Wrestling is one of the most popular sports in Puerto Rico, and professional wrestling is considered the highest source of income in the sports entertainment industry of the Caribbean island. It is not about the famous wrestlers who have made it to the WWE or AEW, but about those who have stayed or returned to the island. Due to the special political status, there is a close connection to the American mainland, which also shows in their own wrestling style. Those who see Puerto Rican wrestlers usually recognize them quite quickly by the way they fight. For example, the Boricua are the founders of hardcore wrestling and invented the death matches, which are especially popular in Japan. Gilberto “Gypsy Joe” Meléndez was the first to jump from the roof of a steel cage on an opponent – but more famous became equal jumps of Shane McMahon and other WWE superstars. However, Carlos Colón, whom you can’t avoid if you’re into wrestling, was the one who most influenced the Puerto Rican style. Originally attached to the Mexican style, he eventually combined traditional American and Canadian fighting approaches with it, especially the hard, aggressive was adopted, aiming for heavy hits. At that time, people liked to use other gimmicks like blades, but this was finally stopped in the 2000s – although even today the use of brass knuckles or belts and the like is not disdained. Knowing this, it’s not surprising to see the audience at more current wrestling events of the island nation with belts in hand, presented to the opponents, sometimes they are taken, but often ignored or even clearly rejected. However, the very own style can be seen in most Boricua, no matter where they fight. At the beginning of the WWE career Damian Priest still showed strong approaches, but these became quite washed out, evil tongues claim he had to row back and adapt to the mostly soft-spoken WWE style. However, some moves are probably based more on the martial arts background. In addition to the fighting style, Puerto Rican wrestling has long had a storyline description all its own, based primarily on the element of the foreign heel. This gave in the early days the possibility outside of the actual promotions to bring well-known wrestlers for individual matches or storylines to Puerto Rico and if necessary to award title belts. A nice side effect: unknown wrestlers could advance their careers. One of the more recent examples is Daniel Bryan.

Those who know a little now wonder why Daniel Bryan is considered a young example, after all, he has already completed his decade in the WWE and AEW. What started gloriously and produced many names that conquered the world from the island, collapsed internally for various reasons. Several promotions were created, there were various alliances over the years with Ring of Honor (ROH) and Total Nonstop Action Wrestling (TNA), among others, but also financial problems that eventually led to the end. Legitimate rivalries between promotions, mostly based on wrestling schools, soon became serious as well, and people tended to work against each other rather than with each other. It would go too far to list in detail here emergences and terminations, but roughly one can divide years and the most notable rivals. In the 1960s, it was the sports commentator Jose Antonio Geigel who joined forces with some wrestlers and laid a foundation for organized wrestling shows. The sale of television rights to Telecadena Perez Perry was also important for this. The foreign promoter Arturo Mendoza bought the promotion after only one year and helped it to grow enormously. By the way, we must not draw the conclusion to the current PR star Mike Mendoza, who is now wrestling in the third generation, but whose real name is Víctor Ortiz. In 1973, Captiol Sports Promotions (CSP) was founded by Carlos Colón and Víctor Jovica, for whom their television broadcasting soon became the most important component. In addition, there was the World Wrestling Council (WWC), which spread mainly to the rural areas and provided sold-out events there. Another milestone was Capitol Sports joining the National Wrestling Alliance (NWA), which provided an influx of prominent wrestlers, Dusty Rhodes, Ric Flair, Andre The Giant, Randy Savage, to name a few. Ingloriously, the feud between Frank Goodish and José González eventually went outside the ring and storyline, ending with Goodish’s death. Eventually, more and more talent turned their backs on CSP and some joined forces to form Americas Wrestling Federation (AWF), but only for two years, then it broke apart. CSP, on the other hand, recognized a new revenue stream and integrated women’s wrestling. After many setbacks, CSP went out of business in the mid-1990s and reorganized as the World Wrestling Council (WWC). Almost simultaneously, the World Wrestling Association (WWA) was created by Juan Rivera and others and acted as a direct and strong competitor. In 1999, the International Wrestling Association (IWA) was founded, which eventually signed a contract with the WWE and was thus able to attract foreign wrestlers. Peacefully, the promotions did not stay for long. Once again Juan Rivera plays a big role, signing with the IWA, then being hauled into court by the WWC for still carrying on the TNT character used at CSP, eventually changing the name but keeping all his gimmick. The rivalries and storylines of the 2000s are only partly scripted, for the most part they are based on real-life disputes and hostilities between the promotions. They were about gimmicks, money and business, some of which were fought out in the ring, some in court, but at the same time led to new alliances with well-known American promotions, from which Puerto Rico benefited. In the 2010s, WWL and WWC faced each other, working together and yet against each other. Wrestling declined in importance in the 2000s, with internal disputes and political hurdles all but destroying what was once the cornerstone of Puerto Rican culture. It would go way too far to cite Puerto Rico’s entire wrestling history, but two cornerstones are worth mentioning. In October 2017, Hurricane Maria swept across the island nation, leaving behind an unfathomable debris field. The impact almost paralyzes the entire life of the island – including wrestling (which certainly wasn’t the most important thing at the time, but this is about the sport). After that, things continued with La Liga, but nothing builds up that quickly. In 2020, COVID-19 cripples the world, another major setback for the popular sport. But time does not go unused after the initial shock. Orlando and Eddie Colón and Mike Chioda form Latin American Wrestling Entertainment (LAWE) in 2021, after first trying to buy WWC, which failed because of Victor Jovica. The first event was held in October 2021, and Adrenalina has been shown on TV since February of this year. Doggedly, the Puerto Ricans are working to make wrestling great again – and they seem to have found a good approach with LAWE. The first title was awarded in May, and a big wrestling summer festival will be held in July. LAWE’s social media work is remarkable – and the wrestlers couldn’t be better.

Let’s take a closer look at LAWE, because sooner or later everyone comes here. You know wrestling, sure, the WWE accompanied you even in childhood, there were the heroes – and thanks to Corona, since 2020 I even watch Raw and Smackdown very regularly again. But as an old fan, you can not help but find fault with many things. The corporate policy soon disturbed, the wave of layoffs for cost reasons was the biggest farce of recent years – because the profit increases immeasurably. The superstardom is incredibly annoying and the storylines would be written more excitingly by my three-year-old nephew. The only bright spot at the 2021 Royal Rumble was “NXT Guy” Damian Priest, in whom I finally saw a positive future for WWE. Priest is a proud Boricua, is putting together a deservedly stellar career, and of course has friends and colleagues among his followers on his social media channels. One of them is Angel Fashion, a professional wrestler himself, the two like to tease each other on Instagram, you look at the profile and come across a brilliant picture. Angel Fashion is part of the grouping La Anexion, mainly represented by him, Mark Davidson and Mike Mendoza (yes, him), gimmick: gas and skull masks. In a promo photo, the mask half covers Fashion’s face, he peeks out from behind it with red contact lenses. That’s what he used to catch me. So you get to LAWE, look around a bit and realize: there are some wrestlers trying to build something really cool. The roster is small, just 23 wrestlers according to the website, including three women (who definitely man up!), and diverse. Curious by the teasers, I really wanted to see the first big event Sangre Nueva, also here Fashion is to blame, I had seen the meanwhile on YouTube a few times at AEW Dark and was quite taken by his style. But I’ll take the suspense in advance: in LAWE you can see a clear difference in his wrestling style, though I’m not quite sure what that’s due to. Soon you get to know that in a few weeks the first LAWE champion will be crowned and the promotion has come up with a great story – great especially because there is a lot of talking (of course) and you understand the story despite poor Spanish skills – when the gentlemen are not angrily shouting something into the microphone and at a pace that makes you wonder when they take a breath (Fashion I hardly ever understand, but he talks a lot and swears sometimes). The story is very much based on Mike Mendoza, even when he is not fighting, his name is mentioned in almost every second sentence.

Well, Mike Mendoza, that might be the person I underestimated the most. The first match I saw with him was rather below average, unconvincing – his opponent not exactly either. He was the youngster who would love to be in the bigs, probably a wrestling fan for life and would love to imitate whomever. A scripted arrogant asshole, not an ounce of fat on his body, personal trainer with a seemingly quite calm demeanor, trying his hand with his own wrestling school Espiritu Pro Wrestling Dojo 2018. Nice, but overrated. Lo siento mucho, Mike! I’m honestly sorry to have ever thought so poorly and pejoratively of him! Already the second match I saw with him, against Baltazar Bruno on the way to the finals of the LAWE Champion crown, I was completely blown away, but more on that later. Mike Mendoza is a third generation wrestler, which means nothing at first. But someone who has been in the ring for over ten years, was “Most Improved Wrestler” in 2014, “Revelation of the Year” and “Match of the Year” in 2017, and has won twelve titles, he’s got something. In 2018 he breaks his fibula during a jump outside the ring, gets up, climbs the third rope again and dares to do another jump – it’s a totally stupid move that could have cost him his entire career, but for that he also deserves great respect. Sometimes he seems to want to relieve and spare the leg, to do a move differently, to land extra not too much on that leg during a jump, maybe it just seems like that because you know there was this injury, but maybe it’s also an unconscious doing of him. During the fight for the first LAWE title he jumps from the gallery of the spectator stands onto his two opponents – it should be the picture of the evening, fortunately he remains uninjured. Inspired by the match against Bruno, which I have already seen more than ten times, I looked for other matches, found them and can only apologize again from the bottom of my heart that I underestimated him so much. Not only is Mendoza committed to the sport in Puerto Rico and has set many things in motion to bring wrestling back to the top. He has his personal successes and is apparently a good teacher for his students. It probably did him a lot of good – if that was ever his dream – that he didn’t move to the mainland and go down as a mere number in WWE or AEW. The wrestling world would have lost a great wrestler, the talent would have been trampled. Mendoza has his own style, rough, tough, he’s a good seller who oversells at times and very rarely he sells the hard punch to the chest or the slam on the mat unfortunately pretty badly. But that doesn’t even bother with him, because he takes the next punch all the more honestly for it. He’s not an actor – very few PR wrestlers are, by the way – he’s just that: wrestler – and that means we fight the right way, we take the punches and kicks, we take a hell of a lot of honest hits and pain. When Mendoza is in the ring, he’s dancing, living the wrestler’s dream, embodying the pride of a nation. He takes – and not many do – consideration for his opponents, is concerned for their safety in almost every action, sometimes seems to give tips or at least wants to give them, as if even the title fight were a training lesson where the opponents can only learn more from each other to become even better and excite the audience even more, he encourages, he sells some failed or bad action much better than it is – and the arrogance he actually deserves and lets hang out in the promos disappears. He plays with the opponent and the audience, he takes a beating, he also gives out, he takes risks for the show, for the dream he lives. Every wrestling fan who doesn’t care about the show around it, but about the sport, should definitely watch Mendoza. This man lives wrestling, he loves what he does, and he can convey that without glitz and superstar yelling through what he performs in the ring and through a charisma that must be pretty kick-ass live, through his ability to carry his students and opponents along. If the world is looking for a real superstar and not a bred WWE employee, it has found him in Mike “El Escorpion” Mendoza for the (not only Puerto Rican) wrestling of the 21st century.

Angel Fashion as another part of La Anexión is three years older and has tried his luck in the WWE, was seen at AEW Dark during the Coronaphase and is always in the ring for different independent wrestling promotions. The first thing that comes to mind with him is the word “hot-blooded”, he wears his heart on his sleeve and loves contact lenses and playing with appearances. He calls himself Spear King but has his own style in doing so, a short, fast attack, he pulls his legs in and lands pretty hard on his knees. When he is not in the ring for the AEW, his style is dirtier, more brutal, the moves more compact. He lives out his character to the fullest, especially on Instagram, with tough announcements, video clips with rocking music, and of course, time and again, pictures that can’t deny a certain selfabsorption. Nevertheless, there is also a different side of him from time to time, a lot of wit and thanks to his friends also reels and short videos again and again, in which the poor guy either slips form-fittingly on a wet street or likes to be made to screech. He is the one who talks the most, is always in the foreground during promos of La Anexión and sometimes makes you wonder how Mendoza and Fashion can work together, they are so opposite.

Maybe the third member of the group, Mark Davidson, helps here. He mediates between the two and sometimes seems very calm in his portrayed manner, but then again he is quick-tempered and doesn’t like to wait to set the tone in the ring. Spontaneously, I couldn’t even describe his style. He seems small, agile, a powerhouse who powers through and always surprises his opponent. Sometimes he reminds me of Gimli from Lord of the Rings – in an absolutely positive, fighting sense. Between 2016 and 2019, he’s a multiple WWL champion and there’s a lot more in there. He has developed into a great wrestler rapidly and with a lot of diligence. The White Shadow often lives up to his name by actually stalking rather quietly and then executing very focused, precise actions. He was trained by Star Roger, who is also part of the LAWE roster and will be competing against his student as part of the search for the first LAWE Champion. You can see how much Davidson’s experience has benefited him every time he’s in the ring. Roger has been in the business for a long time and successfully, you can say he is the superstar of the island and already something of a living legend, known and successful in the international wrestling world. Other students from the LAWE squad are Vanilla Vargas and OT Fernandez. Vargas first worked as a manager for Angel Fashion, among others, before successfully stepping into the ring herself. Back after the baby break, she seems inseparable from his side again. OT Fernandez has gained his experience mainly in the USA and Mexico. As young as he may seem, the inexperienced youngster he is no longer. Unfortunately for him the journey at Cima de Campeones was over early due to a broken leg, but he will surely return with old strength. Next woman in the roster is La Destructora Nancy and what sounds like a promising name is proven in the ring. She fights very aggressively, a whirlwind who likes to knock down everything that gets in her way. Men have to watch out for that too, except maybe Baltazar Bruno. He looks like the Adam Scherr of LAWE. Tall and silent. Described in the promos as being held by Mike Mendoza, Bruno doesn’t speak a word but has the respect of all. As a true student of Mendoza, he has learned a thing or two – and showed off his skills in the match against him. The two work very well in the ring, even otherwise Bruno dominates not only by his height and likes to bounce off opponents. Special is El Cuervo de Puerto Rico. The fighting style is quite unique, he is fast and very agile, the gimmick as a raven is really good and something different. In my opinion, Damian Fenrir has been a bit neglected so far. The Costa Rican only appeared for a short time, but immediately catches the eye with his well-trained body and can definitely take a beating – but also dish it out. You see more of him on the international stage at AEW Dark and other promotions. I’m not quite sure why no one has him firmly and alone in the squad, maybe he is too impetuous and unclean, but you should keep an eye on him, he would deserve a push, but this would not fit into the current storylines of LAWE. If you want to see a beautiful fighter who stands out with jumps, cleanly executed martial arts elements and rope dancing, you have to watch Samuel Olmo. Did I say with Mendoza he dances, Olmo does it no less, but differently – and those who loved Undertaker’s walks on the top ring rope will adore Olmo. With a background in MMA and kickboxing, he has a style of his own that stands apart from the original rough-and-tumble Puerto Rican tradition. He is also a student of Mendoza and has a bright future ahead of him. Bestia 666 is not only making a name for himself as a team with Mechawolf 450. He is the son of Damian 666, a Mexican wrestling legend whose gimmick he has largely adopted. However, most of the time you don’t see him in the ring with LAWE, but for other promotions like NWA. Tag team partner Mechawolf should also be known. Several titles rest on his shoulders, he seems tough, aloof, an aggressive, hungry wolf. Besides, his heart beats for music, there is the Monsterwolf Music Label and the band of the same name, which is currently working on the debut album. Through the storyline of LAWE, Riviero Rivas has received a huge push. He’s a veteran fighter who’s been getting attention in the past, and one has to wonder: Can LAWE keep him or will he eventually sign a contract with the bigger promotions in the US? And that’s exactly the storyline we’re hitting our limits with. Not listed on the roster on the website are some wrestlers who played big roles in crowning the first champion. It should not be revealed at this point who wins, if you are concerned with Puerto Rican wrestling history, the winner does not surprise, nor what happened after the victory, otherwise you sit with your mouth open and wonder: why?

The one who is not on the website but made it to the finals is Pedro Portillo III. His strength is clearly his promos, which he plays out passionately. It’s easy to forget that he’ll have to compete in the ring at some point. About Portillo aka Peter The Bad Romance aka Peter Galleano you can’t find out anything. You have to search for a long time until you know that he was in the ring for the WWC, has been an active wrestler since 2009 and was a multiple WWC Junior Heavyweight Champion between 2015 and 2019. Old matches of him are a bit more exciting than the ones of the last months. Nicer moves, better sells, well, the extreme elements like thumbtacks, real head injuries and bloodied wrestlers may not always have to be. In LAWE he currently shines more because of the promos already mentioned, his closeness to Orlando Colón and Dennis Rivera. Portillo has sworn fans who recently gave him his chant, which should be best known to European soccer fans. White Stripes’ “Seven Nations Army” has always been a favorite for sporting success, but now they’re singing at the top of their lungs, “Oh, Pedro Portillo!” – so he really might have the best chant in the whole LAWE. With Colón, of course, he has El Presidente at his side, who has had a stellar wrestling career. As the nephew of Carlos Colón, who also trains him, and cousin of Carlito, he follows in big footsteps. He spends most of his career as a tag team with his cousin Edwin, better known as Primo, in the WWE. While the two can fight for titles and are also popular with the fans, one can’t help but feel that WWE treats them a bit step-motherly at times. In 2020, Orlando Colón is removed as part of the big wave of layoffs at WWE. Oddly enough, many fans lose touch and don’t even realize that Colón is moving on to Puerto Rico with LAWE. The more surprised one showed up on Facebook, when one came in a thread about former wrestlers on Colón to speak, which would have stopped unfortunately quietly and secretly – and there despite active participation only one person could deny referred to LAWE. There he now mimes the choleric president who likes to have his fingers in the pie everywhere, wants to see Portillo as the first champion and has a big personal problem with Mendoza – which he acts out together with Rivera. Rivera himself came to wrestling late, leaving the field previously to his brother Juan Rivera, but has always been closely associated with wrestling. He was a factory worker and bass player in a band before eventually stepping into the ring himself. He debuted in 2007, appeared in IWA and WWL, and started a wrestling blog in 2012. Rivera tried his hand at WWE, but was not signed. He made his way anyway. Since 2018, he has co-hosted the podcast La Vuelta with Juan Ramírez – and is now firmly alongside Orlando Colón at LAWE.

Long story short: Things are looking up in Puerto Rico. In addition to the big promotions, there are numerous small schools that compete against each other in the old tradition and give each other a run for their money. The scene is growing and with it the rivalries – and at the same time the interest in the former popular sport is growing again. The Boricua burn more and more for the events, LAWE spreads and grows – and the nice thing: Not only the roster on the website, not only the big names appear, also promising young wrestlers who start to go their way and implement what they have learned. They burn for it, the let themselves be celebrated and celebrate themselves and no one passes them arrogantly and pushes them aside, no, just these big names seem to take them in and accept them. There are many more worth mentioning, Pulli La Bella, the best example of Puerto Rican tolerance and an empowering sign for the LGBTQ community; Alfredo Méliès, JC Jexx, Reckless Harris, Adam Riggs, Jon Justice, the great Willie Urbina – of course everyone behind the scenes that makes LAWE possible, not least LuchaTeesPR who make and distribute shirts for numerous wrestlers (and enable worldwide shipping. Muchas gracias!). But that would fill an entire website. If you are interested, you should follow the proud luchadores on their social media channels – and drop in on us from time to time.

Baltazar Bruno wrote me some time ago, “We are pouring our heart & soul to rise wrestling in Puerto Rico like it was once before.” – that’s what they do, that’s what you feel and that’s what they transfer to the audience. Not only in PR, but hopefully soon worldwide, because this passion, this heart blood that is invested, deserve much more attention and respect.

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