– Sports Illustrated recently interviewed NXT Cruiserweight champion Santos Escobar. Escobar comes from a prestigious family of luchadores. His father is El Fantasma, and his uncle Angel de la Muerta. Below are some highlights.
Santos Escobar on his transition to wrestling without a mask: “I first started wrestling with a mask 20-plus years ago. As you know, the mask is a huge tradition in Mexico that has existed throughout generations. I was obliged to do it as a second-generation wrestler. After a number of trials and examinations from my father, I inherited the mask. For the first 19 years of my professional career, I was wearing a mask. That comes with a very different style and a very different responsibility.”
“When I lost my match in a high-profile match in Mexico City [at Triplemania in 2018], I was at a crossroads. In Mexico, when you put your mask on the line and lose, you face two different options. One is to retire. The other is to reinvent and repackage yourself. That’s what I did. At first, that was very difficult. It felt like I was wrestling naked. That’s how I felt. After a while, I got used to it. Then I got to WWE. I call myself The Emperor of Lucha Libre. I want to show the world my culture, my tradition, which is lucha libre. That’s why, when I first got to WWE, I asked to wrestle with a mask. That was actually more difficult for me, if you can imagine, to go back and wear a mask again. Then the story unraveled, and here we are.”
On his family’s reaction to his unmasking: “That was quite a family conversation. Of course, my dad, who is an old-school, hardcore lucha libre legend, he was really depressed when I lost my mask. Then he got used to the new character I developed. Like I said, you have to evolve in this business, or else you die. He was getting used to that, but when he saw me wrestle again with a mask, he said, ‘No, you already lost your mask. You cannot do that.’ Then, as the cruiserweight championship tournament continued, he was very happy for me. Then he was upset again when I took off the mask in NXT. It’s been a real roller coaster of emotions.”
On difference in psychology between American and Mexican wrestling: “It’s a different style. Lucha libre is fast-paced and nonstop. Some luchadores don’t always pay attention to the tag. The masks bring it to a whole other level. Mexican luchadores are quite exactly like superheroes. The psychology is the good guy will do amazing, high-flying maneuvers and fast-paced wrestling, and of course, the bad guy will always try to stop that. The main psychology is the fast-paced performance.”