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A fight with a masked Mexican 'princess'

13 March 10 11:27 GMT

By Simon Reeve
Presenter, Tropic of Cancer

Masked wrestling is hugely popular in Mexico but in this macho country women fighters face a struggle for recognition.

It was the most painful experience of my entire journey around the Tropic of Cancer.

Forget the covert incursion into Burma, or crossing a minefield with a driver who did not know the way.

My worst injuries were actually suffered while being bounced around a wrestling ring by a diminutive Mexican princess.

But not just any princess.

The woman doing the damage was La Princesa (The Princess), a star of Mexico's lucha libre or "free wrestling" circuit.

Masked wrestling is hugely popular in the country, where women wrestlers are known as luchadoras.

I had only just begun my journey around the world, starting the trip on a beach on Mexico's Pacific Coast.

But just as we were leaving Mexico for Cuba, the next country along the line, for some reason my team thought it would be a good idea to put me up against The Princess during her training session.

Lucha libre started around the time of the Mexican Revolution (1910) and became very popular in the 1940s.

It is still a hugely popular sport among lower classes, as it is cheap to watch, fun and accessible.

If a wrestler loses a championship they have to endure a humiliation - either losing their mask (for up to a year) or having their heads shaved.

Macho Mexico

About half of all Mexican wrestlers get into the sport because one of their parents was involved.

Families with no history of wrestling are less keen for their children to enter the ring.

The Princess had first hand experience of family disapproval.

"My family did not want me to be a wrestler and I trained in hiding but once I was in the ring then they had to accept what I liked," she said.

But in macho Mexico, women wrestlers find it harder than men to secure wrestling bouts, along with fame and glory.

Just like male wrestlers, female wrestlers describe themselves as professionals, but due to the poor pay they usually take other jobs and train for an hour or two in the evening.

Women in Mexico - including wrestlers - are paid about 20% less than men.

So women like The Princess fight in the shadow of the country's venerated male wrestlers.

"In the case of Lucha Libre us women wrestlers have shown that we have ability, of course we don't have the same strength as the men but we have the same techniques, the same willpower to win and to demonstrate that female wrestling is of high quality.

"As far as the other wrestlers, well they (men) have always fought against it, because we are women, because they are macho and they want women at home.

"Wrestling in front of our fellow men is always going to be the same thing, they are never going to accept that a woman is better than them in the ring.

"The fact that men don't accept us, it has helped us to stand out and be better and above all to show our achievement and willpower," The Princess told me.

Black and blue

Eager to prove how tough she was, La Princesa invited me in to the ring along with her wrestling partner.

I expected her to be gentle with her fragile guest but she wanted to prove that Lucha Libre was not completely stage-managed.

"Loosen up," said Pepe Cohen, my Mexican guide, "otherwise she will have to use more force."

It was easy for him to say from the safety of the ropes.

La Princesa chucked me around the ring, slammed me onto my chest and generally battered me.

I had been expecting to risk my health and lose some dignity on my travels, but not like this.

Looking back at my entire Tropic of Cancer adventure, I think the injuries inflicted by The Princess lingered the longest.

I had black bruises, on parts of my body I could not show the camera, for more than a month. But no broken bones.

I limped from the ring unaided, received a hearty slap on the back from The Princess and we pressed on with the journey.

Tropic of Cancer is a six-part series starting on Sunday 14 March at 2000 GMT on BBC Two. Read more at The Tropic of Cancer website or watch again on the BBC iplayer.

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