This Friday, CMLL will have its annual Gran Prix match, a fun concept that pits a team of Mexican wrestlers against a team of foreigners in a big, fun tag team match.
As a local, it gives me the chance to see guys that—without the Gran Prix—would rarely step inside a CMLL ring, giving some variety to a company that is known for being too repetitive. However, behind the concept hides the ugly mentality that has plagued lucha libre as a whole for many decades: the foreigners are all evil and they are no better than Mexican luchadores. That is a staple in most old-school, casual and hardcore lucha libre fans in Mexico.
Every year, this match is a very easy way to get crowds invested. CMLL just has to say: ‘hey, these guys are evil because they’re from outside Mexico’ and people quickly respond by booing these dastardly foreigners. And that is always the case. Whenever a NJPW young lion comes as part of his excursion, he’s immediately aligned with resident Japanese top heel Okumura and has to become a bad guy, which isn’t always bad because it might help him develop his personality in new, inventive ways… but that’s not the point.
The fact that lucha libre – and especially CMLL – has trained Mexican crowds’ minds to think that every foreigner is evil, goes hand in hand with the most poisonous of phrases in lucha libre: ‘El extranjero viene a aprender’, which means ‘the foreigner comes to Mexico to learn’.
I cannot emphasize how important and sad these words are. The vast majority of Mexican fans and wrestlers think that lucha libre is the best, that it’s the absolute law and everything else is bad.
What this phrase actually means is: ‘The foreigner only visits Mexico to learn the best and only wrestling there is, because everything else is garbage’. Yes, foreigners come to Mexico to learn, but luchadores should go to other countries to learn too. The problem is that they don’t. Many of them have a narrow mentality that they have translated to the fans, which in turn learn to hate all other type of wrestling styles. I have heard (and done) too many interviews with luchadores, casual fans and even rock stars where they claim that lucha libre is the best and everything else is subpar. Heck, whenever I talk with the most casual of fans or even people that only know about the existence of pro wrestling because of El Santo’s influence in our culture, they all say the same: ‘But, Mexican wrestling is the best right? We invented wrestling, didn’t we?’.
I will never forget watching KUSHIDA wrestling in Arena Mexico, doing some great mat work and showing his tremendous technical skills. A big 40 year old-ish man near me was spitting hate towards KUSHIDA, claiming that he didn’t know how to wrestle. “He can’t even fly? What is this shit? He should learn from Volador Jr. later on.” A couple of beer vendors next to him agreed and all three of them started chatting about how this ‘foreigner didn’t know lucha libre’ and of course, mocked me for cheering him.
I’ve had similar—well, not that frustrating—experiences when attending Arena México to watch guys like Satoshi Kojima, Juice Robinson, Lio Rush, The Briscoes, Adam Brooks… and even Fénix.
This attitude towards other styles is not present in every fan, but in the great lucha libre scope of things, it’s a huge problem. Why do you think lucha libre is light years behind every other scene? Why do you think the development of the Mexican scene has been halted for so many years while countries like Australia, New Zealand or Chile are having such a substantial growth? Yes, our slow economy has a lot to do with it, but I truly believe that this ‘nothing but lucha matters’ mentality has created a black hole in which fans and luchadores alike refuse to open themselves at outside possibilities. This creates the notion that there’s no need to learn from other places because they won’t teach us anything which in turn brings the entire scene to a standstill. How can we have a boom in popularity when our mentality is light years behind of the big wrestling scenes of the industry?
Some years ago I read an excellent interview in which Pentagón Jr. and Fénix talked about their love for wrestling and their hunger to learn from every style in order to improve. Here’s the most important thing that Fénix said in that interview:
“When I started to wrestle in AAA, it was funny because in Mexico, guys would come in from America or other places, and the big stars in Mexico they would say “Who’s that?” because they only watch their circle. They say things like “I’m best the luchador in Mexico and the world.” No, bitch. How can you say that when you’ve never left your circle? They never left Mexico, so when some big name comes to Mexico, all the big stars say “Who’s that?” That’s not the case for us. We know outside of our circles because we want to be the best in the world. I don’t want to wrestle the best in my country; I want the best in the world.”
This paragraph encapsulates how damaging the ‘El extranjero viene a aprender’ phrase and how important it is to see beyond it. Pentagon Jr. and Fénix didn’t believe in that horrible idea, instead they opened their minds and ventured outside the confines of Mexico… and now they’re earning big money, far more than what they would earn if they had stayed in Mexico doing nothing to expand their craft.
“No, bitch. How can you say that when you’ve never left your circle?”
Exactly. This Fenix quote is especially satisfying. We’ve been trained to think that lucha libre is the one and only style. Instead of luchadores traveling around the world perfecting their craft and then returning to enrich the scene, we have people thinking it’s not worth the effort because there’s nothing that’s worth learning.
New Japan has a business deal with CMLL and RevPro UK… yet, we are far, far away from having a show like the one happening in the UK this weekend. Yes, there would be many hardcore Mexican fans attending, but they wouldn’t be nearly enough of them to justify the existence of the show. The rest of Mexican wrestling fans wouldn’t care about it: they wouldn’t care about a dude called Kazuchika Okada. Why should they? He is not a luchador, therefore his craft is sub par compared to what lucha libre has to offer. At least, that’s what CMLL and hundred of lucha promoters have thought us all these decades.
As a person that loves professional wrestling with his entire soul, watching other scenes thrive while my own stays the same it’s been for decades.. it’s just depressing. I would love to attend high quality shows every weekend, I would love lucha libre getting a boost in popularity, I would love that luchadores get paid what they deserve for putting their bodies in the line and I would love to see people excitedly planning a trip to watch a lucha libre show in Mexico. But unless the entire mindset of the Mexican wrestling scene changes, that is impossible. We need to start seeing foreigners as teachers that are bringing something—it doesn’t matter how minimal it is—to expand the wrestling knowledge in the country.
The 2019 CMLL Gran Prix is going to be a fun match and we should enjoy it for what it is: a cool concept about international competition, but it should also be a reminder of how stagnant the scene is and how much better it could be if only we could use these sort of experiences to learn from others as much as they learn from us.