The World of Lucha Libre

Secrets, Revelations, and Mexican National Identity

The World of Lucha Libre

American Encounters/Global Interactions

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Book Pages: 288 Illustrations: 18 b&w illustrations, 1 table Published: October 2008

Author: Heather Levi

Anthropology > Cultural Anthropology, Latin American Studies > Mexico, Theater and Performance > Performance Art

The World of Lucha Libre is an insider’s account of lucha libre, the popular Mexican form of professional wrestling. Heather Levi spent more than a year immersed in the world of wrestling in Mexico City. Not only did she observe live events and interview wrestlers, referees, officials, promoters, and reporters; she also apprenticed with a retired luchador (wrestler). Drawing on her insider’s perspective, she explores lucha libre as a cultural performance, an occupational subculture, and a set of symbols that circulate through Mexican culture and politics. Levi argues that the broad appeal of lucha libre lies in its capacity to stage contradictions at the heart of Mexican national identity: between the rural and the urban, tradition and modernity, ritual and parody, machismo and feminism, politics and spectacle.

Levi considers lucha libre in light of scholarship about sport, modernization, and the formation of the Mexican nation-state, and in connection to professional wrestling in the United States. She examines the role of secrecy in wrestling, the relationship between wrestlers and the characters they embody, and the meanings of the masks worn by luchadors. She discusses male wrestlers who perform masculine roles, those who cross-dress and perform feminine roles, and female wrestlers who wrestle each other. Investigating the relationship between lucha libre and the mass media, she highlights the history of the sport’s engagement with television: it was televised briefly in the early 1950s, but not again until 1991. Finally, Levi traces the circulation of lucha libre symbols in avant-garde artistic movements and its appropriation in left-wing political discourse. The World of Lucha Libre shows how a sport imported from the United States in the 1930s came to be an iconic symbol of Mexican cultural authenticity.


The World of Lucha Libre is one of the most interesting cultural studies of a key pastime in Mexico for many years, bringing together semiotics and social anthropology in an original and highly accessible mix that engages the interested outsider as much as the dedicated student. . . . She has provided a valuable ethnographic study and work of reference but also an important summary of the rise and fall of professional wrestling in Mexico. . . .” — Georgina Jiménez, Latin American Review of Books

The World of Lucha Libre… is, first of all, the best scholarly work so far written on Mexican pro-wrestling…. It is a solidly researched monograph that stands on its careful reading of Mexican contemporary transformations.” — Ricardo F. Macip, Dialectical Anthropology

“[The World of Lucha Libre] draws the reader into the vivid world of lucha libre, the Mexican version of professional wrestling – its history, its rules, its performances and its performers. The reader is not only placed ringside but also taken into the arduous training processes and learns what it takes to become and remain a luchador or luchadora. . . . This book is not just for those who have an explicit passion for wrestling. Anyone who is interested in Mexico – or the way a sport-cum-ritual can serve as an anchoring
point for a more embracing socio-cultural analysis – will find much food for thought.” — Marit Melhuus, Journal of Latin American Studies

“Heather Levi’s account of lucha libre—Mexican professional wrestling—is an engaging, lively ethnography that pulls the reader into the ring. Her vivid descriptions of wrestling matches bring to life the play of secrets and technical feats that make the spectacle possible. I gained a deeper respect for the talent and training it takes to jump off the ropes, tumble, crash, fall, fight, and in the process, keep the audience engaged and entertained. After reading this book, I was convinced that lucha libre is both more improvisational and socially significant than I originally believed. . . . This book should appeal to a wide audience as it is both accessible and well written.” — Jessica Mulligan, Sociology of Sport Journal

“Levi lays the entire world of lucha libre at the reader's feet, from the adulation of the crowd to the metallic smell of blood in the ring, and the act of creativity, installing the personal narrative, is the reader's job. This is excellent reportage on an endlessly fascinating subject, and Levi should be commended for standing back and letting the luchadores take center stage.” — Paul Constant, The Stranger

“Levi’s book. . .successfully occupies the fertile ground between anthropological analyses of media, performance, and visual culture. . . . Particularly rich is Levi’s analysis of the discourse and performance of gender in Lucha Libre.” — Julia Offen, American Anthropologist

“Levi's immersion in the Mexican professional wrestling world and her training as a luchadora (female wrestler) give her an insider's perspective well-placed to analyze the rich symbolic vocabulary the sport has conferred on political and cultural life. . . . [Her] sophisticated analysis links lucha libre with Mexican political theater in which the heroes and villains work for the same team, masks alternately hide and reveal the truth, and the outcomes are determined before the matches even begin.” — Publishers Weekly

“Offering a rounded account of lucha libre and its significance in urban Mexican society in the 1990s, this book will attract undergraduate readers and contribute to scholarly conversations on gender, politics, media, and national identity in Mexico.” — Elizabeth Emma Ferry, Journal of the Royal Anthropological Institute

“With fascinating discussion of masking, gender, sexuality, and political uses of the sport, Levi makes clear that professional wrestling is both a good time event enjoyed by thousands of mostly working-class Mexicans, as well as a popular culture intimately connected to larger social, economic, and political processes. As readers will no doubt agree, The World of Lucha Libre is an especially revealing and worthwhile study of Mexican urban culture.” — Andrew Wood, The Americas

The World of Lucha Libre describes a strange and fascinating place in which masked men and women possessing incredible strength and agility punch, kick, and pummel one another into submission. For those reasons alone the book is worth reading, but, as Levi demonstrates, it’s the layers of meaning encoded in all that strange violence that make the struggle interesting.” — Jeremy Estes, PopMatters

The World of Lucha Libre is an informative and entertaining read based on thorough and definitely innovative research methodology that contributes substantively to our understanding of contemporary Mexican national identity. There is much that readers at all levels of familiarity with Mexico can take from this text and much that this text can contribute to discussions of cultural performance and national life beyond Mexico.” — Julia Sloan, A Contracorriente

“[The World of Lucha Libre] remains an excellent study of popular culture, politics, and identity in twentieth-century Mexico, one that will be of interest to scholars and perhaps even some lucha libre fans.” — Ronda L. Brulotte, Journal of Anthropological Research

“Besides having the coolest cover I’ve ever seen on an ethnography, the book is riveting – I never thought I would be so fascinated by wrestling and men in tights, but I guess that’s the magic of a well done ethnography.” — Mary Theberge, Picking Up Sticks blog

“Levi's entertaining The World of Lucha Libre assumes the role of engaged anthropologist. Levi takes the novice into the world of lucha libre, veering between explaining the basics (moves, traditions, the difference between rudos and técnicos—bad and good guys, respectively) and recounting a thorough history of the sport, touching on major fighters, developments and its frequent intersections with Mexican politics and identity. The author knows her lucha libre. . . . This book entertains, informs and breezes by. . . .” — Gustavo Arellano, Los Angeles Times

The World of Lucha Libre will doubtless become the reference in English for a cultural phenomenon with a mass following in Mexico and the United States. Heather Levi provides an insider’s knowledge of the popular practice of luche libre. For those who know wrestling in passing, The World of Lucha Libre will be revelatory. For those specialists in the multiple fields it engages, the book is welcome indeed.” — Randy Martin, author of Critical Moves: Dance Studies in Theory and Politics

“Heather Levi’s book reveals her deep understanding of the many ways that Mexicans enact their identities as women and men, as cosmopolitan consumers, and as citizens. Beautifully written and well-grounded in history, The World of Lucha Libre will matter to anyone who cares about Mexico, spectator sports, or performance in Latin America.” — Anne Rubenstein, author of Bad Language, Naked Ladies, and Other Threats to the Nation

“In The World of Lucha Libre, Heather Levi offers up a backstage pass to the scene of muscles, sweat, passion, and politics that is lucha libre. It’s a world in which performing a public secret reveals that what is deadly serious is also a sham and that what is frivolous speaks of the grit and business of living. Levi illuminates lucha libre’s fractal relationship to Mexican politics and its playful and serious regulation of gender and mestizaje as a dramatic staging of embodied contradiction that brings the messy world of lived experience into brute contact with its cultural ideals. The World of Lucha Libre is important not just for wrestling fans but for any student of popular performance and social practice.” — Nicholas Sammond, editor of Steel Chair to the Head: The Pleasure and Pain of Professional Wrestling


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Price: $26.95

Open Access

Author/Editor Bios Back to Top

Heather Levi is Visiting Assistant Professor of Anthropology at Temple University.

Table of Contents Back to Top
List of Illustrations ix

Preface xi

Acknowledgments xxi

Prologue 1

1. Staging Contradiction 5

2. Trade Secrets and Revelations 27

3. Of Charros and Jaguars: The Moral and Social Cosmos of Lucha Libre 49

4. The Wrestling Mask 103

5. A Struggle between Two Strong Men? 137

6. Mediating the Mask: Lucha Libre and Circulation 177

Conclusion 217

Notes 227

Bibliography 251

Index 259
Sales/Territorial Rights: World

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Additional InformationBack to Top
Paper ISBN: 978-0-8223-4232-8 / Cloth ISBN: 978-0-8223-4214-4
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