I come from a family of hard workers, Mexicans as far back as I know. Both of my parents were Mexican, but like a lot of others they have held jobs and lived on both sides of the border throughout their lives. My father, Roberto Gutierrez, grew up very poor. He never really went to school -- he went to work instead. When he was eight, his job was picking up waste to feed the pigs. He learned things on his own, getting his education in the streets. He found bigger and better jobs and finally got to the point where he ran a factory warehouse for a picture-frame manufacturer. It took years and a lot of effort on his part, getting up before dawn and coming home well after sunset, but he made it work. As kids, we were well cared for. Not rich, but never hungry.
My mother, Maria del Rosario, divided her time between work and raising us. I have three brothers: Rojelio, Roberto Jr., and Luis, all older. She cleaned houses and had other jobs, making money to help support the family.
I was born December 11, 1974, in Chula Vista, at Scripps Memorial Hospital. That happens to be the same hospital where my son and daughter were born. While it's changed a bit over the years, I still felt an attachment when my children were born there. I thought it was pretty fitting that they started life where I started.
Being born in the United States made me a citizen -- the first one inthe family. Then as now, America represented a better life for the next generation, with the promise of education and freedom.
My parents named me Oscar. That's an unusual name for a Mexican-American, but there's no elaborate history or romance attached to it. The name popped into my father's head one day. He liked it, and that's what he decided to call me.
To be honest, I never asked my mom where that name came from until I started working on this book. It's funny, I guess: No matter how curious you are about most things, there are always a few things that you take for granted.
Soon after I was born, my father's company offered him a job in Tijuana. It was a very good job, but he didn't want to relocate the family. My parents had bought a house in San Diego, and they wanted to make sure we all finished high school there. So my father started commuting every day. Distance wise, Tijuana and San Diego are very close. But the border can add a lot of time to the commute.
It wasn't too bad in the morning: He'd leave San Diego about 5:30, cross the border, and get to work by 6:00 A.M. Coming home was a different story. He'd leave work around 4:00 P.M., but with the traffic he wouldn't get home until 6:30 or so. If he stayed later, he'd be home even later, very often well into the night. He'd get home, and soon have to go to bed so he could get up first thing in the morning.
That was just one of the sacrifices my parents made for us. It's the story of all immigrants: to work hard for the next generation.
WRESTLING HAS ALWAYS been a big part of my life. My uncle Miguel -- Miguel Ángel López Díaz -- was a well-known luchador, or wrestler, over the border in Tijuana, wrestling as Rey Misterio. He is my mother's younger brother, and she'd often take me to see his shows. For a while, he worked for a construction company and lived with us in San Diego. He would work during the week, then head down to Tijuana Friday nights to wrestle. I'd tag along, excited by the show and happy to be with my uncle.
My uncle's ring name translates as Mystery King or the King of Mystery. It's a reference to an important ingredient of lucha libre, or Mexican-style wrestling. With so many wrestlers using masks, mystery about the sport is a constant.
Unlike me, my uncle is a little taller than the average height for a Mexican, and he wrestled as a heavyweight, his billed weight around 220 pounds. He's a powerful man, and by the early 1980s he was well known in Tijuana and Mexico. He was also developing a reputation as a gifted and exceptional teacher, training a large number of students who would go on to superstar careers in the ring.
All I knew was that he was my favorite uncle, and I loved being around him. He was practically as close to me as my father or mother. He and his wife at the time, Lilia Lopez, used to babysit me. He was still in his twenties, without any children of his own, and he cared for me as if I were his own son. He was living on a ranch, and we'd ride horses together or drive my three-wheeler. That was the kind of family we were -- very, very close.
I loved tagging along with him to TJ -- what we called Tijuana -- when he would teach his wrestling classes. The sessions were held in a gym next to the Tijuana Auditorium. It was there that I first had a chance to go into the ring. I was really little, no more than four or five, maybe even younger. I'd jump and play around, like any kid would do when he sees a ring. I'd imitate what I saw the wrestlers do. I'd hit the ropes, bounce off the second. I would climb the turnbuckle and jump off, land on my feet, and roll.
I remember my uncle standing on the outside of the ring as another wrestler pushed the ropes open. I'd run and dive between the first and second ropes, landing in my uncle's arms. I was sure he'd catch me, and he always did.
Going as a fan to wrestling shows with my mother and grandmother -- Leonor Dias -- brought me into the life at an early age. I would go into the locker room with my uncle and see all my favorite wrestlers. I'd watch them go over high spots, working different steps and moves, putting two and two together. Of course, at the time I had no clue how hard they were working. It all looked very easy. I'd imitate what they were doing later on and learn almost by chance.
Backstage, I was able to see a lot of my favorite wrestlers without masks, which was a real privilege. To meet someone without their mask is a huge honor, and a sign of respect.
IN MEXICO, PROFESSIONAL wrestling is known as lucha libre. The words literally mean "free wrestling," and the phrase is sometimes translated as "free-style wrestling." But the real definition of Mexican wrestling goes beyond what the words mean on their own. In fact, words themselves really can't describe it. To understand lucha libre, you have to experience it.
Wrestling in Mexico shares a history with wrestling in the United States, and much of what you see in the ring is similar on either side of the border. Even with that in mind, though, wrestling in Mexico tends to be higher flying, with more high spots and more acrobatic action than you see in the typical American ring.
Tag team wrestling, often with three wrestlers on each team, is more popular in Mexico than in the U.S. It's common for matches to be decided by Two-Out-of-Three-Falls rather than simply one as in the U.S. Until recently, there was less emphasis on continuing storylines and more use of comedy in Mexico compared to the U.S.
But the most obvious difference between American wrestling and lucha libre is the masks. They're a colorful part of the sport and, as I mentioned, they have almost a religious significance to fans and wrestlers.
A lot of popular stories about lucha libre connect the masks to the ancient Aztec or Mayan cultures, where masks had a religious significance. Wrestling historians point out that the masks' history in Mexican wrestling seems only to date to the 1930s or so. But the idea of the ancient connection is a strong one, and it may be one reason masks are so important.
Not everyone wears a mask. But for those who do, putting it on is like putting on a new identity. The mask is part of who you are in the ring, your real face as a wrestler. You're still you, of course -- but you're also different.
Masked wrestlers will go pretty far to avoid being identified and seen without their masks by fans. Mil Máscaras never took off his mask inside the locker room. He even wore it into the showers, choosing to shower in the end stall if he wanted to wash his hair. No one ever saw him unmasked, in the ring or backstage. El Hijo del Santo was the same way, and is to this day.
That's how intense it can be. It's very close to a religion.
I get asked all the time "Rey, do you ever take off your mask?"
Of course I do -- but not in the ring; not when I'm performing, doing a show, or meeting people. The mask is part of my respect for the profession and for the people I'm entertaining.
I also had it taken off for a period of time when I was wrestling -- but we'll get into that later on.
Good versus Evil
IN LUCHA LIBRE, a lot of the matches are seen as contests between good and evil, much more than they are in the United States. Wrestlers are divided into técnicos and rudos. The word técnico is said to come from an older term, científico, or "scientist," and it refers to wrestling that is more scientific or technical -- in other words, a style that follows the rules and laws of wrestling.
Rudo means "crude" or "rough." A rudo is expected to use any method he can to win, and he won't be above breaking the rules to get a pin.
In the U.S., wrestling fans use the terms babyface and heel to classify wrestlers, and it's usually said that babyfaces are on the side of good and heels are evil. But the distinctions aren't as strong here as they are in Mexico. Here a heel could be very popular and even a borderline babyface, without the sense of being evil. It's usually different in Mexico.
Mexico's greatest luchador, El Santo, provided a model for técnicos to follow. Born in 1917, Santo, el Enmascarado de Plata (Saint, the Masked Man of Silver), was to Mexican wrestling what Babe Ruth was to baseball -- if Babe Ruth had also been the leading actor of his time.
Santo wrestled for fifty years, never taking off his mask until only ten days before he died. He'd wrestled for years and starred in dozens of movies, but he always protected his identity.
In his movies, Santo battled countless evil creatures: vampires, mummies, and all kinds of monsters. The dark side. He had the same identity in the ring: a good guy who fought evil. Everyone who has followed has had to pay at least some respect to that model.
I think the personalities of técnico and rudo can reflect who people are in real life. I don't mean that rudos are bad people, or that a técnico is a perfect human being who never does any wrong. It's more subtle than that. If you're the aggressive type and you get your switch triggered easily, you may favor the rudos. In my case, I was always very humble, very spiritual, I loved to be on the good side. I loved the sport and leaned toward being a técnico.
Sometimes I wonder how my life would have been if I'd grown up on the other side -- always getting into fights in school, eventually becoming a wrestler, but going toward the dark side.
I thought about that when we were doing the Filthy Animals. But I'm getting ahead of myself.
My (Brief) Career as
ON THE WHOLE, I was a good student in elementary school. I didn't give the teachers any problems. I liked doing my homework and I got along with most of my teachers. My dad and my mom came from very poor backgrounds, and both had very minimal educations. They're both pretty smart, my father especially (he's smarter than most college professors). But that upbringing really showed them the value of school.
Probably because of that, they wouldn't let my brothers and me take education for granted. They were always pushing us to study. Always. School and homework always came first. Later on, when I started going to wrestling school, all of my homework had to be finished or there was no wrestling that night. I had to keep my grades up or I'd be out.
I don't want to give you the wrong idea. I wasn't a truant, but I wasn't a star pupil or goody-two-shoes either. I was something of a class clown, and I could get into a little trouble that way. I tried to pick my moments as best I could, but this wasn't always possible.
I did have a brief career as a truant in fourth grade, but it ended poorly.
I used to love long hair, which was the style back then. Mine was long and straight, and for some reason I thought it would look better if it was a little wavy. So I begged my mom to let me get a perm.
"You're not going to like it," she told me.
"I will. I do. Please, please, please."
You know how kids are. I wore her down eventually.
I got the perm on a Sunday. I remember it clearly. When I rinsed off -- I remember washing my hair two or three times -- the curls were like jheri curls. They were circles, not waves.
I wasn't too sure of the look Sunday. By Monday, I was positive that I didn't like it.
I went to school on Monday, and it didn't take fi ve seconds before they were making fun of my hair outside. I was embarrassed. REALLY embarrassed. I wanted to hide, bury my head in the ground.
I didn't even make it to the fi rst class. I ducked out and went straight home.
My mother used to leave for work shortly after I went to school, so the house was empty. I snuck in and watched TV all day.
My mom came home later that afternoon.
"How was school?" she asked.
"Oh, it was great," I told her. "Lots of fun."
She gave me a funny look.
"And what did your friends say about your hair?"
"Oh, they liked it. They liked it a lot. They thought it was cool."
Another funny look.
"Good," she said, and she went off to cook dinner or do something else around the house.
The next day I didn't make it to school at all. I left at the normal time, but up the hill I hopped into a big ditch and hid until my mother left for work. Then I went back and watched some more television. I watched The Flintstones, I Love Lucy, The Price Is Right and The Dick Van Dyke Show.
It was great.
Around the time school was over, I found a hat and went over to a little 7-Eleven mall area where we used to hang out and play. The life of a truant suddenly seemed very appealing, even if it came with a terrible hairstyle.
I pulled this off for four days. The school probably called my house once or twice to see what was going on, but of course I wasn't about to answer the phone.
Then someone in the school offi ce decided to try my mom at work.
I WAS WATCHING TV in my room at about 9:30 in the morning when I heard a car pull up in the driveway.
I turned off the TV and hid under the bed.
The door opened.
"Oscar!" yelled my mother. "I know you're in here. So you better make this easy. Come on out. Come on out!"
The third time she yelled, I figured I better give myself up.
"Why haven't you been going to school?" she demanded when I crawled out.
"Well, I didn't like my hair..." I gave her the whole spiel but got very little sympathy.
In fact, I got no sympathy.
"I'm going to cut your hair now and take you to school," she said.
And she did. There was no arguing. In minutes my curls were gone, along with the rest of my hair. And it wasn't exactly a SuperCut look either. She just grabbed some clippers and chopped off my head.
I mean, my hair. But it felt like my head.
I was crying, but that didn't get me any sympathy either. We went over to the school. Someone in the office said that maybe I should come back the next day when I calmed down, but my mother wasn't having any of it. Her decision was final.
School was too important to miss -- especially for something dumb like curly hair. Or no hair, which was now the case.
So they walked me to class. I sat there with my head down, sure that everyone was staring at me. But then, little by little, the cloud over my head seemed to lift. Things didn't seem as bad as I thought they were, and by the end of the day I'd just about forgotten the whole misadventure. I went home and made up with my mom.
I can laugh about it now -- but only because I have destroyed all photographic evidence of how ridiculous I looked.
Learning to Be Tough
BY THE TIME I was eight, I knew I wanted to try wrestling as a career. I managed to convince my uncle and my parents to let me start training. It wasn't really hard: My parents were always cool about letting me do what I wanted, so long as I had school taken care of. And of course my uncle was the one running the [wrestling] school. He loved having me around.
I was the youngest kid in the class by far. The next youngest was sixteen. Everyone knew that the only reason I was there was the pull I had because of my uncle. But the other students were all pretty nice to me. The instructors treated me the same as the other students. My uncle may even have been harder on me. Despite my age, his expectations were high, and I had to work to meet them.
I don't know if they do this in the States, but in Mexico we learned how to chop or slap across the chest very early. It's a pretty basic wrestling skill. My uncle would grab me and show the class how it was done. His hand was twice the size of my chest -- it was like a bulldozer taking out a doghouse. There were times when he hit me so hard my chest would start to bleed.
Yes, it really does hurt. It especially did then. In fact, it hurt so badly that a few times tears came to my eyes and I walked out of the ring, ready to quit.
He would ignore me and continue on with the class.
It usually took me about fifteen minutes to realize I really wanted to go back inside and learn. My uncle would ignore me until after the class. Then he'd make me understand, again, that he was treating me just the same as everyone else. Even at eight years old, I learned I had to man up.
Still, it was hard to take at times.
"You know what, this is the way we train," he'd tell me. "If you're going to stick around, you're going to have to take it. There's no backing out. No easy way. If you think I'm hitting you hard, that's the way we hit. Hit me twice as hard."
It was part of my education, learning how to be tough.
THE GYM WHERE we trained was next to the Tijuana Auditorium, the major arena for professionals in the city. The gym was -- let me be kind by calling it old school. With a lot of emphasis on "old."
The ring itself was an old boxing ring that had been adapted for wrestling. The ropes were made out of wire covered with hose. It was hard to get a bounce off them. Some of the corners had the hose torn off, with wire sticking out. They were hard when you hit them. The bottom of the mat was stiff. There was no spring in the center, and the top was torn.
Wrestling rings in Mexico are built a little differently than the ones in the U.S., but this was stiff even for Mexico. It was wood, with maybe two inches of some sort of foam. A leather mat sat on top of the foam. The mat was as rough as an unpolished stone -- I think the cow who gave up the hide for it must have been through a war. And the surface was torn and patched. All of this made the ring uncomfortably hard.
And don't let me forget to mention the hole in the roof over the mat. When it rained, water would leak in. We would work around the wet spots -- and the buckets that were there to catch the rain.
But here's how hardcore we were: We didn't care. Hard mat, rain puddles -- we ignored them as best we could. We just wanted to be in the ring.
The first classes focused on the basics. We would jog around the gym, warming up and building endurance. From there we would do duck squats -- where you squat, grab your ankles, and walk like a duck. There were push-ups, Hindu squats, and sit-ups. No weights, just exercises.
All of that took thirty to forty-five minutes. Then we would get into the ring for another forty-fi ve minutes to an hour. The work varied, but usually we would do tumbling: forward rolls, back rolls. We learned how to take bumps, how to run the ropes. We learned the basics of mat wrestling, how to lock up, how to put on holds, how to get out of holds.
At that point the class separated. Beginners would go by themselves, still working on basic moves. The more advanced people would work together. We'd get individual instruction, slowly learning the profession.
I still remember some of my trainers, including Cavellero 2000, La Gacela, and Super Astro. I still have some of the bruises they inflicted as well.
Good bruises, all good.
Super Astro worked us especially hard. When he was coming, we knew a few of us were going to be on hospital report the next day. He'd start us out with five hundred squats and five hundred pushups, and ramp us up from there. If you survived one of his workouts, you were tough. Of course, he was also one of my favorite superstars growing up, a very innovative and creative wrestler. He was doing an early variation of what I now call the 619. Short like me -- maybe even shorter -- he was a huge inspiration in my career.
RIGHT AFTER I finished elementary school, we moved to Tijuana. My parents decided to move because of my father's job, which had increased in responsibility -- and pay. Even though they moved, I continued going to school in Chula Vista, California, commuting back and forth.
Usually my mom would take me. We would leave our house at 5:30 A.M. If traffic was good, it would take us about fifteen minutes to get across the border, and from there it was just a short drive to school. If traffic was bad, it would take about an hour, and I wouldn't get to school until close to 7:00.
Sometimes, when traffic was really bad, I would get out of the car, cross the border walking on foot, take the trolley up to Iris Avenue, and then from Iris I would either take the bus or walk to school. That was a good four- to five-mile walk.
When you're a kid all those things work out, but now when I think about doing something like that I say no way. I love to walk, but that's pushing it. Especially for school.
I'd get out of class around 2:45. If I was taking a bus home, I would get home around 3:30, and I started my homework on the way home. This was important, because I wasn't allowed to go to wrestling school unless my homework and chores were done.
We all had chores and responsibilities. I was cooking my food, washing my clothes, and cleaning my room by the age of ten. None of us were momma's boys. We were taught how to be men.
Back then my favorite thing to cook was rice and beans -- every Mexican has to have his homemade beans. I still like that simple dish. There's nothing like beans and a little rice to fill you up. My real specialty was ramen noodles -- add water and you're good to go. It takes skill to boil water. Maybe I'll open a restaurant when I retire.
I wasn't the only kid in the school going back and forth. If you asked any Mexican-American parent at the time where they would want their son or daughter to learn, they'd answer the States immediately. So when work took them back across the border to Mexico, they'd do their best to make sure their kids were still getting a good education, even if that meant a day's worth of commuting back and forth between the two countries.
Besides wrestling, the sport I really loved was football. We'd play during recess. I was usually a receiver. My tricky moves and speed earned me the nickname Weasel from my friends.
I loved to grab the ball in midair and just run, man, just run. I always say that if I hadn't become a wrestler, I would have been the smallest football player ever to make the NFL.
Another sport I loved was surfing. My mom's older brother, Ampelio, used to live near Rosarito Beach, about twenty-five minutes from Tijuana. He was a big surfer, very accomplished. I think I was in high school when I convinced him to take me out and teach me how to use a surfboard. He took me to a spot called K38, showed me the basics, and then got me going.
I wiped out on my first wave.
And my second.
And my third, fourth, fifth...I quickly lost count. Somehow I managed to keep enough salt water out of my lungs and belly to still float, and by the end of the day I got the hang of it. I still remember how happy I felt that first time I managed to stand on the surfboard for fifteen seconds -- the beginning and ending weren't pretty, but the middle was fantastic.
Come to think of it, the ending was a real smash...into the waves, that is.
The Company and
ABOUT THE TIME I started high school, my brother Rojelio -- we called him Lalo -- started managing a pizza restaurant named Godfather's Pizza. My mom began working for him at some point, setting up the salad bar and such, and eventually I got a job there too, working after school and on weekends folding pizza boxes and busing tables.
The thing I remember most about that job was the television in the back room where I took lunch. On Saturdays it would be set to wrestling shows. It was there that I first saw World Wrestling Federation, as WWE was known at the time. If I'm not mistaken, the show was a rebroadcast of Saturday Night's Main Event, and it would air somewhere around noon.
I watched Hogan, Jake "The Snake" Roberts, the Macho Man, Ricky Steamboat, Tito Santana, and a long list of others. A lot of the matches were squash matches -- very short, one-sided matches.
I remember watching Jake "The Snake." This was back in the late 1980s, before his recent tribulations. He was a wild guy even then, but in a good way.
The contests didn't stand out as much as the character: Look at this guy coming out with a snake.
And it was a real snake. He used it to psych out his opponents, and it was a real mind job. He'd come out to the ring with a python in a canvas bag. He called it Damien.
When Jake fi nished an opponent, usually with a DDT, he'd let the snake slither over the other victim's body.
Jake is generally credited with inventing the DDT, now a mainstay of wrestling. The move starts with a front facelock; the wrestler then falls backward, jamming his opponent's head against the canvas and, if things go well, getting the pin.
BESIDES WORLD WRESTLING Federation, I used to watch CMLL -- Consejo Mundial de Lucha Libre -- all the time. (The name means Worldwide Wrestling Council.) CMLL is Mexico's equivalent of World Wrestling Federation, and back then it featured all the big Mexican stars.
As I grew older, joining CMLL became my goal. I was like, Man, I want to go there. I want to make it there.
It never came into my head that I would be able to go to World Wrestling Federation, to make it in America. My sights were set on Mexico City, which was far enough away, and the CMLL. That was the big time as far as I was concerned. It was my dream.
The Best Teachers
WORK, HOMEWORK, CHORES, and wrestling school -- that was my life, though not in that order.
I would head to the gym Tuesdays, Wednesdays, and Thursdays. Classes usually ran from about seven to nine. At nine, most of the students would go home. The advanced kids would stay and work with the instructors individually. Naturally, I hung around. It was the best time to learn.
But Thursday nights were even better. With the gym right next to the Tijuana Auditorium, it was natural for the wrestlers who were going to perform there on Friday to come in and work out. They'd come into Tijuana on Thursdays, check out the auditorium, and end up working out in the gym. It was the best time to be there. Sometimes my uncle would send me into the ring with Shamu to show my stuff. Shamu was a great partner, always making me look good.
With luck, I'd get a chance to go into the ring with them. When I did, more often than not they'd teach me a move and even do a few minutes of mat wrestling with me. It was cool.
I can't remember all of the stars I met. Negro Casas was one of them. Leon Chino was another, and so were Caballero 2000, Super Astro, and La Gacela. They were huge Mexican stars, and to this day I think about them and their work -- and their kindness toward me. I got a little bit of knowledge from them each night.
Beginnings of Buzz
FEW PEOPLE REALLY knew I was studying to be a wrestler in elementary school and junior high. By the time I got to high school, though, there was a bit of buzz going around that I was training. I liked it.
I remember telling a few of my friends that my uncle was Rey Misterio and that I wanted to be a wrestler too. The reaction was almost always the same.
"Aw, come on, man, go on."
"No, no, no," I would tell them. "It's true."
"You? Be a wrestler?"
It was hard to believe, not just because wrestlers were famous, but because I was so small. I had to prove myself, even to my friends. Once they saw me working, though, they believed.
Soon after I got to high school, one or two of the school wrestling coaches came to me and asked if I'd sign up for the wrestling team. I really wanted to do it, but between my part-time job at my brother's restaurant, homework, and training, I just didn't have the time. So unlike a lot of kids and many professional wrestlers, I never had a chance to wrestle in high school.
The Hunger Grows
EIGHT YEARS OLD, nine, ten...eleven, twelve, thirteen -- the years moved on. I trained and learned, I learned and trained. Every year, every month, every day, I got a little better.
I also grew hungrier. Not just to learn more about wrestling, but to get into the ring for real. One by one, other kids I trained with made their debuts as professionals. I wanted to make mine too. It didn't matter that they were older than me. By the time I was fourteen, I'd been training for six years and I felt like a veteran.
I didn't know if I was going to be a professional wrestler. I did know I wanted to be one.
But did I have the courage, the special spunk, the "light" that a wrestler has?
I didn't know. But I did know that I couldn't find out until I stepped into the ring in front of a paying crowd.
And I wanted to do that more than anything else in the world.
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