T-shirt Tuesday: Lucha Libre and the Bunkhouse Stampede

T-shirt Tuesday: Lucha Libre and the Bunkhouse Stampede

We recently acquired this shirt from the NWA tournament, the Bunkhouse Stampede, distinguished from other tournaments by the Western-style street clothes worn by the wrestlers and the use of weapons. The phenomenon was a hit among wrestling fanatics, though it was only held from 1985 to 1988. 

The Bunkhouse Stampede was a production of Jim Crockett Productions, owned by Jim Crockett Jr., a wrestling promoter who took over his father's business in 1980. The tournament involved teams of wrestlers, a la battle royal. Rather than a championship belt, the winner was awarded a massive bronze cowboy boot, apt for the bunkhouse-theme. 

The kind of wrestling showcased at the Bunkhouse can be categorized as hardcore wrestling, wherein rules don't apply and weapons like ladders, tables, and chairs are permitted. This made the matches that much more gruesome, often ending with both opponents bloodied. 

Tully Blanchard post-Bunkhouse Stampede

The popularity and prominence of wrestling in America; both hardcore and Greco-Roman, come as no surprise in a culture of violence and heroism. But the freestyle wrestling showcased at the Bunkhouse has origins elsewhere-- Mexico.

In English, lucha libre translates to "freestyle wrestling." It was first introduced to Mexico in the early 20th century, characterized by luchadors donning colorful masks and throwing high-flying maneuvers. The style of lucha libre originally was freestyle wrestling, a type of amateur wrestling. However today, the term is used to refer to professional wrestling exclusively. 

Originally a regional phenomenon, wrestling was put on the global map when Salvador Lutteroth founded Empresa Mexicana de Lucha Libre in 1933. Now known as the CMLL, or the World Wrestling Council, it is the oldest continuous professional wrestling promotion in the world. 

The significance of the masks worn by luchadors have origins that date back to the Aztecs. Wearing sacred masks designed to evoke animals, gods, and ancient heroes, luchadors have been regarded as godlike in Mexico for centuries. 

Like the battle royal format of the Bunkhouse Stampede, tag team wrestling is prevalent in lucha libre, usually in three-member teams called trios.

The first superstar in lucha libre was El Santo (the Saint). Making his debut in Mexico City, El Santo won an 8-man battle royal. Donning a silver-mask, El Santo was adored for his mystique and became the most popular luchador in the country.

But his fame didn't stop there, emerging as a folk hero he appeared in comic books and movies, and gave the sport mainstream attention and adoration. El Santo was buried wearing his silver mask following his legacy of never revealing his face. 

Contemporary Mexican artist Xavier Garza takes inspiration from wrestling and luchador masks for his work. 

Xavier Garza, illustration from The Man in the Silver Mask

In addition to the U.S. and Mexico, Japan is the third major wrestling mecca, with a style known as puroreso. Many of the most successful Japanese wrestlers began their career training in Mexico, including Gran Hamada, Satoru Sayama, Jushin Thunder Liger, and Ultimo Dragon. 

Luchadors have became symbols of Mexican culture, and Jim Crockett  sought to do the same in the United States with Dusty Rhodes and the Stampeders. Because of WWE's monopoly on the wrestling world, the Bunkhouse Stampede fell out of favor when the Royal Rumble was broadcast on basic cable in '88. Still, Bunkhouse-lovers keep its legacy alive. 


Shop our collection of vintage wrestling tees here!