When you’re planning a trip to Oaxaca, or indeed any number of other cities in Mexico, chances are you’re going to think about checking out some lucha libre while you’re there. If you weren’t thinking of it, then you really, really should.
If you aren’t already familiar with the subject, then I should start by pointing out that lucha libre is a little like the scripting and pageantry of American wrestling – think WWE, etc – only with much cooler outfits and a lot more craziness. It’s designed to be family-friendly entertainment, though whether you’ll agree with that after reading this post remains to be seen.
I’d also like to point out that you don’t need to be into fighting-as-a-sport to enjoy lucha libre. I can’t watch boxing, I absolutely cannot handle the concept of MMA fighting, I am probably one of the last people you’d expect to pay money to watch a bunch of people get in a ring and throw each other around. But that’s exactly what I did during my trip to Oaxaca, and holy crap did I have a good time.
Read on to find out where to go, what to expect, and how to keep up to date with upcoming lucha libre shows in Oaxaca.
Where to see Lucha Libre in Oaxaca
There are two main venues for authentic Mexican wrestling in Oaxaca City, with one being right near the centre of the city and the other being just out to the east side. I went to the former, Arena San Francisco.
Arena San Francisco
This venue sits on the corner of Bustamante and Ignacio Zaragoza, and I do mean right on the corner – which makes it a little easier to find despite the fact there is no Google Map pin for it. While you’re searching, it’s worth noting that it shows up on Google Maps as a car park called Estacionamiento Abdiel, right near Jardin San Francisco.
Arena San Francisco is only a 10-minute walk from the city centre, not far from the Benito Juarez market and 23rd November market (which is actually open most days of the year, but I’ll get to that in another post). It’s a big building housing a no-frills indoor arena, complete with toilets (BYO loo roll) and space for vendors selling food, drinks, luchador masks and figurines.
Don’t worry about not being able to buy tickets in advance if you’re passing through, because after a dubiously Google Translate-d Facebook message, we established that it’s just about always possible to buy tickets on the day of the event.
The box office opens at 11am, and you’ll get by with only very basic Spanish to make a purchase – ‘Dos boletos, por favor‘ was almost enough – but it’s worth remembering the numbers for 50, 100 and 200 also (cincuenta, cien, doscientos) as these are the prices in pesos for children, regular seats and front row seats.
At about £4 for a cheap seat or £8 for a front row seat, you might be thinking you might as well splash out on the latter – but keep reading and you might think again about whether that’s such a good idea…
Arena Pepe Cisneros
The address for this venue seems pretty fitting, as it’s on a street called Heroes Mexicanos (number 412) – and it does actually show up as Arena Pepe Cisneros on Google Maps, making it a bit easier to track down than the other arena. However, this is more like a 40-minute walk from the centre of the city, rather than the leisurely 10 it’ll take to reach Arena San Francisco, so I’d highly recommend hailing a cab if you aren’t staying on this side of town.
Unlike the other arena, this one is outdoors – though they do have a substantial tarpaulin roof-type-thing than can be pitched above the ring and seating in the event of bad weather. It’s an open-air venue, walled in by surrounding buildings and offering something a little more no-frills than anything you’d get in the WWE.
There weren’t any events on here while we were staying in Oaxaca, but you can keep up with what’s on through the sporadic updates on their Facebook page. That said, your best bet is to start following the other pages I’m about to mention.
How to find out when the next Lucha Libre show is happening
You might have guessed from the lack of official websites being mentioned here, but seeing lucha libre in Oaxaca isn’t a simple case of finding a ‘what’s on’ listing and picking the next available date. There are a couple of different Facebook pages that are updated with varying frequency which can help you pinpoint the next lucha libre show, but don’t expect to see Facebook Event listings or anything else of the like.
You’ll need to keep an eye out for photos being shared of homemade event flyers, and any posts that mention dates and prices – if your Spanish is as rubbish as mine, you’ll be very glad Facebook includes instant translation options these days.
The best places to look are:
1. Lucha Libre Oaxaca
This seems to be the main page for upcoming lucha libre events in Oaxaca City and the surrounding areas. They regularly post flyers for the next show on the horizon, and you can find out details of locations, times, prices, and exactly who will be going up against who.
2. CMLL Oaxaca
I’m fairly confident all the events from this page get posted onto the main Lucha Libre Oaxaca page, but as I’m not sure, wanted to draw your attention here as well. CMLL organise some of the bigger, ritzier lucha libre events that go on – of which the event I went to recently was one. Keep a hold of your ticket if you’re attending a CMLL event, as you may be in with a chance to win a luchador mask at the end of the show (if you’re still in attendance after several hours of wrestling!)
What to expect at a Lucha Libre event
The atmosphere & The front row
Much like any other sporting event, the atmosphere at a lucha libre event is pretty lively. People bring children of all ages, including newborn babies, but that doesn’t mean there aren’t still grown men hollering Spanish swear words at their favourite wrestler’s opponent(s), or that there isn’t some serious energy in the room at times!
We went for the cheaper seats instead of the front rows – sitting just behind the crash barrier that separated the three more expensive rows of seats from the rest of us. Let me say, that sitting in the fourth row is more than close enough to the action – and don’t rely on the crash barrier to stop luchadors from being thrown right into your lap. Literally.
If you’d like to remain seated for as much of the show as possible, sit in the cheaper seats. Every single seat in the front three rows got wiped out while we were watching, and most of them got thrown around and bashed against fallen wrestlers as the show went on. You’ll get the clearest view of the action from the front, but you’ll probably end up standing at the back of the room after evacuating the area with everybody else!
Luchadors and Luchadoras
People really, really love the luchadors and luchadoras. Doors opened for the show we went to at 5.30pm, and before any wrestling happened, there was a good hour or so where people were queuing to have their photos taken with the wrestlers – and to have the wrestlers hold their babies and children. Yep.
Lots of the kids that were there were dressed up as their favourite wrestler, and unlike WWE, kids are allowed to just climb into the ring between rounds and run around wrestling each other and generally having The Best Time. It was pretty cute.
The order of the event was along the lines of:
- Doors open, people trickle in and pick their seats while stocking up on potato chips, beers and memborabilia.
- Announcer starts to bring out wrestlers in groups, and everyone queues for photos and autographs.
- A bit more time for milling around eating, drinking and comparing notes on who is the best wrestler of them all.
- The performances happen, in this case five bouts, each made up of what seemed to be an entirely random amount of rounds depending on the mood the referee was in.
There were breaks between each round for more snacking and michelada drinking, naturally.
Is it all fake?
Lucha libre might be scripted, and the moves might be expertly choreographed and partially rehearsed, but let me make it very clear: the action you see here is not ‘fake’.
Of the five bouts we saw, I’m pleased to say that four of them did not involve any blood. The first two acts were a little clunky in their staging, but still undeniably good fun and excellently theatrical. The third act, which featured the guys in the next photo, was a three-on-three extravaganza featuring a group of wrestlers we gathered are very, very popular – Escuadron de Destruccion.
The Destruction Squadron lived up to their name, causing absolute mayhem and carnage the entire time they were in the room, including doing so much damage to their opponents that someone literally had to come out with a mop and mop up the blood at the end. It was pretty intense, and about the limit of my ability to watch violent sports!
The fourth and fifth bouts went back to being a bit more family-friendly (as promised), though we did learn that the ‘tombstone’ move isn’t banned in lucha libre. That is, picking up your opponent by their ankles and dropping them straight on their head. If anyone wants to tell me that Oaxacan lucha libre is all fake, I’ve got a highly unsettling video of a man’s neck bending 90 degrees in a split second that begs to differ. (He was fine, in the end, but very much not faking that particular injury…)
Yes, it’s scripted, yes, it’s choreographed, but no, it most definitely is not ‘fake’.
Other things to consider
Apparently these events normally last three to four hours, but we were at Arena San Francisco from 5.30pm until 10.30pm and the last bout of the night wasn’t yet over when we left. Bearing that in mind, I figured it would be worthwhile letting y’all know about things like food, drink, and taking a handheld fan.
I’ll start with the last on the list: a fan.
Just because you are seeing a busy, popular event in a professional arena, put on by some of the biggest lucha libre event organisers in Oaxaca, do not expect that this means there will be lovely cool air conditioning. There will not.
If there was one thing I would have changed about our lucha libre experience, it’s that I’d have taken a battery-powered handheld fan with me, because oh my goodness it got hot in there. I didn’t help myself by wearing a maxi dress, though it did keep a few mosquitoes off. If you’re sitting nearer the door out onto the street there’s probably more of a breeze, but if you’re close to the ringside and sitting on the other side of the arena, expect to feel the humidity as the evening goes on.
On the other hand, something we didn’t need to take with us was snacks. If you’re worried about getting thirsty or peckish, don’t be. There are plenty of people drifting around the venue selling hand-cut potato chips with chilli and lime, home-baked cakes and the usual packets of other bites to eat. As well as plenty of water and soft drinks, you can get bottles of beer and buckets of michelada, so there’s no chance of going thirsty either.
All in all, our night at the wrestling was a rollercoaster of action and excitement, with nothing but people having a good time all round. I would absolutely go and see it all again, and I’ve even got my own luchador mask to wear if the opportunity arises!
I think that’s just about everything I have to say on seeing lucha libre in Oaxaca, but please don’t hesitate to ask if you have any questions I might know the answer to!