Cathedral of Mexican pro wrestling looking to adapt to new era
By Rodrigo Corona
Mexico City, Apr 26 (EFE).- On the eve of turning 66, Arena Mexico is facing the challenge of navigating a post-Covid-19 world while preserving the aura that has made it the cathedral of “lucha libre,” as professional wrestling is known in the Aztec nation.
“Arena Mexico is experiencing its most interesting evolution and biggest-ever changes,” Hugo Monroy, the venue’s historian, told Efe on Tuesday in reference to its adaptation to the new post-pandemic reality. “In this new dynamic, it must restructure yet remain coherent from a wrestling standpoint.”
The successor to a lower-capacity stadium known as Arena Modelo, Arena Mexico was inaugurated on April 27, 1956, in Mexico City’s Colonia Doctores neighborhood with seating for 16,500 people.
Lucha libre was then in its golden age, a time when thousands of fans eagerly followed the exploits of legendary figures such as El Santo and Blue Demon.
Now, however, that venue whose seats and wooden finishings give it a 20th-century air is looking to recover from its longest stretch without spectators – a Covid-triggered span of 434 days.
Property of the Consejo Mundial de Lucha Libre Ltd. (CMLL), a Mexico City-based lucha libre professional wrestling organizer, Arena Mexico generated no ticket sales between March 13, 2020, and May 21, 2021.
That is a longer hiatus than the combined length of three other stoppages – ones triggered by the 2009 swine flu pandemic and two powerful earthquakes that rocked Mexico City in 1985 and 2017.
Atlantis, one of the biggest contemporary lucha libre stars, described the experience of performing in Arena Mexico as “unbelievable.”
A long-tenured luchador who has fought for 39 years and won nine masks at Arena Mexico, Atlantis says he feels more nerves when stepping into the ring in Colonia Doctores than before bouts in Japan and the United States.
“The Arena has a vibe, a positive energy 100 percent made for lucha libre. It’s a dream. I feel satisfaction and pride every time I (go there) to fight. You’re transported to another planet,” said Atlantis, also known as “El idolo de los niños.”
Atlantis Jr., who watched his father as a spectator for several years before becoming a pro wrestler himself, echoed those remarks, saying it is a “magical” feeling to be a gladiator in the temple of lucha libre.
In his case, he trained for a decade before his father gave him the green light to make his debut in Arena Mexico.
“I knew that if my first fight was in Arena Mexico I’d freeze, become distracted. I wanted to gain experience beforehand with the other character (Tiburon) because the arena is tough. The superstars of lucha libre have come through here,” he said.
Former luchador Tony Salazar, a top trainer of CMLL prospects, said wrestlers need five years of preparation before making their Arena Mexico debut.
“El Niño de Oro” said that of 100 hopefuls only three or four can cope with the rigorous training and win entry into the cathedral.
That stadium is home to two gymnasiums and an academy for training both newcomers and established stars, including foreign luchadores who wrestle on a seasonal basis in Mexico City to learn an art form known for its colorful masks, acrobatic, high-flying maneuvers and wide array and rapid sequence of holds.
“The difference between pro wrestling (in Arena Mexico) and elsewhere is the quality. Here, only those with (star potential) can make their debut. Otherwise, people would go to other, more affordable, arenas,” Salazar said.