December 24, 2008
By Carlos Cota Estévez
New America Media
SAN JOSE Mexicans love a good fight, or at least seeing one.
And when it reflects a social reality, like pitting them against the U.S. Border Patrol, the seats are going to be sold out.
Gabriel Ramirez, owner and found-er of the independent wrestling promotion Pro Wrestling Revolution has taken advantage of this, presenting as his most popular attraction a wrestling match between Mexican legends of lucha libre and American wrestlers who are dressed as Border Patrol agents.
His own passion for this form of entertainment began more than 30 years ago. As a child, Gabriel remembers watching the legendary wrestler André the Giant.
It was love at first sight Ramirez wanted to be a professional wrestler. He tried, but it was too painful, the physical risk for someone who used to work in construction too great. His passion for the sport was also too much for him.
But it wasn’t the American stars who compeled him to step into a wrestling ring for the first time. His father Javier, born in the Mexican city of Guadalajara, took him to his first wrestling match in the United States to see the Mexican wrestlers. More than 30 years ago, a small Hispanic minority in the audience used to go to the matches to cheer for the Mexican Lucha Libre legends.
His contact with both styles of fighting would end up influencing the way he produces wrestling matches today. Along with the growing Mexican community of California, the demand to see Mexican wrestlers has increased.
The Pro Wrestling Revolution matches pitting Mexicans against the U.S. Border Patrol draw a crowd of between 800 and 2,000 people in Northern California. Tickets cost between $10 and $20. According to American wrestler “Strongman” Jon Andersen, Pro Wrestling Revolution is the most successful wrestling promoter in the United States.
Since 1996, Ramirez has found the formula for success in this tough business.
Wrestling is a form of entertainment that combines real and fictional athletic abilities. In the course of a wrestling match, a store line develops that is based on both fiction and reality. There is also physical contact (blows to the face, blows to the body, head locks, body slams) between the wrestlers which is sometimes real and sometimes fake. The balance between the drama and the wrestlers’ athletic abilities varies by fighting style.
Mexican wrestling, or “lucha libre,” is characterized by emphasizing the wrestlers’ skills. The Mexican wrestling style incorporates high launches into the air and a quick pace of physical contact and exchange of movement. The drama is an essential part of the show, but it’s the wrestlers’ skill and prowess that draw the crowds. Any personal drama between the opponents is erased by the use of masks that hide their identity.
The American wrestling style, on the other hand, emphasizes the developing drama of a fight: the exchange of statements between the wrestlers before the fight, the creation of fictitious personal conflicts between opponents (this strategy is used in mainstream wrestling, popularized by television), and the exaggerated implicit drama in the narrative of a fight. Physical contact between American wrestlers ends up being harder; they are generally bigger and stronger fighters than their Mexican counterparts, which leads to a less agile style of fighting.
The wrestling match that pits Mexicans against the U.S. Border Patrol is perhaps so popular because anti-immigration policies have created resentment in the Hispanic community. In coming years, these policies could change, and the show’s wrestling promoters will have to find another story line.
There are now gyms in the San Francisco Bay Area dedicated to training wrestlers in both Mexican and American fighting styles. It is clear that the show’s mix of wrestling styles could influence the evolution of a new style of wrestling.
To watch a video presentation of this story, created by Cliff Parker, cut and paste this web link into your browser: http://vimeo.com/2473233?pg=embed&sec=2473233
Translated by Elena Shore