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Unmasking Saúl Armendáriz: 10 Things You Didn’t Know About The Liberace of Lucha Libre

More on the unapologetically queer Mexican-American fighter who changed the course of Mexico’s beloved lucha libre…

Saúl Armendáriz, or Cassandro, is more than just a wrestling icon. He is a trailblazer, advocate, and inspiration to many around the globe. Born on May 22, 1969, in Ciudad Juárez, Mexico, the real-life gay wrestler shattered stereotypes and expectations in the late ’80s and ’90s changing the landscape of the highly theatrical Mexican sport of lucha libre.

At the age of fifteen, Armendáriz quit school and began training lucha libre, which is a type of freestyle wrestling that originated in Mexico in the early 20th century and is characterized by colourful masks, rapid sequences of holds and maneuvers, and high-flying maneuvers. It’s a sport rooted in performance of hyper-masculinity, which could often manifest in machismo and homophobia.

In lucha libre, there are certain archetypes wrestlers follow. Técnicos are the heroic good guys, while rudos are the bad guys they must defeat. Exóticos are a different type of archetype that can be traced back to the 1940s. They are mostly caricatures of gay men; underdogs placed in fights solely for laughs from the audience. Instead of trying to hide his sexuality in order to appease the norms of lucha libre, Armendáriz leaned in and began performing as Cassandro: maskless, wearing makeup and glamorous costumes inspired by figure skaters, and showing off his technical skills and strength.

Armendáriz is returning to the spotlight thanks to Amazon Prime’s Cassandro, the new biopic directed by Oscar winner Roger Ross Williams, starring Gael García Bernal as the eponymous Mexican-American fighter. That means it’s a perfect time to dig a little deeper into the famed persona and the man who became known as the Liberace of Lucha Libre. Here’s ten less-know facts about the man behind the mask and the lasting impact he has had both within and outside the wrestling world.

1. Exotico pioneer
Saúl Armendáriz, as Cassandro, was one of the pioneers in the Exotico category of Lucha Libre, a style where wrestlers, predominantly males, perform in drag. Exoticos play crucial roles in promoting LGBTQ+ visibility and acceptance in the wrestling scene.

2. Early struggles
Armendáriz faced tremendous hardships, including homelessness and substance abuse in his early years. Wrestling served not only as a career but also a lifeline, providing him with purpose and structure.

3. Training under Rey Mysterio
The aspiring wrestler was initially trained by the legendary Rey Mysterio Sr., who helped him hone the skills necessary for a successful career in the demanding Lucha Libre circuit.

4. Cassandro’s name was inspired by a soap opera character
Armendáriz was influenced by television when he was crafting his exótico persona, referencing the Venezuelan telenovela Kassandra with his moniker.

5. Debut in 1988
Cassandro made his professional wrestling debut in 1988. Despite his initial struggles and the challenges posed by his unique persona in a machismo-driven environment, he quickly rose through the ranks due to his undeniable talent and charisma.

6. First Exotico champion
In 1991, Armendáriz made history by becoming the first Exotico to win a championship, securing the UWA World Lightweight title. This victory was instrumental in establishing Exoticos as legitimate and formidable competitors within professional wrestling.

7. Semi-retirement in 2018
After a career spanning three decades filled with both triumphs and injuries, Armendáriz announced his semi-retirement in 2018. Although stepping back from active competition, he remains involved in the sport, often participating in speaking engagements and training sessions.

8. Advocate for Mental Health
Utilizing his platform, Armendáriz actively advocates for mental health awareness. Having personally navigated through depression and anxiety, he shares his experiences to destigmatize mental health issues, especially within the Latino and LGBTQ+ communities.

9. Inductee of the Southern California Pro-Wrestling Hall of Fame
In recognition of his contributions to the sport, Armendáriz was inducted into the Southern California Pro-Wrestling Hall of Fame, immortalizing his legacy for future generations of fans and performers alike.

10. Inspirational speaker
Beyond the ring, Armendáriz is a motivational speaker, sharing his life story to inspire others. He often addresses topics like overcoming adversity, embracing identity, and combating substance abuse, aiming to provide hope and encouragement to those facing similar challenges.

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