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The great Santo!

Often considered the ugly sister to the more glamorous American wrestling,with stars like Hulk Hogan and the Rock crossing over into other forms of entertainment,Lucha Libre had,in fact, already achieved mainstream success some twentyfive years before Hulk Hogan had become a household name.

It all began when failing furniture empresario Salvador Lutteroth was looking for a more lucrative business back in 1933.After being exposed to the sport in the States he decided to bring it to Mexico City.He and some partners began promoting lucha libre in a converted warehouse.The venture was not an overnight success and the partners pulled out.Lutteroth hung in there and things began to turn around,when he found his nitch when the American Masked Marvel inspired the path Lucha Libre would take in 1935.Murcielago Velasquez became the first masked superstar of lucha libre.

Octavio Gaona and Tarzan Lopez.Two early stars.

By the forties things were picking up thanks to guys like Tarzan Lopez,Octavio Gaona,Ciclon Veloz,and Charro Aguayo.But by the end of the decade they would be upstaged by a masked indidual who would usher in a new era and become the biggest star ever:El Santo!

The fifties were,without a doubt,the golden days of Lucha Libre.The stars that emerged during this era is a who's who of Lucha Libre stars.Santo,Cavernario Galindo,Medico Asesino,Wolf Ruvinskis,Lobo Negro,Blue Demon,Gori Guerrero,Black Shadow,Rayo de Jalisco,Rito Romero,Black Guzman---too many to list.

Blue Demon,Black Shadow,and Black Guzman.[Santo's brother.]

During this time,many wrestlers played bit parts in films,and by 1952 Santo crossed over into Mexican pop culture with his own comic book.The success of the comic led movie producers to believe Lucha stars could fill theaters.Since Lucha Libre was mainly concentrated around Mexico City not everyone had a chance to view this spectacle.Since tv sets were uncommon in this time people couldn't view it the way it was meant to.All they had was radio and still pictures in the lucha mag.That all changed in 1952 as the Lucha Libre film genre was born.Wolf Ruvinskis costarred in the film LA BESTIA MAGNIFICA,which featured a few lucha stars,comic Resortes starred in the film EL LUCHADOR FENOMENO,featuring Wolf Ruvinskis,Medico Asesino,Lobo Negro,and other stars;Ismael and Joselito Rodriguez unleashed the film HURACAN RAMIREZ,a lucha drama about a ficticious masked wrestler,featuring lucha stars like Medico Asesino,Tonina Jackson,El Bulldog,Carnicero Butcher,and Buitre Blanco[aka Daniel Garcia,who would later become the real life Huracan Ramirez];and there was EL ENMASCARADO DE PLATA,a serial meant for Santo,but passed on the role.Medico Asesino became the hero and therefore the first ever Luchahero in Mexico's history.Fernando Oses,a wrestler/stuntman/scriptwriter[and later /actor/producer/director]created the masked hero Sombra Vengadora for a few serials and became the first ever reoccurring Luchahero.Lobo Negro,Wolf Ruvinskis,and Nathaneal Leon "Frankenstein" became regulars not only in these films but comedies starring popular comics Mario Moreno "Cantinflas",Herman Valdez "Tin Tan",and the portly "Capulina".In 1958 Santo finally made two films,starting a film career that has yet to be topped by any other wrestler in the world.

Huracan Ramirez,Medico Asesino,and Nathaneal Leon "Frankenstein".

By the sixties the Lucha films were an established genre.Ruvinskis quit the sport in favor of acting and even portrayed a masked crimefighter named Neutron in an early serialized television series.Plenty of wrestlers put in guest spots.But it was Santo and Blue Demon that would become Mexico's favorite superheroes in the ring,comics,and in movies,where they battled gangsters,mad scientists, vampires,werewolves,mummies,man made monsters,and whatever else the writers could come up with.Many of these films were scripted by Fernando Oses,who along with Lobo Negro and Nathaneal Leon "Frankenstein",usually played villains in these films.Plastic figurines of Santo and Blue Demon appeared in every marketplace in Mexico,and still do to this day!

Mil Mascaras,Solitario,and Tinieblas represented a new generation of Lucha stars.

By the late sixties a new group of stars emerged in the ring.Mil Mascaras,with his bodybuilder physique and habit of wearing a different mask in each match was unique.Dr. Wagner became the evil ring medic,replacing the untimely deceased Medico Asesino. Tinieblas,at about six feet tall,was imposing for a Mexican wrestler,and Solitario was considered by most to be the next Santo.

By the seventies Mil Mascaras and Tinieblas had joined with Santo and Blue Demon in celluloid heroics. However the Mexican film industry wasn't what it used to be and the Lucha films were feeling the sting.Budgets were reduced to keep the films going.To make up for the lesser budgets,producers crammed as many masked wrestling heroes into their films as possible,sometimes creating their own and casting bodybuilders or unknown wrestlers to play them.By the late seventies the films lost their steam though and only Santo kept on appearing in movies.

Blue Angel and Superzan were two wrestlers created by producers in the seventies.

By 1985 the deaths of Santo and Solitario crippled the sport and nearly killed the genre.But it wasn't the third fall yet.The sons of Santo,Blue Demon,Dr. Wagner,and others continued their fathers' legacies.Canek defeated Andre the Giant a few years before Hulk Hogan,Perro Agayo formed his own legend,and Mil Mascaras kept the film genre going with two luchadramas.

Hijo del Santo has carried his father's name very well.

In the nineties t.v. breathed new life into the sport. Powerhouse network Televisa aired CMLL matches[formerly known as the Lutteroth promotion]and their competition Televsion Azteca countered with Lucha Libre International,featuring stars like Canek,Mil Mascaras, Dos Caras,and even occassional stars from upnorth,like Chris Benoit,Bad News Brown,and in his last wrestling days,Andre the Giant.But newly formed Triple A and it's partnership with Televisa effectively killed the other network's Lucha shows.Televisa helped make new stars like Otagon,Atlantis,Konnan,Vampiro Canadiense, Rey Misterio,La Parka,,Pierroth,Heavy Metal,etc.New movies appeared starring Hijo de Santo and some of the newer stars.They failed to recapture the magic of the older films and most went straight to video.Many of the new stars also made appearances in Televisa programs like talk shows,comedies,and soap operas.

Shocker,Guerreros Infernales,and Mosco de la Merced represent the latest generation of Lucha Libre superstars.

By the new millenium affordalbe cable t.v. brought with it the threat of the W.W.F.To keep up Antonio Pena,the owner of TRIPLE A,has adapted the more negative aspects of American wrestling,focusing the storylines on his N.W.O. imitators,LOS VIPERS,composed of TRIPLE A made stars Cibernetico,Electroshock,Mosco de la Merced,and a few others.These tactics have alienated oldschoolers yet has drawn in a huge youth audience.Meanwhile CMLL has also havily promoted new stars like Shocker,Los Guerreros Infernales,Black Warrior,Mr. Niebla,and a select few others,who along with established stars like Hijo del Santo,Dr Wagner Jr.,Mil Mascaras,and Atlantis,have brought about a resurgence in classic Lucha Libre,many fans agreeing that the excitement and spectacle these stars bring is equal to that of the golden years of the fifties.

The sad passing of Blue Demon in 2000 has triggered a nostalgia trip,and many of those old movies are being aired again for new generations to rediscover Santo and Blue Demon.Meanwhile Hijo del Santo filmed the highly anticipated movie SANTO VS LOS INFRATERRESTRES.Although he pushed for a theatrical release the film went to Mexican pay per view.The fans who saw the film ranked it among the best films in the genre and it is about to be released in video. Hopefully this will spark a resurgence in the genre.Meanwhile the legacies Santo and Blue Demon have been recorded into history thanks to their films.Even after their deaths,they are still the favorite heroes of Mexico.The chant of "Santo!Santo!" can still be heard in some arenas and theaters in Mexico.Will Hulk Hogan or the Rock be remembered in such a way after they are gone?When was the las time you payed money to see a Hulk Hogan movie?

A gallery of Mexican masked heroes.