Happy New Year! 2015 is already shaping up to be a busy year for lucha, starting off with another trip to Mexico! This trip will undoubtedly be not much different from previous trips, in that it will include several viewings of lucha libre and lots of training. However an entire team will accompany me this time around, including a pair of luchadores and three film professionals.
In tow I will have my friends Greengo Loco and Cazador del Alma. Greengo Loco is still a fairly new, albeit promising, luchador who has been training with Lucha Volcánica for around 8 months. He made his (somewhat premature, although successful) debut against Trueno Verde at the Radio Variedades’ 17th Anniversary show this past August. Cazador del Alma started his career with a yearlong tenure in American Pro before switching to train under Vaquero Fantasma, with whom he has now been training as a luchador for over four years. I have been acquainted with Cazador since before I started training at Lucha Volcánica; he was one of two other students at my premier lucha training session. Although Cazador and I have performed on the same card (hell, even in the same match!) we’ve never had the occasion to face each other in the ring, something that we’re hoping to reconcile soon—perhaps even while in Mexico. My profe José is attempting to get us booked at Arena Naucalpan; I’ll share info when I know more.
In addition to my luchador homies, I’ll be dragging along the trio of lucha-documentarians who have been following me around and collecting footage over the past year. You can check out some of the things they’ve captured in the recent Lucha Volcánica promo video. Unfortunately there is not a lot of information to share on the documentary right now, but they’ve captured a (figurative) ton of footage so it has to be good, right?
In late 2014 I neglected to share details regarding a trip to perform in (a rather disastrous match in) Sacramento for Lucha Azteca. While my partner (who happened to be Cazador del Alma) and I both agreed that the match was garbage, I did learn one thing: there are always opportunities to perform. One of my biggest complaints about living in Washington as a luchador is that there are scant few opportunities to perform. Spending time in California made me realize that I must continue to strive to find opportunities to perform and train everywhere, not unlike like my pursuit when I began this blog. That being said—following Lucha de Sound, of course—I intend to not only return to Mexico a second time, but to also spend more time training with Vaquero Fantasma in San Jose, in addition to other trainers in California.
In accordance with a trip to Mexico, wherein I will be doing lots of training (and hopefully at least one show), I am spending the next month intensively conditioning to prepare. Because I regularly share my training regimens here, I’ll post a more in-depth workout update soon. In short I added more, heavier sets, and 4 days of interval cardio.
Finally, moving forward I have decided to diversify the content of this blog. Historically I have shared my thoughts and analyses surrounding various aspects of lucha libre, mostly dwelling in the realm of theory. While I intend to continue to do so, I will also be sharing more videos, sound recordings, and increase my focus on photoblogging. In part this decision is to refocus on the original intent of this blog, which was to chronicle my adventures in the ring. Additionally I hope the decision will make blog-writing less daunting: while I love writing, it is exhausting to regularly research and write such dense posts in addition to a full-time job and several hours of training per week. Fans of my analyses, don’t fret: I will continue to write such posts, but the void in between such posts will be filled by perhaps less intellectually challenging posts.
We’re in the last quarter of 2014, meaning that it’s once again time to change the exercise regimen!
As I have mentioned in previous installments, changes to my routine are usually more of an ongoing, gradual, organic process instead of drastically changing my workout. If you’ve been following my workout updates you’ll notice that changes are often as subtle as increases or decreases in the amount of weight, a change in the number of reps or sets, to swapping flat bench press for dumbbell press. Ideally this would help me continually make gains in both size and strength whilst simultaneously changing enough to avoid plateaus. As always I avoid working until complete exhaustion, as I still train lucha libre in between my lifting days.
Noteworthy changes in this installment: moving into the holidays, us luchadores at Lucha Volcánica tend to miss more practice days. Accordingly I’m using this time to work on heavier gains, which is noticeable in the increase in the number of overall sets, and low-repetition, heavy-weight sets. Because of the increased number of sets, I’ve also shaved off a few isolations in the interest of time conservation—after all not everyone can or wants to spend several hours at the gym. That being said, the entire program is a circuit, ergo employing active rest in between sets.
I’ve outlined the workout below, but have also included an Excel spreadsheet which gives a little more coherence to the circuit.
Low rep/high weight
High rep/no weight
3×3, 10-15 reps
Handstand walkovers (2 sets, 15 feet), tuckup into handstands (2×10)
Mixed swim workout, ~ 20-30 minutes + Lucha training
4 varied sets, 80-120 contacts
2 sets plyometrics, 2 sets box jumps (5x max height)
Balance: 3 exercises (abs), 2 exercises (obliques) 2 sets of each exercise
Weights: 3 exercises (abs), 2 exercises (obliques) 2 sets of each exercise
High-rep: 3 exercises (abs), 2 exercses (obliques) 2 sets of each exercise
I’ve been pretty open about my lack of interest in American pro wrestling. I am however, a fan of Marc Maron’s WTF podcast, and I recently listened to his interview with former WWE star CM Punk, who at the end of his interview stated how he often feels fat and out of shape. Not that I enjoy the misery of others, but it was affirming to know that I shared an insecurity with another—although significantly more prominent—pro wrestler.
I want to make clear that this is not a covert public confession to an eating disorder, something with which I am not affected. If anything this could be considered an admission that for years I struggled with insecurities regarding my physical appearance. More broadly it is an attempt to illustrate that such insecurities are not uncommon, and further, are exacerbated by aesthetic ideal conceptions of masculinity proper. In doing so we will look at a series of case studies that will illustrate how the physicality of pro wrestlers bear signs which adhere to particular conceptions of the otherwise complex milieu of social constructs such as race, class, gender, and so on. That being said, it should be immediately obvious that it would impossible to give such a topic a proper treatment within the average blog post length. Consequently this will be the first of a series of installments: this discussion will primarily set up the theory within which I understand the aesthetic and physical expectations of the masculine body; subsequent additions will examine case studies such as the Ultimate Warrior, Viscera, and other pop-culture icons.
Further it should be noted that this is not an attempt to equivocate the physical and aesthetic expectations of men’s and women’s bodies, but rather to explore the social and cultural expectations of beauty that are particular to male performers—and perhaps men in general, although such a broad claim is well beyond the scope of this discussion.
The dominant cultural presupposition holds that body image issues are inherently a women’s problem. For example the phrase “manorexia” is clearly a verbal play on the eating disorder anorexia: the addition of the “m” masculinizes the word thereby distinguishing it from “anorexia.” But this action presupposes that anorexia is inherently a female disorder, and thus the anorexic man is an anomaly as he is suffering from something that is thought to only afflict women. While this example is specific to a particular condition, it indicates a broader cultural understanding of body image issues as being exclusive to women.
My interest in this topic was rekindled by ESPN’s decision to feature professional baseball player Prince Fielder on the cover of their annual Body Issue, which subsequently fueled a public discussion about men’s physique. Despite the fact that Fielder is a professional athlete, his perhaps “husky” appearance incited public criticism of his “less than ideal” physical appearance—in other words he wasn’t svelte enough to conform to the masculine ideal aesthetic that we’ve attached to athletes.
Such aesthetic expectations are omnipresent in sports, and given the hyperbolic, theatrical nature of professional wrestling, such aesthetics tend to be overrepresented. But the representation of ideology within the body is not new, and is in fact a somewhat intentional and integral part of pro wrestling sport. Despite the athleticism of pro wrestlers, it differs from sport proper in that pro wrestling is simultaneously steeped in theatre. This theatrical nature gives professional wrestling a sort of license to intentionally draw upon ideological conceptions of beauty, heroism, and masculinity.
In his famous essay The World of Wrestling, Roland Barthes states “What is portrayed by wrestling is therefore an ideal understanding of things; it is the euphoria of men raised for a while above the constitutive ambiguity of everyday situations and places before the panoramic view of univocal nature, in which signs at last correspond to causes, without obstacle, without evasion, without contradiction.” In other words professional wrestling distills otherwise complex intersections of—among others—race, class, gender, good and evil, and reifies them as physical signifiers within the body of the wrestler which in itself constitutes a basic sign. These signs are constructed to resonate with and conform to dominant ideologies of the audience, and thus are simplified and hyperbolized so that there is no need to connect the signs to what they signify—they are immediately readable.
Barthes also helps us understand the importance of the appearance of the body in pro wrestling. Unlike most sports wherein a particular body type is produced from repetitive movements and actions, pro wrestling’s theatrical nature means that the body of the professional wrestler is crafted in order to fit an ideal aesthetic: a continuous cast of Spartans.
While Barthes wrote specifically about wrestling, he wasn’t the only academic to understand how the human body is used as a conduit of signs. The late French philosopher Michel Foucault noted that “the body is directly involved in a political field; power relations have an immediate hold upon it; they invest it; mark it, train it” and force it to “emit signs.” The signs themselves are a product of “an overall effect” of the “strategic positions” of hegemonic power. By using Foucault’s and Barthes’ ideas as lenses through which to view professional wrestling, we understand the body of the wrestler as a hyperbolized sign which functions as a signifier for pre-existing ideological conceptions of race, class, gender, good and evil, and national identity.
But how does all of this theory relate to body image issues? Given that their bodies are a central feature to the sport, wrestlers are often hyperaware of their physical appearance. The narrative structure within professional wrestling—from long-form storylines of the WWE to the minute narrative of a single match itself—are constructed upon these very ideological conceptions. When these popular conceptions break down there is a sort of ideological disruption. The most relevant and obvious example lies in the aforementioned Fielder case, wherein Fielder’s masculine form failed to conform to the ideal athletic body.
I am specifically interested in a variety of things: if the theatre of pro wrestling functions as a sort reflective field of ideological conceptions, it can be used as a means through which to gain perspective on how a particular culture understands itself. What do I mean by this? In case studies—which we will examine at length later—we will look at Hulk Hogan’s (Terry Bollea) super-patriotic gimmick from the 1980s. I argue that his “American hero” character would have been unsuccessful if, for example, Hogan had been a man of color. This claim, of course, is an historical one and thus cannot be divorced from the context, a context that we will examine in order to illustrate the conversation around race and national identity during Hogan’s run as the “Real American.” Thus we can use this information to gain a particular understanding of how viewers perceived American identity itself—i.e., American identity proper—during that time.
Peripherally I am also suggesting is that these “ideal” masculine forms are hyperbolized and distilled within pro wrestling in such a way that drives wrestlers to aspire towards an unrealistic—and often times unattainable—physique. Repeated failures to achieve such perfection undoubtedly lead to a sense of inadequacy, and many wrestlers end up altering and sometimes destroying their bodies striving to such ends.
As someone who has to continually fight back impulses to try semi-promising fad diets or health supplements from body building websites in order to drop to an unhealthily low body-fat percentage, I often find myself contemplating this fleeting sense of inadequacy. While some of the aforementioned theory may seem obtuse on its face, it can be instructive to help trace a sort of metaphysics of masculinity, as well as a broader means through which to inductively unpack cultural self-identity. I find both of these ends to be simultaneously intellectually and personally fulfilling, and the former can be a theoretical framework with which one can confront their own body image issues.
We’ll continue the discussion with a series of case studies. This is an open-ended project, and thus I cannot enumerate subsequent entries. However anticipate a multifaceted analysis including not just pro wrestling photos, images, videos, and excerpts from interviews, but also social and political history where contextually relevant.
Barthes, Roland. “World of Wrestling.” Steel Chair to the Head: The Pleasure and Pain of Professional Wrestling. Durham: Duke UP, 2005. 23-32. Print.
Foucault, Michel. Discipline and Punish: The Birth of the Prison. New York: Pantheon, 1977. Print.
Social complexity is at the very foundation of lucha libre, wherein partners and rivals, enemies and friends, are often one in the same. The fact that rudos and technicos may not actually hate each other is not revelatory. However the relationships between luchadors both in and out of the ring are significantly more complicated than many realize: the kinetic energy that ignites between two clashing luchadors is not only a mutual desire to create an exemplary show, but is also an overflow of tension from by the friendship/competition dynamic that is an innate quality of the sport.
Creative performance is my driving inspiration. As a professional luchador, I become a character through my performance: my very persona is created by the nuances and broader actions within the ring. Ave Rex then is the end product of that which I create: it is the individual words I choose and the consistency of my actions which give shape to my identity and breathe life into the performance. 
As some of you may have noticed on Facebook, both myself and Lucha Volcánica recently expressed support for Washington State HB 2573, which would help to lower the initial costs to host a lucha libre show—for that matter any type of professional wrestling show—in Washington State.
I am in no way a deregulation mongerer, but the rigor of the State’s requirements is as such that opening and maintaining a professional wrestling promotion—both financially and logistically—is nearly impossible. Based upon the requirements, here’s a rough breakdown of expenses a wrestling promotion incurs for a single event:
A promoter’s license: $500
6% of the gross receipts paid for admission must be paid to the state
…plus $1 per ticket sold
Protective guardrail around the ring: $100-$170
An ambulance plus 2 EMTs must be onsite for the entirety of the event (usually 2-3 hours): $110 per hour, plus a minimum charge of one hour of drive time.
“Adequate” (definition unclear) security staffing, but clearly this could create additional costs.
This of course, is all before the promoter pays any space rental fee, and pays her performers, the emcee, ring announcers, DJs, and so on.
Additionally when a promoter intends to have an event, he or she is required to have an inspection by a state licensed inspector. The DOL site lists only three inspectors: two of whom have expired licenses and one of whom is “pending documentation.” The latter of which illustrates that even if a promoter wants to eat all of the costs to have an event, odds are she would have trouble doing so legally by the State by the sheer inaccessibility of an inspector.
It’s also worth noting that each individual wrestler must be licensed. This Combative Sports License must be renewed and paid for annually by the performer, and requires:
a physical examination
an STD blood panel
a urine test
a $25 fee to the state
In my experience, the full cost of this exam is roughly $150-$200 to the performer.
A priori these costs alone appear crippling to a small company. This is perhaps best illustrated by the Washington Department of Licensing’s numbers. Of the 27 promoters licenses for the state, only 2—WWE and TNA—are active. Similarly only two Pacific Northwest announces are licensed, with the remaining 10 or so licenses belonging to WWE announcers. Further, of the 200 viewable wrestling licenses listed, the only active licensed belong to WWE wrestlers°. This lacking diversity within the licensure illustrates a system that prevents small companies from flourishing, or pushes them underground often forcing performers to wrestle in less than ideal conditions. In either case the State is not benefitting financially, and the potential for a lucha libre or pro wrestling scene—and all of the business therein—is being squandered. The net gain for performers, local business, and the State alike ultimately lies in changing the current regulations, which are proving to keep lucha libre and pro wrestling in a perpetual chokehold.