The History of Mexican Wrestling Masks

Mexican wrestling is so different from its counterpart in the United States that it might as well be a completely different form of entertainment.

While the two types of professional wrestling share a common origin, Mexican wrestling is far more athletic – and the wrestling style is almost comedic in its over-exaggeration and melodrama.  One aspect of Mexican Lucha libre wrestling that stands out to many foreign onlookers is the use of colorful Mexican wrestling masks to disguise the wrestlers.  The masks have a special significance for the luchadores that wear them, and they have a complex and interesting history of their own.

The History of Mexican Wrestling – Mexican Wrestling Names

Mexican wrestling was invented in the late 19th century, when Mexican wrestlers adapted Greco-Roman wrestling to their unique culture.  Over time, Lucha Libre spread in popularity throughout the continent, but it only reached national appeal during the 1950s with the expansion of television promotion.  Television allowed Lucha Libre to cement itself as a uniquely Mexican phenomenon, and it gave Mexican broadcasters something to promote that would appeal to regional sense of nationalism and patriotic fervor.

The First Mexican Wrestling Masked Wrestler

El SantoIn 1942, the first masked wrestler began competing in Mexico City.  This wrestler, known only as El Santo, donned a silver mask and won an eight man tournament.  His career lasted for fifty entire years, and he came to represent the “common” Mexican citizen.  Since he had a mask that shrouded his identity, El Santo was cloaked in mystery – allowing all of the wrestling fans to substitute their own identities for his, seeing what they wanted to see in his character.  In a way, using masks allowed wrestlers to serve as a blank canvas that fans could project emotions and stories onto.

 Significance of Mexican Wrestling Masks

Mexican wrestling uses masks as a homage to the Aztec warriors of ancient times, as they frequently donned masks during rituals and religious ceremony.  In Lucha libre, the masks can be everything from simple monotone masks to vibrantly colored masks with images of animals or ancient heroes.

When a Mexican wrestler gets his start, he is masked and he maintains that identity – but he can eventually become unmasked if he loses a bout in which the mask is up for grabs.  Also, wrestlers typically bid farewell to their identities before retirement by giving up their mask.  Since masks are so key to the identity of wrestlers, touching an opponent’s mask during competition is grounds for disqualification.

In many types of Mexican wrestling competitions – each wrestler will make public bets that, if they lose, they will remove their mask.  This can have real consequences for the career  of the wrestler, as the unmasked wrestlers typically have less success in the Lucha libre world.  Additionally, they may have to shave their heads as a further sign of humiliation – and they must give their real name and hometown as a way of shedding the identity that they had constructed as the masked wrestler.

These wrestlers wore not only masks but also, costumes and poncho’s , to decorate their wrestling personality, and as insignia their mexican nationality.  In time they would have to shed their identity, but  it would be nice for others to know that even when they are the masked  or the unmasked wrestler, they didn’t shed their pride as a Mexican, and their respect to their tradition and culture.

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