More tales from the Mexican scene
DOUKI only debuted in NJPW last year, but he and El Desperado have connections that go much further back, to the Mexican independent scene. The two have plenty of stories to tell, so much so that our interview needed breaking into two parts!
The locker room? Well, there was a blue tarp on the floor with a bucket in the corner…
–So last time we talked about wrestling on an incline, and wrestling on the beach. Are there any more bizarre places in Mexico that you’ve wrestled?
DOUKI: Oh, we’re just getting started. You have to be adaptable in lucha libre. Take the number of times the ropes snap during a match..
Desperado (ED): Oh yeah, that will happen. You can kind of prepare if you’re told in advance ‘you’re wrestling without a ring’. But if you start in one and the ropes snap midway through, that makes you panic a bit.
DOUKI: It definitely takes you aback a bit.
–I would imagine it becomes a llave focused match from that point on.
DOUKI: You’d be surprised, actually. Guys will fly even when there’s no ropes to work with.
ED: Even when there’s just a mat on the floor instead of a ring, guys will get chairs from the fans to dive off of.
–DOUKI, you said once that you wrestled in the middle of a market?
DOUKI: That was a festival thing. That’s every event really in Mexico; you have the event stalls and you have the wrestling ring.
–There used to be festival matches a long time ago in Japan, too.
DOUKI: That’s how OKUMURA debuted!
ED: A luchador from the start (laughs).
–So in Mexican festivals, you take in the atmosphere, grab a beer and then watch the matches?
ED: Yeah, it’s an everyday thing.
DOUKI: I had some crappy festival matches though.
–People always equate lucha libre with Arena Mexico or Arena Coliseo but the truth is there are much more diverse places people wrestle.
ED: Oh yeah. Like there’s this place called Arena Coacalco. It’s called an arena, but it’s a dirt floor, and the ring is always really high up…
DOUKI: Yeah, it’s super high!
ED: Like ‘why the heck is it this high up?’ kinda thing. It’s a waist high platform with a ring on that.
ED: And the ‘locker room’ is a blue sheet on the floor with a bucket in the corner: you can guess what that’s for.
ED: But that’s a normal thing in Mexico, y’know?
DOUKI: Yeah, especially the ol’ bucket bathroom.
ED: You kinda get used to it. I have no problems with it.
You know what heat is? Getting bitten by a stray dog in a match
DOUKI: Comparing Mexico to Japan, it’s completely different when it comes to locker rooms. Weird places are kind of the norm, and a lot of times getting changed on the bus is the way to go.
ED: Or a little area in the reception tent, like you’re on a school sports day or something.
DOUKI: That’s 80 percent of Mexican ‘locker rooms’. When you make your entrance, the fans can see right inside.
ED: Then if you’re in Coacalco, when you come ‘out’ from where the blue sheet is, the thing you have to do before you get in the ring is dust your boots off, because the floor is just dirt.
DOUKI: That and you have to be careful of the dogs.
ED: Oh, there’s always at least a couple of dogs!
ED: Oh, for real! The dogs are OK though.
DOUKI: Oh, you want to know what heat is though? Fans might boo you but dogs bite. I remember one time I overshot on a dive once and crashed into one. Got bit for my troubles.
DOUKI: I don’t blame the thing, we were probably as freaked out as each other.
–Not a stray dog?
DOUKI: Oh, yeah, the dogs are strays. But they’re used to people, y’know? You can’t go a day without seeing a stray dog somewhere.
ED: Or stepping in dog shit.
A pillar in the middle of the ring?
–I think I heard something about a ring with a post in the middle?
ED: That’s the first I’ve heard of anything like that.
DOUKI: It was in this place called Neza, which is about as far from Mexico City as Chiba is from Tokyo. That’s where Arena Neza is, but quite a few other venues too. And in one of them, there’s a pillar in the middle of the ring.
ED: Ummm, why?
–Was the pillar part of the building to begin with? and they built the ring around it?
DOUKI: Right. They built the ring with a hole in it, and the pillar in the hole.
ED: How do you run the ropes?
DOUKI: Well, you have to, like, swerve a bit.
ED: Holy crap!
–You sometimes see live music venues with a pillar in the stage, but in the middle of a wrestling ring..
ED: That reminds me, I’ve wrestled a bunch of times at gigs and in nightclubs. It was so dark in there you couldn’t see shit. It was all balcklights, so you could only see weird parts of your opponent’s costume.
ED: But the outside matches on Children’s Day could be just as dangerous for vision. You’d wrestle five times during the day, and when the sun set, it was pretty much pitch black. There wasn’t much in the way of lighting.
–Automatic blindfold match.
ED: Right? For some reason they’d light up the chairs where the kids were sitting, but I was thinking ‘woah, isn’t that backward?’ the whole time (laughs)!
DOUKI: Not a great ring either, right?
ED: It was so rickety, there’d be just iron poles right under the canvas in a cross shape. Literally nowhere you could take a bump. Five matches and I didn’t bump once all day (laughs)
It was just bricks under a thin sheet.
DOUKI: There are plenty of rings I’ve been in where I thought if I took a bump I’d be dead. I was in one little town where they were setting the ring up out back. I had a look under the little thin sheet they were using for a canvas, and it was just bricks lined up. Literally, bricks.
DOUKI: One bodyslam and you’d be dead!
–No kidding. But did anybody actually bump on it?
DOUKI: Mexicans will bump on anything.
ED: I think one of the biggest differences between lucha libre and pro-wrestling is the rings. They’re all much harder than in Japan. Bricks is a bit much, but Arena Mexico’s ring is a boxing ring, really. It’s a strange setup in that you can just take the corners and ropes off and swap them out. Usually you start by putting the corners up and then running the metal framework in between and laying the boards on top. But Arena Mexico’s ring is a fixed deal. So you can swap the corners and ropes out depending on whether they’re running boxing or lucha.
But the mat itself is the same in both cases. It’s hard so you don’t see as many of those big bumps. But your feet don’t sink in as you move around, so you can run that much faster.
–So the rings themselves really influenced the style of lucha libre.
ED: Llave in the ring and dives to the outside of it. Not much in the way of powerbombs, or piledrivers. In fact, they banned the piledriver.
DOUKI: Automatic DQ.
ED: And everybody screams ‘No!’ when something like it gets teased. I have no idea how Rush gets away with the Rush Driver though.
DOUKI: That’s a double arm piledriver; it’s more dangerous if anything.
Rings of bricks, rings of straw, we just need the sticks…
ED: Another thing you get in the open air shows is where the ring ‘canvas’ is blue plastic tarp.
DOUKI: Ohh, and it gets all creased up so you can’t run.
ED: You’d think a place with a name like Arena San Francisco would be pretty cool, but it was up in the mountains, really rural. They didn’t have enough sheets to cover the ring, and it was just straw underneath.
–You’re like the three little pigs of lucha!
ED: We just need the sticks, I guess. I took a tijeras there and thought I would bail out the ring, but instead when my foot his the sheet it went right through that plastic tarp and all this straw flew up. I was stuck there while the other guy beat me up.
–I’ve heard of matches where the only lighting was from the headlights of parked cars.
DOUKI: I’ve never done that but yeah, I think it’s not all uncommon in some places, or if there’s a power cut. I wrestled in a power cut once, and everyone just kept wrestling. Everybody was yelling for the lights to come on, heh. When you’re wrestling outside, weather becomes an issue, too. I’ve had guys come at me and just slip right on out the ring; the rain became a tag partner.
DOUKI: Once it was raining so hard we put a blue sheet over the ring.
–That tarp again.
DOUKI: This guy tried to go off the top, but that tarp was hanging and in his way. So he tried to push it off, and all the rainwater came rushing out the side, all on top of this old lady! The whole place just roared with laughter.
ED: The show must always go on, even if its chucking down (laughs).
Naito would still have to deal with that reaction from fans today
–You hear a lot of stories about dangerous crowds in Mexico, or rowdy fans. Bags full of suspicious liquids being thrown…
ED: You don’t get that much these days. Maybe out in the sticks.
DOUKI: I’ve spilled to the outside in matches before and all the local little kids would rush up and kick me.
ED: If it’s a bunch of cute little kids, that’s one thing, but when it’s some hulking middle schooler, it’s a different story! In Mexico they tend to look down on Japanese people.
DOUKI: Foreigners in general, really.
ED: It’s like the old days in Japanese wrestling. Anyone from outside their country is automatically to be hated.
–That’s where Naito gets his pose, holding open the eye in response to some of the fans taunting him.
DOUKI: He’d have to deal with the same thing today, it hasn’t changed. I’d get that just walking down the street.
ED: That’s Mexico.
DOUKI: I’ve been called Jackie Chan, Bruce Lee, Jet Lee…
ED: They called me Pacquiao.
–The ‘Asians look alike’ sterotype.
Politics and lucha go hand in hand. A luchador can really clean up in election season
–You’ve both really sampled everything in the Mexican independent scene.
ED: Well, thing is for me, I just didn’t have the money. Even when CMLL was using me, I didn’t have enough to live on. So I asked the promoter if I could work elsewhere.
–CMLL didn’t have a problem with that?
ED: They really didn’t. Mexican culture in general doesn’t, right?
ED: It’s not just one game in town. There are hundreds of places. There’s the wrestlers’ association in Mexico. You’d go to the office there and you’d be able to check on your schedule for the week.
–Oh, so that’s how it’s done!
ED: And the promoters might go to the association and ask if there’s a particular wrestler free. Or the wrestlers themselves might go straight to a CMLL, say and ask them to wrestle on a show. Then there’s the elections…
DOUKI: Oh wrestling and lucha libre go hand in hand. All the politicians will book luchadors, so you can really clean up in election season.
ED: These different candidates will each book guys and you’d wonder just who would be voting for whom (laughs). But the politics doesn’t come into it for the luchadors; it’s just another guy paying you. Those shows pay quite well, right?
DOUKI: Oh yeah.
ED: So you’d get really busy in election season. Two matches in the morning, three in the afternoon… There’d be guys wrestling in a mask, then taking them off and painting their faces. It’s just like voting in some shady elections; get paid early and often (laughs).
–Pick up multiple paychecks!
ED: I got paid 2000 Peso for a match at those events. About 16,000 Yen at the time.
DOUKI: That’s really good money. Typical salary would be 200 Pesos a day.
ED: But in election, 2000 Pesos for a match and five matches, you could take home 10,000 Pesos in one day.
–Money makes the world go round.
DOUKI: You buy who and what you can, right? Japan is no different really.
ED: You’d have some of the tecnicos go out and wrestle in the candidate’s T-shirt and everything. Starting chants. But there’s a line drawn at getting the candidates in the ring and physically involved. You’ll never see that. Too much pride in the craft in lucha libre.
DOUKI: Yeah. Maybe a picture after the match, that’s about it.
There’s some fast and loose play with copyright laws…
–We’ve talked a lot about some rough experiences, but what have you guys experienced that made you really think ‘lucha is amazing!’
ED: It’s a really particular, a really unique culture I think. If you can’t accept that and be absorbed in it then it won’t gel with you at all.
–And you did?
ED: Heheh. I worked a hell of a lot for not much at all, but it was fun just being a part of it. It’s just a hell of a great time. Go somewhere where there isn’t another Japanese person for miles around, take in a crowd of people hating you, get on a plane and go home. That’s awesome.
DOUKI: There’s nothing quite like it.
ED: Normal civilians never get to experience that.
–It’s a completely different life. Yota Tsuji has said he wants to go to Mexico on excursion.
ED: He loves that Nacho Libre movie, huh. Put him in a costume like that, he’ll get over no problem (laughs)
DOUKI: Hahaha! They’ll call him Sushi Libre!
ED: ‘Cultural Appropriation Libre’ more like. Well, Tsuji has the gut for it I guess. But does anyone in Mexico wear those long tights these days?
DOUKI: Maybe not.
ED: That gets me thinking about Skayde…
DOUKI: Toryumon’s llave teacher.
ED: He lost a mask match to Caristico, but kept the rest of his ring gear the same, so he had this super weird pink getup!
DOUKI: Hahaha! He was this balding older guy, he really needed a mask, but he didn’t have one. Just this pink bodysuit (laughs)
ED: Maybe he could do an Ultraman kind of deal. There’s a lot of that in Mexico, playing fast and loose with copyright laws. Guys calling themselves Ultraman and kicking all sorts of ass, but there’s no way anybody did any legal due diligence…
DOUKI: Hey, I saw a guy in a full yellow body suit calling himself Pikachu. There were three of them come to think of it!
ED: That’s just the way things are, I don’t think anyone can do anything about it. It’s a pirate culture. The boys never see a single Yen from the masks they sell outside the venues…
–No way! Those are all bootlegs?
DOUKI: 100% pirated (laughs)
ED: There isn’t a single stand that’s official! At a certain point you just realise it for what it is and let it go.
DOUKI: It was actually kinda a badge of honour for me. To go to one of the more well known stands and seeing stuff of mine ripped off, it let me know I’d gotten to a certain level (laughs).
ED: But Mexico’s special like that. Only Mexico. Get the picture?
The environment, the experience, it all toughens you up.
–I’ve often heard how everyone, wrestlers included have a different approach to timekeeping than in Japan, right?
DOUKI: It’s the schedule really. No kidding one time when I did a double header, I rushed out the ring from my first match, got to a different venue still in my ring gear, get in the place and there’s my second opponent already in the ring. I just made it! But I think you should really think of the start time as the door open time. If the ticket says 7PM start, people will start showing up at 7PM, so it won’t really start until 8.
ED: A Japanese mindset would say a Mexican person wastes a lifetime of, well, time, every year (laughs). But it’s part of the whole experience. that whole environment, the whole Mexican experience toughens you up. DOUKI is proof.
DOUKI: I couldn’t stand it at first, but I adapted, mentally.
ED: And now you know what it means to really experience Mexico and not be some lucha hipster! Got it?