Remember when I said in my last blog post that I wanted to make it to Mexico at some point in 2018? Well, “at some point” came a lot quicker than I suspected. On Fri, Jan 6th, I got a text from my buddy Ave Rex. The Crash was going to be holding tryouts in an attempt to grow their luchadora division on Jan 17th, and those tryouts happened to be at the Hercules Moderno Gym— not even 5 blocks from were I normally stay in Mexico City (and where my mascarero, Miguel Ruiz, has his workshop).
Cue mini existential crisis and frantic messages to all my lucha libre contacts in Mexico to see if this was legit. All sources came back positive, and with resounding “yeses” when asked if I should try to make it down. So, I hopped online, snagged some plane tickets, and alerted my job that I’d be taking a week-long unpaid absence.
At age 25, it seemed like sheer stupidity to ignore a chance to try out for one of the fastest-growing lucha libre promotions in Mexico, especially when they’re scouting exclusively for women.
I flew out of SeaTac on Tuesday at 6am and landed in Mexico City at 4p (Mexico City is 2 hours ahead of Pacific Standard Time). After more questions at the immigration counter than normal (I suspect due to the current Asshat in Chief souring relations between the US & Mexico), I was greeted by Miguel.
We went through the usual gamut of preparations for my week-long stay: getting pesos from the bank, reserving me a room at an hospedaje, water jug, food, etc. At some point in there he asked me if I wanted to go to lucha training. Of course I said yes, so he made some calls around and found out that Skayde was holding training at 8 that evening. I packed up my training gear, and we hopped on the Metro (subway).
After a 45-minute metro ride, we showed up at a small 3-level gym. I greeted profe Skayde and we realized we’d actually been on the same flight from San Francisco that morning! Skayde is a highly-skilled technical luchador, so training consisted mainly of a complex series of take-downs & submission holds. After a full day of travel and two hours of (enjoyable but mentally intense) lucha libre training, I was more than ready to go back to my room and sleep.
The Crash Tryout in a nutshell
The next day, I showed up at Gym Hercules Moderno at about 11am. I waited in Miguel’s workshop, carefully observing his work and chatting with Espanto Jr. (a luchador who works for CMLL, and is also La Sombra/ Andrade Cien Almas’s cousin), who was there to order gear and generally hang out.
At some point Miguel took me out into the gym and introduced me to the guys who were running the tryout: Rey Fénix & Daga. I‘d met Fenix before at a show a couple years ago at the Yakima Sun Dome & I jogged his memory with a photo of all of us wrestlers in the locker room. Fénix explained that the tryout was a way for them to get a look at our basic wrestling skills, as well as high-flying moves and any signature style we have in the ring. Later they’d get a look at our gear. About what I expected.
So, at about 12:50 I headed to the locker room and changed into my training gear. Other women began trickling in, and there ended up being about 9 of us in total. The group ranged in experience from barely 1 year, to 10 years as an independent luchadora. I sat squarely in the middle with 6 years under my belt.
Here’s the thing about being a luchador/a in Mexico vs. in the United States: in Mexico, you can train damn near every day of the week, if you’re so inclined. Many gyms have lucha rings, and there are an abundance of profes to train under (of varying levels of fame and a wide range of in-ring specialties). Washington? Lucha Libre Volcánica is the only lucha libre school, José Gomez is the only profe, and we now only train 2 days per week, maximum (though for the first 3-4 years of my training we had a space where we trained 5 days per week. I credit my current skill level to that rigorous original training schedule.) That all being said, I’m proud to say I hung quite well with women who had more experience and likely a more regular training schedule than myself.
The tryouts went something like this: We started with basic rolls & bumps to check fundamentals. From there we moved to basic sequences to check footwork and ring presence. After that we were split into two groups based on wether we wrestle as ruda or técnica (1), paired off with a woman from the opposing group, and asked to quickly formulate sequences to highlight each woman’s strengths.
After the sequences wrapped up, we were divided again, this time into what appeared to be the “more proficient” group which became a 6-woman tag match, and the “less proficient” 3-woman group that got to work on a demo match with some of the guys who were helping judge. I was placed as a member of the ruda trio for the tag match. We then had about 20 minutes to formulate the match. We watched the other three women do their demo match first, but that got derailed entirely after one woman fell wrong and dislocated her elbow. After a spot of first aid, she was moved off to the locker room and the 6 of us ran our match. It went with the usual amount of smoothness & rough patches inherent in wrestling with little preparation, but on the whole was a solid match that would put most indy matches in WA to shame.
After some match feedback, we were asked to go put on our full gear for photos. I debuted a set of gear that I made myself and got Miguel’s full blessing (along with my trusty mask and boots, both made by Miguel).
The organizers then collected all of our contact information, and we huddled for the final verdict. Nacho, the promotor for The Crash, had been watching the majority of the tryout and had made his decision. Long story short: He’d seen a lot of talent that day, but apparently not what he was looking for. Nobody was picked on the spot. Though he did say that they may possibly be reaching out to fill slots on upcoming shows, and early the next week it was announced that the women I for sure thought was going to get picked was, indeed, going to be featured on an upcoming show.
All in all, it was a positive experience. I met one woman who has mutual contacts in Oregon. I got a good look at other luchadoras’ skills, which is something I definitely can’t do in WA. Plus, it was fun to stretch my improv muscles with folks I’ve never wrestled. What’s more, I put my foot in the door and am now a known entity to The Crash. Mission accomplished, as far as I’m concerned.
A shopping trip and some stories
One of my main objectives of this trip (aside from the tryout and training, of course) was to see if I could get Miguel to take me fabric shopping with him. I’ve learned it’s pretty difficult to find lucha-gear quality fabrics in the US. You often have to buy online and spend a ton to have them shipped from elsewhere. Plus I flat-out didn’t know the names of certain other materials used for embellishment.
After spending some time early that afternoon helping him cut & glue pieces for Ave Rex’s newest set of gear, Miguel & I set off to shop for gear supplies. On our way, he casually asked if I wanted to learn how to make masks. I was floored. He already new I made gear because I showed him my most recent set and got his full blessing on my abilities. Plus I’d been spending a large amount of time in his taller and was pretty transparent about wanting to learn what I could while I was down there. But masks? That’s a whole other ballgame. I voiced my interest, and he pondered a bit. Then we shelved the topic for the day.
We popped out of the metro tunnel near the Zocalo. Past that point, I became thoroughly lost as we snaked into a maze of closely-packed market stalls and storefronts. After striding past several blocks of (perfectly serviceable and exceptionally well-stocked, to my eye) fabric vendors, Miguel ducked into a narrow doorway.
Know this about me: I love fabric and craft stores. So I’m sure my eyes were the size of dinner plates when I saw the multitude of rolls of colorful, sparkly Lycra crammed together in that wee shop. There were so many that we had to walk single-file sideways to reach the back. Faced with crippling indecision and a wallet full of pesos burning a hole in my fanny pack, I asked Miguel which colors he most regularly uses. From there I ended up with half a meter each of jewel-like silver, gold, red, green, and black Lycra. Enough to practice with, but nowhere near what I would’ve invested in had I not needed to pack it all back to the US in my luggage.
As we left the shop and dove back among the vendors, I spied an elastic booth. Miguel was thoroughly amused by my child-like glee. Since I don’t only sew gear, I wasn’t about to pass up supply shopping for other projects. Apparently waistband elastic is sold there not by the meter, but by the kilo. And in case you were wondering, 1/4 kilo is A LOT of elastic. I also bought some fancy (and suuuuuper inexpensive) stretch lace… then remembered we still had to go by the shop that sells sparkly vinyl. I figured I should save my pesos for that (undoubtedly) rather pricey stop.
As we went along, Miguel periodically popped into shops: grabbing spray adhesive here, buying high-density foam for kickpads there, asking after a certain fabric for a certain luchador’s gear order at another storefront. He obviously knew exactly where to look for what materials. When we got to the sparkly vinyl shop, we took a number and leaned on the counter to peruse their wares.
While we waited, I asked Miguel how long he’s been making masks. His answer: 15 years. Plus he’s been a shoemaker for 25 years. I asked who taught him to make masks, to which he replied that he just kind of figured it out through trial and error after he’d had to make one out of necessity. Turns out he liked the creative design process of mask and gear-making more than the assembly-line-esque monotony of making shoes, so that’s what he continued to do. Sure, he still makes lucha libre boots, and his family works making shoes, but his heart is in the lucha masks.
After I bought glittery red, black, and gold vinyl, we went on our merry way back to the workshop…just in time for me to run and drop off my loot in my room and meet a friend for dinner, drinks (I’ve now tried pulque), and a trip to Arena Mexico to watch the luchas!
A trip to the tiangues
If you’re scratching your head at the word “tiangues” (tee-YAN-guees): Imagine a farmer’s market crossed with a swap meet, make it HUGE, and add in the fact that it’s perfectly acceptable to cruise around with a beer. On the weekends, Miguel’s wife and assorted other family members set up shop and sell the shoes they make. Miguel took me there Sunday to hang out and pursue the stalls.
Miguel’s sister-in-law took it upon herself to introduce me to micheladas. I was familiar with the concept, but hadn’t had the pleasure of tasting one in Mexico yet. My drink consisted of a 40 of XX lager in a giant tamarind & Tajin-rimmed cup, garnished with a skewer of gummies, a cucumber slice, & a chile candy straw. Now that is how you take a subpar beer and make it delicious. It was the perfect beverages for the upper-mind-70’s sunny weather we had that day.
After spending the afternoon skimming the vendors & going on a brief errand with Miguel to find pieces for someone’s lucha gear, I helped the family break down their stall and we headed for dinner. Alambre was another new (and very pleasant) food experience for me: alambre de bistec con queso reminded me strongly of a deconstructed Philly Cheesesteak eaten with tortillas. We wrapped up the evening with ice cream (I got vanilla with a cajeta swirl) and a stroll through the Pozo Alameda de Santa María.
Avispa gets a lesson in mask-making
Monday’s itinerary was largely undecided when I woke up that day. I thought maybe go lift in the morning, watch & help Miguel in his taller, and train with whoever happened to be teaching that evening at Hercules Gym.
Buuuuut, here’s what actually happened: I went to the taller to help and watch Miguel, I went with him and his wife to pick up their daughter from elementary school, then after going for machetes (70cm-long quesadillas) we went fabric shopping again (both for their livelihoods & for my outstanding material desires).
Then Miguel finally went there: He asked me if I for sure wanted to learn how to make masks, and he set his price on the lesson. Now, when he’d asked earlier in the week I didn’t think he’d actually go through with his offer to teach me the secrets of mask-making. Let alone on my last full day in Mexico City… at 5 pm.
I happily anted up on the spot, and there began the (possibly) quickest crash-course in mask-making of all time. A few of the things he said in the hours to come I’d noticed during my earlier trips or earlier in the week. But other details were so minute but important that I‘d have had no way of knowing if he hadn’t explained every step of the way. Since Hercules Gym closes at 10pm, we only got about 4.5 hours of instruction time in that night before we picked up his family for tacos. However, we were back at it early the next morning to wrap up the final stages. And that’s how I spent my final hours of this trip to Mexico City; frantically taking notes on mask-making.
It’s definitely going to take some time— possibly years— for me to process and practice all of what I learned in that brief (but very dense) lesson. So for the time being, DO NOT ask me to make you a mask. I’ll simply refer you to Miguel. I don’t presume to be anywhere within spitting distance of his 15 years of experience for a good long while.
I’d say this trip was a resounding success. I trained enough times to bring back some new knowledge to LLV, I networked for my continued goal of wrestling professionally in Mexico, I learned more than I expected about gear and mask-making, and I got to spend time with some good friends in CDMX. Now I guess I can get on with the rest of 2018.
(1) While I’m normally a técnica in the US, I opted for ruda a) because there were too few rudas at the tryout to have even pairs and b) I was about a half to a full head taller than any other woman there. Since the technical distinction between the two is that técnicas fly and rudas base, it was totally impractical to expect anyone there to base me in most things.