At night, Reyna Torres demurely sits in her parents’ home, hand-sewing a hole she tore in her skirt earlier in the day. It’s the same skirt Reyna worewhen she leaped off the rope of a wrestling ring into the air and on to her opponent’s chest during a match. Every Sunday afternoon in the Bolivian city of El Alto, the “high city” that overlooks the capital of La Paz, hundreds of Bolivians and tourists line up at the door of a sports complex to see a group of women wrestle. They are known as Cholitas Luchadores–fighting cholitas–indigenous women with braided hair who don colorful multi-layered pollera skirts and bowler hats.

In 2014, photojournalist Eduardo Leal ventured to El Alto to better understand the lifestyles of the cholitas, both in and out of the ring.

El Alto has a population of over 1 million people, and had often been called the poorer working-class sister city of La Paz. But in recent years El Alto has seen a slight uptick in wealth with the opening of new shops as Bolivia’s economy rises.

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For recreation in the sprawling city, a group of women began to create a circle of luchadoras inspired by Mexico’s famous lucha libre. Each Sunday, the women descend on a complex in El Alto and put on a theatrical spectacle, wrestling and taking hard punches, pulling hair, and leaping through the air, all while dressed in colored petticoats and shawls.

The women have also become a band of sisters, operating through an association they formed in 2011 that would hold everyone accountable–not just the promoters–for ensuring each person received fair treatment and compensation. The organization was formed out of a response to a fighter and promoter who first had the idea to create the cholitas and put them in the ring to attract the public. Fighters began suspecting him of creating a monopoly on the sport and taking a large percentage of their earnings.

A woman typically trains for one year before becoming a full-fledged cholita able to fight in the ring. The reward for being a cholita is often more in the form of fame and a certain level of notoriety within the community than in money. Most fighters take home little more than $20 to $30 on any Sunday.  Yet some have used used fame to gain jobs traditionally reserved for men like being traffic cops, working in television, or holding office.

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