In a tiny dressing room about the size of a decent walk-in closet, Puma looked into a silver handheld Beauty and the Beast replica mirror. She balanced a colorful palette on her knees as she put on her makeup.
“I’ve been nervous for three weeks,” she said, laughing. “And with this weather, I don’t know. It makes me even more nervous.”
Storm clouds hovered over the Cool Event Center in Aurora, turning the early evening gray and gloomy.
It was an important night for Puma and the family.
See, Puma is a stage name. She’s a luchadora and that “family” is the other luchadores with Hugo’s Lucha Libre, a wrestling promotion and school based in Denver.
Sunday night was Heridas Mortales, Fatal Wounds, Hugo’s ninth anniversary celebration event and the crew had to put on a show.
Infamous talent from Mexico and Texas were in the building. Longtime rivals were set to meet face to face. Every seat was sure to be filled with loud and lively fans ready for matches that fit into a storyline with a big focus on rudos (bad guys) versus técnicos (good guys).
The action would be fast-paced — look away and you might miss a dive off the top-rope or a sprint out of the ring.
Some luchadores don a mask to hide their identity. The stage names help, too — don’t expect any real name reveals here. Well, maybe one reveal in Puma’s case but she doesn’t wear a mask and she gave us permission. She’s been wrestling for about nine years, ever since she was introduced to the sport by her dad, Hector Soto. Soto is co-owner of Hugo’s. So, if you know, you know.
Back to Heridas Mortales.
Puma’s still putting on her makeup and no, she’s not putting on a cat face. Puma said she got her name from her favorite football club, Club Universidad Nacional, A.C., out of Mexico City.
Outside of the ring, Puma said she’s a pretty sensitive person. She cried when her daughter took pictures with Mickey and Minnie at Disney. She cried when she found a mouse in her house. She cried when her mom accidentally killed the mouse. She almost cried when she met her idol Rey Mysterio but she kept the tears at bay for the pictures.
“I cry for literally anything,” Puma laughed. “I’m so sensitive. But when I go out there, I change. I don’t know how I do it. It’s part of the personality you have with wrestling. I’m so into me winning and giving my everything and the sensitive side is just not there anymore. I’m Puma out there.”
Rey Virgo shared that sentiment.
“Out there I’m social but in my life I don’t socialize much,” Virgo said. “It’s an experience and I love it because it brings out a personality that I can’t bring out in my regular life. And I do it with no fear. I’m scared of heights. I’m scared to get hit but I take the most hits and I fly the most. It’s liberating.”
Virgo’s been wrestling for about four years — really three, he says, because during the height of the pandemic, wrestling was on a hiatus.
They built a ring in someone’s backyard and tried to practice, but the elements would come into play. It’d be too hot or it would rain and no matter how many times they wiped the ring down, it would still be too wet.
Things didn’t slow down for the Soto family though. Besides the wrestling school and promotion, Soto owns a restaurant, Los Mesones on West Colfax. During the height of the pandemic when the restaurant shut down, he opened an ice cream shop on Morrison Road.
Puma said that’s the hustle in her dad but also his family values. She said whatever endeavor Soto tries next, it always involves the family. Once Soto introduced Puma and her sister to wrestling, they wanted to join a wrestling school but the local school wasn’t interested in teaching little kids. Puma said she had a bad experience there and they made her and her sister feel like they were dishonoring the sport, making a mockery of it because they were so young.
So Soto started the school and promotion with another wrestler.
“My dad supports what we like, so we can do it together,” Puma said. “My dad always says if my mom wasn’t there for him to support him, he would quit. If we didn’t like wrestling, he wouldn’t be there. It’s always a family thing. When we were small we used to play soccer and he would always be there. He wanted to start a soccer group for us. Then we started doing karate and it was the same thing. I used to play violin and my sister played the flute and he wanted to start a band. He’s always there with us.”
About an hour has passed and chatting it up with us and the other wrestlers trickling into the small room.
At this point, it’s packed. Suitcases are everywhere. People are putting on their colorful masks and metallic lycra pants in crouched positions. Kaiden Koyama is putting on his makeup. Unlike Puma, he’s going for a brighter look, with Samoan-style face paint. He partners with Johnny Casanova as JK Pop and they’re the tag team champions over at Rocky Mountain Pro, another local wrestling promotion. They’ll be facing Virgo and Sombra Azteca Jr. later tonight.
But in the locker room, they’re just chatting it up, discussing their matches, how they want things to play out and trying on masks: “Damn dude, you have a small head.”
El Dragon and El Cobarde enter the room. They say their hellos, sit in the corner and scroll through Instagram. They are big-time, up-and-coming luchadores from El Paso by way of Ciudad Juárez, in Mexico. They’ll be facing Hugo’s Ciber Tiger and Rayo Plateado.
Puma said she gets a bit overwhelmed with all the testosterone in the room. She’ll post up in a corner, shyly, but she chalks that up to her sensitive side. Overall, she said luchadoras are respected in some Mexican wrestling promotions. In American promotions, such as WWE, men and women don’t often face each other but it’s different in Mexico. Women and men fight each other, sometimes in máscara contra cabellera, mask versus hair, matches.
“The guys may be stronger but the girls are smarter,” Puma said.
Virgo said sharing a space with top-name men and women is both scary and enlightening.
“You’re sharing a locker room with people you never thought you’d be with in the same place, doing the same thing,” Virgo said. “What I appreciate a lot about sharing a locker room with experienced people is that they don’t feel too big and they always have good and bad comments that help us better ourselves. In any sport when there’s a competition, not many people want you to know what you’re doing right or doing wrong. But whenever they come and you know how far they make it and they give you tips, you’re like wow, they’re really helping me.”
Now the room is at full capacity. The guys are doing some practice moves. The music outside is getting louder and louder, showtime ticking closer and closer. Puma’s ready. She leaves to put on her outfit.
And then the night’s events began.
Soto said he pulled out the works for the anniversary show: Aztec dancers started off the show, blessing the ring and the event center.
Virgo and Sombra were up first against JK Pop. Virgo — who said he was scared of heights — leapt through the ropes, landing on Koyama outside of the ring. Virgo and Sombra did double moonsaults off the second rope, landing on the mat as JK Pop narrowly escaped their finishing move. Virgo and Sombra lost the match but the crowd still cheered them on. They took pictures with children in the crowd and signed autograph books.
“Having the crowd root for you is so satisfying,” Virgo said. “You get up there and hear them shouting your name, all the fears go away. When you satisfy people, it makes it worth it.”
Next up was Athena Estrada and Jr. Estrada. They were facing Sakura and Delta Jr. During practice last week, Athena said she was nervous since Sakura — Women’s Champion of Furia De Titanes — is so famous but she was going to fight to make it to the top. She did just that, pinning Sakura for the win.
It was Puma’s turn.
When she came out, the crowd roared for the hometown favorite. She was up against Black Widow, who spider crawled into the ring.
Black Widow taunted Puma at first, walking up to engage, then walking away wiping her hands as if Puma wasn’t competition. Then the two connected. Black Widow overpowered Puma but then Puma caught her stride. The crowd hyped her up while she walked along the ropes like a tightrope walk before bouncing down and flipping over onto her feet and bringing Black Widow down in the process.
With a final comeback, Puma rolled Black Widow up for the win. Little kids swarmed the ring to get an autograph and a picture with Puma.
“My heart was pounding when Puma was up there,” Soto said. “But I’m very proud.”
“Otra! Otra! Otra!” The crowd chanted as Ciber and Rayo jumped off the ropes colliding with their opponents.
“Sí se puede! Sí se puede!” The kids screamed whenever Ciber or Rayo were hurt. And then came the double final move: Ciber on one end of the ring flew off the top rope to crush Dragon, landing in front of the crowd who had to move their seats back. On the other end, Rayo dragged Cobarde to the top rope, grabbed him by his neck and performed a standing moonsault off the top, pinning him for the win.
Fans swarmed the stage again to tip the wrestlers.
“Esto Lucha! Esto Lucha!” Fans yelled as Dragon and Cobarde thanked Hugo’s and the crowd for having them.
Then things got bloody.
Hugo’s Vago Estrada and Red Demon faced off against Romano and Fuego. The crowd was ravenous. The pair hate each other and every time Romano and Fuego come to town, Vago and Demon look to defeat them. Kids in the crowd were handing their chairs to Vago and Demon but Vago caught a chair to the face. Blood was everywhere (some even got on our photographer). Fans cursed at Romano and Fuego when they entered the crowd. Even referee Don Ramon, who dances at the beginning of each match, got in on the action, stomping on Romano and Fuego.
The pair were quickly defeated by Vago and Demon, who grabbed the mics to let the duo know that they would always lose when they came to Denver.
Soto’s showstoppers were next.
The match that would bring out all the lucha fans from around the Denver-metro area. The main event, a three-way match between Villano 3 Jr., Dr. Wagner Jr. and Psycho Clown.
To Americanize this, think of The Rock and Stone Cold Steve Austin’s rivalry. About three years ago, Psycho and Wagner fought in a máscara contra máscara match, mask versus mask, where the loser had to take off his mask, revealing his identity. After 30 years behind the mask, Wagner lost and revealed his face.
Psycho Clown’s psycho carnival music began to play and everyone stood up. Kids and adults in Psycho’s mask put their hands out to touch him.
“Psycho! Psycho!” Chants echoed through the hall. When the match began, Wagner teamed up with Villano to beat up Psycho. Every chance the wrestlers got, they were outside of the ring throwing each other into the crowd. Puma and the other wrestlers had to perform crowd control. The little kids were ready to join in the match. There were loud chest slaps. Psycho pulled out a strap and beat Wagner with it. The chairs came out too.
Then Villano hit the ref with a low blow. Psycho turned Villano around, flipped him over and rolled him up for the pin but the ref was in too much pain. Ref Ramon came out to perform the count and Psycho was victorious.
The trio thanked the crowd as the fans dispersed into the muggy, rainy night.
Puma and the rest of Hugo’s crew stayed behind to clean up. They took down the chairs, swept up and prepared to dismantle the stage.
Puma said she isn’t sure when the next event will be, though she’s thinking sometime in September. Soto said the event was sold-out and for their next show, they might need a bigger space.
Puma and the crew have the next few days off but by midweek, they’ll be back in the gym practicing.
“I feel proud of myself,” Puma said. “Those stressed and nervous moments, thinking about what will happen, they’re gone. I’m proud of all of us. We made it. We put on a good event.”