Ahead of the Game: Delante del juego - The Explorer: Import

Ahead of the Game: Delante del juego

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Posted: Tuesday, July 4, 2006 11:00 pm | Updated: 7:52 am, Thu Mar 24, 2011.

July 5, 2006 - By day, he's a mild-mannered sports reporter working out of the Northwest.

While the sun warms the other side of the planet, he casts aside his keyboard, dons a cape and secretly morphs into his masked-alter ego: The Rocket.

Nobody North of the Rio Grande knows him as The Rocket, however. It's down Mexico Way where his terrible strength and blistering speed in the ring make him a fan favorite. Down there, they call him "El Cohete" - the Super Lucha.

Or so was the sentiment racing through my mind as I slowly strolled through the Arizona State Museum on the University of Arizona campus and its Lucha Libre exhibit.

Inspired by the movie "Nacho Libre," I set out to learn more about the sport - or pseudo-sport depending on whom you ask. The Lucha Libre exhibit lays out the colorful history of Mexican wrestling with its vibrant masks, capes and paintings of the warriors that made the sport a cultural phenomenon from Nogales to the Yucatan Peninsula. In Mexico, Lucha Libre is second to only soccer as the most popular sport in the country.

Walk through the museum, you'll find its inspiration through perspiration, if you would.

There you learn that Jack Black's character was a real-life priest by day and masked hero by night to earn money for his orphanage. His name was Rev. Sergio Benitez. But Benitez is one of hundreds of wrestlers of mythical proportions, men named "El Medico Assesino" the medical assassin and "El Angel Blanco," who breezed into rings with capes flapping mightily behind them, even though the match was held indoors.

The longer the hair of the wrestler the longer he's gone without losing. Once you lose a match, the winner gets to shave your head right there in the ring. Those who never got de-masked were often buried still wearing them after their time on Earth expired.

The whole event is quite a spectacle and the showmanship has since filtered into mainstream America - think World Wrestling Entertainment, better known as the WWF.

This kind of wrestling has won over fans throughout the world and made immortals out of otherwise un-athletic men - even if it is considered more entertainment than athletic achievement.

At Sunnyside High School on June 27, I set out to connect with some real wrestlers to find out which fake ones were their favorites.

"It's crap," said Steve Extract, a wrestler at Ironwood Ridge High School about today's version of mainstream wrestling. Extract is training for the USA Wrestling Cadet and Junior Nationals in Fargo, N.D. The junior finished in fourth place in Greco Roman and fifth in freestyle wrestling at the Western Regional Cadet Finals in Klamath Falls, Ore., last month.

Surely someone grew up watching my kind of wrestling. What about Hulk Hogan? The Iron Sheik? Andre the Giant?

"I don't bother with that," said Extract's teammate Matt Peters. Between wrestling every night at Sunnyside for the National Midwest Folk Style Firecracker Tournament in Dubuque, Iowa, and taking voluntary summer school, Peters says what little free time he has is better reserved for things that aren't "junk."

Finally, one of them cracks.

"Stone Cold Steve Austin was my favorite," said Korey DeBerry, son of Sunnyside head coach Bobby DeBerry. The power bomb was his favorite move. Dad - whose Sunnyside squads have won seven straight state championships - wouldn't let them watch much fake wrestling, however, opting instead to have his sons watch films of their past meets.

Korey's older brother, Kyle, a state champ, sees the sport differently and with more vitriol than Extract and Peters combined.

"It's fake, we get kind of mad at them," said Kyle, a 152-pound bull in a singlet. "Kurt Angle, I can't stand Kurt Angle because he was an Olympic champion and was a real wrestler. He kind of threw that to the wind so I don't' really like him very much."

Angle was an Olympic champion at the 1996 games in Atlanta and won several NCAA heavyweight titles at Clarion University before joining the Extreme Championship Wrestling tour.

It takes a while but finally a wrestler and I agree.

"Hulk Hogan," said Billy Morris of Catalina Foothills. Morris, who finished fourth in state this year in the 152-pound weight class, is also training for the national tournament in Fargo.

Even though the flying suplex was his favorite move, Morris recognizes the sport as fraudulent.

"When I watch that, I just laugh because it's so fake."

In order to be a real wrestler, I guess you can't pay any attention to the bright lights, cameras and money of the fake kind. Perhaps I can change their mind and talk them into attending the next match of "El Cohete." Just don't tell them who that masked man is.

© 2014 The Explorer. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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