"Wrestling cannot always be a world for the giants. Wrestling has changed. That change is because of Lucha Underground.”
Rey Mysterio is arguably the most famous masked wrestler to ever perform in modern-day professional wrestling. The 42-year-old is a 3-time WWE champion and future Hall of Fame, and currently stars on Lucha Underground. Mysterio’s work has evolved in Lucha Underground, particularly in a mentor role both on and off camera for a roster that has included Ricochet as Prince Puma, Johnny Mundo, Sami Callihan, and Killshot. He connected with Sports Illustrated to discuss his evolution in wrestling, as well as the difference in presentation between Lucha Underground and WWE.
Rey Mysterio believes the difference between cruiser-style wrestling and WWE’s 205 Live exists purely in the presentation.
“Lucha Underground is the pioneer in the cruiserweight division,” said Mysterio. “Years ago, Konnan mentioned to me, ‘Wrestling has to change. Wrestling cannot always be a world for the giants,’ and he was right. Wrestling has changed. That change is because of Lucha Underground.”
The 5-foot-4 Mysterio, who received his break in WCW as a cruiserweight, was asked if the “cruiser” term limits or boxes in talents wrestling in that division.
“That is not boxing anyone in,” explained Mysterio. “Cruiserweight is a form of giving life to those that still want to break into this business. There have been more opportunities given to that cruiserweight division, and that’s been helped by a lot of companies, including Ring of Honor and TNA.”
Lucha Underground returns tonight from its mid-season break and continues season three with an “All Night Long” match between The Mack and Johnny Mundo.
Mexican wrestling promotion AAA, which also helps oversee the creative and talent roster of Lucha Underground, has engaged in a talent-exchange program with Impact Wrestling. Although terms of the talent exchange have yet to be entirely defined, Mysterio is open to working in Impact.
“I was actually in conversations a while back with Impact about doing some shows,” said Mysterio. “To be honest with you, it’s not that I don’t want to go work for them, it’s just like I didn’t have it in my game plan. I also didn’t have Lucha Underground in my game plan before it was created.
“If the circumstances were right, I wouldn’t mind going. I’m not interested in signing a contractual deal, but I would love to do some shows. People want to see diversity in their opponents and fans want to see their dream matches. If people want to see a match-up, let’s make it happen.”
Mysterio made his WCW debut 21 years ago–at the tender age of 21–at The Great American Bash in June of 1996. His match, which was a singles match for the cruiserweight championship against Dean Malenko, was also Mysterio’s tryout match with WCW. Security refused him entry into the venue and wrestlers thought a fan drifted into the locker.
“That’s all true,” confirmed Mysterio. “Actually, I had to leave the building and security wouldn’t let me back in. People still tell me I have a babyface, and I was 21 at the time, so I looked like a 12-year-old back then. I recall explaining to the security guards, ‘No, no, it’s OK, I wrestle,’ and they looked at me and laughed. So I continued to say that I was a wrestler, and they finally asked me for a credential. I didn’t have any credentials, this was a tryout. Finally, security was cool enough to find out who I was and let me back in the building, but that happened several times after that, too. I learned my lesson after the fourth time, and I started carrying a WCW badge everywhere with me.”
Mysterio had never worked with Malenko prior to the match, and he spent considerable time watching bootlegged videotapes of Malenko’s prior matches to prepare for the contest.
“I give Dean Malenko all the credit,” said Mysterio. “He had the choice to make me or break me. I was so nervous prior to that match, but I prepared myself by watching tapes for almost a week-and-a-half on his style and the psychology of his work. I just heard so much at once: ‘it’s a different style’ and ‘it’s not going to be like how you wrestle in Mexico, so you’ll need to adapt,’ so I studied Dean and did my homework, and we had chemistry right off the bat.
“I have the utmost respect for his guiding me, giving me the knowledge, and he made me look like a million bucks that night. Konnan still tells this story, and said he’d seen it twice before, from when Dean and I walked into the locker room after the match. You had Macho Man, Flair, the Steiners, and they were all waiting by this little stairway near an alley that led to the locker room when they received Dean and I with a standing ovation. I asked myself, ‘Did that really just happen?’”
Mysterio no longer faces feats that seem unattainable, as he has accomplished nearly every major goal in professional wrestling. Mysterio’s competitive fire still burns when comparing himself to peers like Randy Orton, who he worked against in a triple threat match, along with Kurt Angle, at WrestleMania XXII.
“I saw bits and pieces of WrestleMania 33,” said Mysterio. “My son, Dominic, and I were actually flying home from Orlando, and I still haven’t caught the whole show. I am looking forward to seeing the Hardys’ match–I only saw their entrance. Once I start watching, I’ll restart right when the Hardys come in.
“It’s that bit of ego that lives within me that always made me so competitive. I see talent now in Lucha Underground, like Fenix, Killshot, Prince Puma, Sami Callihan, all these up-and-coming stars that are changing the game again. They’re doing it in a way that I respect, and I’m trying to leave my work from the 90’s back in the 90’s and reinvent myself, that’s what keeps me in the game and keeps me fresh–mixing the new style with what I used to do in the past. Innovation, in my style and my gear, has always been important to me, and that’s helped me keep connected with the fans. They always know that I want to give them more.”