Words by Caitlin D., photos by María Fernanda.
Gloria Geovanna Alvarado Nava, aka Goya Kong, is demonstrating her ability to demolish her sister and their cousin in one blow in front of a small audience at her family’s Mexico City practice ring. In a dazzling maneuver, she uses her weight and might to drop her two relatives to the ground, landing them with a stomach-turning thump on the ground, and flashes a peace sign.
Though it’s enough to make a spectator wince, Gloria is actually holding back. When she competes in front of hundreds or thousands of wrestling fans in arenas across the world, her force in the ring is breathtaking.
Mexican wrestlers traditionally wear masks when they fight, and most of them are unwilling to reveal their faces or their real names. Gloria’s sister (on the right in this picture), whose ring name is Muñeca de Plata, and their cousin (on the left), who goes by Black Twister, for example, don’t want their birth names made public, and they avoid being photographed without their masks.
Gloria, Muñeca, and Black Twister are all members of a three-generations-deep family of professional wrestlers. It all started with Maria’s grandfather, Juan Alvarado Ibarra (aka Shadito Cruz), who wrestled in the ’70s and trained five of his sons in the art of lucha libre (literally, “free wrestling”).
There are now 19 luchadores in the Alvarado family tree, and the clan now has its own promotional business that produces lucha lineups with multiple bouts featuring the family’s wrestlers. The day after this photo shoot, Gloria would fight Muñeca in one of these matches. “Is it hard to wrestle your younger sister?” I ask them. They smile at me indulgently. “She’s not my sister in the ring,” Gloria says.
Despite the fact that Gloria and Muñeca have been attending matches since they were in their mother’s belly and grew up watching their father, José Alvarado Nieves (aka Brazo de Plata), win championships across Mexico during his 36-year career, their place in lucha libre was never guaranteed. Women have been competing in the sport since the 1940s, led by pioneers like Irma González—an ex-acrobat who became the world champion of women’s professional wrestling in the 1950s—but they were banned from competing in Mexico City until 1986. Today there are roughly 15 women (compared to 100-some men) in the Consejo Mundial de Lucha Libre, the sport’s oldest league.
Lucha libre is extremely popular in Mexico. In smaller towns, promotors will set up rings on the street for al fresco matches. From the 1950s to ’70s, movies starring luchadores saving the world from aliens and mummies were all the rage (2006’s Nacho Libre was an homage to this craze). Today, you’ll see fan magazines on newsstands and restaurants and cafes decorated with lucha paraphernalia. You’d be hard pressed to find a Mexican who has never watched a match, at least on TV if not in person at the high energy, at-times hilarious stadium events where people of all ages gather to cheer for the good guys (called técnicos) and shout obscenities at the villains (rudos).
Muñeca de Plata (above left) was the first woman in the Alvarado family to decide she wanted a career as a wrestler. She had to persuade Gloria, the older of the two by a year, to train with her, and, at 17 and 18 years old, they started learning the rules of the ring under the tutelage of two retired wrestlers. If it seems strange that they had to look outside their family, which, after all, is chock-full of professional wrestlers, for training, it wasn’t for lack of trying. They went to their brother, a luchador known as Psycho Clown, first, but he turned them away.
“My brother, Psycho Clown—it really bothered him that we wanted to fight,” remembers Gloria. “He said that the lucha was for men, that women should stay in the home. Muy machista! Women have been wrestling for decades, but he didn’t see my sister and I as a part of that. He didn’t think we could do it. But with time, we showed him that we could.” Once he came to his senses, Psycho Clown took over as the girls’ trainer.
“I remember the first day we trained with Psycho Clown,” says Muñeca de Plata. “That was a hard day for me. Puro lagrimas [pure tears[ for me. He always said ah, you want to be a luchadora? Get up here! Here in la lucha, you suffer. After that comes the satisfaction.” Muñeca says the most challenging part of being a luchadora is learning to absorb the hits, especially the socks to the boob area, and especially the ones that come from her sister.
Gloria says her grandfather, Juan Alvarado Ibarra, was the only relative who immediately supported the sisters’ desire to learn the sport. “I was worried at first,” says their mother, Rosa Isela Nava Carillo (above), who now helps them manage scheduling and media requests. “But if they chose this career, they knew what they were getting into, they saw what their papa had to do. Now I support them 100 percent.”
In June 2012, Gloria’s long-simmering feud with the wrestler Princess Blanca came to a head in a 10-woman cage match in Arena México, the capital’s largest stadium. It was the first official women’s lucha match in the venue. “The arena was full,” Gloria says. The bout ended with Princess Blanca defeating her rival and removing Goya Kong’s mask—an act whose drama is unmatched in a lucha libre fighter’s career and which is generally considered a loss of honor. Under CMLL rules, an athlete is seldom allowed to don their mask after losing it—future matches must be fought barefaced. That’s why Gloria can show her face in these pictures.
Gloria’s loss, though, seemed to endear her to lucha fans. On that fateful evening, she says, “I felt naked, weird! I was sad that night, but I opened my Facebook, and I had 1,000 friend requests waiting for me. Now I can communicate more. I’m closer to my public.”
“I always want to smile at the crowd so that they leave with a good taste in their mouth,” Gloria says. I asked her where she gets the inspiration for her costumes—often spandex numbers with ruffled miniskirts and low-cut necklines—she name-checks Beyoncé. “I love her hair, how she dances, her personality—muy del barrio. Only she puts her boobies out more.”
As the CMLL’s first plus-size female wrestler, Gloria is often seen as a role model for big girls. “Many overweight women have written to me through email and Twitter,” she says. “They have hopes of being athletes, and they think of me as an example. I feel really great about that—that’s my satisfaction, how I know I’m doing my job well.”
It turns out, Gloria’s weight is a huge advantage in the ring. “My strength is different,” she says. “And despite my weight I have agility. I have the capacity to go up against whatever may come.”
“Men come to see how we fight and they realize that we hit harder than men,” says Gloria. “We’re like lionesses battling, fighting for what’s ours.” I ask her if she thinks gender equality will come to lucha libre soon. “I think so,” she says, laughing. “When we get rid of all the machistas. Then people will see and value us as they do the men. It’s gonna be like, Let’s go, girls!” ♦