Bronx Luchadores Mix Fun with Social Services

(Courtesy photo, via El Diario)

Members of the Bronx Wrestling Foundation entertain families at community events in the borough and teach kids the importance of exercise. (Courtesy photo, via El Diario-La Prensa)

You can catch their multicolored masks and beefy bodies in summer camps posing for pictures with kids and giving talks on the benefits of physical exercise to maintain “a healthy mind in a healthy body.” Other times they share with the “viejitos,” elderly Latinos, at senior centers.

The first Saturday of every month, they stand out by throwing flying kicks, jumping in the air, doing locks and twisting arms in a small arena in the Soundview section of the Bronx, to the delight of dozens of children and fans who cheer them on.

They are the 40 professionals of the Bronx Wrestling Foundation who practice lucha libre wrestling. Frank Segundo, 50, known as “El Bronco Internacional,” founded the organization three years ago and has been practicing the popular sport for 30 years.

“We have luchadores from many Latin American countries, including the Dominican Republic, Puerto Rico, Mexico, El Salvador, and Ecuador. We combine theatrical entertainment with social service, the latter for free,” said Segundo.

“A lot of places call us up because children love seeing us and taking pictures with us. We teach them the importance of exercise and caution them not to do what we do at home because it could be dangerous.”

El Bronco, a construction worker, became famous in the world of lucha libre in the Dominican Republic on the TV show of wrestler “Jack Veneno,” produced by Dominicana de Espectáculos. Segundo started out very young in the 1980s and was inspired by the wrestler “El Brillante.” His goal was to leave his country to go to Mexico.

Afterward, Segundo joined the company Lucha Libre del Siglo XXI (Lucha Libre of the 21st Century) run by Mexican wrestler “Angel Blanco” and then came to New York. During his 13 years in the city, Segundo has combined his work as a gymnastics and wrestling coach with social services and events at the Bronx Wrestling Foundation.

Among the luchadores are Mexicans “Máscara Celestial” and “Sangre de Aguila,” Dominicans “Chusen el Guerrero” and “Angel Blanco,” and Puerto Ricans “Bad Boy” and “Samuel Adams.” Adams won the EBW (Extreme Backyard Wrestling) Heavyweight Championship for the United States. Some of the wrestlers fight professionally for World Wrestling Entertainment.

The rules of fighting include not hitting one’s opponent with a fist to the face or to the pit of the stomach, or using locks that could cut off the opponent’s breathing.

The wrestlers earn money for each wrestling match. Depending on the category, it could be $50, $100, or $150. Most of them do it for fun and because they’re passionate about it, and they have to mix the sport with a job.

Take for example, Víctor Hugo, 23, who came to the U.S. from Mexico two years ago. He sells fried chicken by day, and by night he becomes “Máscara Celestial” (“Heavenly Mask”).

“I believe I was born to fight,” said Hugo. “Ever since I was a child, my favorite sport has been lucha. I’ve always been a fan of the masks and I wouldn’t miss the lucha matches on TV.”

“Máscara Celestial” has been wrestling for eight years. His goal is to win the belt in the lightweight category, one of six that are in the hands of members of the Bronx Wrestling Foundation.

Martha Castillo, a fan of the “Caveman,” goes to the organization’s events at Daro’s Extreme Fitness, located at 1123 Close Avenue, to see the encounters between the “bad” and the “good” wrestlers.

“I take Tony, my 10-year-old son, and we spend a very fun and exciting night, shouting and clapping,” said Castillo. “The events are very local but very well-organized, and the luchadores are very professional, some are experts and others are very bad and unpolished.”

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