Drag Meets Lucha Libre In San Diego’s “Exótico” Matches

The words Mexican wrestling conjure up images of masked burly men, performing acrobatic-like stunts, taking down their opponents in the most theatrical of styles while unabashedly flaunting their masculinity. Take all of that, wrap it in feathered boas and carefully apply some hot-pink lipstick, and you’ve got Ruby Gardenia, one of lucha libre’s newest rising starlets who’s challenging popular ideas of what it means to be macho.

Ruby Gardenia is part of the “exótico” brand of lucha libre wrestling highlighted by Enrique Limón in San Diego Citybeat. The story details how Fernando Covarrubias transforms into Ruby Gardenia, the genderbending luchador who, amid catcalls and wolf-whistles, blows kisses, gives lap dances, and then steps into the ring to kick butt and prove she’s just as tough as any of the guys.

The story of exótico lucha libre is, as is to be expected, is a little kooky, starting in the 1930s, taking root in Mexico in the 1980s, and now a San Diego export:

A beacon of testosterone-filled machismo idealism, professional hand-to-hand combat got its first dose of glam in the 1930s in the form of Wilbur Finrand, aka Lord Lansdowne. A decade later, a mid-level heterosexual wrestler named George Wagner took a page from an old wrestling buddy, Texas native Dizzy Davis, who’d traveled to Mexico, adopted the stage name Gardenia Davis and would enter the ring escorted by his personal valets, throwing his namesake flower to the confused crowd.With the aid of a couple of Hungarian hairstylists, Wagner bleached and curled his hair, and “Gorgeous George” was born. Playing his new role to the to the hilt, word of his over-the-top persona and effeminate ways spread, and fans attended matches in droves just to get a chance to taunt and ridicule him.

Adding more perspective into the world of Ruby Garndenia, machismo, and homophobia in lucha libre, Limón is joined by San Diego State University professor Bill Nericcio in a conversation on KPBS’s Afternoon Edition, to talk about what this lady brings to an already colorful and flamboyant sport. Check out the interview and let us know what you think.

[Photo Courtesy San Diego CityBeat By Don Spiro/Lucha VaVoom]

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