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Why Lucha Libre is coming to America
Can the theatrical Mexican wrestling league KO its American competition?
 
Lucha Libre is betting on the increasing popularity of combat sports in the U.S.
Lucha Libre is betting on the increasing popularity of combat sports in the U.S. Justin Edmonds/Getty

Lucha Libre, the popular Latin American sport full of colorfully masked wrestlers and acrobatic takedowns, will soon cross the border into the United States.

A California-based entertainment group, FactoryMade Ventures, has struck a deal to bring Lucha Libre AAA, Mexico's preeminent wrestling league, to the U.S. The two parties aim to move the sport beyond its provincial status, and build an American brand with live matches, pay-per-view events, and potentially a television network partnership.

The move may seem strange at first, since Lucha Libre — literally, "free fighting" — has never really caught on outside Latin America. Its most notable representation in American culture is arguably Nacho Libre, the Jack Black comedy that makes light of the sport.

On top of that, the U.S. already has a huge wrestling league, World Wrestling Entertainment. The WWE gobbled up its last major competitors, World Championship Wrestling and Extreme Championship Wrestling, a decade ago en route to becoming the biggest wrestling league in the world.

So why the expansion plan? In a word: Money.

Combat sports are an increasingly popular — and increasingly profitable — form of entertainment.

The WWE posted nearly $484 million in net revenue last year. That huge sum came from events and TV deals, but also from music, movies, and the licensing of WWE characters in the form of toys and other merchandise.

For a league like Lucha Libre AAA, which boasts 250 vivid characters — all of whom are covered by the new partnership deal — licensing could be a very lucrative future venture.

In addition to wrestling, other fighting leagues have quickly grown into multimillion-dollar empires. Most notable among them is Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC), which two years ago inked a $700 million deal with Fox Sports to air its matches across several of the network's channels. The league had previously partnered with Spike TV to televise matches and produce a reality series that followed wannabe fighters.

The UFC's enormous success spawned other mixed martial arts leagues, including Bellator, which replaced the UFC on Spike TV and has since announced a new reality series of its own. Bellator and Spike TV even launched an iPad and iPhone app dedicated to the league last month.

For an established brand like Lucha Libre, getting in on the glut of combat sport cash will be much easier than for an upstart league like Bellator, which was founded just five years ago. In fact, Lucha Libre may already have a home-in-waiting on American cable. FactoryMade announced last month that it had partnered with director Robert Rodriguez to develop content for El Rey Network, a channel targeting Latinos set to debut on Comcast next year.

There are even indications that the sport may already be catching on in the U.S. There's a small American league, Lucha Libre USA. And MTV aired a short-lived show that followed the rise of the sport as a cult phenomenon in the States.

The money is certainly there, as is the interest. All that's left to see is whether Lucha Libre can hold its own in the bigger, more competitive American ring.

 
Jon Terbush is an associate editor at TheWeek.com covering politics, sports, and other things he finds interesting. He has previously written for Talking Points Memo, Raw Story, and Business Insider.

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