Philadelphia is a city with no shortage of wrestling heritage and history.
During the 1980s, it was the bright lights of the National Wrestling Alliance and the World Wrestling Federation (now WWE), whom ran the Civic Center and The Spectrum respectively numerous times on the same day.
During the 1990s, it was the blood, sweat and tears of Extreme Championship Wrestling, which revolutionized what people know as professional wrestling today.
In today’s marketplace, it’s about the rising stars that makeup the rosters of Ring of Honor, Combat Zone Wrestling, Dragon Gate USA and Chikara.
The result is a city that possesses a connection with professional wrestling that very few other cities share.
Despite the firm connection between the city and professional wrestling, there’s one major part of the industry that for whatever reason, hasn’t attempted to garner the attention of the city at-large: the Mexican style of wrestling known as Lucha Libre.
That will change Sunday, April 27 when Masked Republic presents Masked Mania at the 2300 Arena (formerly known as the ECW Arena) at 2300 S. Swanson St. in South Philadelphia.
Lucha Libre, which loosely translates to “freestyle wrestling” in English, combines action, color, mystique and generations of tradition to present a product that is not seen in mainstream American wrestling.
Granted, the Lucha style of wrestling has been presented to American fans for decades, but not to the level of a promotion that is solely focused around one of Mexico’s biggest exports.
Masked Republic is attempting to be one of the pioneers of this movement, as the company has been involved in various shows in Mexico, California, New York and Chicago. But this is the company’s first foray into the City of Brotherly Love.
“The whole concept for us behind this particular Masked Mania project is just trying to bring an authentic Lucha show to a city that has a large Hispanic population that never gets an authentic Lucha show,” said Masked Republic president Kevin Kleinrock.
The mission of Masked Republic is to expand the genre of Lucha Libre beyond the borders of Mexico, according to Kleinrock.
“On any given day that could mean something very different,” he said. “On some days it means producing a live event in the U.S. or co-producing live events in Mexico. On other days it means distributing pay-per-views or home entertainment.”
“On top of that, we represent the licensing interest of some of the Mexican wrestlers,” he added.
Masked Mania is the first show Masked Republic has produced in the United States in “quite some time,” according to Kleinrock.
In order to get the Hispanic community in Philadelphia behind the event, Masked Republic has formed partnerships with Telemundo 62, Latino radio station El Zol and Latino newspaper El Sol, who have all agreed to be media partners for the show.
Kleinrock and Masked Republic hope to garner more than just the Hispanic community, however. Kleinrock hopes to not only take advantage of Philadelphia’s love of professional wrestling, but also the people who are simply enamored by the tradition and culture of Lucha Libre.
For those people, Lucha Libre is more than just another style of wrestling. It is a slice of Mexican culture that is not easily found in the northeastern United States.
“One of the nice things about Lucha Libre is that not only do you have the Hispanic population, not only do you have the traditional wrestling fans to draw from, but because Lucha Libre is perceived as so different from traditional pro wrestling, you also get a cross-section of the audience usually who are not wrestling fans, but who look at going out to a Lucha Libre event more as a cultural experience or more as an entertainment experience overall.” Kleinrock said.
“People who would never be caught dead buying a ticket to see WWE … but this is Lucha Libre. This is what they saw on television or in the movies in ‘Nacho Libre,’” he added.
A prime example of the type of audience Masked Mania is hoping to attract is that tickets for the show are currently available Bizarre Bazaar, a shop that sells off beat home decor located at 720 S. Fifth St.
“That’s the type of clientele,” Kleinrock said. “The clientele that would be going into tattoo shops and Bizarre Bazaar and those are the types of people around the country we’ve seen come out to Lucha Libre events that you wouldn’t necessarily expect. The local media would not expect to see your punks and your hipsters and your bikers and people who are just looking for a really cool, different kind of entertainment.”
As of this writing, there are still tickets available for the show, but Kleinrock attributes that to the long-running tradition of Lucha Libre shows having most of its tickets sold at the box office the day of the event.
With that being the case, Kleinrock is “very confident” that event will be sold out by bell time April 27.
What the paying customer can expect come bell time is what Kleinrock described as a sampling of everything that embodies Lucha Libre.
Fans will get to see three Lucha Libre staples in particular: trios, minis and exoticos.
Trios are where two teams of three square off in one of the most exciting aspects of Lucha Libre. Minis are when dwarfs compete go against each other and exoticos are men who play effeminate characters in the ring. All three of these staples will be on display Sunday at the 2300 Arena.
“Not only are we going to bring those types of wrestlers, but we’re going to give an opportunity to some of the local luchadores — guys who wrestle in that Lucha style even though they aren’t from Mexico.”
One example Kleinrock used was CZW’s Latin Dragon.
The uniqueness of Lucha Libre is the reason why Kleinrock believes that Philadelphia is just one example of the untapped potential of a full-time Lucha Libre promotion in the United States.
“Not only could a Lucha Libre league today do very well nationwide, but one of the largest growing populations in the United States is Hispanic and of that the largest population within the Hispanics are the Mexicans, so over the next decade you’re going to continue to see a potential fan base of a Lucha Libre product expand,” Kleinrock said.
Kleinrock isn’t expecting to overtake WWE for throne of the wrestling promotion, but he does believe that a Lucha Libre promotion can provide a great alternative for fans who are looking for something different.
“I never wanted to do ‘traditional pro wrestling’ because to me, you try and do what the WWE does you’re automatically No. 2 or three or four or seven at it,” he said. “Everything that you do usually comes off as a cheaper imitation or a low-budget imitation to what the WWE does because you don’t have the roster, you don’t have the budget, you don’t have the production and so I always wanted to kind of forge my own path playing off of traditional pro wrestling, but going into a different direction.”
“When I looked at the landscape of what wrestling-wise can be that next big thing, that doesn’t have anybody in that space right now focusing on it, the answer was simple back in 2006, 2007 back when this new Masked Republic started coming together, and that was the Lucha Libre space,” he added.
For more information on Masked Mania, visit the show’s web site HERE.
To watch the show in Internet pay-per-view, click HERE.
Video courtesy of Masked Republic’s YouTube page.