Lucha Underground is not like anything else on TV, wrestling-related or otherwise. Combine a surrealist telenovela with Incan magic and mysticism and some of the most violent Luchador fighting you’ll ever see, add a dose of executive producer Robert Rodriguez’s cinematic style, and you’re close. Yet the show still manages to surprise with its epic weirdness. Its pre-taped, highly edited nature makes for a storytelling depth and flexibility rarely seen in wrestling, e.g. ancient stones capable of controlling wrestlers, a really fucked up promoter named Dario Cueto who kills people on his own roster and women who wrestle men without it feeling gross. The show also has those hardcore stunts and props that have been pretty much phased out of the WWE: You’ll see wrestlers dive from the rafters, catch fire and drip with blood.
For Season 2, which premieres today on El Rey Network, Lucha Underground signed legendary luchador Rey Mysterio Jr. (Playboy.com profiled Mysterio last December.) The inimitable wrestler, known for his flamboyant corkscrews and flips, is an obvious match for the show.
Born Óscar Gutiérrez in Chula Vista, CA, Mysterio has been wrestling since age 14. After a few years working in Mexico he joined ECW; he then became a mainstay of the now defunct WCW and later, the WWE, where he earned a gaggle of championships. He had a huge fan following, and his small stature and athletic gifts typically had him presented as the wily David against a monstrous Goliath. After a slew of injuries, Mysterio left the WWE in 2015 for the independent circuit once again. He was involved in the tragic death, in the ring, of fellow wrestler Perro Aguayo Jr. The incident, while accidental, rocked Mysterio. He told Playboy that he was thinking of throwing in the towel. Now, Mysterio is looking to put the incident behind him and go careening into the future.
This morning, we met up with Mysterio in Miami to talk about the new show and his new outlook.
Lucha Underground is more story-focused like a dramatic TV show rather than just a wrestling promotion. Is there stuff you haven’t been able to do before, creatively speaking, that you’re going to be able to do now?
Not yet. But being backstage was very exciting. When I finally saw a match on the air, I thought it was mind-blowing: Oh my god, this is a movie-based wrestling show! It has endless potential.
Can you give us a taste of what your story angle may be? You’ve done a lot of work in the past with another roster member, Johnny Mundo…
Right. We actually never finished a feud we had going in Mexico with AAA [Asistencia Asesoría y Administración LLC, a Mexian wrestling promotion company]. Now that Lucha Underground comes on tonight, there’s a little teaser on the site. I become a mentor to one of the members of the Lucha Underground. You see that new talent, who is also from my city Tijuana, born in San Diego. We have a lot in common. I was very pleased to learn that I would be working with him.
The show has this sort of strange sense of magic and mysticism.
That’s what takes you away from the wrestling you’ve seen for years and what you’re used to watching. This steps outside of the box, and people should be open to viewing something completely different. The characters are completely different: Kiyosha is a special tactical force that carries a gun. That’s definitely not something you see every day.
Yeah, and in the season one, the promoter Dario Cueto murders someone in cold blood.
The person he murders — the newer version is the person I’m mentoring. He took on the name.
The show also has a lot of that old-school, hardcore ECW feel with all the crazy stunts and fires and props. Do you still like to work with those things, or are you at the point in your career where you sort of need to slow down?
I’ll tell you what. It’s definitely not the thing that scares me. It’s most definitely something that I feel inside: Man, I wanna keep doing this. I haven’t yet come up with something ordinary to do. I would like to continue that style that I had and that made me famous for so many years. It’s cool that they don’t hold you back and they don’t tell you that you can’t do this, this, or this. It’s pretty much: You’re going to entertain the fans and put on a show.
If those crazy stunts don’t scare you, what does?
Boarding an airplane. That scares me. I’m very attached to my wife and kids, and sometimes it’s very hard for me to leave home, because I love being around. This is completely different. This network… this brand brought a second wind to me. For the longest time, I felt like I was stuck in a ditch and couldn’t get out. I was bumping into one wall, and I would turn around and bump into another wall. This is something that keeps me going. There’s no fear right now. The only fear would be if this doesn’t succeed, but we have all the things necessary to make it succeed.
Are there any spots in the ring that you won’t do? That maybe you would’ve done five years ago and you would be careful now?
Not careful; limited. Because my injuries, knock on wood, were all to my left knee. My right, my heel can touch my ass. My left one, this is as far as it bends. I had to take out one of my most famous moves, because I would get so creative with this, is just being able to stand on the apron and bounce to the top rope. Springboard. I can’t do it anymore because my knee doesn’t bend all the way, and I can’t reach over to get on the top rope. I can still do a 619. Anything running is fine.
So it’s the explosion.
Yeah, and even on the mat I can jump. But I can only bend my knee so far. If I try to jump to the top rope, this knee doesn’t bend fast enough, so I feel I might just clip and fall. It’s not because I want to because I have to adapt.
Was there any negativity between you and the WWE when your contract ended?
No, no negativity from their part. It was pretty much, “Good luck Rey with whatever you want to do, and if you want to come back the doors are always open.” But, I’m very happy with this stage in my life right now. It’s getting better and better each and every day.
I grew up watching you in the WCW. When you read about it now, there’s a lot of stuff written about behind-the-scenes drama. When you’re involved with one of these promotions, is there a sense of that?
There is definitely a sense of that. I’m not really involved with the political side of the industry, so I didn’t really care. It was 5, 10, 25 minutes that I got to go out there in the ring and perform, and I was being seen on television… I just made sure that those minutes were the best the fans would ever see. Never really been passionate or crazy about hearing the political side of the storylines and all that.
Just wanted to say that I grew up as a really small guy. And you were always my favorite. Do you get a lot of people saying that?
I do! That’s a compliment and a blessing. To be able to make someone be able to achieve something because they saw me on TV. What can you say to that? It picks up my spirit.
Season 2 premieres tonight on the El Rey Network at 8 P.M. EST.