During these years it has not been possible to gather enough information about customs of the first inhabitants in the island, which surely influenced the Canarian behaviour.
History of Canarian wrestling has been affected by this lack of information. Only thanks to chroniclers and historians, it is now perfectly clear that a kind of wrestling was practised with dexterity and courage in that time. The kind of wrestling we know as Canarian wrestling is due to that ancient wrestling.
Alvar García de Santa María (1420) provided us with an interesting piece of information: “because two Canarian men, who were Christian, one of them a great wrestler, were sent to him, with his brother Diego Fernández, by the above lord King; no one in the Court could beat Maguer, who was forty years old"
After this story, it is only left to discover the origin of that wrestling with or without grabbing, with a wide variety of techniques and which finishes when one of the two fighters touches the ground with any part of the body other than their feet.
A theory says that Canarian wrestling was born from the struggles between the different islands. It is also said that it might have come from the north of Africa, with the first settlers, who brought their culture with them, as our ancestors did in their emigration to America.
In the 19th century, the island had almost fallen into oblivion. In addition, the volcano in the district of Duarte erupted in July of 1824, what is mentioned in the history of Teguise. A steamer was the only contact with the other islands. It brought mail and supplies every eight days. In those days, inhabitants of the islands gathered in the docks, hoping to receive news about their relatives forced to emigrate to other countries.
From 1871 to 1879 there were also severe droughts in the island, forcing many inhabitants to emigrate to other islands. We may wonder if people felt like enjoying themselves and practising wrestling after all the difficulties they had to overcome. Even though the situation was not a cause for celebration, wrestling was still practised in the island.
It is known that wrestling was practised in the most important events. Fights were celebrated between sides. There were no real teams. The “Volcán Arriba” (Above the Volcano), composed by the villages of Haría, Teguise and others, versus the “Volcán Abajo” (Below the Volcano), composed by the villages of Tinajo, Yaiza and others.
Matches had not got a fixed number of fighters. The winner had to fight with the next person who wanted to challenge him, until there were no more opponents. This was known as “lucha corrida”. In that time there were good and great fighters in the “Volcán Arriba” side. The Melgarejo brothers stood out amongst them. They had to emigrate to America forced by the circumstances of their time. José Cabrerita, Baltasar Pérez, José Manuel Fajardo and Cayetano Fajardo were also remarkable. There were many more fighters in this side of the island, but these are the best remembered for their merits and anecdotes.
At the end of the last century, Mamerto Pérez Betancort (de los Valles) was remarkable for his great technical capacity and fortitude. He fought in the Cuyás Circus in Gran Canaria, after some hours of ship travel.
Pancho Machín (Francisco de Candelaria Machín) was another great “Conejero” fighter who took part in the Cuyás Circus in the late 19th century. Pancho was born in Tegoyo (Tías) on April 20th, 1867.
“El Pollo de Uga” (the chicken from Uga), Joaquín María de los Remedios Rodríguez y Cabrera, was born in Uga (Yaiza) on July 17th, 1895. When he was a boy he emigrated to Cuba. In the twenties he was one of the best wrestlers of the Canary Islands and many newspapers spoke of his skill in the field. He retired when he was almost forty years old. He died in his village, Uga, on July 25th, 1959.
On April 3rd, 1897, Ulpiano (Benigno Rodríguez Pérez) was born in Tías. He was the son of Santiago Rodríguez, “El Majorero”, and Dolores (Mamerto Pérez’ sister). He was barely one meter sixty and quite slim. In 1924 Ulpiano threw Majoreros, but he got his arm injured when he collided with a man called López. On July, 1927, Ulpiano came back to the pitch after his injury in the fight homage to the “Sailor’s old age”. But Ulpiano was not himself any longer. The village of Tías regretted Ulpiano's death on March 5th, 1971. The fields of Tías were named after him.
It is also to be recalled the anecdote collected by the journalist Conejero Isaac Viera.
"The village of Tías, in Lanzarote, challenges the rest of the island. The challenge is carried out on the eve of Our Lady Candelaria's Day, patron saint of the village. The most famous wrestlers gather as a single man in the place designated for the tournament, the church square where their dearest image is worshipped by the islanders. By the heat of a great fire fed by "talaibas" and "aulagas", the wrestlers are eager to take the strength of their muscles and their intelligence on the sons of that village, which has produced so many champions in that truly Canarian sport. The duel begins: the challenged get the best of it. The fighters from Tías are losing ground. Defeat seizes the minds of that team. Not even their most prestigious wrestlers succeed in rallying the battered troops. Nearly all the good fighters from Tías have already fallen. Very soon, the magic cry of "Victory!" will be heard from the ranks of the coalition. Cabrera, from Tinajo, Blas Marrero, from Yaiza, and the master of wrestlers, the celebrated Cabrerita, from Teguise, are the men who dominate the pitch and the situation. All eyes from Tías were on the giant that had thrown, with his indomitable power, many wrestlers who thought they were invincible. The islander José Manuel Fajardo comes to the pitch to defend his fallen men. Lifts, trips and their most skilful techniques mean nothing against that flesh and bone mass. Fighters fall like a house of cards hit by a colossus. Fajardo, avenging his neighbours, is the spokesman of victory in his village. He plays with the strongest men like a child with toys. Nobody can throw the titan. The most determined champions are already on the ground of defeat. Fire is weak because of the lack of wood. Competition is about to finish because almost all the wrestlers have been knocked out. Suddenly, another giant arises in the square, with fine-looking elegance, shapely arms and pagan fatness, wearing shorts and a loose linen shirt. That young boy, strong as an ox, collides with Fajardo, grabs him and throws him with a “burra”. The unexpected fall of José Manuel rises a murmuring roar amongst the sons of Tías and produces a huge joy and storms of applauses amongst the people of the rest of the island. Making use of the confusion and the tumult of the spectators who crowd around trying to identify him, he disappears from the square by an enchantment. As the weak flames of the half-extinguished fire don’t shed enough light for perceiving every feature of the victorious boy’s face, all the people present, surprised, astonished, wonder: “Why has he fled? Who is he?”. The fight was over. Odd gossip spread about the mysterious young man, the anonymous hero who avoided the congratulations from the amazed spectators. When José Manuel Fajardo came back home, sad and distressed by the disaster, he met his wife, who was sitting on the window sill, waiting for him as usual. “How was the fight?” – asked Luisa, as this was the name of Fajardo’s wife. “Every wrestler from Tías fell, even myself.” “You too?” “I received such a blow that my tailbone is still aching.” “Who threw you?” “A young man of the same height as me, but nobody knows him, because he suddenly disappeared just after throwing me. Some people said he was the devil, disguised as a peasant.” “I was the man who threw you” – Luisa said laughing, and she added – “I knew thanks to the servant that you were in the pitch and that you had thrown all the other wrestlers. Then, I got dressed with your clothes and went to the square with my servant, just to have the pleasure of giving you a good hit.” “Look” – answered the husband – “when you hit me, I said to myself: There is nobody in Lanzarote with such a strength, but my wife ."
The Fajardos, because of their excessive weight, left useless the camel they employed for their trips, splitting it at the hump. Luisa, who was as tall and corpulent as her husband, had a heart of gold. She wiped away many tears with the white cloth of charity.
Every year on Saint Blas’ day, such a distinguished lady served a plentiful meal to all the poor men of the island in her own home. The gifts of that woman, good and generous, are still remembered amongst the helpless class of Lanzarote. If the pleasant Luisa amazed everybody by her extraordinary stoutness, her intelligence and philanthropy made her the hero of the village. And this is the end of this fantastic anecdote of that time in which life was very hard.
In the 20th century there were also a lot of disasters in the island, as we emphasized in the history section. In regard to wrestling, the word “pollo” (chicken) began to be used for calling the fighters who have thrown the most opponents without being thrown. Everything else remained unchanged.
In the 30’s, another great wrestler stood out in Lanzarote. He was “el pollo de Tao” (the chicken from Tao), Andrés Curbelo. He was a countryman and had grown his strength by ploughing. The terrace of Taos carries his name.
In the 40’s, the provincial federations dependent on the Spanish Wrestling Federation (F.E.L.) began to be founded and the mode of “lucha corrida” disappeared, being replaced by the best two of three. The teams must be composed by twelve fighters, grabbing must be as you wish to enforce the trousers of low grabbing. The important changes were not established against those new requirements that restricted considerably the rich diversity enjoyed by the indigenous sport in that time.
Even though Lanzarote did not know the common administrative activity in sport until well into the 60’s, it copied many of the innovations, like the number of fighters in a team. The changes in the fighting system and others were applied.
“El pollo de Arrecife” (the chicken from Arrecife), Heraclio Niz Mesa, was born on July 27th, 1929. When he was 18, he was banned in a football match and he sneaked into a wrestling team. It was his first public fight. In the 50’s he won several challenges against great wrestlers. In 1950, in the Viejo Campo de España, the dentist Velázquez proposed to him that, if he was able to make a fight like the last one, in which he threw 7 opponents, he would fill the hole in his dentures with a gold tooth. In the end “el Pollo de Arrecife” sported his gold tooth. In 1958 he retired to be a city policeman.
“El pollo de Tías” (the chicken from Tías), Manuel Cabrera Rodríguez, was born on September 12th, 1932. When he was 14, he was in the team “Los Majos” of Arrecife. He weighed 84 kg and he was 1.83 metres tall. Later on, he was called by Francisco Marrero Gutiérrez Camurria to be part of the team “Tinguaro” of Tenerife, with “el Pollo Doramas”, Agustín Matoso and “el Pollo San Andrés”. They were champions for two years.
“El Pollo de Máguez” (the chicken from Máguez), Andrés Luzardo, was born in 1935. He won as “puntal” of the great team of Santa Cruz in the 60’s, when he was 1.96 metres tall and weighed 100 kg. In 1970 he became a trainer.
“El Pollo de La Florida” (the chicken from La Florida), Sebastián Brito, was born in 1944. When he was 12 he was already fighting in the training sessions in El Reducto, even against older men. When he was 14 and weighed 102 kg, he fought officially and even threw Heraclio himself. He moved to Tenerife, then to La Palma and he came back to retire when he was 24 years old.
Antonio Bermúdez Jorge was born in Güime on November 21st, 1949. Apart from being a great wrestler, Antonio is remembered for his human quality and his friendliness. He fought in Güime, Puerto del Rosario and Arrecife. He was also the manager of the Arrecife and the chairperson of the first governing body of the Canarian Wrestling Federation, which became emancipated from the Spanish Wrestling Federation in 1984. Antonio Bermúdez died on January 13th, 1988, when he was 39 years old, after a long and painful illness.
“El Pollo de Haría” (the chicken from Haría) was one of our most travelling fighters. He went to Venezuela looking for a job. Then he lived in Haría, Telde in Gran Canaria, La Palma, Adargoma in Gran Canaria, El Balta of La Palma, Breña Alta, Tedote and finally he went to Venezuela and came back as a member of the national team of that country in 1973 and 1977.
Ángel García was born in Tías on April 4th, 1960. He began to fight when he was 17 years old and 1.90 metres tall. He won with the Arrecife in 1984 and 1985. In 1989 he came back to the Tías, then to the San Bartolomé, to the Tao and to the San Bartolomé again.
Arcadio Tejera was born in 1962. He fought in the Tao when they played against the Unión Norte. After several grabs, the victory was clearly for the Unión Norte, but there was a man left, Arcadio Tejera. He threw nine opponents of the Unión Norte, one after another.
Carmelo Guillén was born in Tinajo on March 11th, 1964. His debut was in the presentation of the C.L. Altavista on February 7th, 1986. He was a very strong wrestler of 120 kg. He was twice Regional Champion of “puntales” C and runner-up of B. He had thrown 10 opponents in a single fight more than once.
Sixto Rodríguez was born in San Bartolomé on November 14th, 1964. He was champion with the San Bartolomé in 1988. In 1990 he won the island competition with the Arrecife and the First Class Regional Championship. Then he played in the Maxorata of Fuerteventura, the Tías and finally the Tinajo.
Photo album of Canarian Wrestling
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