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Arriba! Arriba!  Remembering Luis Martínez

By Federico Martínez, Special to La Prensa

If you were a young Chicano growing up in the Toledo area during the 1960s and 70s, you quickly discovered there were few well-known, celebrity role models that you could identify with.

Farm labor leader César Chávez, whose United Farm Workers organization was based in California, seemed a million miles away, even though he periodically brought his campaign for civil rights to the Midwest.
 

Other nationally recognizable celebrities, like young Latina singer Linda Ronstadt had yet to publicly embrace their culture.  There were few Latino athletes at the time and the absence of cable TV and the Internet meant you didn’t get  a chance to see them in action unless your family could shell out the big bucks to travel and purchase tickets.

One of the few precious childhood memories I have is visiting the old Toledo Sports Arena several times per year to see Big Time Wrestling and cheering for my favorite wrestler Luis Martínez . In between those visits we could watch the shows on local TV for free.

Luis Martínez  was my childhood hero for so many reasons: We shared the same last name, spoke the same language and shared the same culture. We shared many of the same physical traits; we even parted out hair alike.

He gave me hope. Before there was a Hulk Hogan or John Cena, there was Luis Martínez  – the ultimate good guy – battling the vilest villains like the Sheik, Bulldog Don Kent and Killer Tim Brooks. No matter how bad things looked, despite incredible odds; with the fans behind him chanting, Arriba! Arriba! Luis Martínez  would rally and vanquish his stunned foes. He never gave up.

I met Luis Martínez when I was 9-years-old. Actually, I became involved in his match against Bulldog Don Kent the night they wrestled in my hometown of Adrian, Mich. Earlier in the evening, Bulldog had ignored my plea for an autograph and I had promised that “Luis is going to kick your [butt].”

When he entered the ring for the match, I ran to ringside and loudly booed and taunted Bulldog as the crowd joined in. I ran alongside Luis, cheering wildly as he strode into the arena. Every time Luis would gain the upper-hand, I would take a picture, prompting an angry-looking Bulldog to threaten that if I continued he would come after me and destroy the camera.

 To that 9-year-old’s horror, he did just that; chasing me around the arena as I screamed for help and almost nabbing me several times before Luis made the last minute saves. Some in the crowd yelled at me to run and seek safety; others laughed because instead I would resume taking pictures until Bulldog began chasing me again. Finally, I found the safety of my mother’s arms and Luis defeated Bulldog inside the ring.

After the show, Luis Martínez invited my cousins, my friend David, and I backstage where he signed autographs, posed for photos, and patiently answered all our questions.

For the next six years Luis would call me periodically, to listen and encourage me as I struggled to overcome a troubled childhood. He sent my family tickets to nearby wrestling shows. My hero became my best friend and the only father-figure I ever had.

We lost touch when I left home at age 14. The years passed and our onetime friendship became a distant memory.  I decided to try and find out what ever happened to Luis Martínez about two years ago. What I discovered troubled me: Luis’s health had been deteriorating for several years and he was residing at the California Gardens Nursing Facility in Chicago Ill.; his memory lost.

Luis Martínez died peacefully at the nursing home without any fanfare in September of 2013, Steve Johnson, a writer and photographer for Slam Sports, confirmed recently.

I have a lot of friends in wrestling who felt Luis was a prince of a man so what you said about him does not surprise me,” said Johnson. ”People like that are rare in wrestling and in life.”

Wrestling promoter Eddie Farhat Jr., who inherited the business from his father, the original Sheik, agreed.

“He was a good man; a very kind man,” said Farhat. “He truly cared about people.”

Friends and heroes like that shouldn’t be forgotten.

 
Copyright © 1989 to 2014 by [LaPrensa Publications Inc.]. All rights reserved.
Revised: 08/12/14 17:38:41 -0700.

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