Rocky de Leon
FREER, Texas – Rocky’s pores set forth a torrent of sweat across his brow and back as he landed blow after blow against the poor training dummy that so recently gave its head in service to his newly developed skills. If he hit the bag hard enough, he might feel like less of an idiot. If he hit the bag hard enough, he might feel like less of a loser. If he hit the bag hard enough…
“That’s enough, Rock.”
…he might not have to face his trainer. His loss to Gamertag and the most senior member of the Lip Pants Patrol stung, but not nearly as much as the shame of knowing Stu had been right. Hunting down new moves didn’t get him a win, and using them might have actually led to his loss.
“Back to basics. That’s what you said, right? Gotta focus.”
Rocky’s eyes never left the dummy. His hand sunk into the foam shoulder of his lifeless opponent as he stared into its dead LED eyes.
“I’m not going to be the one to explain to Donny that I lost my first student to dehydration. Office. Now.”
In the weeks since his hubris cost him what should have been a winnable fight, he had spent little time at Jurassic HQ (as Cindy took to calling it). Rocky justified it as not having time in the face of needing to train, but the claim fell flat on any ears that heard it.
He trailed Stu into the office to find Donny sitting in his chair with his elbows on his knees looking right at him. No newspaper, no beer. Cindy had neither bubble tea in her hands nor gum in her mouth. “Pop a squat, son.”
Rocky looked around nervously, “What’s going on?” The room held an uncommon air of tension.
Cindy stood up, sauntered across the room and put a hand on Rocky’s shoulder, pushing through her instinct to rapidly withdraw it when she realized his shirt was soaked with sweat and not, in fact, naturally dark gray. “…it’s an intervention, Sugah. You been mopin’ about this place ‘trainin’’ fer weeks now.”
“It’s time to get yer head outta yer ass, boy.” Donny sat up, threw his legs on his desk, picked up the Houston Chronicle sports section, and took a draw from a heretofore hidden Busch Lite. It seemed delivery of that line was Donny’s entire expected involvement in this event, or at least he thought as much.
Stu provided comfort. “You lost. You will lose again. Get over it.” Rocky met his eyes, and Stu calmly nodded. Rocky made a mental note to order Stu a master class in compassion to go along with the one he got him for Christmas to learn one hundred Excel pivot table secrets.
Cindy’s glare attempted to incinerate Stu before she came as close to hugging Rocky as she could without actually allowing her arms to contact his sweat drenched body. “We still love ya, ya big ol’ lizard hunk!” She retracted, then stepped as far away from the Perspire-adon as she could without risking causing offense. “But seriously, sit down. Ya ain’t got enough time to keep mopin’.”
Rocky did as instructed, took his place on a folding metal chair, and looked at Stu, “What if I’m not done punishing myself for not listening to you?”
Stu reached out with a piece of paper, “Well, that’s too bad, because Lindsay Troy takes priority in terms of who gets to punish you.” Rocky took the ReVival 28 card.
His eyes scanned til he reached mid-card and realization hit. “…the Anglo Luchador?”
“The Anglo Luchador.” Stu’s gaze pierced through Rocky.
If Rocky registered the look, he gave no sign of it, “How is this a punishment!? This is AMAZING! Man, the exposure – a proper lucha on lucha fight. I mean, he’s a gringo in an appropriated mask, but it’s the closest thing PRIME has to another luchador. AND AND AND, look at the placement, Stu! Freaking mid-card. If this is a punishment, punish me every day. What an opportunity!”
Stu rubbed his temples. “YOU aren’t on the midcard.”
Rocky’s excitement paused, “What?”
“The Anglo Luchador is on the midcard. The former PRIME champion is on the midcard with a kid in a pterodactyl mask who has participated in a grand total of 5 matches in his career, of which he has won two.”
Realization dawned on Rocky, “I’m not really midcard. I’m…a sacrifice.”
Stu leaned back, “Now you understand.”
Rocky felt the weight of his shoulders bearing down. “She intends to use me as the PRIME equivalent of the Florida Atlantic University football team.”
Stu nodded. “You are being set up as fodder for TAL, plain and simple. Whatever amount of crowd pleasing you’ve done, it seems Troy thinks that your middling performance at Culture Shock and your loss to Cross and Hall has eroded your stock value. She isn’t giving you an opportunity – she doesn’t think you can win.”
Rocky slowly rose from his chair, tucked the card into his shorts pocket, and looked at his crew. “Well. I guess we’ll find out whether she’s right.”
— 🦖 —
Spring in the South feels like mid-August to anyone living in a more temperate location. However, ask the folks of Laredo, Texas what they think about their climate, despite the myriad times and ways the planet tried to make them leave, and they’ll give you a middle finger and a “Make me” as a consolation prize. Those with the grit and determination to stay were treated to a symphony at sundown. The sonorous stridulations of grasshoppers and crickets filled the air in place of the light which rapidly diminished.
Rocky sat on his backyard porch swing. The chains squeaked out of time with the crickets as he ignored nature to filter through his memories. From his wallet, he withdrew the photograph of his chubby childhood self “pinning” his father.
“Ok, Boulder, you win, you win, get off me! Boy you are getting big… but not so big the Lion can’t teach you a lesson about letting your guard down! Raaaaaawr! No, no – don’t pull at the mask. Never try to remove a lucha’s mask. Come on, buddy, let’s get a snack.”
Sgt. de Leon led his son back to their kitchen. He pulled two glasses out of a cupboard, a box of crackers from the pantry, and some queso from the fridge. The queso was warming in the microwave as he passed a glass to Rocky.
“Here, have some water, little man. Always gotta stay hydrated. Carlos, do you know why we wear masks to wrestle?”
Little Rocky munched on a cracker as he mulled over the question. “Is it so we look like superheroes?”
Mateo laughed, “Maybe a little bit, yeah! The mask is a very important part of being lucha. Almost every wrestler in Mexico starts his career with a mask, just like me and your uncle did. We use them to create our character – our superhero alter ego! Just like superheroes, though, we never want to take off our mask.
Just like The Amazing Scorpion’s true identity is revealed if his enemy takes his mask, if you lose your mask, your secret is revealed and the audience knows the character is fake. More even than the fight, the most important part of being lucha is telling our story. We tell it with our words, but also with our bodies – when we wrestle we can tell the audience all sorts of stories, but taking the mask off ruins the magic.”
He pulled the queso from the microwave, dipping a cracker into it.
“Sometimes a lucha removes his mask in the ring, but usually only for retirement either of himself or his character. The mask hides the man so the character can shine. To remove the mask is to break the watcher’s immersion and ruin the story.”
Rocky returned the photograph to his wallet. He stared off at the horizon, the sunset now replaced with an ever darkening expanse.
— 🦖 —
LITTLE MEXICO – The Sultan of Skree knocked, and a sliding panel at reasonable adult human eye height slid open.
“That was last week.”
“Goddammit, dude, um… old taquitos?”
“…ok, esse, thassa pretty good one, come on in.”
Rocky rolled his eyes and followed the doorman into the darkness. The center of the room was lit just brightly enough that he could tell there was a crowd of about 60 at the Lucha League that night. Angel was in the ring demonstrating how to properly bounce off the top rope for maximum spring effect. The demonstration was surprisingly effective in spite of, or perhaps because of, his uncommon luchador bulk.
“ROCKY! Welcome, welcome. I was just about to demonstrate what you do if your belly moves you off balance on the top rope.”
Rocky took a vacant seat in the front row. “Always down for more training. Have I missed story time for the week?”
Angel hopped unreasonably gracefully off the top rope, grabbing a towel and wiping invisible sweat from what would have been his brow had he not been wearing a mask. “Not yet, not yet! Clearly you were enraptured by the cliff hanger and wish to know how the Lucha handles the dangers of the eeeeevil child support order. By the way, um, unrelated, do you happen to know a good attorney? Because, like, I have this friend…”
Rocky interrupted the likely plea for pro bono representation, “I have a match coming up that I probably can’t win, and I’m just feeling really… I need to figure out what I am and what my story is. I need to understand my mask.”
Angel paused by a card table covered in snacks just before his hands could reach the Doritos. He quickly adopted a neutral posture with no part of his body engaged in spectacle or story telling. The image was almost unsettling for Rocky. “This is very important Carlos.”
Rocky started at hearing his proper name. Angel tugged at his nonexistent collar, “Er, FDP. For a lucha to not understand his mask, his story… it must be very difficult if not impossible to fight. It is unsurprising you lost to the likes of an e-boy and a trophy husband while internally battling such a turbulent mental state. Tell me, who are you facing?”
“That’s just it. I’m going up against another luchador.”
There is ANOTHER?
Who, FDP, who!?
Rocky turned in his seat and addressed the entire audience who had now crowded around him like kindergartners at story time. “Not just another luchador… THE luchador. The former PRIME champion – The Anglo Luchador.”
Angel slammed his fist down in the middle of the table sending chips and other corn-based snack products flying throughout the room. “DO NOT SPEAK THAT NAME IN MY PRESENCE.”
Rocky was taken aback. In an instant, the audience that had circled him seemingly teleported back to their chairs and those within ten feet of Rocky managed to scoot away without making a sound. “Who- whose name, Angel?”
Angel zipped across the room in a sliding lunge, stopping when his face was mere millimeters from Rocky’s. “Thomas Battaglia. I refuse to repeat his oxymoronic stage name.”
“He is NO LUCHA. He trades off our heritage, our history, our legacy. He is a con man who purports to bring Lucha to PRIME, but he brings merely a white man in a store bought mask.
IT IS TIME!”
What time is it?!
I don’t think he was referencing the clock, esse.
TIME FOR WHAT, ANGEL!?
“THE LEGEND OF THE LUCHA… THE PREQUEL!”
Ai Yai yai!
Aw, goddammit, I wanted to hear about the evil child support.
“Before he was the Anglo Luchador, Tomás performed as Jericoholic Anonymous. He came to sell his Legend of the Lucha. His false narrative. Unfortunately, he was very convincing. PABLO! FLASHBACK LIGHTING!”
The lights dimmed, and Angel dove and slid behind the puppet show stage just as two other lucha set it into place. A spotlight clicked on, somehow creating sepia tone lighting, and a sock puppet in a purple and green mask popped into the center of the puppet stage. An unadorned hand reached out and pressed play on the cassette deck of a boom box.
Angel’s voice emanated from all directions, “Jerichoholic was a shyster… a salesman… a con artist! He had perfected his pitch.” The sock puppet spoke with a compelling cadence.
Folks, listen! May I have your attention, please? Attention, please! I can assuage your boredom, friends With a kick of the ropes These very ropes! Please observe this one small trick
The sock shot off Angel’s hand, did a backflip, and returned to its rightful place to face the audience and continue.
My name’s Jericoholic And I’m here to bring to you High flying lucha wrestling! Come now, my friends How can any pro wrestler Really be a wrestler If he doesn’t fly? Top rope flippy shit - Here we go!
Three masked socks seemingly unattached to hands sprang up from below the puppet stage only to flip and fall back out of sight.
I’ll tell you, my friends What a small group of lucha wrestlers Can do in the ring That rope-lined wrestling ring When in their concrete halls They fly all up and down
A thought niggled at the back of Rocky’s brain.
Well a lucha can do it, friends Oh yes, I said a lucha can Do you hear me? I said Laredo’s Gotta have a lucha And I mean they need it TODAY!
Well, Jericoholic’s the man Laredo’s gonna have their Lucha, And sure as the lord made Tiny taquitos And that lucha’s gonna be in a mask Red masks! Green masks! Blue masks! Gold!
And you’ll see the glitter Of hand-stitched lining And you’ll hear the Landing of flying flips Ta tah dum!
Angel pressed pause, “Man, come on, Rocky, I’m just getting to the good part.”
“Are you seriously ripping off The Music Man right now?”
“Look, man, parody doesn’t violate copyright, ok? I checked.” Angel pressed play.
And you’ll experience joy The kind you once knew as a growing boy When Ciclon Tumbles Morales, La Parka, The Flying Jose, Serpiente, And Flippy Joe All came to town on the very… same… day
“I must also begrudgingly admit,” Angel stood and pressed the stop button on the boombox, his sock puppet now absent from his hand. “His song was pretty catchy.”
“What song?” Rocky immediately regretted asking. Angel pressed play.
60 Lucha sprang to their feet, began to march, and sang around the ring.
Seventy-six cabrons made the rudo slate
With a hundred and ten cervesas in hand!
They were followed by rows and rows
Of the finest technicoooos!
Their flips… were best in all the laaaaaaand!
monorail… Monorail…. MONORAAAAAIL!
¿PERO QUE COÑO, MARCOS???
Angel waved for silence, and the Lucha League returned with alacrity to their seats. “I do not wish to waste your time on more of this display.”
“So,” Rocky cleared his throat, “We’re upset because he’s what, racist, or something? The white man selling the Lucha to Tejanos?”
Angel’s shoulders softened and his posture relaxed. He walked from the ring, pulled a chair across the floor, and sat next to the FDP. “No, Carlos,” Angel grabbed Rocky’s hands firmly, “we are upset because he does not tell a story through the mask. He hides behind it. He does not know who he is. He does not know what he is. He uses the mask to escape reality; we use the mask to shape it. Tomás has built a high profile career calling himself Lucha without ever understanding what it truly is to be Lucha. As such, intentionally or not, he besmirches us, and that I cannot stand. Neither could Mateo.”
At the mention of his father’s name, Rocky stared into the black void that was the masked face of Angel. “Who are you?”
Angel stood and clapped his hands above his head twice. “LEAVE US.”
The Lucha League vacated the hall. When the last foot fell, Angel slowly and gently removed his mask.
Rocky gazed into the eyes of his father… but… not quite. “Tio Arturo?”
Rocky’s uncle dropped his character voice, smiled, and spoke as himself to Rocky for the first time within the makeshift arena, “Sup, Pebbles?”
“Arturo, why the hell didn’t you tell me you were Lucha?”
“After your dad’s legs went the way of the dodo, I didn’t feel comfortable parading it in front of him. I stopped competing my way up to a professional roster. It was our mutual dream, you know? The Lion of Laredo and El Tigre de Tejas. We were gonna be a tag team, pullin’ all manner of whack flippy shit on people. You don’t even know, man. The goals… didn’t seem so important without my brother.”
“Ok, but what’s with the Angel getup?” Rocky gestured around the room.
“This? Sobrino, the Lucha League has been around for a long time. There are chapters all over the place. It’s mostly a fun group of guys to watch televised matches with, but there are some, like me, that actually have wrestling experience and want to tell fun stories. The original “Angel” started this chapter, and he groomed me to take over about ten years ago. Sort of a Dread Pirate Roberts thing. But no Princess Buttercup. Or pirate ship. Or pirates. I guess it’s not all that much like Dread Pirate Roberts.”
Arturo returned to the snack table for a bowl of queso that somehow remained in place during the Great Corn Snack Exodus. He grimaced as he also grabbed the only dippable item remaining untainted by the floor – a bag of baby carrots.
He dipped, crunched, and continued, “Anyway, thing is, if you don’t tell your story you’re just a random dude up there hiding behind a mask. Lucha is storytelling through wrestling. Are you a rudo or a technico? Do you fight for love? What about hate? Glory? Fame? Hell, you can fight for Cheetos if you really want. I think I might approve of that one. Wanna carrot?”
“Nah, thanks Tio.” Rocky stood and made his way to the door.
“Oh, Rocky – Carlos. One more thing.”
“Mateo would be proud.”
— 🦁 —
Rocky arrived home at twilight, parking his Volvo in the garage. Despite living alone, he left enough space for a second vehicle. You never knew when you might have visitors and when there might be a storm; it was only polite to leave covered parking.
He placed his keys on their designated hook, and walked through his mostly dark home until he reached the attic access panel in the hallway ceiling. Pulling a cord that terminated about eight feet above the ground, a folded ladder descended allowing him access to a trove of family history. He climbed, retrieved a box from the attic, then brought the box down with him back into his bedroom.
Unpacking the box, he laid its contents down alongside his pterodactyl uniform and mask. A gold and brown lion mask along with a pair of faux leather tights and worn brown boots with yellow laces looked well loved next to his recently washed and nearly pristine green scaled tights and mask with head crest.
Just like the lion, large carnivorous dinosaurs were the kings of their domain. Pterosaurs were kings of the sky.
The FDP’s fingers traced the leonid outline of Mateo’s mask.
A king uses his power both to protect his people and to lay waste to those that would challenge his authority.
His hand glided over the pterodactyl head crest.
The FDP is Lord of the Top Rope, Master of Moonsaults, and Tsar of Shiranui. He fights to establish his dominion and to teach a lesson to those who seek to harm innocents. He feeds off the energy and love of his subjects and delivers on his promise to entertain them through display of his mastery of the sky to the detriment of his would-be challengers.
Rocky gingerly repackaged his father’s costume and placed it back in the attic. He stared at the ReVival 28 card on his nightstand.
What does The Anglo Luchador represent? Why does he fight? Who does he fight for? We have no idea. Tom, I think you had good intentions bringing lucha to PRIME’s audience, but you missed the mark. You don’t have the heritage, you don’t have the story, and you plain don’t have self awareness.
The former champion needs to figure out the man behind the mask before he can figure out what the mask means to the man. Until you do, Tom, for the sake of Lucha Libre, Mexico, and all the Tejanos watching me fly, I will do everything in my power to break you down. When you lose, use that time to reflect and figure out who you are. Then come back, and let’s talk about your mask.