It’s all about the little things.
I live close to Arena Mexico, the general admission tickets are cheap and I try to go once every couple of months, or whenever there’s a really attractive match on the card. It’s nothing special. I usually get there 15 minutes before the show starts, I walk through the street vendors selling all kinds of bootleg lucha merchandise, I ignore the dozens of scalpers and I buy my ticket in one of the available booths. I might visit the guy selling bootleg DVD’s or buy a sticker from one of my favorite vendors before I actually enter the arena. It’s just another lucha show where the crowd will roar and I’ll see some boring matches, some cool spots and with some luck, a great match without the always annoying interference of Mexico’s favorite heel ref, Tirantes. It’s just another show in the same old arena I’ve visited dozens of times.
But this time, I was annoyed at CMLL. As every other fan, I wanted to see Rush vs. LA Park in a Hair vs. Mask match at the 85th Anniversary show… but not only did we got a random tag team apuestas match instead, but also a lackluster and unimaginative card that had nothing special whatsoever. If it hadn’t been for my two foreign friends, I probably would’ve skipped this night of wrestling. But even after the announcement of the full card, they were still excited about the prospect of watching some of their lucha legends performing in Arena Mexico. Lucha is my least favorite style in the world of pro wrestling and I had watched guys like Negro Casas dozens of times, why would I be excited this time? I had booed Rush many times before, what would make this time different? Why should I be excited about an Anniversary show with such a weak, even insulting card?
Sometimes, you just need a change of perspective and the roar of thousands of people to open your eyes…. and your mind.
Two hours before CMLL 85th Anniversary show, my friends Hassan and Will were standing a couple of meters away from the sacred ring of the still empty Arena Mexico. It was their first time visiting the country and, of course, this arena. Hassan had traveled 23 hours in a plane just to be there and he exclaimed something that would change my mindset for the rest of the evening: “This is the most beautiful arena I’ve ever been in’.
As my friends took picture after picture of the majestic arena I reflected on what Hassan had just said and I started noticing how breathtaking everything was. The blue lights bathing the floor, rows, and rows of colored seats, the all mighty stage with LEDs spelling the words C-M-L-L and even the huge grandstands that would later be filled. I’ve been in many stadiums and arenas around the world, but right there I realized I was standing in the most beautiful of them all.
The show started and the crowd roared at the sight of the larger than life figures making their way through the entrance ramp and just like that, I forgot all about storylines, reviews and star ratings… I chose to enjoy the crap out of this moment. It didn’t matter I wasn’t going to see LA Park vs. Rush anymore. The card hadn’t changed, but I knew I was about to live an unforgettable experience.
My companions’ positivity was contagious, the crowd’s energy off the charts. When Negro Casas appeared, it sounded as if a living, breathing, Mexican dragon had just roared inside the building. Yes, I had seen him many times and considered him one of the very best, but with both my friends screaming their hearts out for him, I stopped taking him for granted and, just as the very first time I laid eyes on him, I was baffled. There he was, a living legend before me. I took in every detail: his swagger, his technique, his simple but legendary black trunks and that incredible skill that makes everyone in the arena follow his every move. His pop might’ve been one of the loudest I’ve ever heard.
Yes, sometimes to enjoy the present, you have to appreciate the details, and I was drinking in every last one of them: the sticky floor, the creaky chairs, the food vendors, the awestruck 6-year old watching the show in front of me, the psychotic fans shouting nonsense at the technicos, the powerful sound of La Porra de Tepito’s war drums, the old gentleman next to us claiming with pride that he drove all the way from Torreón only to watch this show. Live lucha is like no other experience. And most importantly, every scream, remark, cheer, praise that came out of my friend’s mouths, made me love lucha more and more.
We watched with awe as the Nueva Generación Dinamita brothers gave a masterclass on teamwork, we screamed when Atlantis tried to use the legendary Atlantida and we sighed in disappointment when he was stopped. Hassan and Will bumped fists every 10 minutes, one of them couldn’t keep his butt in the seat, shouting like a madman. Último Guerrero came out and a little earthquake shook the arena as thousands of hands rose to the sky in order to recreate his signature war cry. It didn’t matter how bad Cibernético was in his match, the crowd still found a way to entertain themselves by shouting insults at him. As I mentioned, it’s all about the little things.
Soon, the magnificent silhouette of LA Park appeared. After a mixed reception, people booed him and his presence was soon overshadowed by ‘Cero Miedo’ chants. People were still mad at him for putting in jeopardy the match against Rush. However, it only took five minutes, five freaking minutes, for LA Park to have everyone in the palm of his hands. After insulting the crowd for their initial reaction, LA Park delivered some of the sickest belt strikes I’ve ever heard and was soon launching himself through the ropes. My friends bought their ticket because they wanted to see Rush vs. LA Park, and despite the disappointment, they were getting their money’s worth as the charismatic skulled-costumed badass and his talented son, were killing it inside the squared circle.
Meanwhile, Penta and Fénix showed every doubter and every hardcore CMLL fanboy what they were made of. They had always dreamed of performing at an Aniversario show and therefore, blew the roof of the arena. Before the match started, a guy behind me said that he had never seen the Lucha Brothers, and wasn’t expecting much. After the match, he was giving them a standing ovation.
After an unbelievable third fall, the match ended and the crowd erupted with ‘Esto es lucha’ (This is lucha) chants as money rained over the masked warriors. My friend Will could barely pronounce the Spanish chants, but he tried his best.
The thing about CMLL is… if you watch it on video, it’s so much different from the live experience. I’m not sure if you felt the superstar reception that Rush got during the main event, or fully appreciated the moment when the crowd went bonkers for Bárbaro Cavernario, who was the standout performer of the match. I must say this wasn’t a legendary match, a technical masterpiece or a lucha classic, but somehow the deafening sound coming out of every throat inside Arena Mexico made it all feel very special. I had goosebumps. Volador pinned Bárbaro, who minutes before had taken Taven out. It was all down to Rush vs. Volador. The mask vendors stood still, nobody was drinking beer anymore and even the impatient kid in front of us was paying attention.
The finish was confusing and not well executed, however, the crowd was too hot and exploded when Rush climbed the corner to celebrate. It might not have been the opponent he or every fan wanted, but the match delivered. I was so grateful for my friends, without them I would have missed this live experience and I was glad that lucha libre didn’t let them down.
Despite my negative attitude and low expectations, despite considering Arena Mexico shows as something mundane, being next to fans living their ‘lucha dream’ really opened my eyes and helped me appreciate how special and incomparable this style is. Yes, CMLL’s booking is not good and lucha has many problems, but sometimes you have to take stuff like that off your mind for a bit in order to enjoy the present, and in this case, fully comprehend the power of lucha. From the kids chanting for the rudos to the grandmas throwing money to the ring, lucha is color and culture, it’s a one of a kind spectacle that you will not see anywhere else.
It’s just that sometimes, for that to happen, you really need to pay attention to the little things.