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Cain Velasquez impresses in pro wrestling debut

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Former UFC heavyweight champion Cain Velasquez debuted Saturday as a pro wrestler at one of the biggest pro wrestling events of the year.

Cain Velasquez
@luchalibreaaa, Twitter

Cain Velasquez surprised just about everyone, except those who had seen him train, pulling out several acrobatic moves in a very successful pro wrestling debut Saturday night.

Velasquez was one of the most intriguing stars of TripleMania, the annual major show of the year for the AAA promotion, the most popular pro wrestling group on Mexican television. The show was at Arena Ciudad in Mexico City, the same venue where Velasquez lost his UFC heavyweight championship to Fabricio Werdum four years earlier.

Velasquez, a fan of lucha libre (Mexican pro wrestling) and its cultural idols like El Santo and Mil Mascaras, didn’t play off his MMA skills in his debut, but instead wanted to be an authentic luchador, right down to wrestling wearing a black mask.

Velasquez teamed with two people who have been around wrestling since their infancy. One partner was Cody Rhodes, an executive vice president at All Elite Wrestling, who is the son of American wrestling legend Dusty Rhodes. The other was the masked Psycho Clown, the most popular wrestler in Mexico, who also comes from the famed Alvarado family, the largest pro wrestling family in the world. They faced off with El Texano Jr., also the son of a wrestling great, Black Taurus, and Kevin “Killer” Kross of Impact Wrestling in the U.S. Kross, a mystery partner, had done some early training with Velasquez in Las Vegas and seemed groomed as his key opponent.

Velasquez’s team won, as they should have, but that was a foregone conclusion, and reviews were strong. With the exception of Ronda Rousey and Floyd Mayweather in WWE and former NFL star DeAngelo Williams, Velasquez made probably the most impressive debut of a superstar pro athlete in going into pro wrestling in more than a decade.

Wearing the mask, while authentic, was something of a mistake. It hid the face that the fans wanted to see and hurt him making a connection to the audience. But he got big reaction since he was a key attraction on the show, and generated tremendous mainstream news coverage in Mexico that pro wrestling usually doesn’t get.

Velasquez tagged in for the first time about four minutes into the match. Kross, who was in the ring, tagged out, refusing to face him. Texano also didn’t want to face him. So he squared off with Taurus, also masked, a very talented luchador who had just come off one of the best matches of the year in the U.S. one week earlier in Los Angeles.

Velasquez immediately hit Taurus with a flying head scissors-like move called a tijera in lucha libre. He followed with a judo throw, and then a springboard on the ropes flipping into an armdrag, the kind of move you expect from the much smaller luchadors and not a 250-pound heavyweight.

He also delivered both a German suplex to Kross, as well as a D.C. suplex, a move taken from the slam his training partner Daniel Cormier did to Dan Henderson in a UFC fight. Velasquez’s pro wrestling trainer, Vinnie Massaro, a Northern California veteran who worked for the seemingly defunct Lucha Underground promotion in the U.S., brought the move to pro wrestling to honor Cormier shortly after he delivered it in the cage. It seemed fitting Velasquez was the first person to use it on a major show.

“Cain was a great student, not just because he’s a great athlete, but because he as a great mind for Lucha Libre,” said Massaro, who helped coach him at the Pro Wrestling Revolution school in San Jose, California. “He wants to learn everything and he isn’t afraid to go out of his comfort zone.”

Later, Kross threw Velasquez into the ring post, and Texano whipped him with his bullwhip. Velasquez also used a spin kick, and he later used another suplex, and followed with kimura for the submission victory for his team.

“I was really impressed with him,” Rhodes said. “He seemed like a big kid. He was breathing and allowing himself time to take and see/feel the crowd. I was happy to see that debut. And I loved his shoes. Taurus is really special too. I would love to see everybody in that ring at AEW at some point, even for a one off. Cain also didn’t have ‘happy feet’ and was very calm even when moving quickly. Ahead of most.”

Velasquez talked all week of doing pro wrestling and fighting concurrently, noting he had put a clause in his UFC contract that allowed him to do pro wrestling.

When AAA first made the deal with Velasquez, they had asked him to do TripleMania, as well as a Sept. 15 show in Madison Square Garden. Velasquez didn’t agree to the New York show at first, because at the time he was hopeful of fighting on the Sept. 21 UFC show at Arena Ciudad. But with that not materializing, there is talk of Velasquez wrestling on the Garden show, AAA’s first show ever in that arena. There is also talk of him wrestling on a third show that AAA will be running at the Forum in Los Angeles on Oct.13. Neither of these appearances were confirmed, although during the week Velasquez spoke of two more shows.

Kross would be a likely opponent going forward, since he was screaming at Velasquez, “This isn’t over,” after his team lost.

Velasquez didn’t unmask until after the match, and as a true babyface star, was hugging children at ringside, including his daughter, and posting for selfies, including with Marisela Pena, the owner of AAA.

“Really great,” Massaro said about Velasquez’s aptitude and learning curve as a wrestler. “He always wanted to learn more stuff. A lot of the lucha stuff he learned in Mexico. It’s a lot to learn how to wrestle, let alone wrestle in one of the biggest matches this year. This isn’t a one-and-done. He wants to wrestle and fight.”

Kenny Omega, considered one of the top pro wrestlers in the world, was on the show, wrestling in a trios match that followed.

“I thought he did absolutely fantastic,” Omega said. “It’s incredible what a special athlete can accomplish when they have a goal and are passionate about their performance. I’d love to see him do it more often.”

“I thought he was great,” said Matt Jackson of the Young Bucks tag team, another AEW executive. “All his spots were clean. Very impressed. The locker room popped big for his first running huracarana. Caught all of us off guard.”