WWE vs. UFC: Alberto Del Rio out to Prove a Point to Trump Supporter Tito Ortiz

Jonathan Snowden@JESnowdenCombat Sports Senior WriterDecember 6, 2019

Graphic courtesy of Combate Americas

They are gathering on the border, fans from Texas and Mexico alike, to see what should be the biggest fight in the history of Combate Americas.

The sentence above, quite likely, sounds like faint praise.

After all, chances are you haven't even heard of Combate Americas, an MMA promotion founded in 2011 to be the salsa in a field full of promotional ketchup. The brainchild of Campbell McLaren, the man who helped bring UFC into the world in 1993, Combate has become a hit in the Spanish-speaking world on Univision, regularly beating most of its domestic competition in the ratings.

But, for all its success boldly forging ahead into previously untapped markets, Combate has made little progress attracting the established MMA fans. An afterthought at best in the MMA press, its events often go by unremarked upon at all, save for McLaren's often profane rants targeting the media establishment.

All of that changes Saturday when Alberto "El Patron" Rodriguez enters the cage Saturday to fight UFC Hall-of-Famer Tito Ortiz, the promotion's first-ever pay-per-view and its attempt at vaulting into the MMA mainstream.

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While Ortiz is likely a familiar name if you're an MMA fan, either for his vicious ground-and-pound or for his comical television interviews, depending on when you found the sport, Rodriguez may be floating just below your radar.

As Alberto Del Rio, he was a multiple-time WWE champion. As Dos Caras Jr., son of the great luchador Dos Caras and nephew of the legendary wrestling icon Mil Mascaras, he was the guy stubbornly wearing a mask to a real fight, left laying by a Mirko Cro Cop headkick. 

"Back then, I had a different perspective on what the business is. It was very important to me to keep my identity secret," he told Bleacher Report in a 2015 interview. "I know the rest of the world doesn't see pro wrestling or the mask, the culture, the way we see it in Mexico. In Mexico, luchadores, the wrestlers, are the only Mexican superheroes. And to keep the mystery behind the mask is really important. 

"Pro wrestling is such an important part of our culture; it's almost like a religion. It's not just entertainment like it is in the rest of the world. That's why I did it. That's the reason I wore a mask even in a real fight." 

While that kick to the dome in 2003, a staple of highlight reels for more than a decade, may be his legacy in mixed martial arts, he actually continued fighting through 2010. He ended his career with a record of 9-5most of the losses to established professionals, most of the wins against a collection of fighters sans Wikipedia pages in short bouts for which no digital record seems to exist.

In 2015, he joined Combate as the organization's president, helping attract much-needed media attention in his native Mexico. Speculation ran rampant that a fight would soon follow. Instead, he resigned after what Deadspin called "numerous public incidents involving (then fiancee and WWE superstar) Paige and Alberto," including a widely reported domestic violence investigation in which no charges were filed.

But he stayed close to the promotion, remaining on Spanish-language commentary and forging a bond with McLaren, one of the few people in the combat sports world who stood by him in the immediate aftermath of his short time as a TMZ favorite. He returned to wrestling with IMPACT, his prizefighting days seemingly behind him.

An itch, however, remained. And against former light heavyweight champion Ortiz, Rodriguez is looking to finally scratch it.

"I could have fought anyone I wanted," Rodriguez told Bleacher Report. "But we talked about different names, and when I found out that Tito was not under contract with any organization, I said, 'Let's do Tito.'

"Campbell McLaren, my boss and friend, put together this deal without ever talking about money. Combate Americas is home; they have been doing fantastic things for the company. And they have even supported me in and out of the business. This company was there for me. Campbell has supported me, no matter what. You pay loyalty with loyalty.

"I am fighting to continue my legacy. For younger fighters and to show my children that dreams do come true. I also want to continue to help the company to continue growing."

Promotion for the fight has devolved as the days have gone by, escalating from a bet over title belts to a press conference shove from Ortiz. On Thursday, Rodriguez was in the news for jokingly wrestling around with a television host wearing a Donald Trump mask during an interview.

Combate has leaned hard in this direction, with Ortiz, a former Celebrity Apprentice contestant, playing up his Trump support, an unpopular position with much of the promotion's core Hispanic audienceRodriguez, a sneering bad guy in the world of professional wrestling, finds himself cast as the babyface opposite Ortiz, the foreign villain.

"In pro wrestling, I didn't mind being the bad guy," he said. "Like in a movie. But Tito is a professional. He knows how to fight, but he plays mental games. He loses his temper. He decided to take one side (politically). So, I can be the good one."  

The fight comes on a very busy night in the combat sports world. Anthony Joshua will be seeking revenge against Andy Ruiz in a high-profile heavyweight boxing title fight, and the UFC has an event in Washington, DC. But Rodriguez is confident that Combate will hold its own.

"We attract a bigger audience, audiences of least 500,000. We are crushing the competition. Our ratings are better than Bellator, ONE Championship," he said. "... I know that Tito is ready. I am ready. The fans are ready.    

"Winning the fight is all I want.  And then I will immediately leave the next day to go back to my family in San Antonio with [Tito's] UFC belt in hand." 

              

Jonathan Snowden covers combat sports for Bleacher Report.