For Mr. Spock.
Ugh, I really donít want to write this opening paragraph. Seriously, can I skip it? I just spent a whole day researching and writing this column and Iím bad enough at these intros as is. Donít be surprised if I just turn this opening into one giant pop culture reference that makes a Community episode look like a regular NBC sitcom. Fuck, itís happening already! And this is after I worked so hard to make this column serious, serious, and even more serious. Just kidding. Or am I? Does it show I donít care about this opening paragraph?
But enough about the struggle being real, nowís the fun part. For this ColuMania Battle Royal event that Iím showing up really late for, I decided to abandon the creative column spree Iíve been on and do a good old fashioned Cult Tribute. The idea, in fact, came to me thanks to this thread in the General Wrestling section of the forum called the Mt. Rushmore of Wrestling. Basically, youíre deciding which four wrestlers will have their heads carved into a massive mountain that will eventually serve as the climax for North By Northwest and that Family Guy episode with Mel Gibson (ďThereís a dog turd in here!Ē). While I was thinking about who would be on my wrestling Rushmore, I started to think outside of the box, because hey, a Rushmore of Hogan, Rock, Austin or Cena/Flair is the easiest, most boring Rushmore you can think of. And thatís when I remembered a name I had read about before in the Death of WCW; he hadnít actually wrestled in WCW, but he was someone that Bryan Alvarez and R.D. Reynolds made a point to bring up as someone who was such a massive draw that he became bigger than wrestling in his homeland of Mexico. More importantly though, it didnít appear that his story was one well known outside of Mexico, and well, you know how much I love to tell stories about the little known stars of wrestling. So thus, after a day of research, I present to you this story about an icon, a legend, a hero. May I introduce to you the greatest wrestler that you never knew existed, the one and only, El Santo.
The man who would become El Santo was born Rodolfo GuzmŠn Huerta on September 23rd, 1917 in Tulancingo, Hildago, Mexico. The fifth of seven children (hot damn), Huerta would spend most of his youth interested in spots like American football and baseball. By early adulthood however, he fell in love with professional wrestling, and after training in both Ju-Jitsu and classical mat wrestling would debut in the mid 1930ís (the date of his debut is up for debate). Much like Hulk Hoganís early career in the states, success didnít find the man who would go on to become one of the biggest icons in Mexican history. From 1936 to 1942, Huerta would wrestle under four different names; Rudy GuzmŠn, El Hombre Rojo, El Demonio Negro and El Murcielago II. Each run produced little to no fanfare, and Huerta was even forced to drop one of the names (El Murcielago) after the original owner of the name complained to the Mexican boxing and wrestling commission. For all intents and purposes, Huertaís career looked to be over, leaving him nothing more than a footnote of Lucha Libreís dawning days.
Things would change in the spring of 1942, when the then 24 year old Huerta was approached by wrestling manager Don Jesķs LomelŪ with a proposal. Looking to put together a group of villainous masked wrestlers dressed in silver, LomelŪ asked Huerta to join. Recently married and not ready to give up on his dream, Huerta accepted the offer. LomelŪ would then give Huerta three choices for his new name; El Diablo, El Angel, and finally El Santo. Huerta quickly chose El Santo, believing its meaning (El Santo translated to English is ďThe SaintĒ) was the perfect contrast to his role as a rudo (heel). In the long list of great decisions, Huertaís choice of names lists right up there with the Bulls taking Michael Jordan in the 1983 draft, David Fincherís casting of Rooney Mara in the Girl With the Dragon Tattoo, and Vince McMahon choosing Roman Reigns to win the 2015 Royal Rumble (just kidding. Or am I?).
Huerta would wrestle for the first time as El Santo on June 26th, 1942, winning an eight man battle royal in Mexico City. Despite his status as a rudo, fans immediately fell in love with Santo due his mysterious personality and his masked appearance. More importantly however, Santo caught the eye of Salvador Lutteroth, the creator of Mexicoís first major promotion Empresa Mexicana de la Lucha Libre (EMLL) and man considered to be the ďFather of Lucha Libre.Ē Immediately seeing the response the fans gave El Santo, Lutteroth immediately moved to make Santo a big star, including the brilliant tactic of having Santo go everywhere wearing his silver mask. The decision only helped fuel Santoís popularity, and aside from his final public appearance before his death in 1984, the public never saw him without his silver mask on. The influence of Lutteroth decision is still felt today, as many masked wrestlers in Mexico (including Santoís own son) do not appear in public without their masks on.
Over the course of the next 35 plus years, Santo would become the face of wrestling in Mexico and Lucha Libre, helping to establish EMLL as one of the biggest wrestling promotions in the world. Seriously, the way we see WWE right now is the way EMLL was during Santoís massive run. He would win a total of twelve championships (most notably becoming the first ever NWA World Welterweight Champion, a title still defended today), and is listed as having spent over 6,500 total days as a champion. That would make him a champion for over seventeen years of his legendary run, a number that is likely higher as his reigns as Mexican Tag Team Champions with Ray de Jalisco were for an unknown amount of days. However, Santoís most famous exploits in the ring didnít involve titles.
El Santo and his greatest rival, Blue Demon
In 1952, a still villainous Santo (yes, despite being the most popular guy he was still technically a rudo! The dude was the original smart mark choice!) would engage in a heated rivalry with the popular Black Shadow, culminating in a Luchas de Apuestas match (mask vs. mask) on November 7th. In what is still considered one of the greatest matches in Lucha Libre history, Santo would defeat and unmask Shadow, shocking the Lucha Libre world. More importantly though, it also drew the ire of Blue Demon (who yes, was father of Lucha Underground star Blue Demon Jr). Also a rudo at the time, Blue Demon was so angered by Santoís actions that he would turn technico (face) and target Santo. For over a year, the two would face off in a series of high profile matches, with Blue Demon coming out victorious each time. The significance of this is major; while Santo lost his fair share of matches over his career, he generally came out on top of every rivalry. Not this one; Blue Demon was the Cardinals to his Cubs, and he was never able to entirely get the better of him. Wisely, EMLL used that to their advantage of the next couple of decades, and thus the Santo-Blue Demon rivalry never entirely died down and produced more enticing stories going forward.
Despite coming out on the losing end, the feud would firmly establish Santo as an icon both in and out of the ring. Not long after his battles with Blue Demon ended, Santo became the star of writer Jose G. Cruzís Santo comic book, a series that would run for over thirty years. Yes, long before Warrior was releasing his awful comic, Santo was having his (apparently quite good) comic released. Go figure. He would also become immortalized on the big screen, first as the inspiration for the film The Man in the Silver Mask (Santo declined to appear in the film) and then later as a film star himself. From 1958 on, Santo appeared in over 52 Lucha Libre films, mostly starring with many of his fellow luchadores. To the shock of no one, Santo wasnít exactly The Rock and most of his films were low budget B-Movies; even his most famous film, a horror film called Santo vs la Mujeres Vampiro (translated to Samson vs. The Vampire Women) is mostly known due to its appearance on the wonderful show Mystery Science Theater 3000. Never the less, Santoís films generally made good money at the box office, and he continued to both make movies and wrestle up to his retirement in 1982. Note to Hayden Christensen and Paulie Shore; evidently putting on a mask helps hide your flaws and makes mad money at the box office. Might be something to look into dudes!
Poster of El Santo's most famous film Santo vs la Mujeres Vampiro
Following a grand retirement tour in 1982, Santoís health pretty much all but deteriorated, despite being in his mid 60ís and in decent shape. I donít know if it was a case of Santo being unable to let go of wrestling, but he never recovered from his failing health and died of a heart attack two years after his retirement on February 5th, 1984. Thousands upon thousands ended up attending his funeral, and fittingly, Santo was buried wearing the silver mask that had made him the hero all those years ago. He was survived by at least one wife and ten children, including his youngest son Jorge GuzmŠn RodrŪguez, who wrestles in Mexico to this day as El Hijo del Santo (Son of the Saint).
While the Blue Demon feud may have been the most profitable run of Santoís career, the one thing that constantly stands out in everything you read is the mask vs. mask match between him and Black Shadow. This match may in fact be the greatest match in wrestling history that no one ever remembers; itís considered to have re-established the importance of the mask in Mexican wrestling and was so anticipated that several thousands had to be turned away from the door (Lutteroth is said to have created the legendary Arena Mexico in order to make sure everyone could attend shows). Not only that, but the match went 70 minutes. Thatís right, 70 MINUTES! Imagine Hulk Hogan and Andre the Giant at Wrestlemania III, only if it had been an hour and ten minute classic. Thatís how big Santo-Black Shadow was for wrestling in Mexico, for EMLL and for the two men involved. Without it, Santo may not get the comic book or the movie roles that helped enhance his legend tenfold. Itís a damn shame thereís no video of this match; Iíd pay big money to see it.
The legacy of El Santo is one that, quite frankly, I donít think I could even put in words. Here in the states, most of us fans like to think of Hulk Hogan as a cultural icon, a larger than life persona that transcended professional wrestling. Not only did El Santo do the same in Mexico, it appears he did it to a greater extent. For almost four decades, Ďel Enmascarado de Plataí (the Silver-Masked One) sold out arenas, movie theaters, comic book shelves and helped pioneer what Lucha Libre and the masked wrestler means in Mexcio. But more than that, he became a folk hero, an almost mythical character the likes of which I canít even fathom another wrestler becoming. It endures today in Mexico; statues of El Santo stand in several cities in Mexico, several movies and TV shows have been made in his honor and his youngest son, El Hijo del Santo, has continued his fatherís legacy with an outstanding career of his own in and out of the ring (do yourself a favor and watch him and Octagon vs Eddie Guerrero and Art Barr from When Worlds Collide 1994). This isnít to knock Hulk Hoganís status; he has sold out arenas, movies and many other things along the way himself. But, perhaps because heís still alive, I know so much about him or due to his sometimes spotty backstage reputation, there appears to be a limit to how far Hoganís legacy can go. I donít see that with El Santo; his legend is limitless in Mexico, where the mystique and mysteriousness that made the character popular continue enthrall fans young and old.
If thatís not a good enough explanation for how massive a name El Santo was, then the best I can do is this. Wherever his spirit may be right now, I truly hope Rodolfo GuzmŠn Huerta is proud of the legacy he created. He created something in El Santo that has lived on long after his days, and will continue to live on long after even his sonís days. But more importantly, he accomplished it all doing, what it appears to me at least, the number one thing he loved to do in life. Now thatís pretty cool.
Thatíll do it guys. Hope you enjoyed this look at a wrestling legend. Iíll be back someday. Till then, may we all live long and prosper, kick out the jams, watch Watchmen: The Ultimate Cut, always have an escape plan, tell your mother you love Paige (no questions, JUST DO IT!), know there are actually pictures online of the iceberg that sunk Titanic, get me a fucking Pepsi, and donít ask questions when you see DUCHOVNY staring up at the sky in your yard.
Please change disks to continueÖ