We’re taking a look back the decade in lucha libre over the next few days. It’s not going to be an ordered list of the biggest matches or most important wrestlers. This series is instead look back at five of the trends that shaped lucha libre during the past ten years, which just passed, and where they might take things in the 2020s.
Do you remember Multiupload? It seems unlikely you would. Multiupload was a filesharing site that turned around and uploaded those files to multiple other sites. Those filesharing links would have data limits or speed issues or otherwise won’t work. Having various websites to choose to grab one file from was a help. That’s where sharing video of matches was in 2010. YouTube existed and had a 10-minute limit at the start of 2010, a response to the pirating of content early in the site’s history. YouTube would expand to a 15-minute limit that year and later lift the time limit for some accounts, though it took some effort to get approved. DailyMotion had fewer restrictions and was still popular as a result. The files were simply promotion television shows, one which the promotions would air one weekend and then never show again. Both AAA & CMLL had YouTube channels, but the content was limited to brief videos. It’s not like a lot of people were finding those Multiupload links too; an average fan wouldn’t know they existed. It wasn’t as simple as just searching for a match.
It was that simple in 2019. You can type “Mesias vs. LA Park” on google and get a bunch of links to matches. Thousands of full matches are posted on YouTube each year. CMLL streams three different shows live each week on YouTube, making them available for free after. AAA streams (almost) all of their TV tapings on Twitch, a service that didn’t exist in 2010. That same channel has a constant 24/7 stream of past AAA TV shows from previous years – and there’s another service (PlutoTV) doing the same thing. Major televised lucha libre went from requiring having the right TV channel or living in the right country (or part of the country) to just having a cell phone with a standard data connection. The barrier of entry to lucha libre dropped this decade.
That barrier didn’t just drop for AAA & CMLL. The same technical opportunities opened up access to all Mexican wrestling, not only the big groups. Indie lucha libre was limited to whatever Black Terry Jr. was uploading at the turn of the decade, and non-televised matches were rarely turning up. It was a radically different situation in 2019; instead of hoping one person uploading an indie show, it’s picking between seven different versions of the same match. There are wrestlers and arenas which would’ve never been seen in the video even five years ago, which get regular weekly uploads. Promotions have taken to using FacebookLive to stream their events, replacing the old system of trying to get local TV. Enterprising wrestlers have built following by creating channels based on their matches, or their own produced videos. There’s something that gets very popular – it’s Zona23 this year – which would have been unseen about a decade ago.
The explosion of content has created it’s own problems. The vast majority of the content is fan-created, unproduced, with exponentially more time spent on the recording than in making presentable than others. (+LuchaTV does this the best. More about them later.) The amount of people consuming and talking about lucha libre hasn’t kept up with the addition of content. Keeping up is probably an impossibility. The result is a world of so much wrestling recorded, upload to YouTube (often with a generic description unlikely to do well with a search engine), viewed less than a dozen times, and never thought about again. Most of the lucha libre uploaded fits that categorization.
The spread of lucha libre coverage is also uneven nationally. Almost any notable indie show around Mexico City will have multiple people uploading it, but it’s a flip of the coin anywhere else and varies greatly depending on the city. Lots of lucha libre turned up from Xalapa and Torreon in 2019, while towns like Ciudad Juarez & Guadalajara don’t seem to get the same coverage, though even there they’re rarely watched by people outside of that market. A place like Monterrey may have fewer matches showing up now than ever before. It seems dependent on the culture of that city’s wrestling, and on a small group of people who are doing most of the recording and uploading. The promotions themselves are rarely part of the process. The result is a national wrestling scene even more focused on Mexico City than ever before, where it is difficult to make a name without making it there.
The highest level promotions do record their shows, though there have been stumbles in the process to where they were in 2019. Neither company is streaming internet-focused shows, instead just sending out to the internet what they’re already taping for TV. Both AAA & CMLL have run iPPVs this decade. Both have had major and repeated failures attempting to do those iPPVs. Both have all but abandoned the concept in 2019 rather than fail again. (The only exception was a lucha libre iPPV in the US.) No one else is trying at the end of 2019.
It means this internet expansion misses a major piece: making money off all this extra content. Neither promotion has a network revenue stream like those seen in WWE or NJPW. AAA’s Twitch subscription is the closest thing to one, though there’s no indication it’s a significant number. AAA may be getting some additional money from Twitch and Pluto. CMLL receives money when their shows air on Marca/Claro (and previously Terra). Neither company seems to be a significant amount. The YouTube uploads likely aren’t producing a lot of ad revenue; unlicensed music means most of the videos are de-monetized. (AAA changed many entrance themes and seemed to be removing unauthorized music starting in late 2019, which might be a reaction.) Neither major promotion pushes those internet viewers towards sending them money any other way. AAA makes a one day attempt at promoting a new internet store every 18 months. CMLL seems only to believe their YouTube audience is currently in Mexico City, seeking nothing more than the start time for each show. At best, all this live streaming and VOD content have meant for the promotions is building brand awareness. The lack of prominent revenue generation makes the situation feel tenuous: if AAA & CMLL are not making real money by putting their stuff online, there’s always the chance they could stop doing it any moment.
The increased content has been a boon for diehard fans looking for more of their favorite indie wrestlers or promotions as well, though it’s also unclear how much it’s helped those wrestlers or promotions. Zona 23’s become internet famous this year for their junkyard matches, though it’s hard to identify anyway the already locally popular shows have benefited from them. (Maybe some money off internetwrestling.tv?) Few promotions have made money or increased their profile solely off their content, the sort of thing that has helped similar indie promotions elsewhere in the world because few seem to own or control their content. The ocean of bootlegged matches also makes a near impossibility to charge for internet version of shows, as done elsewhere. There have been more individual success stories taking advantage of the new technology, though not many. Mr. Iguana found a way to make a national name while living in the lucha libre isolated region of Sinaloa, going from a guy doing spots to put on Twitter to an AAA regular. Puma King & Barby jumped on the trend of wrestlers vlogs to create their own as a couple, something that’s helped raise Puma’s profile before stepping out of CMLL. Some of the newer AAA talents might not have been discovered or discovered as fast if their indie matches weren’t readily shareable on YouTube.
People just generally like recording stuff and putting it on the internet, and it’s only become much more straightforward as the decade has moved on. We couldn’t imagine how much lucha libre would now be available a decade ago, sot here’s no guessing how much will be ten years from now. It’s been great for the diehard lucha libre fan. It’s unclear how great it is for everyone else. The lucha libre uploads aren’t a house of cards, it’s not going to fall apart any time soon, but it does look like something that isn’t entirely sustainable as it is. Perhaps the bigger Mexico promotions continue to follow other parts of the world on a few years delay and create their walled-off networks, ending an era of free content. Maybe wrestling groups start acting like those in the US and crackdown on bootlegging to regain control of their content. Maybe people find a way to harness all the content produced in a way that’s palatable for the non-diehard fan. Maybe there’s a drastic copyright event that makes it hard to post wrestling on YouTube, and everything gets scattered back to the dark corners of the internet, where it resided last decade. Probably it’s nothing we’re seeing coming at this point, but it does feel this is all leading to another inflection point.