WWE Raw preview: Rey Mysterio talks match vs Seth Rollins - Sports Illustrated

Rey Mysterio finds himself back in a familiar spot this Monday as he approaches his Universal title match against Seth Rollins.

Nearly a quarter of a century after their first meeting in Philadelphia, Mysterio is working again under Paul Heyman, who oversees creative control of Monday Night Raw.

Heyman first linked up with Mysterio when he brought him in to work ECW’s “Gangstas Paradise” show in September 1995. Only 20, the future legend entered the ring at the ECW Arena as an unknown commodity, wrestling fellow luchador Psicosis in a match that forever changed the trajectory of lucha libre in the United States.

“I still recall that day, walking into the Travelodge with Psicocis in Philly for the first time,” said Mysterio. “This was early in the day, 1 or 2 p.m., and there were cops outside and inside. Something had happened and they had New Jack cuffed up and they were taking him. And no one knew who we were, they didn’t even know we were wrestlers.”

Amidst the fracas, silently observing the noise and chaos, stood the future of the business.

Mysterio became a star in WCW, then reached legend status with just under 12 years of service in WWE. When he departed in 2015, he returned to AAA, established even more visibility for Lucha Underground, as well as made appearances for New Japan, most recently during the 2018 G1 Climax finale, and even wrestled in the main event of “All In,” the precursor to AEW.

But on Sept. 19, 1995, as he walked through the ECW Arena and shook hands with every wrestler and staffer in the venue, Mysterio remained a mystery.

“Psicosis and I had already prepped up by watching videos of their style, and I remember coming up to Paul E. and asking him if we could use a chair in our match,” said Mysterio. “And he said, ‘You can do whatever you’d like. Just go out there and have a good time.’”

More than two decades later, Heyman will offer Mysterio the same words of encouragement before a marquee matchup against Rollins on Raw.

Heyman set the tone in ‘95, and he’ll do it again for Mysterio in 2019.

The match was punctuated with an exclamation point after Mysterio’s off the top rope springboard plancha that saw him land on Psicosis in the second row.

“I could have jumped into the fifth if I’d wanted,” said a smiling Mysterio. “That adrenaline and my love for wrestling were flowing.

“Paul set the tone for us. There was a bit of nervousness of just how the fans were going to react to seeing us. We knew that Eddie [Guerrero], [Chris] Benoit, Dean [Malenko], and [Chris] Jericho had already been there and moved on to WCW. But once that bell rung, there was nothing but cheers and chants, and the fans were totally excited to watch. The ECW atmosphere was always incredible.”

Now 44, the masked phenom oversees a wrestling landscape still dominated by Vince McMahon’s WWE, but filled with other pockets in which to make a living. Yet there is only one WWE, and one WrestleMania, which is why his son Dominick has his eyes set on a career wrestling for the industry’s worldwide leader.

“Once I made my return to WWE in 2018, a big motivation for me became my son training to one day be in the WWE,” said Mysterio. “That is a big motivator for me as a father and a role model to my son. You don’t give it up, you keep going until you can’t go no more. He’s the one pushing me, motivating me to keep doing what I’ve loved to do for the past 30 years, it’s inspiring.

“Working with my son and sharing these moments with him makes me think back to when Eddie Guerrero was still here, and we shared the ring with him in a storyline. I had no idea Dominick would want to do this for a living. He wanted to play football, he wanted to go to college. But he redirected his future and has trained to be part of this business and follow in my footsteps. That makes me want to keep going, and I want him to be the best version of himself within this business.”

Mysterio is optimistic he will receive 12-plus minutes in his match with Rollins, showing his son—and the rest of the wrestling world—that he is still at the top of his game.

“This is not Brock versus Seth and this is not Braun versus Seth,” cautioned Mysterio. “It’s going to be a very high-paced, high-flying, lucha libre-style match, and it’s a chance to make a bold statement.”

Unlikely as it may seem, it is not entirely out of the realm of possibility for Mysterio to win the Universal title on Monday, only to drop it to “The Fiend” Bray Wyatt this Sunday at Hell in a Cell. The possibility also exists that Mysterio could be moved to SmackDown on Fox during the upcoming WWE draft, which begins on October 11.

Mysterio sat in the stands for the Minnesota Vikings-Oakland Raiders game last week, and Fox announcer Mark Schlereth, highlighting WWE’s arrival to the station, compared the masked legend to Jack Black movie character Nacho Libre.

The comment upset wrestling fans, but only serves as more motivation for Mysterio, who embraces the fact he will forever be an underdog.

“All I’ve always wanted was an opportunity,” said the humble superstar. “If you give me one, I’ll show you what I can do. And every opportunity I’ve been given for the first time has made an impact. That’s what catapulted me to the next level.”

Given the opportunity, Mysterio hopes he and Rollins can combine to create a must-see moment in the storied history of Raw.

“Once that bell rings, reality will set in,” said Mysterio. “Seth Rollins is going to come at me and I’m going to come at him. I’ve been a big fan of Seth Rollins. After I left WWE, The Shield was coming in strong. Every now and then, I’d glance back at Monday Night Raw or SmackDown and I saw the transition that Seth was making. I’d caught bits and pieces of his career before he came into WWE, and he’s done an incredible job. I tip my mask to him. Seth is such a great Universal Champion, and winning the title from Brock shows the type of athlete that he is. He’s constantly grinding, constantly promoting. He’s the face of Monday Night Raw and he’s created his own legacy.

“I know I have a hard match coming up, but I’m looking forward to every single moment. I have a lot of respect for Seth, and I’m looking forward to having a great fight on Raw.”

Justin Barrasso can be reached at JBarrasso@gmail.com. Follow him on Twitter @JustinBarrasso.