground, and all I can say is that it’s definitely worth checking out. Yes, the storylines are more than a bit silly and some of the characters aren’t very interesting (looking at you, Mariachi Loco, lord of stereotypes), but the action is non-stop. Lucha Underground is really worth the watch.
Just check out this match between Prince Puma and former WWE star Johnny Mundo:
Now that lucha libre is making its way back into American television, it’s a pretty appropriate time, especially since Blue Demon Jr. is in the mix, to look back at the three legends of lucha libre.
Years Active: 1934-1982
We have to start with the big man. El Santo really doesn’t need much of an introduction if you’re at least a tiny bit familiar with lucha. He is by far the greatest wrestler to step into a ring in Mexico. Wrestling as a tecnico (the good guy), he also wrestled under the names Rudy Guzman (his real name), El Hombre Rojo, and El Demonio Negro.
His biggest achievement was undoubtedly his undefeated record in luchas de apuesta, matches in which the loser would be unmasked or have his hair shaved off. You can only imagine what a big deal these matches are. Most luchadores wear masks, and being stripped of them is like being stripped of their identities. You’ll find that most masked wrestlers wear their masks in and out of the ring to protect their identities. Luckily, El Santo never lost his mask and the legend lived on.
So big was Santo fever back in the 1950s and 60s that El Enmascarado de Plata (as he was lovingly known in his home country) that he became movie star, featuring in many of the biggest wrestling pictures ever made for Latin American audiences. He was in 54 films total.
Famous films include 1961’s Santo vs The Zombies, 66’s Santo vs The Martian Invasion, 69’s Santo vs Blue Demon in Atlantis, which co-starred another lucha great in a sci-fi adventure. His greatest and most famous film is 62’s Santo vs The Vampire Women, which you might remember from an episode of Mystery Science Theater 3000.
Fun fact: The MST3K episode in question was the season 6 finale and Frank Conniff’s final appearance as a series regular.
Here’s the entire film on YouTube:
Santo was also the subject of comic books and cartoons. His comic book series ran for 35 years and was only rivalled in popularity by the Mexican adventure book Kaliman. This is absolutely him wrestling some mummies in a panel of Jose G. Cruz’s Santo:
A week before his death in 1984, Santo took off his mask for the first and only time on Mexican television to say goodbye to his fans. He’d retired from wrestling in 1982. Santo was buried wearing his mask. His legacy is everlasting. His son currently wrestles under the name El Hijo del Santo, and has become a bit of a legend himself. Recently, one of his granchildren took up the name El Nieto del Santo (yes, that’s “Santo’s Grandson!”) in the ring.
Que viva El Santo!
Years Active: 1948 – 1989
Santo’s biggest rival was undoubtedly Blue Demon, who defeated him in several well-publicized matches in the 50s. This isn’t the only thing that makes him one of the other great legends of lucha libre, but it certainly helped. Time and time again, fans of the sport have imagined the What If? scenario of a Blue Demon and Santo battle for the mask. It would’ve been epic, but it would’ve also cut one of their careers short and robbed them of the fame they so well deserved. Still, what if?
You might be surprised to know that Blue Demon started his career as a rudo (a bad guy). It wasn’t until 1952 when he faced off against Santo in a tag team match that he decided to change teams. Blue Demon’s partner in the match, Black Shadow, was unmasked by Santo. Perhaps this caused Blue Demon to see the light…
Demon was also a film star, starring in many films alongside his greatest rival. They went on adventures to Atlantis, fought monsters, and even took a trip to “The World of the Dead” together. Charming. But really, what I want to talk to you about is their 1972 film Santo and Blue Demon vs Dracula and the Wolfman. Actually, no. I’ll just show you. Here’s a clip of Santo and Blue Demon fighting a bunch of wolf men:
You can find the rest of the film on YouTube, as well.
A year later, the duo faced off against Dr. Frankenstein and his minions. We’re talking about an A-list lineup of horror B-movies. I suggest you spike the punch and watch these movies at the next Halloween party. (Drink responsibly.)
In the ring, Blue Demon was as much a champ as Santo. Demon won the EMLL (now CMLL) National Welterweight Championship on several occasions, and even won the NWA Welterweight Championship twice, defeating Santo one of those times. The National Wrestling Alliance, of course, is one of the largest leagues of independent wrestling promotions in the world. Bravo!
In later years, Blue Demon developed a rivalry against fellow masked wrestling legend Rayo de Jalisco (“The Lightning from Jalisco”), who was also in a couple of wrestling pictures with Demon. Rayo and Demon faced off in a deadly mask vs. mask match in 1988, the year Demon retired. You can watch the match below (sorry for the terrible audio)…
Blue Demon retired from the ring at age 67. He teamed up with his adopted son, Blue Demon Jr., in his final match as a professional wrestler. He passed away in 2000 after his morning workout at The Blue Demon Wrestling Academy, where he taught younger generations lucha libre. Blue Demon never revealed his identity and was buried wearing his mask.
Blue Demon Jr. has continued to honor his father’s memory and mask in the ring. Wrestling as a heavyweight, he’s the first Mexican and second masked wrestler to win the NWA World Heavyweight Championship. And you can watch him on Lucha Underground every Wednesday night!
Years Active: 1968 – Present
Ah, we get to Mil Mascaras (“The Man of a Thousand Masks”) at last, who is probably the most controversial wrestler on this list. Why? Well, many wrestlers have claimed that Mil Mascaras could take you on an ego trip to the moon. Many superstars such as Mick Foley and Chris Jericho have criticized Mascaras’ unwillingness to sell moves in matches. But I’m not going to sit here and talk smack about a lucha legend.
Mil Mascaras was so superior in size to a lot of his heavyweight contemporaries in Mexico that it allowed him to wrestle in big American wrestling promotions such as the WWF and WCW. Mascaras also helped develop the high-flying style of lucha libre we see today. While a lot of lucha at the time was made up of various holds, Mascaras had his eye on the top rope. This made him a one-of-a-kind superstar in Mexico. They even put him on postage stamps later in his career.
Although he faced criticism from other wrestlers, Mil Mascaras’ time in the big American wrestling promotions proved a successful one. He was the first masked wrestler allowed to perform in Madison Square Garden, which had a ban on masked wrestlers due to a NYC law that didn’t allow people to wear masks back in the 70s. His opponent, The Spoiler, who also wore a mask, had to take off his mask to perform.
Mascaras feuded with Billy Graham for the WWWF Heavyweight Championship. And also had a memorable match against Cactus Jask at WCW’s Clash of the Champions X: Texas Shootout in 1990. Here’s the video:
Yeah, he kicked Mick Foley’s butt.
In 1997, Mil Mascaras performed in his first American pay-per-view, that year’s edition of the WWF Royal Rumble, where he eliminated himself by jumping off the top rope and out of the ring. Cuz fuck it, I guess. Mil Mascaras was later honored by the WWE Hall of Fame in 2012. As you can see above, he looks good in a tux.
Okay, now we get to my favorite part of his career. Like the two other men on this list, Mil Mascaras was also a film star. He’s starred in 19 wrestling films so far and counting. His first film was appropriately titled Mil Mascaras (1966) in which he portrays a superhero version of himself. Which is fitting when you get to THE CHAMPIONS OF JUSTICE!
If lucha libre ever had its very own Justice League/Avengers troop of masked wrestlers, The Champions of Justice (1970) was it. Portraying a powerful wrestling superhero team, Mil Mascaras teamed up with Blue Demon, Tinieblas, El Medico Asesino, and La Sombra Vengadora to fight crime, monsters, evil scientists, evil dwarves, and…wrestlers. For the next few years, Mil Mascaras joined fellow wrestlers in several epic wrestling team-up films such as Macabre Legends of the Colony (1973), The Mummies of San Angel (1973), and Mystery in Bermuda (1977).
The same year as the first Champions of Justice film, Mil Mascaras starred alongside El Santo and Blue Demon for the very first time in The Mummies of Guanajuato. Here’s the entire film:
The biggest crime is that they never made a Champions of Justice comic book or some kind of team-up event for the stands. Oh well. What if…
Mil Mascaras continues to wrestle today and to perform in films. He’s 72 years old and still flying off shit. Good for him. I’ll leave you with this fantastic match between Mil Mascaras and Billy Graham for the WWWF Heavyweight Championship:
John Saavedra has met a couple of luchadores. They’re nice people.