I am a huge pro wrestling fan, most notably of the Mexican lucha libre variety.
When last we left off in our trek through Consejo Mundial de Lucha Libre’s history, things couldn’t be going any better. Little did Salvador Lutteroth and co. know that's exactly what was going to happen. If the 1940s were the decade where CMLL (then still EMLL) found its footing, then the 50s was where it became iconic. The top stars, the all-time great matches, the heated feuds, and the iconic arena. All of Lutteroth’s dreams of what lucha libre could be came together from 1950 through 1959, a decade that I dare say may be the greatest that CMLL has ever had. That is where our story continues. You can read up on 1933-1939 here and 1940-1949 here.
Chapter 5: The Feuds of the Century
It’s sort of hard to believe the 50s could be better than the 40s when you consider all that Lutteroth and EMLL accomplished during the decade. They established the Lucha de Apuesta match as a big money draw thanks to the El Murciélago Enmascarado-Octavio Gaona match, they constructed a state of the art arena to hold shows and they strengthened an already deep talent base by bringing in some of the future legends of lucha libre, including the man that would become the most legendary luchador of all time in El Santo. How could anyone possibly top that? Alas, that was the same thing many thought after EMLL came out swinging in the 30’s, only for EMLL to grow even quicker the next decade. The same could be said here, and the main catalyst revolved around two feuds both involving El Santo. At this point in time Santo was easily the top star of EMLL, but he was still not quite ready to turn into the crossover star he would eventually become thanks to a comic book series, the introduction of Television and a movie career. He would be however when he was done with Black Shadow and the only man to come close to matching Santo’s mystique, Blue Demon.
Born Alejandro Muñoz Moreno on April 24th, 1922, the fifth of 12 children, Blue Demon grew up Garcia, Nuevo Leon before dropping out of school and heading to Monterrey as a teenager. He took on work for the National Railroad, but was soon lured away after a chance encounter with luchador Rolando Vera. A well respected worker in Monterrey, Vera would eventually become more well known as one of lucha libre’s great trainers and he instantly saw something in the well built Demon, offering to train him. Demon accepted and soon after was splitting his time between Monterrey and Laredo, Texas circuits, the latter of which he had his first match in 1948(a victory over Chema Lopez). Demon worked unmask in Laredo, but back in Monterrey developed his most famous persona, completely clad in a blue mask and blue pants. It wasn’t long after that EMLL referee/talent scot Jesús Lomeli (the same man who discovered Santo) caught Demon working in Monterrey and just like that Demon was on his way to Mexico City and EMLL. But instead of dropping him right into singles competition, Lutteroth decided to put Demon in a tag team with an old friend from Monterrey. If you guessed that that friend was Black Shadow then here’s a gold star for you.
By the time Shadow and Demon had met around 1947, the former had already been a hot commodity in the Monterrey circuit for a few years. Despite their difference in experience, the two struck up a bond and were said to be very helpful towards each other, with Shadow passing along advice and Demon, an accomplished amateur wrestler, giving Shadow pointers on how to improve his mat game. Shortly after Shadow got his call to Mexico City and he quickly impressed, wowing the crowd with an unmatched ability and a high flying move set. Dives had not been uncommon in lucha libre and Shadow was in no way the innovator of certain moves as some claim, but he was the first to consistently use dives, topes and the works in his matches, thus allowing him to standout. The biggest sign that Lutteroth and EMLL saw something in him though was when they had Shadow go over in his first EMLL match…against El Santo. Yes, much like they did with Santo five years earlier, Shadow was brought in hot by beating the top star in early 1947. It’s unknown whether or not there was long term planning in the works for an eventual Santo-Shadow rematch, but the birth of their eventual rivalry can be traced back to here.
Shadow kept plugging along from there until Blue Demon arrived a year later and immediately aligned with him. It was a successful pairing from the start; dubbed Los Hermanos Shadow (The Shadow Brothers), Demon and Shadow quickly rose up the ranks and by 1950 were considered to be the second best tag team in Mexico behind Santo and Gory Guerrero. At that point the two teams hadn’t interacted, nor could they as Santo had been off working in Texas during the latter part of 1949. As such, fans were chomping at the bit to see the two teams collide and they did just that on April 9th, 1950. The match was a success business wise, but was a disaster for Demon and Shadow, who were soundly and swiftly beaten by the Atomic Pair in two falls. It was the kind of loss that clearly showed that Santo and Guerrero were the true top team in Mexico and that, perhaps, Shadow and Demon weren’t quite on the same level. That didn’t sit well with Black Shadow at all and he quickly vowed to avenge the loss and teach El Santo a lesson.
Just like that, Santo and Shadow found themselves in a feud that would go on for the better part of two years. Shadow would initially get a measure of revenge on Santo by defeating his partner Guerrero in a tag match at the 17th Anniversario before Santo got revenge of his own the next year, defeating Shadow in a singles match at the 18th Anniversario. This left Santo and Shadow tied at one win a piece in singles action, and over the next year the two couldn’t find a way to settle their differences. Finally, the feud had gotten so hot that there was only one way it could all end; a Lucha de Apuesta match. Unable to do it at the 19th Anniversario (where Santo defeated long time rival Bobby Bonales yet again), the match was eventually scheduled to take place on November 7th, 1952 in Arena Coliseo. The anticipation for this match, to put it lightly, was huge. There had been major Apuesta matches before of course; look no further than Murciélago-Gaona, Santo-Bonales, Santo-O’Brien and countless others. But this was different, mainly because Black Shadow, like Santo, was also a masked wrestler. Mask vs. Mask matches had happened in EMLL prior but never between two stars the magnitude of Santo and Shadow. Fans knew walking into Arena Coliseo that day that not only would someone lose, but someone’s career, hell their life, would be altered forever.
That's probably why, nearly 75 years later, this match is still called the biggest, most important match in lucha libre history. Fans flocked to Arena Coliseo in hopes of seeing the match; so many that EMLL was forced to turn thousands upon thousands of fans away, a fact that didn’t go unnoticed by Lutteroth. Those who did get in were treated to a nice undercard featuring a Bobby Bonales-Blue Demon match before Shadow and Santo came out to settle the score. No video exists to confirm, but the match was said to be a legendary battle that last well over 70 minutes, with the fans on the edge of their seat the entire time. It may actually be better we can’t watch the match; the fact that it cannot be viewed has led to the mystique of the bout growing even more over time. In any event, Black Shadow pushed Santo as far as he could go…and it was still not enough as Santo emerged victorious and Shadow was forced to unmask, revealing himself to the world Alejandro Cruz Ortiz in an emotional scene. Not only did this wind up being the biggest victory in Santo’s career (and the biggest moment of Shadow’s), but it enhanced the Lucha de Apuesta match to a legendary status in its own right. From that point forward, mask vs. mask matches became the biggest drawing matches in lucha libre, not to mention the most emotional.
But perhaps the most important thing to come out of this match was the reaction Blue Demon had to it. Demon had remained involved in the Santo-Shadow feud since he and Shadow fell in that tag match, but he hadn’t thirsted for revenge the same way. That changed after he watched Santo unmask his friend. Suddenly Demon’s number one target was Santo; he had to beat him, had to get revenge for his friend. And so the previously evil Demon suddenly became a technico, and Santo-Blue Demon became the focal point of EMLL during 1953. Like with Santo-Shadow, the feud was built up slowly at first but finally switched into high gear in August, when Santo and Demon were booked in singles action for the first time. In a reverse of the tag match between Los Hermanos Shadow and La Pareja Atómica, Blue Demon emerged victorious in dominating fashion, beating Santo in two straight falls. The victory gave Demon all the ammunition he needed to challenge for a rematch against Santo, this time for the NWA World Welterweight Championship, at the biggest possible stage; the 20th EMLL Anniversario. No one thought EMLL could ever come close to matching the drama, the emotion and the stakes that Santo-Shadow had just a year earlier. But with perhaps one other exception, Blue Demon-Santo, nearly twenty years to the day EMLL began, is the closest they’ve ever gotten.
Once again, fans flocked to Arena Coliseo the day of, guaranteeing another sell out. Once again, many fans were turned away, furthering a situation Lutteroth would continue to monitor. And once again the match was a complete success, with Santo and Demon delivering a three fall classic before Demon slayed the dragon and defeated Santo to become the new NWA World Welterweight Champion. This moment cannot be underestimated. Santo had lost many big matches in his career, but he always found a way to get back at his rival at a later date. That never happened in this case; the two would continue to feud on and off afterwards, most notably in a tag match that same year between Los Hermanos Shadow and Santo/Cavernario Galindo that many consider one of the best matches in lucha libre history. But the feud never again reached the magnitude it did with this match and Santo was unable to ever get revenge, making Blue Demon one of only two men (along with Tarzan Lopez) to get the better of the legend. So great a defeat it was that it supposedly “haunted” Santo for the rest of his career, even after he and Demon made piece and a whole lot of movies together.
Chapter 6: The Caveman, the Technician, and the NWA
The Santo-Black Shadow-Blue Demon angle dominated EMLL to start the 50s, but it wasn’t the only thing going on. Arguably just as important was EMLL joining the National Wrestling Alliance in 1953. At that point only five years old, the NWA was well on its way (if not already) to becoming the largest governing body in pro wrestling, and they were looking to expand beyond the US and Japan. With EMLL the biggest (and pretty much only) player in Mexico, it was only fitting the two sides would join together. For one, it allowed Lutteroth NWA protection in Mexico should another promotion of any kind try to promote shows in Lutteroth’s area. More importantly though it gave Lutteroth and EMLL a ton of perks. EMLL’s top titles were now branded under the NWA name, with the World Middleweight Championship becoming the NWA World Middleweight Championship for example, other NWA titles were now available to be defended in Mexico (in particular, the NWA World Light Heavyweight Championship was won and then defended nearly exclusively in EMLL, despite originating in the States) and EMLL also had access to some of the top stars in the US. The most notable instance of this was when Lou Thesz came to EMLL in 1954 for to defend the NWA World Heavyweight Championship against Gory Guerrero. The match was considered both a huge success critically and financially, and helped open the NWA’s eyes to the talent Guerrero was.
And he was a talent. El Santo and Blue Demon may have had more mystique, Black Shadow may have had more flash and guys like Bobby Bonales, Tarzan Lopez and Jack O’Brien may have had more longevity, but looking back it’s hard to argue there was a better overall worker in EMLL’s early years than Gory Guerrero. His work as an in ring technician was in fact so far ahead of its time that a lot of the moves he pioneered, such as the Gory Special and Camel Clutch, are still used today. Whenever Lutteroth needed to see if a luchador could go or needed someone to make an opponent look good, Guerrero was the talent called upon for the job. The only negative about Guerrero’s career was that he was in his prime at the same time many of the greatest lucha libre legends were, not to mention that Guerrero’s own partner (and close friend) was the biggest legend ever. I suppose it’s fitting then that Guerrero’s biggest feud in his career has since been overshadowed by the Santo-Demon-Shadow angle, even as it did huge business for Lutteroth in between those famous battles.
The feud in question was between Guerrero and Cavernario Galindo. In many ways it was a remake of the legendary Murciélago Enmascarado-Octavio Gaona feud from nearly a decade earlier, with Guerrero as the all world technician and Galindo as the ruthless brawler. There were just two differences. First, Galindo was significantly crazier than Jesús Velázquez was as Murciélago; he lived the gimmick so much that he bit, scratched, clawed, pretty much did everything that a caveman would do in the wrestling ring. As such, he took the template from the Murciélago-Gaona struggles (where Velázquez forced Gaona down to his level and into heated brawls) and multiplied it by a million by forcing Guerrero to get dirty and bloody with him. The latter point is most important. Blood, color or whatever you want to call it in wrestling was again not a new concept when Guerrero and Galindo started busting each other open like water mains during their battles. But never had there been matches this bloody; the things Guerrero and Galindo did to each other were so violent that their rivalry is considered to be the first example of a bloodbath both in lucha libre and wrestling history. Without these two, the violent brawls we’ve seen between Rush and LA Park may not exist the same way today.
As was custom during the time, Guerrero and Galindo feuded for many years before the feud was eventually blown off. The first took place at the 19th Anniversario, co-headlining with the El Santo-Bobby Bonales match. No record exists of who won the match, but whatever the result was it didn’t settle things at all as the two continued to battle over the next two years. Finally in the summer of 1954, with the Santo-Blue Demon feud officially cooled off, Guerrero and Galindo were put back on center stage. They clashed yet again on July 9th, with Galindo scoring a big win over Guerrero in order to set up the blow off; a Super Libre match between the two at, you guessed it, the 21st EMLL Anniversario. For all the bloody matches these two had had previously, the Anniversario encounter is said to have been the most violent of them all. Among other injuries, Galindo’s throat was severely injured (contributing to him speaking in a hoarse, raspy voice for the rest of his life) and Guerrero was forced to go to the hospital due to a severe loss of plasma. You know it’s bad when they’re saying a severe loss of plasma instead simply saying massive loss of blood. Despite this, the two battled long and hard until the doctor at ringside was forced to step in and stop the match in Guerrero’s favor. The war was not won that day as the two continued to feud for the rest of their careers, but for all intents and purposes Guerrero won its biggest battle by merely surviving. Most importantly, the match drew a huge crowd again and even more money for EMLL and Lutteroth. It also left him with a problem.
Chapter 7: Arena Mexico
For all the success EMLL was having during the 50s, Salvador Lutteroth was now faced with an issue he couldn’t ignore; against all odds, his state of the art Arena Coliseo was already outdated! Yes, at just barely over ten years old, the EMLL home base was no longer suitable to hold the big matches Lutteroth was promoting. Not because of anything wrong with the arena itself mind you, but because it was simply too small. For all the money Lutteroth had made from the Santo-Black Shadow, Santo-Blue Demon and Guerrero-Galindo matches (among countless others), the truth is he probably could’ve made more given how many fans EMLL was forced to turn away due to Arena Coliseo only fitting 10,000 people at most. Furthermore, television had just begun and Arena Coliseo was ill equipped to properly transmit video feeds, potentially costing EMLL exposure. Thus Lutteroth realized that he would once again need to build yet another state of the art arena, one even bigger than Arena Coliseo, in order to satisfy the demand of lucha fans and to give his product television exposure. And wouldn’t you know it, luck was about to play into his favor.
You may recall in the early days, Lutteroth received some excellent fortune when he won the Mexican lottery, which both helped renovate Arena Modelo as well as help get Arena Coliseo built. Against all odds, the same thing happened when Lutteroth won the lottery again, this time winning 5 million pesos. Now able to use the winnings instead of dipping into his own pockets, Lutteroth went about his plan, leveling Arena Modelo before proceeding to build the new arena in its place. After two years, Arena Mexico was completed in early 1956 and boy oh boy was it a marvel. While it didn’t have the unique structural flair that Francisco Bullman gave Arena Coliseo, it was otherwise superior with air conditioning, the ability to transmit television and, best of all, the ability to sit up to nearly 20,000 people for shows. With as hot as EMLL was at the time, Lutteroth would now be able to fit nearly double the audience he did before for his biggest events, thus raising profits. All because of the luck of the draw.
Arena Mexico officially opened its doors on April 27th, 1956. Unfortunately the card for the show has since been lost, so it’s not clear what matches headlined the show. Never the less the arena became EMLL’s new home base while Arena Coliseo became the secondary arena, allowing Lutteroth to promote shows between the two. The bigger deal was a few months later, when the 23rd Anniversario became to the first Anniversario to take place in Arena Mexico. Knowing it was a big deal, Lutteroth went to the one man he could trust completely to headline it; El Santo. Blue Demon’s victory over Santo had done nothing to harm the legend’s drawing power and in fact arguably enhanced it; it didn’t hurt either that Santo had by this point became popular outside of lucha libre thanks to comic book series created by Jose G. Cruz. His opponent, El Gladiator, was not quite on the same level. Only a year into his career, Gladiator was a former bodybuilder and Mr. Mexico contender before a sex scandal forced him to retire and turn to lucha libre. Impressed with his look, Lutteroth pushed Gladiator right away when he debuted in 1955, putting him over Santo in order to start the feud. Many questioned why Lutteroth would put Gladiator, a notorious partier with solid but unspectacular skills, but the feud carried steam over the next year and it was little surprise when the show drew a sellout of 17,678 fans the day of the show. Whether it was EMLL’s reputation or the power of Santo, nothing was slowing down Lutteroth’s promotion. In the end Santo prevailed and El Gladiator became the first of many luchadors to lose his mask in Arena Mexico. The result also almost led to his imprisonment; it turns out that El Gladiator looked so much like a man wanted by police that police mistook him for the criminal and arrested him! Only once Lutteroth intervened was Gladiator cleared and released.
With Arena Mexico built, the NWA deal complete and all the major matches of the decade behind them, EMLL spent the rest of the 50s enjoying the ride. Profits went up as Arena Mexico and Arena Coliseo continued to sell out and, as predicted, television opened the door for more eyeballs and more popularity for the lucha empire. And the roster couldn’t have been better, with Santo and Blue Demon as the mega stars (and unbelievably still not close to their peak in popularity), Galindo, Guerrero and Black Shadow as the workhorses and a mixture of promising newcomers like Gladiator, Karloff Lagarde, Espectro, Espanto and dependable veterans like Bobby Bonales, Tarzan Lopez and Jack O’Brien filling out the rest of the card. In other words, Salvador Lutteroth’s idea of a lucha libre empire in Mexico, the one he came up with during those nights he spent in Liberty Hall in El Paso thirty years ago, had become a reality through great promoting, revolutionary ideas and in some cases sheer, dumb luck. Since starting EMLL Lutteroth had only seen it get bigger each decade, with more fans, more stars and more memorable moments than he could count. I don’t think anyone would’ve blamed him if he thought things would stay this way forever.
Unfortunately, the next two decades were about to teach Lutteroth that, no matter how good things are going, nothing lasts forever. But that’s for the next column…
Test Your CMLL Knowledge!
For each question, choose the best answer. The answer key is below.
- Where did Blue Demon and Black Shadow work before moving to Mexico City?
- Ciudad Juarez
- What show did El Santo vs. Black Shadow, mask vs. mask, take place on?
- The Anniversario
- Super Viernes
- Homenaje a Dos Leyendas
- Sin Salida
- Which title did Blue Demon win from El Santo at the 20th Anniversario?
- NWA World Welterweight Championship
- NWA World Middleweight Championship
- Mexican National Welterweight Championship
- NWA World Light Heavyweight Championship
- When did Arena Mexico open?
- January 1, 1956
- September 21, 1956
- April 27, 1956
- November 7, 1956
- Which former EMLL arena was leveled so Arena Mexico could be built?
- Arena Nacional
- Arena Coliseo
- Arena Modelo
- None of the Above
- Super Viernes
- NWA World Welterweight Championship
- April 27, 1956
- Arena Modelo