Defiantly waving an Arizona state flag, the self-described American patriot leaps into an octagon-shaped ring amid blaring music and loud boos from an overwhelmingly Latino audience, who hold aloft signs in Spanish supporting his masked Mexican opponents.
“My name is RJ Brewer and I’m from Phoenix, Arizona,” the wrestler proclaims in a video of a recent match provided by the promoter. Taunts from inside the arena get louder.
He proceeds to rail against Mexican beer and to demand that people speak English. Then he points to the message painted on the backside of his red trunks: “SB1070” — a reference to Arizona’s controversial immigration law. The crowd, some wearing masks of their favorite Mexican wrestlers, shrieks ever louder. He then brags that his “mother,” Arizona Gov. Jan Brewer, is helping “save” America by pushing policies that limit immigration (he’s not really her son).
When his masked opponent in a red cape appears, the crowd erupts into cheers.
Lucha libre — or “free wrestling” in Spanish — is a brand of Mexican wrestling that dates to the 1930s. The sport came north to the United States, along with Mexican immigrants, and over the years spawned clubs in some larger U.S. cities with large Latino communities.
One lucha libre promotion is leading the charge away from the slapstick and simple storylines with a tour in U.S. cities with sizable Latino populations, including events in Reno, Nev., and San Jose, Calif., this week. It’s using the recent events in Arizona as a backdrop while pitting popular masked Mexican wrestlers against American “bad guys.”
“It’s something that we’ve been building in our TV shows and we’ve gotten a lot of positive reaction to it,” said Steve Ship, CEO of Lucha Libre USA, which this week is launching a “Masked Warriors” tour that will also stop in Phoenix, Los Angeles and Houston. “So we are bringing it right to our audience.”
SB1070, signed by Gov. Brewer in 2010, requires all immigrants in Arizona to obtain or carry immigration registration papers and requires police, while enforcing other laws, to question people’s immigration status if there is a reasonable suspicion they’re in the country illegally. The law is being challenged by the federal government and has sparked protests and boycotts against Arizona by Latino advocates around the country.
On shows that have aired on Spanish-language stations and MTV2, RJ Brewer — whose real name is John Stagikas and works as a real estate agent in Massachusetts — advocates for deportations and calls on Americans to support laws that target illegal immigrants.
“This is different than any other program I’ve been involved with because usually I have to work really hard to get the audience to hate me,” Stagikas said in an interview with The Associated Press. “With this, I just walk in with the Arizona flag and the audience boos before I even say a word.”
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