NXT cruiserweight champion Santos Escobar recently spoke with Sports Illustrated to hype this evening’s NXT on USA, where the former King Cuerno will be defending the title against Curt Stallion. Highlights from the interview can be found below.
How it feels for him to be working 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.
His family’s reaction to losing his mask:
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 the rivalry between AAA and CMLL:
There is a real rivalry. CMLL is the lucha libre tradition company. They founded lucha libre in Mexico in the 1930s. Something went wrong, and Antonio Peña created AAA. They became huge, huge enemies. There is still a rivalry of sorts. If you work for one company, you shouldn’t talk about the other. I worked for both of the companies. They are two different, diametrically opposite styles. I’m glad to have done well in both companies, but there is still a huge rivalry.
The difference between American and Mexican psychology:
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.
Working with Rey Mysterio:
Rey is a beautiful human being. Let me say this, I love him. He has been nothing but good to me. I met him many, many years ago in Mexico City. My dad was a superstar, and Rey was only beginning to shine. I remember my dad telling me, “That is Rey Mysterio. He is going all the way to the top.” I guess my dad was right. Rey was always good to me, and he still is good to me. Recently, at Halloween Havoc in NXT [last October], I thought of Rey. His match against Eddy Guerrero at Halloween Havoc in 1997, that put him on the map. That match means so much to me. I called Rey and asked if I could wear his wristbands from that match. He said, “No, not just the wristbands. I’ll send you the whole attire. If it fits, wear it.” Who does that? Only Rey. Rey is noble. He is beautiful in every sense of the word. That’s why he’s been so successful in this business. He’s always been a good person. And he has such talent, and the trailblazing ability to change the way lucha libre is presented in the United States. That has always been my goal—I want to change the view of the American audience to lucha libre. I won’t be the best high-flyer, but I will deliver the best high-flying maneuver. I won’t be the best promo, but I will be the best Mexican individual cutting a promo on your screen. That’s my aim.
His main goal in WWE:
I will give you a peculiar answer. There is one thing I haven’t been able to do, and that is meet Vince McMahon. I’m committed to this industry, and that is a lifetime commitment. I was born and raised to do this. I think Vince McMahon is a genius, and I want to meet him. That, to me, is an immediate goal. He will either like me or hate me, but I will discuss my background with him and what I bring to the table. I need to discuss that with Vince McMahon, and that is one of my most immediate goals. My other goal? I want to be the first Mexican, born and raised, sports entertainer to ever main-event WrestleMania.