Written By Alfredo Esparza
Contrapunto January 25, 1984: Lucha Libre – “Circo, Maroma, Teatro o Deporte?”
Contrapunto (Counterpoint) was a news debate show that aired on Televisa and covered a variety of topics during the 1980s. It was hosted by legendary Mexican news anchor Jacobo Zabludovsky. In early 1984, they had a show that held a debate on what Lucha Libre/Pro Wrestling really was. Was it a “circus, tumbling, theater or sport”? The show episode re-aired in the early 2000s on Galavision.
Zabludovsky provides the intro to the show discussing how lucha libre is the second most popular sport at that time to soccer in Mexico. It was more popular than baseball and bullfighting at that time. He talks about how lucha libre came to be including showing how it goes back to early Egypt and Greece as. He talks about how lucha libre/wrestling is practiced in Africa, Asia, and the United States. Mentions how in Japan, sumo wrestling is very popular. Zabludovsky brings up how in the United States sometime in the 1870s, wrestling became more of an entertainment and a great business. They show highlights from lucha libre shows including Lizmark hitting a plancha on El Satanico. Zabludovsky talks about how fans reactions during lucha libre shows can vary from celebration, to sadness for their hero losing, to fights among fans. He also brings up how wrestlers have to make sure they don’t get hurt, protect their identity and make the fans believe what they are seeing is real.
Zabludovsky introduces the panel that will be discussing lucha libre. It includes luchadores Blue Demon, El Santo, Wolf Ruvinskis and Manuel “Mocho” Cota, wrestling critic/sports news columnist Eduardo Moreno Laparade, and lucha libre columnist Efrain Cadena Vega. Zabludovsky gives a background on each of the guests panelists.
Zabludovsky asks Vega how lucha libre got started in Mexico. Vega said lucha libre started in Mexico in the 1910s when a group of wrestlers that included Wladek Zbyszko and they had a few sporadic tours. They returned years later with some international wrestlers. They returned in the early 1930s and Vega said it was 2-3 years later in 1933 when a sign was posted in Mexico City by Salvador Lutteroth that there would be lucha libre on September 21 and he named some of the wrestlers on that show including Yaqui Joe, Chino Achiu, Bobby Sampson and Ciclon McKey. A week later the first Mexican wrestler would debut, “Dientes” Hernandez.
Show returns from break with footage of them asking lucha libre promoter Jesus Garza Hernandez what lucha libre is, “circus, tumbling, theater or sport”. He says it is a little bit of all. He says its circus because of the outfits and how the luchadores portray themselves to the public in their matches. Tumbling because it is something that is mostly commonly used in sports and that in lucha libre, learning to tumble and falling is one of the first things a luchador must learn. Theater because it has to have a good script and must have a good booker to give the fans a good storyline. Sport because luchadores have to train, be well-prepared and have a good physique. He said it is even more important in Mexico that a luchador be well prepared because there is more high-flying compared to in the United States there is more mat wrestling. In Mexico, it is less showing your face and more about high-flying and working at a faster pace. Hernandez was one of the men who took lucha libre to Televicentro, which was the first opposition group to Lutteroth’s EMLL back in the early 1960s.
Return from break with Jacobo Zabludovsky asking the panel what they think lucha libre is. El Santo believes it is more of a sport. He said that a luchador has to be a good athlete, stay in shape and train to be good. It takes years for a luchador to improve and thinks it really takes 5-6 years for a luchador to fully develop. He then talks about a friend of his who wasn’t quite good at lucha libre when he first started. El Santo said he doesn’t want to speak wrongly about his friend, but when he first started he was a failure. That friend was Mil Mascaras. He credits Mil Mascaras for improving as an athlete over the years. He said that Mil Mascaras has also become the luchador who came off as a legit athlete because he went back to Guadalajara and learned lucha libre. He praises how much he improved. El Santo also agrees that there is tumbling because that’s a vital part of lucha libre. He also agrees there is theater because each wrestler has to develop a character and make the fans believe that he is that character. He pointed out how people thought Cavernario Galindo ate raw meat and would eat live animals, but in reality that wasn’t the case but he made the fans believe it. He also talked about how Murcielago Velasquez use to throw bats up in the air before he would wrestle. Fans would look around at bats flying around the arena. El Santo said Murcielago wasn’t a vampiro and didn’t live with bats, but fans believed he did.
Zabludovsky talks about how Wolf Ruvinskis transitioned from being a luchador to an actor. El Santo mentions that when they use to wrestle, all the guys would see Ruvinskis constantly studying, reading books, trying to improve himself so he could become more than just a luchador. El Santo said that back in the day, luchadores didn’t make much money and said it was usually just around 15-20 pesos. He said guys found other jobs and careers to make additional money. El Santo called Ruvinskis a good friend and he respects what he did because Ruvinskis has made more from working in acting than as a luchador. El Santo said he started watching lucha libre going back to the 1930s and by the time he was getting into the business, Wolf Ruvinskis was already a star.
Zabludovsky asks Wolf Ruvinskis how he got into lucha libre and how did he go from being a great luchador, actor and businessman. Ruvinskis said he became a fan of lucha libre/pro wrestling when the heavyweight wrestlers toured Argentina. He was impressed by their size and wanted to become a strong man. Ruvinskis said as a child he had a bit of a rough upbringing. He won a wrestling tournament when he was 11 years old in Buenos Aires. He said as a kid, a friend and he would go to a park and imitate the wrestlers that toured Buenos Aires at that time. He wanted to be either a luchador, boxer or soccer player. He went and learned Greco-Roman Wrestling as a teen. He became an amateur champion at a national level in Argentina. He said that during the 1940s due to the war going on, the heavyweights that use to travel to Argentina were unable to do it. He was at that point a young man with some size and the wrestling touring group signed him to join them. Ruvinskis mentioned that among that heavyweight wrestling touring group included Argentina Rocca. He then toured the United State. When he reached Columbia, he was ill and lost some weight. While there, he was told that the best light heavyweight wrestlers in the world could be found in Mexico. He was quickly signed by Lutteroth. Ruvinskis recalls one of his first tours with EMLL included El Santo. Ruvinskis said that he was at that time use to wrestling twice a week in front of large crowds with a lot of pageantry on the shows and in Mexico, he learned how much a luchador “suffers”. He suffered with them. He said that Mexican luchadores have a deep love of lucha libre because he can’t honestly understand how they could withstand all they went thru including bad hotels and low pay wages while on tour outside of Mexico City. He said the places where they did make money were in Arena Mexico and Arena Coliseo. He said lucha libre is very difficult. Ruvinskis said luchadores every day they have to wrestle and if they get hurt, they still have to get back in and wrestle. Ruvinskis said that lucha libre is very difficult because luchadores minds are more on their bodies and having to deal with what is ailing them and having to deal with those injuries later in life. He points out how people think it’s just theater but talks about how a luchador will fall to the outside and for those who are not properly trained or in condition, that fall is difficult to come back from, but a luchador you’ll see get up and keep going as if he’s not in some type of pain. He talked about the reason a luchador adds more to the spectacle is so that it will attract more fans to attend and they’ll be brought back again to wrestle and make more money. He mentioned how there has always been some form of “clowning around” in the ring but it is done to bring more fans. He used Tarzan Lopez as an example. He said that he was a serious wrestler with great technical ability. Vega called Lopez a “cold” wrestler. Ruvinskis mentioned Lopez would only get booked a few times during the year because he didn’t want to do the added “spectacle” that Ruvinskis or Santo would be willing to do. Ruvinskis said for all those people who think lucha libre is easy and they can make the type of money Mil Mascaras was making while touring in Japan and the U.S., they should sign-up and try it out.
Blue Demon said that as a luchador one has to have a concept of what lucha libre is. He said as a luchador one should know his body first so that when they are expressing pain to the fans, they show it properly. Ruvinskis brings up Shakespeare theater to describe how lucha libre has to have some type of entertainment for the fans without them even knowing. Ruvinskis suggests to Jacobo Zabludovsky that maybe they should demonstrate on him so that he can see just how real lucha libre can be. Zabludovsky politely declines and tells Ruvinskis that he believes him.
They return from break showing El Santo movie highlights. In the clip, the actress sitting ringside tells the guy she’s with that she’d love to see the face behind the mask. They cut back to the studio and El Santo partially raises up his mask and gives a brief glimpse of his face. That was the first and only time El Santo showed hi s face in that form on national TV. Ruvinskis jokes that El Santo didn’t bring his glasses and that everyone in the neighborhood knows who El Santo is without his mask. Ruvinskis talked about how he had a match with El Santo where he suffered an injury (fractured his orbital bone) at about the one-minute mark of the match. El Santo went to the back. The fans waited to see what happened. El Santo returned to continue the match. Ruvinskis said that as a professional when he knew El Santo was hurt, he grabbed his arms to not injure him & keep the match going so that fans wouldn’t know what happened. Ruvinskis recalls wrestling with an injured shoulder and having to wrestle. He was teaming with Black Shadow and he did most of the work in the match. Ruvinskis calls it a difficult career and he would never recommend a son of his to pursue pro wrestling/lucha libre as a career. He would be ok with them doing amateur wrestling because it is a good sport.
Zabludovsky asks Manuel “Mocho” Cota how he got into wrestling. He was a fan since he was a kid and got to see Blue Demon and El Santo wrestle. Cota liked wrestling more than going to school. The camera shows a close-up of Mocho Cota’s right hand that is missing two fingers. He started helping his trainer who was a mechanic and worked with him at that job. Mocho Cota said he was undersized and couldn’t find someone of his size to wrestle. He went to Mexico City to wrestle on the recommendation of Blue Demon.
Zabludovsky asks if there are mafias within lucha libre. Ruvinskis asks Zabludovsky if he is referring to mafias that want to decide who wins, strong-arm talent, etc., which Zabludovsky says that’s the type of mafia he’s referring to. Ruvinskis said there are not those types of mafias in lucha libre in Mexico. Ruvinskis said there are different types of mafias in that it is the promoters who are blacklisted if they work for other promoters.
Video is shown of Dr. Wagner Sr. being asked if matches are fixed and if there are mafias involved in lucha libre. Dr. Wagner Sr. said the only mafias he’s seen are those in movies. He doesn’t know how fixed they are and didn’t really give much of an answer. They ask Dr. Wagner Sr. what he thinks about women wrestling. He said that he doesn’t like women or midgets wrestling because to him they are somewhat more delicate and he doesn’t want to see them injured.
They interviewed a psychiatrist, Dr. Manuel Elizondo Garza, about lucha libre. He mentions that when people get excited or they see the agressiveness going on in lucha libre, they know its fictitious and a form of entertainment. They ask the psychiatrist if lucha libre could affect a luchador psychologically which he says yes. He said it can lead to issues both mentally and physically. He talks about how the outfits and masks stimulate emotions from fans during matches and when there are stipulation matches.
Eduardo Moreno Laparade, the only panelist that is anti-lucha libre, asks how it’s possible that a smaller luchador can wrestle a bigger luchador. He points out how in boxing that isn’t permitted, which Ruvinskis tells him that he’s talking about boxing and not lucha libre. Ruvinskis said that in lucha libre a man who is 80 kilos can wrestle one that is 130 kilos just fine. He then asks why they allow there to be wrestling outside of the ring. He agrees that it is a spectacle and that the luchadores are well prepared but to him it is not a sport. Blue Demon tells him that there are aspects of sport in lucha libre because most everyone who gets into lucha libre comes from an amateur wrestling background.
They show a clip of Andre The Giant in Toreo de Cuatro Caminos where he teamed with Tamba “The Flying Elephant” against Enrique Vera and Dos Caras.
Eduardo “El Dientes” Hernandez is interviewed from his home. He is recognized as the first Mexican professional wrestler. He was asked what he remembered of his first match and said he didn’t really feel much because he had already wrestled prior to that. At the time of the interview he was no longer wrestling due to leg issues, but he said that if he didn’t have those problems, he’d still be in the ring training. He said that he wasn’t involved in wrestling and rarely attends show, but did go see Andre The Giant wrestle just because he had some curiosity to see him live. He said that he wasn’t attending shows because he still would get the bug back and want to get close to the ring so that fans could recognize him, but he doesn’t do that. Hernandez said he wishes there was more circus and theater in what he was doing in the ring because unfortunately they all suffered injuries.
They show a video interview of Salvador “Chavo” Lutteroth Jr. where he gets asked how lucha libre started in Mexico. He tells the story of how his father started running lucha libre shows. His father, Salvador Lutteroth, had a furniture business and he didn’t have the heart to get those who owed him money business. While in Ciudad Juarez, a few friends invited him to go watch lucha libre. While at the show, he realized it was a business where he would know immediately if he made or lost money on the same day, so he opted to sell the furniture business. He started a promotion working with other promoters. Since there were no Mexican wrestlers at the time, he brought in foreigners and also wrestlers of Mexican descent to work shows in Mexico City. Chavo Lutteroth Jr. said he wasn’t sure about how much of the story was true as he thinks it might have been romanticized by his mother but apparently his father lost money selling the furniture business, his wife’s jewelry, and additional funds they had. When they had no money, Lutteroth went across the street from where they ran lucha shows at that time in Mexico City and decided to buy a lottery ticket. His father ended up winning 40,000 pesos which at that time was a lot of money. Chavo said the first thing his father did was by the family a home that cost 16,500 pesos. The rest of the money won with that ticket, he used to pay to build the Arena Modelo (Old Arena Mexico) so he could run lucha libre shows regularly. He said the reason his father started promoting lucha libre shows was for economic reasons because he wanted to recoup the money he lost in his furniture business. Chavo said his father started running lucha libre shows on his own on September 21, 1933 because his associates when things were going bad, opted to no longer be involved. Salvador Lutteroth from the beginning of when he started promoting lucha libre insisted that they develop local talent. He recruited talent from those who were part of sports teams like Jack O’Brien, Ciclon Veloz, Bobby Bonales and others, he can’t remember since it was 51 years ago. He gets asked the same question that the show is all about. Chavo said to him lucha libre is very much a sport because luchadores are constantly training and staying in shape all year for a long period of time. He mentions that he isn’t too familiar with the new generation of luchadores (early ’80s) because he was no longer involved with EMLL for the past five years and was now living in Tijuana.
They return from break with Wolf Ruvinskis talking about how Lutteroth had to ask for permission for him to get a title match. Ruvinskis asks Laparade what he considers a professional sport. Laparade said he considers any activity that is regulated by a governing body which Ruvinskis said lucha libre fits that description. Ruvinskis repeats that he would not permit his sons to be in lucha libre because it is a savage and tremendous sport. Ruvinskis tells Laparade that when he is out at a restaurant he might see some sports reporters and they’ll be talking about lucha libre. He points out that lucha libre is enjoyed by all types of people from children to adults. Ruvinskis also mentions how in other sports, athletes suffer injuries. He brought this up because Laparade talked about how savage lucha libre looked to him and how luchadores got hurt.
They show the old 1980s lucha libre intro with the “Los Luchadores” theme song.
Next feature is on women’s wrestling. They show two women doing mud wrestling! This is the ’80s! They interview Irma Gonzalez and Reina Gallegos. Irma talks about wrestling for 20 years. She’s asked why women get involved in lucha libre and she jokes that maybe they want to prove everyone wrong about who is the weaker sex. She said that she sings and composes music when she’s not wrestling. Reina Gallegos had just been in wrestling for five years. She wanted to do as much as Irma Gonzalez and become champion. Gallegos said her training consisted of running and doing abdominal work besides wrestling. Monster Ripper was interviewed and said she had been wrestling for five years and agreed it was a difficult profession. They show a clip of Irma Gonzalez & Reina Gallegos vs. Estela Molina & The Monster from Toreo de Cuatro Caminos.
They ask female fans why they attend lucha libre shows. They start by asking long-time lucha fan Doña Virginia who has attended lucha shows for 50 years. She always would get the first ticket sold for each show and she explains that the reason was that she talked to Salvador Lutteroth and told him she was always busy, so he told one of his employees to make sure she gets a ticket to every show. She said she goes to shows because she is entertained and has fun. She said the hits that luchadores give each other are real. She said that she loves all the luchadores like they were her sons. She ripped on Gran Davis. Doña Virginia said her favorite tecnico from the past was El Santo, but at the time of the interview her current favorite tecnico was El Solitario. Her favorite rudo was El Faraon and said he is the best rudo of all of them.
They do a segment talking about lucha libre at the movies. They show highlights of various movies including one where El Santo, Blue Demon & Mil Mascaras are fighting the mummies in Guanajuato! They show match highlights from movies. El Santo talks about how popular lucha libre became when it was first televised in the early 1950s. Wolf Ruvinskis reveals that he was the one responsible for getting lucha libre first televised at that time because he went and asked Emilio Azcárraga to consider running lucha libre on TV (for what would later be known as Televisa). Ruvinskis was the one who brought in Jack O’Brien, Enrique Llanes and Lobo Negro and the other talent. Ruvinskis mentioned how he was the one who came up with the idea and organized everything. Gave those three each 5% and brought in promoter Jesus Garza Hernandez to run shows. They show a feature on Wolf Ruvinskis with his acting roles in telenovelas.
They interview fans outside a lucha show. The first is a couple that talk about why they attend lucha libre shows. The guy mentions that it has a little bit of everything because it is meant to be entertainment.
Wolf Ruvinskis said to him lucha libre has a little bit of everything and that for many it is an escape from reality and more entertaining. Laparade talks about how lucha libre is violent and will lead to kids having issues from watching it. Ruvinskis continues to rave about Greco-Roman wrestling being a good thing for kids to go watch and believed that many who attend lucha libre shows would fall in love with that sport and follow it. They show kids being interviewed. One kid is interviewed outside of Arena Coliseo. He talks about El Santo, Blue Demon, Tinieblas, Tonina Jackson and Huracan Ramirez. The kid is asked if he wants to be like Tinieblas when he grows up and he says yes. (Laparade might be right, lucha libre is ruining the kids of Mexico if they want to be like Tinieblas!) The little boy said he would like to become a luchador and wrestle as “Huracan”.
They interview Dr. Lopez how was a ringside doctor at lucha libre shows. He said the most dangerous injury that he’s ever seen at a lucha libre show was a fractured cranium. Zabludovsky asks the luchadores in the panel what are some of the consequences they have from wrestling. El Santo mentions how he wrestled for 40-plus years and said he only has minor injuries to his knees, shoulders and elbows. He said that he was lucky. El Santo mentioned that he once wrestled a real tiger on a TV show in Venezuela. Zabludovsky jokes that he won’t ask him who won because obviously he’s on the show. El Santo also mentioned having wrestled a bull for a benefit event. He talked about his brother Pantera Negra dying in the ring and how he stopped wrestling for a brief time. El Santo said that the newspaper headline of his brother’s passing was “Un Gato mata un Pantera Negra,” (A cat kills a black panther”) because his opponent for that match was called Gato Rojo. His mom told him and his other brother to stop wrestling, but they continued without telling her what names they used in lucha libre.
Wolf Ruvinskis asks Laparade if he saw Cassius Clay (Muhammed Ali) wrestle a Japanese wrestler (Antonio Inoki). Ruvinskis talked about how that match was popular and Ali won a lot of money for doing the match. He points out how Ali was considered a standard for children and there he was wrestling. He tells Laparade that everyone is entitled to do what they want. Ruvinskis then tells the story of Martin Karadagian wrestling against the Invisible Man in Argentina. He goes into detail about the match. Pretty great! Ruvinskis calls Karadagian an intelligent man because they made money and he beat the Invisible Man. Ruvinskis does not know if the Invisible Man was sad with his loss but he knows the fans were entertained.
Zabludovsky asks everyone to give their closing comments. Blue Demon said he loves and appreciates lucha libre. He’s been able to not only maintain his character but his family. His children have grown up to have professional careers. What people think of lucha libre is their right and thanks to the fans he has been able to take care of his family. Laparade said he feels bad for luchadores are left abandoned by the medical services throughout Mexico. He does not think lucha libre is a sport. Mocho Cota said that in order for someone to speak either good or bad about lucha libre one must feel it and live it. Cota still considers lucha libre a sport because he’s also had to learn other sports like weightlifting, boxing and amateur wrestling.
El Santo thanks Zabludovsky for inviting him to the show and that he respects everyone’s opinion on lucha libre. He doesn’t agree with Laparade’s opinion but he respects it. El Santo talks about their being a commission and a medical staff that determines if a luchador is healthy enough to wrestle. He too says wrestling is a sport. El Santo also says that wrestling also has tumbling, does have some elements from a circus and theater.
Vega calls lucha libre the most complete spectacle in the world. He tells an anecdote about a show where Los Hermanos Shadow, El Santo, Raul Torres and Cavernario Galindo, Los Hermanos Landru were involved. El Santo and then others follow. The last one that enters is Murcielago Velasquez and he lets lose a snake in the ring. Everyone in the ring quickly left. The fans fled as well. Murcielago laughed in a corner. Cavernario Galindo then ran in and took bites from the snake and threw them in the air. El Santo can be heard agreeing how this story is told. Vega shared another story on Charro Aguayo. The president of Mexico wanted to meet Charro Aguayo and told Vega they were going to meet him. Aguayo and the president spoke. Charro Aguayo and Vega get back in the taxi and Vega asks Charro Aguayo what he thought of the president. Charro Aguayo thought and responded, “he’d make a good light heavyweight.”
Wolf Ruvinskis said that in order to be a luchador you have to be an athlete. So logically, if you have to be an athlete to be in lucha libre, then that would mean lucha libre is a sport. Personally, Ruvinskis said that he would never recommend his sons to become wrestlers. Ruvinskis said that if he knew a better way to earn money sooner, he would have left lucha libre earlier because he suffered many injuries.
SHOW THOUGHTS: I reviewed this show when it aired in the early 2000s for another site but this time around I decided to go a little more in-depth translating more of the stories and opinions shared. This show is best remembered by many as the only time El Santo showed his face by unmasking himself in public. This was also a significant moment for El Santo as it was his last appearance on TV because a few weeks later he would pass away. Ruvinskis dominated the show and he’s someone a lot of people should learn more about because he not only had an impressive wrestling career but he also had a long career as an actor. He was one of the more educated wrestlers of his era as there are constantly stories told by luchadores from that era and in lucha magazines about how he’d always be seen reading books and constantly trying to learn something new. Also Chavo Lutteroth telling the story of how his father Salvador Lutteroth started in lucha libre was pretty cool. I’m sure now that CMLL released the book on their history that more has been added about how he started. In fact, there was another book that I don’t know if it became available in the U.S. that went into more detail on Lutteroth’s life. Really enjoyable show. I know I went pretty long with this, but I would think those of you who may not understand Spanish, might enjoy reading a little history of lucha libre.