I try my utmost to remain
mysterious at Sunday Mass. If you were to observe me during
service, you would conclude that I was a devout Catholic,
perhaps one with a checkered past who had stumbled upon
salvation after a wildly sinful, undoubtedly tantalizing
coming of age. Seated in the back pew, a faraway gaze and
half-smile upon my face, this is a perfectly reasonable
conclusion to come to, and I do my best to encourage it.
After all, the truth never exceeds the imagination. You
see, whenever I hear Jesus mentioned during service, I
always think of El Espejo, the legendary Mexican luchador.
This is not a fact I usually share with strangers, as
it doesn’t exactly create the most favorable impression
of my character and religious upbringing. Nevertheless,
it’s true, and for good reason: I trained El Espejo
for eight years, from 1946-1954. In 1955, El Espejo became
the National Heavyweight Champion of Mexico in a near-mythical
match against El Asesino and promptly disappeared, title
belt and all. Many wondered how great he could have become,
what he could have been capable of.
I retired in 1954. I know
what no one else does. I know El Espejo’s identity.
I know precisely how much he was capable of. I also know,
having read mistake after biographical mistake, that perhaps
it’s best to start at the beginning.
I sat behind a card table in
the back room of Arena Torreón, bored out of my mind. It was
a Friday in 1946. Fridays were open audition days, an endless
parade of unoriginal characters with almost laughable wrestling
skills. I thought the first Friday was hilarious. The second
was amusing. The third was torturous. From there it went downhill.
This one was no different: oh look, here’s The Angel. And
here’s The White Angel. And here’s The Devil, and
The Demon, and The Black Demon and The Black Devil, and so on.
Half of them I was able to dismiss without even seeing them compete,
simply by saying, “So you’re El Diablo, huh? Well
son, I think the real El Diablo is going to have a problem
with that. Sorry!”
And then El Espejo
strode smack into the middle of it all. I was immediately captivated.
Standing across from me was a wrestler wearing my face, if
my face were twisted into an ugly mix of despair and sheer
Let me be clear here: I’m not trying to say that El Espejo looked
like me or that he wore a mask similar to my own. I’m saying
that he took my exact likeness and fashioned a mask from it.
Needless to say, I was attentive.
“Well, that’s interesting.
And what is your name, son?”
“I am El Espejo,” he
replied, staring straight ahead. I was amused. This was a welcome
change to my day.
“Shall we discuss
the mask now or later, Espejo?”
He lowered his eyes
to meet mine. “I am a pure fighter, a strong fighter. I have
no need for my opponent’s fear. I reflect it back to him, for
him to deal with as he chooses.”
I stood up, smiling,
and took off my jacket. “That might be the first worthwhile statement
I’ve heard all month, Espejo. Let’s see how it holds up, shall
As anyone even remotely
familiar with El Espejo will surely know, that statement held
up admirably, through that first test match, through his first
professional match (a victory), and all the way through his
entire career. For those unfamiliar, allow me to explain. “El Espejo” translates
to “The Mirror.” For every match, Espejo would fashion a new
mask, always a cruel parody of his opponent’s mask, altered
to reflect the fear that Espejo believed was within his opponent.
In nearly every case, he was quite accurate.
By 1952, Espejo had
amassed an impressive resume, unmasking eight of his fellow wrestlers
(effectively ending their careers, for those still unfamiliar
with lucha libre), while also collecting regional titles
effortlessly. As his reputation grew, his mask scare tactic became
even more effective, especially when coupled with his lightning-quick
reflexes and crippling knee-twist submission holds. His masks
became more elaborate as well, depicting opponents as not only
fearful, but in many cases also wounded or disfigured in some
way. El Espejo rolled on, unbeaten and fearless. And, as I would
soon discover, untested as well.
In November of ‘52,
El Espejo faced La Plaga (The Plague) for the first time. At
the time, neither fighter knew that the match would spark a
furious rivalry that would ultimately end in a lucha de apuesta,
a fight in which both wrestlers would wager their masks upon
the outcome. At the time, each fighter walked into the ring supremely
confident. In fact, the two fighters looked nearly identical
in every way. La Plaga was a truly unique luchador;
his mask did not exude strength or invincibility. Black, with
outlines around the down turned eyes, nose and gaping mouth,
La Plaga’s mask made him look like some sort of tortured phantom
in its last, painful death throes. Unable to create a mask
that reflected any additional terror, Espejo simply
duplicated his opponent’s visage. This method proved unsuccessful.
In that first frenzied,
brutal match, La Plaga not only looked like a phantom, he fought
like one. As the match started, Espejo closed the distance
between them, hands up, and waited for Plaga. Plaga leaned
in to grapple,
and Espejo darted left in an instant, swinging his left arm
toward Plaga’s exposed head…and hit nothing but air. A two-fisted hammer
to Espejo’s stomach bent him over, and an elbow drop to the head
laid him out in the center of the ring. Struggling to clear his
vision, Espejo got up on one elbow, trying to get a bead on Plaga’s
location. The crowd roared in anticipation, then suddenly grew
hushed. Too late, Espejo realized what had happened. Plaga’s
full weight, seemingly dropping from the sky (in reality dropping
from the top rope of one of the ring’s corners), knocked not
only his wind, but his entire will to fight, out of him. From
this point on, Espejo remembers nothing. I, however, am able
to recall the resulting pin and count to three which awarded
the first round to La Plaga. I am also able to recall, with
shame, forfeiting the second round, and hence the match, to
amidst much booing and derision.
Please forgive me
for recounting the next series of events rather briefly. Truth
be told, that debilitating loss did not change El Espejo as
much as I thought it would. Espejo’s next couple of opponents
expected a humbled fighter, a tentative fighter suddenly aware
own mortality. They were sorely disappointed, in every sense
of the phrase. To Espejo, the loss only served to remind him
of how mundane, how full of fear, every other luchador was
that he faced. One particularly unlucky fellow, a fighter by
the name of El Chacal, was actually thrown clear of
the ring and into the first row of the audience. Chacal refused
reenter the ring, and after 20 seconds a disgusted Espejo was
declared the victor. In February of ‘53, just three months
after their first bout, Espejo demanded a rematch with La Plaga.
Plaga again defeated him, although this time around Espejo
managed to stay conscious through the two rounds he lost.
The third matchup
between Espejo and Plaga, however, was much more competitive.
Plaga again took the first round, pinning a dazed Espejo after
a devastating flying clothesline. As my young wrestler stumbled
back to his corner, arms resting on the ropes, I gathered him
into his seat and leaned over his right shoulder.
“Aren’t you getting
sick of this yet, son?”
Espejo dropped his
chin down to his chest, closing his eyes. With his right hand,
he twirled the leather ties at the back of his mask. For close
to a minute, neither of us made a sound. Finally, he raised his
head and glanced over at me, still silent. The large brass fight
bell suddenly rang twice sharply, signaling the start of the
“That’s funny,” he
delivered in perfect monotone. “I was about to ask sweet Plagita
over there the same thing.”
Espejo stood up,
strode directly into the center of the ring. Plaga met him
his massive arms together toward Espejo’s head like a musician
with a huge pair of cymbals. Espejo darted under and to his
left easily, readying a counter blow. Plaga, having seen this
before, quickly rolled back and to his right, coming up right
behind the slower Espejo.
But Espejo wasn’t
there. Unbelievably, instead of swinging at Plaga after sidestepping
him, he had simply dropped to the mat, belly-up. As Plaga stood
there, towering over him, Espejo reverse-somersaulted, locking
his legs around Plaga’s knee while wrapping his arms around
the ankle. With a sharp turn of the legs, Plaga plunged to
With a sharp turn of the arms, Plaga screamed out in pain,
slapping the mat with his hands. Espejo released his hold and
He was greeted with
The bell boy came
to his senses first, suddenly grabbing his mallet and ringing
the bell, over and over and over. The crowd responded with a
roar, a fist-slapping, foot-stomping, heart-quaking roar. Espejo
did a slow turn, taking in every corner of the arena, and then
walked back to me, unable to hide a small grin.
“Well look at that!
I guess he was sick of it after all. And here all I had to
do was ask.”
The date of the
fourth match was set before either wrestler left the arena
La Plaga was incensed, believing he had been robbed of victory
by a dirty trick. El Espejo, on the other hand, was a new man,
heartened by his rebound against this thorny foe. Immediately
prior to the opening bell of that fourth match, La Plaga publicly
vowed to spill Espejo’s blood in every corner of the ring. He
made good on that promise, relentlessly driving shoulders, elbows
and fists into Espejo’s face and dragging him from corner to
corner like a limp rag doll. Unfortunately, Plaga’s narrow-sighted
determination distracted him from Espejo’s systematic punishment
of his right knee. Throughout the vicious blows from Plaga, Espejo
concentrated on conserving his energy while aiming occasional
kicks and jabs at Plaga’s right knee and forcing Plaga to lean
on the knee repeatedly by shifting his body weight slightly.
In the 15th minute, Espejo stepped aside as Plaga lunged in,
and sure enough, that knee gave out. Plaga tumbled to the mat
with a surprised yelp, and Espejo pinned him to take the first
round. He took the second round easily as well, forcing Plaga
to limp around the ring until he was too weak to fight back.
And so it was that
on May 23rd, 1954, with 18 months and four matches of enmity
between them, El Espejo and La Plaga agreed to settle their bitter
dispute once and for all. It was to be a máscara contra máscara match,
mask against mask. The loser would offer up their mask as well
as their real identity.
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