His pink Mohawk catching the spotlight, Maximo enters the arena with two team members amid a blast of smoke and techno music. In the Corona-logo'd ring, he spins, bounds, and cartwheels his beefy frame, occasionally sashaying, bending a wrist, or sticking out his ass. The audience chants, "¡Beso! ¡Beso!" ("Kiss! Kiss!") as Maximo wags his tongue and repeatedly tries to lock lips with a masked opponent. Finally, with a spectacular flip and a deft dodge, he plants a wet one on a wriggling opponent. The crowd goes wild at this highly choreographed taunting, though at the last moment Maximo and his cohorts wind up losing the match when their opponents underhandedly kick them in the balls, leaving them clutching their groins and writhing theatrically on the mat.

Maximo says his act is an homage to lucha libre's "golden age" of exóticos, when their personas had little to do with their private lives. But a straight father of two playing gay camp to a jeering crowd in 21st-century Mexico City (in a venue that allegedly bans actual gay wrestlers) is a bit like a modern-day vaudeville performer honoring African-American cultural pioneers by donning blackface. It may, however, be a smart career move—whereas most aspiring wrestlers would previously have vied for the small number of spots in the ranks of the luchadores, the growing acceptance of exóticos has opened up opportunities for fighters happy to rev up their flamboyance to gain the crowd's attention and a lucrative contract. And it's clear that straight exóticos will always have certain doors, like those of Arena México, open to them.

Although he considers Maximo a friend, Cassandro believes straight exóticos are the clowns of the circus. "I worked my ass off for 24 years to establish that some of us are real wrestlers, but he makes people laugh," he says. "The audience forgets the match."

"Many young exóticos follow our example, but some of them aren't gay," Kristal says. "They think that being an exótico will bring them fame. They devalue our work." Salvaje believes the newly rising exóticos don't appreciate the hardships he has endured. "Today, all they see is money," he says.

While Maximo is strutting his stuff in the arena, Cassandro is returning to Texas, where he'll cross the border each night for a week of wrestling in Nuevo Laredo. Cassandro still owns a home in El Paso facing the barbed-wire-fenced Rio Grande. "Sometimes I hear people run through my yard from the river," he says. When he's not lacing up his rhinestone boots and fighting for the cause of the exóticos, Cassandro is scrambling outside the ring to facilitate legal immigration by helping 132 Mexican wrestlers obtain visas to work in the States. Arena México may be unwilling to allow Cassandro and his growing band of merry matadors to perform on their home turf, but the rest of the world could be ready for an exótico invasion—and Cassandro is ready to lead. He has taken his tribe a long way since the days when they were forced to use separate dressing rooms, and he remains bullish on their prospects. "There's still machista stuff going around," he says. "You can see all that testosterone coming out. All the guys are pissed, and we walk in with our little mirrors and makeup. They're like, 'Fag.' Then we end up kicking their ass in the ring."

Cassandro lights a cigarette. "I switched it," he says, smirking. "Now they're the bottom and I'm the top."

• • •

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