The lucha libre fighters of the Bronx

Bronco International and Felix, a rookie trainee prepare for lucha libre practice at Daro’s Extreme Fitness in the Bronx. It takes about six to nine months of training before a rookie wrestler can fight in “El Dia de Show,” as BWF founder Bronco International calls fight night. | Photo by Jonno Rattman

Bronco International and Felix, a rookie trainee prepare for lucha libre practice at Daro’s Extreme Fitness in the Bronx. It takes about six to nine months of training before a rookie wrestler can fight in “El Dia de Show,” as BWF founder Bronco International calls fight night. | Photo by Jonno Rattman

Carey Dunne at Hopes&Fears:

On the first Saturday of every month, near the mouth of the Bronx River, Daro’s Extreme Fitness turns into a parallel universe: A diner owner and former drug dealer transforms into an ancient Mayan king, a New Haven bartender becomes a violent monkey, and a marketing exec assumes the persona of “Draven, the Embodiment of Sexiness and Arrogance.” Daro’s, a gym on the second floor of a warehouse, is the headquarters of the Bronx Wrestling Federation (BWF). There, founder Frank Segundo, 52, trains local wrestlers in Mexican-style lucha libre.

Thanks to Hollywood parodies like Nacho Libre, starring Jack Black as a Mexican priest-cum-luchador, many Americans are vaguely aware of the world of spandex-clad lucha libre fighters. Flamboyant but hypermasculine luchadores act out operatic good guy versus bad guy narratives, somersaulting off ropes and body slamming for glory. Developed in Mexico in the 1930s, lucha libre is now the country’s fourth most popular sport. In the United States, though it’s recently gained some popularity in Los Angeles, Portland, and Seattle, lucha libre is still on the fringes of pop culture. The East Coast scene is tiny, and in New York City, the BWF is home to one of the biggest active communities of masked Mexican-style luchadores. As it often goes in the city’s melting pot, this diverse community fuses lucha libre with American-style and other wrestling traditions, creating a hybrid genre that’s distinctly Bronxian.

Segundo, originally from the Dominican Republic, built the wrestling ring at Daro’s six years ago. After emigrating to New York in 2000 to work in construction, Segundo missed the Santo Domingo lucha libre scene in which he’d fought ferociously starting at age 18. Unable to find a local equivalent, he founded BWF.

“We are superheroes,” he says of the 60 wrestlers he trains, from rookies to seasoned local celebrities. “So many kids in this community love us.” Now, Segundo spends about 75% of his waking hours at the gym. He fights in the guise of Bronco Internacional, his luchador alter ego, with a neon purple, pink, and yellow mask, biceps about twice the circumference of his head, and a gut that looks eight months pregnant with muscle.

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