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The Good, The Bad and the Loco

Bolivia’s female wrestlers in national costume

“Lucha libre” – a free fight – is a version of professional wrestling that originated in Mexico. Bolivia adopted this partially choreographed, violent and physically-demanding entertainment and put a twist on it. The stars of the show are women from the city of El Alto.

Bolivia fighting cholitas
Bolivia's female wrestlers, the fighting cholitas, put on a spectacular show during their choreographed but bruising fights.

These female wrestlers are known as cholitas luchadores (fighting cholitas). They are indigenous Bolivian women. Traditionally, they wear bright multi-layered skirts and plait their hair. They pride themselves on looking their best in the ring. The show is a mix of genuine fighting and theatrics. Cholitas play one of two characters: either an evil “rudo” or a good “tecnico”.

Bolivia fighting cholitas
The fighting cholitas hone their moves during grueling practice sessions where their trainer forces them to push through the pain.

The latter usually wins this pre-arranged fight to send a positive message to the audience, but not before she gets a good beating. Luchadores don’t hold back in the ring. For them it’s more than just work, a show or a sport – it’s a chance to escape their everyday worries, to become strong and free.

This empowerment mirrors changes in the treatment of cholitas in Bolivian society. While they previously faced discrimination, cholitas’ rights and opportunities have improved over the last decade, since the country got its first indigenous president, Evo Morales, in 2005.

Bolivia fighting cholitas
In a country where domestic violence is all too common, the fighting cholitas' blend of glamour and fighting abilities sets a new template for femininity.

Traumas are a regular occurrence in the ring, but they don’t stop the luchadores, some of whom are even prepared to fight while pregnant. They also have aliases, names for their powerful and fearless alter-egos. Luchadores are looked up to, envied and sometimes feared, even though outside the ring they are regular women: wives, mothers, business owners and even schoolgirls.