Who Was That Masked Man? A Wrestling Priest

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Fray Tormenta was a heroin addict when he was young. After getting clean, he enrolled at the seminary to became a priest and started wrestling to make money for the orphanage he founded. Credit Seila Montes

When it comes to professional wrestling, there are the famous American federations with slick promotion, well-paid stars and merchandise-mad, free-spending fans.

This story is not about that.

In Mexico, generations have grown up admiring the masked luchadoreswho, for a $50 prize, will flip and body slam opponents in epic fights in modest arenas packed to the rafters with screaming fans. Theirs is a world where nothing comes easily, and the struggle to support their families is often a never-ending battle. There must be an easier way to survive beyond the world of lucha libre, but don’t tell them that.

“What I saw was a love for the lucha,” said Seila Montes, a Spanish photographer based in Mexico who spent more than two years photographing the masked men (and women) outside the ring. “They’re not doing it for the money. The ones I photographed were not famous, and they only earned a little. But they transformed when they put on their mask and costume. That’s when the actor and showman comes out.”

India Sioux is married to Hombre Bala. She is now retired and works at home. Credit Seila Montes
Ray Mendoza Jr., formerly Villano V, is part of the Mendoza dynasty. Four of his brothers were fighters and he is the son of the famous Ray Mendoza. He is a dentist and also does acupuncture consultation. Credit Seila Montes

Those of us who grew up in New York still recall when these masked matches were a staple of Spanish television, as we gathered around the crate-sized Sears television and futzed with the circular UHF antenna to pull in a grainy broadcast of Mil Mascaras taking on all comers. And then there was El Santo — The Saint — who crossed over from the ring to movie stardom, becoming a pop culture phenomenon. With their colorful costumes and personalities, luchadores have long sparked the interest of photographers, too. None has been as prolific as Lourdes Grobet, who has spent decades chronicling these masked athletes who have become cultural avatars.

~~~ CONTINUE THE OFFBEAT STORY  ~~~

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