The Legend of Cassandro, Saúl Armendáriz
Gael García Bernal’s portrayal of Saúl Armendáriz, known popularly as the “Liberace of lucha libre,” is magnetic and transformative. Set against the vibrant backdrop of Mexican wrestling, the film, Cassandro, tells the captivating story of Armendáriz, a trailblazer who danced on the ropes of adversity and identity.
A Destiny Shaped Early
From the boisterous lucha libre rings in Juárez to the bustling streets of El Paso, Texas, young Saúl’s love for wrestling was palpable. By 15, such was the lure of the ring and the intricate choreography of lucha libre, that Armendáriz traded textbooks for wrestling tights. His journey began not in the spotlight, but in the shadows of masked villains, from Mister Romano to El Topo.
Breaking Molds: From Underdog to Exótico Champion
Challenging traditional wrestling archetypes, Armendáriz transitioned from playing a rudo, a gladiator-themed villain, to embracing a flamboyant exótico persona, with the encouragement of his new trainer, Sabrina. This move wasn’t just a costume change. It was a declaration of his identity, an affirmation of his true self. Cassandro’s namesake, inspired by a Tijuana brothel keeper, was a testament to his belief in embodying both flair and virtue.
And while the wrestling world might have its scripts, Armendáriz’s battle against his inner demons wasn’t scripted. Facing off against lucha libre legends like Hijo del Santo not only terrified Cassandro but pushed him to life’s darkest edges. Yet, resilience won. Cassandro carved his name in history as the first exótico wrestler to clinch a world title.
Cassandro’s Legacy in Lucha Libre
With his vibrant persona and undeniable talent, Cassandro soon became synonymous with wrestling’s glitz and glam. But like any legend, he had his battles beyond the ring. Struggles with substance abuse momentarily clouded his career, but his commitment to sobriety paved the way for his triumphant return.
Today, his influence in the sport is undeniable. Where once crowds jeered and booed, they now cheer in admiration for this wrestling icon.
From Documentary to Biopic
While the 2018 documentary, Cassandro the Exotico!, offered a genuine glimpse into Armendáriz’s life, the dramatized biopic brings its own flair. Some artistic licenses were taken, but the essence of Armendáriz’s journey remains intact. Premiering at Sundance, the film is a testament to Armendáriz’s legacy, reminding us that our differences, while challenging at times, are often our greatest strengths.
In the kaleidoscope of lucha libre, Cassandro’s vibrant hues stand out. With every high-flying move, Saúl Armendáriz showcased that true strength lies in embracing one’s identity. And in Gael García Bernal’s portrayal, the legend of Cassandro finds its fitting tribute.