If you build it, luchadores will come

Antonia Alonzo gave her grandson the gift of wrestling. And it keeps on giving back.

Inside a small toolshed on San Antonio’s South Side, a group of about 12 wrestlers stand around talking, lacing up their boots, and changing into costumes for fight night. Some wear official lucha-libre masks and tights; others get into character by painting their faces. Daniel Diaz, 19, waits quietly in a corner of the shed for the ring announcer to call his name so that he can make his entrance.

Ready for your close-up? Two wrestlers grapple for glory in Javier Santana Jr.’s backyard wrestling ring.

On the opposite side of the makeshift locker room, Alfredo Olivares begins to transform into one of three characters he portrays as a wrestler for the X-treme Wrestling Alliance, a homegrown backyard organization. His first, a clown named Giggles, is a crowd favorite. As his name is announced, Olivares, his head covered in an evil-clown lucha-libre mask he purchased in Mexico, peeks out of the shed before darting out to his theme song and dancing a cumbia all the way to the ring.

Tucked away in the corner of Roosevelt Avenue and Loop 410 in the Southside neighborhood known as Villa Coronado, the regulation-size ring sits not more than 20 feet away from Antonia Alonzo’s house on Saenz Street. A thin beige carpet and tarp cover the mat. Underneath the mat, one large spring at the center of the base keeps everything (and everyone) from caving in.

Alonzo is the fairy godmother of the XWA, which was launched by an extravagant gift for her grandson, Javier Santana Jr.

Santana was a good kid. He never got into trouble with the law, never used drugs, and never joined a gang, says Alonzo. Like many grandmothers, she wanted to reward him, even spoil him a little, so she offered to give him anything his heart desired.

But Santana was not your typical teenager. He longed for something he had been passionate about his entire life, something his father taught him about at a young age. He didn’t ask for an iPod, a laptop, or a portable PlayStation.

“He told me he wanted a wrestling ring,” Alonzo said. “I knew one day I was going to die and he wouldn’t have the money to buy one. So I said I’d make it for him.”

Santana’s request was not childish impulsiveness inspired by watching ladder matches on WWE’s Smackdown! or pile-drivers on Monday Night Raw. Javier has wrestling in his blood.

Antonia Alonzo mixes it up in the backyard wrestling ring she had built for her grandson.

His father, Javier Santana Sr., had recently retired from a 30-year wrestling career as a professional Mexican luchador. With her grandson waiting to take on the family’s wrestling mantle, Alonzo, who says she was diagnosed with stomach cancer, decided to use a lump sum of money she received from selling her life-insurance policy to build her grandson’s wrestling ring in an empty lot beside her home.

“We struggled for a long time,” said Sylvia Alonzo, Antonia’s daughter and Santana’s mother. “The ring cost $3,000 to make. At first we thought my mom was crazy for doing it.”

Although at first only Javier Jr. used the ring to train, other professional and amateur wrestlers soon heard about the new neighborhood feature and came over to test it out. Javier Sr. also began to invite luchadores from Monterrey, Tamaulipas, and Nuevo Laredo to travel to San Antonio to practice.

Soon, American and Mexican wrestlers were walking through Alonzo’s front yard to take their turn on the mat, and Javier Jr. decided to form the XWA with the wrestlers and luchadores who kept showing up.

For the past four years, the XWA, which currently has 22 wrestlers on its roster, has performed without fail every Saturday night at 8 p.m. and, just as reliably, every weekend neighbors walk to the Alonzo home carrying lawn chairs and coolers filled with beer.

“People like to come because they scream and let out all their stress here,” Sylvia said. “A lot of people have problems out here. They don’t have money, they have issues at home. They leave here breathing better. For them, and for the wrestlers, it’s like a drug. They get a rush out of it.”

Longtime XWA followers Beatrice Torres, 67, and Jesse Torres, 73, add that the wrestling matches are a fun and cheap (admission is free) alternative to staying home and watching TV.

“It’s an exciting sport,” Beatrice said. “We’ve been coming here for over three years, and it really gives us a timeout from the monotony of daily life.”

As 8 p.m. approaches, the deejay continues to play upbeat Spanish music to pump up the audience. At the concession stand under the carport, Alonzo is serving homemade carne-guisada and picadillo tacos. The show is free, so Alonzo uses the money made at the concession stand to pay the wrestlers whatever she can.

Diaz, a graduate of Burbank High School, goes by the name of Polaris in the ring. He has wrestled in the XWA for the past three years and, like Javier Jr., wrestling runs in his veins. Diaz’s father trained with the iconic luchador El Santo, and Diaz has practiced since he was 10. He remembers watching his father and uncle place a tarp on the rocky ground near his home and use it as their wrestling mat.

“Sometimes I would try to get in,” Diaz said. “But they would make me cry because they would tear my masks.

“Growing up, I liked X-Men, Batman, and Superman, because kids always wanted to be the superhero,” Diaz said. “For me, luchadores were the closest thing anyone could get to being a superhero.”

“When I have kids I am going to show them how to `wrestle` just as good as their dad,” Giggles said after winning his match. “You can’t show anyone that you are afraid of anything when you enter that ring.”

About an hour into the show, the stout, 68-year-old Alonzo suddenly abandons the concession stand and makes her way to the ring. Sliding between the ropes, she joins the fight, beating on one of the masked luchadores until she is thrown to the mat.

Sylvia said her mother began wrestling after she partnered with Javier Sr. one evening when a luchador canceled at the last minute.

“She tried it once and loved it,” Sylvia said. “She doesn’t wear a costume because she says she is embarrassed. I tell her, ‘You should be embarrassed being out there getting your butt kicked.’ But she keeps going in. The next day she is with her aspirin and her body aches.”

Still, Alonzo, whose ring name is La Piojosa — slang for “the woman with lice” — said a little soreness would not stop her from sharing in the entertaining environment she has created for her grandson. It is his own little world, she said, on a small lot in a Southside neighborhood where a body slam and a dropkick can put a smile on anyone’s face.

“It gives me great pleasure to get into the ring,” Alonzo said. “I’m going to keep doing this until I’m 100 years old.”


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