Having got back into amateur wrestling training at the start of 2019, former WWE champ Alberto Del Rio gave us some fresh details on his fight with Tito Ortiz and how training is going.
San Antonio, TX — While rumblings about a return to mixed martial arts have bubbled to the surface ever since former WWE Superstar Alberto Del Rio left the American wrestling powerhouse, it wasn’t until recently that the big news broke: Del Rio, who competes as Alberto El Patron outside the WWE, and who fought as Dos Caras Jr. in Pride, DEEP, and other MMA promotions, would make his return, against none other than Tito Ortiz.
Del Rio (real name José Alberto Rodríguez) went 9-5 across an MMA run that lasted from 2001 to 2010, while still competing in pro wrestling. In later years, he served as President of Combate Americas, the leading Hispanic MMA promotion founded by Campbell McLaren. Not surprisingly, that’s where Ortiz vs. Del Rio will be held. Or perhaps Ortiz vs. Dos Caras Jr. In any event, the fight will garner a lot of attention for a promotion that has made serious inroads in the Spanish-language market, including landing a deal with Univision, where it has been able to beat both the UFC and Bellator at times in terms of ratings.
We caught up with the wrestling and MMA star in San Antonio on Wednesday, where he reflected on his MMA career, and training for his return to the fight game against “The Huntington Beach Bad Boy” Ortiz.
For those who aren’t familiar with the wrestler’s run as Dos Caras Jr. in MMA, there’s one fight they might have caught a glimpse of: his infamous Pride bout with Mirko Cro-Cop, that ended in a head kick loss. “That one didn’t work that well,” Del Rio admitted. “But it was a great experience. To be honest, I thought I was ready for that fight. But he was a different breed back then. He was knocking everybody out.”
It’s not as if Del Rio took the Croatian legend lightly. “I had a fight against Brad Kohler before fighting Mirko, and I knocked him out in less than two minutes. So that’s what made Marco Ruas, who was my mentor at the time, decide that we could do that fight against Mirko. Of course it didn’t work the way we wanted, and the rest is history.”
What’s less remembered, perhaps, is what came after the Cro-Cop fight for Dos Caras Jr. The loss to Mirko came in 2003. Rather than hang up the gloves and focus purely on pro wrestling, he’d compete all the way up to 2010, going 6-2 to finish out his MMA career.
Still, it’s his time in Japan that Del Rio looks upon most fondly. He even got to fight with his Lucha mask on. “Japan is, everything goes, we know how it is. I had a great time. I think it was the best time of my life,” he reflected.
“Many people would think that it was my years in WWE, the best years of my life. But in Japan, I had complete freedom of whatever I wanted in pro wrestling and MMA,” said Del Rio. “Plus I love the culture, I love the food, I love the country.”
Del Rio Dos Caras Jr.’s final fight came against Japan’s Yamamoto Hanshi, in 2010 in Madrid, Spain. A loss that snapped a six fight win streak, it would be the last time fans saw him in MMA. Later that year, he’d debut on WWE Smackdown as Alberto Del Rio, a smug, arrogant heel character that would allow him to reach the heights of the company. He parted ways with World Wrestling Entertainment in 2014, after an altercation with an employee who made a racist remark.
Flash forward, and Alberto Del Rio/José Alberto Rodríguez found success outside the WWE. Most notably in AAA wrestling in his native Mexico. He also jumped aboard Combate Americas just as it was taking off. Now, he’s returning to fight what will likely be the last bout of his MMA career.
“Tito and I are fighting, probably at the end of November in Las Vegas. We went back and forth between fighters, contracts,” Del Rio revealed. “We had one opponent at first, then he said no, then another one, then we started talking to Tito Ortiz. And because we already have some issues with his ideas and my ideas of how this country should be ruled, should be taken, we both were like ‘let’s solve it in the cage.'”
Whether this is a real beef, or a bit of a promotional effort, remains to be seen. But Del Rio is a Mexican immigrant, during a hostile time in America for those who come from south of the border. “He’s a Trump supporter, he’s a Mexican-American. That was the argument, that was the discussion, because I couldn’t believe someone who has Mexican blood running through his body can go and support a guy like [Trump],” Del Rio said of his issue with Ortiz.
“I totally agree that yes, we need to protect America,” he continued. After all, Del Rio is now part of the family, officially. “These days I’m not just Mexican, they granted me my American citizenship last year, and I’m proud of that, I’m proud of being Mexican, I’m proud of being American. My kids were born here in the States. So I love this country. This country made me.”
“I always say this, I was born in Mexico but made in America. America is what made me.” Yet loving your country is one thing. Del Rio still takes umbrage with the side Ortiz has chosen. “These days, that wall, those red hats, they’re no longer a wall or a red hat. They’re just a monument for hate, racism and stuff because of the message that the father of the nation is sending. That’s how everything started, then we decided to solve everything in the cage.”
And there was only ever going to be one cage it would go down in. While “other organizations wanted to take this, wanted to do this,” Del Rio told us, “everybody knows I work and love Combate Americas. My boss is one of my best friends, Campbell McLaren. That’s a man that was with me in the good times, bad times, worse times, fantastic times. That’s a man that’s had my back for many years. So of course if that fight was going to happen, it was going to happen in Combate Americas.”
Del Rio’s training is already underway for the Ortiz fight. “I started training at the beginning of the year, but it was just me going back to the wrestling gym — the amateur wrestling gym, not pro wrestling,” he revealed.
And so he has been training “for quite some time, but focusing on MMA, focusing on grappling, kicking, punching, all that stuff, it’s been like four, five weeks.” It wasn’t easy getting back into the swing of things after nearly a decade. “At the beginning of the year, I was dying. I was like ‘damn it, I don’t know if I can do this.'”
Wrestling — the amateur wrestling variety — was always Del Rio’s main discipline. “Most of the people know that I was part of the national team, I was on the national team for Pan American Games, Central American Games, World Championships. I was a world class wrestler when I was competing for Mexico. So I went to the gym, and I was getting my ass kicked by these 20, 25 year old kids. And I couldn’t believe it.”
Refusing to be discouraged, his competitive drive brought him back every day. “When you are an athlete, when you are a fighter, that touches your pride,” he said in response to being bested by his juniors. “That’s what made me go back the next day. Even though everything was hurting, even though this tiny little hair in my fingers was hurting, I went back, and I continue to do it.”
He’ll have all sorts of support heading into the Ortiz fight. The likes of Ryan Bader and Javier Torres are among the names reaching out. Del Rio will split his camp between San Antonio, where he’s been putting time in at the Ultimate Submission Academy, and New Mexico, making sure that if this is his swan song in MMA, he puts everything into it.
“I could have chose a nobody to have my last fight in MMA, and retired with all the glory and everything. But instead of that, I picked Tito Ortiz,” Del Rio said. “Because if I’m going to do this, for my company, to help my company to grow and to put Combate Americas in everybody’s eyes that day — if I’m going to retire, I’m going to retire the right way.” For Del Rio, whose MMA career wound up overshadowed by his pro wrestling accomplishments, it’s a no lose situation. “Fighting a champion, fighting a legend. If I win, I go as I want to go from this amazing business, the MMA business. And if I lose, so be it. I lost against one of the greatest.”