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Wrestling – Cassandro El Exotico

By Ian Langsdon

Wrestler Cassandro El Exotico soars through the air in a daring acrobatic manoeuvre against Puma King (R) and Magnus (C)  during a Lucha Libre wrestling exhibition match at the Cartier Foundation in Paris, France, 03 November 2014. As part of his last tour before a two-year break, US-born Mexican wrestling welterweight champion, Cassandro El Exotico set up a fighting ring for a show dubbed Los Exoticos vs Los Luchadores.  epa/Ian Langsdon

Wrestler Cassandro El Exotico soars through the air in a daring acrobatic manoeuvre against Puma King (R) and Magnus (C) during a Lucha Libre wrestling exhibition match at the Cartier Foundation in Paris, France, 03 November 2014. epa/Ian Langsdon

Paris, for many, is the city of lights, high fashion and fine cuisine. For the news photographer, it is also the capital of international diplomacy – with an average of four visiting dignitaries per week, creating a steady supply of ‘grip & grin’ photo-opportunities. If there is one thing Paris is not renowned for, however, it is Lucha Libre Mexican wrestling. So when a press release appeared in my inbox one morning bearing the title “Cassandro El Exotico VS Luchadores in Paris”, I was unsure whether or not I was the subject of an elaborate prank.

After investigating further, it appeared that ‘Cassandro El Exotico’ was not only a real-life wrestler, but in fact somewhat of a celebrity within the realm of Lucha Libre. Oh, and Cassandro is a drag-queen. That was all I needed – this story was too strange to ignore.

Luchador Puma King holds Cassandro El Exotico upside down as the referee looks on during the first act of a Lucha Libre wrestling exhibition match at the Cartier Foundation in Paris, France, 03 November 2014. epa / Ian Langsdon

Luchador Puma King holds Cassandro El Exotico upside down as the referee looks on during the first act of a Lucha Libre wrestling exhibition match at the Cartier Foundation in Paris, France, 03 November 2014. epa / Ian Langsdon

The fight was to be held at the Cartier Foundation in central Paris. Upon my arrival on fight-night, it became apparent that the press was not expected to show up, judging by the bewildered look on the press relations personnel’s faces. Nevertheless I was welcomed in, and left with an ominous warning: “Don’t stand next to the ring. You’ll get squashed.”

Wrestler Cassandro El Exotico yells in pain as Puma King pins him down during the first act of a Lucha Libre wrestling exhibition match at the Cartier Foundation in Paris, France, 03 November 2014. epa / Ian Langsdon

Wrestler Cassandro El Exotico yells in pain as Puma King pins him down during the first act of a Lucha Libre wrestling exhibition match at the Cartier Foundation in Paris, France, 03 November 2014. epa / Ian Langsdon

With that in mind, I kept as far from the ring as humanly possible, opting to shoot with my 70-200mm f/2.8 lens, amidst the audience. The event drew a small gathering of around 200, mostly eccentric-looking folks, for whom this seemed to be a normal Monday night. What followed, was far from normal. Two colossal, shirtless, masked wrestlers (luchadores) faced off with two petite, drag-queen ‘exotics’ in tights. What ensued was a whirlwind of gravity-defying acrobatics, cabaret-style risqué showmanship and downright physical violence. Bodies flew, heads were slapped, and an array of Spanish swear words were thrown around. After taking a considerable beating, Cassandro and his equally feminine sidekick rose to the occasion and delivered the final blows, seizing their victory. The fight was over.

Performers wearing 'Lucha Libre' Mexican wrestler's masks take part in a choreographed dance ahead of an exhibition Lucha Libre wrestling match starring current Lucha Libre welterweight champion luchador, Cassandro El Exotico, at the Cartier Foundation in Paris, France, 03 November 2014. epa / Ian Langsdon

Performers wearing ‘Lucha Libre’ Mexican wrestler’s masks take part in a choreographed dance ahead of an exhibition Lucha Libre wrestling match starring current Lucha Libre welterweight champion luchador, Cassandro El Exotico, at the Cartier Foundation in Paris, France, 03 November 2014. epa / Ian Langsdon

Back home that night, I was reviewing the picture production and struggling with the edit, as many shots had distracting colourful clutter in the background. Suddenly a Facebook notification popped up inviting me to join ‘Black & White photo-challenge’ that had been going viral all week. This, along with Benjamin Legier’s support, inspired me to make an entire edit in black and white, which ultimately solved the background issue, allowing the photos to focus on the action and expressions instead.

The crowd cheer as Cassandro El Exotico celebrates defeating the Rudos team during a Lucha Libre wrestling exhibition match at the Cartier Foundation in Paris, France, 03 November 2014. epa / Ian Langsdon

The crowd cheer as Cassandro El Exotico celebrates defeating the Rudos team during a Lucha Libre wrestling exhibition match at the Cartier Foundation in Paris, France, 03 November 2014. epa / Ian Langsdon

A few days after the picture package release, Italian news website Panorama picked up the story, writing a full article about Cassandro, using the full feature as a slideshow.
This was a great surprise after what can only be described as a truly surprising assignment!

Cassandro El Exotico feature package on epa.eu

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