Masked Marauders

Liz Monroy / el Don
Liz Monroy / el Don
Liz Monroy / el Don

By Martin Syjuco   

Raze broke character long enough to acknowledge working two matches with a popped rib.

The self-proclaimed bitch sustained the injury while trading blows with a larger male competitor at another professional-wrestling event two days before.

“It sucks when you have a cold,” she coughed.

No one in the sparse-but-engaged crowd noticed. As Raze walked towards a ring built on a sand pit, to entrance music not of her choosing, she was at full strength.

The ring sat between a makeshift mini-golf course and a setup for cornhole at the Sabrosa Beer and Taco Fest at Irvine Lake May 2.

Semi-drunk revelers wearing stereotypical Mexican sombreros seemed intrigued by the two female luchadores breaking golf clubs on each others’ backs. Spectators began circling around Raze and her opponent, Sage The Pumpkin Queen, as the action spilled out of the ring.

Raze did not strut out to a flashy light-and-fireworks show that synced up to her music. She came out to an audience with no chairs to sit on, cutting a path through grass after emerging from a canvas tent that stood in place of a locker room.

“Think of yourself on your best day,” she said as she tied her sneakers, handbag slung over her shoulder. “Now multiply that by 10. That’s how being in there feels.”

It was 90 degrees in the height of noon.

Raze and Sage were performing for Santa Ana-based World Power Wrestling.

Death Stare / Luchadores’ use of masks was inspired by El Santo, who first donned them in the 1940s as a tribute to Mayan and Aztec warriors. / Liz Monroy / el Don
Death Stare / Luchadores’ use of masks was inspired by El Santo, who first donned them in the 1940s as a tribute to Mayan and Aztec warriors. / Liz Monroy / el Don

The five-match card was supposed to be a sideshow to the day’s main event — craft beer from about 60 of the country’s celebrated microbreweries and a handful of gourmet food trucks riffing on their version of $3 tacos.

Instead, founder Martin Marin booked a show with the intent of yanking attention from the Lime Truck’s pork-belly adobo tacos and uncoiling the line of tasters snaked across the staging ground awaiting a hit of Anaheim-based brewery Bottle Logic.

Marin cast an imposing figure, a tank-like 300-pounder with piercing eyes and a sharp nose. Looks alone make him appear like a Middle Eastern rule-breaker, a common-stock character in professional wrestling that conjures a stereotype of a depraved barbarian.

Instead of wearing a mask like the enmascarados typical of Mexican-style professional wrestling, Marin shaved the sides of his hair, growing the top long and tying it in a thin ponytail. Like his hero Mil Mascaras’ mask, the genie-like ponytail became part of Marin’s character.

Mil Mascaras, who may have been the most popular luchador in the U.S., pioneered the high-flying, fast-paced and acrobatic style of wrestling most American fans associate with the sport. No one alive can claim to have seen his face. His name translates to “Man with a Thousand Masks,” and he’d often showboat by going into the ring with a lightning-emblazoned mask, only to remove it, revealing another mask, a turquoise blue number, underneath.

In his three-decade career, Marin locked up with his hero on more than one occasion, and relished the chance to perform with the biggest face of them all.

“Wrestling my boyhood idol was a thrill,” Marin recounts.

In 1996, Marin bought a professional-grade wrestling ring and created WPW. He called in his connections, and brought the best of lucha libre, such as El Hijo Del Santo (the son of El Santo) to appear under his banner. Along with local talent, Marin hosted weekly cards at an Anaheim swap meet. Working-class Mexicans and

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Central Americans missing a piece of home became loyal ticketholders.

The veteran promoter used his own earnings from a successful and well-traveled career across Asia, the Americas and Europe — fighting as El Genio, the genie, and as King Ali Baba in Japan — to fill what he said was a void in Orange County’s non-existent lucha-libre scene.

“When I moved to America, I had to stop training because I couldn’t find schools that taught lucha libre stye,” Marin said. He started training shortly after his dad took him to watch a live show when he was 11, and resumed by the time he was 15.

Forming a school along with the promotion was an easy decision.

“We’d just leave the ring in there, so I thought, why not train wrestlers during the weekdays,” Marin said.

World Wrestling Entertainment U.S. Heavyweight Champion John Cena and ex-Total Nonstop LUCHA-MASKSAction title-holder Samoa Joe, as well as homegrown talent like the masked rudo El Infierno passed through his school. One of his newest graduates was referee Steven Goldenberg, who officiated all five of the day’s matches.

“I was thinking, I’m 38 and single, so why not do something I was passionate about,” Goldenberg said. “I’ve been living my dream the last seven months.”

Lucha libre’s rise as a cultural flashpoint can be traced to the popularity of El Santo.

While American fans adored Mascaras for his flashy brilliance, the Silver Masked One was venerated in Mexico. Luchadores are most identified with masks because Santo wore one as a tribute to Mayan and Aztec warriors who considered it an essential war accessory. In 1984, Santo removed his mask on national TV, revealing his face for the first time. It was his way of saying goodbye to his life’s work. A week later, Santo died.

The afternoon’s last match featured a gimmick bout. Two luchadores took on the names of Bottle Logic and Noble Aleworks, named after Anaheim breweries looking to settle a beef. Surrounded by a posse that included lucha legend Damian 666 and Lucha Underground star El Mariachi, the action sparked a crowd already worked into a frenzied “Culero” chant. The six-man tag team match to determine the best beer in the house ended in a draw. Playful boos belying the appreciation for the high-flying action was directed at no wrestler or brewer in particular. They booed for the sake of it. They cheered for the hell of it. Acting as an announcer, Marin got in the ring and offered a fix: neither team could leave without agreeing to work together.

Lucha bled into real life. To cheers and catcalls, Noble Aleworks and Bottle Logic announced that they were teaming up to brew a beer, coming soon. The brewers found the perfect platform to draw attention. Wrestling, after all, is all about selling.

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