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LA TIMES:

‘Crusader’ against illegal immigration brings his message to the mat

COLUMN ONE

‘RJ Brewer’ — has wrestled his way across the Southwest on the ‘Masked Warriors’ tour, to almost entirely hostile crowds. His shaved-headed, in-your-face character was created two years ago by the Mexican American wrestling promotion company Lucha Libre USA.

April 10, 2012|By Hector Becerra, Los Angeles Times

STOCKTON — In the center of a starkly lighted wrestling ring, RJ Brewer glared at the overwhelmingly Latino crowd and spread the flag of Arizona across his back.

Buff, mean, white and glistening with baby oil, he snatched the microphone from the referee. “I come from the greatest city in the United States: Phoenix, Arizona!” the wrestler yelled in English. “Phoenix is the only city with a woman in power with the guts to get into the president’s face and address the real problem in this country!”

The audience knows that the “problem” he is referring to is illegal immigration. And the woman is his so-called mother — conservative Arizona Gov. Jan Brewer, who signed the nation’s toughest law against illegal immigrants.

PHOTOS: Wrestler takes his message to the mat

“You suck, RJ Brewer!” screamed 9-year-old Felipe Soria, spiky-haired and looking like a brown-skinned Bart Simpson. Chants of “Mexico! Mexico!” echoed through the packed arena.

Brewer taunted back: “How dare you boo an American hero!”

Characters are the stock in trade of pro wrestling, drawing audiences into its epic battles of good versus evil. And “RJ Brewer” — a shaved-headed, in-your-face crusader against illegal immigration created two years ago by the Mexican American wrestling promotion company Lucha Libre USA — is el mero malo, the chief bad guy.

Brewer (he won’t say what, if anything, the RJ stands for) has wrestled his way across the Southwest on the “Masked Warriors” tour, to almost entirely hostile crowds. They boo and heckle nonstop. They throw popcorn, lemons, pretzels and beverages at him. They swear at him in Spanish.

Es un racista!” said Cristian Sanchez, a 19-year-old clutching a green mask, screaming himself hoarse. “I know he’s a racist! … viva Mexico!”

For his part, Brewer is defiant, questioning the legal status of his opponents, bragging about his powerful “mother” and taking potshots at the quality of Mexican beer.

For some shows, he wears red tights with “SB1070” stenciled on the back. That’s the name of the anti-illegal immigration law that was passed in Arizona.

“I may have one or two supporters in the crowd, but it’s 99% against me,” he said proudly.

Unlike most of the other wrestlers, Brewer rarely signs autographs. Then again, he said, “no one wants my autograph. They’d rather throw stuff at me.” When he does give out a souvenir signature — as he did after one show for a 5-year-old who waved a sign questioning the wrestler’s legal status — he doesn’t tout it because it’s not exactly in keeping with his bad-boy role.

Pale and menacing, he could pass as a neo-Nazi in tights. But spend a few minutes with him and he comes across as thoughtful, articulate and somewhat sensitive. He has nothing against Mexicans and worries about being seen as a bona fide racist.

“A lot of people call me a bigot and a racist, that I’m against the Mexican people, and that’s not true,” Brewer said.

He has loved pro wrestling for as long as he can remember. As a youngster, he would be crushed if he missed an important match. Never a big guy, he bulked up when he was 18 and then played football — safety and receiver — at Assumption College in Massachusetts, a Division II school.

After graduation, he waited tables, worked in real estate and trained shelter dogs before stumbling into pro wrestling on the New England circuits, sometimes for just $10 a match. He played various characters through the years, but nothing like RJ Brewer.

And while he’s not living la vida Hulk Hoganwrestling has helped pay for some of the finer things.

“I’m not making crazy money, but I’m paid fairly well,” Brewer said. “I bought a villa in Costa Rica when they were dirt cheap.”

When Lucha Libre USA approached him about joining its circuit, “at first the character was supposed to be kind of like a mama’s boy from Arizona, more like a frat boy,” Stagikas said. “I was like, all right, I’ll try it. But it came more natural to me to not be some pretty boy with hair spiked but to be a political character.”

He and the Lucha Libre USA organizers eventually settled on a character who they would say was Gov. Brewer’s son. They knew right away they had found the perfect villain.

“It’s a really electric atmosphere. No one is sitting, everyone’s glued to the ring,” said Steven Ship, chief executive of Lucha Libre USA. “It’s hard not to get caught up in the frenzy.”

Brewer added: “When I hear the boos and the screaming, I know I’m doing my job.”

By now, he is fairly fluent in all forms of Spanish profanity.

RJ Brewer’s calling card is the large Arizona flag he drapes around his shoulders when he takes the stage.

Stagikas takes the role seriously. He reads newspapers and watches TV news and political debates to sharpen his declarations on illegal immigration. Stagikas wants his trash talk to sound credible, and he doesn’t want to be seen a mere lunatic ranter.

“I’d rather not attract the Ted Nugent crowd,” he said.

His father eats up his bad guy role. But his mother — his real mother — worries a little about her son.

Emotions do run high whenever he has a match, and security guards are warned to keep an eye out in case the crowd gets too riled up.

In Stockton, one guard stared out at the roughly 3,000 wrestling fanatics in the arena, many wearing masks and face paint that made them look like extras from a Mexican version of “Braveheart.” “What can we do?” he said. “I’m not paid enough to get trampled.”

Most matches, however, are trouble-free. There’s just a lot of bilingual trash talk and snacks thrown into the ring.

On this night in Stockton, the voice of the ring announcer bellows through the arena: “He is the Arizona Patriot … RJ Brewer!”

Brewer takes the microphone and vows to unmask and retire his rival, Blue Demon Jr. — the son of a legendary Mexican wrestler — and “send him with a one-way ticket back to Mexico.”

Cheers erupted when Blue Demon Jr. took the microphone.

“You talk about your mother … and about the Mexicans, but you forgot to tell people one thing,” the Mexican wrestler told Brewer in Spanish. “Son of mine, I’m your daddy!”

“Y te voy a regresar a tu casa, a punto de patadas — con tu madre!” he said. I’m going to kick you back home — to your mother!

The bell clanged and the two wrestlers grappled, kicked and slapped. Blue Demon Jr. stuffed a discarded pretzel into Brewer’s mouth.

A few cheers of “U.S.A.” rang through the hall. When the Mexican wrestler seemed on the defensive, the crowd yelled: “Si se puede! Yes, we can!

Brewer pulled out some “brass knuckles” hidden in a corner of the ring and punched Blue Demon Jr., seeming to pull close to victory. But then the referee discovered the weapon and it dropped to the floor. In the confusion, Blue Demon Jr. found the knuckles and knocked out Brewer.

The Mexican wrestler told the adoring crowd that he knows, undocumented or not, they earn their money with a lot of sweat, blood and hard work.

Then, standing over his prone opponent, he told Brewer: “Go back to your mother, the governor.”

The delighted crowd roared.

Defeated, Brewer staggered back to his dressing room, his head hung low. He puffed his cheeks in exhaustion and began to pick away at the wraps around his wrists.

Outside, the crackle of the cheering crowd continued to reverberate through the arena.

“I lost,” the wrestler said with a wink. “That seems to happen a lot.”

ASSOCIATED PRESS:

Immigration Battle Addressed In Lucha Libre

By RUSSELL CONTRERAS 03/30/12 03:42 AM ET AP

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — Defiantly waving an Arizona state flag, the self-described American patriot leaps into an octagon-shaped ring amid blaring music and loud boos from an overwhelmingly Latino audience, who hold aloft signs in Spanish supporting his masked Mexican opponents.

“My name is RJ Brewer and I’m from Phoenix, Arizona,” the wrestler proclaims in a video of a recent match provided by the promoter. Taunts from inside the arena get louder.

He proceeds to rail against Mexican beer and to demand that people speak English. Then he points to the message painted on the backside of his red trunks: “SB1070” – a reference to Arizona’s controversial immigration law. The crowd, some wearing masks of their favorite Mexican wrestlers, shrieks ever louder. He then brags that his “mother,” Arizona Gov. Jan Brewer, is helping “save” America by pushing policies that limit immigration (he’s not really her son).

When his masked opponent in a red cape appears, the crowd erupts into cheers.

Lucha libre – or “free wrestling” in Spanish – is a brand of Mexican wrestling that dates to the 1930s. The sport came north to the United States, along with Mexican immigrants, and over the years spawned clubs in some larger U.S. cities with large Latino communities.

More recently, as the sport’s promoters target growing Mexican immigrant and Mexican-American markets, they and their wrestlers’ fictional personas have begun to adopt a more overtly political storyline revolving around immigration. It’s a move akin to what U.S. wrestling promoters did in the 1980s and 1990s, when they took on race and the Cold War, but with one key twist – now, the American is the bad guy.

One lucha libre promotion is leading the charge away from the slapstick and simple storylines with a tour in U.S. cities with sizable Latino populations, including events in Reno, Nev., and San Jose, Calif., this week. It’s using the recent events in Arizona as a backdrop while pitting popular masked Mexican wrestlers against American “bad guys.”

“It’s something that we’ve been building in our TV shows and we’ve gotten a lot of positive reaction to it,” said Steve Ship, CEO of Lucha Libre USA, which this week is launching a “Masked Warriors” tour that will also stop in Phoenix, Los Angeles and Houston. “So we are bringing it right to our audience.”

SB1070, signed by Gov. Brewer in 2010, requires all immigrants in Arizona to obtain or carry immigration registration papers and requires police, while enforcing other laws, to question people’s immigration status if there is a reasonable suspicion they’re in the country illegally. The law is being challenged by the federal government and has sparked protests and boycotts against Arizona by Latino advocates around the country.

On shows that have aired on Spanish-language stations and MTV2, RJ Brewer – whose real name is John Stagikas and works as a real estate agent in Massachusetts – advocates for deportations and calls on Americans to support laws that target illegal immigrants.

“This is different than any other program I’ve been involved with because usually I have to work really hard to get the audience to hate me,” Stagikas said in an interview with The Associated Press. “With this, I just walk in with the Arizona flag and the audience boos before I even say a word.”

Popular Mexican luchador and immigrant hero known as Blue Demon, Jr., who is RJ Brewer’s main opponent, said he enjoys the role as the hero and getting people to rally against a “big mouth” like RJ Brewer. He thinks the rivalry will draw more needed attention to the immigration debate.

“I represent the Latino people. We are human beings,” said the wrestler, who wears a mask and whose name is not publicly known, from his Mexico City home. “I support the immigrant people no matter what country they come from.”

Lucha Libre USA is pushing the immigrant storyline as its main draw on websites, social media, on Spanish-language television and through YouTube videos. Just how many new fans the tactic will draw isn’t yet known. So far, ticket sales range from 3,000 to 6,000 at venues on the upcoming tour, according to Ship.

“It sounds like clever piece of theater,” said Tatcho Mindiola, director of the Center for Mexican American Studies at the University of the Houston. “It may have the effect of solidifying that sense of community (among Latinos) since most can identify with what’s going on Arizona. But I don’t think it will result with rallies in the streets.”

Mindiola said focusing on the immigration debate is smart since the issues dominate coverage on Spanish-language media and resonate with many U.S.-born Latinos.

To be sure, politics and professional wrestling often have mixed. Dave Meltzer, editor of the Wrestling Observer, a newsletter that follows professional wrestling, said during U.S. foreign affairs flaps, the “foreign menace,” whether it was the Iron Sheik during the Iran hostage crisis or Russian bad guy Nikolai Volkoff during the Cold War, always played roles in giving hero stars a heel everyone could hate.

And in the 1980s, the popular Junkyard Dog, played by the late Sylvester Ritter, who was black, helped break down racial conflicts by acting as the ultimate good guy in southern states where racial tensions were still present.

Even in smaller lucha libre promotions in Tijuana, Mexico, and south Texas border towns, promoters used American border patrol heels to fight masked good guys to build rivalries, Meltzer said. But usually those storylines remained simple since the smaller promotions didn’t have big television contracts to develop conflicts and characters. Typically, rivalries were based on well-known characters shifting allegiances, wrestlers making fun of each other’s body types, or they were simply based on personality differences.

With Lucha Libre USA, the character of RJ Brewer has been built around promotional videos in which he openly shows disdain for anything “foreign.” In one video, Stagikas is shown “patrolling” the Arizona-Mexico border after his mom tipped him off that some Mexican luchadores were about to cross over illegally.

Blue Demon, Jr., is shown as the protector of immigrants and a wrestler who is fighting for a larger cause.

Still, Meltzer said Lucha Libre USA was taking a big swing by booking large venues in major markets, especially because pro wrestling overall is suffering due to the economy.

“I don’t know how they are going to do it,” said Meltzer. “Lucha libre is even having a hard time in Mexico.”

Ship said it’s a risk he’s willing to take. He said he has no problem rolling the dice at putting together the multicity tour packed with lights, fireworks and high tech effects because that market hasn’t been tapped.

“The Hispanic market is a growing market that few are going after,” said Ship, referring to the growing U.S. Latino population. “In many cases, we are seeing multigenerational families coming out to cheer for their luchadores. So, I think we’ll be expanding in the future.”

FOX NEWS LATINO: Immigration Smackdown: Pro Wrestlers Hit on a Hot-Button Issue

By

Published May 09, 2012

Fox News Latino

In a sleeveless University of Arizona T-shirt, RJ Brewer walks along a chain link fence in a non-descript desert.“It is my job as an American citizen to protect my country against enemies both foreign and domestic,” Brewer says in the video posted to YouTube. “But as a professional wrestler it is even more important to protect my country from these illegal immigrants who are about to hop over this fence and try to take the jobs away from the real American professional wrestlers.”It’s a typical diatribe for Brewer, the supposed “son” of Arizona Governor Jan Brewer who wrestles for the ind ie promotion, Lucha Libre USA (www.luchalibreusa.com). He often points to his “mother” as the most powerful woman in America, and someone who’s standing up for what’s right. And what’s right in this case is securing the border and kicking out undocumented immigrants —whether that’s in this country or in the ring.“I enjoy [the storyline] a lot,” Brewer says on the phone while at an airport the day after performing a show in his “hometown” of Phoenix, Ariz. “For me it’s not so much storyline. What I say is what I mean. Obviously, it’s pro wrestling, it’s theater, so everything you do is going to be magnified by a thousand … but everything I say I mean. I obviously turn it up for the cameras, so I’m not playing anything. Obviously it’s theater, but I’m passionate about politics, passionate about wrestling and I finally have an opportunity where I can talk about both so it’s pretty cool.”With an audience that’s overwhelmingly Latino at Lucha Libre USA matches, Brewer plays the bad guy (or “heel” in wrestling vernacular) and he’s arguably one of the best in the business today. Boos, insults — in both English and Spanish — and sometimes even food or drinks rain down on Brewer as he enters the ring. For a guy who’s paid to be hated, he’s certainly good at his job.Wrestling’s History of Race-Based StorylinesWhile a character like Brewer has current relevance thanks to the political and legal wrangling surrounding immigration today, storylines dealing with race and political issues can be found throughout the long history of pro wrestling.“What [Lucha Libre USA] is doing isn’t anything new,” says “New York Times” best-selling author Keith Elliott Greenberg, who has written books about legends Superstar Billy Graham, Ric Flair and Freddie Blassie. “That was always a common theme with Latinos, where there would always be a character who played the role of a redneck who would deliberately say things to inflame the crowd … In fact, that was done as recently as when Eddie Guerrero was alive and in the WWE. JBL shot an angle where he was throwing immigrants back across the border.”

The WWE has never been afraid to play up stereotypes, particularly related to Latinos. For example, there was a tag team called the “Mexicools,” comprised of two known Lucha Libre wrestlers who rode to the ring on lawnmowers. Go back even further to the regional days of wrestling and similar storylines appear.

“In the Los Angeles promotion [in the 1970s] it was Black Gordman and The Great Goliath. They would antagonize the Latino audience by insisting the ring announcer proclaim they were from New Mexico but not Mexico,” Greenberg says. “When Pedro Morales was the champion in the early 1970s in the [World Wide Wrestling Federation], even though he was Puerto Rican, I remember Black Jack Mulligan’s manager, The Grand Wizard, calling him a wetback.”

According to Greenberg, Latinos aren’t the only group to have stereotypes exploited for cheers or boos. “When Bruno Sammartino was the champion in the old World Wide Wrestling Federation in the 1960s, early 1970s, Sammartino was considered the working class immigrant champion,” Greenberg says. “At the time, Italians had not reached the mainstream status they enjoy now, and it was very common for his opponents to berate Sammartino with slurs like ‘spaghetti vendor’ and ‘greaseball.’”

Another notable example also comes from the WWE, where, in 2004, the character Muhammad Hassan was introduced. Supposedly sick of the anti-Arab prejudice created by the 9/11 attacks, Hassan played the heel role and at one time was one of the most despised villains in the promotion. The character’s storyline, however, created a large controversy during an episode that aired the night of the London terrorist bombings in 2005. Hassan had “hired” several masked men to beat and choke The Undertaker with piano wire and clubs, thus tying the character’s proclaimed Islamist faith with terrorism.

Beyond those examples, there are countless other storylines both in the WWE and throughout other wrestling organizations that magnified stereotypes for laughs, cheers and boos.

“Many people believe in some ways that professional wrestling reflects the conflicts in society in obviously a more exaggerated way,” says Greenberg. “Immigration, obviously, is a hot-button issue and with an election looming that the emotions are even more raw. “

Brewer Generates Big Publicity

While the storyline may not be new, the character of RJ Brewer has certainly garnered attention like few wrestlers before him. “I was on the cover of the ‘LA Times’ a few weeks ago,” Brewer says. “We had a piece on CNN the other day and I appeared on ‘Wake Up America’ on Univision and tons of magazines and radio. It’s cool, the tour is doing well and we’re drawing some pretty big numbers.”

That kind of press (including this article, ahem), attendance and reactions certainly keeps Lucha Libre USA happy. Established only two years ago, the organization currently does not have a TV contract though they did appear for two seasons on MTV2. Generating this kind of buzz from a storyline, however, can go a long way in getting the attention of a new network.

And for Brewer’s part, he relishes the reactions he’s generating both in and out of the ring. “You can read the comments online after an article goes up and oftentimes people are like, ‘Oh, this guy is stupid, he shouldn’t be saying this stuff.’ And then you have the pro anti-immigration people saying, ‘He’s right, you should have an ID to live here and if you don’t you should leave.’ Then you have people down the middle saying it’s wrestling, it’s theater, don’t get so serious about it,” Brewer says. “So there’s such a wide mix of reactions to this character that it’s hard to gauge an overall feeling. But at the live shows, I’ll tell you, people are always booing me, throwing things at me. They never try to take it to another level where people try attacking me, but they’re obviously in the corner of the guy I’m wrestling and they let me know it.”

As the pro wrestling historian Greenberg said, this “sport” is often a reflection of the battles in society. Now Brewer’s character may be a funhouse mirror reflection, but his rhetoric and the reactions to it can often a hit a little too close to home. The real question perhaps, is not whether this storyline somehow elevates or adds to the conversation about immigration in this country. Instead, what does it say about the current state of affairs when professional wrestling can so accurately skewer it?

HUFFINGTON POST: Lucha Libre USA: Wrestling Series Spins Anti-Immigrant Storyline To Connect With Latino Fans (VIDEO)

Lucha Libre

RJ Brewer isn’t a xenophobe, but he plays one on TV. In real life, he’s a former real estate agent and dog trainer from Massachusetts. But unlike most actors, Brewer can’t say who he actually is. That’s because these days he is playing RJ Brewer — the antagonist in a Mexican wrestling series on MTV 2 called Lucha Libre USA.

Brewer, like many professional wrestlers, must play by the industry rules of “kayfabe,” which say that stars cannot break character when off-camera or outside of the ring. So when Stagikas sat down with HuffPost LatinoVoices for an interview earlier this week, he arrived as his character RJ Brewer, the son of Gov. Jan Brewer of Arizona. Throughout the interview RJ Brewer touted the strengths of his “mother’s” controversial immigration enforcement law, SB1070, and made clear his disdain for the other Mexican wrestlers in his own wrestling troupe. Unmasking fellow wrestlers, ending all lucha libre-style wrestling, and deporting those who “cheated and lied their way in to get here,” are Brewer’s primary goals in the show.

“There’s no room for guys hiding behind masks in wrestling. I mean, clearly they’re hiding something,” Brewer insisted.

When asked about the irony of an anti-immigrant character wrestling in a Mexican-style company, Brewer said, “Even though it kills me to enter the world of lucha libre, I have to enter it, and I have to change things, and hopefully when it’s said and done, it won’t be lucha libre anymore.”

“Duty calls, and as an American citizen, I just have to go and finish my mother’s work,” he added.

SEE THE PHOTOS:

“Lucha Libre USA,” the first English language “lucha-style” pro-wrestling show in the U.S., has a mostly Latino audience. Creators say that lucha libre is the second most popular sport in Mexico, after soccer. Because of its popularity, they manage to sell out a 3,000-seat arena for every taping of the show. CEO Steven Ship and Creative Director Alex Abrahantes wrote Brewer’s villainous character because, they said, they believed it would resonate with the audience.

“I think any time you see something that’s happening in the real world and then you mix it with what we’re doing — it’s gonna make people wanna watch. Whether we’re parodying something, or whether we’re mirroring something, it’s something that’s interesting to people right now,” said Abrahantes.

For Ship, the story lines are also a way to bring humor to a serious issue. “The majority of the media treats it in a very serious manner — but there’s no reason it can’t also be sort of highlighted in a satirical manner at the same time,” he said.

Both men believe story arcs that are inspired by the political climate make for more exciting matches and better ratings. Abrahantes, however, learned this lesson the hard way when he himself was a pro-wrestler and was cast as an Iranian.

“I really do empathize with RJ and the reaction you get from people,” Abrahantes said. “You know, part of your job as a sports entertainer is to strike those chords with people, and if you can do that, then you’re doing your job.”

However, sometimes striking chords with people can dangerous, warned the show’s CEO.

“Fans line up and get to meet with all the wrestlers after shows, but RJ doesn’t partake in that, for his own security reasons,” Ship said. “When he walks on stage he gets a legitimate negative reaction, because they understand what he’s about, they understand who he is, and they don’t like him. So we have to be careful about where we take him, because of the reaction he provokes in people.”

Polarizing story lines are nothing new to the world of pro-wrestling, but other aspects of Lucha Libre USA are certainly novel for American audiences. The show markets itself as “not your grandparent’s pro-wrestling,” because, creators say, it stays true to Mexican lucha-style fighting. Unlike American pro-wrestling, Lucha Libre USA features masked wrestlers, male wrestlers in drag called “Exóticos,” female wrestlers called “Chica Stars,” and “Mini Estrellas,” who are often “mini” versions of other wrestlers.

And the “Mini Estrellas,” explains Abrahantes, are really what sets Lucha Libre USA apart.

“Our ‘minis’ are super high flying and athletic. A ‘mini’ match here in the U.S. — it’s nowhere near as competitive. It’s a comedic guest bit, for American wrestling. But in Mexico it’s a huge honor to have a ‘mini’ named after you, so we have some of the most famous minis anywhere because of that. Such as Mini Park, Octagoncito, Mascarita Dorada and Pequeño Halloween.”

Pequeño Halloween, a “mini” wrestler who wears jack-o’-lantern makeup to each match, “is a fan favorite,” according to Abrahantes.

The creators believe that the show thrives on having fan favorites who are called “técnicos,” and characters that are easy to hate, known as “rudos.” RJ Brewer is definitely a “rudo,” said Ship.

“I only drink American beer. None of that imported crap, only domestic,” Brewer asserted in our interview. This, he said, is because he’s a patriot, and America is the only country for him.

I asked why then was he wearing a T-shirt full of Greek writing, and if it had anything to do with a certain man named John from Massachusetts with a Greek surname — the same one who used to be real estate agent and a dog trainer.

He laughed, and true to “kayfabe” form told me not to get carried away. His shirt belongs to a good friend he insisted. His “friend” has parents who are immigrants from Greece, he said.

http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2011/09/29/lucha-libre-usa-wrestling_n_987759.html

BBC MUNDO: Lucha libre in the US: The wrestler who taunts Latino fans

By Valeria Perasso BBC Mundo

RJ Brewer in action
RJ Brewer vows to rid US wrestling of its Mexican influence
One of the main characters in an American professional wrestling league is a conservative “patriot” who wants to rid the US of illegal immigrants. How far can RJ Brewer wind up the sport’s mostly Hispanic fans before causing real offence?

The boos come when RJ Brewer does his job right. He is paid to be the bad guy, and fans let him have it, showering him with jeers every time he steps into the ring.

He is one of the main characters in the professional wrestling league Lucha Libre USA, which aims to spread into the American market one of the most popular forms of entertainment in Mexico – freestyle wrestling.

The four-year-old league needed “rudos”, or bad guys, and organisers wanted American-born, English-speaking wrestlers who could appeal to the broader US audience.

Before the overwhelmingly Hispanic Lucha Libre USA audience, Brewer’s right-wing take on illegal immigration provokes the most boos.

His rants are so off-the-wall there is little mistaking them for anything but a joke (he has vowed to rid American wrestling of the Mexican influence, even if that means deporting wrestlers from the locker room).

The character resonates deeply with Hispanics who have been deeply affected by the illegal immigration debate, raging for decades with no solution in sight.

In a form of make-believe known in professional wrestling as “kayfabe”, RJ Brewer is said to be from Phoenix, Arizona, arguably the political centre of the US anti-illegal immigration movement.

Governor’s ‘son’

His mother is “one of the highest-ranking officials in the nation and holds great power and influence over the state of Arizona”, his biography states.

RJ Brewer explains his views in a promotional video for Lucha Libre USA

That is a transparent reference to Arizona Governor Jan Brewer, who has signed into law some of the country’s strictest anti-illegal immigration measures, and who many Hispanic Americans see as a real-life villain.

Her “son” RJ Brewer tells fans he enjoys volunteering with the border patrol and that he believes undocumented foreigners are the main reason behind America’s ailing job market.

“The border has to be reinforced, I support any form of stricter control along the border,” he tells the BBC.

There has to be a bad guy that everybody loves to hate”

Lizmark JuniorLucha Libre USA wrestler

“We have troops in Iraq and Afghanistan that should in fact come back home and engage in homeland security operations.”

Lucha libre (Spanish for “freestyle wrestling”) is an extremely acrobatic form of the sport. Approaching football in its popularity in Mexico, it incorporates colourful masks that become part of the wrestlers’ persona.

Many of the masked warriors who battle the intolerant RJ Brewer in the ring are of Mexican origin – Super Nova, Mascarita Dorada, Lizmark Junior, Tigresa Caliente.

More than 70% of the Lucha Libre USA audience is Hispanic, promoters say. The matches, filmed in Albuquerque New Mexico, air on MTV2, a television network oriented toward boys and men aged 12-24, and MTV Tr3s, aimed at “bicultural Latino youth”.

True hate

“There has to be a bad guy that everybody loves to hate,” says Lizmark Junior, another rudo.

“RJ’s role is precisely that, to create a fuss around him and his beliefs, especially when he is wrestling against immigrants and has an audience of immigrants. Do I believe all he says? Well, it sounds pretty real. People truly hate him, not just when he’s in the ring.”

Lucha libre’s operatic kayfabe storylines require the audience to suspend disbelief in the reality of what they are watching.

Lucha Libre USA match
Lucha libre competition is more acrobatic than traditional American professional wrestling

So when a muscular white man takes a microphone and taunts illegal immigrants, that risks causing offence, even as it draws the audience in.

In an apparent measure of his success connecting with the audience, RJ Brewer has become so hated he has stopped attending the post-show autograph sessions.

“We have to bring up real problems,” he says.

“Those who read the news know that my character portrays an important part of US mentality… And, hey, what I say is mostly what I really think.”

Steve Ship, Lucha Libre USA founder and CEO, says the goal is to show the cultural reality of the Hispanic community in the US.

“We want to deal with current matters. We do that all the time. And with each character we try to achieve an effect, get impact.

“We create characters that have to do with what’s going on in the real world and with the experiences that Latinos have as immigrants.”

http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/magazine-16097158

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