the forgotten dream match which launched an independent promotion

A pivotal match in Mexican wrestling took place on January 29th, 1975, and it has been lost to time. It wasn’t a mask match, it wasn’t a hair match, and, depending on who you ask, it wasn’t even a real title match. I didn’t know anything about this match until I did some old magazine reading this year, so maybe you don’t need it either. It’s a story worth repeating, even if it’ll take me a while to set-up how the match happened.

(I’m in the midst of going through 1970s magazines. I might have more context after I read more, or others might tell this story fuller. This is the best I’ve got right now. It may be better later but now seemed like a good time to tell the story.)

The origins of the match started nearly a year earlier, in the spring of 1974. It had been apparent, based on talent movement and mentions, that EMLL stars felt like their best options at making money was actually outside of Arena Mexico. Many luchadors did tours and trips to the United States; Mil Mascaras sticks in EMLL full time for only about three years before making his move to California. Others wrestle many independent dates and stay away; El Santo does not wrestle in Arena Mexico from 1971 to 1974, going as far as leaving the luchador’s union while still being active elsewhere in the country. It works for him because he’s already El Santo, the star of the ring and the screen, and it works for the people who come along to work as his teammates and opponents.

Those independent stars were still seen as special cases. Most people who took outside still kept an association with EMLL, trading off booking fees owned to the Lutteroths in exchange for the stability and fame they provided. It’s hard to build up a name nationally without the assistance of a big promotion. There is no other national lucha libre promotion. There were promoters strong in their cities, but no competition on the Lutteroth scale. Non-EMLL promotions ran some venues in Mexico City and the surrounding state, but EMLL defeated their last true rival in the 50s. There had been no competition since the 50s.

El Solitario dropped a bombshell in El Halcon issue 96 (May 12, 1974): the most popular regular tecnico in EMLL was leaving. Solitario portrayed his own departure as on good terms, calling EMLL the University of Lucha Libre for giving him the tools to succeed.  He cited Mil Mascaras, Tinieblas, and Huracan Ramirez as people who do well touring Mexico without EMLL’s help. Solitario planned on doing the same, touring on his own some big cities and many small towns, a harder schedule than EMLL’s but one where a star match can fill out a card mostly of locals and be paid strongly. Solitario was asked why no promoter stands up to EMLL/Lutteroth and put it down to a luchador issue. There’s plenty of underutilized talent who talk about going out on their own, but few are willing to take the risk of leaving EMLL. Solitario’s star power meant he was safer than most people thinking about taking that leap, but it was rare for even star luchadors to abandon their Arena Mexico home.

Solitario leaving in May meant he was out of the plans of the next Arena Mexico season. EMLL opened its main arena on Friday nights only for selected 8-12 week seasons at that point in their promotions history. They ran their bigger shows during those stretches, while all the other shows were held at the smaller Arena Coliseo or the recently opened Pista Arena Revolucion. Some of the biggest names would commonly go elsewhere in Mexico when Arena Mexico closed. It wasn’t an unusual deal when Rene Guajardo disappeared from Arena Mexico after a hair match loss to Anibal & Steve Wright in April. Arena Mexico wouldn’t open again until June; Guajardo taking a break back home to Monterrey was normal. A report on Guajardo, 41, said considering retirement, but it seemed unlikely. Guajardo was NWA World Middleweight Champion in his sixth reign and been the lead rudo for the promotion for at least a decade, and would continue to be around that top position as long as he wanted it.

Rene Guajardo wanted something more. Guajardo did not return for the June tour. He didn’t return to Arena Mexico for years. He instead decided to open “Divison del Norte,” a band of luchadors based in the northern part of Mexico. Guajardo is at first evasive about what he’s forming, refusing to suggest a new union or trade association while also urging luchadors to band together. He also denies reports he’s going into promoting himself. Guajardo’s first major non-EMLL match was announced in Monterrey’s Plaza de Monumental Bullring on July 5th, against old rival El Solitario. And the extra surprise is it would be for Guajardo’s NWA World Middleweight Championship. EMLL likely intended Guajardo to drop the belt to Anibal – maybe in June – but he instead walked out of the promotion still as champ.

The championship threw the Mexican wrestling into a bit of chaos. The “NWA” titles were sanctioned by the National Wrestling Alliance, regarded as the world’s most important championships. The Welterweight, Middleweight, and Light Heavyweight championships were effectively EMLL’s in-house main titles for decades. There was an occasional title change outside of Mexico, but always with the intent of remaining in control of the Lutteroth family. The NWA was content with this arrangement. EMLL used it to proclaim their top wrestlers the best of anywhere in the world. Rene Guajardo continuing his own world best claim while no longer being EMLL was a great credibility boost to Guajardo and an embarrassment to EMLL. Guajardo’s act had some precedent – Gori Guerrero walked out of EMLL in 1962 as NWA World Light Heavyweight Champion and continued to defend it for years before EMLL finally got the NWA to step in and strip him of the title in 1967. (Guerrero resurfaced in Mexico lucha magazines during the Guajardo controversy to claim he remained light heavyweight champion in the NWA’s official record book, seven years after he was said to be stripped.) Guajardo seemed to bet the NWA would stay out of the situation for long enough to get rolling.

Not everything went as planned, but it did play out in Rene Guajardo’s favor. Guajardo successfully defended the NWA World Middleweight Championship against Solitario in Monterrey on the 5th – magazines report it as a big turnout – and then again in Nuevo Laredo a few days later. The NWA acts much quicker than with Guerrero, stripping Guajardo of the Middleweight championship on the 17th for defending it without approval. The actual sanction turns out not to matter. Wrestling fans and writers had seen Guajardo as the best middleweight wrestler in Mexico for the last decade. No one defeated Guajardo in the ring for the championship. He still had the physical belt. EMLL and NWA could call someone else the world’s best middleweight, but people naturally believed Guajardo as the ‘real’ champ.

EMLL belatedly determined a new ‘official’ champion – perhaps they were waiting for the newly updated belt. Anibal had the best claim on being champion, and so was a logical winner on September 20th. Anibal’s star was already on the rise, he had good support as a tecnico star, but he still had Guajardo hanging over him. It is hard to explain this in a 2020 context, but being the champion in those days meant everyone believing that person was the best person, not just the person fortunate/cheating enough to win the latest game of hot potato. Ray Mendoza was a well-regarded star, but he never beat Gori Guerrero to win that Light Heavyweight belt, and it damaged his claim at being the best in the world for a long time. Anibal’s claim may have suffered more because Guajardo continued to defend his belt around Mexico even after the NWA discredited it. Mexico lucha libre commission officials treated those belts the same as the authorized NWA belts, lending credibility to proceedings.

More so than just the belt, Guajardo’s departure looked like a very successful move and the start of a movement. Guajardo found success touring with his group; Solitario tells a magazine he’s earned more money in one year outside of EMLL than he did in the last three years he worked there. El Santo’s formalized his touring group into a booking office known as “El Fraternidad del Santo,” and they’re working hand in hand with Guajardo, Solitario, and their group. (They’re conjoined to the point where it’s hard to tell who’s meant to be part of which group.) There’s talk of a big show coming to Mexico City featuring these guys – Benjamin Mora & Francisco Flores appear to have tried this in years past and now have more talent to work with between both groups.

Others see this success and follow out the door. If you clicked that link about the NWA Guajardo stripping the middleweight championship, you’d notice a mention of the light heavyweight champion also being stripped because he’s in the hospital. Ray Mendoza was that light heavyweight champion, and he was indeed injured; he wouldn’t return for months. He was also likely to upset about how his not-quite-acknowledged sons (Villano I & Villano II) were being treated as opening match acts in EMLL and may have been already planning to bolt. Mendoza follows Guajardo’s example: he holds onto his belt and starts defending it as the real light heavyweight champion on non-EMLL shows as soon as he’s able to return in late 1975. That leaves the NWA World Welterweight Championship as the only stable championship – until young Mano Negra similarly walks out of the promotion over the winter break, also taking his title with him. All three NWA championships were officially vacant with six months because the champions quit CMLL. It’s an embarrassment on top of embarrassment for EMLL (at this point being run by Chavo Lutteroth Jr., the man who was re-introduced as being in charge of CMLL in 2019). EMLL still has a belief in its young stars, its ability to train new wrestlers, and all the talk about a Mexico City rival still hasn’t actually produced anything. EMLL had some egg on its face but must’ve still felt unchallenged – everyone left, but they remained unchallenged in their home market.

On January 24th, 1975, new NWA World Middleweight Champion Anibal teams with El Rostro in a forgettable tag team tournament in Arena Coliseo. He wins a match, loses the second, and is done for the night. And done with EMLL for some time. Anibal tells the press he’s quitting Arena Mexico. He’s signed a 50K pesos a year deal directly with Promociones Mora (the Flores/Mora combo), he’s starting with them five days from now in a special show in Mexico City’s Palacio de Los Deportes, and – oh yeah – Anibal’s taking the NWA middleweight title with him for a title unification bout with Rene Guajardo. Anibal is bringing the new title belt, Guajardo is bringing the old title belt, and the dream match just six months in the making is happening. On January 29th, the show with important names but no other big matches beyond Anibal/Guajardo draws a reported 21,000 fans and a 345K pesos gate. That may be the biggest gate ever in Mexico to that point, and it’s greater than could fit in the 18,000 seat Arena Mexico. It is an enormous success and an important proof of concept: a national rival to EMLL was now possible.

The rest of 1975 is a flurry of trying to work out the best way to make this work, to keep the momentum going for a second entity independent of EMLL. The initial Anibal/Guajardo match seems more important than great: Anibal wins when Rene Guajardo angrily throws a forbidden closed fist for the disqualification. It’s enough to keep the issue going, with both men getting their hand raised as the real middleweight champion during the rest of the year. Mora tries the “seasonal” approach of shows at both Palacio de Los Deportes, running a couple of weeks every few months and throwing out such extreme concepts (for 1975) as “every match will be an apuesta match” or “a tag team tournament where the losing team is unmasked.” El Santo tries to work with everyone, eventually working matches in Arena Mexico for the first time in years and getting EMLL wrestlers for a Fraternidad del Santo branded show in Plaza Mexico sanctioned NWA title match. New Japan Pro Wrestling partners with the Mora group, sending a young small wrestler named “Hamada.” The Mexico group quickly gives him a shock victory over Guajardo in a hair match in an attempt to immediately create a new star, and Hamada turns out to be impressive enough to make it work. Not everything works out for everyone – Mano Negra struggles and retreats to EMLL – but the new group seems to be outdrawing EMLL in Monterrey for their biggest shows while doing great in Mexico City.

The one missing piece is what to do with those title belts that started all of this. The NWA isn’t going to sanction them, but there’s a need to make them international championships to keep their credibility. The independent group flirts with different ideas on how to label them. The magazines are fed a story of meeting in Panama to create “Alianza Universal de Promoters,” but it doesn’t really take. Mil Mascaras partners with Mora to defend his IWA Heavyweight Championship on one of his shows, so the magazines go with the idea that the IWA is now endorsing all the ex-NWA titles. That sticks about two weeks until a letter from the US explains IWA hasn’t really existed in years, and Mascaras isn’t defending a sanctioned title either. (Mascaras denies this.) This still serves as the basis for the new group, which gets modified over a few months. A group of ex-IWA promoters got together the day the IWA folded to create a new alliance, something bigger than even a national wrestling alliance. They formed the Universal Wrestling Association (“Association Universal de Lucha Libre”), naming Lou Thesz as president and authorizing Promociones Mora to hold tournaments to determine new champions. The unsanctioned NWA championships were quietly retired, but those belt holders made it to the finals of tournaments for the new belts, with finals for a special November 26, 1975 show in Mexico City’s Palacio de Los Deportes. That was the official start of UWA sanctioned shows, which would continue to rival and often surpass EMLL for the next decade and a half.

Wrestlers of that period talk about that stretch of time – from the start of the Mora/UWA shows until the collapse in the early 90s – as a fantastic time to be a wrestler. They were treated well by promoters, had plenty of work, and were paid fairly. Older wrestlers (and older fans) tend to look back at their youth as a particularly golden age of wrestling, no matter what years those were, but those 70/80s shows are unarguable packed with hall of fame wrestlers in front of large audiences. Mora alone is believed to have drawn over a million fans in some years. It doesn’t happen without both Rene Guajardo, and Anibal had the courage to walk out of the stability of EMLL and take their belts with them.

Post-script 1: Anibal versus Rene Guajardo was covered on radio and TV. Lucha libre in Mexico City wasn’t allowed to be broadcast on TV, so a giant match from 1975 being televised (even if just a clip) would’ve been a huge deal. There’s a long-shot chance it’s sitting in some vault somewhere, though more likely it’s long destroyed by now.

Post-script 2: EMLL seems like it must be in bad shape in 1975 after losing so many names in a short time, right? Not exactly. They did have a deep bench of young wrestlers who could step up to fill some of the gaps. Ringo Mendoza was already getting more of a focus in 1974 (and was a factor in the unrelated Ray Mendoza leaving). Others, like Fishman, Tony Salazar, and Cien Caras get larger roles. Luchadors who are about to be big deals are coming out of the woodwork; a magazine reader can be flipping through pages and stumble upon an introduction of new Acapulco star (and future Hall of Famer) Lizmark. This was a great time to need new faces.

The biggest prospect turned star came from Guadalajara. He’d been wrestling in Arena Coliseo Guadalajara since at least 1970, got his first chance in Mexico City in 1974, showed some great potential as a rudo, but had trouble breaking through to a regularly featured role. He got as high as “solid challenger for a national title defense” until the departures picked up. He did well when given those chances, so EMLL put him in a high profile feud with Ringo Mendoza. And this is how the legend of Perro Aguayo was born:

  • April 25 [Arena Mexico]: Perro Aguayo defeats Ringo Mendoza in a hair match
  • June 13 [Arena Mexico]: Perro Aguayo defeats Marty Jones in a hair match
  • July 4 [Arena Mexico]: Perro Aguayo defeats Ringo Mendoza for the NWA Middleweight Championship (Anibal vacancy)
  • July 18 [Arena Mexico]: Perro Aguayo defeats Ricky Starr to retain the NWA Middleweight Championship
  • September 26 [Arena Mexico]: Perro Aguayo defeats EL SANTO to retain the NWA Middleweight Championship
  • October 3 [Arena Mexico]: El Santo defeats Perro Aguayo in a mask versus hair match
  • October 12 [Guadalajara]: Perro Aguayo defeats Blue Demon to retain the NWA Middleweight Championship
  • December 5 [Arena Mexico]: Perro Aguayo (likely) defeats El Santo to retain the NWA Middleweight Championship
    • (we have the match announcement but not a recap of the show)

All those wins are meaningful. The loss might have meant more; the show’s magazine recaps are effusive in their praise of Aguayo. Santo won and rightfully so, but Aguayo made it clear he’s an outstanding luchador, and there’s a strong respect for his abilities. Santo had not defended his mask in Arena Mexico in 12 years, came back specifically for this feud, and would never defend it Arena Mexico again. Our records of 1970s lucha are far from complete (though getting better), but Perro Aguayo was likely the final person to beat El Santo in a singles match in Arena Mexico. Those title matches do not happen without the former champions leaving (putting Aguayo in front of the line for the title) and an opposition promotion forcing EMLL to retaliate by working with Santo again. Aguayo was great and would’ve been a star eventually anyway, but September 26th and October 3rd made him one right away.

Post-script 3: another name shows up in late 1974 and early 1975, perhaps thanks to a few spots opening up. It’s a new person under an old name, and he really never gets out of the Arena Coliseo prelims, but “Espectro Jr.” does get a profile. The magazine notes he’s not the son of original Espectro Antonio Hernandez, but one of his top trainees. Espectro Jr. is better known today as Antonio Pena; a man who got into EMLL due to a rival promotion would one day lead a rival promotion against EMLL himself. The origins of AAA – a press conference, a TV agreement, an actual name – were all a lot smoother than the UWA, so perhaps these times helped him prepare later.