If American wrestling is a sport with more flash, feuds and soap opera than “Empire” and “Game of Thrones” combined, Mexican wrestling — aka "lucha libre" — is its equally dramatic, colorful yet more character-driven cousin.
Within nightly sold-out stadiums such as Arena Mexico, there are the good tough guys (Shocker, Jon "Strongman" Andersen), violent tough guys (Fabian "El Gitano," Arkangel de la Muerte) and masked tough guys (Blue Demon Jr.). Despite levels of iconic hero worship amongst their fans, all of them are accessible and personable to those seeking autographs and communion. Heck, Shocker even owns an upscale taqueria, where he serves food when he's not on the road.
"In American wrestling, the stories are told in promos, usually outside of the ring," says Andersen. "In lucha, it's a real part of the culture, inside out."
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All this and more, good times and bad (vicious injuries, graphic deaths in the ring), are on display in the new documentary “Lucha Mexico.”
Some men, such as Guadalajara’s Shocker, were born to wrestle. His father, Ruben Soria, is both a respected early lucha wrestler and a trainer.
"To me, it’s my whole life – over 40 years. I was so happy to see that someone was making a good film about lucha libre," Shocker says, noting how, as outsiders, directors Ian Markiewicz and Alexandria Hammond could show how it’s an integral part of Mexican culture. Ask him how he got his gregarious, muscle-kissing personae (his nickname "1000% Guapo" means "1000% Handsome") and he says, with a laugh, "It just came naturally.”
Others, such as gruff-voiced San Francisco-born Andersen — a competitive American bodybuilder and strongman — was already successful in the United States as well as Japan before Shocker asked him to wrestle. "I was immediately and hugely connected, because I was with Shocker," says Andersen. "You have to immerse yourself in the culture. If you don't, they'll see right through you."
In “Lucha Mexico,” you can see how loved and busy Andersen is — and how often it (sadly) takes him away from his wife and kids. Still Andersen knows one must take advantage of big cash opportunities when they come, since aging out of lucha (or getting seriously injured or killed) is always a danger.
Markiewicz and Hammond – who come from punk-related docs, such as “Better Than Something: Jay Reatard” – stressed how much larger-than-life their cinematic charges wound up being. "With Jon, it’s just his size and voice that got me," says Hammond. "With Blue Demon Jr., however, he was the first match wrestler to genuinely intimidate me. He's got these beautiful eyes peering through this insane blue mask. They were beyond human in a way — always in character."
Ask Shocker if there's a future in film for him after “Lucha Mexico,” and he roars with laughter. "Hopefully after they see me in this film somebody from Hollywood will take it to heart,” he says. “I could be the next The Rock."