Art by Isz Janeway
We begin with a mantra of late 00’s message boards: In Canada it’s a tradition, in Mexico it’s a religion, in Japan it’s a sport. This sussing of sour grapes plants the evidence of wrestling’s murder on Mr. McMahon (“In America, it’s a joke). He was working alone that night, on the grassy Illuminati bunker, ruining wrestling. The homophobia, the sexism, the greed of the old guard–all these red herrings will make a damn fine fish fry when all this is over.
To label lucha libre as “mexican professional wrestling” might be unconscionably obtuse–it’s an indelible inclination of Mexican culture. Out of the ring, luchadores appear, as themselves, in comic books and monster movies. They advocate for nature conservation and human rights. They are living mythos. The masks that have epitomized the culture, domestically and abroad, safeguard the sanctity of a people’s wonder.
To be unmasked is to be jarred back into mortality, like the clipping of angel wings. El Santo revealed only part of his face to the public, once–he died a week later.
This guardianship remains today, long after the fall of kayfabe. It is less rigid in its discipline–everyone has a phone now, and google is eager to autocomplete any search for a luchador/a with “sin mascara”. It is custom for an unmasked wrestler to reveal their real name, hometown, and how long they’ve been wrestling; Wikipedia gives you all of this with a click of a “Random Article”.
Since her match with Faby Apache, Sexy Star has been willingly photographed without her mask–goddesses can assume mortal form at no cost to them. It’s the act of having that form made manifest through defeat that maroons them with mortals.
Since Samson’s slumber, mortals have removed each other’s hair as a tool of shame, revenge, and assertion of worthlessness. The shaving of an Army recruit’s head strips them of their personhood–they are now slaves of the State. After liberation, the women of Nazi-occupied towns and villages who had “corroborated” would be marched into public view and have their heads shaved.
So much of ourselves is codified in our hair. When MRAs jerk their circles over women with colored hair, they are decrying an abundance of personality they cannot confine to their expectations and pleasures.
Hair vs Mask
The first Lucha de Apuestas–”a match with wagers”–was in 1940. The masked Murciélago insisted, to counter somewhat the unfairness of wrestling someone much larger than him, that the challenger for his championship, the unmasked Octavio Gaona, put his hair on the line.
To quote Shawn Michaels (and hate myself for it), the challenger of a title has, traditionally nothing to lose and everything to gain. While it’s not uncommon for a de-crowned champion to take time off from television, a contender who fails to secure the championship rarely faces any serious immediate consequence. Roman Reigns won’t be wrestling on the pre-show–not right away, at least.
The original apuesta provided a consequence for failure in the main event; it has come in time to be a means of putting rivalries to bed.
First, Sexy Star took Faby Apache’s husband. Then, her AAA Reina de Reinas championship.
In 2009, at Guerra de Titanes, she would claim that final vestige of Faby’s status: her hair.
Family vs Fame
Faby Apache does not merely come from a wrestling family; her career and identity are defined by her struggles to exist within the confines of good daughter and loyal sister. The Apache family have stretched the ol’ “my dad doesn’t like the father of my child” routine out for years of storyline.
To not dismiss the issue of race: the Apache family are dark-skinned indigenous descendants. Sexy Star and the other women of La Legion Extranjera (“The Foreign Legion”, a rotating roster of hired invaders who make trouble for AAA) are either white or light-skinned Mexican. They twirl at ringside, petting the chin of the referee with fishnet gloves, as Faby, clad to honor her indigenous heritage, suffers potshots and slow counts to a chorus of blonde giggles.
In the year following this match, Sexy Star, the only Mexican luchadora in LLE, would claim the Apaches were nothing but maids, proudly mirroring the ugly prejudice and systemic violence sustained against women like Faby, at home and abroad.
It’s likely Sexy is mayhaps motivated not only out of smugness, but from a genuine conviction that Faby and the Apache family are lesser people.
The title would not be enough for this match.
Emotion vs Skill
When the first “Legends of Wrestling” video game came out, critics in the know lamented that you couldn’t quantify what made the slower, brawly style of the 70’s and 80’s into compelling gameplay. Older wrestling relied on tension, banking on the raw emotion of wrestlers to evoke enticement from the audience.
From a technical standpoint, Hulk Hogan vs Andre The Giant at WrestleMania 3 is a no-selling prima donna running circles around a disabled veteran nearing the end of his life. You could get better fundamentals having Jim Cornette try to put his own tennis racket in a spinebuster. It cinched the (however dubious) honor of being the lynchpin of WWF’s rise to the mainstream for the psychology and narrative; the unstoppable force overcomes the immovable object.
This match wouldn’t wile its any into either wrestler’s highlight reels. It’s a largely kick, choke, pull the hair affair. The narrative in place doesn’t require a flourish of skill. This isn’t about who’s the best–Sexy Star has already taken everything else from Faby, and needs not the affirmation of her skill.
This is about kicking Faby while she’s down, and hard enough that the referee has to check Faby isn’t concussed on more than one occasion.
Sometimes it’s about working smarter, not harder: the close-ups of Faby’s clearly dazed, fatigued face suffices where others would think to put some goofy fucking weapon up on a pole or some such bullshit.
The crowd percolates steadily–there are no “spots”. There is no heat. They clatter and erupt at Billy Boy grabbing Faby’s hair from the outside, at Sexy choking her in the ropes, at the arrival of Jennifer Blade and Rain to Sexy’s corner mid-match.
The math: Sexy has the belt. She’s joined La Legion. Billy Boy’s marriage to Faby and the resulting turmoil with the Apache family has, to date, landed him in a mental institution, kicked out of his own stable, and cost him his hair after he was pinned by Faby in a lucha de apuestas, following a heel turn spurned by Faby slapping him because she was upset she lost a match. Faby Apache has, despite her earnest character, done a lot of damage to someone she once claimed to love, the payment of which has been overly delayed.
She has no chance in winning the match. The audience bristles not at Sexy’s fortunes but at her underhandedness.
Faby vs The World
This match followed Vince McMahon’s playbook down an alley and ran off with its wallet.
Faby fends off flurries of kicks to the face from the woman who took her title and her husband, who himself keeps jumping into the ring to attack her.
La Legion is at ringside–what has she even done to piss off all these people? Is it because she’s an Apache? Is it what she represents? Do they just hate goodness? Why are all these women out to get her?
And then oh fuck: she bumps the ref.
The arrival of El Hijo del Tirantes, AAA’s rudo referee, puts the lingering doubt out of its misery.
From here it’s all cocktease. El Hijo del Tirantes flirts with Jennifer and Rain to excuse himself from counting Faby’s cover on Sexy. Faby’s punch drunk frustration becomes searing desperation, fermenting into anger. This match is a nail that traces the collarbone before going in for the stranglehold. It’s a drawn out parade of shame, population: 1.
The audience seems to gradually accept this fate–American audiences make camp on the edges of their seats because they’ve become spoiled by brutally contrived solutions to the esoteric and unsolvable. Steve Austin just knocks out the stooge referee, counts his own three with the limp hand, and then beats up the timekeeper until he rings the bell to acknowledge his win.
El Hijo del Tirantes watches Rain run in to push Sexy out of Faby’s hanging vertical suplex, and then fast counts Sexy’s roll-up into a three.
Even the crowd has turned on Faby Apache, popping for Sexy’s win–from the beginning, really, they were promised a head-shaving. And here comes the sun.
Or so they thought.
Fairness vs Honor
Faby doesn’t lose her hair. Gran Apache comes out, pushes Billy Boy around–because I guess he can’t turn rudo on your family for the same reason twice–and clips a couple of locks from her admittedly gorgeous earth-tone mane before she hulks out and, breaks free from the bounds of honor and charges at Sexy Star.
The crowd’s upheaval at this is as loud as it is ambiguous–are they cheering because Faby got her heat back, or because they’ve been denied the opportunity to see a woman ritualistically stripped of her beauty and dignity? Have even the crowd turned rudo/ruda on Faby Apache, or are they outraged at besmirched tradition?
Randy Savage loses a retirement match against Ultimate Warrior at WrestleMania 7–he’s the fucking World Champion by WrestleMania 8. Ric Flair loses a career match against Shawn Michaels and just goes to another company. Nobody cares. Most modern American fans don’t even know what a tag rope is or what it does.
Faby does not return to the ring to have her head shaved. Nor does she visit a barber. And the internet will not ever, ever let you forget this. Every article about this match, every wiki notation, and like 1 out of every 2 or 3 YouTube comments makes mention of Faby skipping out on the stipulation. Some writers have even gone as far as to accuse her of fraud. Not AAA. Not Gran Apache, who didn’t even try to finish the haircut, but Faby specifically.
The misogyny and classism/racism that might be perpetuating this anger aside: American wrestling fans never stop to consider that maybe American wrestling is a joke because they are so tolerant of non-committal booking.
Faby Apache’s appeal was so agreed upon that after she won the Reina de Reinas annual tournament, they just made it into a title for her to defend. Then they cheered for her to lose her hair and complained, loudly, when it wasn’t delivered.
This begs the question: who are the participants of these rituals beholden to? The legacy of all the men and women who came before and sacrificed their cultural immortality and aesthetic individuality for the sake of “making it real”? The wrestling community at large? The audience?
If Faby Apache says she’ll cut her hair if she loses, and AAA doesn’t hold her to it, what claim do we as the consumers have to compel her to be shorn?
Once we’re finished discussing how ridiculous Undertaker vs Bray Wyatt in broad daylight was, can we move onto this?
Another inquiry I beseech: Jesus Christ, what the fuck with all this racism? A year later, Mari Apache is forced to serve as a maid for La Legion Extranjera after she, Faby Apache, and Cintia Morena lose a “winners get a personal slave” trios match against Sexy Star, Jennifer Blade, and Rain. And yes, they make her clean up their locker room, on TV, right after the match.
It’s not just me, right? First, Sexy Star says “the Apaches were meant to be maids” at Rey de Reyes, and then you have a match at TripleMania, three months later , that forces one of the Apaches has to serve as a maid. Doesn’t that sound like a societal fantasy fulfillment to anyone else?