These colorful masks are typical of lucha libre.

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The World of the Luchador

Some luchadores (the term for Mexican wrestlers) take their lucha libre identity outside the ring, keeping the mask on when out in public. Some families pass their ring identities on to successive generations, with a son taking over the same name and mask as his father.

Lucha libre wrestling is characterized by many aerial moves, acrobatic maneuvers and intricate combinations, one following after the other in rapid-fire succession. Luchadores are generally smaller, faster and more agile than their American counterparts.

Popular luchadores are always heroes admired by the fans. They may represent Aztec warriors, Christian saints or comic book superheroes, but they always fight for the common man -- workers, farmers and the poor. They are known as técnicos. The villains of Mexican wrestling, called rudos, represent very real problems faced by Mexicans -- corrupt politicians, crooked police officers and drug dealers. Americans make for popular villains as well. Wrestlers playing the part of an American villain will take on a racist and classicist attitude to inflame the crowd [source: Bondurant].

Lucha libre style wrestling isn't confined to Mexico. In addition to the crossover Mexican stars who have made a name for themselves (and their country) in American pro wrestling, Japanese professional wrestling has been heavily influenced by lucha libre. Masked stars like Ultimo Dragon and Tiger Mask took the Mexican mask tradition to a new level, creating elaborate superhero characters with carefully crafted masks that often include fins, horns, ridges and other adornments.

Who were the first luchadores? Find out on the next page as we trace the course of lucha libre's history.