Niebla Roja Critical Thinking

Saúl Armendáriz grew up in one of the world’s weirder double cities: El Paso, Texas, and Ciudad Juárez, Mexico. Born in El Paso, he lived, always, on both sides of the border. “I went to school in El Paso, but on Friday my sisters and I would run over the bridge to Juárez,” he says. The fun and the family were mostly in Juárez. At the top of the fun list, for Saúl, was lucha libre—the flashy, popular Mexican brand of professional wrestling. Every barrio had a small arena where masked heroes (técnicos) and villains (rudos) grappled and whirled and tossed one another around on Sundays. Saúl loved the gaudy costumes. He loved the rowdy, passionate crowds. He idolized the larger-than-life luchadores. He was not a big kid, but he was athletic and quick and in desperate need of an alter ego.

“Being gay is a gift from God,” Armendáriz told me recently. That was not his experience as a child. He remembers being brutally punished, at a very young age, for playing patty-cake, a girl’s game, with a like-minded boy at school. His parents, particularly his father, were mortified by his effeminacy. “My dad was a machista,” he said. “He did not want a gay son.” His father, a truck driver, drank; he beat Saúl’s mother. They divorced when Saúl was thirteen. Other kids were also rough. “Boys in the neighborhood, including my own relatives, used me as a sex toy,” he told me.

Armendáriz, who is forty-four, stood at a dressing-room mirror in Los Angeles, putting on green-glitter eyeshadow, while recalling these horrors. He did not seem notably detached from, or perturbed by, what he was saying, but somewhere in between. “I am not a victim,” he said firmly. Then he gave a small sigh and started putting on lipstick—fire-engine red. “But I am still so damaged.” He glued on a pair of false eyelashes. He was transforming Saúl into his lucha character, the fabulous world welterweight champion Cassandro.

He quit school at fifteen and apprenticed himself to a lucha trainer in Juárez. He made his professional début, at seventeen, as Mister Romano. That character was dreamed up by a well-known Tijuana luchador, Rey Misterio, with whom Armendáriz had, as a promising student, gone to train. Mister Romano was a gladiator-themed rudo. He wore a scary black-and-white mask and costume and had a wicked dropkick off the top rope. Working his way up the match cards in arenas along the border, he lasted less than a year.

“It was Baby Sharon who encouraged me to step out of Mister Romano,” Armendáriz said. Baby Sharon was an exótico—a luchador who wrestles in drag. Exóticos have been around since the nineteen-forties. At first, they were dandies, a subset of rudos with capes and valets. They struck glamour-boy poses and threw flowers to the audience. As exóticos got swishier and more flirtatious, and started dressing in drag, the shtick became old-school limp-wristed gay caricature. Crowds loved to hate them, screaming “Maricón!” and “Joto!” (“Faggot!”). The exóticos made a delightful contrast with the super-masculine brutes they met in the ring. Popular exóticos insisted that it was all an act—in real life, they were straight. Baby Sharon was among the first, according to Armendáriz, to publicly say that, no, he was actually gay.

At his début as an exótico, Armendáriz wore no mask. “For my entrance, I wore a butterfly blouse of my mother’s. I wore the tail of my sister’s quinceañera dress. And then, to wrestle, a woman’s bathing suit.” He was billed as Rosa Salvaje, but the match was in Juárez, where everybody knew him. It was a terrifying night. “I thought it was a secret that I was gay, so I thought I was coming out. But everybody already knew. I was the only one who didn’t know.” Still, people yelled, “Kill the fag!”

Rosa Salvaje, like Mister Romano, was quick and tough. No limp wrists or squealing. Maybe a brief bump and grind after hurling an opponent from the ring into the first row of seats. Maybe a shock kiss on the mouth for some stud he had in a submission hold. The crowds adored the act. But some older wrestlers didn’t want matches with Rosa. They particularly didn’t want to lose to him. It was 1989, the height of H.I.V. and AIDS hysteria. Armendáriz’s mother, Maria, began coming to his matches. (His father has still never seen one, except on TV.) She did not let the drunken calls for homophobic homicide pass. “That’s my son!” she protested. No cry could give more pause to a Mexican heckler.

Rosa Salvaje often fought alongside another talented exótico, Pimpinela Escarlata. They kicked hetero butt up and down the state of Chihuahua. Were these legitimate wins? In sporting terms, no. There is a reason the Nevada Gaming Control Board would never allow betting on pro wrestling: outcomes are predetermined. But the fix involves a “story line,” in lucha libre just as in U.S. pro wrestling, and winners must be, at the very least, convincing athletes. Rosa and Pimpi fulfilled that requirement.

And the course of a story line isn’t determined only by promoters. When Armendáriz decided to change his stage name, he took a lucha de apuesta (“betting match”) against an exótico called Johnny Vannessa: the loser would forfeit his name. Rosa, as crooked fate would have it, lost, and Armendáriz fought his next match as Cassandro. The name came from a Tijuana brothel keeper, Cassandra, whom he admired. Cassandra was known for her generosity to the poor. With the profits from her bustling business, she helped street kids, and she had done the same, it was said, in her younger days as a high-priced prostitute. Cassandro found her blend of talents and sympathies inspiring. Maybe it was possible to be a bawdy entertainer—scandalous, sexy, successful—and a good person.

Once, in Guadalajara, an old woman stabbed him during a match, after the bout overflowed, as lucha libre often does, into the seats. Why did she do that? Cassandro shrugged. “I was beating up one of her heroes. She got me right here, under the rib cage.” In Juárez, another old woman once threw a cup of green chilies on his back. “I told her to calm down,” he said. “She was going crazy. I told her she was going to have a fucking heart attack. She did it anyway. My back was all sweaty. Those chilies really, really hurt.”

The most frenzied crowd I’ve seen at a Cassandro match was in Juárez. But that seemed to be a frenzy entirely of adoration. This was in March, at the Arena Kalaka. It had been a difficult night, I thought. The evening’s promoters billed it as lucha extrema. Children under twelve were excluded, ostensibly. Luchadores with more grit than finesse had been assaulting one another with steel chairs, boards wrapped in barbed wire, fluorescent light tubes of different lengths, a guitar wrapped in barbed wire, and, most alarmingly, a battery-operated power drill. The drill turned out to be fake—its application to the skulls of downed fighters was pure pantomime—but after half a dozen matches broken glass from the light tubes was everywhere, and the blood pouring off the wrestlers was real. It was hard not to see the festivities as a communal exorcism, considering what Juárez has endured in recent years—a scorched-earth street war between rival drug cartels that killed more than nine thousand people in one four-year stretch. The city’s murder rate, which was the world’s highest, finally began falling in 2011, but the post-traumatic stress runs deep and wide, and the ramshackle neighborhood around Arena Kalaka, which is in a battered old warehouse, has a ravaged, deserted, battlefield look.

In the mayhem of the early matches that night, I could hardly tell the rudos from the técnicos. Técnicos are supposed to follow the rules, rudos to break them, with the referee imposing order. But técnicos were attacking their opponents from behind on the entrance ramp. Referees were arranging barbed wire for maximum damage from a body slam. The audience, about two hundred strong, seemed gleeful. College girls and grandpas chanted in unison, “Culero!” (“Asshole!”), at an out-of-favor luchador named Aereo, who wore a gold-and-purple mask. When Aereo paused to catch his breath during a long, vicious beating of an opponent, someone yelled, “Invite him out to dinner!” That meant that Aereo was being too nice, and it got a big laugh. The violence of extrema was not too much for this crowd, apparently.

Still, the relief felt general when, late in the evening, Cassandro squared off against Magno, a big, powerfully built rudo, and the two of them shook hands—this was clearly not going to be _lucha extrema—_before starting to grapple. Magno was a full head taller than Cassandro, who is five-five in boots. A fresh tarp had been thrown over the mat, taking the glass shards out of play, and the wrestlers exchanged headlocks, arm bars, leg locks, ingenious escapes, dropkicks, flying scissors kicks, diving leg drops, body slams, and flips off the ropes in rapid-fire combinations too complex, at least for me, to follow. When they broke apart at one point, Cassandro threw a lone backflip in celebration and clapped his hands, smiling. The man standing beside me, a restaurant waiter named Luís Rubio, whispered, “This is classic.”

Lucha libre is, on the whole, more acrobatic than U.S. pro wrestling. The emphasis is on spectacular aerial maneuvers and rock-solid “chain-wrestling” technique rather than on sheer size and musculature. (The unemployed football linemen who have traditionally turned to pro wrestling in the U.S. would not thrive in lucha libre.) Purists complain that Mexican lucha libre has lost some of its artistry, its originality, since a long-standing government ban on televising matches was lifted in the nineteen-nineties, leading to a lucha more homogeneous and gimmicky, performed for the cameras instead of for live audiences. But that was not a problem at Arena Kalaka as Cassandro and Magno battled. Their high-flying, slingshot moves carried them through the ropes and deep into the seats, scattering spectators, who then helped them back into the ring. There was near-pin after near-pin, with Cassandro repeatedly bucking the big man off him at the count of . . . two and three-quarters. The crowd was on its feet, screaming.

Finally, Cassandro leaped from the top rope and kangaroo-kicked Magno in the chest. Both men hit the mat with a boom. Cassandro bounced up first, ran for the ropes, came hard off the second rope backward, his legs extended, and somehow, blind, caught Magno, who had just risen from the mat, around the midsection in a wheelbarrow hold known as a casadora. The next set of maneuvers happened in a twisting blur that landed Magno on his back with his lower legs raised and twisted painfully into a paquetito—a little packet—around one of Cassandro’s legs, and with all of Cassandro’s weight on his upper chest. Magno thrashed, throwing Cassandro back and forth like a doll in a dog’s mouth, but Cassandro held on. One, two, three—and the match was his.

Pesos rained down on the ring, an old-fashioned show of fan appreciation. Cassandro drank it in, panting, sweat-drenched, smiling, his eyes shining. He had lost one false eyelash. Somebody handed him a mike. “ÉSTA es lucha libre,” he declared. His gaze fell on the extrema trash heap of barbed wire, lumber, bent light tubes, and broken glass. “Nopinches mamadas”—“Not fucking blow jobs.” Except that’s too literal. “Not silly tricks.”

Cassandro’s rise as a young luchador was swift. He moved to Mexico City and joined one of the major promotions. But he carried himself with more confidence than he felt. In 1991, shortly before his twenty-first birthday, he was booked to wrestle Hijo del Santo, Mexico’s most popular luchador. It was unthinkable that Cassandro might win. Hijo del Santo was a world welterweight champion. More important, he was the son of El Santo, the most revered wrestler in the history of lucha libre, and the silver mask he wore had belonged to his father. Many fans were outraged. “People were calling me a little homosexual, saying, ‘How could you possibly fight Hijo del Santo for the championship?’ Everybody was against me except the owner of the promotion. The pressure was too much.” A week before the match, Cassandro slit his wrists with a razor. Pimpinela Escarlata found him in a bathroom and saved his life. Cassandro showed me the scars on his wrists. He kept his date with Hijo del Santo. He lost the match, but he did not disgrace himself, which was important, and he kept wrestling at the highest level. In 1992, he won a world lightweight championship—the first exótico to win a world title.

He kept his confidence up, and himself numb, with large infusions of drugs and liquor: tequila, cocaine, marijuana. The world of lucha libre was attractive to powerful cops—federales—and to their underworld cousins, which insured an unlimited supply of illegal goods. For Cassandro, the party raged for more than a decade: “Using helped me become somebody. I believed in myself. I was famous, making money. I felt like Wonder Woman.” In the middle of it all, in 1997, his mother died. “I was still high when my mother passed,” he told me. “She was my greatest enabler. She loved me so much. I did her makeup in the morgue. I was high when I did it. It was terrible. The worst part is I would have ended up dead or in prison if she had not died. I have a lot of guilt and shame over that.”

It took him several more years to hit bottom. His career suffered from his addictions; he wasn’t wrestling much. Near the end, he was living in a friend’s back yard. His sobriety date—June 4, 2003—is tattooed on his back. He found strength in an eclectic mixture of radical honesty, his own brand of Catholic mysticism, and, especially, Mayan and Native American spiritual practice, which introduced him to his Nahuatl ancestors. “They say religion is for those who are afraid to go to Hell,” Armendáriz told me. “But spirituality is for those who have already been to Hell. That’s me.” He signed with a new promotion, and wrestled with a new attitude. “You know who I fight in the ring? Cassandro. The guy who needs to be famous. Your ego is not your amigo. It’s Saúl against Cassandro up there. I had to become humble.”

Unlike most sports, pro wrestling is unconcerned with numbers. Nobody seems to have a win-loss record. In lucha libre, the truly important matches, the bouts that make up one’s official record, are not even world championships. They are, rather, Mask vs. Mask matches, or Hair vs. Hair, or Hair vs. Mask. Luchadores wager their masks or their hair on the outcome of a fight. The mask is the more serious wager. 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.

The loser in a Hair match is publicly shaved and humiliated, but lives to fight again. Hair grows back. Cassandro, whose hair is resplendent—it is currently dark blond and swept into what he calls his “Farrah Fawcett look” (“I’m so stuck in the seventies”)—has fought and won many Hair vs. Hair matches, as well as a couple of Hair vs. Masks. He has also lost a couple of Hair matches, including one to Hijo del Santo in the Los Angeles Sports Arena, in 2007. Videos of his public haircuts make for painful watching. Cassandro cries inconsolably and, with his cropped hair, seems to turn into a small, unhappy boy. Of course, unmasking Hijo del Santo was never going to happen. And the payday for losing that match—twenty-five thousand dollars—was a comfort.

Once a bad boy, Cassandro has become respectable. He gives talks on diversity at the U.S. Embassy in Mexico City, and at the National Autonomous University there.Lucha libre seems to have seized the imaginations of many Europeans. Cassandro teaches classes in England and France. Pussy Riot has claimed lucha libre as the inspiration for the masks its members wear into cultural battle. In 2009, Cassandro and Hijo del Santo wrestled for two consecutive evenings at the Louvre. Cassandro won his current world welterweight title in a match in London, in 2011. He’s been a guest on “BBC Breakfast.” His only complaint about the British is that they insist on calling him a transvestite. He is a drag queen.

Even Hijo del Santo, the most conservative of Mexican males, got that right on his solemn TV interview show, “Experiencias.” When he had Cassandro on, in 2011, he praised him not only as a luchador but as a pioneering gay man. He listened thoughtfully to Cassandro’s tales of discrimination and overcoming. Hijo del Santo is a supremely odd figure. He’s a big fellow. On his show, he wears a stiff, very old-fashioned business suit and, of course, his mask. It’s a primitive mask, compared with more modern confections, with eyeholes that give the eyes a lashless, unsettling look, and a mouth hole that makes the lips look puffy and the mouth unnaturally straight and wide. But the mask can never be updated—any more than the Virgin of Guadalupe could be—without shaking the foundations of Mexican iconography. (Here’s how powerful that silver mask is. In 1984, El Santo, the superstar father, having retired from wrestling, removed his mask, extremely briefly, on national TV. It was the first time his face had been seen in public since 1942. A week later, he died of a heart attack. The mask was back on for his wake and his burial.) The oddest part of the “Experiencias” interview came when Hijo del Santo took viewers into his “sanctuary”—a circular glass cabinet surrounded by swirling fog. He removed a small glass box from a shelf. Its contents: Cassandro’s hair. It was the cabellera that he took from Cassandro in 2007. Hijo del Santo kept it with his greatest treasures, including more than fifty masks that he had taken off other luchadores, ending their careers.

The shadow of World Wrestling Entertainment, the fantastically successful company that dominates the American market and broadcasts its events globally, falls across lucha libre to varying degrees. W.W.E. is where the big money is, and a few lucha libre performers have made the jump into its cold spotlight. Anti-Mexican abuse is often part of the deal when they get there—luchadores have been obliged to ride to the ring on lawnmowers—and W.W.E. story lines are notoriously gnarled and tightly scripted. Indeed, they are written by professional screenwriters. Elaborate feuds are the narrative mainstay—there is even a Feud of the Year, formally awarded—and the emphasis on foam-flecked interviews, on threats and bluster, seems undignified to some lucha libre devotees. “W.W.E. gives you twenty minutes of trash talk, then two minutes in the ring,” Cassandro sniffed. Still, he is thrilled when his protégés go North and start pulling down W.W.E. paychecks.

He has wrestled on cards all over the U.S. The problem with gringo wrestlers, he says, is that many of them never learned to catch. “In a pay-per-view in Charlotte, I did a topetón”—a dive out of the ring—“onto a Ring of Honor dude, and he didn’t know what he was doing. I went straight through his arms, and when I hit the floor I broke my leg. Fractured my left tibial plateau.” That was in 2010. Cassandro was laid up for months. “But now I know why I got that fracture. It was so that my dad would finally take care of me. And he did. He brought me a big bowl of pollo he made himself. I never knew he could do that.”

Cassandro’s house looks out on the Fence. If you throw a rock over all that razor wire, it will land in the Rio Grande. A Border Patrol S.U.V. parks at the corner. The neighborhood, a few miles east of downtown El Paso, is modest, with little shade and many unbuilt lots. Armendáriz’s house itself is small, beige, flat-roofed. He lives alone. Inside, it’s neat, calm, dim, almost ashramic. But open a closet in the massage room (Armendáriz is, in his spare time, a licensed massage therapist) and suddenly you’re back in Cassandro’s hotly colored world. The closet is crammed with custom-made lucha outfits, all lustrous and spangled.

One day, I got him digging through plastic bins of keepsakes for evidence of Baby Sharon’s career.

Baby Sharon died in 2008. “We buried him in Juárez,” Armendáriz said. “We called his family in Guadalajara, but his daughter didn’t even tell her family that he died. They were ashamed of him. Baby Sharon came out in the seventies. It was really difficult then. He was a tough cabrón. Every exótico that started had to go through him. He was also really good on a sewing machine. When he died, they put him in a red warmup suit. No, no, no, no, no. That’s ugly. We bought him a pin-striped suit and tie and lifted him out of the casket and changed his clothes. I had been clean then for only four years. It was the first time I had lost a loved one sober. I thought I would get loaded for sure. But no. I was very attached to him. He called me ‘mi hija.’ ”

Armendáriz found a photograph of himself sitting on the ground outside a ring, looking stunned, his face and chest covered with blood. “Baby Sharon did that to me,” he said. “He hit me with a bottle.”

Your beloved mentor hit you with a bottle?

Armendáriz shrugged. “It was an honor to be wrestling him.”

I already knew that I had the wrong end of the stick when it came to lucha extrema. Cassandro didn’t really disdain it. In fact, he fought in an extrema match himself two years ago. “I never get scared in the ring,” he told me. “But I got scared that day. Muñeco Infernal poured a bag of thumbtacks into the ring, then threw me face first on the mat. I was O.K. with the light tubes, the barbed wire, the ladder, the trash-can lid, but the thumbtacks freaked me out. I had tacks sticking in me everywhere. They also lit my hair on fire.” He sighed. “But it was an adrenaline rush. I might do it again.”

Seeing my head drop over my notebook in disbelief, he went on, “I’m not going to embitter myself by thinking that these other things—W.W.E., lucha extrema—are bad and they’re going to kill our beloved lucha libre. I just don’t like to think that way.”

Lucha libre has always been, in truth, full of gimmicks and improvised weapons. I originally pictured the 2007 Hair match that Cassandro lost to Hijo del Santo as a stark, even sombre affair. I later learned that it started with twelve wrestlers in a steel cage—Hijo del Santo fighting a mob in a steel cage!—and only ended with Cassandro’s scalping.

There are limits, though, to even Cassandro’s tolerance for assaults on tradition. “It used to be much stricter,” he told me. “You had to show up at the arena well dressed, with a nice suitcase. Nowadays, luchadores show up at the arena in sandals and shorts. Last night, at Kalaka, I saw a guy carrying his stuff in a Walmart bag.”

There are many kinds of pain—aesthetic, emotional, moral, physical. Cassandro, like wrestlers generally, suffers for a living, publicly, physically. People pay to watch it—to see what he and others can inflict and endure. He seems to cry after every match—not for him the superhero mask of invincibility or, these days, the comforts of intoxication. He feels his feelings, both good and very, very bad. He seems intensely attracted to physical pain. In July, he takes part in a Lakota Sioux-style Sun Dance. “We go four days without food and water,” he told me. “Dancing in the sun with Lakota priests. Sweat lodges. We put four hundred and four prayers into the Tree of Life, and then we chop it down by hand. It’s super-intense, especially the no water. It’s like a funeral for a parent. Father Sun.” Armendáriz was preparing—meeting every week with his danza group, readying his prayers—for the Sun Dance, and claimed to be looking forward to it.

Rummaging through another bin, he turned up a small plastic bag full of hair—a cabellera he had won in Monterrey. This wasn’t the most respectful place, he noted, to keep that. Then he found the photograph of Baby Sharon that he was looking for. It showed a big, strong-featured guy with shoulder-length platinum hair, heavy dark eyebrows, a five-o’clock shadow, and hairy arms sticking out of a lacy gown. Baby Sharon was cradling a bouquet of flowers as if it were an infant. He seemed to be cooing to it.

Armendáriz studied the photograph. “He was a coke addict to the end,” he said. “He died in a tiny room in Juárez, with nothing. He was a beloved teacher, a gifted costume-maker. He made a lot of money wrestling, but he blew it all. It’s very sad, the life of an exótico. We all end up alone.” He put the Baby Sharon photo aside. “We’ve come a long way. But now I know that all my problems, all my addictions, come from my sexual orientation. All the rejection. Why do you think I’m alone?”

I didn’t think of him as alone. He was everybody’s favorite person. Did he not have relationships?

“I spent twelve years with a straight married lover,” he said. “From the age of eighteen to thirty. It was very damaging. There were five, ten, fifteen minutes of heaven in bed. Otherwise, he was bitching at me. He was a luchador. We both went to Mexico City. But only my career went up and up and up. He was with his wife, in Juárez.”

He gave me a level look. “On the stage, I feel all the love,” he said. “It’s me, the world champion, Cassandro.”

He put away the keepsakes. “My life is an open book,” he said. “I have nothing to hide. I try to be good to myself, love myself. Take long baths, with lavender and Epsom salts, candles, my meditation music. I know I’m blessed.”

We moved to the kitchen, where Armendáriz made us coffee.

“Homosexuals still have a big stigma,” he said. “We’re considered to be prostitutes, drug addicts, seducers, etc. But we’re not all the same. Some of us are seen now as positive role models. I’ve had straight people tell me that they’re more accepting of gay people because of me.”

When his wrestling days are over, he said, he might like to become a parent. He loves kids, and feels that he understands them.

Armendáriz’s father, Sabas Galindo, stopped by the house, bearing takeout enchiladas. He had remarried and lived nearby. He was retired—stout, red-faced, soft-spoken, watery-eyed. We ate. Then he and I chatted in the living room while Armendáriz worked on a laptop. Yes, he was very proud of Saúl: the first time he won a championship fight, his trips to Japan and Europe. No, he was not a lucha libre fan. Baseball, yes, and boxing. Yes, he and Saúl had been out of touch for a long time. Galindo blushed. “It was difficult for me to see that he was gay,” he said. “Machismo—you know. That was why we didn’t talk. But now I accept him, thank God. And we talk all the time.”

Galindo had been brought up in Juárez, but now went there only for emergencies. It was just too dangerous. All of his five children lived on this side. Out the window, we could see Juárez. Galindo had to leave. He and his son embraced.

Here’s how stark the border has become. In 2010, there were more than three thousand murders in Juárez. In El Paso, there were five. El Paso’s leaders like to describe it as the safest large city in America. Hundreds of thousands of Juárez residents—out of a population of about 1.5 million—are believed to have fled the city because of the violence. Many of them, particularly from the middle and upper classes, have settled in El Paso.

Armendáriz, using his contacts at the U.S. Embassy and among American wrestling promoters, helps Mexican wrestlers apply for visas to come to the United States. He has so far assisted more than a hundred luchadores. I happened to cross the border with one of them, a rudo called Akantus, one afternoon this spring. We were coming from Juárez. He said that border guards sometimes asked him to prove that he was a wrestler, since that was the work specified on his visa, so he always carries his mask with him. On another occasion, at the same crossing, a border guard questioned me closely about what I had been doing in Mexico. When I told him that I was reporting on lucha libre, he told me to name a luchador. I mentioned Cassandro. He scowled. Why him? I wanted to ask, Why not? But antagonizing him seemed unwise. He had too much power over me at that moment.

In Juárez, I found myself studying old posters on the walls inside Arena Kalaka. Cassandro, I could see, had fought all kinds of characters there. I even knew some of the names, including Super Crazy (“That was my third defense of my belt. I won. He lives mostly in Japan. He’s unpleasant”) and L.A. Park (“He knocked out three of my front teeth. I was so pissed, I really fucked up his face under his mask”). Cassandro’s photograph stood out from those of the other luchadores. Nine furious masked figures, each crazier- and angrier-looking than the last—each with bigger arms and shoulders—and then little Cassandro, his head thrown back, smiling like Judy Garland. His teeth, all replaced, gleamed with unnatural brightness. Apparently, Arena Kalaka did not book many exóticos, or, at least, not smiling ones.

I asked Alejandra Carreón, a devoted Kalaka fan, who said that she preferred rudos, what it was about bad guys. She was a twenty-eight-year-old digital-systems engineer, still living at home. She said that she came to Kalaka every Sunday, without fail, usually with her younger brother. Her favorite rudos were funny, she said, and shouted back at the crowds. She loved to yell, but felt brave enough to do so only when her brother was with her. Cassandro was a special case, she said. “People here have a lot of respect for him. I’ve never heard anybody yell anything at him.” She meant insults. She liked the masks and had no interest in knowing what even her favorite rudos looked like without masks. She did not care for lucha extrema—it looked as if people were really getting hurt. On the insides of her wrists, I noticed, Carreón had tattooed, in English, the words “Angels” and “Heroes.” What she especially liked about Kalaka, she said, was how it felt “like entering a small town in this big city.”

I knew what she meant about small-town-ness. There was a concession stand cut into one grimy wall, out of which two young women sold drinks and chips. The venders called their specialty a preparada. It was a bag of Tostitos that they slit open lengthwise, and filled with avocado, onion, tomato, cheese, and a big splash of sweet-and-sour sauce. They stuck a plastic spoon in the top.

Sergio Raymundo Chávez Velasco (born March 20, 1986) is a Mexican luchador or professional wrestler, better known by the ring nameNiebla Roja (Spanish for "Red Fog"). He is currently working for the Mexican wrestling promotion Consejo Mundial de Lucha Libre (CMLL). He originally worked under the ring name Ángel de Plata (Spanish for "Silver Angel") but changed name and mask in 2012. His brother is also a masked luchador working under the ring name Ángel de Oro (Golden Angel"). He is the current CMLL World Light Heavyweight Champion and a former CMLL World Trios Champion.

Professional wrestling career[edit]

Sergio Chávez and his younger brother who wrestles under the ring nameÁngel de Oro are both sons of professional wrestler Apolo Chávez and grew up idolizing their father.[2] Sergio made his professional wrestling debut under the name Guerrero Inca (Incan Warrior) and wrestled locally in the Gómez Palacio, Durango. He also wrestled a few shows for International Wrestling Revolution Group (IWRG) but broke his arm before he could make much progress in the company.

Ángel de Plata (2008–2012)[edit]

In Durango he feuded with his younger brother, in a feud that was so well received by the crowd that both his brother and he received an invitation to train at Consejo Mundial de Lucha Libre's (CMLL) wrestling school in Guadalajara, Jalisco. When he went to Guadalajara to train under Gran Cochisse and El Satánico he changed his ring character to Ángel de Plata, to complement his brothers ring character.[2] The duo made their CMLL debut on July 4, 2008 wrestling as a team dubbed Los Angeles Celestiales ("The Celestial Angels")[2] The duo was made into a trio when they were joined by Ángel Azteca, Jr. who used a similar "Angel inspired" ring character.[5]Los Angeles Celestiales worked low card matches throughout 2008 and into 2009, gaining valuable ring experience along the way. On April 7, 2009 Ángel de Plata participated in a 10-man Torneo cibernetico for the vacant CMLL World Super Lightweight Championship. The other participants included Ángel Azteca Jr., Rey Cometa, Pegasso, Tiger Kid, Pólvora, Inquisidor, Súper Comando, Angel de Oro and eventual winner Máscara Dorada.[6]

In the fall of 2009 Ángel de Plata participated in the 2009 Gran Alternativa tournament, a tournament where an experienced wrestler teams up with a newcomer. Ángel de Plata teamed up with Héctor Garza and together they defeated Averno and Pólvora in the first round, before losing to eventual tournament winners La Ola Amarilla ("The Yellow Wave"; Naito and Okumura).[7] In late 2009 Los Ángeles Celestiales participated in a tournament to crown new Mexican National Trios Champion. The team lost in the first round to Los Cancerberos del Infierno (Virus, Pólvora and Euforia.[5] Following the tournament loss Los Ángeles Celestiales and Los Cancerberos del Infierno have developed a rivalry between the two groups, facing off on various CMLL shows, including their Friday night CMLL Super Viernes show.[8] On the January 15, 2010 Super Viernes Ángel de Plata lost a Lighting match to Raziel, one of the members of Los Cancerberos del Infierno, continuing the building storyline between the two factions.[9] Ángel de Plata was one of 12 men who put their mask on the line as part of a 12-man steel cage match in the main event of the 2010 Infierno en el Ring. During the match he tricked his brother Ángel de Oro in order to escape the match. In the end Ángel de Oro defeated Fabián el Gitano in the Lucha de Apuestas (bet match) portion of the match to unmask him. Following the match Ángel de Plata returned to the ring to celebrate with his brother, showing that there were no hard feelings over Ángel de Plata's tactics during the match.[10]

Niebla Roja (2012–present)[edit]

On March 30, 2012, Ángel de Plata underwent a complete character overhaul, debuting a new mask and attire and switching his ring name to Niebla Roja ("Red Mist"), while also turning rudo in the process.[11] On July 6, Niebla Roja was named the newest member of Último Guerrero's Los Guerreros del Infierno stable.[12] Niebla Roja competed in CMLL's first ever En Busca de un Ídolo ("In search of an Idol") tournament, but did not qualify for the semi-final part of the tournament.[13] Niebla Roja was forced to team up with Dragón Rojo, Jr. from the rival Los Revolucionarios del Terror rival group for the 2013 Torneo Nacional de Parejas Increibles ("National Incredible Pairs Tournament") where the concept was that rivals would team up for a tag team tournament. Despite being rivals the duo managed to defeat the team of Rush and El Terrible in the first round and Blue Panther and Rey Escorpión in the second round. The team was defeated in the semi-finals by Niebla Rojo's stable leader Último Guerrero and Atlantis.[14][15] From January 14 to 19, 2014, Roja worked the New Japan Pro Wrestling (NJPW) and CMLL co-produced Fantastica Mania 2014 tour, which marked his debut in Japan.[16][17] On March 28, 2014, Roja won his first title, when he, Euforia and Último Guerrero defeated Los Estetas del Aire (Máscara Dorada, Místico and Valiente) for the CMLL World Trios Championship.[18] They lost the title to Sky Team (Místico, Valiente and Volador Jr.) on February 13, 2015.[19]

In the spring of 2017 CMLL began a storyline where Niebla Roja started having problems with his fellow Los Guerreros Laguneros team mates, initially by accidentally causing them to lose matches due to miscommunication between Niebla Roja and Euforia and Gran Guerrero.[20] As the storyline progressed Niebla Roja refused to participate in Los Guerrerosrudo antics such as double or triple teaming an opponent.[21] On May 19 Niebla Roja's tecnico turn was completed as he kicked Los Guerreros leader Último Guerrero in the face during a match. Afterwards Último Guerrero and Gran Guerrero beat Niebla Roja up, tore his mask off and demanded that Niebla Roja had to come up with a new mask instead of wearing the Último Guerrero inspired mask. During the attack he was aided by his brother Ángel de Oro.[22][23] On June 10, 2017, Niebla Roja won a 10-man torneo cibernetico elimination match to win the CMLL World Light Heavyweight Championship.[24] On September 16 at CMLL's 84th Anniversary Show, Niebla Roja lost his mask to Gran Guerrero in a Lucha de Apuestas.[1]

In wrestling[edit]

Championships and accomplishments[edit]

Lucha de Apuestas record[edit]

See also: Lucha de Apuestas


  1. ^ abc"Gran Guerrero consumó la venganza y destapó a Niebla Roja". MedioTiempo (in Spanish). MSN. September 16, 2017. Retrieved September 17, 2017. 
  2. ^ abcdefgh"Tecnicos - Angel de Plata" (in Spanish). Fuego En El Ring. Retrieved October 21, 2009. 
  3. ^Oculto, Rostro (October 15, 2009). "12 Máscaras en juego (18 octubre 2009) – Cartel Completo – Strongman vs. Último Guerrero" (in Spanish). SuperLuchas Magazine. Retrieved March 9, 2010. 
  4. ^ ab"Participantes: Rudos Niebla Rojo" (in Spanish). Consejo Mundial de Lucha Libre. Archived from the original on October 18, 2012. 
  5. ^ abSuperLuchas staff (January 11, 2010). "El Novato del Año: Angel de Oro". SuperLuchas (in Spanish). issue 346. Retrieved March 10, 2010. 
  6. ^Ovaciones staff (April 7, 2009). "Se improne la lucha aéra". Ovaciones (in Spanish). Mexico, D.F.: Editorial Ovaciones, S. A. de C.V. p. 22. Número 21543 Año LXII. Archived from the original on 2009-06-19. Retrieved April 8, 2009. 
  7. ^Marquina, Alva (September 25, 2009). "CMLL- (Resultados en vivo 25 septiembre de 2009) – Último Guerrero venció a Liger. Yujiro y Okumura se llevan el Torneo la Gran Alternativa" (in Spanish). SuperLuchas Magazine. Retrieved September 26, 2009. 
  8. ^Boutwell, Josh (January 29, 2010). "Viva La Raza! Lucha Weekly". WrestleView. Retrieved February 26, 2010. 
  9. ^Islas, Alejandro (January 18, 2010). "Guerrero, obligado a exponer el título". SuperLuchas (in Spanish). pp. 19–21. issue 347. Retrieved February 24, 2009. 
  10. ^Rivera, Manuel (July 19, 2010). "CMLL: Infierno en el Ring (18 julio 2010): ¡Fabián el Gitano pierde la máscara" (in Spanish). SuperLuchas Magazine. Retrieved July 19, 2010. 
  11. ^Mexicool, Rey (March 26, 2012). "Niebla Roja se presenta este 30 de marzo en la Arena México" (in Spanish). SuperLuchas Magazine. Retrieved June 9, 2012. 
  12. ^Boutwell, Josh (July 14, 2012). "Viva La Raza! Lucha Weekly". WrestleView. Retrieved July 15, 2012. 
  13. ^"En Busca de un Idolo Inicio" (in Spanish). Consejo Mundial de Lucha Libre. Archived from the original on October 19, 2012. 
  14. ^"Reviven por una noche los Guerreros de la Atlantida". MedioTiempo (in Spanish). March 9, 2013. Retrieved March 9, 2013. 
  15. ^"Atlantis y Ultimo Guerrero a la final del Torneo de Parejas Increíbles". Estrellas del Ring (in Spanish). March 9, 2013. Retrieved March 9, 2013. 
  16. ^"『Fantastica Mania』メンバーが決定!! 2代目ミスティコが参戦!! 素顔のボラドールなど、16名が大挙上陸!!". New Japan Pro Wrestling (in Japanese). November 7, 2013. Retrieved January 19, 2014. 
  17. ^"Los programas oficiales de la gira NJPW Presents: CMLL Fantastica Mania 2014". Consejo Mundial de Lucha Libre (in Spanish). January 6, 2014. Archived from the original on January 6, 2014. Retrieved January 19, 2014. 
  18. ^ abReducindo, Miguel (March 29, 2014). "Resultados - Viernes 28 de Marzo '14". Consejo Mundial de Lucha Libre (in Spanish). Archived from the original on March 29, 2014. Retrieved March 29, 2014. 
  19. ^"'Sky team', satisfechos por título de tercias". MedioTiempo (in Spanish). February 14, 2015. Retrieved February 14, 2015. 
  20. ^"Luchador Niebla Roja traiciona a "Guerreros laguneros" y pierden ante los técnicos". Terra Networks (in Spanish). March 29, 2017. Retrieved May 21, 2017. 
  21. ^Ramos, Ernest (May 10, 2017). Ocampo, Ernesto, ed. "CMLL – Niebla Roja un rudo diferente; Bárbaro Cavernario verdadero salvaje". Súper Luchas (in Spanish). Mexico City, Mexico: Impresos Camsam, SA de CV. Retrieved May 21, 2017. 
  22. ^"Los Guerreros Laguneros expulsaron y humillaron a Niebla Roja". MedioTiempo (in Spanish). MSN. May 20, 2017. Retrieved May 21, 2017. 
  23. ^Ramos, Ernest (May 20, 2017). Ocampo, Ernesto, ed. "CMLL – Zeuxis y Princesa Sugey duelo por el orgullo; Niebla Roja vs. Último Guerrero sin conciliación y más". Súper Luchas (in Spanish). Mexico City, Mexico: Impresos Camsam, SA de CV. Retrieved May 21, 2017. 
  24. ^ abConsejo Mundial de Lucha Libre (June 10, 2017). "Niebla Roja ha cumplido su sueño esta noche en la Arena Coliseo! Es el nuevo Campeón Mundial Semicompleto del CMLL" [Niebla Roja has fulfilled his dream tonight at Arena Coliseum! He is the new CML World Lightweight Champion]. CMLL_Oficial (in Spanish). Twitter. Retrieved June 11, 2017. 

CMLL World TriosChampions

  • Los Infernales (MS-1, Pirata Morgan and El Satánico)
  • Los Intocables (Jaque Mate, Masakre and Pierroth Jr.)
  • Los Brazos (El Brazo, Brazo de Oro and Brazo de Plata)
  • La Nuevo Ola Blanca (Dr. Wagner Jr., Gran Markus Jr., El Hijo del Gladiador)
  • Los Chacales (Bestia Salvaje, Emilio Charles Jr. and Sangre Chicana)
  • Dos Caras, La Fiera and Héctor Garza
  • Emilio Charles Jr., Rey Bucanero and El Satánico
  • La Ola Azul (Atlantis, Lizmark and Mr. Niebla)
  • Black Warrior, Blue Panther and Dr. Wagner Jr.
  • Blue Panther, Dr. Wagner Jr. and Fuerza Guerrera
  • Atlantis, Black Warrior and Mr. Niebla
  • Black Tiger III, Dr. Wagner Jr. and Universo 2000
  • Black Warrior, El Canek and Rayo de Jalisco Jr.
  • La Furia del Norte (Héctor Garza, Tarzan Boy and El Terrible)
  • Los Guerreros de la Atlantida (Atlantis, Tarzan Boy and Último Guerrero)
  • Los Perros del Mal (Héctor Garza, Mr. Águila and Perro Aguayo Jr.)
  • Los Ángeles Rebeldes (Héctor Garza, El Hijo del Fantasma and La Máscara)
  • Los Guerreros Negros (Atlantis, Negro Casas and Último Guerrero)
  • La Ola Amarilla (Hiroshi Tanahashi, Okumura and Taichi)
  • La Generación Dorada (La Máscara, Máscara Dorada and La Sombra)
  • Los Hijos del Averno (Averno, Ephesto and Mephisto)
  • El Bufete del Amor (Marco Corleone, Máximo and Rush)
  • Los Estetas del Aire (Máscara Dorada, Místico and Valiente)
  • Los Guerreros Laguneros (Euforia, Niebla Roja and Último Guerrero)
  • Sky Team (Místico, Valiente and Volador Jr.) (current)

En Busca de un Ídolo tournament participants


1) Titán (winner) 2) Diamante 3) Euforia 4) Dragon Lee 5) Niebla Roja 6) Puma King 7) Tritón 8) Pólvora


1) Vangelis (winner) 2) Valiente 3) Stuka Jr. 4) Fuego 5) El Hijo del Fantasma 6) Tiger 7) Sangre Azteca 8) Misterioso Jr.


1) Cavernario (Winner) 2) Hechicero 3) Dragon Lee 4) Cachorro 5) Star Jr. 6) Soberano Jr. 7) Super Halcón Jr. 8) Guerrero Negro Jr.
Did not qualify: Black Panther, Canelo Casas, El Rebelde, Espiritu Negro, Flyer, Herodes Jr., Metálico, Oro Jr.


1) Boby Zavala, 2) Guerrero Maya Jr., 3) Esfinge, 4) Disturbio, 5) Flyer 6) Canelo Casas 7) Delta 8) Blue Panther Jr.
Did not qualify: Akuma, Cancerbero, El Gallo, Joker, Pegasso, Raziel, El Sagrado. Stigma

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