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Lucha Tributes: Arena Mexico

Updated on April 29, 2016

If you take a look at most countries, well most countries that like sports at least, you’re going to find at least one stadium/arena/field that is instantly the most recognizable. Here in the US that arena is Madison Square Garden, the mecca of sports (and a place I’ve been fortunate enough to attend). In Japan I’d dare say it’s the Tokyo Dome. In England, it’s Wembley Stadium, both the old and new building. I can go on and on but those three are the ones that stand out; they all have a unique level of mystique, history, prestige that has led to them becoming the most revered/famous arenas in the world. When you think of all three arenas, the word legendary comes to mind. Such is also the case for lucha libre fans when it comes to Arena Mexico.

Whether you’ve seen every lucha libre match known to man or you’re an American wrestling fan with a passing knowledge of lucha libre, there’s a likely chance you’ve heard of Arena Mexico. It’s known as “the cathedral of lucha libre”, a statement that doesn’t do the arena nearly enough justice as it deserves. For sixty years Arena Mexico has served as the home for wrestling’s oldest promotion Conejo Mundial de Lucha Libre (CMLL, the World Wrestling Council) and has featured some of the greatest and most memorable moments in the history of both lucha libre and pro wrestling in general. Tonight, CMLL and Arena Mexico look to begin a trek towards the next sixty years with their annual Anniversary Show in honor of the arena, featuring the finals of CMLL’s annual Torneo Nacional de Parejas Increibles tournament. As such, it feels only right that the story of this amazing arena, this mecca of wrestling, be told. So ladies and gentlemen, find a comfortable place to sit and grab a cold one. This is a tribute to lucha libre’s greatest hall, our Madison Square Garden, Arena Mexico.


Chapter One: Arena Modelo and the birth of Arena Coliseo


The story of Arena Mexico begins before the existence of CMLL or even lucha libre. Sometime between the 1910’s and the 1920’s, an arena was built on the ground Arena Mexico would eventually stand on called Arena Modelo. Able to sit only a couple thousand people, the all purpose arena was intended to be used primarily for boxing and quickly wore out its welcome; by 1933 the arena had all but been abandoned. Salvation would come in the form of Salvador Lutteroth, a former Mexican Revolution soldier turned property inspector. While living in Ciudad Juarez in the late 20s, the young Lutteroth would frequently attend wrestling matches in neighboring El Paso, Texas, where he quickly became enamored with both wrestling and the concept of the masked wrestler. Determined to run wrestling shows himself in Mexico, Lutteroth created CMLL (then EMLL, Empresa Mexicana de Lucha Libre) and began searching for an arena to hold his shows. It appears his original plan was to use another arena at the time, but after being unable to come to terms with boxing promoters was forced to look elsewhere. As fate would have it, he found Arena Modelo and began renting it out for EMLL shows. It would eventually go down as one of the greatest non El Santo decisions Lutteroth ever made.

Salvador Lutteroth, CMLL's founder and "the Godfather of lucha libre"
Salvador Lutteroth, CMLL's founder and "the Godfather of lucha libre"

In short order EMLL took off and Arena Modelo became the original center for lucha libre in Mexico, with Lutteroth eventually drawing upwards to 5,000 fans for a show. There was just one problem; Arena Modelo wasn’t designed to hold 5,000 seated fans and eventually EMLL began having the same problem Lucha Underground has run into today; not enough room to fit everyone. This is when Lutteroth, both one of the greatest promoters of all time and a man touched with an amazing level of luck, struck again. Against all odds Lutteroth would win 40,000 pesos in the Mexican lottery sometime in the 1930s, and chose to use the money to construct a brand new arena in Mexico City to serve as EMLL’s base of operations. The new arena, dubbed Arena Coliseo, officially opened on April 2nd, 1943, headlined by a Mexican National Middleweight Championship match between Tarzan Lopez and the soon to be legendary El Santo.


The birth of the near 7,000 seated Coliseo combined with Santo’s rise, allowed EMLL and lucha libre to explode in Mexico. It also however left Arena Modelo once again without a purpose, and it appeared the building would be doomed to be torn down much like it was before Lutteroth rescued it. Instead Lutteroth decided to continue renting out Modelo, using it at EMLL’s official wrestling school. As such, Lutteroth maintained ownership of Modelo’s land, a decision that would ultimately pay huge dividends a decade later.


Chapter 2: How Arena Mexico was Born


By 1952 EMLL was experiencing what we’ll call yet another good problem to have. El Santo, now the company’s top star, was in the middle of two huge feuds with Black Shadow and Blue Demon while also being on the verge of becoming a cultural icon in Mexico and EMLL on the whole couldn’t have been healthier. Much like in the mid 30s however EMLL was once again having problems fitting fans into their arenas, most notable during the legendary mask vs. mask match between Santo and Shadow. As it turned out, even the state of the art Arena Coliseo had quickly gotten too small for lucha libre’s booming popularity and once again Lutteroth needed to find a solution. Wouldn’t you know it, another unbelievable stroke of luck occurred for himself and the promotion.


Lutteroth, I guess hoping lightning would strike twice, once again invested in a Mexican lottery ticket alongside the Arena Coliseo personal. Once again they won, only this time the reward was 5 million pesos. You read that right; 5 MILLION PESOS. They say you sometimes have to be lucky to be good and I don’t think there’s any question that Lutterroth’s two lottery wins support that point. Where his genius comes in is what he did next; it’s one thing to come into a lot of money, it’s a whole other thing to use that money correctly. Much like he did the last time, Lutteroth went the latter direction. Still owning Arena Modelo, Lutteroth began working towards rebuilding Modelo into what he hoped would be “the largest wrestling arena in the world.” All in told Arena Mexico can hold up to 16,500 people today, much bigger than either Arena Modelo or Arena Coliseo. Perhaps it isn’t the biggest wrestling arena ever but for its time, that was no small figure.

Lutteroth and a random dude
Lutteroth and a random dude

Chapter 3: 1956 and Beyond


Arena Mexico opened its doors for the first time in 1956, though the exact date it opened is unknown. According to records on Cagematch, the first documented show to take place in the arena was on May 4th, featuring a pretty stacked card headlined by a six man tag featuring El Santo and Blue Demon. Seeing as that’s right around this time of year (when the 60th Anniversary Show of Arena Mexico is happening and all), I think it’s safe to assume that this show was either the first Arena Mexico show or one of the first. In any event, since then Arena Mexico has been the home to EMLL/CMLL while Arena Coliseo has continued on as the secondary arena for the promotion. Super Viernes, CMLL’s version of RAW; happens in Arena Mexico. The big PPV quality style shows like the Anniversary Show or Homenaje a Dos Leyendas; happens in Arena Mexico. In fact, only once since Arena Mexico was built has the Anniversary Show taken place elsewhere; Arena Coliseo held the 46th Anniversary Show in 1979 for reasons unknown. Through it all, CMLL has continued to keep the arena as up to date as possible, and as of right now it remains one of the few venues (and the only one outside of WWE) to draw a gate of over $1 million thanks to the Atlantis-Ultimo Guerrero main event from the 81st Anniversary Show.


As associated with lucha libre as Arena Mexico is however, it’s not the only sport to be hosted. That honor goes to boxing, which since the inception of Arena Mexico has also made itself a home in lucha libre’s cathedral. Though the amount of boxing matches has slowed down considerably since the dawn of the new millennium, Arena Mexico was at one point the building where all the big fights too place, including a World Championship fight between Nana Konadu and Gilberto Ramon in 1989. Then there are the Olympics. Yes, Arena Mexico has served as the host to boxing during the Olympics back in 1968 when the games were held in Mexico City. If that’s not a big deal, I don’t know what is. And it’s not like these were just your run of the mill boxing competitions either; Arena Mexico just happened to be the place where a young American named George Foreman would win the Gold Medal for the heavyweight division, jumpstarting a career that saw him clash with Muhammad Ali and Joe Frasier, become World Heavyweight Champion twice and become the greatest grill pitchman ever. You could say that all started in the cathedral of lucha libre.

George Foreman fighting in Arena Mexico
George Foreman fighting in Arena Mexico

Chapter Four: Best Moment


In some regards, how can you pick something here; Arena Mexico has been around longer than some lifetimes and featured amazing match after amazing match over the course of its run. It would almost seem impossible; until you remember that Atlantis vs. Villano III took place there during the 2000 Juicio Final. I know I know; this match? Again? In the end, I can’t think of any match in Arena Mexico (and hardly any match anywhere else) that is better than this one was, so how could it not be? There’s also this fact; I’ve seen many a match in Arena Mexico and I’ve never ever heard it as loud as it was when that match ended. Hell I’ve never seen emotion like there was after the match anywhere else. Nothing can compete with that, not even Foreman's gold medal.

Epilogue


Let’s bring this back to the beginning when I brought up arenas like Madison Square Garden, Tokyo Dome and Wembley Stadium. I talked about all the qualities those places had; one of the ones I forgot to mention, and perhaps the most important quality, is the draw of being able to say “I competed there.” Every basketball/hockey/ player dreams of playing at Madison Square Garden; every Puroresu wrestler dreams of competing in the Tokyo Dome; every footballer grows up wanting to lace them up at Wembley. That’s something you just can’t measure. It’s also what makes Arena Mexico so special; every man or woman who grows up wanting to be a lucha libre star wants to compete in Arena Mexico. Anyone who says otherwise is in denial or flat out lying.


And why wouldn’t you want to compete there? For sixty years Arena Mexico has been lucha libre; sure there have been other places to wrestle in Mexico but none with the same mystique, the same aura that Arena Mexico possesses. This is where El Santo, Blue Demon, Black Shadow, Tarzan Lopez, Mil Mascaras, Negro Casas, Atlantis, La Parka, Konnan, Dr. Wagner Jr., El Hijo del Santo, Vampiro, the Villanos, Mistico, Rey Mysterio, Chris Jericho, Eddie Guerrero, Blue Panther, Perro Aguayo Sr. and Jr., Rush, La Sombra and countless of other lucha libre stars and legends have competed; hell if you want to go into boxing, it’s where George Foreman won his Gold Medal. In many ways Arena Mexico is more than just an arena; it’s an institution and the place where lucha libre was born, raised and made famous by its competitors and the man (Lutteroth) who molded it into greatness. I shudder to think about what lucha libre would look like without Arena Mexico today. It’s that important, and hopefully it continues to be that important for many more years to come. Here’s to you Arena Mexico. Now please, give me another memory tonight in the form of a Mistico/Caristico feud starting. I don’t ask for much.

The 60th Anniversary of Arena Mexico card. Don't miss it!
The 60th Anniversary of Arena Mexico card. Don't miss it!

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