aski_wrestler_3 Aski sometimes wears one of his four masks to visit kids at hospitals and schools (top right). It’s an extension of his técnico (good guy) wrestling persona. Courtesy of Aski

When Aski discusses his company, Aski Entertainment, he loftily mentions a comic book division, a public-relations liaison, and plans of launching a nonprofit to expand his community work. Talking to Aski, I often have to backtrack to clarify exaggerations. Aski Entertainment is an unincorporated company with a single employee (Aski), a decent website, supportive friends, and many dreams for the future. Not that there’s anything wrong with that. His embellishments tend to overstate, and therefore underplay, his hard work and good intentions. It’s an unfortunate effect.

As a child, Aski had to seize every opportunity and make the most of it, and he hasn’t been able to turn that off. “I still feel like he is floating everywhere,” Cristina says. She sees his wrestling career as “a kid’s dream.” But if it makes him happy and he can eventually make a living this way, she says, who is she to judge? And she is proud of him, but says, “at the same time, I’m like, ‘Ugh, just don’t get hurt.’ ” A 2006 injury forced him to take a year off. His family wished he wouldn’t go back.

But he did, so for now the routine continues to be Insanity workout videos after work, in-ring practice on Fridays, and fighting on weekends. He’ll drive to San Antonio for matches at River City Wrestling, a respected regional promotion, or to random rural outposts. Then, on most Sundays, he’ll pick up a match at Gaston Bazaar.

Slowly, the plan seems to be working. He’s making connections, wrestling in bigger and better promotions, and gaining recognition. Still, a stable career remains a long shot.

After a match at the bazaar, Siniestro, a wrestler who wears a mask with a toothy scowl and a full head of troll-like hair, says he counts Aski among the up-and-comers who truly respect the sport. Siniestro has been in the business for 34 years and used to wrestle some of the best fighters in Mexico.

Reyes, the promoter, translates for Siniestro because he doesn’t speak much English. They laugh that Aski turned off a lot of the wrestlers years ago when he would brag incessantly on Facebook. Asked what he thinks of that, Siniestro just grins, then admits that he hit Aski a little harder when he thought he needed to learn a lesson.

That’s the thing about lucha libre. Though it is obvious at times that opponents aren’t pummeling each other with full strength, the outcome of the match is not always predetermined. There are rounds when one of the combatants genuinely cannot lift his body off the ground. Aski, on at least three occasions, insists that his title match at Gaston Bazaar would be a match where the best man wins. Many wrestlers will claim that this is always the case, but they’re just keeping face.

In bazaars around the country and in a few larger promotions, lucha libre is growing. Lucha libre translates to “free fighting” and is faster-moving than American-style wrestling. Rapid sequences and high-flying moves give an advantage to shorter, stronger wrestlers over American behemoths. One of the biggest U.S. promotions focused primarily on this style, Lucha Libre USA, was created three years ago. It has expanded to markets nationwide. For two seasons they had a show on MTV2 called Lucha Libre USA: Masked Warriors. Alex Abrahantes, the company’s vice president, says they’re still filming and negotiating with other networks.

The most infamous Lucha Libra USA wrestler, RJ Brewer, is the fictional son of Arizona governor Jan Brewer. He taunts Mexicans in the ring. An issue that’s sensitive for most of the audience becomes a comedic drama. “Part of why it resonates so much with the Hispanics is it’s very much like the telenovelas on TV,” Abrahantes says. The story and the drama are what make people stand at the bazaar for hours.

The way to rise through the ranks is through promotions like Lucha Libre USA, which can boost someone to the largest promotions, like WWE. Luchadores who want to advance in their careers also wrestle in American matches. Aski does this often. He’s constantly compared to Rey Mysterio. The two look strikingly similar, both short and brawny, with youthful faces peeking from their masks.

Abrahantes has several regional promoters, like Brandon Oliver at River City Wrestling in San Antonio, to whom he looks for upcoming talent. In the past year, Oliver started hiring Aski regularly.

“He fits in perfectly,” Oliver says. “He’s humble, respectful. He’s one of the boys.”

Oliver points to Aski’s indefinable spark, that God particle of personality that’s either there or isn’t. It’s like charisma, but charisma conjures images of presidents and CEOs. This is different. It has more heart.

“Aski’s got potential,” Oliver says. Even in San Antonio, where Oliver knows the fans to be brutally honest, Aski is welcomed.

•••

Before the title match at Gaston Bazaar begins, Aski paces back and forth alongside the ring, as the announcer croons, “Cazadooorrrr de Demonioooo!” His enemy stands on the ropes, arms outstretched, holding the gold belt to a mix of boos and cheers.

Next, Aski enters to chants echoing from every corner: “Aski! Aski!” Everything else exits his mind. As he is momentarily liberated, so is the crowd. Whatever difficulties they’re facing, they can yell and scream and release it all. It’s a letting go that elevates this entertainment to something more primal.

Their arms link, and the dance gains speed. Aski rolls Cazador onto his back, twists his legs into a knot around his own right leg, grabs Cazador’s right arm, and tilts him onto his left side, legs still twisted uncomfortably. Aski holds tight, as his body writhes to subdue the giant beneath him. Finally, the bell rings, and Aski wins round one.

In the next round, Cazador flips Aski onto his stomach, then twists his ankle, gripping and twisting further with the might of his barrel-shaped arms. Aski screams and pounds the ground in misery.

Cazador falls onto his back, the descent stretching Aski’s ankle almost to its snapping point. The bell rings for a Cazador victory, but he keeps twisting and shaking the ankle. The referee gives a three-count, and he finally relents. It seems the ref wasn’t paying attention until Aski’s joint nearly popped.

Aski rocks on his back in pain. Cazador kicks him and throws him out of the ring. Aski gets in the ref’s face.

“Ref, do your job!” he screams in Spanish.

“I did do my job!” the ref yells back.

“What job? He almost broke my ankle!” Aski says, throwing up his hands.   

In the last round, as Cazador leans on the ropes to stand up, Aski runs from across the ring, grabs the bottom rope with his left hand and the top with his right, and swings horizontally between them, kicking Cazador in the face. It’s the move he busts out when he needs something to put him over the edge and excite the crowd.

As Aski bounces back into the ring, Cazador grabs him from behind, swings his own arm like a bowler, then rams his forearm between Aski’s legs, a cheap move that’s grounds for disqualification in other venues. It’s theater, but the punches do hurt. Immediately, Aski falls to his back, grabbing himself and kicking like a baby.

Cazador leans on his torso and holds him there, feet still kicking wildly. The ref slams the ground three times, and the bell rings. Aski rolls on the ground, defeated and in pain.

In this moment, it’s impossible to tell whether he’s an entertainer exaggerating his misery, or a man who could very well be crying under his mask. Aski takes the microphone, and in direct, furious Spanish, he challenges Cazador to a rematch. He says he will never come back to Gaston Bazaar, unless it’s for the title.

Afterward, Aski doesn’t even untape his wrists before he storms out to the parking lot. He passes a little boy and gives him a limp high-five.

“I’m so pissed right now. I’m not coming back. There is no need for me to be here. I don’t need to wrestle these other guys. I’ve already beaten them,” he says. “To me, this is not the end of anything.”

Fair or not, it’s a blow to lose a title match in the place where he considers himself the best. Aski’s frustration doesn’t turn off when he walks outside. The persona lingers, a trap as much as an escape. Aski hops into his Camaro, mask still on, and drives home to his apartment. The next morning, he’ll wake up early for work.