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Lucha Libre, Locally

What's So Funny steps into the ring with some masked men who mean business.

It's a cold Sunday night, the kind of night that eats at a man, makes him start thinking crazy thoughts, like heading out on the town for some kicks, maybe watching men in masks and underpants bludgeon the holy hell out of each other.

The Independent Wrestling Federation is putting on its first show ever at the Buffalo Rose (X-Treme X-Mas!), lured to Golden when that venue made a better offer than the deal the IWF has enjoyed for several years at Cervantes' Masterpiece Ballroom, and I'm here for a lucha libre smackdown. Walking into the bar, I stroll past a collection of grizzled drunks in heavy jackets, two of whom are discussing whether they should "settle this matter outside" — but their hobo fisticuffs are not the violence I've come to see. So I continue on to a mammoth back room entirely separate from the front bar, and at the back of that second room is a giant wrestling ring overseen by Tamera Halbeisen, owner/promoter/booking agent for the IWF. She explains that there will be several straight-wrestling bouts tonight, along with one mixed match pitting a masked wrestler against an unmasked one, and one actual lucha libre fight. She then introduces me to Jesús Hernandez, the IWF's head lucha libre trainer as well as its talent scout.

"The regular wrestling matches are a bit more focused on the actual fighting," he tells me. "With the lucha libre fights, the wrestlers are definitely physical as well, but it's a bit more theatrical. More like sketch comedy." Sketch comedy, eh? I'm in. Especially because one of the comedy artists will be Jesús's son, Jesús Hernandez III, who's been wrestling under the name Quantum since he was two. Now fifteen, Quantum has tangled with some of the biggest names in lucha libre, including such Mexican stars as Atlantis, Dr. Wagner and Porky.

Two luchadores do battle while Mascara Meshika (right) flexes his formidable muscle.
Jim J. Narcy
Two luchadores do battle while Mascara Meshika (right) flexes his formidable muscle.
Coach Jesús Hernandez (below) practices what he preaches.
Jim J. Narcy
Coach Jesús Hernandez (below) practices what he preaches.

I sit down to wait for the show, and take in the gathering fight fans: tough-looking twenty-somethings slamming pitchers of beer, stern vatos with arm tattoos, students in watch caps and sweatshirts bearing the Colorado School of Mines logo, families with small children out for a Sunday night throwdown. This may be the first IWF event at the Buffalo Rose, but these people are clearly fight veterans. I may be the only wrestling novice in the bunch. But what can I say? I've never liked the sport. And it's all because of my cousin Skippy.

At least, that's what I like to call him.

LuchaPracticeThumb.jpg


When I was around ten, I was toted to Phoenix by my parents, who informed me that we had distant relatives there — fourth or fifth cousins — and were going to visit them. A small child, devoid of any free will, I really had no say in the matter, and I soon found myself seated in the living room of said relatives, keeping company the way white Americans tend to do: through awkward conversation and hard candies. I cannot recall the cousins' names, faces or any other defining characteristics, but I distinctly remember palm trees outside their condo complex and the unsettling impression that everything around me seemed beige, a medical condition that I later learned is known as phoenixia, a fear of strip malls. I also remember that this household included a teenage boy who looked just like Skippy, the neighbor on Family Ties who was always after a piece of that Mallory Keaton ass. Skippy was summoned from a back room and told to keep me entertained while the grownups talked. He led me down a hallway, paused, then opened the door to his bedroom. And with that one twist of the doorknob, we were no longer in Phoenix. We were in Wrestlemania.

Skippy's room was festooned with posters and photographs, banners and buttons all dedicated to those giant heroes of the late '80s who clad themselves in the tightest of tight tights, then jumped into a ring and bashed each other with folding chairs. Chief among these warriors — at least according to Skippy's interior decor — was Hulk Hogan, a man who would go on to encourage his daughter to pop-star dreams far beyond her God-given abilities. When Skippy spoke about the Hulkster, there was a frightening glimmer in his eyes, and even at my tender age, I sensed that his fascination with this man, this sport, went far beyond mere appreciation to something more primal, more profound. And then Skippy showed me his most prized wrestling possession: a framed photograph from the local paper of him practically crowd-surfing atop a sea of wrestling fans, desperately lunging to receive a high-five from Hulk Hogan. And although Skippy was probably five, six years my elder, I knew in that exact moment that as our paths diverged on this planet, I would get laid way more than Skippy.

And that I would never be that into wrestling.

So as I grew older and watched a few classmates go off on tangents about Andre the Giant and Rowdy Roddy Piper, I stuck to listening to New Kids on the Block and stealing small amounts of cash from my mother's purse.

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