It may not be politically correct, but lucha libre is hilarious, finds Calum Henderson.

Shocker is getting a hiding. Slumped against the ropes, the ageing fighter, whose leathery skin and dyed blond hair make him look a bit like a Mexican Shane Warne, is moments away from having another punishing hit inflicted on him by the preening villain, Rush. At the edge of the ring, an unexplained dwarf wearing a sinister-looking bird costume watches on.

We had been warned this would be an unusual night out.

"Lucha libre is ... not very politically correct," our Mexico City Airbnb host had told us, "but just go along with it and you'll have fun."

With this advice in mind, and taking my lead from the Mexican dad sitting behind us, I eventually join in the cheerful - yet horribly homophobic - soccer chant I'd heard so often during the football World Cup.

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"Heeeeyyyyy PUTO!"

At the soccer they chant it every time the opposition goalkeeper takes a goalkick, wrestling audiences do the same whenever a luchador gets smashed on the ropes. Its closest English translation is "gay prostitute".

We are in Arena Mexico, the 16,000-seat "cathedral of lucha libre", where every Friday night another instalment of this colourful, theatrical and violent soap opera plays out live for a TV audience. The Consejo Mundial de Lucha Libre was established in 1933, making this drama longer-running even than Coronation Street.

Although I don't know who any of the characters are, and can't understand a word of the long, impassioned speeches they deliver before and after every fight, it doesn't take long to get into the swing of things. Basically, the more abhorrent a fighter seems, the more I like them.

In the lucha de damas - ladies' fight - I'm going for Tiffany, the leather-jumpsuited bad girl, to pummel the butterfly-costumed Princesa Sugehit.

Although low on the undercard, the ladies' fight is no mere novelty - many of the damas come from wrestling dynasties, and this is a vicious brawl, not to mention probably the most acrobatically skilled fight of the evening.

The novelty fight comes later, in the form of a tag team featuring a morbidly obese man called Super Porky, and Maximo, who is "gay". With his hair in a bright pink quiff and wearing a matching skirted leotard, Maximo's most fearsome move seems to be chasing the other team's macho wrestlers around the ring while the crowd gleefully jeers "beso!" - "kiss him!"

If a peck on the cheek from Perez Hilton's doppelganger doesn't finish them, being body-slammed by a real-life version of Fat Bastard from Austin Powers surely will.

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Super Porky takes control. Photo / Calum Henderson
Super Porky takes control. Photo / Calum Henderson

After a series of false starts and other uproarious pratfalls, Super Porky finally executes the decisive bellyflop to clinch the match.

The whole time this is going on, a dwarf in a monkey suit lurks on the periphery. He does nothing, but his presence adds another layer of surrealism to this already bizarre fight.

For an outsider this spectacle is hard to top. It's followed by a match-up between Blue Panther and El Terrible, veteran wrestlers who look to be well into their 50s. Who knows, for lifelong lucha libre followers this might have been the long-awaited equivalent of Ken Barlow punching Mike Baldwin's lights out in the Rover's.

You can only begin to imagine how compelling all of this must be to someone who has any sort of clue what's going on. I estimate my comprehension level is around 5 per cent, but I'm still fully enthralled by the action.

The night's headline attraction is billed as "Reaparecen los Indeseables" - Return of the Undesirables. As promised, everyone in this fight is an absolute scumbag. I can't pick sides. One team is led by the earlier-mentioned Shocker, he of the leathery skin, peroxided hair and Shane Warne resemblance, but on the other team is the astoundingly cocky greaseball Rush, who with his leather jacket and poodle hair, looks like he should be in a low-rent Guns 'n' Roses tribute band.

Rush celebrates his victory. Photo / Calum Henderson
Rush celebrates his victory. Photo / Calum Henderson

After multiple twists and dramatic turns, and some flagrant cheating seen by everyone except the referee, Rush and his deplorable cohort emerge triumphant.

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As a dejected Shocker skulks out of the arena, I take a photo of Rush posing victoriously against the ropes: arms outstretched, head tilted to the sky, basking in the glory. In the background, another unexplained dwarf - the one wearing a deeply sinister bird costume - looks on.

CHECKLIST

Getting there: Air New Zealand will commence non-stop services from Auckland to Houston on December 15, operating up to five return services per week.

Details: You can get tickets to the wrestling through ticketmaster.com.