Alberto “El Patron” Rodriguez—better known as Alberto Del Rio to WWE fans—enters the Combate Americas cage on Saturday to fight UFC Hall of Famer Tito Ortiz.
The fight headlines Combate Americas’ first entry into pay per view. While it is unlikely to be a classic, it has the potential to be a very entertaining fight.
On paper, this is an extraordinary mismatch. Rodriguez (9-5) does not have the pedigree or ability of Ortiz (20-12-1). Ortiz is a former UFC Light Heavyweight champion, and his ground-and-pound game should be too much for the 42-year-old Rodriguez.
But it has been over a decade since the 44-year-old Ortiz was even close to his fighting prime. Fight fans are likely to see the two drag each other down as the fight extends into the later rounds. Despite that, Ortiz and Rodriguez have both excelled at building anticipation for the fight.
Rodriguez, who served as Combate Americas’ president from 2015 to 2017, spoke with Sports Illustrated to discuss his decision to fight Ortiz, as well as representing pro wrestling as a whole when he steps into the cage—and even added his perspective on the MMA/pro wrestling crossover with, most recently, Cain Velasquez joining WWE.
Justin Barrasso: You’ll always be known for your time in pro wrestling, which had some tremendous highs in WWE and across the world. Why did you choose to take on the uphill challenge of fighting Tito Ortiz?
Alberto “El Patron” Rodriguez: I’m trying to show Mexican-Americans, and people around the world, that I’m working for my dreams. I didn’t just decide, out of nowhere, to jump from pro wrestling to MMA. I built a career in Japan and Latin America fighting for many years, fighting for Pride [Fighting Championships] back in 2000, which was when Tito Ortiz was with the UFC. I know Greco-Roman wrestling, which I’ve been doing since I was eight years old, and I’ve been fighting my entire life.
Barrasso: Any time you analyze a fight, it is always worthwhile to see what each fighter has to gain and what each has to lose. You are not expected to defeat Ortiz, who is a UFC Hall of Famer, so you have everything to gain with a win.
Rodriguez: Tito is a legend, but I also have a lot on the line and I also have a lot to lose. If I don’t win this fight, I will disappoint my people, my family and my fans.
But you’re right. If a former WWE wrestler defeats the legendary Tito Ortiz, then people are going to say, ‘Holy God.’
Barrasso: Both CM Punk and Jack Swagger, who is now performing as Jake Hager in AEW, have each competed in MMA fights. Punk was unsuccessful in both of his UFC fights, while Hager has looked good, but obviously against a different breed of competition in Bellator MMA.
Are you representing all of pro wrestling, including pro wrestlers and a devoted pro wrestling fan base, in this fight?
Rodriguez: Pro wrestling is, and will always be, the love of my life. It’s in my blood, my DNA. I hope wrestling fans choose to support me against an MMA fighter.
Look at it like this—boxing and boxing fans look down on MMA and MMA fans. MMA and MMA fans look down on pro wrestling and pro wrestling fans. So if I don’t win, it’s also disappointing for wrestling fans. I will represent pro wrestling with pride in this fight.
Barrasso: You have done an outstanding job promoting the fight. Obviously, you worked closely for years under WWE’s Vince McMahon. Have you used some of his promoting skills in the buildup to this fight?
Rodriguez: Definitely. Spending time with great minds like Vince McMahon, and [Combate Americas CEO] Campbell McLaren, that is what made me who I am.
I’m a fighter, a businessman and an executive. I have a pro wrestling company in Mexico [Nación Lucha Libre]. Great minds have helped shape me into the man I am today.
Barrasso: There is a fair amount of crossover between MMA and pro wrestling. Cain Velasquez showed off his lucha libre abilities this past summer, then signed with WWE in the fall. Do you think Velasquez will succeed in the world of WWE?
Rodriguez: Cain Velasquez is a hard-working man and he will do fine, but he’ll need to do what you have to do in order to succeed in the pro wrestling business.
In pro wrestling, Cain Velasquez needs to be Cain Velasquez. He needs to bring more personality—or let that personality out. It’s different than in an MMA fight. But for pro wrestling, he needs to completely entertain the crowd and have fun.
Cain was actually an option for my fight inside the cage, but he had different plans with UFC and pro wrestling. I’m 100% sure that Cain is going to be just fine.
Barrasso: What excites you most about the fight with Ortiz?
Rodriguez: This is another chance for me to connect with all my supporters and all my haters. I have a lot to prove to them.
For the people who have supported me and been my fans for so long, I say thanks to them, and I mean it. They are the reason for Alberto Del Rio. They are the reason I was able to come to this amazing country and be in a position to provide for my family and give them an amazing future.
And thanks to the haters. They continue to make me work hard. But whether they love me or hate me, I hope they’re watching as I fight Tito Ortiz.