While the first appearance of a masked wrestler can be traced back to 1934, the roots of Lucha Libre go back much further. In ancient Mayan and Aztec cultures, masked Indians staged mock battles between good and evil gods. Masks were very symbolic in rural Mexico because they allowed the peasants to hide their identity and transform themselves into gods. Masks would be worn on feast days and other holidays.
In 1933, a retired revolutionary army colonel, Salvador Lutteroth brought professional wrestling from the United States to Mexico City and named it Lucha Libre or "free fighting". The first masked wrestler, El Enmascarado, "The Masked Man" was brought down from Chicago to wrestle a few matches against other Americans in Mexico City, as a gimmick to excite the fans. Masked wrestlers or Luchadores, caught on with the Mexican fans and luchadores such as El Maravilla Enmascarado "The Masked Marvel" and the most famous luchadore of all-time, El Santo, El Enmascardo de Plata "The Saint, The Man in the Silver Mask".
Lucha Libre contests pit the rudo(the villain) against the tecnico(the hero). Rudos were the ugly, hairy bullies, drunks and corrupt police officers that made life for the hardworking citizens hell. The tecnico was the upstanding, modest, clean fighter that was the pride of the community. It is in this way that Lucha Libre contests reflect the real life of its audience. The more the audience identified with the luchadores, the more lucha libre contests took on a distinctly Mexican plot. Characters arose that reflected the culture's interests, such as: animals, religious figures, death, cowboys and even body parts.
In the 1940's promoters began to advertise "Mask vs. Mask" matches, where the winning luchadore would get to unmask the loser. Once a luchadore was unmasked, he was never allowed to wrestle with a mask again. Losing a match such as this would ruin a luchadore's career because he was now known as an ordinary person, not a superhero or a villain. Mask vs. Mask matches are referred to as the "ultimate moment of Lucha Libre" for the fans.
Unlike American Pro Wrestling matches,
Lucha Libre matches feature many combatants(usually 4-6) in the ring
at one time and the action is very fast paced. Luchadores combine
many sequences of moves together to form a ballet-like display in the
ring. Lucha Libre matches are held weekly(usually Friday and Sunday
nights) all over Mexico and Latin America, in venues ranging from
high school gyms to large arenas. The large Hispanic population has
brought Lucha Libre to the United States, shows are held in various
small venues across the nation. Even the two large professional
wrestling corporations, the WCW and WWF have employed luchadores as
an attempt to attract a Hispanic audience. Some of the current
luchadores that are regarded as "The Best of The Best" are: Rey
Mysterio Jr., La Parka, Eddie Guerrero, Psycosis, The Ultimo Dragon
The article: "La Mascara! The World of Mexican Wrestling" by Andrew Coe was used as a reference. Thanks!