A new generation of athletes is coming to one of the world’s more colorful sporting spectacles: the fighting cholitas of Bolivia, who take to a wrestling ring in the traditional billowing skirts, bowler hats and leather shoes of Aymara women.

The sport — known by the English-derived name catchascan — has delighted foreign tourists and photographers for years while building a sense of pride among indigenous women. But the group of competitors has gradually dwindled over time to just seven.

Among the most famous is Reyna Torrez, the ring name of Leydi Huanca, who has entertained spectators for a dozen years, her moves inspired by Mexican wrestlers such as Rey Mysterio.

Young cholita wrestler Dona Chevas strikes a pose for a portrait before competing in the ring in El Alto, Bolivia, Sunday, Feb. (AP Photo/Juan Karita)
Young cholita wrestler Dona Chevas strikes a pose for a portrait before competing in the ring in El Alto, Bolivia, Sunday, Feb. (AP Photo/Juan Karita)

Now 29, Torrez is training a new cohort of wrestlers, ages 16 to 19, in hopes of keeping the sport alive.

“I love those leaps of Reyna, and it’s a dream that she’s teaching us,” said 17-year-old Nieves Laura Tarqui, who wrestles as Nelly Pankarita, a last name that means “Little Flower” in Aymara.

Pankarita and the other trainees are still a year away from their full professional debuts while training in matches against the established athletes.

Veteran cholita wrestler Reyna Torrez stands in the corner of the ring as she competes with teen fighter Dona Chevas in El Alto, Bolivia, Sunday, Feb. (AP Photo/Juan Karita)
Veteran cholita wrestler Reyna Torrez stands in the corner of the ring as she competes with teen fighter Dona Chevas in El Alto, Bolivia, Sunday, Feb. (AP Photo/Juan Karita)

“It’s hard to wrestle,” said 19-year-old Noelia Gonzalez — aka Natalia Pepita. “You need a lot of bravery, strength and training to make a good fight. We fall and we hurt, but that doesn’t matter because the public has fun.”

As a match is about to start, the contenders peer into a mirror, apply makeup and perfume and then enter the ring dancing to folkloric music. This time it’s Pepita taking on her teacher. And of course it doesn’t start well.

As the audience chants “Pepita! Pepita!” the rookie finds herself paralyzed between the ropes as Torrez strangles her with her own pigtails. Then the tide turns. Pepita slips away, leads Torrez on a race around the ring and then uses a flying kick to the chest — a move Torrez taught her — to knock her down. Within minutes, Torrez is pinned to the floor and the public rises to applaud as Pepita pulls at her pigtails in emotion.

Cholita wrestler Natalia la Pepita, 19, lifts her trainer Reyna Torrez, 29, as they compete in the ring in El Alto, Bolivia, Monday, Jan. (AP Photo/Juan Karita)
Cholita wrestler Natalia la Pepita, 19, lifts her trainer Reyna Torrez, 29, as they compete in the ring in El Alto, Bolivia, Monday, Jan. (AP Photo/Juan Karita)

“The girls who want to do this sport have to have guts, will, because this is a sport that demands a lot of discipline,” Torrez said.

About 50 young women are training at three schools to take up the sport, some at an institution known as Independent Wrestlers of Enormous Risk.

“Time is passing, and you have to make way for a new generation,” said Benjamin Simonini, director of the school in the sprawling highlands city of El Alto, which has seen a boom in recent years and where the fighting cholitas have emerged as a tourist attraction.

Veteran cholita wrestler Jennifer dos Caras, 45, holds a cement block over teen wrestler Lucero la Bonita in the ring in El Alto, Bolivia, Monday, Jan. (AP Photo/Juan Karita)
Veteran cholita wrestler Jennifer dos Caras, 45, holds a cement block over teen wrestler Lucero la Bonita in the ring in El Alto, Bolivia, Monday, Jan. (AP Photo/Juan Karita)

Tatiana Monasterios of the city’s tourist department said the shows “also assert the role of the Ayamara woman, showing her as enterprising, that she, too, can take part in a risky sport.”

Young cholita wrestler Lucero la Bonita strikes a pose for a portrait before fighting in the ring in El Alto, Bolivia, Sunday, Feb. (AP Photo/Juan Karita)
Young cholita wrestler Lucero la Bonita strikes a pose for a portrait before fighting in the ring in El Alto, Bolivia, Sunday, Feb. (AP Photo/Juan Karita)
Cholita wrestler Natalia Pepita, 19, is held down by fellow fighter in training, Wara, 22, in the ring in El Alto, Bolivia, Thursday, Feb. (AP Photo/Juan Karita)
Cholita wrestler Natalia Pepita, 19, is held down by fellow fighter in training, Wara, 22, in the ring in El Alto, Bolivia, Thursday, Feb. (AP Photo/Juan Karita)
Veteran cholita wrestler Leydi Huanca strikes a fighting pose for a portrait before entering the ring in El Alto, Bolivia, Sunday, Feb. (AP Photo/Juan Karita)
Veteran cholita wrestler Leydi Huanca strikes a fighting pose for a portrait before entering the ring in El Alto, Bolivia, Sunday, Feb. (AP Photo/Juan Karita)
Reyna Torrez, a veteran cholita wrestler who uses the ring name Leydi Huanca, carries her daughter Lydia after an interview at her home in El Alto, Bolivia, Monday, Feb. (AP Photo/Juan Karita)
Reyna Torrez, a veteran cholita wrestler who uses the ring name Leydi Huanca, carries her daughter Lydia after an interview at her home in El Alto, Bolivia, Monday, Feb. (AP Photo/Juan Karita)
Veteran cholita wrestler Reyna Torrez is reflected in a mirror next to a poster of Mexican professional wrestler Rey Mysterio during an interview at her home in El Alto, Bolivia, Monday, Feb. (AP Photo/Juan Karita)
Veteran cholita wrestler Reyna Torrez is reflected in a mirror next to a poster of Mexican professional wrestler Rey Mysterio during an interview at her home in El Alto, Bolivia, Monday, Feb. (AP Photo/Juan Karita)
Veteran cholita wrestler Leydi Huanca, 29, dances as she enters the ring area to compete in El Alto, Bolivia, Sunday, Feb. (AP Photo/Juan Karita)
Veteran cholita wrestler Leydi Huanca, 29, dances as she enters the ring area to compete in El Alto, Bolivia, Sunday, Feb. (AP Photo/Juan Karita)
Young cholita wrestler Natalia Pepita, 19, watches through a hole in the curtain backstage during female wrestling competitions in El Alto, Bolivia, Sunday, Feb. (AP Photo/Juan Karita)
Young cholita wrestler Natalia Pepita, 19, watches through a hole in the curtain backstage during female wrestling competitions in El Alto, Bolivia, Sunday, Feb. (AP Photo/Juan Karita)
Young cholita wrestlers Wara, left, and Natalia Pepita compete in the ring in El Alto, Bolivia, Thursday, Feb. (AP Photo/Juan Karita)
Young cholita wrestlers Wara, left, and Natalia Pepita compete in the ring in El Alto, Bolivia, Thursday, Feb. (AP Photo/Juan Karita)
Tourists film cholita wrestlers in the ring in El Alto, Bolivia, Monday, Jan. 21, 2019. In recent years fighting cholitas have emerged as a tourist attraction in the sprawling highlands city. (AP Photo/Juan Karita)
Tourists film cholita wrestlers in the ring in El Alto, Bolivia, Monday, Jan. 21, 2019. In recent years fighting cholitas have emerged as a tourist attraction in the sprawling highlands city. (AP Photo/Juan Karita)
Veteran cholita wrestler Jennifer Dos Caras, 45, competes in the ring with Randy Four in El Alto, Bolivia, Jan. (AP Photo/Juan Karita)
Veteran cholita wrestler Jennifer Dos Caras, 45, competes in the ring with Randy Four in El Alto, Bolivia, Jan. (AP Photo/Juan Karita)
Young cholita wrestler Eleonor strikes a fighting pose for a portrait before competing in the ring in El Alto, Bolivia, Sunday, Feb. (AP Photo/Juan Karita)
Young cholita wrestler Eleonor strikes a fighting pose for a portrait before competing in the ring in El Alto, Bolivia, Sunday, Feb. (AP Photo/Juan Karita)
Young cholita wrestler Wara puts her makeup on before competing in the ring in El Alto, Bolivia, Sunday, Feb. (AP Photo/Juan Karita)
Young cholita wrestler Wara puts her makeup on before competing in the ring in El Alto, Bolivia, Sunday, Feb. (AP Photo/Juan Karita)
A tourist takes a selfie with cholita wrestlers after they competed in the ring in El Alto, Bolivia, Thursday, Feb. (AP Photo/Juan Karita)
A tourist takes a selfie with cholita wrestlers after they competed in the ring in El Alto, Bolivia, Thursday, Feb. (AP Photo/Juan Karita)
Young cholita wrestler Nelly Pankarita jumps over her young rival Eleonor as they compete in the ring in El Alto, Bolivia, Sunday, Feb. (AP Photo/Juan Karita)
Young cholita wrestler Nelly Pankarita jumps over her young rival Eleonor as they compete in the ring in El Alto, Bolivia, Sunday, Feb. (AP Photo/Juan Karita)
Young cholita wrestler Nelly Pankarita strikes a pose wearing her mask after competing in the ring in El Alto, Bolivia, Sunday, Feb. (AP Photo/Juan Karita)
Young cholita wrestler Nelly Pankarita strikes a pose wearing her mask after competing in the ring in El Alto, Bolivia, Sunday, Feb. (AP Photo/Juan Karita)
Seen from behind the backstage curtain, young cholita wrestler Dona Chevas, left, fights with fellow trainee Lucero in El Alto, Bolivia, Sunday, Feb. (AP Photo/Juan Karita)
Seen from behind the backstage curtain, young cholita wrestler Dona Chevas, left, fights with fellow trainee Lucero in El Alto, Bolivia, Sunday, Feb. (AP Photo/Juan Karita)

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