SI.com’s Week in Wrestling is published every week and provides beneath the surface coverage of the business of pro wrestling.
Santos Escobar: Mexican lucha libre is like driving on the other side of the road
Santos Escobar proudly calls himself “The Emperor of Lucha Libre.”
The former NXT Cruiserweight Champion is a master of the craft, perfecting his work over the past two decades in CMLL, AAA and Lucha Underground before signing with WWE in August of 2019. His versatility was on display during his six-man tag match on Tuesday night’s edition of NXT, where he led Legado del Fantasma, which also features Joaquin Wilde and Raul Mendoza, to victory against Kushida and MSK’s Nash Carter and Wes Lee, who are, respectively, NXT’s cruiserweight and tag team champions.
Smooth and fluid in the ring, Escobar can also unleash a physical side that allows him to brawl with anyone on the roster. He intends to make magic in the ring with Kushida en route to regaining the cruiserweight title and watching his journey to the North American and then NXT title would be a joy for wrestling fans. His path to stardom is certainly unique, as he has revamped his entire approach after reaching significant heights while working under a mask as El Hijo del Fantasma in Mexico.
“Lucha is a different style in and of itself,” says Escobar, who is 36-year-old Jorge Bolly. “Mexican lucha libre works with the right side. That’s the first thing to note. American wrestling works on the left.”
Escobar explained that change from right to left is the toughest hurdle when transitioning from wrestling in Mexico to the United States.
“It’s like in the U.K., the way the cars run on the other side of the road,” he says. “American wrestling works on the left side, the left side of your body. All the maneuvers and the movements come from your left arm.
“In Mexico, it comes from the right. That’s a very important difference. When Americans go to Mexico and they want to perform, they have to learn to work on the right side. When you come to America, the first thing you have to learn is how to work the left side. Your brain is used to working on one side, and you need to teach it to work on the other. It’s a big deal.”
In addition to working the right side of the body, Escobar has also adjusted to working without a mask in NXT. He was forced to unmask when he lost a “Luchas de Apuestas” match to L.A. Park at AAA’s Triplemanía XXVI in the summer of 2018, then briefly donned the mask again in NXT before removing it last June.
“I must confess, neither of those was the first time I unmasked in the ring,” Escobar says. “My first tryout with WWE was around 2011. It was the first Raw in Mexico City. I did part of my tryout without the mask. Back then, I didn’t want to take off the mask. I was so into the mask and the character, so that’s a real fun fact about me. That is when I unmasked.”
Lucha Underground’s Marty “The Moth” Martinez made his AEW debut as Marty Casaus
Marty Casaus made his debut on Tuesday night’s AEW Dark.
Casaus starred in Lucha Underground as Marty “The Moth” Martinez and had his Dark match against another LU alum in Brian Cage. Though he lost the match, Casaus got in a fair share of offense, and hinted at the layers of his intricate character development.
Casaus has wrestled sparingly over the past two years as he recovered from two herniated discs in his spine.
“My intention is to get as healthy as I can so I can say what’s up to AEW,” he told Sports Illustrated in October 2019—and he willed that into existence after a treacherous rehab process.
“This match meant the world to me,” says Casaus, who is getting married in June and shared that Cage is among those on the guest list. “We’d only wrestled once before, and it’s a whole new situation getting to go into AEW. He’s gotten even better since the last time we were in the ring together, to a point I didn’t even know was possible.
“And for me, I’m savoring every moment. I worked so damn hard to make this happen, so I’m enjoying it more, whether it’s hearing the crowd or kicking someone in the face.”
Casaus revealed that the injury was affecting his everyday life, including walking.
“I couldn’t pick up my dog, I was in pain with everything I did,” he says. “My first motivation was to get back to normal living. Wrestling played a big role, too. I’ve been doing it for more than half my life. It’s what I love. I wasn’t willing to let it go.”
Casaus opted not to have fusion surgery, which would have likely ended his career.
“My career would have probably been over if I had that surgery, so I went another route,” Casaus says. “I got some stem cells in my L4 and L5. Slowly, I started getting better. I did every therapy you can imagine. I laid on a bed of nails, electroshock therapy, cupping, acupuncture. I did it all just to get back in the ring.”
Casaus is in the best shape of his career and has been refining his skills since mid-February at the Nightmare Factory, moving from Utah to Georgia to work with Cody Rhodes and QT Marshall.
“I’ve been training with Cody, Glacier, QT and Luther,” Casaus says. “It’s been a lot of hard work, but I want this so bad. I’m learning a whole different side of the psychology and the showmanship. I come away with pages of notes from QT and Glacier, and it’s given me even more to offer in the ring.”
Now healthy, the 36-year-old Casaus has been granted new life in the ring. If given an opportunity in AEW, he would add a unique villain and presence to the roster.
“There are a lot of stories to be told in AEW,” Casaus says. “It’s been fun to see the internet blow up about my match on Dark. I’m so excited to see what the future brings, and I’m going to keep putting in the work to make it happen. As I said before, black and gold, those are my colors.”
The (online) week in wrestling
- Coming out of WrestleMania 37, WWE has produced very little momentum on Raw. That is not the case on SmackDown, where Roman Reigns and Daniel Bryan—with major assists from Paul Heyman and Jey Uso—have been putting together some outstanding segments. Will we see Edge appear during Friday’s Reigns-Bryan match?
- In a big money deal, the NHL announced a seven-year partnership with Turner Sports. Traditionally, the NHL has played its national games on Wednesday nights, which is the same night Dynamite runs on TNT.
- Kenny Omega was magnificent on Sunday at Rebellion, as was Rich Swann until the final stretch of the match, when he looked completely out of gas. Omega as Impact’s world champ adds a whole new intrigue to the product.
- The Rebellion pay-per-view was extremely good. My two issues: the toy ad that was read during the spectacular X Division title match (that couldn’t have waited until a break in the show?) and the reliance on outside interference in the women’s title match (let Deonna Purrazzo wrestle!). Otherwise, the pay-per-view delivered. Adding Mauro Ranallo to the broadcast booth for the main event was a brilliant idea, and the show ended exactly as it should have, with Omega claiming possession of yet another world title.
And if Impact can deliver on the teases in this Slammiversary ad—beginning with Samoa Joe—it will become a legitimate destination in the industry.
- The news regarding Steve “Mongo” McMichael is heartbreaking.
- The Supreme Court of Connecticut has effectively ended attorney Konstantine Kyros’s concussion lawsuits against WWE.
- Tom Lawlor defeated Brody King this past week on NJPW Strong, becoming New Japan’s first Strong champion. Following the win, which was a physical display of wrestling, Lawlor was challenged by Chris Dickinson. That is a phenomenal matchup and highlights how Lawlor, who can grapple, strike and brawl, is the perfect choice to establish the new title.
- AAA’s Rey de Reyes show takes place this Saturday, and they have been announcing the card through social media. Though there is still a lot to like on the card, AAA mega champion Kenny Omega is not expected to be part of the show.
Park named after the late Bruno Sammartino in Pennsylvania
The legacy of Bruno Sammartino lives on.
Sangree Park in Ross Township, Pa., was renamed Bruno Sammartino Park last week in honor of the wrestling legend. The late Sammartino, who died in April 2018, lived in the Pittsburgh suburb for 58 years.
A ceremony to rename the park was held on Friday and attended by town officials and members of the Sammartino family, including his wife Carol and son Darryl.
“After my dad passed, people in Ross Township wanted to name a park after him,” says Darryl Sammartino, one of the three sons of the Sammartino family. “They asked my mom for her permission, and it came to fruition, which I think is great.”
Sammartino recalled his father’s pride about living in Ross Township, even eschewing a chance to move to a bigger home on Long Island because he preferred to raise his family in Pennsylvania.
“Many years ago, there were these Italian construction workers, and they offered a mansion to my father in Long Island,” Sammartino says. “He thanked the men but said he was staying.
“My father loved it here. He used to run 10 miles a day, and he used to always run by that park. We all grew up there, so to see my dad’s name there, this means a lot. Our family is very appreciative.”
The Sammartino legend lives on through his four grandchildren, including one of Darryl’s children who is named Bruno. And though a void exists in a world without him, the respect and aura that followed him in life continues on after his passing.
“Coming to the United States from Italy after World War II, my dad was the great American story,” Sammartino says. “He loved wrestling and he loved his fans, and he treated people with such respect. He even refused to swear. It’s funny, The Sopranos wanted my dad in that show.
“They called him to read a couple lines, and he did. But there were swear words, so he turned down the part. I remember joking with him that I’d do it for half the money. He was an old-school Italian, raised on morals and ethics, and he wouldn’t do it.”
Tweet of the Week
Such a great find.
Justin Barrasso can be reached at JBarrasso@gmail.com. Follow him on Twitter @JustinBarrasso.