Lucha libre wrestling invades Orleans Arena tonight

Casual fans of pro wrestling may not recognize the name Charles Ashenoff.

But “Konnan,” Ashenoff’s wrestling nom de plume? That name they’ll know, probably from Ashenoff’s tenure in the WWF (now WWE), WCW and other U.S.-based wrestling organizations, but, maybe, also, from Ashenoff’s extensive forays into lucha libre wrestling.

Tonight, Ashenoff comes to Las Vegas for the AAA Lucha Libre Invasion Tour at the Orleans Arena. The event begins at 7:30 p.m., and promoters say a percentage of all merchandise sales will go to the family of Abismo Negro, the pro wrestling stalwart who died March 22.

Ashenoff recalled during a recent phone interview that, while growing up, he was familiar only with U.S.-style pro wrestling. But, while serving with the Navy in San Diego — and also making a name for himself as an amateur boxer — “a guy who had seen me fight wanted me to go to Tijuana to watch lucha libre. He said: ‘You should see lucha libre. It’s nothing like American wrestling.’ “

Ashenoff gave it a shot and found that his friend was right. Lucha libre was “faster, more creative, more high-flying,” he said. “Just a whole different style than I had grown up watching as a kid.”

As a boxer, Ashenoff was California middleweight amateur champion. However, after finding that a shoulder injury had diluted the effect of anything he could throw from his left side, Ashenoff went into wrestling.

While his resume includes tours of service with U.S.-based wrestling organizations most fans know, Ashenoff also has spent about two decades in lucha libre, the Mexican style of wrestling Americans most identify with stars such as El Santo who wear colorful masks and fight behind almost mythic personas.

The difference between U.S. and lucha libre is “almost like watching football and soccer,” Ashenoff said. “It’s the same sport, but the way they did it in Mexico, there was a more respectful attitude attached to it where, in the U.S. it was more lowbrow and isn’t taken as seriously.”

Another difference is the multigenerational character of lucha libre audiences. At lucha libre events in Mexico, Ashenoff says, “it’s not odd to see the grandparents and the parents and all the little kids sitting together, because the grandparents watched when they were younger and they took their kids, and now their kids bring their kids.”

And, because fans take lucha libre so seriously, audiences are “way more rowdy than (audiences in) the U.S.,” Ashenoff says. “They kind of suspend their disbelief a lot more than in the U.S. Right now I’m a bad guy, and we’ve had people who punch me in the ring during the match and had people outside trying to pick fights with me.”

Another difference: Mexican audiences, Ashenoff said, are less likely than American audience to concern themselves about whether wrestling is “real.”

Ashenoff probably could respond to the “is it real?” question by reciting the list of injuries — from shoulder surgery to a total hip replacement — he’s suffered. But he’s more likely to answer by comparing wrestling to acting.

“You see Al Pacino walking down the street, do you ask him if the part he plays is real?” he says.

Although, Ashenoff adds, one big difference between the two professions is that “Al Pacino has a stunt man and I don’t.”

Contact reporter John Przybys at jprzybys@reviewjournal.com or 702-383-0280.

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