State’s red tape has lucha libre wrestlers in chokehold

Hulk Hogan is returning to the money-making behemoth known by its initials, WWE, and its annual extravaganza of muscle-flexing, WrestleMania.

You could almost hear cheers coming from the Shoreline home of Rep. Cindy Ryu when the announcement came out last week.

Turns out her husband and mother-in-law are “huge fans” of the wrestler whose bulging biceps, long blond hair, bright red bandana and propensity for ripping off his t-shirt following victories made him a fixture of the sport in the 1980s.

We learned this about the representative’s spouse when she and other lawmakers considered pleas of wrestlers from the world of ‘lucha libre’ who say they can’t get a whiff of the fame enjoyed by Hogan because the state’s red tape has them in a chokehold.

Lucha libre is Mexico’s version of professional wrestling and arguably the country’s most popular sport behind soccer. It’s gaining attraction in parts of the United States and was even the focus of Jack Black’s comedy, “Nacho Libre.”

But only a handful of competitions are staged in Washington each year and that’s a problem lawmakers are getting asked to help solve.

State laws regulate professional wrestling, including lucha libre, the same way as they do boxing and mixed martial arts.

For example, there must be paramedics and an ambulance on site and minimum levels of security personnel.

And there’s a promoter fee of $500, a fee of $25 for each participant and a requirment that a refundable surety bond is posted. Also, the state gets 6 percent of the gross admission receipts, plus $1 per ticket sold.

Referees are required and there’s a $25 fee for them too.

But lucha libre isn’t about combat and conquest but acrobatics and entertainment involving folks with unsculpted bodies, cool masks and creative monikers. Promoters don’t have deep pockets.

It’s theatrical and pantomimed violence in which wrestlers are “in cahoots” to entertain, and not hurt one another like in combative sports, said Rep. Zack Hudgins, D-Tukwila.

House Bill 2573 gives the department until Nov. 1 to come up with recommendations for regulating this form of theatrical wrestling.

It sailed through the House and this week and was the subject of a hearing by the Senate Commerce and Labor Committee. A few of the masked athletes attended.

Lucha libre promoters testified the existing requirements make it too costly to stage events.

One said he turned down an invitation to put on bouts during Seattle’s Bumbershoot fest last year because it would have meant paying the state a percentage of revenue from all sales of festival tickets.

“I’m not sure what level of regulation is needed,” Hudgins said. The bill is “to find out what level, if any, should be put on this activity.”

The committee faces a deadline of 5 p.m. Friday to pass the bill or it will be set aside for the session.

Department of Licensing officials say the laws on the books are intended to protect both the wrestlers and those attending.

But they are not trying to pin the bill.

“We would love an opportunity to look at it,” said Christine Anthony, DOL spokeswoman.

Lucha libre wrestlers hope this will help get them off the mat and in front of audiences around the state.

And maybe turn Rep. Ryu and her family into big fans, too.

Political reporter Jerry Cornfield’s blog, The Petri Dish, is at www.heraldnet.com. Contact him at 360-352-8623 or jcornfield@heraldnet.com

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