Name: El Santo
Year Inducted: 2013

El Santo

 

On July 26, 1942, Rodolfo Guzman Huerta made his pro wrestling debut, winning an eight-man battle royal in Mexico City. At the time, very little was made of the event. After all, wrestling’s popularity in Mexico was exploding at the time and Huerta was just another green, awkward rookie. Nobody could have imagined that Huerta would go on to enjoy a 40-year career and capture the hearts of the Mexican nation as the masked El Santo (translated into English as The Saint), the most beloved wrestler in Lucha Libre history.

The anniversary of Santo’s death (February 5, 1984) is marked by nationwide celebrations, memorials and wrestling cards honoring his memory. Fans from all across Mexico make a pilgrimage to his mausoleum site in Mexico City, paying homage to the man affectionately nicknamed “El Enmascarado de Plata” (The Man in the Silver Mask).

Huerta moved to Mexico City and became enthralled and captivated by Lucha Libre. He trained to become a pro wrestler at a local gym and made his debut under the name Rudy Guzman. Guzman competed as a rudo (Spanish word for heel wrestler) but never gained any measure of notoriety.

In 1934, masked wrestlers began appearing in Mexico, and riding the growing trend, Guzman took the name El Santo from a character from Alexandre Dumas’ novel The Man In The Iron Mask, donned a long, flowing, silver cape and a silver mask. And with that a career was born that would see El Santo become imbedded in Mexican popular culture and become a national treasure for over four decades.

“He totally transcended wrestling,” said Dave Meltzer, editor of The Wrestling Observer Newsletter. “He was much bigger than just a wrestling star. I think there have been wrestlers as big as him and as popular as him but none for 40 years where everybody in the country knows him. Santo was more than just a wrestler. Nobody had the enduring popularity he had.”

As he grew in popularity as a wrestler, Santo quickly went from a cult figure to a national hero who crossed over into every imaginable form of Mexican culture. In 1951, a weekly comic book was created based on him and then the film industry came calling. Producers of Mexican cinema saw the popularity of Lucha Libre and wanted to capitalize. Santo was immediately cast and the Lucha Libre horror genre was born. Between 1958 and until his last movie in 1982, Santo starred in 54 films.

Through the ’60s and ’70s, Santo would split his time between wrestling and movies. As Santo continued to wrestle his body began to break down. No longer effective in the ring, he retired from active competition on September 12, 1982. His son, El Hijo del Santo, debuted shortly after.

Even in retirement, El Santo protected his identity. He wore the mask on several TV appearances and he entered a new career as an escape artist. On January 26, 1984, El Santo appeared on a Mexican talk show and, without previous warning, he publicly unmasked for the first time in his career. Underneath the legendary silver mask was an old, battered face. Days later he was performing in a skit at a theater when he complained of a pain in his arm. He was rushed to the hospital but it was of no use. He passed away that evening in his hospital bed at the age of 68.

 

- John Molinaro



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