Indie Watch: Jon Cruz and the Journey to Serpentico

serpentico jon cruz

Indie Watch is our regular series that looks at all of the amazing talents working the independent circuits around the world. Some are veterans revitalizing their careers, some are indie prospects hitting their peaks, while others are names to be on the watch for! This edition looks at a man who speaks/tweets in the third person, has two personalities and possesses one hell of a lot of talent, in the longtime lucha libre indie veteran who has become an AEW DARK staple, Serpentico, AKA Jon Cruz.

When the coronavirus pandemic struck, 36-year-old Jon Cruz stopped counting the amount of bookings that he was set to lose out on. With WrestleMania Week and all subsequent indie shows canceled, Cruz wasn’t anticipating his first bit of work until early May. But a stroke of luck combined with a lengthy and impressive reputation led to Cruz receiving a booking in mid-March as part of a set of tapings AEW did for it’s Tuesday night DARK program. A decision to use indie wrestlers on the show led to several men and women receiving opportunities and a paycheck, at a time where they otherwise wouldn’t have. Cruz was one of these individuals as he teamed with Matt Sells to take on the Natural Nightmares in an episode that aired toward the end of that month.

But that wasn’t the end of Cruz’ time on AEW as a week later he was back on DARK, and then again, and again, and again. In fact, Cruz just kept coming back, being utilized on just about every taping since his March debut. This past week, he made his 12th appearance for the program, which is more than any other wrestler who has been used on DARK including both AEW roster talent and the indie wrestlers. He’s wrestled as both Jon Cruz and his alter ego, Serpentico, including as both in one night. And on July 14th, he became the first indie wrestler on DARK to pick up a victory, doing so alongside Luther against the team of Pineapple Pete and Brady Pierce.

Cruz/Serpentico’s appearances on AEW DARK have made him a mainstream star, but finding success in wrestling is nothing new to the 17-year veteran out of Puerto Rico. Trained by El Mesias/Ricky Banderas (Lucha Underground‘s Mil Muertes) in the art of lucha libre, Cruz was just 19 and fresh out of high school, when he chose to enter into the family business, following in the footsteps of his grandfather, father, uncle, and older brothers. Having grown up around wrestling, as Cruz told the Orlando Weekly in their Best of 2019 edition, “it’s honestly the only thing I’ve wanted to do for the rest of my life.”

Receiving additional training at the 3D Academy, where Cruz credits learning his in-ring psychology and where he now helps train up-and-coming wrestlers, Cruz’ early career began in earnest in Florida, where under the name Ben Dejo/Eddie Cruz, he wrestled for companies including Coastal Championship Wrestling, Southern Championship Wrestling Florida, NWA‘s Florida Underground Wrestling (where he is a former tag team champion), World Xtreme Wrestling, and most notably American Combat Wrestling.

Cruz also wrestled for Vintage All Star Wrestling where alongside Marty Con Dejo (AKA Jay Rios) he won his first title. Los Ben Dejos held the tag team championships for 147 days in their first reign. The duo, which spent the better part of a decade together, honing their craft and becoming a top tag team on the indies, would go on to win the VASW titles a total of four times. Overall, the two won nine tag team championships together, finding success nearly everywhere they went.

From 2007-15, Cruz wrestled mainly in tag team action. Alongside Rios, the two wrestled all over the country at companies big and small, including for New York Wrestling Connection, Victory Pro Wrestling, Vintage Wrestling, Future Stars of Wrestling, Dragon Gate USA, I Believe in Wrestling, Evolve Wrestling, RONIN, Combat Zone Wrestling, and more. Cruz and Rios also wrestled for and won tag team championships at Full Impact Pro, Premiere Wrestling Xperience, and United States Wrestling Alliance.

Los Ben Dejos/Dos Ben Dejos/Team Lucha also spent time wrestling for Ohio Valley Wrestling, then a developmental territory for TNA/IMPACT Wrestling. The two made their dark match debut for TNA in 2010, taking on Generation Me, the team who would later become the Young Bucks. In 2011, Los Ben Dejos made their Ring of Honor debut, taking on the Bravado Brothers at Southern Defiance. As Rios later said in an interview with Pro Wrestling CSI, the two were taking on “top-shelf talent” at the time. They knew they had to be on their A-game and that’s exactly what Los Ben Dejos did as they continued to develop their styles and their strengths in order to stand toe-to-toe with some of wrestling’s best.

Cruz and Rios returned to TV in 2013, taking part in the short-lived Ring Warriors reboot. The duo were the third and final Ring Warriors Global Tag Team Champions, winning the titles in 2015. It marked the last tag team championship the two would win as after nearly eight years as a team, Cruz and Rios began to go their separate ways, allowing both a chance to be singles wrestlers for really the first time in their careers.

Thus, Serpentico, a snakelike wrestler, was born. Wrestling under a mask that he himself helped to design, the Serpentico persona allowed Cruz to showcase his talents as a solo act for really the first time in his career. It also allowed him to tap into his Puerto Rican and lucha libre origins a bit more, by embracing the tradition of the masked wrestler, something many of his lucha inspirations including Rey Mysterio Jr. and Cruz’ first trainer, Ricky Banderas,¬†famously did throughout their own careers.

When describing his wrestling style, Cruz told Orlando Weekly, “I am a snake, in every sense of the word. I pattern my look, movements, strikes and offense on what I interpret to be snake-like. That even extends to my character in the ring… I want there to always be an unease when I wrestle, a sort of unpredictability that comes with being patterned after a snake. Will it strike you? Will it let you be? One will never know. And that’s what I like to portray. Neither ‘good’ nor ‘bad.’ Just me.”

As Serpentico, Cruz began to break out into the indie scene with his high-flying and brawling abilities and great move set. His charismatic style was always on display as Serpentico was always entertaining to watch in the ring and fans quickly fell in love with the performer behind the mask. That man however, was no longer Jay or Jon or Eddie Cruz. Serpentico took on a life on his own and with it, became his own wrestler, one that has recently broken out into the mainstream of wrestling’s upper echelon.

 

Serpentico made his debut just over five years ago to the day, and since then, has wrestled just over 100 matches for companies including Atlanta Wrestling Entertainment, IGNITE Wrestling, FEST Wrestling, WrestleForce, Wrestling Revolver, the CRASH, MLW, ROH, Pro Wrestling After Dark, where he won his first singles title, and more.

One quarter of Lucha World Order, alongside Rios, Mr. 450, and Lince Dorado, Cruz/Serpentico has really only been primarily a singles wrestler for the past five years but in that time, he’s accomplished things that many wrestlers go their entire careers without having a chance to do. He’s wrestled for NWA, MLW, ROH, TNA/IMPACT, NXT, and of course, now, with AEW. He’s won 10 championships as well as the Florida J-Cup in 2018. He’s wrestled both in the US and abroad. It’s been one heck of a 17-year career for Cruz, but the best may be yet to come.

Having wrestled 12 matches on AEW since his debut in March, it is clear Cruz is someone who has impressed the company and perhaps someone they will be looking at for a roster spot sooner rather than later. It wouldn’t be the first time one of the DARK standouts was later signed to a contract. In his 12 appearances, and his career body of work, Cruz/Serpentico has shown that he would be an asset to any company. All they have to do is give the Snakeman a chance, and when they do, they won’t regret it.

Check out our full list of previous Indie Watches, showcasing emerging talent from around the world!

Stay tuned to the Last Word on Pro Wrestling for more on this and other stories from around the world of wrestling, as they develop. You can always count on LWOPW to be on top of the major news in the wrestling world.


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