How Mexican Wrestling Works

Lucha Libre Competition

El Hijo del Santo (the Son of the Saint) outmaneuvers his opponent.
El Hijo del Santo (the Son of the Saint) outmaneuvers his opponent.
Daniel Berehulak/Getty Images News/Getty Images

Mexican wrestling championships are divided into well-defined weight classes. Each league can create their own weight classes, but common classes include lightweight, heavyweight, welterweight and light-heavyweight.

The rules are very similar to American pro wrestling. In single matches, there are four basic ways to win: pinning the opponent to the mat for a count of three, knocking him out of the ring for a count of 20, making him submit (which he signals by either waving his hands or telling the referee -- luchadores don't "tap out" like American pro wrestlers) or by disqualification. Performing an illegal move and removing an opponent's mask are just two ways to get disqualified. There's also an "excessive violence" (or exceso de rudezas) rule, in which the referee can stop the fight and award the win to a luchadore if he's clearly giving his opponent a beating.

But singles matches aren't nearly as popular as tag team matches. In the three on three tag team match -- also called trios matches or Relevos Australianos (Australian tag matches) -- each team appoints a captain. To win, two out of the three luchadores must be pinned, or the other team must score a pin-fall against the captain. This is the main type of lucha libre match, and there are usually two referees (often one tecnico and one rudo) to call the action. There are also four on four atomicos matches and five on five matches (like the WWF "Survivor Series"). In the latter, the goal is to pin the team captain.

In two on two tag team matches, or parejas, both team members must be eliminated to win. Actual "tags" aren't necessary in any of the tag team matches; when a luchadore falls outside of the ring, his partner can immediately enter the ring. Because of this, lucha libre tag team matches often go much faster than American pro wrestling ones.

Most lucha libre wrestling moves are similar to American wrestling moves, though they have different names. In fact, a number of acrobatic moves that are common in American wrestling today were actually developed by Mexican wrestlers. Here are some of the major moves:

  • Rana -- a pin position in which one wrestler holds the opponent's shoulders down with his legs and hooks the opponent's legs with his arms. The famous Huracan rana is a way to get into the rana pin by starting with a flying headscissor, created by Huracan Ramirez.
  • Plancha -- a move in which one wrestler is flat on his back and the opponent dives onto him from above with his full body.
  • Tornillo - a plancha in which the diving wrestler twists in the air
  • Tope - any move involving a head-butt
  • Centón - a plancha in which the diving wrestler lands on his back

There are certainly many more moves used in lucha libre, as well as variations and combinations of other moves. Wrestlers often give these moves their own creative names, just as in American wrestling. The "piledriver" is illegal in lucha libre and results in instant disqualification. Luchadores still use it to advance the storyline, and often leave on a stretcher to show how dangerous they are.

Ready to meet the masked stars of Mexican wrestling? On the next page, we'll get to know lucha libre's past and present icons.