Calgary: Bring back Stampede Wrestling?

Seems to me Calgary is always looking for ways to attract more tourists to our city.  Over the past few years, several new tourist attractions have been added or will soon be added to enhance our city as a tourist destination – new festivals (Beakerhead), new museums (National Music Centre, Canadian Sports Hall of Fame) and international events (formula one car racing).  After recently attending a Lucha Libre (aka Stampede Wrestling) event in Mexico City, I am thinking we should consider bringing back Stampede Wrestling and promote.

Lucha Libre (free style wrestling) is one of Mexico City’s biggest tourist attractions, with attendance in excess of one million people per year (tourists and locals).  Lucha Libre takes place every Tuesday and Friday night, with additional special matches during the year in the Arena Mexico (aka the cathedral of lucha libre).  This 16,500-seat arena built in 1956, hosted the boxing matches of the 1968 Summer Olympics.  Though the arena has seen better days (I don’t think it has been renovated since it was built), that doesn’t seem to bother the spectators. In fact, it seems like an appropriate and authentic location for this type of low-brow event.

The entire family gets into fun of a night out at Lucha Libre in Mexico City.

Lucha Libre 101

Mexico City’s wrestling history dates back to 1863 when free style wrestling was developed from Greco-Roman wrestling.  The modern version began in 1942, when a silver-masked wrestler El Santo (The Saint) made his debut by winning an 8-man battle royal without revealing his identity.  The public loved the mystery man and the fact they didn’t know his real identity - just like a real super hero. 

Today, a key element of the Lucha Libre spectacle is to not only to pin your opponent but to remove his or her mask to humiliate them (yes there are female wrestlers). The public hoots and hollers throughout the event but never moreso than when someone is de-masked. 

Stampede Wrestling 101

Calgary was at the forefront of the wrestling world back in 1948 when Stu Hart (one of the world’s most famous wrestlers) created Stampede Wrestling. Utilizing the Victoria Pavilion, Ogden Auditorium and Stampede Corral, the Hart family created one of the world’s earliest televised (hosted by Ed Whalen from 1957 to 1989) professional wrestling programs, which was broadcast to over 50 countries year-round. In many ways, it was as big as the Stampede itself in being a global ambassador for Calgary. 

Beginning in the ‘80s, with the advent of World Wrestling Federation (WWF), Stampede Wrestling started to struggle. The Harts sold the rights to Vince McMahon of WWF in 1984, but bought them back the next year.  After many years of ups and downs, (including a riot in 1983 during a match at the Ogden Auditorium, when Ed Whalen was so disgusted by the violence he resigned on air), Stampede Wrestling’s last performance was in 2008.  


Ballet-like Performance Art

Free-style wrestling is a hybrid between ballet and theatre.  All the moves are orchestrated and choreographed like a ballet and the costuming is ballet-like.  And the performers are a combination of actors and stand-up or improv comedians. If you don’t take yourself (or them) too seriously, the wrestling can be a hoot. Certainly, the people around me were having more fun than I have seen at any event in a long time.

Everything about the night is tacky - from the Las Vegas-like showgirls to the loud and crass announcers, to the chubby middle-aged men dressed in silly costumes tossing each other around and slapping each other like some bizarre Three Stooges-like skit.

Last Word

In Mexico City, lucha libre is a “must see” tourist attraction for many tourists. It was certainly popular with the guests at the Hostel Suites, with groups heading there every Tuesday and Friday night.  

The 6,457-seat Stampede Corral built in 1950 (same vintage as the Arena Mexico) would be ideally suited as a permanent home for a revitalized Stampede Wrestling program.  Given the global explosion in cosplaying (dressing up in costume) and interest fantasy superheroes by adults, a revamped Stampede Wrestling program could well become a huge year-round attraction for tourists and Calgarians alike.

If you like this blog, you might like: 

Seven Reasons to Visit Mexico City

Stampede Corral: Art Gallery/Museum

Everyone around me had a great time!