Before private televisions arrived in 1990 and made the wrestling American –with Hulk Hogan or El Último Guerrero, in recent years with John Cena’s generation– we had in Spain our own disguised and gesticulating colossi. The catch, in Madrid, it had been held in front of thousands of people on important stages such as Price and it would have its home for a long time in Campo del Gas.
Located on Calle del Gasómetro, the Campo del gas belonged to Gas Madrid and the profits from its exploitation went to the Social Club of its workers. At its facilities, soccer matches were alternated on the sand field, where teams such as Ferrovial or the Cuatro Caminos Sports Club played, with evenings of boxing and wrestling. It had opened its doors in 1943 and closed, by surprise, in 1987, becoming a warehouse and parking lot. Flashy concerts were also programmed in the Campo del Gas, such as the one offered by the Supertramp band in 1983 or the one that was not held in Kortatu in 1986, whose suspension by the Government Delegate caused a night of riots in Madrid .
The catch show reached Europe in the 1920s and Spain at the end of the same decade through neighboring France and wrestling tours. From the beginning, it was common for boxers back to get into the ring to face wrestling fighters, but there was a time when real boxing legends such as Joe Louis, Jack Dempsey or Primo Carnera did. There were also many Greco-Roman wrestling practitioners who switched to catch to make a living. The sport-spectacle lived its best moments in the sixties and in the throes of its popularity, in the last part of the seventies and first eighties, those who jumped the ropes of the Campo del Gas were part-time gladiators, men and women who passed many hours training out of passion and to complete income from their regular jobs. Ring proletarians in the summer season.
The atmosphere of the Campo del Gas and its evenings belonged to that of a disappeared Madrid – of marauders, bets and find out– that appears a lot in Juan Madrid’s crime novels. For the most cynical, the surviving precariousness of the last catch he had a ridiculous point. In the early eighties the magazine Madrid Kills Me, flagship publication of the Move, dedicated a report to him and, for the presentation of the number, set up a ring in the lobby of the Círculo de Bellas Artes with real wrestlers. Oscar Berdugo, author of the article, tells in Iñaki Domínguez’s book Intersecular badass how the drunken assistants got into the ring and had to be kicked out of the ring by the wrestlers. A nice cool side smartass of the New Wave.
In 1976 the sports journalist Alfredo Relaño dedicated an article in The country to the summer evenings on Saturdays at the Campo del Gas (there was boxing on Fridays). In one of his paragraphs he explained well the script that, invariably, the wrestlers interpreted:
“The first thing that is noticed at the beginning of the first fight is that the ancient dichotomy between good and evil is one of the bases of the show. Of the two fighters, one is the bad guy and the other the good guy, and you quickly learn to distinguish between them. The bad guy is ugly, short, fat, almost always shaved to scratch, but with huge mustaches and eyebrows and he is terribly tricky. The good one looks much better: a well-made skeleton and a bearing that in his youth had to be similar to that of Tarzan (there are no more young people who practice fighting). He is noble and resists breaking the rules. The bad guy starts winning the fight thanks to his bad arts, which excite the anger of the most naive public: Cheater! Dirty! A conspicuous referee watches over the mistakes, and only when the bad guy has gone too far does he decide to admonish him. The first rounds are hell for the good, who inspire the deepest pity in his supporters; the bad guy ties him to the ropes, kicks his scrotum, pulls his hair, urges him in the eyes and throws him out of the ring. From time to time, the bad guy abandons his eager task of torturing the good guy and climbs up to the second rope in a corner to challenge the crowd that scolds him; He even comes down from the ring ready to attack the front rows. The guards, the referee, his second and the judges of the table, rush after him and manage to stop him before he can consummate his attack on the public, and return him to the ring where he returns to indulge in the enjoyment of punishing the good guy ” .
“His supporters are already afraid that he is dying, when he is miraculously reborn, he gets rid of a hard key and throws the bad guy out of the ring. A chill runs through the chairs as happy as that which passes through the seats of a children’s cinema the moment the Seventh Cavalry appears. From there, the fight is a walk for the good, who ends up winning on the street and leaves the rival in the most complete humiliation, who has to retire ashamed amid the shouts of the public; Whoa, whoa, whoa! The bald man gets mad! ”
Sport or spectacle, those choreographed fights were able to connect with an audience that willingly paid to participate with respect and admiration in a narration made of stereotypes, where the loud bumps against the canvas really hurt. Victor Castilla Quasimodo (or the Torito de Aranda), Jesus Chausson, Pedro Bengoechea, Oscar Verdú The Hercules Spanish, the masked The White Angel… are some of the names of the catch Spanish, known only to the handful of fans of the discipline, whose biographies deserve the public vindication that they lack.
Hercules Cortés, the strongest man in the world
Above all the names and figures of Spanish wrestling, the giant Hércules Cortés (or Cortez, among other aliases) stands out for his popularity, who for some is one of the best international wrestlers in history, with multiple titles to his credit. . Although, as we will see, his career was projected outside our borders and his fame was higher than that of other colleagues, he shared the same gyms with them, such as Guzmán El Bueno, where he coincided with the then actor Paul Naschy and other good weight lifters. Of course, he also stepped into the ring of Campo del Gas.
The World’s strongest man, as he was called on numerous occasions, he was a specialist in rendering his rivals with the hug of the bear or other keys that exploited his great strength. Within the classic roles of wrestling, he played the role of the noble giant.
From a young age, that physical prodigy stood out in different sports disciplines, such as the javelin throw (a sport in which he won a runner-up in Spain), weightlifting or Greco-Roman wrestling. In this last discipline, in 1954 he was proclaimed champion of Spain of Heavy Weights by defeating Miguel de la Cuadra Salcedo.
In 1956 he began to practice catch in France, where he fights with the nickname of Pepe Cortés and acquires fame. Since then he has not stopped traveling to countries where the fight is more valued than in our country, such as Venezuela, the United States or Canada, although he never stops coming to Spain, where he fought against former boxing champion Primo Carnera, for example.
In the sixties, already like Hercules Cortés, he will experience the definitive takeoff of his career, fighting in mythical places such as Madison Square Garden. There he beat Lou Thesz, who put all the world titles at stake. This was just the beginning of a meteoric international career.
One of Cortés’s rituals in the ring consisted of lifting a large stone, supposedly brought from Spain. The fighter then invited the rest of the fighters of the evening to try to lift it. Unsuccessful, of course. Cortés died in a traffic accident in 1971, when he was still very popular, with his combat partner Red Bastien.
Hercules Cortés belonged to a long-standing Carlist family, the Chicharro Lamamié de Clairac, and it is possible to trace messages in Carlist forums that speak of our man fighting in the street at the end of the sixties, “in the front line of all the fights against the red ”, always with the cross of San Andrés pinned to the lapel. His real name, Alfonso Carlos, attests to the requested assignment. His brother Juan was decorated in the military for his participation in the Blue Division (like others in his family) and later promoted to general; and his son, Juan Chicharro Ortega, president of the Francisco Franco National Foundation (FNFF) and cousin of Javier Ortega Smith.
The giant was a character inside and outside the ring, which led him to appear in different films in Spain and Italy, including some spaghetti western and The demon of jealousy, directed by Ettore Scola, where he shared the bill with Marcello Mastroianni. In Spain it also enjoyed great popularity. In a 1967 No-Do report we can see him dragging a tram in the Cuatro Caminos garage and doing a strange tandem with the quirky painter Julio Viera. Another thing that many remember him for is a television program in which Cortés challenged the crowd to beat him in a pulse (there is controversy on internet forums about whether a huge baker named Matías tied with him and took the prize of 100,000 pesetas or he could win).
Among the milestones of his film life we also find a brief stint in the Carabanchel prison in 1970, after having been involved in a hashish trafficking plot in Madrid. His death in the United States sparked all kinds of rumors and there were even legends about masked fighters hiding the face of a Cortés who had faked his death to escape the aforementioned legal problems. His entire career is actually shrouded in inaccuracies, versions, and legendary elements. It is, even today, an imprecise construct of reality and legend, like the same catch.