The Other Guy, or the Case of Two La Parkas

On Saturday, the pro wrestling world suffered a major loss with the death of La Parka, a longtime top star wrestler in Mexico’s Lucha Libre AAA promotion. Real name Jesús Alfonso Escoboza Huerta, 54, Parka succumbed to organ failure stemming from in-ring injuries that he suffered in October. The wrestling world mourned publicly, especially the lucha libre community, but there was quickly a significant amount of confusion among many fans about just who had died. This La Parka, the longer-tenured La Parka, was not the La Parka who found American fame in Turner Broadcasting’s World Championship Wrestling in the late-’90s. That’s the wrestler known these days as L.A. Park, real name Adolfo Tapia. (Though it’s bad form to use the real name of a masked luchador who hasn’t unmasked or died, Park uses his real name on social media.)

Searching Twitter for “La Parka WCW” without quotes right now brings up a lot of confusion, but the whole story goes a lot deeper than knowing who is who.

A Skeleton Is Born

When AAA was launched in May 1992, journeyman Tapia, with a fresh gimmick and skeleton suit, became La Parka. Already a well-rounded wrestler who could both brawl and excel in the more balletic style that non-Mexicans tend to associate with “lucha libre,” the La Parka gimmick helped bring out Tapia’s charisma. His evil dancing skeleton ended up being so lovable that AAA switched him from rudo to técnico after two and a half years. He was a major star for the company until he left for rival startup Promo Azteca in late 1996, as he was starting with WCW and Konnan, who had the deal with the American company, not AAA, had moved to Azteca as their booker. Right away, Escoboza, then wrestling as Karis La Momia, was “injured” and re-gimmicked as La Parka Jr. to replace Tapia, with the “Jr.” soon vanishing.

La Parka (Tapia) on WCW Monday Nitro in 1999, three years after Escoboza had become La Parka in AAA. (wwe.com)

That was how AAA founder and mastermind Antonio Peña had decided to handle as many of the departures of masked wrestlers as he possibly could. If Peña owned the gimmick, that role would be filled with a new wrestler, sometimes with a fake “junior” honorific that would quickly fade away, or sometimes replaced outright without disclosure to the audience. Unlike WWF’s “new” versions of Razor Ramon and Diesel in 1996, though, which existed more for the purposes of legal maneuvering, these replacements often worked. It was confusing, especially to non-Spanish speakers who didn’t have access to regular lucha libre news. When AAA started working with WWF, it got even more confusing—with the same gimmick, worn by different wrestlers, appearing on TV for both WWF and WCW inside of a week.

Peña’s choice was understandable, relatively speaking. Possibly the single most creative person ever in professional wrestling, Peña came up with the AAA gimmicks and designed their costumes himself. Where Vince McMahon had a “creative services” department to help sketch out what Razor Ramon would look like, Peña drew the sketches of La Parka himself. The AAA promoter was asserting ownership both legally and cosmically.

More Pro Wrestling:

La Parka (Escoboza) in an interview celebrating 20 years under the mask. (luchalibreaaa.com)

Defining the Definitive La Parka

For the next seven years, there were explicitly two La Parkas. With the fight over the name, though, the AAA Parka was the only La Parka that wrestled on national television. If you’ve started to do some math in your head, then you can see what ended up happening: Tapia’s tenure in AAA wasn’t that long, all things considered, so with Peña taking legal action over the name, he was La Parka on Mexican TV for less than five years. That meant that Escoboza, the “fake” La Parka, eclipsed him as the real deal in the eyes of most fans in relatively short order. By the end of 2003, Tapia helped solidify that point of view when got himself a new name: L.A. Park, short for “La Auténtica Parka” (The Authentic Parka). Being off TV with a different name wasn’t going to sway the masses in his favor.

“One of the interesting things coming out tonight is how many wrestlers in their late teens/early 20’s look at La Parka as THE La Parka,” wrote Rob Bihari, Canada’s foremost lucha libre historian, in a tweet on Saturday night. “They grew up with him on TV. They only knew LA Park as ‘the other guy.’. It’s fascinating to me as someone who sees La Parka as ‘the other guy.'”

Complicating this is that Tapia has widely been considered the superior in-ring wrestler, the one with more depth underneath the schtick. It wasn’t that Escoboza was bad, so much as Tapia was an incredibly gifted all-around talent. But being incredibly agile for his size or being a violent brawler wasn’t what made Tapia as La Parka a breakout star in Mexico or uniquely popular undercard wrestler to WCW fans. It was the charisma that he showed as a dancing skeleton who, in WCW at least, loved to hit people with chairs and then “play” his chair like a guitar. His straight-up wrestling was part of the package, but the schtick was what made him La Parka.

Escoboza was, if anything, the better and more varied performer at the dancing skeleton schtick. Just look at the earliest match of his in the gimmick that I could easily find on YouTube: When he tags in, it’s clear that, even that early, he had a large bag of tricks that made him more than capable of inheriting the gimmick. He wasn’t a La Parka impersonator: He built on what Tapia did in the character to make it his own.

La Parka (Escoboza) vs L.A. Park (Tapia) in the main event of AAA Triplemania XVIII.

Two Parkas, Both Alike In Dignity

There really aren’t many things to compare this situation to in pro wrestling. Even in AAA, Escoboza as Parka was easily the biggest attraction of the “replacements,” after all, and such a big drawing card for the promotion that he was nicknamed “El Estandarte de AAA,” or “The Standard of AAA.” If you wanted to the full dancing skeleton experience, he was who you paid to see, as Park/Tapia became more and more of a wild rudo brawler who would yell at fans. Besides, a few years after the split, Park altered the costume, changing his mask design to resemble The Phantom Menace’s Darth Maul while adding different colors and sometimes phasing out the overt skeletal elements. Why would anyone in Mexico who started watching wrestling after November 1996 have any reason to think of that guy as the “real” La Parka?

Calling Tapia the Dave Mustaine (the original guitarist left Metallica long before their popularity peaked) to Escoboza’s Kirk Hammett would be a bit strong but not entirely incorrect. Calling him the David Lee Roth (the more “metal” original frontman of Van Halen) to Escoboza’s Sammy Hagar (the “poppier” replacement) would also track in some ways, but not necessarily others, especially with how Van Halen kept returning to Roth. There are certainly worse comparisons, and none of the good ones come from pro wrestling.

By 2010, Parka and Park let bygones be bygones, with Park invading AAA to feud with Parka and “reclaim” the name. The resulting feud was very much in Park’s brawling style, which was what was needed—they had the best and most heated matches in the world that year. Park and Parka would subsequently team on smaller shows in 2012, symbolically showing that yes, even L.A. Park viewed Escoboza as the genuine article. On Monday night, he tweeted as much, answering a fan who asked him about taking back gimmick.

“No one is going to fill the place that the AAA Parka left, neither I nor anyone else,” he said, roughly translated. “The truth must respect that name so that Chuy Escoboza is never forgotten.”

There’s only one La Parka, and we lost him this weekend. Descanse en paz.

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