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A beginner’s guide to Lucha Libre unmasking

Villano IV lost his mask at the most recent Triplemania. This is a big deal--but with so many new American fans, some may not fully understand why.

Lucha Libre is easy to follow if you’re an American wrestling fan, especially since so many television wrestlers like The Young Bucks, Jungleboy, Dante Martin, and many other high flyers carry a strong lucha influence.

This year, AAA Lucha Libre’s Triplemania XXX: Mexico City saw a high U.S. television audience and attendance because so many luchadores have crossed over with mainstream American promotions like AEW, who allow talent to work for other promotions while under contract. 

Photo credit: AAA

In the main event of Triplemania, Villano IV lost his mask to Penta EL Zero M. Even if you didn’t understand the significance, the energy in the arena was palpable. You could feel the emotion through the screen as a bloodied Penta held Villano’s mask high in the air, revealing a vulnerable-looking older man as fans sobbed in the stands. But what does it all mean? 

Here’s a primer for those of you new to Lucha Libre.

A mask is an identity

Lucha Libre masks are considered sacred in Mexico, and mask vs mask matches carry more significance than world championship titles. Luchadores often live their entire public lives with their masks on, creating a superhero-like mystique around their personal lives. For El Santo, the most legendary luchador of all time, his identity was so intertwined with his mask that he was buried wearing it. 

Hijo del Santo (Photo credit: Mexican News Daily)

Though luchadores can still wrestle after losing it, the mask represents a symbol of pride and heritage, and to lose it is supposed to be like losing a piece of yourself. For some, it can be so humiliating that it signifies the end of their career. 

When a wrestler is defeated and unmasked, his face is seen by the public for the first time. His name and his birthplace are published in the papers. His mask, which symbolized his honor, is retired and cannot be used again. This is such a serious matter in Mexico that there’s a commission that upholds these rules – Distrito Federal Box Y Lucha Commission. 

The historical context behind Lucha Libre

This tradition didn’t just appear out of nowhere. Wearing masks as a means to gain power can be traced back to indigenous traditions in rural Mexico, when wearing a mask in spiritual rituals was equivalent to becoming a god that had the power to transform the world. This tradition passed to Lucha Libre in 1933, when a wrestler named El Ciclón McKey commissioned saddlemaker Don Antonio Martinez to make him a leather mask for his upcoming fight. 

In legacy Lucha Libre families, sons wear identical masks as their fathers and grandfathers and seek to avenge previous generations’ losses. Each individual pattern and design is powerful, unique, and tells a story. It’s so much more than just a piece of fabric: it is the essence of the wrestler themselves.