Professional wrestling has its roots in ancient combat sports but the modern product of what is hailed “Sports Entertainment” by the WWE is more like a live-action movie starring outlandish characters blended in with soap opera elements. Many wrestling purists vilify the McMahons, and especially Vince Jr., for supposedly taking the “purity” of wrestling as a sport and making it into what they call a circus. Well, promoter Jack Pfefer aside, there was a wrestling outfit from Argentina in 1962 that was “Sports Entertainment” before many of us were even born. Clowns, vikings, cavemen, mummies, mercenaries, astronauts… you name it, “Titanes en el Ring” had them and much more! WWE may have perfected the concept of merging wrestling with entertainment, but they certainly were not the first to do it.
Martín was born in Buenos Aires, Argentina in 1922 in the barrio of San Telmo. Martín Karadagián’s father Hamparzún Karadayijan was from Armenia while his mother Paulina Fernández was from Seville, Spain. It is said in some sources that Martín’s father was very abusive and this caused Martín to spend as little time as possible at home. In a way, this forged him into the entrepreneur that saw him reach great success as an adult when he created “Titanes en el Ring” or translated in English as “Titans in the Ring.”
But before this success, Martín grew up in poverty and tried his hand at various jobs just to survive. At around the age of 10, he began practicing amateur wrestling at the “Christian Boys Association.” Later as an adolescent, he got interested in an obscure sport at the time known as “Catch as Catch Can,” an open style of wrestling brought over to the new world from Britain. The bigger events were held at Luna Park in Buenos Aires, and Martín had a difficult time convincing the people in charge of wrestling at the famed venue that he could indeed mix it up with the much bigger students because he was barely breaking a height of 5’5″. The veterans were also known to stretch young newcomers, some even calling them “rather sadistic” in their methods.
But with the physical limitations he possessed, Martín instead developed a personality that would be known in wrestling terms as a heel. Remember, this was late ‘40s and early´50s and the entertainment style we’ve come to know and love was still in its infancy. Martín found himself constantly breaking the rules, but acting like what is now known as a chickenshit heel — the kind of heel that hits then hides. The one that is sneaky and when caught asks for forgiveness. Getting on his knees and pleading with his opponent to not hit him after he cheated became his trademark, but then giving him a low-blow below the belt — later popularized by the “Dirtiest Player In The Game” Ric Flair — was not uncommon for Martín at all.
But in all of this, he was not beneath the use of comedy in order to get his point across and get the fans’ attention. He began to slowly bridge the gap of wrestling as a sport and introduced gimmicks, which would become the base of what is now known as Sports Entertainment.
Ring Psychology and Tall Tales
Martín understood the importance of selling yourself and ring psychology, to the point that he began embellishing stories of how he supposedly ended the lives of three of his opponents in the ring! In truth, these opponents had been injured, not killed, but stretching the truth in wrestling is as old as time itself.
These tall tales helped establish the legend of Martín Karagadián as a ruthless, crazy heel that was legitimately dangerous in the ring. Maybe more importantly, behind the scenes, Martín emphasized to other wrestlers the importance of ring psychology and was also quickly becoming known as a shrewd businessman who seemed destined for greatness.
The Birth of “Titanes en el Ring”
In the early ‘60s, the arts and sporting events in Argentina were in a downward spiral in part due to an increasingly complicated unstable political atmosphere and on and off military regimes trying to control the country. Martín foresaw that professional wrestling, as it currently stood, needed another avenue to reach the public if it were to survive. This is where he got the brilliant idea of facing a very famous actor/comedian Alberto Olmedo nicknamed “Capitan Piluso” at Luna Park and gave Channel 9 the opportunity to televise the event. Tickets sold out very quickly and this subsequently gave Martín bargaining leverage when he took charge and created “Titanes en el Ring.” He had already starred in a couple of movies, one called Reencuentro Con la Gloria (1962) was even about a pro wrestler who lived a tortured life after he believed that he had killed an opponent in the ring.
Martín, ever the bohemian, was able to combine pro wrestling with a showbiz/circus-like atmosphere that didn’t exist in Argentina at the time. What he wound up creating was truly rather unique in a global sense as well. On March 3rd, 1962, Titanes en el Ring appeared on Argentina TV and introduced children and families to a seemingly endless parade of offbeat characters still fondly remembered by many in Latin American countries to this day. From the get-go, Titanes aimed to present a family-oriented episodic show where good and evil would meet in the ring, but always strived to have a constructive educational message for the children as well.
In other words, a man dressed in a Minotaur costume (not joking, dead serious) was introduced in the hopes that children watching the show either in the audience or at home, might, in turn, become curious about learning more about Greek mythology. Or a character that was supposedly a Mongol warrior was introduced so that it might spark curiosity in Asian history. You even had spacemen and reptilian aliens so that children might want to learn more about the planets, galaxies and anything related to outer space. You might be laughing, but this became a pop-cultural phenomenon in Argentina and many neighboring countries akin to soccer star Diego Armando Maradona in later years. Titanes became a huge hit with their weekly show. Entire families would go to the event or watch at home, anxiously waiting to see what surprises Martín and his people would come up with next!
Watch: The various characters of Titanes en el Ring
Every single character had a backstory or at least the pretense of one. Everyone from the Robin Hood-like archer to the weird clown and the mysterious white or black mummies had backstories. All characters had entrance music with catchy lyrics aimed at a young demographic, and the show itself had a carnivalesque atmosphere to it. There was never any overt violence used by any of the characters and the show seemed to unapologetically parody professional wrestling itself with unabashed fervor. Perhaps today the closest to the feel of Titanes would be GLOW (Gorgeous Ladies of Wrestling from the ‘80s) and maybe CHIKARA PRO for a more modern incarnation, or even ISW (Incredibly Strange Wrestling) from the San Francisco bay area from 1995-2000.
The product was always family-oriented and although it all seemed just fun and silly, Martín was known to be very demanding. The business of entertaining the children was taken very seriously by him and he expected the same from everyone else involved. Wrestlers were ordered to be at the live events almost 4 hours before the matches started so that they could practice and get the characters they were going to interpret just right.
Titanes en el Ring Merchandise Everywhere!
The´70s saw Titanes en el Ring reach a height in its popularity as it began to merchandise its stars and released t-shirts, toys, posters, magazines, costumes, movies, music records and more. Merchandising in wrestling was almost non-existent but Titanes was leading the way in this new potential revenue stream. An extraterrestrial character by the name of Yolanka became the spokesperson for a yogurt aimed at kids because I guess everybody thought space and wrestling were a perfect fit. There was also a masked wrestler named Dink-C who wore green spandex covering his whole body and would give away a water-soluble Vitamin C product to the children in the audience. Most of the time he could barely get to the ring because the mob of kids would surround him and pull on his arms trying to get a free sample.
Although Martín became a millionaire with Titanes, he still sometimes treated it as a small business. It is said that he would hide the house show’s gate money in his boots and spandex in fear of getting mugged, and that’s how he would wrestle in the night’s event.
Titanes en el Ring – Its Outlandish Characters Calls For Outlandish Stories
Let us take a look at some of the craziness that was Titanes, and why it is so memorable to many in the Latin American community, especially Argentina and South America.
The Invisible Man!
Martín continued to wrestle while he ran the company and one of the most memorable angles was when he faced the Invisible Man. He went into the ring and would swing his fists and kick seemingly into the air, but it was actually according to him.. ahem… the Invisible Man. The match was called by commentator Rodolfo Di Sarli because only he had special glasses that allowed him to “see” Martín’s invisible opponent. Di Sarli is credited with many of the ideas seen in Titanes. Martín, never a man to let a good idea just disappear (no pun intended), later starred in a movie called The Invisible Man Attacks (1967).
Watch: Martín Karagadián takes on The Invisible Man on the big screen!
Pepino El Payaso (Cucumber The Clown) and His Alter Ego, the Italian IL Bersagliere
Cucumber The Clown was one of the founding face characters of Titanes and was beloved by children because he’d give away balloons and other party items while making his way to the ring. But he also had a dastardly alter ego: the Italian IL Bersagliere. He was asked by Martín to play dual roles, but rumor has it that he hated playing this nefarious rulebreaker because it would sadden his heart to see the children’s faces he had made smile so many times, now stricken with fear as he became the Italian heel character. He himself is said to have commented on many occasions that he was afraid he would become permanently confused, not knowing which character represented the “real” him. He starred in the movie Superagents and Titans (1983) where he was the leader of the wrestlers. It is a terrible B-movie exploitation film that’s not to be missed.
Watch the trailer for “Superagents and Titans” if you dare!
La Momia (The Mummy)
He arrived at the port of Argentina with around eight thousand children anxiously awaiting to see what was inside the mysterious sarcophagus supposedly en route from Cairo, Egypt. The Mummy acted deaf-mute and walked like he had an extreme case of joint dysfunction. There was a creepiness in his demeanor, and many children became truly frozen in fear by his presence. It was many times left up to Martín Karadagián to thwart this undead foe. The press made it their personal “White Whale” to find out who was under all those wrappings: investigative sports journalism at its finest! Later on, there was a mysterious friendly Mummy who had white wrappings as well, but also an evil cheating one in turn with black wrappings who was an expert in martial arts. Huh?? Well, the black one didn’t really move like he was undead, and was a little too nimble for my taste. La Momia was a precursor perhaps to characters like The Undertaker who seemed to possess few weaknesses.
Watch Martín battle La Momia (The Mummy). Observe the children’s stares!
El Hombre Con La Barra de Hielo (The Man Who Carries a Block of Ice)
One of the stars of Titanes en el Ring was Rubén “el ancho” Puecelle. While tumbling out of the ring, he legitimately hit and injured his head on the ringside floor after the top rope snapped. Puecelle was taken to the back and tended by Martín, the ring crew seconds and some first aid attendants. Martín asked a second for a “block of ice,” but since none were available backstage, the second proceeded to obtain one from the concession stand area where everybody saw. Later, when reporters asked what the ice was for, Martín with a straight face said that it was to “keep La Momia (The Mummy) on ice,” meaning to keep The Mummy frozen until needed.
So from then on randomly between matches, you would see this second, now christened “The Man Who Carries a Block of Ice,” walking down the aisle to go around the ring and back out again where he came from. Nobody knew why this person would do this, but the fans would crowd around him and touch the ice — they loved it! Some fans speculated that in order to save an arena ticket, he had passed himself as a concession stand employee and was able to get by security, but of course, it was all planned by Martín. He even had a theme song as he walked around the ring with his ice. Another theory was that this was a subliminal message courtesy of Martín letting everybody know that he was always vigilant with all ongoings behind the scenes and in the ring during the shows.
The man who carried the ice was interviewed in 1994, six years after Titanes had already disappeared off the air but not from the conscience of the fans. He laughed when asked about this strange gimmick and said, “The Man Who Carries a Block of Ice became a national mystery.” According to him, the key was to just walk with the ice, stay silent and give no explanations about why he carried it. He eventually left wrestling and became a pastor.
Watch: “The Man Who Carries a Block of Ice” from Titanes en el Ring (song in English)
Wrestling the Pope
Martín would claim that in 1943, he wrestled the man who would eventually become Pope John XXXIII. In the early years of Titanes, in order to boost ticket sales, he would convince the people that the pope himself would be attending but would be seated in a discrete area where he could be safe and not so exposed to the crowd at hand. Whether this was true or not, many people who wouldn’t normally be interested in a wrestling event would buy tickets for an opportunity to maybe catch a glimpse of the pope. Carny tactics at its finest!
The Mysterious Widow
There was a woman who would at some point appear at all the matches, claiming to be Martín Karadagián’s widow. Said to be an important Argentinean aristocrat and former lover of Martín who could not bear to think that her beloved Martín was perhaps still desiring her love, her breath, and her unconditional support. Truly bizarre…
William Boo, the Heel Referee
A cheating, conniving, and very corrupt referee that was despised by the fans. A very important element in Martín’s Titanes show. A person that readily got involved in the matches and mostly favored the heels of course! Think of an overweight Earl Hebner who many times stole the show and would butt and punch his way to notoriety.
Martín Karagadián – Failing Health and the End of an Era
In 1984, Martín Karagadián had his leg amputated when it became infected with gangrene after it refused to heal due to complications from diabetes. Titanes en el Ring, under the leadership of some of the other wrestlers, lasted until 1988. Martín sadly passed away on August 27th, 1991 due to heart failure. He left a huge legacy behind in wrestling and pop culture for Argentina and Latin America. In the years since, Titanes has become a refuge of nostalgia and cherished childhood memories for many Argentinians and fans in Latin America. It was a wrestling product that represented a different era and a different world. Children of the ‘80s in the USA had Hogan vs The Iron Sheik, Argentina had Martín Karagadián vs The Mummy and countless other villains from all corners of the globe and even “from space and beyond!”
Titanes was unable to change quickly enough with the times. Perhaps their quirky and innocent outlook of the world was no match for how wrestling was evolving. Ironically, in a world where WWE is king with their Sports Entertainment brand of wrestling, the innovator of this concept: Titanes en el Ring, has mostly been pushed into obscurity.
Martín Karagadián was posthumously inducted into the Wrestling Observer Hall of Fame in 2008. When writer and wrestling historian Dave Meltzer was strongly questioned as to why Martín, who is mostly an unknown to most fans outside of Argentina and Latin America, should be in the HOF, he tweeted, “Part of the Hall of Fame is to educate people on larger than life characters who bloomed business that Americans or UK fans don’t know about. Karadagián in that sense is more important than most Hall of Famers.”
A Titan is Revived For a New Audience
Martin’s daughter Paulina Karagadián has tried to revive Titanes several times, even as recently as 2019, where she continues to follow her father’s overall concept, but also incorporates women wrestlers and workers representing the LGBT community. She wants to be able to represent all types of fans. “We don’t live in past glories. The world has changed and evolutionized, and so has Titanes.” She assures that many of the classic characters from her father’s creation will be reimagined and presented to her new audience. It is unconfirmed whether The Man Who Carries a Block of Ice will make his appearance, but she assures that at least the referee will remain neutral, unlike William Boo.
We invite you to take one last look at the craziness that was Titanes en el Ring.
In the video below, in order of appearance, you have Genghis Khan (still laughing?) vs Ruben “el ancho” Peucelle. Then we have El Pibe 10 (some sort of disco dancer?) vs Gitano Ivanoff (a dancing hyperactive gypsy?). Next, we have the pleasure of seeing Pepino El Payaso (Cucumber the Clown) vs Buffalo Bill. A trio of Androids (Gold, Silver, and Lead) shows up and will face The Sicilian Mafia. Continuing with the show, we have The Minotaur taking on a giant Black Ant and what seems like the whole colony behind him (Watch the ending of that one. Unreal!). This is then followed by Dink-C in his green spandex giving away his Vitamin C product. He’s going to need it as he takes on Pirate Morgan. Roman emperor Nero is then presented accompanied by his centurions along with the Black Mummy and the Mongolian Giant where they will face Martin Karadagian and his team.
Watch Titanes en el Ring in all of its ridiculous glory:
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