Mondo Lucha in Milwaukee

One of the things that Rick_City have discussed at length in our conversations on Twitter (hey, give us both a follow there if you haven't done so already), is that we are frequently annoyed with the booking and overall presentation of the WWE. Additionally, we've voiced displeasure with fans at WWE events, especially in what seems to be their deliberate efforts to sabotage performances with their tactics.

Similarly, I get annoyed with the scope of WWE events. This past spring, my buddy Ron (follow him on Twitter at @ronfelten) attended a taping of Smackdown at the Bradley Center here in Milwaukee, and I personally felt detached from the event for the most part. To be fair, my detachment was certainly shaped by our seats in the upper bowl of the arena, but that's part of the problem. In my real life, I write about literature and theatre history, and I share a common complaint about theatre and wrestling: just as one loses the subtlety of an actor's performance sitting in a massive theater, one loses the nuance of pro wrestling seated in a hockey arena or football stadium.

As such, I've come to prefer independent wrestling shows in contrast to the WWE. And in particular, I've grown fond of Milwaukee's Mondo Lucha, the brainchild of local promoters Jay Gilkay and Andrew Gorlaski. Mondo Lucha is an annual show that embraces elements of Lucha Libre and the 1980s / 90s WWF with rock music, nostalgia, and burlesque dancers. In aligning wrestling with other performance arts, Mondo Lucha attempts to reach out to non-wrestling fans in ways that other promotions fail to do and reminds us jaded wrestling fans that sometimes the "art" is better served on the small scale.

What I particularly like about Mondo Lucha is how readily the fans embrace their roles as spectators, but not in the way a WWE crowd might try and hijack a match. Fans booed and flipped off the heels. They cheered the faces. While there were moments where the crowd laughed with a heel mocking the audience, for the most part the crowd understood how they should react to the stories being told to them in the ring. Part of that was because, for the most part, there isn't a long-term narrative with a Mondo Lucha show: the faces are recognizable as faces, and the crowd reacts accordingly. But for me, the crowd seemingly acted in opposition to other wrestling crowds I've interacted with - even at other indy shows - wherein audiences act more like "smarks" who are far more concerned with putting themselves over than the wrestlers.

This is not to say the crowd was not devoid of irony: indeed, people wearing wrestling t-shirts were greatly outnumbered by hipsters and other trendy-minded folks (although a woman did have a spot-on Becky Lynch outfit, while a man - who looked quite a bit like Mac from It's Always Sunny - had a serviceable Million Dollar Man outfit). But like a good crowd at a rock show or a lively theater crowd, the audience embraced the illusion before them.

Here's another crappy photo, courtesy of me
Of course, embracing the illusion (trademark pending) is easy when the matches are good. The highlight of the evening was the appearance of John Morrison and Matt Cross from Lucha Underground. In a well-paced match, the two seasoned vets claimed the Monda Lucha tag-team titles. And the main event was a six-man tag team match-up of 3 heels versus a Soviet strongman, a space chimp, and an exotico wrestler wearing a goat head mask (the perfect mixing of 1980s WWF excess and Lucha Libre, yes?)
How about a 3rd bad photo courtesy of me?
I'm sure part of Mondo Lucha's appeal is based on that nostalgia: it's hard not to see the Russian Beast, clad in his Hammer and Sickle, Soviet-style gear, and not think of Nikolai Volkov. But I think Mondo Lucha's promoters and performers perhaps understand that the art of wrestling should navigate between embracing the simplicity of how we Generation X-ers saw wrestling as children and allowing the performance to be more adult (wrestling doesn't have to exclusively be the Attitude Era or the PG-era).

I don't necessarily think there's anything wrong with the "family-friendly" of the WWE (although, I think that designation is fairly problematic for a number of reasons). But I think that perhaps the popularity of Mondo Lucha suggests that the long-term future of professional wrestling is  not only connecting it to other forms of entertainment (which many fans seem reluctant to do), but also making wrestling an event where the audience can give itself over to the performance in ways they cannot in a 18,000 seat arena. Events like these make me re-embrace pro wrestling --- at least until the next WWE pay-per-view.

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