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On the Mount Olympus of lucha libre, El Santo stands alone as Zeus, the irreproachable king of the sport. There will never be another Mexican wrestler who captures the heart and the passion of the Mexican people the way Santo did.
Beneath Santo, there is another wave of legends, all with a claim to being the second greatest Mexican wrestler of all-time; some are Santo's contemporaries, Blue Demon and Gory Guerrero, others were the next generation of lucha icons, El Canek, El Hijo Del Santo and El Solitario.
Some would say that Mil Mascaras is the obvious number two; a worldwide celebrity and like Santo, a movie star in Mexico. Mascaras with his colorful masks, flashy moves and invincibility is certainly a legend in wrestling, and unlike Santo, was a major draw on a global scale, particularly in Japan.
Mascaras though, for all his fame and notoriety, couldn't lace the furry boots of Pedro 'El Perro' Aguayo, the Dog of Nochistlan. Mascaras may have traveled the world, taking his soft-bumping, aerial style to the United States and Japan and became a recognized name around the world, but he didn't draw one million people to the same arena in a single year, bumping and bleeding night after night inside the notoriously stiff and merciless ring at the El Toreo, the bullring in Naucalpan that was the base for the UWA in the 1970s.
Aguayo wasn't the first maskless Mexican wrestler to find success, Guerrero wrestled a generation before him, but Aguayo helped revolutionize Mexican wrestling and led several boom periods in the business, becoming the biggest attendance draw in lucha libre history, even bigger than Santo, due to Aguayo performing in bigger arenas.
Aguayo's long hair, wild brawling style and constant bleeding was a contrast to the more conservative, clean-cut lucha libre style that had been popular for decades in Mexico. Short and squat, Aguayo wasn't an impressive physical specimen like Bruiser Brody, but his intense physical style, relentless aggression and enormous capacity for violence created an image that he was willing to fight to the death for victory.
As part of a ritual, the Aztec's would engage in battles against rival civilizations, battling in close range combat, often with blunt weapons, and attempt to incapacitate the opponent so they could be captured and then later used as part of a ritual human sacrifice. The best opposing warriors could last a frighteningly long time, taking down a dozen or more Aztec warriors before finally succumbing, and winning fame in the process for their tremendous fighting spirit.
Aguayo was almost the wrestling version of those enemy fighters; a villain so tremendous in courage and tenacity that they couldn't help but win supporters to their side. Despite the fact that he was a heel, (called a rudo in Mexico) for almost his entire career, he ended up being a babyface by default. Fans couldn't do anything but appreciate Aguayo's effort.
Aguayo began his career in 1968 and was an early standout due to his aggression and willingness to work extremely hard in the ring. He was an expert bump-taker, and also helped popularize some notable moves, including the Lou Thesz press and the flying double-foot stomp.
In 1975 he was involved in the biggest feud of his career, matched up against a 58-year-old Santo, Aguayo was called upon because EMLL, the dominant promotion in Mexico since Salvador Lutteroth introduced lucha libre to Mexico in the 1930s, needed a strong worker to make the aging Santo look good. The feud was a major success, ending in Santo's successful defense of his mask at EMLL 42nd Anniversary show. Although he lost the feud, the long program with Santo established Aguayo as a major name in wrestling.
Also in 1975, disgruntled promoters working with EMLL broke off and started a rival promotion, the UWA, and began pushing new stars as their top names, most notably Aguayo and Canek. With Canek as the classic, muscular babyface and Aguayo, the dirty and hated heel, the two were magic together, drawing over one million fans to the El Toreo in a calendar year. Multiple times per week, more than 10,000 fans would pile into the arena to see Aguayo perfect his art of bleeding and reckless abandon.
At the same time, Aguayo was also working for EMLL. Despite the fact that the promotions were at war with each other, neither could afford to turn down an offer from Aguayo when he was willing to wrestle for them; his drawing power was too extraordinary for promotional politics to be a factor. When you had Aguayo on the card, you had a big house, end of story.
At the time, wrestling on television was not nearly as big in Mexico as it was in Japan or the United States; it was thought of as being too violent for regular syndication. Sadly, that meant that a lot of Aguayo's finest moments were not recorded and can't be found today. At the same time, that unique dynamic helped create Aguayo's aura as someone that had to be seen live and in person. His mystique was pushed in newspapers and magazines, a man too violent for TV, which helped turn him into such a big drawing card during a time when live gate attendance was everything in wrestling.
As he got older, he continued to be a major draw, in the 1990s working with another upstart promotion, AAA, which had splintered off of EMLL (which had changed its name to CMLL earlier in the decade) in 1992. Again, Aguayo was a major draw, working a program with the younger Konnan, who resembled Aguayo as a mask-less brawler. AAA became the biggest promotion in Mexico in the 1990s, having been influenced by Aguayo's patented style, with programs focused on lots of brawling, heavy bleeding and skull-crushing chair shots.
Despite being nearly 50, Aguayo did as much any anybody in AAA, and was a top star during the boom period. Although he was supposed to be a heel, Aguayo was such an icon at this point that he was cheered everywhere and emerged as a classic anti-hero, almost like the Mexican version of Stone Cold Steve Austin.
Due to his extraordinarily long career and being a major drawing card for more than 25 years, and his role at the forefront of several boom periods in Mexico, it is believed that Aguayo drew more people to arenas than all but a very few in wrestling history. Hulk Hogan, Jim Londos, Bruno Sammartino; that might be it. Due to not being on television he hasn't lived on as an icon the way other wrestlers have, but almost nobody put more asses in seats than Aguayo.
Aguayo officially retired in 2001, but came back later in the decade to team with his son, Perro Aguayo Jr., who wrestled just like his father and had a hall of fame career before he was killed in a ring accident in 2015 at age 35.
While Mascaras, at nearly 80 years old, is still having the odd match here and there, Aguayo, who died on Wednesday at 73, lived his final years in solitude, years of abuse taking a physical toll on his body and likely leaving him with dementia at a young age, which kept him out of the public spotlight, including following his son's death when he did not make any public appearances.
Perhaps if he wrestled Mascaras' light-style and never took any bumps, he could still be wrestling today. That wasn't Aguayo though; nobody took more bumps, nobody bled more, nobody worked harder with their opponent, nobody sacrificed more of their well-being. He gave professional wrestling everything and by the end it had taken everything; with blood and who knows how many brain cells scattered across the El Toreo. Although he is gone today, his memory lives on in the millions of fans who paid to see The Dog of Nochistlan.