Masks Not Mascara: Lucha Underground Revolutionizing Women's Wrestling

Alexandra Irving@girlinterceptedChief Writer IJune 23, 2016

Lucha Underground

"The following Lucha is a no-mas match."

The rules are simple: The first wrestler to get their opponent to say "no mas" exits victorious. There are no count-outs, no pinfalls and no tapouts. The only way to win is to break down your opposition so badly that they literally cannot take anymore.

After the main event is announced, the two masked participants take their spots in the ring. The bell sounds and the match begins.

There are suplexes and highspots. There are steel chairs and metal trash cans. The two wrestlers climb to the top of places unheard of at the intimate venue. And there is blood. Lots of it.

At numerous points during the match, chants of "holy s--t" and "this is awesome" ring through the crowd. They can't tear their attention away.

After over 15 minutes of no-holds-bar wrestling, a victor emerges out of a tangle of bodies and blood. Fans join in unison to tell the winner, "You deserve it."

The two bloodied wrestlers? They're women. And this is Lucha Underground.


In a time where WWE is being lauded for the success of its Divas revolution, there is a real women's movement brewing just east of Los Angeles' infamous Skid Row. At a warehouse in Boyle Heights, California, the wrestling-television show hybrid Lucha Underground is changing the game. In a one-hour weekly segment, it is managing to do what WWE can't in two multihour shows: predominantly feature women's wrestling.

While the WWE tends to focus primarily on the women's sex appeal, Lucha Underground instead chooses to display their talent, even having some of their female wrestlers don masks to hide their identity. Man or woman, they also expect them to carry their own weight, with the females often wrestling in three or four matches in a given four-hour taping.

"We don't just cast pretty women who can take a bump," executive producer Eric Van Wagenen said. "We cast experienced, tough, female athletes (who also happen to be beautiful) and we expect them to do the same moves, tell the same stories, and take the same risks as the men."

The aforementioned "no-mas" match is just one of many the program has featured that has put its leading ladies in the spotlight. And the women don't just wrestle each other; the majority of their matches are actually against their male peers. It's not unusual to see a man suplexing a women half his size, or vice versa.

They also reward the women, often affording them the same title shots as the men. In fact, unlike in the WWE, there is no women's championship. The winner of the "no-mas" match, Sexy Star, was also one of the seven participants in the inaugural Gift of the Gods Championship match. Fan-favorite Ivelisse is a two-time Trios champion and on the season two premiere defeated her male partners to earn a Lucha Underground Championship match. Numerous other female wrestlers have been in title matches as well, often competing against two or more of their male peers.

These intergender matches are nothing new in professional wrestling, but are rarely highlighted in mainstream shows. It's not uncommon to see mixed tag matches, but the men and women don't actually wrestle each other. Two female wrestlers, Awesome Kong and the late Chyna, built careers competing against men, but they were also more physically equal to them in size and stature.

This powerful female portrayal in Lucha Underground is directly attributed to one of the show's executive producers, acclaimed filmmaker Robert Rodriguez. Rodriguez is the mastermind behind several blockbuster films including Machete, Spy Kids and Sin City.

"If you've seen any (of his) movies, you'll notice that there are always strong female characters that kick ass," Van Wagenen said. "That is something that is important to Robert as well as the El Rey Network. In traditional lucha libre, there have always been intergender matches and so we've chosen to embrace it in Lucha Underground."


In a makeshift gym covered in graffiti that doubles as one of Lucha Underground's sets, Karlee Perez stands among several media members. Despite her small stature, you can immediately feel her presence. Similar to her character Catrina, she dominates the room.

Catrina is the prime example of a powerful female character in Lucha Underground. Starting as the valet for one of the show's biggest male wrestlers, Mil Muertes, she'd built her character into one of the faces of the company. Catrina would help The Disciples of Death win the Trios Championship and manage Mil Muertes during his Lucha Underground Championship match. By season two, she was running the Temple.

Lucha Underground

"The character is extremely sexual and very comfortable with her sexuality," Perez said. "She's a dominating woman. She wants to be in control. That's what turns her on is the power."

After one of Catrina's prodigies scores a victory, you'll see her slink into the ring, hover over the defeated opponent and slowly lick his or her face. The gesture, which was Perez's idea, has been aptly named "the lick of death." Originally the producers suggested Perez kiss her prey, but Perez thought a lick would be more edgy and would fit the character more.

"The point I was trying to make with that was as long as I'm making you feel something, whether you think it's disgusting, which it can be really disgusting after a 30-minute match and blood and sweat, but I wanted to get a reaction out of you," Perez said. "A kiss is a kiss. Everybody has seen somebody kiss. Not everybody sees a girl grab somebody and lick them while blood is coming down their face."

Lucha Underground

Perez is no stranger to entertaining in the squared circle. In 2009, she got her start with the WWE's then-developmental company Florida Championship Wrestling (now NXT), working her way through the promotion. She became very familiar with how the WWE booked female characters by spending time in the locker room after debuting on the main roster.

"My character would not be portrayed or done in the WWE, bottom line," Perez stressed. "It just wouldn't be. If it was tried, it wouldn't be done correctly, because they would try to figure it out too much instead of just letting me be me and that's the process creatively that I like as an entertainer."

When Lucha Underground first approached Perez before they began filming, she quickly saw the show's vision and jumped onboard. However, securing other talent proved to be difficult at first. It's rare a new wrestling venture finds immediate success, and Lucha Underground faced an uphill battle trying to create a unique show. Now that it is increasing in popularity and is taping its third season, the talent has come to the program, forcing it to turn many wrestlers away.

"The women that we have are beasts here," Perez said. "It's intimidating. Females who want to now sign with Lucha, you have to keep up with them. That's the only way you're getting in here."

Lucha Underground airs weekly at 8 and 9 p.m. ET Wednesdays on El Rey Network.

Quotes obtained firsthand unless otherwise noted.

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