Masked Wrestlers Practice ‘Lucha Libre’ in the Bronx

Lucha libre is a way of life for many young Latinos in NYC. (Photo by Mariela Lombard via El Diario/La Prensa)

Lucha libre is a way of life for many young Latinos in NYC. (Photo by Mariela Lombard via El Diario/La Prensa)

For four years, the monthly events in the ring of the Bronx Wrestling Federation (BWF) have been causing a young audience to erupt in frenzied shouts before a show of the chokeholds, high-flying maneuvers, and costalazos [a heavy blow, when a person gets thrown to the ground] of Mexican lucha libre [freestyle wrestling].

“Bronco is my favorite, he can take on all the bad guys,” said Jacob Sandoval, 9, who recently came to the arena with his father and siblings. He is one of the many children older than eight whose families pack the bleachers in the gym of the veteran wrestler Bronco Internacional.

“I started with two apprentice wrestlers. Now we’re a family of more than 50,” said Bronco Internacional, 51 and of Dominican background. He carefully hides his identity behind a bright red mask. “Whoever enters the ring has to earn it; there is no performance without training and discipline.”

The wrestler, who started his career in Quisqueya 30 years ago, left his job in the construction industry to start BWF, a school and company for Mexican lucha libre on Close Avenue between Westchester and Watson Avenues.

“My wife, Mónica Valdés, and I built the ring. It took us months to gather every piece, from the ironwork to the ropes,” explained Bronco. However, his right-hand, Mónica, 41, doesn’t share his passion for the sport, afraid that her husband will get injured.

Bronco Internacional (Photo via El Diario video)

Bronco Internacional (Photo via El Diario video)

Sangre de Águila [“Eagle Blood” in English], a 23-year-old Mexican, was Bronco’s first student. Four years later, he continues to gain experience with big figures in Mexican lucha libre, such as Pequeño Pierroth and Kendo.

Having taken his name after Mexico’s national bird [the golden eagle], the wrestler leaps into the ring wearing tri-colored tights. But during the day, he goes about unnoticed as a construction worker of luxury apartments in Downtown Brooklyn.

“I transform at night, just like the popular comic book superheroes. In the ring and in the gym, the mask is sacred,” he expressed firmly. “I lift weights and I train for wrestling six days a week. It’s my passion and my culture,” he added. “Every Mexican child grew up dreaming of the AAA [Spanish for “Assistance, Consulting, and Administration,” AAA is a lucha libre professional wrestling company based in Mexico] and its legendary wrestlers.”

A passion for some and a theatrical show for others, Mexican lucha libre is a lifestyle for young people like José Camacho, a 20-year-old Puerto Rican, who let his hair and beard grow for two years to perform in the ring as “Caverman,” a character similar to the Mexican “Cavernario Galindo.” 

José Camacho as "Caverman" in the ring. (Photo by Mariela Lombard via El Diario/Prensa)

José Camacho as “Caverman” in the ring. (Photo by Mariela Lombard via El Diario/Prensa)

“My employers ask me why I don’t cut my hair. They don’t understand that Caverman can’t exist without José Camacho,” he said.

By day, he combs back his frizzy hair for his job at a store in the Bronx. At night, he wears rustic clothing with a leopard-skin pattern and he wields a sledgehammer made of cardboard.

“Initially, I didn’t want to fight as Caverman, but Bronco thought it would please the crowd. I came to appreciate the character with time. The children adore him,” said Camacho.

In the ring, the BWF wrestlers seem like fierce enemies, but out of the public eye, friendship rules.

“We take care of the opponent. A strong chokehold can break a bone, but we don’t want to injure a good friend,” said Sangre de Águila, who stressed, “The blows are real. What happens in the ring is spontaneous.”

During the fight, Juan García, a 32-year-old Mexican amateur didn’t hide his astonishment when Sangre de Águila threw his training partner, Rayo, out of the ring with a spectacular flying maneuver. 

“After soccer, lucha libre is the sport that I’m most passionate about,” he emphasized, without leaving any details of the fight out.

With needle and thread

The mask is what best defines the personality of the wrestler’s character. That is the specialty of Francisco “Franki” Saavedra, a 37-year-old Mexican man, who doesn’t fight in the ring, but with the blow of a needle and thread, he highlights the mystique of the wrestlers.

Saavedra, the mascarero [mask maker], has been making wrestling masks for two years and has been collecting them for nearly a decade. A pool table serves [as the space] for measuring and cutting the lycra. He converted his bedroom into a functional workshop where he sews with a Brother sewing machine.

“My mother is a seamstress. I learned to sew as a child, making my wrestlers’ wardrobe,” he said while sewing [together] the four pieces that comprise a mask. “I had a neighbor named Clemente. He was an amateur wrestler who was born mute, but his passion spoke for him.”

Franki, who works as a butcher at a bodega in the Bronx, takes about eight hours to cut and put together a mask.

“This difficult needlework shows how good the mascarero is,” he said, pointing out the two seams that indicate the design of the eyes.

“I don’t make masks for just any wrestler, only for friends of my friends,” explained Saavedra, saying that a good one can cost up to $150, depending on the material, but many local wrestlers can’t afford it.

Franki, who made masks for Sangre de Águila and Comando, among other wrestlers in the area, emphasized that he learned the craft on his own.

“If I could dress up my toys when I was a kid, I thought that sewing a mask wouldn’t be impossible. It was a process of trial and error,” said Saavedra. “My technique improves with every piece.”

One Comment

  1. Sadrickaikens1 says:

    Melissa de Mi Padre wrestling thing in the Bronx my name is Ce sadrick
    Akins I would like to attend a match title match with the rest of them my first match and I would like to be a wrestler too and I’m 26 years old this is my first time in the ring with somebody and Russell

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