In a bout known as the "Mother of All Betting Matches" (or "Luchas de Apuestas" in Spanish), the popular Black Shadow lost his mask to El Santo. The circumstances surrounding what happened after are still sullied in controversy and mystery. To this day, nobody seems to know the whereabouts of one of Lucha Libre’s most coveted masks. It was a fateful evening that would also launch the legendary rivalry of El Santo and Blue Demon.
We hope this article spotlights an important if not forgotten luchador and illustrates how one match can forever change the course of wrestling history.
Black Shadow and El Santo – A Rivalry Shrouded in Mystery and Controversy
On November 7th, 1952, at Arena Coliseo in Mexico City, Mexico, a historic match took place between El Santo and Black Shadow. It was the peak of their mat war and a career turning point for both luchadors.
Although Black Shadow cleanly defeated El Santo five years before in 1947, El Santo retained his iconic silver mask. As time passed, Black Shadow often partnered with El Cavernario Galindo (The Caveman) versus his rival El Santo and Galindo’s rival Gory Guerrero, patriarch of the Guerrero wrestling family.
In 1949, El Santo took a sabbatical from wrestling while Black Shadow formed a tag team with newcomer and EMLL Rookie of the Year for 1949, Blue Demon. The two befriended in Monterrey, Mexico, and called themselves Los Hermanos Shadow (The Shadow Brothers).
When El Santo returned in 1950, he again looked to Gory Guerrero as a tag partner but now with a new name: La Pareja Atómica (The Atomic Pair). The two were determined to hinder the meteoric rise of The Shadow Brothers.
A bitter rivalry ensued and reached its boiling point on November 7th, 1952, when Black Shadow faced El Santo in a best of three falls, mask-versus-mask bout. The encounter is now known as one of the landmark matches in Lucha Libre history and the "Mother of All Betting Matches."
The match came to be after Los Hermanos Shadow won a batalla campal (battle royale) that saw them as the final two in the ring. Because they were partners and so-called brothers, they couldn’t confront each other. And according to Blue Demon in perhaps his final-ever interview, the audience chose their next opponents.
Black Shadow and El Santo fervently went at each other during the battle royale, targeting each other’s masks, with El Santo eventually being eliminated. For Black Shadow’s next bout, naturally, the fans demanded that the silver masked El Santo should be his next challenger, with the loser unmasking himself.
Unbeknownst to many fans today, his career was not always that of a técnico (babyface) like many assume it was. Even though El Santo used a name that, when translated into English, is "The Saint," he was a rudo (rulebreaker) for two decades when he first started using the ring handle. Before becoming El Santo in 1942, he used many previous monikers that were much less taken by the fans.
The Mexican newspaper El Universal published Black Shadow’s bold statement where he promised to “reveal the face of that disagreeable small-time champion, and once and for all destroy the ridiculousness that El Santo hides underneath his silver mask.”
Storming Arena Coliseo
After the evening’s events on November 7th, 1952, many fans, photographers, and police officers stormed the ring at Arena Coliseo. Twelve thousand fans (a new record for Lucha Libre) and an estimated five hundred thousand on television screens across Mexico witnessed the shocking defeat of the highly touted Black Shadow. They nicknamed him “Hombre de Goma,” translated in English as “Rubber Man,” because of his flexibility and uncanny ability to free himself from seemingly inescapable holds.
Arena management turned away an estimated five thousand fans. This enormous turnout led to the future construction of Arena México. Others succumbed to desperation, paying scalpers up to five times above the regular box office price to obtain entrance.
The lucky fans inside the storied venue witnessed a match destined to echo across generations to come.
How One of the Most Noteworthy Matches in the History of Lucha Libre Ended in Controversy
A deaf cry seemed to permeate the fans as now one of their beloved heroes would soon be revealed to the world as an ordinary man. Still to this day, a luchador’s identity is something ardently protected. But unfortunately, one of the most noteworthy matches in the history of Lucha Libre ended in controversy.
The surprising defeat of Black Shadow to El Santo isn’t in question but rather the final whereabouts of Black Shadow’s mask that El Santo won.
In Mexico, masks lost in betting matches, especially ones lost in the Golden Era of Lucha Libre, have become prized possessions by collectors worth in the thousands when sold at auction. Once the match ended with Black Shadow’s defeat, the heelish El Santo, showing his aggressive tendencies, tried to force Black Shadow’s mask off. In Lucha Libre circles, this is considered a sign of disrespect. Only the fallen foe can take off his mask and reveal himself to the public and nobody else, and even less so his victorious opponent.
When Blue Demon saw this discourtesy, he quickly jumped in the middle of the foray and struck El Santo with a brutal bare-knuckled closed fist, momentarily stopping his impertinence. Both Blue Demon and a still masked Black Shadow took refuge in the dressing room after threading through the multitude of people at the arena in a monumental task resembling Moses parting the Red Sea.
Controversy Surrounding the Mask
While in the dressing room, some say Blue Demon convinced a now more serene Black Shadow to unmask himself. But once back in the ring, Black Shadow handed El Santo a cheaper replica and not the one lost in the bout. If this is true, we don’t know whose idea this was or to what purpose.
Inexplicably, once in the dressing room, the mask got stolen while El Santo took a shower.
At the time, it was a stellar victory over his adversary. However, few could have predicted the value of such an item. There wasn’t an established collector’s market for acquisitions such as this. Perhaps whoever stole the mask knew its potential value and planned on selling it on the black market.
At least in public or to the press, Alejandro Cruz Ortiz (Black Shadow) never mentioned keeping the mask for himself. Blue Demon, who passed away on December 16th, 2000, is not known to have commented on the mask either. His adopted son, who was christened Blue Demon Jr. in the mid-‘80s, is silent on the subject as well.
When asked if there was something he would have liked to have kept or something missing from his father’s legacy, El Santo’s son, El Hijo Del Santo, answered, “There is one mask I don’t have and one my father never had in his hands, and that’s Black Shadow’s mask. I never asked him what happened to it, but I was told that after Black Shadow unmasked himself, someone asked him for it, and he gave it away."
There were later rumors that Black Shadow gifted the original mask to superfan Doña Virginia Aguilera (“Doña Vicky”), who passed away in 1997. But when observing the mask in her possession amongst the thousands of Lucha Libre souvenirs she collected, it was quickly determined that the mask she had was not the original. Hers had bright fuchsia colors around the eye openings, which Black Shadow at times used, but it wasn’t the original black and white trimmed mask worn that momentous evening at Arena Coliseo.
The Stardom of Black Shadow Fades While the Popularity of Blue Demon and El Santo Soars
The victory over Black Shadow in 1952 catapulted the wrestling and later film career of El Santo. Although a heel at the time, he became a megastar and never looked back. The film studios wanted a masked luchador, and in this case, the bested Black Shadow didn’t apply. When it came to working opportunities, other luchadors soon jumped over him.
Thanks in part to his fast and exciting high-flying style of wrestling that was still very innovative for the time, the unmasked Black Shadow didn’t plunge into immediate obscurity. He was also a solid mat wrestler and not just an acrobat, something still appreciated by the fans.
Promoters sought his services well into the late ‘60s and early ‘70s, but where perhaps Black Shadow would have continued headlining events, Blue Demon’s popularity soared and took his place.
Along with El Santo, Blue Demon is inarguably the second most famous luchador of all time and seamlessly ingrained in Mexico’s rich pop culture, unlike Black Shadow. In third place, many fans place Huracán Ramírez, Mil Máscaras, and even Rayo de Jalisco.
Blue Demon made his big-screen debut in 1965 and, alongside El Santo, starred in many successful and popular movies, establishing them as international film stars. Whereas Black Shadow indeed continued to obtain movie roles, but when appearing with the “big two,” he mostly only got small parts, even sometimes overdubbing Blue Demon’s voice as he had damaged his vocal cords and was unable to voice his character in many movies.
Comic books which showed luchadors as superheroes in exciting adventures, quickly became an important and innovative way for wrestling to reach a new audience. But ones featuring Black Shadow, which sold substantially fewer issues than Blue Demon and El Santo comics, got discontinued. As if that wasn’t enough, years later, Black Shadow Jr. (Juan José Salazar Anís, not a blood relative to the original), known previously as Pequeño Solín, was unmasked by El Hijo Del Santo on December 15th, 1991. Black Shadow Jr. described the loss as a "bucket of cold water he still can’t get over."
Nowadays, many unofficial Black Shadow imposters are working all over Mexico, tarnishing the once-great name. The original Black Shadow Jr. further dishonors the mask and lessens the El Hijo Del Santo win by continuing to wear his mask as if nothing happened.
Through all this, many hardcore fans still remember Black Shadow, but now we hope more casual fans worldwide will want to know more about this famed Mexican luchador.
Black Shadow retired in 1981 and passed away on March 8th, 2007, at 85. Was the mask buried with him? Some think so, but we have no proof of that.
In 2001, the Wrestling Observer Newsletter Hall of Fame inducted Black Shadow for his contributions to professional wrestling.
If you ever find yourself in Mexico, you can visit the official El Santo museum here.
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