When Alberto “El Patron” Rodriguez returns to MMA for the first time in almost a decade, he’ll join a few of his colleagues on the list of pro wrestlers who’ve made the leap from fantasy fighting to the real thing.
Recently, former WWE champion and current AEW performer Jake Hager joined the Bellator roster, and current WWE star Bobby Lashley owns a 15-2 pro record. However, the most famous wrestling transplant of the last few years is UFC experiment CM Punk.
Punk (a.k.a. Phil Brooks), a headlining star for the WWE during his time with the company, made two notable appearances on UFC pay-per-view main cards. But he failed to impress, losing by submission in just over two minutes in his first outing and then dropping a lopsided decision in his second outing. The 41-year-old has not fought since June 2018, but remains involved in the MMA scene as part of the Cage Fury Fighting Championships broadcast team.
“El Patron” (a.k.a. “Alberto Del Rio”) has 14 pro fights under his belt, and has been in the cage with heavyweight legend Mirko Cro Cop and UFC and Pride veteran Kazuhiro Nakamura. His last fight took place in February 2010 at a show in Madrid.
On Dec. 7, he’ll face former UFC light heavyweight champion Tito Ortiz in the main event of the the first-ever Combate Americas pay-per-view. At a press conference Wednesday to announce Combate’s new broadcast partnership with AXS TV, “El Patron” was asked what’s changed from when he last fought and how he’ll avoid falling into the same pitfalls as Punk.
“It’s completely different,” Rodriguez said. “The way we used to train, or the way we used to fight when I was fighting in Japan than what we’re doing right now, the business, the sport has evolved in an amazing way, in a different way. Back then it was just a collision of styles. Right now, everybody, every fighter is a good wrestler, is a good striker, has good jiu-jitsu – it’s completely different.
“Talking about that person, we have to give him a lot of respect. I know a lot of people, they’re always bashing CM Punk, Phil, who is one of my best friends. I have a lot of respect for him, and the only ones criticizing him and destroying him are people or journalists that have never been inside the cage. They have never thrown a real punch in their life. I’ve got to give CM Punk a lot of credit, because he prepared himself for that fight, for those two fights, and he busted his ass every single day. It’s not easy.”
Combate CEO Campbell McLaren gave Punk credit for trying, but he was less charitable in assessing Punk’s actual performances.
“I think CM Punk has mas huevos – huge, huge brass balls,” McLaren said. “But let me say, CM Punk, he stunk up the room. He stunk up the room, he just did. It may have taken courage, but he left a stink that still stinks. I think Alberto’s job is to clear out that stink.”
The always outspoken McClaren didn’t mince words when the athletic merit of the Dec. 7 main event was called into question either, offering a series of expletives for its detractors.
“We say, ‘F*ck them,’ McClaren said. “F*ck them. Look at these two guys. They’re not taking this seriously? Look at this man [Ortiz]. This man scares me, I’m sitting next to him. Are you f*cking kidding?
“Not taking it seriously? F*ck you.”
In addition to his past MMA experience, “El Patron” was also an accomplished amateur Greco-Roman wrestler whose Olympic dreams were stymied when Mexico didn’t send a team to Sydney in 2000. He instead turned to pro wrestling, a business in which his family had a storied legacy, and he went on to become a main event act for promotions north and south of the border, including the WWE.
“El Patron” doesn’t want the predetermined nature of wrestling to affect how fans view him as he prepares to get back in the cage.
“It’s just ridiculous,” Rodriguez said. “[Ortiz is] a great athlete, one of the best ones in the sport. I’m a great athlete, I’ve been competing my entire life. I was part of the national team, fought in Japan, fought in America, fought in South America. Yes, I am a pro wrestler; pro wrestling is the love of my life. I’m a third-generation wrestler, my grandfather was a wrestler, my dad was a wrestler, I’m a wrestler, a pro wrestler, and I’m proud to say that I’m a pro wrestler. But I’m also a fighter and I’ve been training. I’ve been busting my ass because I’m fighting Tito Ortiz.
“It would have been easier for me to go and say, ‘Hey Campbell, I want to fight a nobody to take all the glory home after that.’ But there would have been no glory if I would have done that. I said I want to fight one of the best ones in the industry, and I said Tito Ortiz. So for those saying that one of us, or any of us is not taking this seriously, I’m just going to put it in Campbell’s perspective: F*ck you.”