The centre of town in Mexico City doesn’t serve the visitor much beyond a litany of woes around the next corner. There is no Louvre, no Pantheon, no changing of the guard, the landmarks of famous cities around the world, only fish stalls with a police force marching through them primed ready to split a skull or two.
And around the next corner is the Calle de Peru, where stands the Arena Coliseo. It is not a proud street, it was probably once a functional street but nowadays it isn’t even that, and the only traffic through it is the traffic of a wrestling day.
We find a place to eat on Calle de Peru, a cantina built around a big iron simmering pot containing mole (pronounced moh-lay; a type of sauce not the cuddly myopic), with an entrance that is a crude hole knocked into the wall that faces the street. Overhead the hole is a crucifix that has undergone many repairs, with Polyfilla enough to kill a man should the crucifix fall.
Inside the cantina are eight tables, and at the far end a kitchen where three generations of woman prepare rice and beans. The women look up when we enter but the diners do not. The diners are wary of us and even stop talking amongst themselves so that they may concentrate better on their food and ignore us altogether. The only acknowledgement of our presence comes from a young man with a vicious swollen eye, who draws his woman closer to him, as if to say “she’s mine” and thus prevent her flight in the company of strangers. He wears dirty white clothes to the woman’s black, which serve to accentuate his manhood once his legs part for our benefit and the slouch into machismo gets underway. A dirty manhood is not what we want when we eat but because there are no other places to eat on the Calle de Peru, we have little choice but suffer the indignity and fear of prolonged periods in Mexican toilets.
There is no menu to speak of. The man tending the “tables” brings to us three helpings of mole, followed by rice and beans. We don’t have any choice. The water in a colourful plastic pitcher we avoid.
“No somos gringos Americanos,” we feel obligated to tell the man waiting “tables.” “We are not American gringos.”
Through the hole in the wall beyond the crucifix a community is building on the street in anticipation of the wrestling. Families make their way to the Coliseo box office, bypassing the scalpers that claim to have bought up all the tickets, to a window covered by a steel grille. Here, cash and tickets are exchanged through a slot not big enough for anything larger to pass.
The seats in the Arena Coliseo are hard pressed plastic, but not as hard as the Mexico City cops that won’t go to Tepito. Unlike us. And our hard asses.
CONSEJO MUNDIAL CMLL DE LUCHA LIBRE, reads the sign over the arena.
Stored in buckets of ice and brought to one’s seat by fellows wearing white lab coats, cerveza poured from a bottle into a paper cup costs 2 pesos. Water costs 1.50 a cup, which would explain why nobody at the wrestling is drinking the water except for Caleb, who is beginning to feel a little weird after three solid days of alcohol without sleep and a jet lag that he says is “catching up.” He denies the Valium is anything to do with it. Vehemently.
“Don’t fall asleep here,” I tell Cal, whose jetlag he hopes is hidden behind his sunglasses. “You’ll get us lynched.”
The canvas ring holds court even when empty and a packed house bay, yell and stamp their feet in its direction. The house is here to witness Ultimo Guerrero, Black Warrior, Hombre Sin Nombre, Alex Koslov, Sangre Azteca and all the other mighty warriors pound a head or two in the afternoon. But most of all they are here to witness Místico. Up in the cheaper seats a wire mesh protects heads below from the detritus hurled at it, mainly body parts and spicy potato wedges from the street vendors, who smell heavily of sweat and carbolic soap, as corrupting on the nostrils as sulphur.
The Sunday match starts early at the Coliseo, a more intimate and informal arena than the Mexico arena, which is across town near to the Balderas metro. We buy mascara — masks — and other wrestling paraphernalia in anticipation of the afternoon’s entertainment.
The woman’s name is Karen Gonzalez Cruz and the man hanging onto her with a vicious swollen eye is American Mike.
American Mike cannot speak much Spanish and so the two of them communicate through impassioned glances that are as sickening a display as Mike’s manhood. Thus we exit the cantina for a street suddenly much more inviting than when we left it, leaving with Mike an offer that the lovers should come and party in our hotel room.
American Mike says by way of a reply: “You’ve got to deal with all the problems.”
“I’ll think about what that means in the next life,” Cal fires back.
It’s a bad sound going down but we have got American Mike all wrong, and what we perceive as balls is actually a cry for help, as we shall find out soon enough.
This is a particularly good day for the fans and families who suspend all disbelief and worship each Sunday at temple lucha libre. The formidable Místico is headlining, the people’s champion.
Místico was born and raised in Tepito, like Luis “Kid Azteca” Villanueva, José “Huitlacoche” Medel and a generation of tough fighters before him. He started his career at age fifteen, wrestling under the name of Astro Boy and winning. From underdog to the largest drawing wrestler in the world and the biggest star of all of Mexico, Astro Boy turned to religion and changed his name to Místico and wrestles this very day in Arena Coliseo with a new jewel to his crown: Best Flying Wrestler of 2006.
When they say “flying” they do mean flying and not jumping. Místico’s aerial based offence is something to behold, a lesson in what happens to a man weighing 167lbs when he leaves the force of gravity under a silver face mask.
A Top-Rope Rocker Dropper.
Bout after bout, down the aisle come the tag teams to the sing-song announcer whose shoulders are arched beneath a garish tweed jacket, and who says formidable at every opportunity. Everything is “formidable” in lucha libre.
The fighters bounce down the aisle in order to throw themselves majestically into the ring. These leaps into the ring are almost as spectacular as the flips out again when Místico or Heavy Metal or La Mascara take the upper hand with a plancha move, a flying cross body press, and send one of their opponents clear out across the ropes. These fuckers are fucking big and spectators scatter ring side when projectiles the size of a small village hurtle their way and smash apart seats upon impact.
Occasionally the grappling continues outside the ring, which is technically illegal and gets the audience even more fired up than they already are. Little wonder that sometimes the fighters sustain genuine injury, and some of them, covered in blood and shame, are left no option but to quit and hobble unceremoniously out of the stadium. When a wrestler leaves this way there is no cheer or applause, no show of appreciation from the crowd. It is as if the wrestler was never really there in the first place, because injuries are for mortals. These fuckers are balletic pugilistic pantomime artists, far greater and more colourful than life beyond the Coliseo, and they are duty bound to carry on their big hulking shoulders the ideation of a thousand people or more. When they fail we mortals must die a little.
The female tag team don’t have anywhere near the same hulk to their shoulders, and as a consequence command less respect than the male wrestlers. When the female wrestlers arrive it is to a chorus of “putan!” from the women in the audience. “Prostitute!”
Dark Angel is the favourite putan. She fights alongside Lady Apache and Princesa Blanca, locking necks between powerful legs and making Princesa Sujei or Hiroka or Rosa Negra slam a hand into the canvas in defeat.
For the “formidable” final bout, which stars Místico — everyone’s favourite — a dwarf wrestler dressed in a monkey suit and a blue afro wig beneath gladiatorial armour joins in purely to be gently hurled around the ring and generate lots of laughs. It’s an unbelievable sight, not dissimilar a sight to that of Maximo, who generated uproarious laughter in an earlier bout when he minced about the ring in a very short tunic in a farcical caricature of camp. When I nudge Cal awake and he sees the monkey he knows he’s dreaming.
Whenever Místico raises a fist or lands a pile driving blow, some of the women in the audience cannot contain themselves. The woman in the front row blocks the view of men suddenly timorous in the company of other people’s glances when she jumps out of her seat with great excitement and hollers, “MÍSTICO!” Which goes on up until the moment Místico loses and everybody in the arena turns to one of the several exits and leaves: The grown ups with their children, the children with their friends and their photographs signed by Dark Angel and the other wrestlers for a few cents. Místico loses. There is no discussion of events, no match analysis, no sound at all but the mental echo of what is, I suppose, a cold hard slap to the face of this week’s dreams.
The beer vendor that owes me 10 pesos from an hour ago dutifully returns my change and then it’s out through the turnstile, where a battered bus takes away everyone not leaving the Calle de Peru on foot.