Alberto Rodriguez, who fought in MMA as Dos Caras Jr. — best known for a 2003 Pride fight with Mirko Cro Cop, and later gained international fame as Alberto Del Rio with the World Wrestling Entertainment — is transitioning out of the business that defined his family, and into an executive role in MMA.
Rodriguez, 39, who still does pro wrestling on occasion as Alberto El Patron (the WWE owns the rights to the name Alberto Del Rio), is now "El Presidente," the public face of Combate Americas. The promotion recently scored a major coup getting on TV Azteca in Mexico, one of the country’s major networks, on Friday nights. The events also air live on UFC Fight Pass in English, as well as on Azteca America in the U.S. in Spanish.
"My main focus is Combate Americas," said Rodriguez on a recent edition of The MMA Hour. "It's very different from what I did before. I was a competitor. I was a fighter, an amateur wrestler, and an MMA fighter. That's why Campbell McLaren (who founded the company, aimed at promoting MMA and focusing on the Hispanic audience) invited me to Combate Americas. With me being a competitor, I know how they (the other fighters) feel, what they feel, and all the things you have to go through in this sport."
After Rodriguez left WWE for the first time, in 2014, he was contacted by McLaren about being a fighter. The money offer was huge, said to be around $500,000 or more per fight. That was his best offer, but he also got offers from Glory to do kickboxing, and Bellator to do MMA. Rodriguez had fought in MMA while being a pro wrestler from 2001 to 2010, compiling a 9-5 record, but he quickly realized his days as a fighter were over.
"I'm completely done competing in the cage or the ring," he said. "That's the way we started our friendship. He wanted me to fight. The offer was amazing. I wanted to do it, but I didn't know if had that passion, that hunger for fighting. I went back to the gym for two or three weeks at a boxing gym in San Antonio. After the third round one day, I took my gloves off and said, ‘no mas,' I'm not hungry anymore. I can't do it."
Now the goal is to grow his organization, starting with Mexico, where his family's fame and his own fame made him perfect to be the public face of the organization.
"We know it'll be difficult to beat the UFC in the United States, but we're doing a good job in Mexico and Latin America. In Mexico, we have more than three million viewers every single week for our weekly program. In the United States and the rest of the world, it's going to be different. We have the opportunity with UFC Fight Pass to be seen all over the world, for anyone who wants to watch."
But his life around pro wrestling, being in dressing rooms with his father since childhood and becoming a star all over the world, he thinks helps greatly in an MMA executive position.
"I can teach those kids to sell themselves, to add personality that the audience will remember," he said, citing Conor McGregor as the model of a fighter who uses his personality to become a pay-per-view superstar.
The funny thing is that while Rodriguez says he loves watching fights, he also doesn't watch pro wrestling, the business he's loved his entire life.
"I don't watch pro wrestling at all," he said. "It's banned from my house. When I was working for WWE, I was doing 220 or 230 matches per year. I was living on the road. It was the last thing I wanted to see at home. Everyone knows I'm a big fan of MMA, UFC, Bellator, Combate, it's my main focus."
He also swore that he'd never date someone in the business, but now he's engaged to Saraya Jade-Bevis, better known as Paige in WWE, and noted that unlike him, Paige is interested in becoming a fighter, although right now she's injured and is still under contract to WWE.
Rodriguez was fired by WWE in 2014 for slapping a social media employee with the company after the guy had made what he perceived as a racist joke. When the employee hadn't cleaned off his plate at catering, and it was brought up to him, he said, "That's what we have Del Rio for." The word got back to Rodriguez, and when he didn't get an apology, he allegedly slapped the employee. When he was told he would be fired, but brought back in a few months after it blew over, he allegedly said that he told WWE that if he wasn't reinstated by the end of the phone call, he wasn't coming back.
At the time he was loaded with pro wrestling opportunities. The story of how he got fired resonated in the Latino community where he became a big hero. He became a bigger star than ever, in Mexico in particular. He eventually did come back to WWE, miscast as a heel because the reason he was fired made him even more popular in the Hispanic community, although he admits that he liked playing the heel role more. After a year of things not working out, he quit the promotion again.
Rodriguez is a third generation pro wrestler. His grandfather did pro wrestling but was not a major star. His uncle, Mil Mascaras, real name Aaron Rodriguez, was a cultural figure every bit as popular in Mexico in the 60s and 70s as Hulk Hogan was in his U.S. heyday. Mil Mascaras, The Man of 1,000 Masks, was a big enough star that the government a few years ago issued a postage stamp of him in his signature mask.
His father, the original Dos Caras — real name Jose Rodriguez, meaning two faces — was probably the best heavyweight wrestler ever to come out of Mexico, actually better than his uncle. But his father, who also wore a mask his entire career, was not as famous, because Mil Mascaras was also a Mexican movie star with his colorful outfits and distinctive masks. Another uncle wrestled with a distinctive mask as El Sicodelico.
His father, who is 67, and his uncle, who, depending on who you believe, is somewhere between 74 and 77, still wrestle on occasion. That's one thing Rodriguez doesn't want to emulate.
"For my dad, it's very difficult to not be in the spotlight," he said. "I'm going to retire in two years. I really will. My Dad always gets mad, and goes, ‘How can you say that. Pro wrestling has given you everything.' But I've given everything to pro wrestling. I want to spend the time with my kids. That's the main reason why I left the company. My kids needed daddy."
Rodriguez actually started as an amateur wrestler. While a teenager, he placed in his age group world championships in Greco-Roman wrestling and was the country's most accomplished wrestler at that style. He placed fourth in the 1997 Pan American Games when he was only 20. But Mexico didn't support its amateur national team, and he was unable to attend the qualifying meets to make it to the 2000 Olympics. He left the sport at that point and went into pro wrestling, where being 6-foot-4 and being Dos Caras Jr. meant he was going to be a featured star right away.
"I didn't have the opportunity, but the talent was there," he said about his amateur days. "I was the best wrestler on the team, but there was no money. Every time I think about it, it makes me sad."
The combination of his name and his father being a huge star in Japan led to him getting into MMA.
MMA had just exploded in popularity in Japan with Kazushi Sakuaba's win over Royce Gracie, and promotions were trying to get pro wrestlers, particularly the son of a legend whose father would be in his corner, to fight.
"I went into pro wrestling," he said about his next move after the Olympics fell through. "I was doing shows in Mexico and Japan. My former manager in Japan, he said ‘there's this promoter wanting to have you in a completely real fight, Vale Tudo.'"
He was offered $20,000 by the Deep promotion to face Kengo Watanabe, a Japanese rugby star who gotten a lot of publicity in switching to MMA, but had a 3-5-2 record by that time. Watanabe desperately needed a name win. At the time, Rodriguez was wrestling in Mexico for $80 a match, but there was marketability for the rugby star facing the nephew of Mil Mascaras, who was a cartoon-like hero to Japanese children growing up in the 70s.
"$20,000 for one night, tell me where I sign," Rodriguez said. "I'm an athlete. I went back to my amateur wrestling gym and got a boxing coach."
"I'm 100 percent sure all the promoter wanted was to use me as a white meat (a pro wrestling term for a lamb being led to slaughter), to get killed. They were pushing the Japanese champion. Thank God for me, I kicked his ass and broke his arm and then my life changed. Then, all the important organizations paid me money to fight and do pro wrestling shows, and no more $80 a match."
His most famous fight was with Cro Cop, on October 5, 2003, at the Saitama Super Arena. Because of his family tradition and the traditions of Lucha Libre, Rodriguez was still doing real fights wearing his mask, since he was Dos Caras Jr. and it was sacrilegious in his profession and to his family in those days to be in public with his face exposed. The scene of the masked man getting head kicked in 46 seconds was one of the iconic moments of the Pride era.
"When they offered me the fight, my trainer, who was Marco Ruas, Marco said to be, `You can do it, you're fantastic.' My fight before the Mirko Cro Cop fight was with Brad Kohler. I completely destroyed him in two minutes (actually 85 seconds)."
"Marco said, 'Your cardio is amazing. Why not? You have nothing to lose.'"
"Mirko was the man, he was killing everyone in Pride. Marco said, ‘You have nothing to lose. You go there and shock the world and you're set. If you lose, you'll continue your career.'''
"I wasn't ready for Mirko. He was too fast for me. About that kick, I didn't see it coming. He knocked me out."
"I was trying to stay away from his left leg," said Rodriguez. "That was the plan. I was a ten thousand times better wrestler than him. Marco said, ‘If you can take him down, he's done. You'll take him down and submit him.' But that didn't happen. I wasn't ready for that kick. That kick was so fast, I never saw it coming."
Some people possibly because he was a pro wrestler, or because he was wearing a mask, thought the fight was a work. A few years later, when Pride ran a show in Los Angeles, Pride wanted to book Dos Caras Jr. on the show, which made sense, given his father was well known in that city and his uncle was the biggest wrestling star in that city for more than a decade. But Armando Garcia, who headed the California commission at the time, believed the fight was a work and he ended up not on the card.
"It was a legit fight. I wasn't ready for him. He was too fast. Marco and I, when we were training, we were 100 percent sure I could take him down, but I couldn't. Once I grabbed him, he was super strong."