Alberto Rodriguez — better known by hisring name Alberto Del Rio during his stints with WWE — recently returned to a national TV audience when he debutedearlier this month on Impact Wrestling as Alberto El Patron.
But before Rodriguez was onprofessional wrestling's biggest stage, he fought in MMA as Dos CarasJr., and was known, at least in part,getting violently knocked out in a 2003 fight for PRIDE.
Now, Rodriguez is jumping back into the MMA circles but this time in a different capacity. In October, it was announced that Rodriguez would be"El Presidente," the public face of Combate Americas. The promotion returns on Thursday night with Combate12 taking place from theAuditorio Municipal in Tijuana, Mexico. The event can be seen live onAzteca America in the United Statesstarting at10 p.m. ET/7 p.m PT. The show will air in Mexico on Friday at11:00 p.m., and UFC Fight Passwill distribute an English-language version of the event as a video on demand.
Sporting News caught up with Rodriguezon the growth of Combate Americas, why he prefers watchingMMA topro wrestling and more.
Sporting News: What does it mean to you that Combate Americas is starting to branch out in the States?
Alberto Rodriguez: It makes me happy because we have been working really hard to make this product what it is today not only in Latin America but here in the States. Many people get confused. They get the wrong idea about Combate. They think just because the name is in Spanish that it’s only for Latinos. Combate Americas is for any MMA fan. You want to watch real fights, fighters going toe-to-toe, putting everything on the table, not just looking for the result, but looking to go out there and putting on a good show.
SN: Based off of you just saying that, do you think that’s the biggest stigma for the promotion?
AR: That is the general perception but we are working really, really hard every single day to change that perception from people and the MMA fans. Little by little, we are gaining new fans every single day. Because when someone turns on a TV and watches Combate, they see quality fights. When you watch other promotions and nothing against other promotions but when you watch them, they probably have one — maybe two if they get lucky —good fights. From the beginning to the end in Combate, every fight is good and every fighter is going out there to trade and give us a good show.
SN: You are working hard on the forefront being all over the place promoting the product. One year ago, you weren’t in this position. What does it say about the promotion to grow at a such a rapid rate?
AR: A year ago, we were knocking on doors. We were even asking fighters if they wanted to come fight for us. Now everybody is coming and knocking on our doors and fighters are contacting us because they want to be a part of Combate Americas. At the moment, we have over 50 fighters signed on our roster. We have fighters from different nationalities because that’s another thing, because people thinkwe only have Latin fighters. Yes, our main flavor is Latino but we take fighters from all over the world as long as they fight like Latinos (laughs).
SN: What’s more popular in Mexico? Boxing or MMA?
AR: Boxing is more popular than MMA. Not only in Mexico but everywhere else because it’s a sport that’s been around for so many years. MMA is doing pretty well, as it’s the fastest growing sport in the last ten years. In Mexico, boxing has a big tradition and a lot of viewers because it’s been around for years and years. We used to have amazing champions.
Of course the situation isn’t the same now because we don’t have stars. We need more stars and we need more champions in Mexico. All of our champions like Marco Antonio Barrera, Julio Cesar Chavez, La Chacita Gonzalez. All of them got old and they are retired. Unfortunately, we haven’t been able to create new champions. Champions create star power and draw fans to the arenas, make fans buy pay-per-views. I think in my country of Mexico and in Latin America in particular, MMA is in the top five of the most popular sports. The number one sport is definitely (soccer), boxing, wrestling, baseball and then MMA.
SN: I was listening to your interview recently on “The MMA Hour” and you said something that really caught my attention. You said you watch more MMA than your chosen profession of professional wrestling. Why is that?
AR: (Big chuckle) I don’t watch pro wrestling at all. I don’t want anyone to get confused when I say this and start thinking I’m not enjoying what I’m doing anymore or I don’t have the passion for pro wrestling because it’s not like that. Pro wrestling is and always will be my first love until I die. I became a wrestler because I saw grandfather, my uncle and my dad in the ring. I always wanted to be a pro wrestler. I just spend so much time on the road, so much time away from my kids and in wrestling arenas with wrestlers and wrestling in general so when I get home, I forget about that world.
I’m going to quote one of my favorite wrestlers of all-time, Bret “The Hitman” Hart. ‘Sometimes you have to escape or run away from the cartoon world of pro wrestling’. I remember when I heard Bret say that for the first time, I didn’t understand what he was trying to say. Being a father and an adult, I totally get it. That’s what you have to do to have sanity and peace in your life. You need to leave work behind, go home and enjoy what is most important to you in life whether it’s your kids, your family, your wife, whatever you have. Go home and enjoy it and spend time with them. When I come home, I’m a father 24/7. All my time is for my kids. I take them to school andpart of their day-to-day activities.
SN: When you have MMA on, do your kids watch?
AR: When MMA is on, I let my kids watch. I don’t let them watch pro wrestling because I don’t want them to be in the business. I know I’m a third generation wrestler. The wrestling tradition in this family will die with me. I don’t want my son to be a wrestler. I love the business. Nobody has the passion and love that I have for pro wrestling. When I’m in the ring, nothing can stop me. I’m the king. I’m the happiest one of them all. When I was a little boy, I always dreamed to be a wrestler. This is a difficult business. Sometimes you can have all the talent. You can have all the talent in the world but if you are not in the right place at the right time, you don’t make it. Your success is not just based on your talent but somebody is helping you get there or pushing you saying, ‘Let’s help this kid to be the next big thing.' Some people don’t get that lucky. I was lucky enough to all the talent and be an amazing wrestler and to be at the right place at the right time.
But there’s also the mafia side, all the dark things in the business that I don’t like and don’t want my kids to go through that. I don’t let them because if they don’t watch then they will not admire what we do in the ring. I became a wrestler because I watched my dad and my uncles. I know if my son Joseph doesn’t watch it then he will not want to be a wrestler. But if he watches MMA, I don’t mind if he goes to that sport you make everything with the hard work and the training. It doesn’t matter if a promoter doesn’t want to push you or help you. If you have what it takes and you are a good fighter then you will make it.
SN: How do you balance promoting Combate Americas, wrestling around the world and being a father?
AR: That’s a fantastic question. I don’t even know (laughs). It’s really difficult. My life and schedule is crazy. If you really want to do something and you put your heart into something, you do it. There’s no excuses. If you want to be a good president, a good wrestler and a good father, you can do it. You just need to find the time and make time for that. But, I’ve seen co-workers that when they go home, they lay on the couch and make excuses because they were on the road for 20 days and they are so tired. I’m not like that. It doesn’t matter to me. I don’t care if I hadn’t slept for two days because I was working. If my kids want me to take them to Chuck-E-Cheese to see that crazy mouse running all over the place (laughs), I take them there.
SN: You stated in the past, you won’t fight again. After going to a lot of the Combate Americas events and seeing what the fighters are doing and laying it all out on the line, does it change your mind a little bit? Have you given more consideration to maybe you want to do this and maybe you can take one more fight with the promotion you are working for?
AR: I have thought about it. Trust me, when I see my fighters in the cage going toe-to-toe, when one of those fights are going amazing and they are trading, I feel the energy in the air. I’m enjoying what I’m watching. I get that thought and it’s crossed my mind several times. But then, I started thinking about it, five or ten minutes later, the thought disappears from me (laughs). I’m 39 years old and will be 40 this year. This sport is for the young ones. I’m not saying I cannot do it. Of course I can because I’m still an athlete. I train everyday. I don’t train to fight but I go to the boxing and the Jiu-Jitsu gym. It will be pretty much impossible for me to back into the cage or the ring for an MMA fight especially because I have a very good pro wrestling career. I know if I go to the cage and I don’t do well that will affect my pro wrestling career and my pro wrestling name in the way pro wrestling fans see me. Just for respect for MMA and the pro wrestling fans, I don’t think it’s going to happen.
Steven Muehlhausen is an MMA and boxing writer and contributor for Sporting News. You can find his podcast, "The Fight Club Chicago," and subscribe on iTunes. You can email him at firstname.lastname@example.org and can find him on Twitter @SMuehlhausenMMA.