He was ‘stabbed, beaten up, and spat on,’ but none of that could stop Cassandro from becoming an LGBTQ and wrestling icon. He EXCLUSIVELY talks to us about his journey and his documentary, ‘Cassandro the Exotico!’
For over thirty years, Cassandro, the “Liberace of Lucha Libre,” faced fierce masked luchadores inside the wrestling ring, while battling homophobia outside of it. Wrestling as an exótico — a character type that exudes exaggerated femininity and sexual ambiguity, often regarded as a comedic act instead of a serious competition – Cassandro refused to be pigeonholed as a mere sideshow when he knew he was worthy of the main event. He ultimately won over lucha libre fans and became the first openly gay wrestler to hold a pro-wrestling championship when he won the UWA World Lightweight title in 1992.
While Cassandro seems to have conquered all challenges, the one fight he may lose is against time. In Cassandro The Exotico!, the documentary from Marie Losier, the famed luchador deals with a body that’s been badly banged-up from three decades inside the ring. The documentary will air at Metrograph in New York City at 7pm ET, and before the screening, Cassandro spoke EXCLUSIVELY with HollywoodLife about his fellow wrestlers’ reaction to the film, about opening up about his Aztec heritage, and one scene that was left on the cutting room floor.
Hollywood Life: Cassandro The Exotico! was made over a period of five years. How was it to have Marie follow you around over that period of time?
It was also because I had two surgeries in the process. So there was a downtime on it, but we film for four straight years. And then the last year was in post-production and the editing. And then, of course, it premiered last year at the Cannes Film Festival.
Marie and I, we just clicked, she’s a very nice filmmaker but we had an interview in Mexico and she told me, “Wow, your life is full of trauma and drama and pain”, but I’ll still have a lot of accomplishment, and she was like, “Do you want to do something about it?” and I’m like, “Well not me, you do something about it!”
It was intense sometimes, having the cameras right in your face because it was no holds barred. She went into my living room. She went into my bedroom, my bathroom. And that’s just part of the process that I needed to be true to myself for the documentary to have more power.
Was there a scene that didn’t make the final film that you wish was included?
Yeah. When my father and I reconnected, many years ago, and we started our healing process, him being a real father and I’m being his real son, it was just very traumatic at the time. To me, it was very loving and…and a lot of those scenes did not make it to the documentary. I had nothing to say with the editing, I had no word, I didn’t say, I didn’t put my two cents in. Marie did it and edited just the way they wanted to. And I think it’s perfect the way it was.
Going into the documentary, I was really surprised by the editorial scenes – the luchador walking in the desert, the mock funeral – it added an extra layer of magic to the film, which is something because you’re already magical.
Yeah, well it’s sort of my touch, the flamboyant side of it, and I’m from El Paso, Texas. And with those scenes were filmed …where we do our sundance ceremony, which I’ll be entering next week. It’s four days of fasting and purification. And that was just, we needed to put that there because I live in the desert, and that’s where my healing comes from a lot.
It was amazing to see the scenes where you engaged with your spirituality and revealed your indigenous heritage. Was it essential for you to include that side of you in the documentary?
Yes, it was very important to me because I want to just be transparent. It was one thing to talk about the problem [of substance abuse and trauma], but I also wanted to put what was my solution, maybe then it could work for somebody. That’s why I talk about Narcotics Anonymous, being across the program, that’s where my healing began. And then I saw a lot of links to my healing and one of them was going back to my roots, to my indigenous community.
Especially nowadays with all the politics going on, the president, the spectacle of the United States. My message is just to be yourself, don’t let nobody define us and just stay true to yourself. And this me and I knew it was important for this film and that’s where my healing comes from, from the ancestors. And then, of course, the prospects of Narcotics anonymous. And then I go to therapy for many years, and I’m still going to therapy. It’s just an ongoing process.
It’s cool that the film adds that extra layer to your persona. Fans know you as a pioneer and a trailblazer, so revealing that aspect of your indigenous heritage adds a depth that people may not know.
I always like to get in the way of the back of the theater when I’m presenting the film, and I like to watch the audience, how do they react. And once they hear those drums, it’s time. For all of us who are, like Latinos or something, it takes you back to when you were a kid because I remember when I was a little kid, I would hear all these drums, but they like a kachina. And for us, I’m in Salsa – Azteca — I take dancing. It’s a little bit different, but the hard bit of every dance is the drums, and that’s why I’m a drummer.
I like the heartbeat. When I walk in those ceremonies, back on December 12 of 2008, and I heard the drums, I was like, “Oh my god, this is where I belong, I found my home out here.”
I also saw that recently you were wrestling at the Rise event in Chicago against Mercedes Martinez.
Oh my god, yeah.
How was that?
Well, it was intense. I had heard of Mercedes, but I had never had the honor or the privilege of meeting her. So, it was just intense all the way. When I said yes to the match, and then when I knew it was going to be against her, then I went to prepare myself, I get a little new gear, I change my hair to red.
I was so glad I got to see a lot of the LGBTQ community in Rise, whether they were guys, they were bisexuals or gay, they’re transgender.
Like I saw [Mercedes], and I was like, “Wow, she’s always giving good feedback, she’s always helping out, she’s talking the newcomers that are coming out, and it was just amazing.” And in the ring, it was just like poetry and art. It was just like we were like in a poem.
I was very touched, very moved. The final, I beat her, but she also praised me, like oh my god. It was beautiful to see two LGBTQ community members that have worked their ass off and have paved the way for all this new generation to come and feel inclusive in a world where the machos used to, to be the ones that direct every company.
And nowadays, I work with companies and preparing new talent, either in Europe, Mexico, United States. And I just love that people are looking up to us. That there are people like Mercedes, everybody goes to her, even the promoter, I was like, “Oh my god.” And I just saw that the next promoter was like, “Oh my gosh, she’s just like me, and I could relate to her,” and I was like, “Oh man!”
And he didn’t want to- she’s a proud girl. She beat the shit out of me too. I mean, yeah, I love that way of fighting because I’m a strong fighter. I know I have to hit twice or three times, force the shoe, like oh my god, like she has the guts that I don’t have. And I just knew she was all for it and all, like she was just, all for it and all.
Do you see this new generation – in promotions like Rise or A Matter of Pride – as part of your legacy? Are these new wrestlers your children, of sorts?
Yeah, they’re my [Lucha] babies, I call them my Lucha babies, and I’m called the Lucha Libre fairy godmother for a reason. I have all these kids that come to me, every time I do a seminar, I get a bunch of kids, I get a lot of professionals that come in, and they just want to be polished.
When I see people that are coming out, and they come out to me, or I talk to parents that, they don’t accept their kids, and I give them my story about my father and how we reconnected, and it’s just amazing that to see the new Lucha babies bringing back to the roots of love in that age, but they also need to learn the respect and the decision that comes with it and the commitment, since you have to commit to this sacrifice.
In 31 years of being a professional wrestler, I can tell you that I’m very blessed and very happy for the new generation to come up. Because, back then I was stabbed, I was beaten up, I was spat on my face, doors shut on my face because people didn’t want to deal with us. They didn’t know how to deal with us. So I had to come back and show the old-timers just like I’m showing my father, how to love the kids, the kids. I’m showing my father how to love me because he wasn’t a very lovable father. He didn’t know how. He wasn’t taught that way.
And that’s what I’m teaching the old-timers and the newcomers. You have to be respectful, like take care of your presence, but remember your presence is not how you dress, your presence is how you develop your skills inside the ring. Because I still see a lot of exoticos trying to show their ass, they’re trying to show their tits, and they’re more worried about how they look, instead of how they’re acting in the Lucha Libre ring.
That’s just me, I’m still the, I’m always going to try and make people better and push the buttons so they can be more centered and they know how to respond to people and to criticism. …You know, lucha libre has always been this macho culture, and I’m so happy that I have changed the Mexican culture, to accept us just the way we are.
Speaking of the old-timers, have any of your fellow wrestlers talked to you about this movie? We saw El Hijo del Santo in the film. What did he think?
About the documentary?
Oh yeah. A lot of my colleagues have not seen it because, as you can see, I’m always fooling everybody. I always wanted to help our people to know that the other side of the story, the hard work that it takes to go on tour, to go inside the ring.
And my old close friends like El Hijo del Santo, he was like, “Oh my god, I just love you.” I mean, he was part of the biggest moment I had back in January 28th, 1991, when I was competing against the world champion, and nobody thought I could do it. And I just developed a very nice friendship with him throughout the years and his wife and his kids. I’m one of the lucky ones that have been in his house five times. I mean, we have a great relationship and him knowing the truth about what happened in 1991 was important to me.
But back in 2008, I told him in Paris what it cost me to do that match against him, and he has more respect than anybody else that I know of. A lot of my old-timers are like, “Oh my god, we knew you were going to do something. We didn’t know where you were going, but we knew you were going to do a different one.” And nowadays we are. The book has been almost finished, and we’re working now on a feature film.
[Note: Before facing El Hijo del Santo in 1991, Cassandro faced such negative backlash that it drove him to attempted suicide. He survived the attempt, faced El Hijo del Santo the following week and earned the respect of the lucha libre community.]
That’s so cool! I’ll definitely keep my eyes out for that.
Yes. [pause] Everything that I have accomplished in my 31 years as a professional wrestler — every tear, every blood, everything — has come to this moment right now.
When people, especially the fathers, come to me and I — last week I was in Monterrey, Mexico, which is a very macho city, like very cowboy city, and this man came up to me, he’s like, he was just looking at me, I didn’t know, I couldn’t read him, I didn’t know if he was going to be positive or negative and I couldn’t, and I was like, “Would you like to talk to me, sir?” and he’s like, “Yes, I want to talk to you. I just want to thank you for your film because you touched me with your story about your dad. I’ll go home tonight [and] see my kids differently. Thank you for changing my perspective.” and oh my god, it’s moments like these that bring tears in my eyes.”
Nobody wanted me around for a long time. They said that I was going to be successful. And now I’m being this mentor, this inspirational guy, and I’m so grateful for that, and I’m just who I wanted to be. This is who I am.
This interview has been edited for clarity.