"La Seductora": The struggle between family, life and a career in lucha libre

The Mexican fighter fought a tough battle against sexism outside the ring. ESPN Digital

This story originally ran on ESPN Deportes.

MEXICO CITY -- There are moments in sport that have provided opportunities to women who have tried to achieve greatness that's been denied elsewhere, and the world of wrestling is no exception. There are different nuances to the craft, and every woman has had to experience a certain roughness as a newcomer, but those pains and hardships are nothing compared to the sexism they've had to face outside the ring, where they don't wear the costumes of heroines.

It was in this kind of environment that Irene "Seductora" Lagunas made herself a fighter, shedding tears more than once as a beginner while attending training sessions (behind her family's back) where her male partners beat her without consideration, just as they would any other male fighter. The tears were a matter of pride, shed after her first experiences with sexism. But even after she left the ring at night, Irene lived with sexism in one of its harshest forms.

"My husband made me pregnant on purpose to prevent me from going back to fight."

Irene carried on training, in spite of her family's attempts to persuade her against it, and she succeeded to the point of performing in half a dozen events. But just as she appeared to be poised for success in the world of lucha libre, her career in the ring didn't last as long as Seductora wanted.

"After my start, those six events, I got married, and I did not fight any more," Lagunas said. "Because two months later, I got pregnant with my first daughter and my husband told me that I was not going back to wrestling. When my daughter was 3 years old, I wanted to go back."

Irene had made the decision in her mind to return to professional wrestling, but her husband did not see things the same way.

"I did not want to have more babies, I wanted to go back to wrestling," Lagunas said. "My husband made me pregnant on purpose to prevent me from going back to wrestling. My second daughter was born, she reached her fourth birthday, and we went through the same steps again. I wanted to take up wrestling again, but my husband did not allow me to do so, and he asked me to have another baby."

During those eight years of forced retirement, Seductora made sure to do enough physical activity to stay in fighting shape. The stresses she dealt with on a daily basis provided her with "more strength" to deal with her situation, and she found the right reasons to go back to the ring, in spite of her husband's opposition.

"In the beginning of my marriage, I was very naive and he did as he pleased with me," Lagunas said, "but after eight years I woke up, and, without him knowing it, I began to take steps so that I would not get pregnant again. Later on, we had a very serious discussion and we almost got separated, but he allowed me to return to training as long as I did not leave him. I started training again, I came back, and 16 years have passed since then."

"He told me, 'You can go and wrestle, but do not dress like that.'"

Any hopes that things would become normal upon her return to the ring were quickly extinguished.

"He was a real 'macho' man, and he made me suffer a lot. He told me, 'You can go and wrestle, but you are not to wear that. Do not dress like that', and I used baggy pants," Lagunas said. "He did not allow me to use any makeup, he even told me how to walk, and we lived married like that for 18 years and 6 months.

"He even went with me to some events and he told me, 'No photos', or he allowed photos but without the fans coming near me, and I had to look a way that kept them from coming anywhere close to me. After wrestling, he immediately took me out of the arena to prevent people from coming near me or touching me."

Irene felt the need to find a path to freedom and eventually found a new attitude, full of self-assurance and self-confidence. As she showed this new side of herself, it produced a radical change in the behavior of her mate.

"When he realized that I had awakened, he changed. He allowed me to train, to dress as I liked and even to use makeup, and I wanted to do something to save our family," Lagunas remembers. During this new arrangement, Lagunas paused her career again for a year and a half in order to give birth to her third child, with the hope that her marriage would improve.

But deep inside, nothing had changed. The domestic situation became unbearable, or perhaps it was the same as it always was. But Irene had had enough of trying to care; she had reached her limit and looked for some way of drastically changing her life.

"I began visiting a psychologist, and he took the blindness out of my eyes. The love had ended," Lagunas acknowledged.

"Three months after visiting the psychologist, I was no longer afraid of my husband; when I shed it, I became free and I discovered the world. Everything. My son was 3 years old then," Lagunas said. "There were no infidelities, but he was an extremely sexist man, who was always returning to the same issues. I realized that it was not a good life for me, nor for my children.

"He was a man who continuously humiliated me," she continued. "My own daughters asked me why I endured such a situation. Then I understood that I did not have to bear with it anymore. We separated, and we have been divorced for eight years now. It was a cruel time, but now I am fine."

"When you go into the ring, you forget everything."

Irene's life had bounced between two distinct feelings. At the beginning, she was a housewife cornered by her husband's sexism; coming out the other side, when she walked out onto that stage, dressed in her wrestling attire, the character of Seductora empowered her to get bigger than life and shine in the ring.

"When you go into the ring, you forget everything, you get focused, because if you think about your real life, that might have consequences," Lagunas said. "To be in the ring brings a sensation of relief. I love to train, to come here and wrestle and to enjoy all of this. When I finish and come out of the ring, then I am Irene again. I am no longer Seductora. I also like to enjoy everyday life, now that I am alone after the divorce."

Once divorced, Lagunas worked to leave the past behind her and forgive her ex-husband for the harsh situations they lived together. Freed at last from any negative link or feeling, she now enjoys her role as one of the acclaimed female wrestlers of the Consejo Mundial de Lucha Libre (CMLL) and also of her role as head of family, as a mother of three children (24, 20 and 11 years old) and a grandmother to three grandchildren.

"I have learned to assign time to each thing. In the past I was always in a hurry, and I was ill with nerves when I was with my ex-husband because he controlled all my movements," Lagunas recalled. "Now, I am able to give time to each of my children. I have even taken my son to the arena to go around asking the wrestlers to take a photo with him; that is his time. And also with my daughters, we talk a lot, we have breakfast together. I can get together with my friends -- we talk (we do not allow ourselves to take out the mobile phones), we drink a coffee. I try to have time for everything, because it is very important for me."

Running parallel with Lagunas' daily schedule, the training sessions of Seductora have their place as well.

"I run in the morning, after leaving my son at school, and I exercise. I go to a gym that is near my home to strengthen my muscles, and here, at Arena Mexico, I train with two hours of freestyle wrestling. Nobody except me knows how I break my back training hard, how I go to the gym and how much I take care of my diet to keep myself in good form."

"I am pleased with my achievements."

The bitter times of the beginning have been left behind her. Currently, as one of the pillars of CMLL's female roster, Seductora has the respect of her male counterparts and shares a friendly coexistence with them in every event and every venue in which they are staged.

"I try to respect them and not to bother them, in order to prevent them from bothering me. Since I wrestle in the 'Consejo,' I have never felt any kind of sexism, neither from my teammates nor with the promoters. With fans, I have been lucky, and if someone insults me, I answer by sending a kiss."

While there is a code of respect among the luchadoras in the locker room, none of them go any easier on each other simply because they are women.

"No, in the ring you forget everything," Lagunas said. "If they hit you, and, of course, it hurts, you answer with another one of your own. That is what training is about -- you must know how to hit and be hit. You are not going to let a teammate fall if you know that she is going to be hurt, and even when we do not care for each other, there is a training that tells us how to make every movement and the timing that it takes."

While her well-known name is frequently featured on lucha libre marquees, the rough fighter is already considering the word 'retirement.'

"My son loves me being a wrestler, and he likes to come with me to all possible events, but sometimes it is hard for him to understand that I have to travel," Lagunas said. "My daughters already know that I have started to have problems with my knees, and they ask me how much more time I have with this.

"I want to go away from the ring feeling well and walking. This is a high performance sport that I can still engage in, but I have to recognize that my knees are already badly hurt. Maybe next year I will retire from wrestling."

So is there anything left for her to accomplish in wrestling? Perhaps a few more main events or semi-main events?

"I am very satisfied by my achievements, but if new things come along, OK, I will take them," Lagunas said. "I accept the challenge, which is what we are here for. If I am challenged for my hair, there it is. I like to enjoy my work and to answer on the ring in front of whoever comes along.

"I am not just interested in participating in a main event, or co-main event," Lagunas said. "Whether I am in the last match, in the third one or whatever, I go into the ring to do my job. I wrestle, and I do the same every time out because I am going to get paid all the same. They are going to see me, and I will enjoy it. In the Consejo I have been placed in main events, semi-main events, but not on many occasions, and the company knows. I respect them. I do not know if sexism is behind it, but either way, I enjoy my work all the same, and I am very satisfied."