Dropkick!

Not that I readily admit it, but all my life I’ve been a bit of a grappling fan. Just old enough to catch the end of the golden age of British Wrestling – fat men in pants like Big Daddy and Giant Haystacks slugging it out pantomime style in front of large Saturday afternoon audiences on ITV – I was intrigued by the ‘sport’ from a pretty early age. In my time I’ve seen live WWF (Summerslam ’89 at Wembley Stadium), Mexican Luche Libre (UK Tour 2009) and plenty of dodgy UK bouts in circus tents and dusty old theatres in places like Hastings and Croydon. But in all my time as a fight fan I’ve never come across anything like Cholitas Wrestling in La Paz Bolivia.

Taking it’s lead from the Luche Libre style wrestling made famous by athletic Mexicans, the Bolivian’s have added a unique twist by throwing native ‘cholita’ women into the ring. Cholita as it turns out is a mildly derogatory term used to describe the indigenous women who dress in big bright coloured skirts, generally have two very long plated pony tails and wear those strange bowler hats (I’m still not sure where this style comes from). The women as it turns out fight against the men, which was odd to see and lead to some slightly questionable moments during the fights. The rest of the production – the male wrestlers, the music, the lights, the announcer – is basically a cheap copy of American/Mexican Wrestling. Lots of masks, pantomime ‘goodies and baddies’, dodgy refs and super hero type characters but without the impressive physiques of the WWE or the incredible acrobatics of Luche Libre. It’s saving grace is that it’s one of those things that’s so bad it’s good – and the cholitas of course, which gives the whole event a bizarre uniqueness to the spectacle.

I booked a tour through Hidden Andes who’s office is down by San Pedro prison in La Paz. The event itself takes place 40 minutes outside town in nearby (and slightly dodgy) El Alto and the tour included a bus ride there from your hostel, entrance to the event, a free snack and a souvenir. The snack was a glass of cola and a portion of popcorn (which you were encouraged to throw at the wrestlers), the souvenir a mini cholita figure (really mini – like a ceramic thumb puppet). The cost for all this was 80 Bolivianos – roughly £7 – which felt pretty reasonable by the end of the event.

The wrestling itself was generally fairly amateur stuff, but entertaining all the same. There were 7 bouts in total, the event lasting around 3 hours and it was only in two of the bouts towards the end of the night that cholitas featured. It was all very badly acted pantomime stuff – the refs getting involved in most of the fights (always on the side of the ‘baddies’) – but that didn’t stop some of the man on women sections making me a little uncomfortable. As I say, it was all very obviously acted, but 3 sneering men stomping on a fairly normal looking woman is never quite going to seem right. There was also one moment where two guys in skeleton suits took turns to forcefully kiss one of the cholitas while she was pinned in the corner… again ‘pantomime sexual assault’ seemed like maybe a step too far… but who am I to say what’s right and wrong! The packed out Bolivian crowd, who were made up of a young and old, men and women, were lapping it up and I don’t think anyone was at all offended… the cholitas always win in the end too, so maybe that’s the moral of the story.

Weird, unique and cheap… if you’re in La Paz on a Sunday I’d definitely suggest having a look.

Resources
Visit the Cholitas Wrestling website