Richmond Lucha Libre

You don’t want your lips anywhere near this thing.

The “huge piece of junk held together with duct tape and bubble gum” has seen better days.

It’s a 16-foot square made of canvas, foam, wood and metal. The floor has a little bounce to it, but it’s not exactly like falling on a cloud.

It looks like a filthy old mattress, stained from dirt, sweat and more than a few bloody noses.

Imagine the bacteria.

But if you find yourself in a bad spot, with someone standing on your face and the ref pounding to three … germs are the least of your concerns.

Some guys knock white balls into holes in the grass. Others burp light beer and swear at quarterbacks on TV. But when Chris Hoyer and his pals want to unwind, they seek the comfort of a secondhand wrestling ring.

The 26-year-old Hoyer is a founding member of the Richmond Lucha Libre, a wrestling consortium of 20 buddies who beat each other up for kicks. Almost every week you’ll find them trading elbows to the face and knees to the groin.

Sunday practice is how they relax.

Each of the RLL’s featured players has trained with professional wrestling instructors in Virginia and North Carolina. Most of them have jobs or go to college. Some are married, some have kids. They fight in their spare time.

The Lucha boys are professional wrestlers, specifically classified as indie, or underground, wrestlers. In this case, “underground” is a fancy word for “unpaid.”

So far, nobody has seen a dime. Usually, it costs them money to wrestle in public. Even then, they get the chance only if they can find a venue willing to accept grown men in spandex shorts whacking each other with metal folding chairs.

Hoyer said that after the promotional expenses, venue fees and the stack of paperwork required by the state’s Department of Professional and Occupational Regulations (promoter’s license, event license, surety bond and insurance), most shows cost them around $2,000.

“It’s a losing proposition,” he said. “We’re happy to break even.”

So why do they do it?

“We all love it,” said Hoyer. “And it helps me to know that I’m not just another anonymous guy with tattoos.”

The loose translation of “Lucha Libre” means “free fighting.” Inspired by Mexican wrestlers who pioneered the style, the RLL blends classic wrestling moves with highflying aerial techniques, street brawling and slapstick comedy.

The Lucha’s closest competitor is the National Wrestling Alliance (NWA), a Richmond-based “wrestling entertainment” company. Neither group cares much for the other.

While the NWA sticks to charity matches and community centers, the Lucha are proud to be the punk rock clown princes of the ring. They prefer being edgy, unorthodox and sloppy along the edges.

Each Lucha member creates his own persona, complete with signature moves and unique fashion statements.

In the ring, Hoyer is better known as “Horrorshow,” an imposing character in a black leather skull mask. With beefy tattooed arms, torn jeans and shiny black boots, Horrorshow stomps around like a horror movie psycho.

George Bullock wrestles as Jive Nyce, a smack-talking, hip-hop caricature.

“We just like to have fun,” said Bullock. “I just like making people happy. If I made one person smile, it was worth it.”

A Richmond Lucha match is more performance art than athletic competition — acrobatic silliness with a “South Park” sense of humor. But the consensus among Lucha wrestlers is that the audience comes first. A yawn from the front row hurts these guys worse than a gutwrench powerbomb.

“We’re entertainers is what it all boils down to,” said Dave DuFour, aka “That Guy Dave.”

“Who wants to watch fake fighting?” added Scott Seal.

Seal, now retired, enjoyed a five-year run as perpetual villain “Spok Holly.” Seal’s ring persona was an arrogant, glam rock bad boy. Holly, fond of sunglasses and pink feather boas, liked to wear a black T-shirt that read, “I Am God.”

“Wrestling is not fake,” said Hoyer. “It’s just rigged.”

Rigged or not, the choreography is impressive.

Spectators twist their faces like they’re chewing a ball of aluminum foil. They wince. They gasp. But they never look away.

When “Sucio” (Chris Osterfeld) climbs the ropes, sails through the air and lands on his back, there are no wires.

J.R. Giles (“Chatch”) doesn’t fake the bruises and hand-shaped welts.

And when James “Kamikaze Kid” Long leaps out of the ring, there is nothing to catch him but asphalt.

“You become superhuman,” said Long.

Hoyer’s Lucha days have taken a toll: stitches, a concussion or two, broken fingers and a bulging disc in his lower back.

No surprise, considering Hoyer “works stiff” (a fancy way of saying he prefers a real punch to those “Hollywood” swings).

“I like to make contact,” he said. “I like people to make contact with me. It adds that extra level, and I can take it.”

The Lucha began with spontaneous matches that erupted in the middle of parties, on hardwood floors.

It seemed like natural, rowdy behavior for a crew of boys raised on Hulk Hogan and loaded with testosterone and alcohol. But the group’s passion for roughhousing remained well past the morning after.

They took it to the next level when one of them moved into a building on Parkwood Avenue. The bouts migrated into the weedy chain- link cage that passed for a backyard.

For months they drew crowds by word-of-mouth. The backyard was standing room only and all was well for the masked grapplers … until someone passed the bucket.

Passing the bucket to collect donations was a no-no. Amateur exhibitions are exempt from state professional boxing and wrestling regulations, “provided the participants receive no money, compensation or reward.”

Fearing legal action and steep fines, Hoyer and the Lucha pulled the plug on Parkwood Avenue.

“The backyard stuff was fun,” said Hoyer, “but I didn’t want to be one of those guys.”

“Those guys” being the type of backyard wrestlers infamous for cheap, dangerous stunts like jumping off rooftops, breaking glass and setting things on fire.

By staging some well-attended shows in Shockoe Bottom venues, Hoyer and the Lucha distanced themselves from the “backyard” label.

“Going professional was something everyone involved wanted to do,” said Hoyer.

And though nobody has quit his day job, the Lucha boys remain optimistic.

This year they released a two-hour DVD compilation of their “Greatest Battles” (including a steel cage match with a cameo from the Richmond shock-rock band GWAR). Hoyer even talked about producing episodes of a Richmond Lucha TV show.

For now, he’ll work retail and lick his wounds between Sunday practices. Maybe he’ll paint and shoot some pictures. It doesn’t really matter.

He’s just killing time until he steps back into the ring and becomes a body-slamming monster who swings a chain saw, spits fake blood and kicks his friends when they’re down.

Originally published in the Richmond Times-Dispatch on October 9, 2005

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