Lucha Libre (literally, "free fighting") is the name for professional wrestling in Mexico. It is best known for its high-flying, acrobatic moves and the brightly colored costumes and masks of its competitors. However, to view these as its only distinguishing characteristics would be a mistake.

One of the most notable aspects of lucha libre is the explicit naming of tecnicos and rudos, effectively the "good guys" and "bad guys", or faces and heels for the smart mark community. While in US professional wrestling the viewer can frequently determine who is the face and who is the heel very quickly, it would be unusual and out of place for a commentator to refer to a competitor so explicitly. Not only are the wrestlers categorized in this way, but there are also frequently 2 referees, one technico and one rudo. One could likely make an interesting essay on the duality of the Mexican ethos as illustrated by the tecnico/rudo structure of lucha libre, but that's a story for another time/node.

Lucha libre is also known for its tag team wrestling, though it is very different from US tag team wrestling. First off, the teams are most frequently made up of 3 members, not just 2 as is common in the US. These 3-man teams participate in what are called trios matches, for special belts. Of these three members, one member is designated the captain. A successful fall in a trios match can be achieved by either pinning the captain of the opposing team or by pinning both of the other members. In the case that two members are pinned for a fall, it is frequent that the falls occur simultaneously, which adds to the extremely stylized nature of the action. In addition, a wrestler can opt to roll out of the ring in lieu of tagging a partner, at which point one of his partners may enter the ring. As a result, the tag team formula that US tag matches tend to follow doesn't work because the race to tag doesn't need to exist.

The basic themes in lucha generally involve honor and shame, best exemplified by the mask versus mask match (in the case that a participant doesn't wear a mask normally, he will usually put his hair on the line instead).

One of my favorite moments in professional wrestling was when Eddy Guerrero and Art Barr (Los Gringos Locos) lost a double hair versus double mask match against El Hijo del Santo and Octagon at the AAA pay per view event When Worlds Collide. The match was superb, but the actual shearing of Eddy and Art's hair was what really illustrated some of the best qualities of good lucha booking. They were in tears, with Art refusing to cut Eddy's hair and Eddy angrily insisting that Art cut off his powerful mullet. The moral here is that the shame Eddy would suffer from having his head shaved would be far less than that which he would suffer by not keeping his word and honoring the stipulation of the match. By doing this, the statement is made that while Eddy and Art are despicable for their underhanded tactics in the match, they too follow a code of honor.

Lucha libre in its purest form is unique to Mexico, but its influences can be seen in wrestling in the US and Japan as well, from the lucharesu hybrid style of Toryumon and Michinoku Pro to the US junior heavyweight style seen in US independent promotions and the WWE.

It's also worth noting that professional wrestling in Puerto Rico is also known as lucha libre, but is vastly different from Mexican lucha libre. While I've seen very little of it, I understand that it typically involves deathmatches (no, not like Quake) and lots of blood.