A man honoring his Mexican wrestling heritage with a luchador mask is stepping up to help ensure the people of his country protect themselves with face coverings of their own during a global pandemic.
Professional wrestler Bandido, who will wrestle champion Rush for the Ring of Honor world title in the main event of the Best in the World pay-per-view on Sunday (7 p.m., Honor Club/FITE) has been out in the community since February promoting mask-wearing and hand sanitizing in Mexico. After having his own bout with COVID-19 in December, the 26-year-old from Torreon jumped at the chance to join other luchadores from his country, in conjunction with a youth office in the Mexico City government, to get the message out.
“That was very important for me because if I can help a lot of people I’m gonna do it,” Bandido told The Post in a Zoom interview.
He has gone out to large public places, such as the city’s main train station and marketplace — Latin America’s largest wholesale food market — at least six times to encourage maskless people to put one on. Bandido said most people were happy to see them walking through the streets, while some would get very upset with them. That usually wouldn’t last long.
“When they see us, they were very angry with us,” Bandido said. “I don’t why, but after we come and put some [sanitizing] spray in their hands and a mask on their face that makes them happy. They feel better and we start joking to [make it] fun.”
The effort is needed because Mexico was one of the countries hit hardest by the coronavirus with the fourth-highest death toll in the world at around 234,000, according to Johns Hopkins University. Only the United States, Brazil and India have more. Mexico’s case fatality rate is third overall at 9.2 percent.
“In Mexico, you come to the streets and nobody has a mask [on],” Bandido said. “In America, it’s very different.”
Bandido knows firsthand how serious the virus can be. He had to be pulled from Ring of Honor’s “Final Battle” pay-per-view in December when he and a number of other wrestlers tested positive before entering the company’s strict bubble environment. While he said he did not get many of the COVID-19 symptoms, it did make it “very difficult” to breathe and he felt a lot of “desperation” with each breath.
“It started to take my breath and things like that,” Bandido said. “It felt very bad, it felt real, I think my life came down … [I said] COVID thank you very much. You’re winning this battle and I don’t want [any] more pain because it was very difficult for me to take a breath.”
With that behind him, Bandido — already one of the world’s top luchadores — believes he is entering what could be the best part of his career. It was a journey that began as a 16-year-old in Mexico, his first match coming as part of a show run at a local prison.
“My [trainer] told me we have a match in the jail,” he said. “If you want to come [to the jail], maybe you can take a match. It was very crazy. I felt nervous. I’m in the jail and it’s my first match, too.”
He has come a long way since then. Bandido’s big break came in 2018 when he began wrestling for Ring of Honor, Lucha Libre AAA and Pro Wrestling Guerrilla. Bandido was part of a show-stealing triple-threat match for New Japan Pro-Wrestling’s IWGP Junior Heavyweight championship at the G1 SuperCard at Madison Square Garden in April 2019. He said he has a big picture from the match at his home in Mexico and called it “a dream” because his family was there to watch it. Bandido has had success as a champion tag team wrestler across different promotions, but he’s ready to work more as a singles star going forward.
Already the Pro Wrestling Guerrilla champion, he wants to earn his first world title in a major promotion. To do so, he will need a win over countryman Rush at the UMBC Events Center in Maryland at Ring of Honor’s first show in front of fans since the pandemic started.
He earned the shot by winning the six-man Survival of the Fittest elimination match in June. This will be only the second time he and Rush — a two-time Ring of Honor world champion — will wrestle in a singles match. The other came in March 2019 and was won by Rush. Bandido re-signed with Ring of Honor in January because of the belief the promotion had in him early on and for moments like this.
“I’ve been working toward this opportunity since I came to Ring of Honor three years ago, so this is my time,” he said. “I really wanted to take that match versus Rush because we’ve had one match before and now it is a different time. I have more confidence, more experience.”
Adding the Ring of Honor championship would only accelerate his rise and add a piece of history to bring back to his country he’s made efforts to protect.
“If I win, it will be one of the best things of my life,” Bandido said. “At this moment I’m PWG champion and if I become Ring of Honor champion at the same time with PWG, I think I’m gonna be the first Mexican person for that. I’m very nervous, but I’m very proud.”