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ESPN’s Hispanic Heritage Month Vignettes Include Story of Caín Velásquez’s Unconventional Move to Lucha Libre

In celebration of Hispanic Heritage Month, which spans from Sept. 15-Oct. 15, ESPN and ESPN Deportes will showcase a series of features highlighting Latino athletes through the lens of the Latino culture. The first feature, titled “El Origen del Toro”, focuses on former two-time UFC Heavyweight champion Caín Velásquez who made his debut at Mexico’s Lucha Libre AAA last month.

Considered the first major Mexican-American heavyweight champion in MMA, Velásquez is no stranger to Lucha Libre. He grew up watching Mexican films of luchadores (wrestlers) in Salinas, California, and always felt drawn to it because of its rich history in the Mexican community.

Gustavo Coletti, Senior Managing Producer, ESPN, who oversaw the piece, produced by Albert Solans-Rubio, spoke with Front Row:

What inspired you to do this feature?
When ESPN.com’s MMA writer Marc Raimondi came to us with the possibility of doing a video feature on Caín Velásquez’s Lucha Libre debut, the first thing we asked was, “why not WWE?” since there had been numerous athletes that had crossed over between UFC and WWE, but never from UFC to Mexico’s Lucha Libre. We soon learned that Velásquez grew up watching movies of famous luchadores, such as El Santo, Mil Máscaras and Blue Demon, and would play with action figures creating imaginary battles. That was the start of his journey in wresting, which later evolved to MMA.

Now, he was becoming not just a luchador, but a “masked superhero,” as they are referred to in Mexico. It just had all the makings of an original story, so we gave it that treatment. More importantly, we felt it accurately portrayed the experience of Hispanic-Americans that are born and grow up in the US, but are very much connected to their Latin American roots.

What do you hope people take away from this story?
We’d like for wrestling enthusiasts in the U.S. to understand the similarities between their fandom and that of their counterparts in Mexico. They both share a passion for its characters and their talents, whether they have English or Spanish names, whether they are heels, técnicos, faces, rudos or exóticos, these fighters can all come together in our imaginations to stage the most amazing battles – just like four-year-old Caín envisioned.

What did you learn from Caín about his Hispanic heritage?
Hispanics in the US – or any immigrant in this country – choose different ways of connecting with their heritage. Some connect through their love of food, others music, or language. Caín’s love for Lucha Libre is what kept him connected and this experience allowed him to further discover his roots and share them with his wife and kids.

“El Origen del Toro” will air across ESPN Deportes’ SportsCenter and across ESPN’s digital platforms this week.

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– Molly Mita

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