Since 2008, Milwaukee’s Mondo Lucha has whipped the city’s wrestling nerds (and closet wrestling nerds) into the turnbuckles with over-the-top, high-flying, masked lucha libre wrestling extravaganzas. The homegrown company has consistently put on high-production, multi-media shows that dwarf anything else on the indie wrestling circuit, and has done it all with its tongue ever-so-slightly in cheek. If you’re the kind of person who pines for the days when ridiculous storylines ruled the day and the WWE was still the WWF, look no further for your masked, retro wrestling kick to the face.
On Friday, September 5, Mondo Lucha will return to Turner Hall for an evening that will include everything fans have come to know and love: top-shelf athleticism, internationally renowned burlesque dancers, live music (this year from Body Futures), folding chairs, and possibly a wrestler or two in a goat mask. In advance of the shit hitting the ropes, Milwaukee Record reached out to co-founder Andrew Gorzalski via email to get some pertinent info for Mondo Lucha beginners looking to throw themselves into the action.
Milwaukee Record: Where did the original idea for Mondo Lucha come from?
Andrew Gorzalski: My partner Jay Gilkay and I were lifelong fans of pro wrestling, and also continued to keep an eye on the indie wrestling scene. We saw so many great performers that were underserved by limitations or the scale of a general indie show, and we wanted to do something different that would showcase some of these amazing talents. We also wanted to open up what we thought was fun about wrestling—broad story lines, the aspects of theater—to what some would describe as a “non-wrestling” crowd. It’s pure. No jaded audience. Good guys. Bad guys. Maybe a robot here and there.
Throwing a party for no reason [sometimes leads to] the best parties. We create an environment where the door is wide open for the crowd to become a part of the show, and get back to what’s fun about pro wrestling. It becomes the easiest suspension of disbelief for the craziest things or stories. Getting to that was our goal in the beginning and where the idea was born out of.
MR: Talk about the very first installment. Was it smooth sailing? Any “opening night” glitches?
AG: For just charging ahead and mounting a production at the level we did in September of 2008, I’m shocked there weren’t more train-wreck moments. I’m sure it had its clunkiness in parts, but we walked away entertaining close to 500 fans well enough that night to create demand for a show #2. We never want to rest on what we’ve accomplished so far with the show, so the pressure we put on ourselves to do a near-perfect show is always there. The first show did have a performance group on it that ran long, and we knew pacing was going downhill right away and we couldn’t pull the plug on it. So having patience, and then turning the crowd back to your side after running long, was an early lesson.
MR: What about Mondo Lucha has changed since 2008? What has stayed the same?
AG: We’ve gotten the flow of the show and the pace a lot tighter over the years. It all starts to blend together where acts like a burlesque star flow in to a tag team title match effortlessly at this point. People will always comment after the show that it’s the quickest, overwhelming two-plus hours they’ve experienced all year at any type of show. Perfecting all the elements you see, high flying wrestling, burlesque, music, getting the right sum of its parts out of the blender is the constant we always try to get right more each year.
MR: Where do you find the wrestlers? Are they amateurs? Pros? Locals?
AG: We do have a small handful of Milwaukee or Wisconsin-based wrestlers who are national and regional stars in their own right on the indie wrestling scene. Everyone we work with is of a very high professional caliber. They’re also in tune with specific storytelling, and creating an arc that we’re focused on. It’s a bright group of guys who have worked worldwide, nationally, and have been in and around things like the WWE, or some of the other upstarts that are currently on TV. We seek all of them out based on unique attributes that fit the alternative tone of our show.
MR: Are there any wrestlers that have stuck with the company since 2008?
AG: Yes, definitely. We have a good group of core characters. The Russian Beast (a 1980s Cold War Russian?) has been with us since day one, and a lot of people on the roster have been with us since about show #2, so we’re lucky it clicked and developed as quickly as it did. It’s great seeing everyone come in to Milwaukee again when it’s show time. It’s become a weird family over the years. They all love Milwaukee, and it’s great seeing them get in to all the local hallmarks. This is one of the biggest indie shows anywhere, and it’s cool it gets to happen here.
MR: Any storylines that have continued over the years?
AG: Yes, we always try to tie a through line to specific characters, and we do have continuity on these shows. We actually just came to an end of a huge storyline in November 2013, where one of our most popular characters actually left Earth in a spaceship after winning the heavyweight title. The great thing about the September 5 show is that you’ll see old favorites, but we are also welcoming some new characters and personalities to the show that I think are going to stick with this Milwaukee crowd. I actually can’t wait to get them out there in front of people. Our goal is to make wrestling fun again.
MR: Where do the burlesque performers come from? What’s in store for this year?
AG: All of our performers are international and national burlesque stars. Lola Van Ella is one of the absolute best there is in the country, and performs over 200 days a year. We are also featuring Musette “The Mistress of Mischief” this year from Minneapolis, who has blown away the NYC Burlesque Festival in recent years, and has an act specifically for Milwaukee that is going to be pretty memorable.
MR: What kind of bands are “Mondo Lucha material”?
AG: We want to work with artists who want to have fun, and understand the context of the show. Mopey guys in flannel shirts may not work on our show. But we’ve been lucky to host a range of people from Maritime to Tigernite to The Fatty Acids, and we even had a double bill of The Scarring Party and Kid Millions with DNA (backed by a B-boy dance crew). Where else are you going to see that? We’re excited to be working with Body Futures this year. They’ve been making great music, they’re on their way up, and they’re true blue wrestling fans. It’s perfect.
MR: What’s expected of a Mondo Lucha audience—a.k.a. how pumped should they get?
AG: If this is your first Mondo Lucha, be prepared to get loud and see things you’ve never seen before. I promise you’ll leave a wrestling fan, or a new burlesque fan, or see a band you’ve never gotten out to see. For our longtime supporters and fans, we can’t wait to see you again. It’s less what we expect from them as a prerequisite, and more how we expect to be surprised and blown away by how loud, crazy, and fun everyone gets. You need to yell, you need to clap, and the only forgivable reason to not clap is because you’re holding two Pabst Blue Ribbon Tall Boys.