For the first time in what feels like years, WWE has built a strong core of Mexican wrestlers, and it’s no thanks to the return of Rey Mysterio to WWE. His interaction with several of the Latino wrestlers in the past year – and more importantly in the past few months – has created three hot stars who are moving quickly up the mid-card to become some of the most fan-engaging wrestlers on the roster. As arguably Lucha Libre’s greatest international star, it’s rewarding to see Rey Mysterio shepherd in the new era of Lucha Libre in WWE, especially when its the 25th anniversary of an ECW invasion – that included a 20-year old Rey Misterio Jr. – that would help shape the 1990s in North America.
Prior to ECW head Paul Heyman bringing in luchadores from Mexico – in particular, from AAA – you were more likely to get a Tito Santana than a Mil Mascaras at most wrestling events in the United States. Tape traders would spend months tracking down AAA or CMLL copies, but the modern Lucha Libre was difficult to attain. But ECW bringing in Eddie Guerrero in spring of 1995 (although he came with the Japan unit that also featured Chris Benoit, Dean Malenko, and Chris Jericho) began an influx of Mexican stars, aided by Mexico’s superstar, Konnan. ECW had just lost Guerrero, Benoit, and Malenko to WCW, so Konnan brought in some of Mexico’s most exciting young stars, starting with Rey Mysterio and Psicosis, and soon joined by Juventud Guerrera a year later. The two-year exposure to modern Lucha Libre excited and ignited a fan base looking for more than the traditional (re: WWF) presentation – it became the blueprint for WCW’s new Cruiserweight Division, started by Eric Bischoff. It wouldn’t be long before Konnan, Rey, Psicosis, and Juventud would all be plucked away by WCW to bolster that Cruiserweight division.
Now, in 2020, it would appear that Raw’s creative director, the same Paul Heyman, is boring from his old tricks, as WWE finally has a core of Latin Superstars that are capturing the imagination of the WWE Universe for the first time in decades. But while a bright-eyed 20-year old Rey Mysterio isn’t leading the charge, now, 25 years later, a 45-year old veteran is helping guide them into a great class of performers.
25 Years After ECW Debut, Rey Mysterio Ushers In New Era
Rey Mysterio made his WWE return in 2018 at that year’s Royal Rumble in the Royal Rumble match itself – ironically, the “main roster” debut for Andrade, the then-NXT Champion. Although Andrade would not make his SmackDown/television debut until July, defeating Sin Cara. By the year’s end, he was feuding with Mysterio, in an on-again-off-again rivalry that is still on-going – including two near 20-minute televised matches on RAW this year alone – and over the WWE United States Championship. Fans of CMLL and/or NJPW were aware of Andrade’s pre-NXT career as La Sombra of Los Ingobernables and were aware of his capabilities, it seemed WWE was going to falter on Andrade’s WWE career. But in the past few months, with the addition of two more luchadores, Andrade has become the future star that early fans knew he could be.
Humberto Carrillo joined the WWE in 2018 at the age of 21, arriving from a six-year run in his native Mexico as a freelancer, working for the likes of The Crash Lucha, Lucha Libre Elite, and RIOT Wrestling Alliance, where he competed as Ultimo Ninja. During his tenure with Crash Lucha, he won the Crash Tag Team Championships alongside his real life cousin, Garza Jr. Garza was supposed to join his cousin in 2018, but medical issues held him back. In that time, Carrillo unmasked and became a breakout star with NXT and 205 Live, before joining RAW last fall.
Garza Jr. finally signed with WWE in early 2019 and made his debut last June in the NXT Breakout Tournament as Angel Garza. By August, he was also appearing on 205 Live, and this past February he made his debut on RAW, where he immediately faced Rey Mysterio in a match that got nearly 14 minutes. With Andrade out on suspension, Garza filled in as a partner under the guidance of Zelina Vega, exceeding all expectations for presentation – he was pushed as a star out the gate.
The sudden appearance of three new Latino stars in Andrade, Garza, and Humberto – safely mentored in the ring (and behind the scenes) by Rey Mysterio – feels an awful lot like some of Paul Heyman’s earlier angles. Letting the luchadores showcase themselves to the WWE Universe against opponents who are fluent in Lucha Libre (so as to avoid the original Sin Cara debacle), creating stars out of the three of them alike – and getting a Rey Mysterio rub in the process.
Now if only Lucha House Party’s extremely talented tandem of Kalisto, Gran Metalik, and Lince Dorado could gravitate away from the dangerously close MexiCool region, WWE would easily have one of the strongest Lucha Libre rosters of the majors. After all, Kalisto (as Samuray del Sol) and Lince Dorado were US indie darlings, while Gran Metalik (as Mascara Dorada) was a 4x CMLL World Welterweight Champion and competed in two NJPW Best of the Super Juniors (2014, 2015). Sadly, they’re on SmackDown (we’re looking at YOU, Bruce Prichard), but this past Sunday at WWE Elimination Chamber, the duo of Dorado and Metalik looked the best they’ve looked in ages. So fingers crossed?
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