Miguel “Negro” Navarro never wore a mask. He never needed to hide his face, sneering and angry and filled with contempt for whomever he was fighting. In the late 1970s, he found kindred spirits in El Signo and El Texano, who had lost their masks to the tecnicos they had spent their careers fighting. Together they formed Los Misioneros de la Muerte: the Missionaries of Death. While at first the name might seem over dramatic, it became apt as Los Misioneros travelled the Mexican countryside and preached their word to the crowds gathered. They preached with their fists and their boots, they preached by tearing masks and working cuts.
In 1981, Navarro and los Misioneros would become notorious for nearly living up to their name. In a UWA main event against El Santo, Huracán Ramírez and Rayo de Jalisco, the 64-year-old Santo suffered a heart attack, and was only saved by the quick action of his tag partners. Navarro was unrepentant, and along with his tag partners were now the most hated men in Mexico. Unlike many famous rudos, Navarro could not hide behind a mask: that hatred followed him home, it talked in whispers as he sat at bars, it gawked at him the market. Even as he aged and the fans developed a begrudging respect, it never truly went away. Even now, at sixty years of age, wrestling Solar in Maestros matches, the fans still boo, forever uneasy around the man who almost killed a god.
In 1985, Navarro had a son. A second son, to be precise. Much like their father (who idolized Black Shadow and had his first professional match at 18) the two sons of Negro Navarro would gravitate toward lucha libre, toward the profession that gave their father everything, but at great cost. Perhaps they saw the toll it took, for both sons chose to begin their careers wearing masks, as Los Hermanos Trauma (Trauma I and Trauma II, with the younger brother being called I). Free of the weight of their father’s name and the expectations therein, they forged their own path on the Mexican Independents. Starting in smaller promotions, they eventually found a home of sorts in IWRG, sometimes even teaming with their father.
Despite the ties to a wrestling legend, the mask of Trauma I became something all his own, a mark of pride. A constant reminder of the things he accomplished with his own name and reputation, instead of his father’s. Like almost every luchador, the pride and reputation that the mask and name represent eventually came under attack, as it did in September of 2016, against Canis Lupus.
Trauma I vs Canis Lupus
The match starts off with blinding pace, as Lupus gets the better of Trauma in an early punch exchange and immediately hits a tope, knocking Trauma in to the crowd. Trauma walks away, his head already down, clearly shaken from the early blow. More so than any other style, lucha libre is a psychological war, one that contrasts the physical damage one can endure with the emotional war that is waged on the fragile ideas of masculinity and bravado. To rise through the ranks one must stand out, but more importantly stand over his opponents. Lupus does this in the early going, unleashing vicious punch combinations, screaming at the fans clearly on the side of Trauma, imploring them to cheer louder for their already broken hero. Their fervor only raises his ire. The wrestlers find their way back inside the ring, and Canis Lupus easily wins the first fall with El Pozo.
Visibly shaken, Trauma retreats in to the crowd. He is met and consoled by his brother, shirtless and in matching mask. They embrace and share words which are impossible to know. In less than five minutes he is already down a fall, and the feeling of being an imposter must be creeping in. Is this why he took a mask in the first place? Was his desire to forge his own path secretly fueled by a fear of inadequacy? The dark clouds swirl and yet they do not overtake. Men in the crowd console him. Women are chanting for him. He stands tall and limps back to the ring. He is met again by the attacking Lupus.
It is noteworthy how unified the crowd is. Indie shows are wonderful for their intimacy and the reactions can be loud and boisterous, but often they reactions are based in responding directly to the action or the heat and chants developed by the split of mutual admiration. In this match, the allegiances are clear. Every there wants Trauma to win. There is no doubt who is the hero, who is fighting on the side of right. They cheer and it carries him. They cheer and it buoys him. Perhaps, if they are lucky, it will shake the confidence of Canis Lupus, who has been dominant throughout. And perhaps they were! Lupus pushes a shade too hard, perhaps a victim of his own overconfidence or his need to prove the crowd wrong. Trauma catches him in the corner, his first offense in the match taking place ten minutes in. Shortly after, he submits Canis Lupus and they are even.
As Lupus regroups, Trauma stands stoically in the corner unflinching, eerily reminiscent of a masked George Foreman, waiting to unleash his furious hands upon an unmatched and already beaten man. Canis Lupus returns and finally removes his t shirt, a tacit admission that it is finally necessary to take his opponent seriously.
The trade barbs both verbal and physical. The strike back and forth, sweat flying off skin with each slap to the chest. They headbutt each other, short quick bursts of violence repeated at the speed of a machine gun. They tear at skin, they tear at masks. They fight back. Lucha Libre, and truly all forms of wrestling, are inherently about retribution, both in the moment and for all time. Each strike here is a response, slightly harder than the last, a touch more painful. A momentary escalation. They are still both searching for proof of what they begin the match sure of: evidence that they are tougher, stronger, more masculine. They both get chairs.
It should be noted that these are not folding chairs, but instead the hard plastic kind with bolted metal legs. Both men know what must be coming and neither backs down. A public game of chicken with life altering consequences. They hit each other in the back, and the head, and finally simply throw their weapons at each other. Out of disbelief, out of frustration, out of desperation. They collapse.
When Trauma sells in this match, he looks down at himself and his hands as if contemplating his place in the universe. Each drop of blood and sweat dribbling through the tear in his mask is evidence of existential crisis. Lupus’ reaction is a marked contrast: he moves with quickness but no purpose, hoping activity hides his shortcomings. His legs and his belly are stained with his own blood. He retreats to his corner, but finds a way to his feet anyway. The referee motions for them to come together. They oblige and fight like school children, tumbling dangerously, grabbing and tearing at whatever they can hold on to. They fall and stand and repeat. They must.
Out of ideas, tired and desperate, they try to end the match quickly, trading roll ups and submission attempts, each man inching closer and closer to victory. Trauma finds himself in hold after hold, shaking his head no after longer and longer moments of pain and self-doubt. Somehow he finds a reserve and stalks Canis Lupus in to a corner, finally repaying him in kind for the headbutts that began the third fall. The referee tries in vain to separate the two and is thrown down for his trouble, landing underneath Trauma. Canis Lupus sees his chance.
In Mexico, the most dangerous move in all of wrestling is the martinete, a tombstone piledriver. It is grounds for immediate disqualification, perhaps even suspension. Even the most egregious of rulebreakers, always quick to end a match with an opportune low blow or foreign object, often shy away from it. It is spoken of in hushed tones. Canis Lupus has spent twenty five minutes finding out just how difficult winning this match will be. In the moment, he has no such qualms. Trauma lands on his head. The crowd calls for the head of Canis Lupus.
In an act of serendipitous positioning, Trauma is saved by the ropes. Unable to move because of the damage to his neck, he can still reach and react, and somehow finds the will to grab the bottom rope. Canis Lupus leans back in disbelief, his right arm resting on the prone chest of Trauma like someone posing for a photo on the hood of a car. He wipes blood from his eyes, a nervous tick to buy himself time.
To his credit, Canis Lupus doesn’t overthink things. He simply pulls Trauma away from the ropes and covers him again. Still unmoving, Trauma has no rope to grab. Instead, he reaches grabs the referee’s ever descending hand, stopping the count before three. It is a final act of a man who has nothing left. Lupus slaps the mat in disbelief. He covers again and Trauma finally lifts a shoulder, finally beginning to recover some mobility. With each kick out, the chants of Vamos Trauma get louder. Canis Lupus goes to the outside and stares out at the unwavering crowd and simply nods. It’s a tacit agreement, a begrudging sign of respect for a man he cannot put away. It is perhaps cosmic justice that this slight delay to take in the crowd gives Trauma enough time to get his knees up on a Canis Lupus dive, rendering both men helpless on the mat.
A doctor finally looks at Trauma, and fits him with a hastily thrown together neck brace. He is testing the strength of his extremities when Lupus finds his way to his feet and throws him to the mat, a white coat splattered with blood. The neck brace falls off as Trauma somehow picks an ankle. He slowly twists his legs around, getting Lupus in position before a triumphant roll in to El Pozo. Canis Lupus submits to the hold that won him the first fall of the match, writhing in pain in a puddle of his own blood. Trauma is mobbed by his brother, tackled as the returning doctor desperately tries to tend to Trauma. Money rains down from the sky in celebration.
In his neck brace, Trauma crawls to Canis Lupus and places a tender hand on his face. Much like the conference with his brother, we can’t know what words are shared, but there is nothing but respect and love for the man who ten minutes before hit him with a martinete. Lupus leans against the ropes, still seated. Trauma hands him some of the money thrown their way and thanks him.
Canis Lupus unties his mask as so many of done before him, surrounded by cameras, knowing his life and career is forever altered. Each apuestas match is a fork in the road for the participants, a chance to continue on a path that has pushed them forward or the possibility of something new and different and scary. Unable to remove his own mask, Canis Lupus receives a tender kiss on the forehead from his girlfriend as she slides the remnants of his identity off. With blood still trickling down his face, in between congratulations and commiserations from the people in the ring, Canis Lupus has the crowd unveil a sign. A marriage proposal. In a ring red with his own blood, he presents a ring of his own. He will take the fork in the road hand in hand with his wife.
Trauma met his own fork and continued on. He remains the masked hero son of an unmasked villain, he now can move forward, content and confident of his own skill and worth. There will be times again when doubt creeps back, when faced again with an opponent desperate for victory. He will think back on this war and take solace in his triumph. He will forever be the son of Negro Navarro, but from now on he will also be Trauma I.
For the moment that is enough.