Considering this, the money is lousy. The biggest wrestling star in Mexico might make $200 per week, whereas Hulk Hogan probably grossed more than $2 million this year. No wonder so many Mexican wrestlers wear masks.
The wrestling itself is based on quick feet and agility, as opposed to American pro wrestling, which is based on quick mouths and good wardrobe men. Mexican wrestling is at times intricately choreographed, with three-man wrestling teams leaping over and under one another in long strings of complicated moves, looking as though they have practiced together for years, which, of course, they have. Fighting in threesomes allows infinitely more possibilities for anarchy and mayhem, even though there are two referees. One ref's job is primarily to act confused.
The names are different, too. They are less names, really, than abstract notions: the Fear, the Horror, Man of a Thousand Masks (or his brother, Man of a Hundred Faces). There are also the standard demons: the Nazi, Médico Asesino (Dr. Death), Ormuz the Viking God and the Ghost. These are the rudos, the bad guys. The good guys are the técnicos, and they often wear masks, too.
"The mask gives you an air of mystery," says the padre. The good guys always prevail over the bad guys, which is not the case in American pro wrestling, but not before the bad guys win one fall out of the three and quite nearly win a second.
Fray Tormenta is a good guy even the bad guys like. The other day, the Spectrum, one of the baddest of the bad guys, brought two bags of rice to the orphanage. Ormuz, whom the father beat out of his huge head of hair one night, appears to hold no grudges and, in fact, came to Xometla the other day to help the father put on an exhibition for his kids, who rarely get to see him wrestle. And in Mexico City in late November, almost 20,000 people packed Arena Mexico for a benefit for the padre's children. Everybody came to see the good father win his match. (You beat the padre on his benefit night and you can kiss eternal salvation goodbye.) Six million pesos (about $2,600) was raised. Of course, Father Gutierrez hasn't gotten it yet and he's not entirely sure he will. In Mexico, nothing is a lock.
If he does, it will be his biggest payday yet and more than he has made in some years. In 1978, for instance, when he was living and working in Veracruz, the padre was trying to keep 14 kids fed and warm. He wasn't doing so well at it. Seven of the kids slept in his car and the other seven with him on the sidewalk.
Things are slightly better these days, but the padre's car at times still serves as sleeping quarters. For an out-of-town match, the promoter sends him plane fare and hotel money. The padre will save the pesos by driving to the match, even if it means a 17-hour haul, one way, as it once did. He'll then wrestle his 20 minutes and drive back, pulling over to sleep when he is tired. "To accept luxury would be taking food out of the mouths of the children," he says.
The padre is nuts about children, any kind of children—runaways, drug addicts, children of prostitutes and abandoned kids. These, of course, are mostly what the padre has already and what he takes in all the time. His crumbling church may be packed to the pigeonholes with hungry children, but the father isn't much good at saying no. He used to have only 45 kids. Thanks to the Mexico City earthquake of two years ago and to new poverty caused by runaway inflation, he keeps adding more. He has taken in eight new ones in the last two months alone, including a three-month-old. And there are plenty more where they came from.
Between 80,000 and 90,000 homeless children walk the streets of Mexico City, according to the padre, all part of a parade of beggars, hawkers, thieves, jugglers, schemers and fire-swallowers trying to scrounge their next meal in the world's most populous metropolitan area. Most of the padre's kids were part of that parade. Anita, 5, was found by the padre's sister lying under a blanket in Mexico City. Alfredo, 14, slept in the subways for two years before he heard about the wrestling priest and begged enough bus fare to come to St. Michael's. Sergio, 15, was a thief. He would steal—"money, cars, whatever," he says—to buy drugs and food.
The padre loves them because he sees himself in them. Growing up in Mexico City, he smoked marijuana and was called "the Crook" by other members of the gang he ran with. He was also the best athlete in the group. He was handy with his fists and was good enough to play soccer professionally for one year, 1961, when he was 16 years old. But his life didn't change for good until the day he went to confession and told the priest that he didn't feel worthy of forgiveness. The father convinced him that he could be a fine priest someday.