Showing up to the Arenas Sports Center, 1110 N.W. 2nd, a bit early, I walked over to the recently put-together wrestling ring, running my fingers along the dark mat; somewhat smaller than on television, with a hard floor that reverberates loudly to the touch, the four metal posts in each corner tie together the yellow ropes harshly—they’re pulled tight enough to snap your neck if you were to run into them hard enough.
Plenty of necks—as well as many other tender parts of the body—were in choreographed danger that Friday night as the absolutely puro wrestling of OKC Lucha Libre took to the ring, showcasing not only the best combatants from the Oklahoma scene, but star athletes from all over Mexico, coming together in a storm of crowd-pleasing violence that was dubbed, on the posters, the “Tornado de Luchadors.”
As the masked-men, some still in their day-clothes, laid out their merchandising wares on the ropes and mat, a crowd quickly gathered around, some handling the face-covering replicas of their masks, trying them on before handing over their cash, while kids of seemingly all ages fist-bumped their hard-hitting idols while mom casually took a picture for posterity.
A line was also forming at the Burritos el Tin-Tan truck, with patrons eager to try their numerous lauded burritos (and other assorted eats) as the little ones were eagerly filling oversized bags of chicharrones de harina with splashes of Valentina. I grabbed one of their beef brisket and cheese burritos and a “medio litro” Coca- Cola ($9.00)—no Diet Coke here, ese—and took my seat in one of the folding chairs near the front of the stage.
The luchadors packed up their merchandise and made their way inside the building to the inner sanctum of the locker room; almost immediately, children took to the ring, imitating the moves of their favorite heroes with deadly accuracy, body-slamming and pile-driving as their guardians ate their left behind snacks. Meanwhile, the local entertainment, a band that I believe is called Canciones del Rancho, played in the background as an opening act of sorts.
Right from the first couple of matches, OKC Lucha Libre made sure fans got their monies worth and then some, jumping right into the various storylines of the hate shared between the technicos and rudos as the crowd began hollering comical jabs at every wrestler they thought were, as the kid next to me put it, “garbage that should go on a diet.” Lucha libre is truly a masculine telenovela, performed live and with far more back-flips.
With a round-robin of chair-slams and head-crushes, pelvic thrusts and literal spankings, these guys put themselves through the painful paces; sure, some of it may be quote-unquote fake, but as someone who was mere feet away, I can tell you that most of the hits are absolutely real—every slap and punch marking the skin with a loud death-rattle, the victim doubling over in very real pain, some even limping off stage and back to the dressing room, getting high-fives all along the way.
The memorable match of the night though had to be one of final fights; taking a cathartically political turn, it was the U.S.A. vs. Mexico, with each male/female tag-team urging the crowd to chant their fan-favorite country; in case you can’t guess, the United States deservedly got the largest amounts of jeers. But, to be fair, the Americans were playing the heel to the crowd and definitely earned the refrain of “Mexico” by throwing out various taunts and barbs, cementing their place as the bad guys of the moment.
The sweat splashed off the athletes’ hair as they flipped through the thick night air, wrapping their opponent up like a flesh pretzel, quickly slapping palms as they switched places—or, with the ref’s back turned, appeared to—causing a swath of face-punches and chest-kicks that popped when they connected, noises that made even my non-involved heart throb in tearful anguish. How much more can they take?
As the clock marked eleven, the matches were still going strong; the kids, who normally grow restless at most events, were still enthralled, clutching the masks of luchadors like Mascara Purpura, Gemini or Relampago tightly, cheering each star that took to the ring. With the very real threat of a luchador losing his mask—and, even worse, his dignity—for one night only, OKC Lucha Libre gave Mexican wrestling the respeto it deserves in this town.