Think you know about lucha libre (free fighting), that high-flying, high-impact, free-flowing wrestling style originating from Mexico?
Sure, we’ve been exposed to it from the days when World Championship Wrestling (WCW) brought Mexican luchadores into its Cruiserweight division. Their talent has been showcased in Extreme Championship Wrestling and, of course, World Wrestling Entertainment (WWE) too, with the current practitioners there being the Lucha Dragons, Sin Cara and Kalisto.
Outside the ring, so to speak, remember the Mucha Lucha cartoon from the early 2000s? Or Jack Black’s famous caped bumbler from Nacho Libre? And did anyone catch that creepy Grimm episode recently about the luchadore whose mask was made from the faces of Wesen?
Whatever you think you know about lucha libre still probably won’t prepare you for Lucha Underground, a new hour-long pro wrestling show from executive producers Mark Burnett (Survivor, Shark Tank) and Robert Rodriguez (Spy Kids, Sin City, From Dusk Till Dawn).
An independent wrestling franchise affiliated with Mexico’s Asistencia Asesoría y Administración (AAA), the Lucha Underground promotion will feature the unique lucha libre style combined with Burnett’s take-no-prisoners reality show sensibilities and Rodriguez’s darkly bizarre, grand theatrics.
Familiar faces will be seen alongside new ones. Veterans like Konnan, Chavo Guerrero and Rey Mysterio will be seen alongside AAA staples like Blue Demon Jr and Sexy Star, and Lucha Underground’s own Prince Puma, all tied together storyline-wise by heel promoter Dario Cuerto.
And then there’s Johnny Mundo, who fans will recognise as Johnny Nitro, later John Morrison – you know, the acclaimed former WWE wrestler who pulled off that amazing escape at the 2011 Royal Rumble. He’ll be one of the promotion’s major forces, and you can expect to see a lot of him from the series’ debut episode onwards.
The good news for fans who remember his MNM (Mercury, Nitro and Melina) days is that at some point, we’ll get to see Melina in the show too!
With a name like Johnny Mundo (“world” in Spanish), you know that anyone who steps into the ring with him is stepping into his world. And anyone who wears out their welcome will leave it after a devastating split-legged corkscrew moonsault known as the End Of The World.
In an e-mail interview, Mundo fills you in on what sets Lucha Underground apart from … everything else.
What can the Malaysian TV audience expect from Lucha Underground? Our exposure to wrestling is mostly through US pro wrestling shows from WWE, though fans also know the luchadore style from the WCW Cruiserweight division days on down.
Malaysians can definitely expect a completely revolved style of wrestling. It’s lucha libre blended with the American style of storytelling. All in all, viewers will be impressed with the way we tell the story.
Lucha Underground draws a fair bit from Mexican history, folklore and tradition. Any advice to viewers who are new to all this, to ease us into embracing the cultural elements of the show? For example, the masks?
Lucha libre is a Mexican style of wrestling that is hugely respected all over the world. It has now evolved to become a huge part of American pop culture and is this amazing and cool art form.
My advice would be, expect to be amazed, expect to see something completely different and something that has never been seen before.
How did you get involved with the show? Given your ring ability and past performances, would you say it was a relatively smooth transition?
I used to wrestle in WWE, where I met Chris (DeJoseph, a Lucha Under-ground writer) and have stayed good friends with him. Well, he contacted me before the show started and he wanted me to be the first person he signed up. You know how you never really believe anything until it happens.
So I came down to the set, and we started talking about how Lucha Underground aims to portray wrestling, the production styles and everything. It was a sure thing, as I was already really interested in film production, Robert Rodriguez’s work and wrestling.
NEXT PAGE: Johnny Mundo’s favourite moments
What are some of Johnny Mundo’s personal favourite moments to date, that you think defined your role on the show – spoiler-free, of course. And what can we expect from Johnny Mundo going forward?
That is difficult to choose. I would say the matches I had at the beginning of Season One as well as the taping. It really reinvigorated my passion for wrestling, something I didn’t get to do in WWE.
It was the moments in the ring with Prince Puma, Phoenix, Rey Mysterio and the ability to use these skills I have developed my entire life – because that was (why) I just left WWE and wrestling – it’s something I’m extremely passionate about.
Please share with us Johnny Mundo’s life philosophy and what he wants (a) his opponents and (b) his fans to know/remember him for.
As Johnny Mundo, there are several. “I am Johnny Mundo and this is my world!” where he refers to the ring as his world. It’s all part of that quintessential wrestling mentality but personally, I would also want people to remember me as someone who puts his everything in life.
It’s good to have dreams and follow those dreams because you can, and it’s perfectly fine to be a little overconfident when you’re chasing those goals.
At this level of intensity, how much longer do you see yourself doing this? What’s your next career step?
At the moment, I am just really excited with the momentum that Lucha Underground is having and this has been keeping me busy. Aside from pro wrestling, I have also been dabbling in filming.
I studied film at the University of California, Davis. I absolutely love writing, producing and acting in action comedies. The next step apart from the world of wrestling, would definitely be filmmaking.
Lucha Underground has received loads of critical acclaim, for the quality of the matches and the intensity of the storylines. How would you compare the creative process there to, for example, WWE?
It’s pretty much similar. It’s up to you how you want to tell a story to the fans. With Lucha Underground, it really empowers the wrestlers to showcase the best of their talents, which is why everyone is competing to raise the bar in wrestling.
A lot of the show’s storytelling intensity is said to be generated from the matches themselves as much as (if not more than) interviews and promos – so how much input do the individual wrestlers have in their storylines and angles?
Quite a bit. The thing is nobody knows how to be Johnny Mundo better than Johnny Mundo himself. The same applies – that nobody knows how to be Prince Puma better than Prince Puma himself. So it’s very much a collaboration between the writing team and the wrestlers.
Looking at the promotional trailers for Lucha Underground, it sometimes seems like we’re watching a Robert Rodriguez movie. How involved is he with the weekly production, and what does he do on the show that makes it different from your previous TV experiences?
Robert is the busiest person I have ever known. He’s a very hands-on person. He works on everything, and he advises us on how the production works.
How has the show been received by the larger lucha libre community, specifically in the sport’s birthplace of Mexico?
So far I have been hearing great reviews from everybody. People are blown away by the production, the art direction and Robert Rodriguez’s style. You can’t see this anywhere else where you can’t expect cliffhangers or answers. In fact I was shocked to see how many people have seen Lucha Underground, it’s reached Germany, Britain, and soon Malaysia. It just keeps growing from there.
Lucha Underground is on Mondays at 9pm on Kix HD (Astro Ch 729).