‘Lucha Mexico’ Filmmaker Honors Lucha Libre’s Proud Tradition

DOC NYC 2015 Premiere Of "Lucha Mexico"Left to right: Filmmaker Alex Hammond, professional wrestlers Jose Luis Jair Soria, aka Shocker, and Jon “Strongman” Andersen, and filmmaker Ian Markiewicz attend the DOC NYC 2015 premiere of “Lucha Mexico” at SVA Theater on November 13, 2015 in New York City. (Photo/Monica Schipper / Getty Images)

For the longest time, documentary filmmaker Alex Hammond had wanted to work on a film which shed light on her Mexican heritage. The director of “Children of Haiti” and “Better Than Something,” which explored the punk underground, grew up in Connecticut but spent nearly every summer in Mexico visiting family; her mother had immigrated to the U.S. from San Luis Potosí.

The result is “Lucha Mexico,” her new film created with longtime co-director Ian Markiewicz, which explores the dynamic subculture of Lucha libre, the beloved and more than century-old Mexican professional wrestling sport.

After four years of shooting in mostly Mexico, “Lucha Mexico,” is being released in theaters and on iTunes on Friday, July 15, playing in cities across the country, including New York City, Los Angeles, Chicago, and Houston, among others.

Lucha libre literally means “free fight,” and dates back to the Franco-Mexican War in 1863. The wrestlers are known to wear colorful masks, which hide their true identities, and some are known for their aerial maneuvers. They also characterize themselves as “good guys” (called “técnicos”) vs. the “bad guys” (called “rudos”).

“I knew the moment I saw Lucha, that this is what I wanted to make a film about,” said Hammond, 35, to NBC Latino. “The idea that these athletes put themselves in the ring and put their lives on the line is where the interest started. When we got in there, we realized this world was so big.”

Hammond said it’s a good time to shine a spotlight on this sport, since it has been growing in popularity in the U.S. as well. Lucha Underground,” a weekly hour-long TV series which premiered in the U.S. on filmmaker Robert Rodriguez’ El Rey Network in 2014, is still going strong in 2016.

“Because it’s taken us five years to make the film from start to finish, we’ve seen lots of changes,” said Hammond about the growth of Lucha libre. “‘Lucha Underground’ is getting a lot attention now —you’re starting to find them happening more often, I think because WWE is so big. They helped introduce the Mexican wrestlers. More people are exposed to it.”

Film poster for "Lucha Mexico" by Alex Hammond.
Film poster for “Lucha Mexico” by Alex Hammond. (Courtesy Kino Lorber)

One of the film’s protagonists is American Lucha wrestler John Andersen, who goes by the wrestling name, “John Strongman.”

“He came down to Mexico from San Francisco as a pro-wrestler, and we got to document his first time going to Mexico,” says Hammond. “He would live in Mexico for a month at a time — now there are more Americans moving down there to wrestle.”

Hammond says the “luchadores” (wrestlers) are like superheroes for Mexicans.

“They are very real for the people,” says Hammond. “When you go to any show, you’ll see a grandmother and a baby – it’s a family affair.”

The “luchadores” themselves also take their careers very seriously. They go to Lucha school, starting sometimes as young as 15, to learn the proper fighting techniques.

Sexy Star (left), Faby Apache (right)
Sexy Star (left), Faby Apache (right) (Courtesy Kino Lorber)

“These men and women are really athletes, and you see how hard they work,” says Hammond. “For a lot of them, their parents were wrestlers…It’s like a whole close-knit family. When you retire, you work as a wrestling coach.”

The film shows how fans idolize their superheroes, but it’s not so glamorous for the wrestlers themselves. Blue Demon, Jr., the son of the legendary Blue Demon — who was also an actor in many movies, as his wrestling persona, in the 1960’s and 1970’s — describes the way of life as “lonely.”

“Out of 24 hours, I wear my mask for 18,” says Blue Demon, Jr. in the film. “You have to be a loner and not go out too much, eat cold meals in the hotel. You can’t go out at night, or you might be recognized.”

Photo of the late Perro Aguayo Jr.
Photo of the late Perro Aguayo Jr. (Courtesy Kino Lorber)

It’s also a dangerous sport. Hammond says the famous El Hijo de Perro Aguarro died in the ring last year.

“We had to recut the movie,” said Hammond, because he was supposed to be one of the main characters. “It was a freak accident. He died wrestling.”

Hammond said that throughout the making of the film, several wrestlers died from various causes.

But ultimately, the luchadores think it’s worth the risks and the sacrifices. One of the trainers told Hammond that ‘in order to be a wrestler, you have to be hungry and want to have that triumph.’

“That’s essentially what we wanted to capture,” she said, “what drives them to constantly get back in that ring.”

Hammond doesn’t know yet where her next project will bring her, but she says she’s always been interested in exploring different environments.

“I like getting people to feel like they are there,” she says. “For ‘Lucha Mexico,’ I wanted to show also how beautiful Mexico is – not just what you see in the news — it’s not just drugs.”

Originally published on NBCNews.com.

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Lucha Libre celebrates its 80th anniversary taking a bite of the Big Apple

Luchadores in New York City on August 21, 2013. Pequeño Pierroth (left), Caveman (center) and Mascara Celestial (right). (Photo/Kristina Puga)

Luchadores in New York City on August 21, 2013. Pequeño Pierroth (left), Caveman (center) and Mascara Celestial (right). (Photo/Kristina Puga)

You may or may not know that the traditional masked Mexican wrestling sport, Lucha Libre, has had a long-time presence in the U.S. in its nearly 80-year existence. It became more mainstream in the U.S. after the 2006 comedy “Nacho Libre,” starring Jack Black, and its presence is only growing. This year, a partnership was announced that will promote Lucha Libre AAA – Mexico‘s largest wrestling league – to the U.S. audience and possibly get a spot on El Rey, a new English-language Latino channel set to launch in January 2014.

This Saturday and Sunday, Javier Clorio, a Mexican-American communications professional originally from California, says he is excited to bring Lucha Libre to New York City in honor of the sport’s 80th anniversary. He raised $5,000 to bring 26 wrestlers from the U.S. and abroad – with secret identities behind their masks – to battle each other (“technicos”/good guys vs. “rudos”/bad guys) to become the star luchador of the Big Apple.

“People around the world recognize Lucha Libre — they go to stadiums, concerts and other events wearing Lucha Libre masks,” says Clorio. “I am also excited, because this event will benefit the East Harlem Business Capital Corporation — they help people accomplish their dream of having their own business by helping them with their business plan…I know currentHispanic business owners who have capitalized from the EHBCC, and I am glad that by doing this event we are raising funds so more people can accomplish their dreams.”

Máscara Celestial (Photo/Kristina Puga)

Máscara Celestial (Photo/Kristina Puga)

The 23-year-old luchador who goes by the name Máscara Celestial is accomplishing his childhood dream of becoming a professional luchador. Originally from Mexico City, he says his parents didn’t believe him when he would tell them he wanted to be a luchador when he grew up, but he’s been practicing since he was 15. Two years ago, he moved to New York to challenge himself to a higher level.

“Life in the U.S. is not easy,” says Máscara Celestial, who works 12 hours per day at Kennedy Fried Chicken and trains in the gym for three to four hours every morning, with only one day off from work to compete. “I haven’t slept for the past three days, but I don’t want to remain stagnant. I want to excel as a luchador.”

He explains he wants his good guy character, Máscara Celestial (“heavenly mask”), to develop a great story line, until his body can’t take it anymore.

“I love my character — a good character in a very difficult world,” he says.

Pequeño Pierroth (Photo/Kristina Puga)

Pequeño Pierroth (Photo/Kristina Puga)

Pequeño Pierroth says when a luchador puts on his mask, he is also putting on his alter ego identity. He was born and still lives in Mexico City, but in Lucha Libre world, he plays a Puerto Rican. His job as a “rudo” is to get the audience riled up.

“I tell them, ‘Why are you proud to be Mexican if you are dying of hunger?” says Pequeño Pierroth, named the diminutive form of a famous Mexican luchador – Pierroth. “Some people really get angry for real.”

He has 21 years of experience in the ring — a few months of which were with the WWE.

“When I was a boy, I was the little one and other kids would bully me,” says Pequeño Pierroth, who was also poor as a kid, selling candy and singing on corners to help support his family. “Now I travel to Madrid, London, Denver, Chicago and Philadelphia…I’m not rich, but I’m stable and happy. I love Lucha Libre — maybe more than my wife.”

Caveman (Photo/Kristina Puga)

Caveman (Photo/Kristina Puga)

Caveman is a 20-year-old Puerto Rican from New York. He trains with a Dominican coach at the Bronx Wrestling Federation.

“When I was growing up, my brother and family watched wrestling faithfully,” he says. “Going into high school, I met a girl and she broke my heart. I went through a depressed phase and almost committed suicide.”

His low self-esteem at the time transformed the shy and timid youth into the Caveman today. He says he let his beard and hair grow, forming his version of a mask. He had the urge to become a hermit, but his wrestling coach made him a Caveman outfit and urged him to keep wrestling as the Caveman persona. Today, he says he easily transforms into his character, pretending to pick bugs out of people’s hair and acting surprised whenever he sees a modern object — the most important thing to him he says is to make his fans happy.

“Now professional wrestling is my life,” he says, although he still doesn’t get paid for it. That’s a privilege that comes once your name becomes known in the Lucha Libre world. “I’ve dropped a lot of things because of wrestling, because it saved my life…I’m actually living my dream.”

Originally published on NBCLatino.com.