Behind The Mask Of Lucha Libre

Brazo de Plata, Lucha Libre fighter, flies from the top rope during a fight, Arena Coliseo, Mexico City, Mexico AP

It's a Thursday evening in Los Angeles and people are jammed in line to see masked men and women, both massive and diminutive in the sold out show "Lucha Vavoom," the hottest ticket in town.

"I've been trying to get tickets for three years," says fan Irene Throup.

The "Lucha" is for Lucha Libre, Mexican-freestyle wrestling where the combatants wear masks. The "Vavoom" is for the gender-bending, burlesque extravaganza that is introducing this traditional Mexican fare to a new and wildly receptive American audience, reports CBS News correspondent Bill Whitaker.

It's been going on in Mexico since the 1930s when wrestlers called Luchadores, wearing masks for the mystery and drama, became national sensations, then icons and movie stars. They fought mummies and vampires. Soccer was a more popular sport, but only Lucha Libre had the mask.

Hollywood director Jared Hess has been a big fan for a long time.

"The most famous wrestler, Santo, he was even buried in his mask when he died. And they are, they're living breathing superheroes," Hess says.

Then there's the tradition. Enrique Medina is a barber in Los Angeles, a Lucha Libre promoter and at 59 he still wrestles. "I'm not superman, but I fly," he says.

His barbershop, a shrine to all the Luchadores he's faced in the ring.

Like some sacred mantle, a mask or a name, he says, often is handed down from father to son.

Brothers, Kayam and Enigma, are known as Los Chivos, The Goats.

"Our father, the late Chivo Garcia, was a big legend in Mexico in the 50s and early 60s and we're following his footsteps. We have the blood running in our veins and we love it," Enigma says.

They're based in California, because as the Mexican immigrant population has grown in the United States so has the popularity of Lucha Libre. Unlike Mexico, where it's staged in huge arenas, here it's been mostly fought in small, sweaty rings in immigrant communities.

Not so long ago Lucha Libre north of the border was kind of like that small ring, not so exciting.

But now, there's a Lucha Libre boom.

Mexican tradition meets Hollywood. Rita D'Albert is one of the producers of Lucha Vavoom.

"I just immediately fell in love with the wrestling," she says. "It was so universal and so fun, you didn't have to speak Spanish to understand it. And then the girls, that's kind of a no-brainer, sex and violence. "And when we watched the reaction of the crowd we were like, oh, we're going to do this a lot."

If nothing succeeds like excess, then Lucha Libre's a winner. Merchandise is hitting stores -- there already are Luchador action figures. If you haven't seen the masks yet, just wait until Halloween, they're popping up all over, just like fans of the sport.

It's even been embraced by big time American wrestling. One of the biggest crossover stars is Worldwide Wrestling Entertainment's Rey Mysterio.

If it's pop art you're looking for, artist Robert Palacios has you covered with his mix of Mexican cultural images, Lucha Libre and Day of the Dead.

"It inspires my art because, I think, there's a -- I guess like a mask on all of us at times," Palacios says.

Antonio Alvarez can feel the sport heating up. He taught himself to make masks 34 years ago. Now he makes them for all the big stars. He never measures, he just uses his eye and a sketchpad. He can't keep up with demand.

"Sometimes I have to turn people away, because I don't have time to make all of them," he says through a translator.

"Nacho Libre," starring Jack Black, was an early summer hit based on a true story about a Mexican Friar who helped save an orphanage with money he won as a Luchador.

"When I put on the mask and got into my outfit and came out of my trailer, I felt like a superhero," Black says. "It automatically made me puff out my chest and look around slowly to see if there were any opponents."

Jared Hess directed the movie.

"It's just something that's so new and original for those that haven't had any exposure to it. I think it's, it's definitely going to gain some more fans," Hess believes.

Rich Walton witnessed the Lucha Libre explosion while making a documentary about the sport, "Life Behind the Mask." He recently invited all his masked friends to a red carpet premier in Long Beach. He says the appeal is not about the spandex and acrobatics. It's all about the mask.

"We're so used to seeing things like reality TV and things where people will do anything to be on TV, get their face on TV. Well, here these guys are going to great lengths, great training to keep that all a secret," Walton says. "The last thing they'd do is take off their mask and say, 'Look at me.'

"I think that's probably one of the more endearing aspects of it, you know. They do this because they truly love it, you know, whether they're known or not known," Walton says.

Wrestler Kayam D'Oro, a fourth-grade school teacher, prefers anonymity.

"A lot of my colleagues do not know I'm in this profession," he says.

And Kayam's beefy brother, Enigma, is a nurse. "My nursing is like a balance for me with the wrestling, you see, because the wrestling is a lot of violence and pushing and nursing is a lot of caring and I care for people, I love caring for people," Enigma says.

The brothers also love training a new generation of Luchadores. So, where does Lucha Libra go from here?

"We are taking it to Amsterdam and we're looking to do more stuff on the continent," D'Albert says. "We're also talking about doing a Las Vegas run with a hotel right now. We want to take this everywhere.

"We want the whole world to have as much fun as L.A. gets to have."

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