Back in the early aughts, when Liz Fairbairn found herself creating costumes for a lucha libre (the term used in Mexico for masked professional wrestling) show in Mexico and dating one of its featured wrestlers, she came up with a brilliant, albeit a bit wild, idea.
“My second career is special effects costuming, so I made these baboon costumes [for some of the wrestlers]. I was sent down there to babysit the baboon costumes,” she recalls with a laugh.
Even before her “baboon babysitting” days, Fairbairn had lived a storied life. Raised in Santa Cruz, Calif., she eventually moved to nearby San Francisco and ran a nightclub on Folsom Street. “I lived in San Francisco until I went to Virginia to manage [the conceptual metal band] GWAR,” she says. “Which…that’s a whole other story.”
Lucha VaVoom tag team "The Sexy Mexis"
She explains that her costuming skills had also connected her to the world of burlesque — and it suddenly occurred to her that combining scantily clad dancers with costumed Mexican wrestlers just might make one hell of a show. And she was right.
After joining forces with well-known burlesque producer and performer Rita D’Albert (@MissRitaD) and recruiting a crew of luchadors to travel from Mexico, Lucha VaVoom made its debut in August 2002 in Los Angeles. Intended to be a onetime thing, the high-octane extravaganza has been an iconic entertainment institution for two decades now. And for a show seemingly centered on chi-chis and machismo, its history is surprisingly queer.
Wrestler and model Taya Valkyrie kicking butt in the ring
Lucha VaVoom has evolved much over the years. With its most consistent home being L.A.’s Mayan Theatre, the show has featured everything from famous comedian MCs like Margaret Cho and Jeffrey Ross to erotic aerialists like Violet Chachki of Drag Race fame, along with many other sexy queer, nonbinary, and gender-nonconforming performers. And of course, lots of buff, crazily costumed luchadors (of all genders) putting on a great show — some of whom have also been proudly out members of the LGBTQ+ community.
In fact, one the most popular wrestlers in VaVoom’s history is the fabulously flamboyant Cassandro el Exotico or, as he often likes to call himself, the “Liberace of Lucha Libre.” Rather than play down his queerness, Cassandro (picture at top) uses it full force in the ring — prancing and dancing around his opponents in glamorous, glittery costumes and a famously pompadoured do.
Unfortunately, Fairbairn reports that Cassandro recently suffered a series of strokes and will not be rejoining the show after its two-year hiatus (due to the COVID-19 pandemic). However, it seems Cassandro’s story will be told soon on the big screen. “There’s a film coming out about him shortly with Gael García Bernal [Bad Education, The Motorcycle Diaries],” she says.
"Dirty Sanchez" is one of the troupe's most popular (and raunchy) wrestlers
Fairbairn also admits with a sigh that it has been challenging getting “the troupe” back together after the long break. “Everything got scrambled during [the pandemic]…. It’s like everybody scattered to the winds.”
“There were so many speed bumps,” she adds about getting the show going again. “It was crazy. I mean, everything from supply chain to just everything you can imagine. And the Mayan was understaffed, stuff that was completely out of my control.”
Burlesque aeralist Veronica Yune dazzles the crowd
Compared to previous rosters of sometimes more than a dozen shows a year in pre-pandemic times, this year’s small number of dates may feel like a slow start, but Fairbairn says she’s still optimistic about the future of VaVoom. Even perhaps a Vegas residency, eventually — which seems like a natural permanent home for the racy review. “It’s perfect,” says Fairbairn excitedly. “Can you imagine?”