Mexican wrestling has a remarkable cinematic history that stretched over three decades. Beginning in the 1950s, top “lucha libre” (free fighting) stars began appearing in movies that had them wearing their trademark masks not only while wrestling but while driving around in their sports cars and engaging in Batman-like adventures battling Martians, “death robots,” vampire women and criminal masterminds. There were hundreds of these films; El Santo, the most beloved luchador of all time starred in 52 alone.

For the most part, however, there’s only one movie that anybody asks lucha libre star Rocky Romero about. “When people ask, ‘What do you do?’ I say I’m a luchador,” Romero tells me in a phone interview. “And they say, ‘Like Nacho Libre?’”

Romero is one of the celebrity lucha libre wrestlers on Lucha Libre USA’s “Masked Warriors Live 2012” tour, which comes to HP Pavilion Friday. Raised in L.A., the Cuban-American Romero is one of the most popular “technicos” on the tour. (In Mexican pro wrestling, technicos are the good guys; “rudos” are the villains.) While today’s audiences may only have seen the culty Jack Black comedy, Romero knows the early films that sparked a wave of lucha libre cool when they were shown here on TV. The stars—El Santo, Neutron, Blue Demon, etc.—were masked for much of these films, so they had to create a larger-than-life presence, just as today’s luchadors do on the tour.

“I think personality’s the most important part of the ‘character’ or whatever you want to call it,” he says. “Everybody [in the sport] can do the moves, but it’s a certain personality and connection with the people that makes you popular or not popular.”

Romero has taken this to heart in his matches, and it’s made him a star luchador. “Growing up in L.A., I was a big fan of Hulk Hogan. That was him. He didn’t do many cool moves; he’d do like a leg drop or something,” says Romero. “But he had a certain charisma about him. No matter where you were—you could be in the last seat in the area&—you could just feel that energy from him.”

Still, he says lucha libre—while featuring the same kind of storylines, feuds and colorful villains seen in American pro wrestling (one rudo is RJ Brewer, son of Arizona governor Jan Brewer, who riles up Mexican wrestling audiences like nobody else with his anti-immigrant shtick)—is a unique phenomenon.

“It’s completely different than the American version of it. The guys are so much more athletic than the American guys, the WWE guys,” he says. “The stuff that they’re doing is amazing. The high flying is comparable to nothing else. That automatically catches your eye as a spectator, even if you’re just watching it for the first time.”

Masked Warriors Live
Friday; 8pm; $31-$74
HP Pavilion