Ring of Honor is actively negotiating new contracts for Rush and Dragon Lee, with new deals expected to be finalized as soon as next week.
The two stars are integral pieces in the present and future of Ring of Honor, as Rush is ROH Champion and Dragon Lee is reigning Television Champion. They have both benefited tremendously during their ROH contract negotiations from the services of Masked Republic, a multi-platform company that continues to evolve and find innovative ways to help wrestlers.
While there is not a long history in pro wrestling of talent having their own representation, a different standard is now being set. Masked Republic has created a new path for luchadores through brand management and IP exploitation.
“We’re the player’s association of lucha libre,” said Kevin Kleinrock, who is Masked Republic’s President and COO. “We’re working to bring the broadest amount of opportunity to talent with production, licensing, and distribution. And we provide services to help understand and negotiate contracts, but it is not a traditional agency agreement where a percentage of the contract is taken. We provide an extra service to the talent working with them on their intellectual property, and the goal is always to monetize their IP.”
In addition to Rush and Dragon Lee, two of Masked Republic’s best-known clients are Penta El Zero M and Rey Fenix—both of whose AEW contracts were orchestrated by Masked Republic—as well as a client roster that includes Konnan, Ultimo Dragon, the Great Sasuke, Vampiro, Christi Jaynes and Salina de la Renta.
“There has been representation before, but Masked Republic is unique in the way it works with the lucha community,” said Kleinrock, who has been involved with the wrestling business for over two decades. “We’re here to help talent understand and fairly negotiate their contracts, as well as help the talent go beyond signing a contract. The goal is to exploit their IP and build their brand.”
Formerly a one-stop shop for luchador masks and gear, Masked Republic developed into its current framework through the magical touch of Konnan.
Ruben Zamora is the founder and CEO of Masked Republic. As a child, he relished the chance to see lucha libre shows in Los Angeles at the Grand Olympic Auditorium and Auditorio de Tijuana. His genuine affinity for the craft—and need to stay in shape as a police officer in San Diego—led to his enrollment two decades ago at the famed lucha libre school of Rey Misterio Sr., who is the uncle of the legendary Rey Mysterio. Over time, Zamora’s quiet determination and business savvy helped him become an associate of Misterio, as well as Konnan.
Konnan first introduced Kleinrock and Zamora during a business meeting that took place in 2004. Kleinrock was vice president of an entertainment company, but he also had an unrelenting passion for pro wrestling, as well as a decade of experience having written and produced syndicated wrestling television. One of his business ventures was creating a lucha DVD series, Desperados del Ring, which highlighted rarely seen matches featuring Rey Mysterio and Juventud Guerrera from early in their careers in Mexico. The footage belonged to Konnan, and Kleinrock saw an opportunity to present wrestling fans with the first Spanish language lucha DVD series distributed in the United States.
Kleinrock and Zamora first connected during that stretch of time. The two men shared a similar mindset for wrestling, particularly lucha. And since Kleinrock saw his wrestling future in lucha, and Zamora already owned and operated Masked Republic, which had been making masks and gear for luchadores, they decided to combine lucha with entertainment and licensing.
“Ruben and Kevin earned my trust a long time ago,” said Konnan. “They were willing to spend their own money, and sometimes lose their own money, to help wrestlers—and never to exploit them. From the beginning, they were looking to help people, especially foreign wrestlers with contracts in the United States. So many of the wrestlers from Mexico don’t speak English and don’t understand the legalities of an American contract. Ruben and Kevin put themselves out there and were willing to stand up for the wrestlers. They were willing to stand up for them on the business side when no one else would.”
The pairing was serendipitous. Zamora had built trust with the luchadores, which has ultimately become the foundation of Masked Republic; Kleinrock, with his business and production background, was his compliment. They were also both behind-the-scenes advocates for talent on Lucha Underground, especially when they believed talent was being taken advantage of in contract negotiations.
“The contracts with Lucha Underground were a debacle,” said Konnan. “They were signing people up for these seven-year contracts, but it wasn’t seven years—it was seven seasons. So if it took 10 years to record seven seasons, then you’d be there for 10 years. They helped a lot of the boys that were getting taken advantage of with those contracts.”
Masked Republic has a number of divisions designed for talent to reach a whole new set of opportunities, including merchandise—Penta El Zero M, Rey Fenix, Konnan, Psychosis and Solar each have products available at Hot Topic—as well as action figures, placement within their own Luchaverse comic book series and a number of animated kids projects.
Earlier this week, Masked Republic announced it signed a pact with Demente Studios in Mexico for co-production of animation projects, which will lead to new opportunities for talent to work animated series.
“Wrestlers don’t always have the best means to monetize themselves once they stop wrestling,” said Kleinrock. “Our goal is to create revenue streams for wrestlers while they are active, but ones that don’t involve them getting in the ring and having to take bumps, which should help them earn money while persevering their body.
“We also want to create revenue streams for talent for when they’ve retired. There are no pensions or retirement funds for wrestlers, so we’re looking long-term to build sources of income through building a brand at retail or [becoming] part of entertainment exploitation. There is a way to make revenue based off all that hard work that made them into stars.”
The wrestling universe is getting to know Masked Republic, and the reach and popularity of lucha libre is continuing to expand. Of course, pro wrestling still restricted by the grip of COVID-19, but the next goal for the company is to tour the United States with their Expo Lucha conventions, which features panels, matches and a meet-and-greets with the luchadores.
“We want to expand our Expo Lucha convention with more dates,” said Kleinrock. “We have a convention still scheduled for June in Philadelphia, and it is our hope and desire to bring these events to different markets all over the country so people can see multiple shows over multiple days.
“We had a virtual expo this past October, which was unique, and we’re open to doing another. Whether it’s in-person or virtual, we’ll never stop working for our talent.”