El Santo vs. The Diabolical Brain.
El Santo vs. The Vampire Women.
El Santo and The Blue Demon vs. Dr. Frankenstein.
El Santo vs. The Blue Demon IN ATLANTIS.
Who the hell is this guy? Why the frick is this Santo dude picking a fight with every mythological beast, Ancient Conspiracy, and cult icon within arm's reach? Is he recognized as a saint by the Vatican? And is The Blue Demon friend ... OR FOE?!?!?
The term "Larger Than Life" gets thrown around a lot these days, but in the case of Lucha Libre legend El Santo, it is entirely appropriate. At 5'9" he was of only average height, but Santo's reputation puts him on par with pulp legends many times his size, like King Kong, Godzilla, or Mothra. In fact, those beasts, and many more, were probably next on the wrestler's hit list before his passing in 1984.
Born Rodolfo Guzman Huerta (September 23, 1917 February 5, 1984), he started out normal, or whatever passed for normal in the hard-knock world of Mexican professional wrestling in the 1940s. After starting out as rudo, he gained popularity, turned into técnico, and by the 50s was basically the biggest name in Lucha Libre. It is at about this point that El Santo evolves from mere Wrestling Legend to a cult figure and folk hero.
Keen to cash in on wrestling's popularity, a comic book was published starring Mr. El Santo. As expected for a comic book, it depicted Santo as a Batman-esque crime fighter, and set him up against a trademark-unfriendly Rogues Gallery of monsters and ne'er-do-wells plucked from around the world. What made Santo different from conventional superheroes is that he was actually real, and literally did many of the exact things shown in the comics, i.e. wrestling, wearing gaudy costumes, and battling "evil" wrestlers on a regular basis.
Stand back and think about this for a second. How insanely awesome would it be if Superman, Batman, and Wolverine freed themselves from the page, and started flying around/brooding around/slicing around your neighborhood? Now imagine you're a six year old kid in Mexico City in 1954, and your favorite thing in the world is El Santo Comics. It doesn't take long to discover that Santo is a real person. But unlike when you find out that your daddy is Santa Claus, it turns out that Santo is actually buff, actually fights people, and has both an actual superhero costume and a semi-secret identity? All that crazy stuff El Santo does in the comics, like choking out the Loch Ness Monster and hiding out in a secret moonbase, suddenly becomes an order of magnitude more believable. Even the brighter kids can't outright dismiss the more mundane stories, like Santo foiling bank robberies or inventing gadgets, perhaps even fighting sharks. For the youngsters of the 50s and 60s, El Santo was an Actual Real Life Superhero, regardless of his technical lack of superpowers.
And then there were the movies. Yes, the dozens of El Santo films, where not even the ultimate enemy of rock-bottom production values could contain the sky-high ambitions of Mexico's most famous crimefighter. Over the course of a film career that lasted over two decades, Santo battled everyone from Martians to an entire extended family of Frankenstein monsters. To modern eyes, these quality of these flicks fall squarely into So Bad, It's Good territory, but upon release, the films catapulted Santo to even greater fame and renown. They also made El Santo an international superstar, though more in Latin America and Europe than in North America, where only four of his films were released in English dubs.
The movies also featured Santo's Worthy Opponent Blue Demon, who in true wrestling fashion would switch from ally to enemy and back on a fairly regular basis. Take a gander at The Other Wiki for the full filmography.
Legends are invincible, but despite rumors to the contrary, Santo was indeed human. After nearly 50 years in the ring, El Santo's age finally caught up to him. Following a farewell tour against a who's who of Lucha Libre, the masked man retired in 1982 at the ripe old age of 64. In January 1984 on a nationally televised talk show, Santo unmasked for the first and only time in public, shocking his legions of adoring fans. It is widely hypothesized that the luchador knew his time on Earth was about to run out, because a little more than a week after the television incident, Heaven got its Saint back. El Santo was buried wearing his iconic silver mask. Nowadays, his son competes in a similar mask, going by the name "El Hijo del Santo"—The Son of The Saint, as well as El Hijo's own son, El Santo Jr. Another grandson, Hijo Del Santo's nephew, toured the Mexican circuit as Axxel, following a legal dispute over whether he could go by "El Nieto del Santo," Santo Jr's original name. The courts later ruled in his favor, and he has gone by Nieto del Santo ever since.
Throughout his entire career, Santo was also a hero to the people, giving back to the community through charity and giving public support to many causes in favor of Mexico's poor. This made his wrestling name take on a more literal meaning to many of his fans, and some people in Mexico actually hold the belief that Santo is the saint that the Vatican will never canonize, but a saint just the same.
In the last year of his life, he gave a newspaper interview discussing his career. He admitted he was not the best in-ring technician, nor the most charismatic, was only drawn to the "masked man" gimmick due to the fact that it was popularized by others, and that he had followed others in trying to make his name in the movies. He didn't know, for the life of him, how he ended up as the most popular wrestler in all of Mexico. Perhaps that was the reason why.
These days, few people actually believe that El Santo applied a scorpion leg lock to Count Dracula, but no one can prove he didn't, and so the legend of the Wrestling Saint cannot be destroyed. From Guadalajara to Gunma Prefecture, his story lives on.
Selected El Santo Filmography:
- Santo Contra El Cerebro Del Mal (Santo Vs. The Evil Brain, 1958)
- Santo Contra Hombres Infernales (Santo vs. The Infernal Men, 1958)
- Invasion Of The Zombies (English Title) aka Santo contra los zombies (Santo vs. The Zombies, 1961)
- Samson vs. the Vampire Women (English Title) aka Santo contra las mujeres vampiro (Santo vs. The Vampire Women, 1962)
- Samson In The Wax Museum (English Title) aka Santo en el museo de cera (Santo In The Wax Museum, 1963)
- Santo En Atacan Las Brujas (Santo in The Witches Attack, 1964)
- Santo contra la invasión de los marcianos (Santo vs. The Martian Invasion, 1966)
- Santo En Operacion 67 (Santo in Operation 67, 1966) (Santo's first color film)
- Santo contra Capulina (Santo vs Capulina, 1968) (crossover with Mexican comedian Capulina)
- Santo en El Tesoro de Drácula (Santo in Dracula's Treasure, 1968) aka El Vampiro y el Sexo (The Vampire and the Sex, the "adult" version of the film, unreleased until 2011).
- Santo Contra Blue Demon En La Atlántida (Santo vs. Blue Demon in Atlantis, 1969)
- Santo Y Blue Demon Contra Los Monstruos (Santo and Blue Demon vs. the Monsters, 1969)
- Santo En Las Momias De Guanajuato (Santo in The Mummies of Guanajuato, 1970) (co-starring Mil Mascaras and Blue Demon)
- Santo vs. la hija de Frankestein (Santo vs. Frankenstein's Daughter, 1971)
- Santo y Blue Demon contra Drácula y el Hombre Lobo (Santo and Blue Demon Vs. Dracula and the Wolf Man, 1972)
- Santo Y Blue Demon Contra El Doctor Frankenstein (Santo and Blue Demon Vs Dr. Frankenstein, 1973)
- The Masked Man Strikes Again (English Title) aka Santo contra el doctor Muerte (Santo Vs Dr. Death, 1973)
- 3 Dev Adam (Three Big Men, 1973): Turkish film featuring extremely unauthorized and out-of-character portrayals of El Santo, Captain America, and Spider-Man.
- Santo En La Furia De Los Karatekas (Santo in Fury of the Karate Experts, 1982)
The Silver-masked Tropes:
- Alternate Company Equivalent: Was to Lucha Libre what Rikidozan had been for Puroresu in Japan and Lou Thesz had been for Pro Wrestling in The States and Canada.
- Primarily Blue Demon and Black Shadow, until Santo unmasked Shadow, causing them to pull a HeelFace Turn.
- Los Misioneros de la Muerte (Negro Navarro, El Signo and El Texano) in UWA. Incidentally, founding member Negro Navarro was a fan of Black Shadow, who had become Santo's ally by that point.
- Bash Brothers: Gori Guerrero, El Gran Hamada and occasionally Blue Demon
- The Cape: His personality as El Santo.
- Cool Mask: So much so that his unofficial title was El Enmascarado de Plata (The Silver-masked Man).
- Dramatic Unmask: Shortly after his retirement, Santo unmasked himself on the Mexican television show Contrapunto, the only recorded case of him ever showing his real face in public, as one last goodbye to his fans. He died a week later.
- Early Installment Weirdness: Though even when he was officially the bad guy against what would be then be considered the closest thing EMLL had to a top face, Tarzán López, a lot of people really loved Santo, forcing him to "turn face".
- Mil Máscaras and Huracán Ramirez (The man who invented the Huracánrana) were created for movies when El Santo wasn't available and then both turned into luchadores by EMLL.
- Guillermo del Toro pays homage to The Saint in his book series (and the TV adaptation thereof) The Strain with The Silver Angel, a Saint-like luchadore/action star who withdrew into anonymity after a crippling knee injury ended his career. Decades later, the vampire apocalypse offers a second chance for a Retired Badass to reclaim his mask, and live up to his legend.
- Finishing Move: "Topé de Cristo" (Front-flip diving headbutt), "La de a caballo" (Camel clutch), and his invention: "La Santina" (Hi-Impact Running Rebound Toe-Kick).
- I Have Many Names: Rudy Guzmán, El Hombre Rojo, El Demonio and El Murcielago II before he became El Santo
- I Know Karate: He did Ju-Jitsu, then regular wrestling, before turning pro
- It Runs in the Family: He was first trained by his brother, Black Guzmán. Their two other brothers, Pantera Negra and Jimmy Guzmán were also luchadors.
- Kayfabe: He was only seen without his mask once. Even after death he maintained kayfabe as he was actually buried wearing the mask.
- Legacy Character: A recurring element in El Santo's "lore" is that his mask is some sort of ancient legacy passed down for millennia of Mexican generations and Santo is just the latest incarnation. Following suit, his son El Hijo Del Santo took over the mask after him, and his son is training at Pro Wrestling NOAH to take over after him as El Nieto Del Santo (he eventually took the name El Santo Jr). There was also an unrelated female wrestler who went by La Novia Del Santo (The Bride Of El Santo, known as Irma González without the mask) who used the persona with Santo's blessing, and a male homosexual wrestler with the same name, who did not have his approval.
- His grandson Axxel is one now as well. Originally working under the name El Nieto Del Santo, his uncle sued him to prevent him from using it since he owned the copyright for the name, presumably intending for one of his own sons to use it. In 2012, courts ruled in favor of Axxel, allowing him to use the name again. His cousin took up the name "El Santo Jr" upon finishing his training instead.
- Living Legend: As our article makes quite clear, he was definitely one of these. He was arguably the closest thing the world has ever seen to a real-life superhero.
- Masked Luchador: We'd tell you it did not apply to him, but that would be a lie.
- Mundane Made Awesome: While his fancy diving moves were not unappreciated, his basic but superb grappling skills and mysterious gimmick were the things most responsible for getting him over.
- Obvious Stunt Double: An inversion on the usual take: Santo obviously had no need for stunt doubles during the fight scenes, but every scene of him maskless, even from behind, was actually a body double (as a extra precaution to protect his identity). Many of them did not even look like him from the neck down.
- Once per Episode: Santo's movies, numerous as they are, feature a few recurring aspects in almost every movie, such as a prolonged scene of Santo wrestling in the ring (sometimes entirely removed from the plot) and some character pondering about Santo's real identity, prompting another character to provide some form of philosophical summation of Santo's nature as a beacon of righteousness (often in the very end of the movie).
- Passing the Torch
- His son was in the audience during his retirement tour, wearing a Silver Mask and was identified as Hijo Del Santo. Santo initially did not approve of his son's wrestling career, so he had a different gimmick prior to that point. He's now a popular wrestler himself and even widely considered a better technician than his father, though he'll still always be in that shadow.
- Less directly, Santo's stunt double Black Man would become the biggest draw in Mexico alongside Kung Fu and Kato Kung Lee, as though Santo's feud with Los Misioneros de la Muerte had concluded, they were still around, still hated and tercias matches were still the most popular in Mexico. Los Tres Fantasticos were just what LLI needed when Santo departed.
- Pint-Sized Powerhouse: His legacy is such that the mid to light weight divisions, such as the Welterweights, are considered more prestigious in Mexico than the heavyweight divisions.
- Ring Oldies: Wrestled well into his 60s.
- The Rival: Los Hermanos Shadow (Black Shadow and Blue Demon) after their turns to tecnicos. Perro Aguayo was his last rival in individual competition, a rivalry their sons would continue.
- Secret Identity: For decades, El Santo's real name was not part of the public record in keeping with the traditions of Lucha Libre. His son and grandson's names are kept secret as well, all that is known is that El Hijo Del Santo is Santo's youngest son.
- Signature Move: Suicide dive, the somersault plancha and the camel clutch. The latter was so associated with him that when he died his son decided to trademark it. It was actually invented by Gori Guerrero, so you can imagine how that went over.
- Tag Team: La Pareja Atómica with Gori Guerrero
- Tournament Arc: The Silver Legend Tournament annually held by CMLL in his honor, though sometimes it is the tournament of the two legends instead, which also honors company founder Salvador Lutteroth.
- Trope Codifier: Not the first masked wrestler, but the single most iconic one.
- Wrestling Family: Santo was the patriarch and had 10 children and 25 grandchildren, of whom El Hijo Del Santo, El Santo Jr, and El Nieto Del Santo are wrestlers.