World Wrestling Entertainment star Alberto Del Rio couldn’t help smiling as boos thundered from the rafters in Cleveland’s Quicken Loans Arena.
He hadn’t said one word into his microphone, and still, the fans were bodyslamming him with disapproval. When you have your own personal ring announcer and drive Rolls Royces and Lamborghinis to the ring, you might ooze a special brand of slimy machismo that invites public scorn. Del Rio’s pearly whites grew wider and brighter with each “Alberto Sucks!” chant until he winked at his adoring public and addressed them.
“My name is Alberto Del Rioooooo!” he bellowed, whipping fans into a fever-pitched frenzy. “But you already knew that.”
You may wonder why Del Rio could make the Cheshire Cat envious these days. But in the choreographed, predetermined world of professional wrestling, fan reaction is crucial, and Del Rio is a villain the WWE faithful loves to hate. And that’s pretty remarkable, considering almost no one knew who he was a year ago.
On April 3, Del Rio hopes to cap his ascent to the top when he battles for the World Heavyweight Championship in one of the main events at WWE’s 27th annual WrestleMania. For this third-generation wrestler, WrestleMania, pro wrestling’s grandest event, is more than a dream come true. It is an opportunity to pay homage to both his family and native Mexico.
“It’s incredible,” Del Rio said. “It’s going to be the peak of my career. My family, my entire country is going to be proud of me. As a kid, all I wanted to do was be a wrestler. Now that I’m here in WWE – WrestleMania is our NBA, our Super Bowl, our World Series of professional wrestling. As a wrestler, as a performer, I always dreamed of being in something like that. I’m fulfilling my dreams. It is the reason I left my country, my family and friends behind.”
Del Rio’s rise has been meteoric, but, regardless of his pro wrestling lineage, didn't happen overnight. He isn’t stretching the truth when he says he comes from Mexican royalty. Born Alberto Rodríguez, Del Rio first learned his trade from three of Mexico’s most legendary masked luchadors – his father, Dos Caras (“Two Faces”) and his uncles, Mil Máscaras and Sicodélico.
But Del Rio, 33, did not always follow a path to glory in the squared circle. Before entering the theatrical world of sports-entertainment, he trained in Greco-Roman wrestling and competed in the 1999 Pan-Am games. At one time, Del Rio appeared to be on track to represent Mexico in the 2000 Olympics. But when Mexico decided not to send the team, because of lack of funding and support, Del Rio’s amateur dreams were dashed.
That's when he decided to go into the family business. Donning a mask, Dos Caras Jr. was born.
As Dos Caras Jr., Del Rio was a star in Mexico and Japan. Seeking greater fame and notoriety, however, he made the jump to WWE in 2009. After ditching the mask and cultivating his new in-ring character in the company’s developmental league for several months, the newly-christened Alberto Del Rio made his WWE debut last summer and he hasn’t looked back since. He has no regrets about no longer wearing a mask that was sacred to his family and believes WWE has only given him a larger stage to carry on his grandfather, father and uncle’s rich wrestling legacy.
“I’m not missing anything from Mexico or my former character. That was a time in my life when I wore the mask in Mexico and Japan and I enjoyed it,” Del Rio said. “I have been to 14 different countries since being here [in WWE]. I can say I’m writing my own story, a bright story, because I am doing incredible things in the most important [wrestling] company in the world. I’m totally happy about my present and about my future.”
Del Rio is the latest in a long line of Latinos who have thrived in WWE. In the 1970s and 80s, Pedro Morales and Tito Santana helped build the foundation of today’s WWE. It is no coincidence WWE has promoted more and more Latinos in the last decade just as the Hispanic community, as indicated by the 2010 U.S. Census, has become the largest minority and fastest-growing population in the United States.
The late Eddie Guerrero became the first Mexican-American WWE Champion in 2005. Rey Mysterio, whose colorful masks make him a hit among children, and former Women’s Champion Melina all became megastars under the WWE banner and helped increased its appeal in Latin America. In recent years, WWE has expanded its reach with television and pay-per-view deals in Mexico, Mexico City and most recently, Brazil.
“We are investing in new attractions and planning varied programming,” said Mauricio Portela, production vice president of Esporte Interativo, Brazil's biggest sports channel, which partnered with WWE in February. “WWE programming was consistently requested among our viewers, and we are delighted to be able to deliver WWE Raw to our viewers.”
No doubt viewers in Brazil and all across Latin America and the U.S. are anticipating the in-ring debut of WWE’s newest star, Sin Cara, who gained notoriety wrestling in Mexico for years as the masked “Mistico.” Sin Cara’s WWE signing commanded the kind of rock star treatment Alex Rodríguez received when he signed with the New York Yankees. Mexican media ran wall-to-wall coverage as Místico announced his new WWE deal. He then dramatically removed his trademark mask and revealed his rebirth as Sin Cara.
Del Rio was pleased to see WWE sign his countryman – and potential new rival.
“I’m just happy this company uses so many Latino talent,” he said. “There is so much talent out there, from Puerto Rico to Mexico, just to name a few. I hope it continues like that. Because of that, I am here and getting all these opportunities.”
And Del Rio intends to make the most of his opportunity. Just days away from the biggest match of his career, he appears grounded and is heeding the advice of his father and uncles.
“They’ve told me to be focused and train hard and take care of myself because this can be a very dangerous sport and the risks are always out there,” he said. “They also just told me to be prepared for what is coming.”
That sounds awfully soft-spoken and humble for one of WWE’s most hated superstars. Could it be that Del Rio is not really the smarmy Mexican aristocrat we think he is?
No, never. Del Rio wouldn’t want you to know that. Though he no longer wears a mask, he may want to keep some things secret. For now, Del Rio is happy winking and smiling – and soaking in your jeers – as he looks ahead to his destiny as perhaps the new face of WWE.
Bryan Robinson is a Fox News Web producer. Victor García, an associate producer for Fox News Channel and a regular contributor to FoxNewsLatino.com, contributed to this article.