This bio was lifted from the on-line Wrestling Observer Newsletter
Even though his induction was in September, we finally have our long- awaited Hall of Fame biography issue on Konnan. This biography was put together by Steve “Dr. Lucha” Sims and Konnan, both extensively looking back at their own records and memories in putting the piece, written by Sims, together.
There’s a popular television commercial out these days for Dos Equis beer. It features, “the most interesting man in the world.” For the next few pages, you will find, if not the most interesting man in the world, a story about one of the most interesting lives in the world. This past fall, wrestler, booker, and announcer Charles Ashenoff (aka Carlos Espada) was elected into the 2009 class of the Wrestling Observer Newsletter Hall of Fame.
Carlos Santiago Espada Moises was born on January 6, 1964, in the city of Santiago de Cuba, on the other side of Cuba from Havana and not too far (40-45 miles) from Guantanamo Bay in southeastern Cuba. In the late 1950s, Fidel Castro had led a revolution that overthrew the U.S.-backed government of Dictator Fulgencio Batitsa y Zaldivar. In the first days of January 1959, the coup was completed and Castro assumed power.
Pursuant to an agreement between the two nations, however, the US retained a naval base in southeastern Cuba at Guantanamo Bay, as it does to this day.
To sum up five years of intense political history into a sentence or two, the U.S. began plotting to overthrow Castro almost as soon as Castro took power. Assassination attempts were plotted; blockades of the island followed. In October 1962, the Cuban Missile Crisis came to a head as the U.S. suspected Cold War rival the USSR of planting nuclear weapons –– aimed at the U.S. –– in Cuba, which at is closest is just 90 miles or so south of Florida.
The crisis was averted, the blockade lifted (though economic boycotts remained and still do), missiles were removed from Cuba, and all that was left by 1964 was a tremendous sense of distrust between the two countries and its peoples. Due in no small part to the boycotts and embargoes imposed by the U.S., Cuba sank into poverty that today in some areas of the country approaches modern-day Haiti-
like levels. All that Castro had was the rabid support of his followers, some of whom had been supporting him on the streets and behind the scenes since the early 1950s.
One of those hard-core, long-time Castro supporters was a manual laborer named Vilma Moises Alfonso. In mid-1963, Vilma became pregnant, and began to look and realize that the situation for her child was a life of poverty, manual labor, and deteriorating economic conditions. After Vilma gave birth to Carlos in 1964, she began to make arrangements to try to immigrate to the U.S., something that was not as difficult then as it became in later years due to federal initiatives like “Operacion Pedro Pan” and the “Cuban Adjustment Act of 1966.”
Carlos’s father was not in favor of leaving Cuba –– so much so that Carlos’s birth parents got a divorce. Still, Vilma pressed on and in 1966 arrived in Boston, where she had a contact. Very soon after landing in Boston, she met a young private investigator from New York (half-Jewish, half-Puerto Rican) named Richard Ashenoff and re-married. The two raised Carlos together.
By 1967, the family relocated to Carol City in South Florida. In the process of formally adopting Carlos, Richard listed his stepson’s legal name as Charles Ashenoff –– a name that Carlos uses to this day for legal matters and the one which he used for entry into and discharge from the U.S. Armed Services.
Carol City at the time was a rough barrio, and neither Vilma nor Richard made much money in their hourly-wage jobs. Carlos himself was a very bright student, but the environment in which he lived was tough. By 1976, under the influence of older friends and neighbors, he had gotten into stealing cars. In 1981, the same year in which he graduated one year early from Miami Senior High School, he was arrested and charged as a juvenile with credit card theft and motorcycle theft.
To hang with the tough guys, Carlos also learned to box and was an avid weightlifter –– and just like most things he tried, from learning English, to school, to driving cars at 12, Carlos picked these things up naturally and almost immediately. Still, Carlos was expelled from several schools before landing at Miami Senior High.
In 1982, shortly after his 18th birthday, Carlos was caught selling drugs, and hauled before a Dade County judge as an adult. The judge looked at Carlos’ record and basically said, “ I’ll give you one chance –– I could send you to jail, but if you join the service, I’ll drop the charges (this sort of a sentencing was not unusual in the Southeastern U.S. at the time).” Within a week, Carlos enlisted in the Navy.
What the judge either hoped or suspected would happen, happened. Carlos turned a 180 from that day forward. Carlos took to the Navy discipline and routine well, at least for the first 12-18 months. Then, as happens to many troops, Carlos got his first brush with death and with forces bigger than himself, and was forced to mature and think of forest, not the trees.
After basic training, Carlos was relocated to San Diego, assigned to a destroyer in the Pacific Fleet –– that is, assigned duty on a warship. Starting almost with the day he arrived in San Diego, he focused heavily on his boxing. He picked it up so quickly that he won the California state (amateur) Middleweight Boxing Championship in 1983. His weight, strength, and training were going real well, until reality called - twice.
First, Carlos had set as a goal for himself trying to qualify for the Junior Olympic in boxing, but he injured his shoulder in training. Just days later, the second shoe dropped –– his destroyer The USS Cape Cod (AD 43) was called to the Middle East.
In 1982, Israel had invaded Lebanon. After those hostilities ceased, the PLO was forced to withdraw from Lebanon. A multi-national peacekeeping force was established, and U.S. Marines were included as part of the peace-keeping forces stationed in Lebanon.
In April 1983, a suicide bombing against the U.S. Embassy in Beirut, Lebanon, killed 64 people, among them 17 Americans. In response to this and heightened tensions all around, in mid-1983, several ships in the Pacific Fleet (Sixth Fleet, U.S.S. Enterprise CVN-65 battle group ) were sent by President Reagan to the Middle East.
The Cape Cod was among the ships called. They were sent to basically park right by The Strait of Hormuz, the 30-mile-wide waterway leading into and out of the Persian Gulf between Iran and Oman through which much of the world oil flows. The fleet arrived in late summer. On October 24, 1983, the organization that became Hezbollah (backed by Iran) bombed the Marine barracks in Beirut, Lebanon, killing 241 U.S. troops, mostly Marines.
To say that things got real serious real quick on The Cape Cod is a gross understatement. Carlos and most of his young shipmates had not dreamt they might actually be involved in a war. Yet here they were, halfway around the world, in the other guy’s home arena. For the second time in a year, American soldiers had been attacked and killed.
Armed conflict and fighting was not only a possibility, considering it involved the Middle East, Israelis, the U.S. and Arabs. There were those at the time who foresaw not just a war but Armageddon.
Carlos grew up in a hurry. The things of childhood were put behind him, and he and his shipmates prepared for battle. But it never came. For a variety of reasons, the military response from President Reagan was limited to a few shellings. Tensions faded, and by 1984, The Cape Cod was rotated out of the Persian Gulf.
Carlos returned to San Diego, where he peacefully served a few more years in the Navy, eventually receiving an honorable discharge in 1989. He went back to boxing and weight training at the Boxing Club of America, as well as hanging out and visiting several other San Diego gyms. Carlos worked on rehabbing the shoulder and soon grew in weight from 165 to 215 pounds.
In January 1988, a man Carlos had never met saw Carlos boxing at a gym that also trained wrestlers. The man, John Roberts, was a psycho fan and had no connection whatsoever with any wrestling promotion. But he convinced Carlos to come to Tijuana and meet one of the local wrestling promoters, and said that he would be Carlos’ agent or manager.
Carlos thought back briefly to a picture or two he had seen on the wall of his Carol City home growing up –– his uncle Robert Ashenoff was in wrestling gear, fighting against Ox Baker. Once or twice, Carlos had asked his uncle about the pictures, but Robert made it clear he did not want to talk about it at all. Like many kids growing up in the Miami area, he had grown up watching people like Dusty Rhodes, Superstar Billy Graham and Jack Brisco on Championship Wrestling from Florida and had an idea what the end product was supposed to look like.
Carlos traveled to Tijuana on Wednesday, January 6, 1988, (his 24th birthday), where he was led to the dressing area and introduced to Manuel de los Santos, the promoter of the show, and who also wrestled in the main event as “Kiss.” De los Santos took one look at the 215-pound bodybuilder and did the classic double-take –– what the hell is this guy doing here, and, how quickly can I get this guy in the ring.
Konnan introduced himself and explained how he was brought here by his manager/agent, John Roberts. Roberts had already bragged to de los Santos that Carlos had been a wrestler in Florida. Suddenly, a big roar (laughter) went up from another wrestler, Miguel Lopez, who wrestled as Rey Mysterio. Lopez explained to Carlos that Roberts was just a nutty fan, always in the front row, but that he did nothing involved with managing or agent-ing or anything else in the business. Still, the wrestlers asked Carlos, want to give it a try?
Carlos agreed. Shortly, he was in the ring in the curtain jerker. Not knowing any wrestling, amateur or professional, Carlos looked at all the wrestlers in their masks and capes around him, and he felt like he had crashed a superheroes convention. He asked de los Santos what should I do now, I don’t know this stuff. “Oh just go in there and knock him out,” Carlos was told. Given a mask and introduced as El Centurion, that’s what Carlos did, knocking his opponent in his first match groggy enough that the referee stopped the match.
Carlos got not just a win that first day, he got a big reaction. It was clear that even not knowing anything about what he was doing, Carlos had a look and a natural charisma that de los Santos and Lopez picked up on from the first minute. The crowd noticed him and reacted to him from the start.
But he still had to go through training school, and the usual hazing. When Carlos first showed up for his initial training class, he got beat on so hard he passed out totally. But he came back the next day, the only one from that day’s training class who did. Eventually, the training class grew, and included Oscar Gutierrez (the WWE’s Rey Mysterio) and Dionicio Castellanos (the original Psicosis, now Nicho).
Carlos was promoted as El Centurion and The Incredible Hulk and worked his way up the cards quickly. On his 24th birthday, he had his official debut match at the Auditorio Municipal in Tijuana, at the time a weekly wrestling hotbed. Within 14 months, he had already won his first mask versus hair match, defeating As Charro in Tijuana on February 24, 1989. And then things really took off for Carlos.
In 1989, the discharge papers came, and Carlos was no longer physically tied to having to stay in San Diego. Word came to Tijuana that the promoter in Ciudad Juarez (right across the border from El Paso, Texas) was looking for fresh talent.
Carlos went to Juarez, and arrived the day of a card. The promoter looked at him and immediately sent him out to run in on one of the day’s matches. The next week came Carlos’ debut –– but no one gave the ring announcer a heads up first. The ring announcer, not having this wrestler’s name, but seeing the mask and the physique, and recalling movies he had seen, introduced Carlos as “Conan El Barbaro” (Conan the Barbarian). The name stuck, though Conan morphed into Konnan, likely so as not to attract any untoward attention from the estate of Robert E. Howard’s (the creator of the Conan the Barbarian character) lawyers.
At the end of the 1980s, Tijuana was a hot territory, but Juarez was a red-hot territory. Big names and excellent workers from the area created a very strong local crew –– Cinta De Oro, Rocky Star, Crazy 32 and 33, the entire Gori Guerrero family, Tamba El Elefante Volador (Tamba The Flying Elephant, an Abdullah the Butcher clone who was a high flyer).
With all this talent, plus all the big names from other territories coming in as special attractions, the main arena, El Gimnasio Municipal Josue Neri Santos was packed twice a week. Konnan was getting reactions and heat that were one solid level beyond everyone else in the territory, even though with his inexperience, he was the least accomplished worker on the circuit. Konnan was put over strongly, almost never losing, which caused the resentment in certain corners of the locker room that often occurs when a youngster who “hasn’t paid his dues” gets rocketed to the top. The promoters treated him very well, paid him decently (relatively speaking), and put him up in nice places while he worked for them.
Carlos fell in love with lucha libre at this point. Another young man, almost 4 years younger, noticed and befriended him, Eddy Guerrero. Eddy told Carlos to ignore the talk in the locker room and just go about improving himself as a wrestler.
Sometimes, when Konnan was done for the evening in Juarez, he’d take a cab or get a ride to the border, walk across the bridge, and Eddy would be there, waiting, to take him to his home to spend the night, listen to stories from his father, the legendary Gori Guerrero, and train the next day.
At this point, Carlos worked for a few months in Calgary during the dying days of the second version of Stampede wrestling. It was there that Konnan met Chris Benoit for the first time as well. Carlos feels strongly that this is really where he got his first break in wrestling and in his professional career and would be the most under-appreciated story in his development.
Often asked about Stu Hart and the basement dungeon, Carlos simply says, Stu treated him great from day one and they never had any problems, and not a one while working out at The Foothill Athletic Club.
While he was there, Carlos, according to Bret Hart in Bret’s own published biography, was looking for a new move since he was being moved from a tag team wrestler to singles star. Bret thought the move he had seen Riki Choshu use in Japan, the scorpion deathlock, would make a cool finisher. He asked if anyone knew how to put the move on, and Carlos did, and the move became Hart’s trademark sharpshooter.
In Juarez, Carlos became so red hot that, along with his size, he was only booked in main events against the biggest and heaviest wrestlers. The shows on which Carlos was booked sold out time and gain, thirteen in a row at one point. Juarez took pride in being the birthplace of Lucha Libre. It was in Juarez (and El Paso) where EMLL founder Salvador Lutteroth discovered pro wrestling in 1931 to get the idea for his promotion that kicked off the modern era of Mexican wrestling. This led to the obvious match with Carlos against UWA World Heavyweight Champion and star of El Toreo, Canek, at the time the top heavyweight in the country. Canek would tour once or twice a quarter in Juarez, never failing to sell out.
The promoter, against his best instincts, felt forced to put the match together. The match was a disaster. Canek refused to sell for Konnan or give him anything, believing Konnan to be a level below him. A rematch in early 1990 did not go much better. Konnan, because he worked the area twice a week, needed to be kept strong, even against a big star like Canek, who worked only 4-6 cards a year in Juarez. But in Canek’s eyes, Konnan was nothing, and that was that.
However, the weekly lucha libre magazines in Mexico (at the time, there were over two dozen, and a couple of them had some actual influence with the fans and with the promotions) had gotten wind of this new star, and some sent a reporter and/or photographer to cover the match and the new star. Not unlike the situation with Lex Luger in the U.S. a few years earlier, the magazines had a new star with a great physique and look they could push.
It was at this time that Konnan began wearing capes and adding the look of animal skins and leopard prints to his mask and tights. Indeed, the mask was considered quite innovative and was one of the very best sellers from 1989-1993.
Konnan moved on and worked with promoter Carlos Elizondo in the Monterrey area. Elizondo wanted to keep using Carlos, but the larger Mexico City promotions had taken notice.
The LLI (UWA) promoter, based at the El Toreo bull ring in Naucalpan, a Mexico City suburb, was Carlos Maynes, whose top star was Canek. Maynes saw how the magazines were pushing Konnan, and, over the objections of his top star, invited Konnan to come work at El Toreo, at the time the hotbed of wrestling in Mexico.
Konnan had looked bad enough in the Juarez matches against Canek that the Juarez promotion started to book him less prominently, giving Carlos fewer and fewer dates to work. Carlos had gone back to San Diego/Tijuana to work some more and train some more with Lopez.
In Tijuana, Carlos trained with and even worked alongside some of the best high flyers and workers of that time, including El Hijo Del Santo, Negro Casas, Los Misioneros de la Muerte (El Signo, El Texano, and El Negro Navarro), and the Fantasticos (Kato Kung Lee, Kung Fu, and Blackman).
Konnan had gotten such a name that when WCW contacted Dave Meltzer and Steve Beverly in 1990 looking for Mexican wrestlers for the Pat O'Connor Memorial International Cup one-night, eight-country, tag-team tournament they were going to run at the WCW 1990 Starrcade in St. Louis, Dave suggested Carlos and Yoshihiro Asai. Ole Anderson, through an intermediary, contacted Konnan, and allowed Konnan to bring in as his partner the non-English- speaking Rey Mysterio. Konnan arrived, and though he had torn his knee up badly enough that even with pain-killers he was walking with a giant limp, he worked well enough, winning one match and even doing a dive in losing the semifinal match against eventual winners The Steiner Brothers.
He was supposed to get more bookings for WCW, but between the knee injury and a change in the booker from Ole Anderson to Dusty Rhodes, he was forgotten about.
At the time, in Tijuana, one of the local promoters, Benjamin Mora junior, son of the LLI/UWA co-founder, and he had as his World Trios Champions, three men wrestling under military fatigues as Los Mercenarios Americanos –– Jesse Hernandez, Billy Anderson, and Tim Patterson (later, after they dropped the titles, Louie Spicolli would replace Patterson). Hernandez and Anderson were tied in with Red Bastien, who was trying to start a lucha libre promotion in San Bernardino, California, a hour east of Los Angeles.
Bastien had seen with his own eyes the sellouts that Mexican wrestling had brought to The Olympic Auditorium in Los Angeles and smaller local venues throughout Southern California like Hadco Plaza. Also, at the time, wrestling on cable TV and local UHF stations was a staple, as some major cities would get more than a dozen separate promotions wrestling shows each week via cable. Bastien had gotten an in with a local UHF station in Los Angeles and sold them on funding a wrestling TV show.
Bastien wanted to feature Mexican wrestlers, but also needed people who spoke English. Konnan and the Guerreros were picked to be his stars. Bastien brought them in for six dates, and shot six one-hour TV shows. It should have worked. However, Bastien had a habit of gathering up all the gate and concession money, writing checks to the wrestlers, sticking the check in an envelope, and then leaving. No problem, right? Wrong. Carlos got his check, all right, and for the amount promised each time. But the last few times, the check was made out to Konnan El Barbaro. No bank or check cashing agency in San Diego would take the check. As it turned out, the promotion died a quick death.
Carlos decided to accept Maynes’ offer, and headed for Mexico City for some dates with LLI. Carlos worked on top from the start, often facing Canek, Doctor Wagner Jr., Kokina (who later became Yokozuna in WWF) and other big names of the day.
In an unplanned spot that goes to show how jealous Canek had become, in the summer of 1990, Carlos was wrestling Kokina, at that point about 350 pounds but incredibly agile. Kokina called for a bodyslam spot (as the rudo and veteran, Kokina was calling the match). Kokina threw Konnan into the ropes, and as Konnan rebounded, Kokina leap-frogged over Konnan; but Konnan was smart. As soon as he got under the leapfrog, Konnan stopped, waited for Kokina to turn around, and then picked Kokina up and body-slammed him in one fell swoop, the first time Kokina had been slammed in Mexico.
Canek was furious. Canek had sealed his reputation in early 1984 by being the first man in Mexico to bodyslam and pin Andre the Giant, Canek had also been the first wrestler in Mexico to body slam Abdullah the Butcher.
When Canek tried to criticize Carlos in the locker room after the match, implying that Carlos should have known better than to do that spot, Carlos jawed right back at Canek, a characteristic of Carlos’ personality that is one his most famous, sometimes helping him in the business, but more often costing him in the business: he never keeps quiet when pushed.
At the time, almost all of the big stars who worked the main events at that time in Mexico , Canek, El Villano III, Fishman, El Texano, The Killer, Mil Mascaras, Dos Caras, etc., were men past age 35, and some past age 40. Not all liked the idea of an inexperienced bodybuilder coming in and being pushed to that level. This was not overt collusion, just guys of a certain generation having each other’s back.
Canek had more sway with promoter Maynes than anyone, and soon, Konnan was getting fewer and fewer dates. Maynes still put him up at a nice apartment and sent him to the arenas in limos or paid the cab fare, but the mood in the locker room was turning against him.
Since its foundation in late 1974-early 1975, the upstart LLI/UWA promotion had been the country’s hottest, promoting bigger arenas and having better (and often bloodier) matches than the promotion from which it split off, EMLL. But in late 1989, spurred in large part by a suggestion of a recent addition to its front office staff named Antonio Peña, EMLL was catching up, and within a year would become the more popular promotion again.
Peña spearheaded the idea of getting wrestling on television in Mexico. When he was at his peak, Peña had as good a mind as there has ever been in wrestling. At the time he was a small-time promoter and character creator. He invented hundreds of them, and most ended up seeing the light of day for at least a match or two. Through an old friendship he had with then-CMLL treasurer Juan Herrera, Peña had been hired at the bottom of the organizational chart to work in the EMLL office in 1988.
Paco Alonso (whose full name is Francisco Alonso Lutteroth), titular head of La Empresa Mexican de Lucha Libre, did not even know Peña had been hired until early 1989. Alonso was shown some drawings Peña had created, for characters that would become La Mascara Sagrada and Octagon.
One other thing Peña was good at –– and no one else in Mexico before or since has seemed to have his gift at this –– was observing other promotions around the world, seeing what did and didn’t work, and bringing it to Mexico. He –– and he was the only one in Mexican wrestling at that time who did –– saw what success American and Japanese promotions were having with national TV, particularly WWF. In the summer of 1989, he convinced higher-ups at the company to contact Televisa about simply airing the main Friday night show’s matches on TV.
Wrestling had been banned in Mexico City since the mid-1950s when the chief executive officer of the Federal District at that time, a man named Ernesto P. Uruchurtu, had a law passed banning wrestling on TV in the Distrito Federal. He claimed it was unfit for women and children. The ban was still in effect in 1989. Only local stations outside the Distrito Federal aired wrestling.
In the 1980s, you could see the weekly Friday night EMLL shows from La Arena Mexico on Saturday mornings (roughly 12 hours later) in Chicago and Los Angeles, but not in Mexico City. Televisa had a ton of political influence in Mexico City at this point. They liked the idea. Wrestling had been one of the country’s most popular sports and figured to draw good ratings. They made the push and the law was quietly revoked. By early 1990, viewers in Mexico City could see the prior night’s show in the comfort of their own home.
At the time, wrestlers would jump back and forth from LLI to EMLL and sometimes be loaned out by one promotion to the other for a big show. The boundaries of the sort that exist today between CMLL and AAA were not at all in force in 1990 between Maynes and Alonso. Somehow, via a Maynes call, or more likely owing to magazine and newspaper reporters just talking with their sources, word reached the offices at La Arena Mexico that Konnan was available.
TV had been back on the air in Mexico City for a few months when Konnan was called. Carlos agreed to start full-time and then debuted on September 14, 1990. With fewer than 24 months total in the business, debuted in the main event for the promotion that at the time was the largest in the world as far as number of live shows run each year, number of actual tickets sold each year, and number of employed wrestlers in its roster. Looking back, he also debuted on top of an unreal roster that was as deep and good as the promotion had ever put together.
That September 14 main event was an angle match, to set up a mask versus mask match the very next week, one between Cien Caras and Rayo de Jalisco junior, that was EMLL’s most well-attended match in its 77-year history.
One of the lessons repeatedly learned in wrestling history is that the wrestlers who are on top when TV hits a market become the big stars, and the first generation legends. Even though the roster was stuffed full of excellent workers, charismatic stars, and legendary names, when TV hit, three newcomers, Konnan El Barbaro, Octagon, and Vampiro (then called Casanova El Vampiro Canadiense) were the three who hit super stardom above the rest. Perro Aguayo was also huge, although he had been a superstar dating back to the 70s, and the other major hit was Atlantis, billed as “El Idolo de los Ninos,” (the idol of children) who had been one of the company’s top high flyers for several years.
What set the big three apart was that they were young, that they were new and fresh to the audience who could take them as their heroes, and not their older brother or father’s heroes.
Televisa decided to take each of these three and cross-promote them to increase the marketability of the wrestlers and the wrestling show. Octagon joined Atlantis in filming a movie called “La Revancha (which was later used as the name of the first AAA show in Los Angeles). Vampiro appeared in a telenovela (Mexican soap opera.)
But Konnan was given the biggest push. He was given the chance to star in more than one telenovela, and he also issued a couple of rap records. He also was featured strongly in main events in the fall and winter of 1990 and into 1991. Ratings and audiences reached very high levels. Wrestling at the time aired on Ch. 2, often described as NBC and CBS rolled into one, at noon on Sundays, the best time slot any wrestling program in the world had at the time.
Within EMLL, however, the booking committee and the people in the front office started an internal discussion regarding how much to run with the new stars. By late 1990, the locker room and offices of this huge wrestling company had begun to splinter into basically three factions.
One was headed by Treasurer Juan Herrera, who wanted to push the old-school wrestlers, particularly those trained by Diablo Velasco, from Guadalajara, because they were the most technically proficient wrestlers. CEO Paco Alonso and many of the wrestlers based out of the Distrito Federal were in another. Head of talent relations Antonio Peña pushed the newer wave of wrestlers, the new characters, and the minis he had created, always pushing to look toward the future. The factions were not at war, but they just felt different wrestlers and styles should be the focus of the company. As time went by in 1991 and into 1992, the factions hardened and the working conditions in the locker room got a little more hostile.
However, one thing everyone agreed on was that Konnan would be an even bigger star without the mask. Even from the first day the idea was floated, Carlos never had a problem with the idea. He did, however, balk strongly at the wrestlers suggested to him to feud with him and win his mask.
Herrera’s faction suggested Lizmark, a great flier, a big star during the 70s and 80s and a tremendous favorite of the CMLL older fans. Peña suggested Rayo de Jalisco junior, but Konnan and Rayo had issues behind the scenes, not major ones, just that neither particularly liked nor trusted the other.
Konnan had his own idea. He wanted to drop the mask to one of the all- time lucha libre legends, Aguayo. When he brought his idea up in late 1990 at the CMLL offices, the initial reaction was negative. “He doesn’t work for us,!” was the main point. At the time, Aguayo was working exclusively for Maynes.
Undeterred, Konnan insisted on it. Aguayo, to the surprise of no one, was 100% behind the idea. He’d now be on national TV in a prime slot, in the major feud of the promotion that was red hot, and would get to win the big prize at the end. Aguayo was good to go.
In those days, Arena Mexico, the largest wrestling arena in Mexico would close down for a few weeks around Christmas time in order to host Holiday on Ice or a traveling circus (some years both). It would start the new wrestling season in late January. Normally, the crowds would get a little bigger each week starting in January and not get big for a month or two.
Not this year. The first Friday night show at Arena Mexico in 1991 did not sell out. The next 5, most built around the Aguayo vs. Konnan feud, sold out all 17,678 seats, and several of those weeks, fans were turned away at the box office the night of the show (Arena Mexico is famous for selling a very large percentage of its tickets the day of the show). The promotion also in those days ran a second show, on Sundays each week at Arena Mexico. During those months, crowds on Sunday exceeded 10,000 each week. It was the hottest period for pro wrestling at Arena Mexico in its history, and even the Mistico-led boom a few years ago never quite reached those levels.
The feud was so off the charts that in retrospect, the blow-off match with Konnan’s mask on the line may have come a little early, after only ten weeks. Week after week, heat was added to the feud, with Konnan as the babyface and Perro as the heel, including a notably increased emphasis of the dastardly tactics of heel referee El Gran Davis. Nonetheless, the official challenges were made, and the date was set for Friday night, March 22, 1991.
Just six months earlier, as noted above, Cien Caras had dropped his mask to El Rayo de Jalisco junior at Arena Mexico. At the time, pre-entrance-ramp, the arena had 17,678 permanent seats, and there were ways to add temporary seating (and standing room and seating fans in aisles) to get roughly 19,000 fans in the building for the biggest shows. On that September night, so many fans had poured into the arena that the commonly accepted estimates, including from engineers and fire marshals, were that about 23,000 people were inside the arena for that match. Where the extra 4,000 fans gathered were in the very top deck. The weight of fans was so bad that the next morning, when people went into the arena, they noticed a giant crack in the foundation of one section of the upper deck. Accordingly, the arena was closed by the city and it took almost 25 days to repair, the damage was that bad. Thousands of fans were turned away –– and started a mini-riot that could have been a disaster had someone from the EMLL office not called up and rented some giant screens and closed-circuited the card for free on the giant screens outside the arena. Nothing since the Black Shadow vs. El Santo mask match in 1952 at Arena Coliseo had caused such a scene for EMLL.
For the first and only time since the Rayo-Cien Caras match, the promotion allowed fans to enter the arena above and beyond the 19,100 seats had all been filled (well, the arena had been fortified and passed all inspections after the last fix). To this date, Carlos and many others claim that just as many fans were in the arena on March 22nd as had been there September 21st 1990, but others say that the September 1990 crowd was a bit larger. And, yes, thousands of fans were again turned away, and giant screens were set up outside to avoid riots.
Well, the people who had managed to purchase tickets entered very calmly and sat down, waiting for the match of the generation. In the back, however, things were less orderly. Paco Alonso had not shown up yet.
What was notable about this was that Paco had control over the finishes and there had been a dispute for a couple of weeks over the finish. As we have seen, the dispute was not over who would win (that was never in dispute from day one) but how the finish of fall three would go. There were two camps on this dispute (it was a mild dispute, a business disagreement, not a knock-down drag-out war over the finish). Konnan suggested a very creative finish (not dissimilar to “the Dusty finish”) in which the heel referee, El Gran Davis (a wrestler for many years before becoming a referee), would be accidentally bumped by Konnan, but hard enough where the referee would blade. When the referee recovered, Konnan would have Perro in the zip lock (Konnan’s finisher) and Perro would be flapping his hands in submission. Davis would dramatically call the match, fans would go nuts, and then, Davis would rise up, wipe away the blood from his forehead, and raise the arm of Perro, disqualifying Konnan. Many thought this was a creative way to finish the match but keep the red-hot feud going.
Others in the office saw it differently. EMLL was a promotion that had for its 57 years built a reputation with its fans for clean finishes in its stipulation matches, especially the ones involving its main-eventers. The promotion sold itself at the time to its local audience as much as it could as sport, sort of like All Japan did in its market at the same time (its promoter, Giant Baba, had sent his own business through the roof by returning to all-clean-finishes a few years earlier, sparking a world-wide increase in the belief of clean finishes). To many in the EMLL offices, they did not care what the finish of fall three was, so long as it was clean.
Paco, had he shown up to one of the biggest events in his company’s history, would have decided. He was known to be favoring the clean finish concept, but had issued no final ruling. When Paco did not show, Konnan, Peña, and Davis decided to go ahead with their idea, and stated they’d be willing to face any heat from Paco down the line. Everyone kept waiting for Paco, and none of the official booking crew ever got to Konnan or Perro to officially instruct them any different. Match time came and that’s how fall three went down.
The bump was this: Davis was standing directly face-to-face with Konnan, very close but not touching. Perro, the heel, went to drop kick Konnan from behind and did. Konnan, as a result of the kick, plowed right into Davis, who saw nothing of the dropkick, just Konnan’s suddenly plowing into him with such force that Davis was knocked out of the ring.
Konnan had one more idea for the ending –– he wanted to have a kid of about kindergarten age, posing as his brother, unmask him. In the weeks leading up to the match, Carlos found a kid that he thought would work –– not a professional actor or anything, just a kid. To say the kid worked out well would be quite the understatement. First Konnan removed a little Konnan mask from the kid. Then, crying and emotionally distraught, the kid removed the hood from Carlos, and immediately hugged him in such a way as to virtually cover Carlos’ face. This was done with such emotion and believability that the fans that 3 minutes earlier were ready to riot over the finish were now awfully quiet. Carlos hugged the kid, issued a couple of post-match microphone challenges, and quietly left, leaving a bloody Aguayo to triumphantly hoist Konnan’s mask as the lights came down.
Carlos left all right. Having worked almost every single night for six straight months, he was due a vacation. Three days later, he went in to the offices on the 4th floor of Arena Mexico to get his pay for the past week plus his bonus for losing his mask. If Paco Alonso was upset at how the past Friday night had gone, it certainly did not show in his weekly three pay envelopes –– Carlos returned to San Diego and within a week, using the pay as a down payment, was driving a brand new Ferrari –– at 27, the first actual major purchase he had made in his life (he was living in apartment in Chula Vista at the time).
At this time, Carlos and Peña had shared only a few words here and there. Peña and Carlos talked about the finish of the Perro match (Peña loved it) and some ideas Peña had for down the line.
One of the consequences of Carlos’ losing his mask was that he revealed a hair that was very sparse and getting sparser –– between his own genetics and being on the juice. He was going bald, and would be essentially completely bald before his 30th birthday. This meant Carlos had no hair to risk in a hair vs. hair or hair vs. mask match.
He tried hair extensions, and did risk those on occasion in five hair matches over the next four years, but really he was so close to bald already that anyone who watched him work could easily picture him bald as it was.
All that Carlos could have as an added stipulation in blow-off matches were titles. He had won the LAWA World Heavyweight Championship a few months earlier, basically to have a belt to wear at ring entrances, but Peña knew that Carlos would need a title, a major one, and quickly, for reasons like these.
Peña had already been tossing around an idea in his head. EMLL was by far the largest promotion in the world not to promote champions of its own organizations. Its titles were the Mexican National Championships, champions controlled by the Distrito Federal Comision de Box y Lucha; NWA titles in weight classes below heavyweight; and the occasional WWE junior or WWA (Mora Tijuana promotion) belts. Though in reality EMLL was usually able to determine the holders of many of these titles, technically they controlled none of them. Peña’s idea was to create World Championships as promoted by EMLL.
In fact, by April 1991, Peña began to really run with the idea in office meetings of creating titles (to be called “Consejo Mundial de La Lucha Libre,” i.e., World Wrestling Council, titles for a lot of reasons), with the underlying reason to make Konnan the first-ever CMLL World Heavyweight Champion. Peña faced tremendous opposition from the veteran wrestlers, led by El Satanico, who saw Konnan as not trained in lucha libre, hadn’t paid his dues, and was not a very good technical worker.
Peña put together the tournament for the CMLL World Heavyweight Championship. The final two came down to Cien Caras (an old-school veteran who had been one of the country’s top heavyweights since the 70s) and Konnan. Konnan won, but Satanico ranted and raved in the dressing room the day of the show when he heard the plan for the finish of the title match. It was so vociferous that the next two CMLL title tournaments were won by veterans.
In a stroke of political brilliance, around anniversary time in September 1991, Peña promoted the first CMLL Title Tournament as a Trios Tournament, and legitimately got every big-name trio he could actually book into the tournament. Then he had Satanico win the tournament, leading a new version of Los Infernales (Satanico’s own beloved gimmick) past the team most assumed would win, Los Brazos, in the final.
Konnan dropped the CMLL belt to Cien Caras on August 18, 1991 in a sold-out Monterrey bull ring (outside Mexico City, to protect the babyface). But this didn’t lessen the grumblings in the locker room. Alonso showed up for that match, and he had ordered the title change.
Konnan and Cien Caras then continued to feud around the horn over the title for a few months. In fact, in a major triangle match at la Arena Mexico with Cien Caras and Perro Aguayo, Konnan got the babyface revenge by winning the deciding fall over Perro, forcing Perro to shave his head.
Along the way, as Konnan and Cien Caras continued to feud, a sad and bizarre event happened, basically out of nowhere. During one of their title rematches, on Sunday, November 4, 1991 at La Arena Mexico, Cien Caras and Konnan were well into fall three. Referee Gran Davis had been complaining all week of generally not feeling well, in the virus or flu sense. Nonetheless he worked the match, which ended in a third fall disqualification when Konnan, tired of Davis’ biased heel refereeing, just shoved Davis to the ground violently. The match ended, everyone went to the locker rooms, and Davis headed to the back. Davis was complaining about his health but no more than he had all week, and he headed home at about 7:30 p.m. By 10:30 p.m., Davis’ wife called an ambulance. Before midnight, Davis died; the autopsy reported the cause of death as a brain aneurysm.
Some of the local press got the news out in the next morning’s paper; others just reported the violent blow that had ended the match. Though an autopsy showed that the cause of death was in no way related to an in-ring injury, enough speculation got around that the grieving brother of Davis publicly questioned whether Konnan had anything to do with his brother’s death, and had the body exhumed for another autopsy about a week after the death. But no link was found. The feud continued until a cage match to settle the score on Sunday, December 1, 1991 in Mexico City. A drunk fan threw a very heavy Mexican peso coin (no, really, back in 1991, peso coins were heavy) into the ring over the cage, and against huge odds, managed to catch Caras right square in one eye, blinding him. The match had to be halted. He regained some of his vision, but has never been 100% since that day.
In the offices, the three factions began to harden more and more into the fall of 1991 and early 1992. Many recall that during that time frame, Paco provided inconsistent leadership. The wrestlers were often split between veterans and youngsters, and on top of that, the union representing the wrestlers, knowing full well what was happening as Televisa TV started to strangle the smaller promotions outside of Mexico City, called for a strike against Televisa. The strike of September-October 1991 ended shortly after it began, and left Televisa very distrustful of the EMLL offices –– the only person in those office that Televisa felt had been effective in dealing with them was Peña. Having already moved the time slot from noon at Sundays to 5 pm on Sundays (i.e., opposite UWA’’s main show at El Toreo), Televisa now moved the EMLL show to Saturday nights. All this together gave Peña a plan.
Peña had a contact within Televisa, Emilio Burrillo Azcarraga, who was the cousin of Emilio Azcarraga Jean, the grandson of the founder of Televisa and who as of 2010 is the CEO of Televisa. In early 1992, Peña approached Burillo about starting a new promotion, one that would basically be another inexpensive television show for Televisa. Peña assured Burrillo that he would get the bulk of the biggest stars from the current EMLL roster, that he would run a show (i.e., TV taping) every Friday night, and Peña claimed that the two major EMLL matches of the TV era (Rayo-Caras and Konnan-Perro) were both his idea (this was basically true). Televisa would deal with him, and he could be relied upon. In March 1992, Burrillo came back with the green light –– and with some seed money for the new promotion (including a new magazine to be started up called Super Luchas), with a promise of more money if the ratings came back as promised.
One of the first wrestlers Peña came to in March 1992 about joining his new promotion was Carlos. Up to the very moment Peña broached the topic to him, Carlos had no inkling whatsoever that Peña was making these plans. No one did. Amazingly, between March 1st and May 1st of 1992, Peña and Carlos (actually more Carlos than Peña) asked almost 40 wrestlers to join him, and asked each one, whether they said yes or no, to keep the conversation private. In the most backstab- ridden, gossipy business in the country, almost none of the 40 broke the code of silence. One or two wrestling magazines in February 1992 published once or twice some very vague comments about someone in EMLL thinking of breaking off from the main office and opening a new office based out of the old Pavilion Azteca building that had stopped running lucha libre years before. Nothing more than that got out. The actual announcement came as a huge surprise to almost everyone in the business and who followed as media or just fans.
On Thursday, May 7, 1992, when the CMLL offices opened at 10 a.m., Peña and almost all of the 25 wrestlers were gathering only a mile away at a hotel next to the Televisa main offices. Peña had invited Televisa, a radio station, the national sports newspapers Ovaciones and La Aficion, to a press conference (in those days, wresting press conferences were very rare and usually newsworthy enough so that whatever press invited usually did show up). Peña did not tell any of the media the nature of the press conference.
With Carlos to his immediate right and El Hijo Del Santo, Aguayo and Caras (still at that moment CMLL World Heavyweight Champion) right up front, and with Herrera agreeing to jump into the same role with him, Peña announced the formation of a new promotion, AAA (Asistencia Asesoríía y Administracióón). The whole press conference lasted less than 30 minutes. The ramifications are still being felt 18 years later.
Word got back to Paco and the EMLL offices later that afternoon (it is thought that the first they heard was after the conference, when Herrera called in to officially resign. EMLL claimed the treasurer, Herrera. had kept two sets of books, and had embezzled from EMLL. To show how well the news had been protected, Cien Caras retained the CMLL World Heavyweight championship just a few days earlier (April 18th) in Puebla.
Almost immediately, Paco, known to never forgive, realized that either Carlos or Peña had made a mistake. Carlos is an American citizen, the only employee that Peña hired at first who was not a citizen of Mexico. By Mexican regulations, in order to work in Mexico, Carlos had to apply for, receive, and then give to his current employer a work permit referred to as an FM3 Work Visa. Carlos had given the FM3 Work Visa to Paco a year ago and had never asked for it back. What this meant is that Paco could have Carlos arrested for going to work for Employer B while Employer C possessed his valid work permit.
Within 24 hours, Carlos was in handcuffs, and then behind bars. Carlos had made it all the way from Mexico City to Juarez before he was caught (a friend ratted on him and notified the authorities). The authorities arrested him, making sure to notify the press first.
Paco was so obstinate about the situation –– basically it was the only way to show his anger and frustration at what had gone down –– that he arranged for Konnan to be picked up and booked on a Friday afternoon (the very Friday afternoon of the first-ever AAA taping). Konnan was kept behind bars for the entire weekend, and then deported.
Fortunately, after Carlos was deported, a female friend who knew someone in the Mexican government made some pleas, entertained at a major garden party in Mexico City, and made a sacrifice or two and thus convinced the Mexican Secretary of the Interior she knew at the time to process paperwork allowing Carlos back into the country.
Peña had wanted to have Konnan in the very first main event of his very first AAA show, which ended up being taped on Friday, May 15, 1992 in Veracruz –– but Konnan was in jail. After Carlos re-rented Mexico, and under pressure from several sides, including Televisa, Paco released the FM3 Work Visa to Peña. Carlos had spent two nights and parts of three days behind bars. Konnan debuted on the second TV taping, on May 22, 1992 card, taped in Leon, Guanajuato.
As noted above, Paco Alonso holds grudges. To this day, for almost 18 years, Alonso has essentially refused to have anything to do with Carlos, and has rebuffed anyone who brings up the idea of inviting Konnan back to CMLL. Carlos doesn’t so much. When Paco Alonso was elected into the Wrestling Observer Newsletter Hall of Fame ahead of him, Carlos said of Paco, “yeah, he deserves it.”
During this time, Konnan had been urging Peña to run Southern California. Peña had his hands full birthing AAA, so Carlos and others got together and ran some shows at Cal State- Los Angeles just east of downtown. During a time when pro wrestling interest was down nationwide, two shows drew about 6,500 fans, similar numbers to what WWF was doing for its monthly shows at the Sports Arena and the $120,000 gate was phenomenal by the standards of the time.
Konnan and AAA had been giant successes in Mexico from day one. They had great young workers, big names, Octagon and Konnan of the new TV stars, and a better time slot than EMLL’s show, since Televisa partly owned AAA, not EMLL. Konnan, if possible, got even hotter. His press coverage in both the mainstream and underground wrestling media was through the roof. Indeed, having read week after week in the Wrestling Observer Newsletter about Konnan’s drawing power, and that it had translated into Los Angeles, Pat Patterson inquired as to whether Konnan was interested in coming in.
For all its success, for all its revenue, wrestling in Mexico did not pay as well as WWF did. Also, WWF could create stars at a level and in a market several sizes larger than the Mexican market. As much as he trusted and cared for Peña, Carlos was most interested to hear what WWF had to say. Peña never once stood in Carlos’ way or tried to talk him out of pursuing this opportunity. Negotiations were quick, and Carlos signed a WWF contract.
Carlos went to Providence, RI, in July 1992, where WWF was taping. He introduced himself to the first person he saw, who he found was also reporting for his first day of work and just ecstatic over getting a job with WWE, Bill Moody, who he knew as Percy Pringle, debuting as Paul Bearer. He then found the personnel people, who immediately sent him to costuming. Carlos had contacted Vince and sent him an idea for a space age wrestler called Maximilian (Max) Moon. To say that the character got caught up in costuming was a major understatement.
Konnan had first conceived of the idea after working a show earlier in 1992 from FMW and promoter Atsushi Onita. Onita had an elaborate ring entrance for one character which involved robots shooting out smoke and stuff as they accompanied wrestlers to the ring. The $13,000 costume, which had like the separate pieces, did not fit. And so came a period of adjustments that lasted almost 14 months. The routine was this. Carlos would fly from Mexico City to Los Angeles, where the actual costumer was based. He would then pick up the costume, its 10 pieces taking up 4 to 6 boxes, and fly with this paraphernalia to wherever the TV was taping, then try it on and wrestle. He did dark matches against guys Carlos brought in specifically to work with him like Louis Spicolli,. Art Barr, Rambo, and the current Damian 666.
Each time, Carlos would find more things that needed to be fixed in the costume. So he would fly back to Los Angeles, drop them off, and then fly back to Mexico. After several months of this, Konnan just gave up on the idea out of sheer frustration. It helped his decision that he was on fire in Mexico. His final day in, Konnan left the costume and did not take it back with him. After no-showing several TV tapings, WWF fired him and then Paul Diamond went up and said “Well, I fit into that costume,” and the rest is history.
Konnan headlined AAA while under contract to WWF as part of his agreement with the company. Not having a big title to drop, not really having any hair to lose, nor having a mask to risk, Konnan suggested to Peña that he start a feud with Cien Caras that would result in a loser leave town match. While mulling over the whole concept in late October 1992, Konnan, never one to think small, said, no, how about making it career versus career, the loser must retire, which Konnan would lose, only to return months later, due to some dispute about the finish.
Peña agreed. Month after month on AAA TV in 1992 and 1993, Konnan, the babyface, aided by his ex-rival Aguayo, feuded with Caras and Caras’ younger brother Mascara Ano 2000, who had just become a hot star when he took the mask from the legendary Anibal in December 1991. The Konnan vs. Caras feud never came to a conclusion in EMLL. It ended when Caras suffered the eye injury and was out several months. Then both ended up in AAA. The matches, many nothing more than out of control brawls winding all around the arena with no finishes, captivated the fans to no end, drawing sellout after sellout and huge TV ratings.
Finally, the time in the feud had come for the blow-off match. Peña, obviously borrowing two ideas and meshing them as one, cross-pollinated Vince McMahon’s WrestleMania and Salvador Lutteroth’s Anniversary Show to create TripleMania. Peña knew the match and the feud was white hot, but needed a special date and a special place to run it.
Peña and AAA had not been able to run in or near Mexico City since their May 1992 debut. CMLL controlled most of the bigger arenas within Mexico City itself, and UWA/LLI controlled El Toreo in Naucalpan. Peña had instituted the marketing concept of the AAA Caravan coming to your home town because he couldn’t get any dates at a major arena in Mexico City.
He contacted Plaza de Toros, the largest bull ring in the world. While not common, the bullring ran several major wrestling shows in the 50s and 60s. Friday, April 30, 1993, was not only a national holiday (Children’’s Day), it was Friday –– kids could come, families would come, few would have to work the next day.
And so, the date, time, and location were announced. On the actual night of the event (it was scheduled to start at 8:30 p.m. CDT), there was an onslaught of people, in traditional Mexican night-of-event walk-up fashion. Officially, there are 41,262 numbered seats. Most of these are bleacher seats, and with young bodies like those of children, it is not unheard of to fit 48,000 seats into those stands. Add all the seats that can be fit on the floor surrounding a wrestling ring, and people claim there were a good 50,000 fans in attendance.
Fire marshals eventually closed the entry doors and would not let any more fans in. The crowd is still the largest in the history of pro wrestling in Mexico. The gate from that night was the largest ever in Mexican wrestling, so much so that until September 2007, no other show in the county drew even half as much money.
They had a great undercard –– women, midgets, Rey Misterio Jr., Love Machine, La Parka, and even Mascara Ano Dos Mil losing his mask to Aguayo. But it was really a one-match card. After two years, the blinding of one opponent, the death of a referee, warring across two promotions, and more - finally, there was going to be an ultimate winner and an ultimate loser. Konnan, the babyface, came out, seconded by little Mascarita Sagrada. Cien Caras, the heel, came out, seconded by his brother Universo Dos Mil. Heel referee El Tirantes kept the fans hanging by suspenders, waiting to see whether he would cost Konnan the match. In the front row, sitting there laughing a la Snidely Whiplash at every little thing on the card, was Jake Roberts. Fall one went to Konnan with a rolling reverse cradle (of sorts). Cien took fall two with a version of la magistral. In fall three, with heel referee counting ever so slowly, Konnan had several 2-counts, but no 3s. Then, suddenly, Roberts was out of his chair, and attacking tiny Mascarita Sagrada. When Cien Caras came to save Mascarita, Roberts started to demolish Cien, accidentally breaking his nose with a punch. Konnan, enraged at the interference, voluntarily left the ring, went out on to the ringside floor to help Cien Caras, and attacked Roberts, and those two kept brawling into the stands. Cien snuck back in to the ring. Tirantes kept counting, 18, 19, 20, ¡fuera! The match was over. Konnan had lost, counted out of the ring.
Though it didn’t hit at first, the fans all realized what happened when the saddest song in Mexico,“Las Golondrinas,” a song to say a final goodbye to someone but in a sad, non-militaristic “Taps” sort of way, started playing over the sound system.
Soon the crowd, many drunk, was raging, almost rioting. They all wanted just one thing –– to kill Jake Roberts. Roberts, stuck in a dressing room, and some of the AAA officers realized that if the crowd broke into the locker room, Roberts would surely die. They dumped him in a dumpster at the side of the bull ring; Roberts would not even peek out to see whether the coast was clear for the next four hours.
So in May 1993, Carlos returned home to San Diego, less than five years in the business. Though he had gotten what was rumored to be the largest payoff in the history of Mexican wrestling for the TripleMania match, he had lost a loser must retire match.
What would he do next? There is not much unclear about that stipulation. What was hoped was that the fans, seeing the “unfairness” of the finish, would demand reinstatement.
To the surprise of all, some did, but much fewer than had been expected, or hoped. To this day, no one is sure why. Whether it was Konnan voluntarily leaving the ring to join a fight that was not his, or the fans just simply accepting whatever finish came down. Roberts had almost all the heat.
However, lucha libre in every state of Mexico (and the Distrito Federal) is commission-governed, and no commission would allow Konnan to return to the ring. To do so would render the stipulation of the match null and void and have the domino effect, in theory, of rendering any major stipulation in a wrestling match as pointless. The rules and the sport had to be protected, even among those who knew it to be a work, although in time he ended up being brought back. While wrestling stayed strong in Mexico for several more years, until the economy collapsed, it never reached that 1990-93 peak level again.
Peña and Konnan decided they’d try to run the revenge in Los Angeles, California on August 28, 1993.
Fans jammed the area around the Sports Arena the day of the show, built around a three-way match with Konnan vs. Caras vs. Roberts. But this was not Mexico, with its long tradition of buying tickets the day of the show; here, many of the tickets had already been sold through Ticketmaster. Only a relatively small number, and most of those in the upper deck, remained the day of the show. The fans stretched in a line over one mile long back up Figueroa Street towards downtown, as fans waited in line for what would be a fruitless search for tickets. Literally a mile long wave of human beings was turned away at the gate, and some of those had children and babies in their arms. 17,500 fans, an indoor pro wrestling record for the state, paying a then-California record $243,000 at the ticket office, did get to see the card, the largest crowd for a pro wrestling event in the United States that year. WWF had claimed 23,000 for SummerSlam that same weekend, but later WWF official records showed the real crowd was only 14,000 for that show. There were 8,000 fans according to police estimates turned away at the door, and given the traffic jam and the early sellout. Had the show been held at the adjacent Los Angeles Coliseum, it would have drawn a minimum of 25,000, possibly considerably more, and broken the state’s all-time attendance record set by the 1971 Fred Blassie vs. John Tolos match.
The crowd was rabid from match one to the end, but what most every man, woman, and child who was there remembers is not the finish of the main event (in a triangular match, Konnan, Roberts, and Cien Caras went to a DQ non- finish), but the heat at the end of the match. Many have never seen such a level of heat at any sporting event, anywhere, anytime, as the heat Konnan and Roberts (more Roberts, to be sure) had after the match was over. Had Jake The Snake not been carrying the white Damian with him at the time, to this day I’m not sure fans wouldn’t have attacked (and killed) him en masse as he went back to the back.
There had to be another rematch. They brought the match back to Los Angeles in November 1993, and didn’t even come close to selling out, drawing 12,500 fans paying $197,500. There was heat, still, when Jake teamed with fellow American heels Love Machine and Eddy Guerrero to beat Konnan, Perro Aguayo, and The Blue Panther, but somehow, the heat was noticeably less, and Roberts and Konnan never got it back. Los Angeles was big for a couple more years for AAA, but never so big and never as heated as that very first night.
Konnan and Roberts had a singles steel cage match on March 12, 1994, and the card took in almost $240,000 at the gate, and drew 13,823 fans –– almost all of whom generated more heat for a singles match between midgets Espectrito and Mascarita Sagrada on the undercard.
Down the road, Konnan finally won the blow-off hair versus hair match versus Roberts in Tijuana.
In conjunction with WCW, in what turned out to be a one-time deal, AAA decided to run a PPV (When Worlds Collide) out of Los Angeles in November 1994. In conjunction with IWA and promoters Ron Skoler and Gary Juster, they ran a quick, short card, and Konnan, by this time a heel, was once again in the main event, losing a very bloody cage match bout to old friend Aguayo. The show was more famous for the semifinal, where Octagon & Santo beat Love Machine & Guerrero in one of the best tag team matches of the decade, a few weeks before Machine’s sudden death.
And AAA kept coming to LA, holding extreme rules matches patterned after Paul Heyman’s ECW (something no other promotion in Mexico would touch and that the veteran wrestlers just hated) and debuting a ring with six sides.
Konnan went back to feuding with Caras some of the time and with Aguayo some of the time. Konnan and Caras finally blew off their feud with a triangle cage match on July 15, 1995, in Los Angeles Sports Arena. Cien was shaved. Carlos by then had no hair left to risk –– the extensions were useless, there was no getting around it. Indeed, it was the last time ever that Konnan put up his hair in a match.
One of the main reasons this last match was run in LA, not Mexico, was that the Mexican economy was in rough shape. On December 20, 2004, then- President of Mexico Ernesto Zedillo Ponce de Leon, in his fourth week in office, had devalued the peso by 15% (one among many financial stability measures announced that day by Zedillo), and shortly thereafter let the peso float. The result, aimed at stemming a downward economic cycle left by his predecessor Carlos Salinas de Gortari, was a virtual economic collapse. The peso, and thus purchasing power, decreased 80% in value in one week. And though the economy was actually growing again within 24 months (thanks in large part to rescue action from the US), the fear and economic uncertainty caused a pessimism in consumer outlook, especially among the less well-off in Mexico, that lasted for years.
It was a disaster for the wrestling business. Crowds were down. The foreign stars couldn’t be paid with the peso falling so much. Suddenly, the big stars could make more money working as job guys in the U.S. than as superstars in Mexico. AAA suddenly turned sour.
Also, due to wild expenses, some embezzlement, and some poor business management, AAA was 70,000,000 pesos in the red on the 3rd anniversary of its debut match. AAA was dissolved and Peña reorganized the company, with himself as main partner and with complete control, as PAPSA. By the end of 1995, the company was in much sounder shape economically, but a main way this was accomplished was to cut back on the pay and perks to the talent.
Peña was trying everything he could think of, even borrowing a New Japan idea to create a promotion versus promotion battle. He had the renegade faction split from AAA and form a rival promotion, LLL, to feud with AAA, on the heels of the NWO vs. WCW feud. But it was the same guys in LLL who had been in AAA the week before. The fans didn’t buy it.
On a tour of Singapore in late 1994, he renewed ties with an acquaintance he had met a few years earlier, Paul Heyman, who at the time was just getting rolling with the ECW promotion. Heyman had read great things about Art Barr and Eddy Guerrero in the Wrestling Observer Newsletter and had seen their Match at When Worlds Collide. Heyman was going to bring the two in as a team, but Barr passed away. Konnan booked Eddy first, then Misterio Jr., Psicosis, Juventud Guerrera and La Parka came into ECW. Later, Carlos himself came in as a wrestler in 1995. It was at this time that Carlos got turned on about working in extreme rules matches and became a huge fan of the creative side of Heyman.
Peña, to help give his guys more dates, even started booking joint shows with a rival promotion, Maynes’’ UWA/LLI, under the banner Doble Power, but the concept never really hit it big. By then, Canek was working some dates with UWA and some with EMLL, as was Vampiro, and those were the only two names Maynes could offer; his talent roster was not in the same league as Peña’s. Finally, a group of them gathered together, behind the leadership of Fuerza Guerrera and The Blue Panther, to form a new promotion called Promell (Promotora Mexicana de Lucha Libre). Promell originally was founded on friendly terms with Antonio Peña, and there were promotion versus promotion matches in 1995. However, soon, relations soured, and the two sides split. To make a long story short, Promell did not have a great deal of success at the box office, and was in danger of failing. Naturally, when looking to save the promotion, the promotion looked around for television. Contacts were made with the smaller of the two Mexican national television networks, Television Azteca, for help.
At about this time, Konnan had grown frustrated with AAA. Peña, like so many promoters before him, was always on the lookout for new stars, and Konnan was not always the featured star on the TV show, or the card at the house show, or behind the scenes. Plus, Konnan and Peña were growing frustrated in their dealings with each other on the creative side of things. At their best, they were the yin and yang of idea men in Mexico, each with idea after idea, to which the other would then suggest modifications in order to make the angle actually work in a way that would draw money. But from working together so closely while trying to be creative night after night, and while passionately caring about the business but with not identical visions, the tensions grew and the relationship frayed.
TV Azteca decided to run the wrestling show in prime time on its flagship station out of Mexico City, and the promotion would be called PromoAzteca. Konnan was to be the feature star of the new promotion. PromoAzteca, also signed Misterio Jr., Eddy Guerrero, Fuerza Guerrera, Blue Panther, Parka, Juventud Guerrera, Vampiro, El Dandy, Silver King, Texano, and others. With Panther running the locker room, PromoAzteca had a superb talent roster, and were successful for a while. But, TVAzteca found that dealing with wrestlers as talent was not a very pleasant matter, and the show did not deliver the ratings that TVAzteca had hoped. The house shows and TV tapings were good, but the nascent promotion was not able to access the quality of arenas that EMLL and AAA were using. Also, a bunch of its wrestlers suddenly jumped ship.
WCW, in the middle of its renaissance and in pitched battle with New York, decided to expand its junior heavyweight division by employing workers from Mexico. Nancy Sullivan, who later became Nancy Benoit, working for ECW, recruited Konnan to contact her husband, because she saw the reactions the Lucha Libre style was getting in ECW. WCW also asked if Konnan could recommend a crew to work for WCW –– earning US dollars, a big deal with Mexico’s economy in crisis. WCW also specifically asked about the wrestlers who had been enjoying success in ECW, Misterio Jr. Psicosis, Guerrera.
In January 1996, Carlos started full-time with World Championship Wrestling.
On January 27, 1996, in a grand experiment that never went anywhere, WCW let Carlos promote a show with basically all luchadores on it, to the tune of almost $400,000. It was in the college town of Waco, TX, and was called the WCW Festival de Lucha, with the idea of creating a Spanish language workrate oriented new television product. Konnan had really hoped to use this as a springboard to promoting occasional all-lucha shows under the WCW brand in the states of the US with the highest percentage of Hispanic residents, but the first show was considered a disaster and the idea was quickly dropped.
WCW was already taping three nights a week, and neither the production people, nor the writers, nor the office, wanted to do a fourth night. On the other hand, Carlos did not want to have the lucha show taped as the first half of a extra-long TV taping either, nor did he think it would be a success to have half- Mexican wrestling and half American wrestling on a show.
On January 29, 1996, in Canton, Konnan defeated The One Man Gang to win the U.S. championship. It was considered more a political move than business, as Sullivan felt by giving Konnan, the top star in Mexico, the U.S. title, it would show the Mexican wrestlers that they would be used well if they came to the U.S., although that really didn’t end up being the case. The main feud he had during a short run as champion was against Eddy Guerrero. The two even had a title match on PPV, at Uncensored 1996 from Tupelo, Mississippi, as Konnan retained the title with the classical lucha libre finish of the blind foul, though in the opening match of the show. The match went nearly 20 minutes and the match and the feud was credited with really opening the eyes of the promotion as to what both men could do on the microphone and in the ring (where, to be sure, Guerrero was the better worker, but Carlos kept up admirably). Konnan held the title for more than five months before losing it in his first-ever singles match against Ric Flair at Bash at the Beach, in Daytona Beach.
An interesting note regarding the match with Flair. After 9 years in the business, it was the first match Carlos had ever worked completely where the entire match was called in the ring. He would not do so again, at least in a single match, until five years later when he worked in Puerto Rico.
On January 26, 1996, he defeated Pierroth junior to become the first- ever IWAS World Heavyweight Champion in a match in Nezahualcoyotl. Then, on August 17, 1996, in Acapulco, Konnan & Misterio junior defeated Juventud Guerrera and Jerry Estrada to win the IWAS World Tag-Team Championship –– the only non-singles title Konnan won in his first 11 years in the business. Both titles were quickly forgotten.
During 1996, Carlos worked on getting several of the PromoAzteca Mexican wrestlers into WCW. Soon, El Dandy, Silver King, Lizmark Jr., La Parka (remember The Chair Man of WCW?), Psicosis, Damian 666, Super Calo and many others were signed up.
Even though he was shorter than the top stars on the roster, Konnan was too big to be in the cruiserweight division. Accordingly, Konnan either joined in with a faction, or created a faction, for almost the entire rest of his tenure in WCW. The first one of these factions was nearing its demise when Konnan joined. Konnan turned heel in the fall of 1996. He immediately was put into the faction The Dungeon of Doom, a collection of all the bizarro characters (think a wrestling Yeti) in the promotion led by Jimmy Hart, who had split from Hulk Hogan and was looking for a posse of wrestlers to take Hogan down.
After the demise of the Dungeon of Doom, Konnan was left floundering,. In an ironic twist, Konnan also about this time helped get work for Mexican wrestlers with WWF as well. WWF asked Victor Quinones recommend Mexican wrestlers from a proposed alliance with AAA –– and Quinones turned to Carlos for advice as to whom to take.
After his not-infrequent complaining about his lack of anything to do, he was added to the nWo roster –– and told in effect to take care of all those pesky Mexicans on the roster. Finally, the company acceded, and on July 14, 1997, Konnan joined the nWo. This led to some short-lived feuds with very good matches that got very good reactions at the arenas, first with Misterio Jr. and later with Guerrera.
Like his neighbor Carlos, Misterio Jr. invested well and owns more than one piece of real estate in Eastlake, one of the wealthiest subdivisions in south San Diego County. Carlos and Oscar are very close –– so naturally, their one-and-only feud in the ring was a heated yet cooperative affair. Each made the other look very good, especially in a Mexican Death Match at The Road Wild PPV in Sturgis, South Dakota in August 9, 1997, just weeks after the feud started. The two were in the second match of the nine-match card, a true testament to how little WCW knew of what Konnan had meant at the box office from 1989 to 1996.
For a variety of reasons, the Mexicans were not getting much of a push in the ring, almost to the point of their matches being used as filler on Monday Nitro. Konnan could get no good rub working with or against the non-English speakers. Luckily for him, the powers that be had been fiddling with the nWo angle since December 1997, and things were becoming very interesting.
On May 4, 1998, the nWo split into two factions. One was comprised of anti-hero heels nWo Hollywood, wearing the traditional white-on-black, headed by Hulk Hogan. The other was comprised of tweeners nWo Wolfpäc, wearing red- on-black, with Kevin Nash at the helm.
On that show, the nWo Wolfpäc debuted with only three members –– Kevin Nash, Konnan, and Randy Savage. Now Konnan was in a first-rate top-of- the-card posse and angle. In short order, Miss Elizabeth, Rick Rude, and Curt Hennig joined the nWo Wolfpäc. Later, Scott Hall (for two hours) and Lex Luger, and Sting joined the Wolfpäc. Konnan actually got featured on Monday Nitro, in particular for his microphone work. His modern-day Latino rapping came to the point where he was given the name K-Dawg.
By mid-1998, the nWo Wolfpäc was the hottest thing in the promotion. Their t-shirts sold more than any others that year. Sometimes the good guys, sometimes the bad guys, the nWo Wolfpäc would fight any and all comers and use any and all styles.
He started feuding with WCW World Television Champion Chris Jericho, and, on Monday Nitro on November 30, 1998, Konnan won the belt.
This reign lasted all of four weeks, as an angle was put in place to get Konnan out of the nWo Wolfpäc; he dropped the belt to Scott Steiner of nWo Hollywood when nWo Wolfpäc member Biff Bagwell turned on Konnan and caused him to lose. For a few weeks, the rest of the nWo Wolfpäc started looking real suspicious at Konnan.
Accordingly, on the Monday Nitro of January 18, 1999, the nWo combined all its members into a sort of an A team (black-and-red) and B-team (black-and-white) –– and when Konnan’s name was raised, he was ejected from the entire nWo in a very dismissive manner, leading to an instantaneous face turn. The nWo by then was already showing signs of an angle in decline. Within six months, the concept basically collapsed.
Though in 1999 Carlos would feud briefly in singles feuds with Lex Luger and with Disco Inferno, the main thrust of the rest of the year was Konnan joining Misterio Jr. to form a tag team –– an action that would eventually make Carlos hate the business more than at any time in his life, before or since.
The bookers at WCW had chosen to remove the mask from Misterio Jr. At first he was to lose it to Eddy Guerrero, but Misterio Jr. and Konnan convinced Eric Bischoff it would be a bad idea on the day of Halloween Havoc in 1998, in what ended up being what some consider the best match of the glory period of WCW. Bischoff had a change of heart, and ordered Misterio Jr. to lose his mask to Kevin Nash, and made it clear he wasn’t listening to protests this time, at Super Brawl 1999 in San Francisco.
While Misterio Jr. was not happy about this decision, Carlos was furious. Carlos, very outspoken and not diplomatic, repeatedly hammered the WCW bookers about the history of the mask in lucha libre, why losing the mask was a rare match and always carefully promoted, and about how much the mask meant to a luchador’s overall character. He also particularly criticized this particular match, with its ridiculous visual mismatch on its surface.
In an interview by Bill Apter in Wrestling Digest in 2001, Carlos said, “[The Mexican wrestlers brought to WCW] really grabbed the attention of the audience for about three years, and it was going great until WCW pulled the sacred, traditional masks off the performers in early 1999. They were so well known for the masks. It was like taking the mask off the Lone Ranger. All the mystique died. They shouldn't have done it. They didn't respect the tradition or they didn't understand some of it. It was just ignorance, and some of it was just bullying, saying this is the way it has to be. Yeah, people wanted to see their faces, and WCW gave in. Juventud is a good-looking guy and so is Rey, but so what? The masks were part of their personas. That's what makes Batman, Batman, when he puts on his cape. Oh, they hated it, especially the way it went down, because they saw, as usual, Federation officials weren't respecting Mexican culture. They tried to kind of get down on Juvi and Rey, but they understood that they were under contract and they had to do what they had to do. It's very hard to explain. It's almost like going to Japan and telling the Japanese they have to eat with a fork instead of chopsticks. The masks are just our culture.”
After years of being in love with the business, Carlos now just hated the business. He will tell you this was also the time in his life that he began to abuse recreational drugs. Those killed the pain in his body. They also seemed to ease the pain in his heart.
Perhaps responding to his comments, the bookers added Carlos to the match, as Konnan and Misterio would face The Outsiders (Hall and Nash); if the luchadores lost, Misterio Jr. would have to unmask. If The Outsiders lost, however, Miss Elizabeth would have to shave her head bald. Rey was unmasked, and Carlos remained beyond furious (and insulted) over the whole situation.
Still, when an angle was created to try to bring in the rapper Master P, Konnan, also a rapper, was added to the angle, and a posse called No Limit Soldiers was born, a division of a larger set of three gangs or posses known as The New Blood. A group of high flyers like Eddy Guerrero, Billy Kidman, Rey Misterio, Juventud Guerrera (who also lost his mask in 1999) joined Disco Inferno and Konnan and manager/valet Torrie Wilson. Though the Master P affiliation ended the night it happened (leading to a quick name change from No Limit Soldiers to Filthy Animals), the posse remained intact, and not only wrestling, but releasing a hip-hop album consisting of rap versions of all of the WCW entrance songs.
The Filthy Animals not only wrestled, but also integrated a lot of comedy (like stealing and wearing one of Ric Flair’s robes) into their TV microphone time. Plus Konnan got to rap “Psycho,” their original entrance music. They feuded from the start, as No Limit Soldiers and Filthy Animals, with a “rap is crap” posse led by Curt Hennig known as The West Texas Rednecks. The feud got over surprisingly well, considering it was not pushed as a top-of-the-card feud.
Carlos was not a happy camper at this time. Not yet realizing that the company was already in its death spiral, he complained loudly and frequently about how he was being used, how little TV time he got, and how low on the card he worked, even though his crew got such good reactions when they wrestled.
Finally, his complaints reached WCW Senior Vice-President Bill Busch, a career accountant who, upon his promotion, was being hounded on all sides by WCW for problems and money losses. Busch, who had just started with WCW in September 1999 to take the helm over from Eric Bischoff, did not even want to hear any of this.
So, Carlos and some of the other wrestlers, more or less at the same time, got together to form a behind-the-scenes group with Kidman, Shane Douglas, Perry Saturn, Dean Malenko, Chris Benoit, and Eddy Guerrero. They went to Busch and asked for more respect and more money. Busch eventually told the entire roster anyone who wants to jump ship can, I’ll let you go. Some did. Juventud and Rey decided not too, and in light of this decision, Carlos decided to hang on longer –– but this did not keep him from complaining, a lot, as the century came to close.
In early 2000, Busch suspended Carlos for three months for remarks made in a published interview. By April 2000, Busch was fired and Eric Bischoff returned to a role of power.
Shortly thereafter, with a manager change to Nitro Girl Tygress (Vanessa Sanchez), the entire Filthy Animals clan re-formed and turned heel –– Konnan joining Guerrera, Disco Inferno, and Misterio Jr. under Tygress’ leadership. In the summer of 2000, in an accident trying to catch Juventud Guerrera in a spot, Carlos tore his triceps muscle.
However, for well-known reasons, WCW was already in the early stages of its death throes by this time, and the entire promotion would soon fold. For Konnan and the Filthy Animals, there was one last babyface turn in 2001, with Kidman joining the clique and Juventud Guerrera being expelled. The week before the company folded, Konnan appeared on the last WCW PPV, called Greed, teaming with Hugh Morrus (Bill DeMott) to lose to Mike Awesome & Lance Storm.
Some of the company’s assets were purchased by Vince McMahon’s WWE, but Carlos’ contract was not. For a little while, until his contract ran out, Carlos will still paid by Atlanta, while he went to look for work elsewhere –– and in this case, elsewhere has a double meaning.
WCW was done, and none of the luchadores had an American income any longer. Still, all in all, for all the troubles, when one asks Carlos what things he is most proud of, what things will be his legacy, this is one of the top three - he got Mexican wrestlers work in the USA, raising their exposure, income, and lifestyle accordingly (one of the other two was his contributions to the birth and early success of AAA, and the 3rd one we’’ll get to later in this story.)
Like many wrestlers who have worked in the business for a dozen or more years, the one thing they grow to hate more than anything else, apart from how long it takes to wake up and get out of bed every day, is the travel. In 2001, Carlos spent some serous time enrolled in a criminology course; he very much considered hanging up the boots and just going to work with his father.
While engrossed in these studies, Jeff Jarrett called –– he was helping in the putting together a tour of Australia (and later Europe) for something to be called the World Wrestling All Stars. Jeff wanted Carlos to join the troupe, in part to wrestle, but also to be the main color commentator at the TV tapings (Jarrett was just a talent scout –– Jeremy Borash and Andre McManus were running the company). With WCW and ECW having folded, there was a lot of very good talent looking for work, and the new promotion would likely get its pick of good name talent at a very reasonable pay scale.
Konnan worked the tours and had an epiphany - he found he liked wrestling again. The politics and back-stabbing here were about as low as you’ll ever get in professional wrestling. So, Konnan decided after all not to join his father’s business.
From a PPV in Sydney in October 2001 to a PPV in Glasgow in December 2002, Konnan worked some but not all of the WWA tours, including dates in New Zealand.
During these two years, Konnan also worked with the Colon family for the World Wrestling council in Puerto Rico.
After one of the tours, Jarrett co-founded TNA, and starting on June 19, 2002, another work option became available out of the USA for these independent contractors.
On the very first company show on that date, on PPV from Huntsville, Alabama (the original concept for TNA was to be all-PPV), Konnan was in the main event, the Gauntlet for the Gold, to crown the initial TNA World Heavyweight Champion.
However, within weeks, the company’s finances spiraled out of control, and without a major influx of cash from the Carter family, it would have ceased to exist in 2002. What might have happened was that as soon as he had found work, he might have to turn right around, head home, and wait for the phone to ring.
Instead, the money came, the company expanded, and wrestlers were needed. After things settled down, around Christmas 2002, Jarrett contacted Carlos, and offered him permanent work. Konnan then returned and worked full-time for over four years for TNA. His first match in was February 12, 2003. Konnan was given a heel clique, called The Authentic Luchadores, and on the roster were Konnan, Guerrera, Super Crazy, and a brother tag-team known as The S.A.T., Joel and Julio Maximo (creators of the very popular finishing move The Spanish Fly). Though they were joined by Jerry Lynn in April 2003, nonetheless, at the start, what defined Konnan’s role in the company was his ethnicity; since he was Hispanic, he worked with lucha libre style wrestlers and smaller wrestlers.
This began to change in late May and early June of 2003, when the good-guy trio 3 Live Kru was born. In this gang, Konnan teamed with black man Ron Killings and southerner B. G. James, son of the old Marietta fireman, Bob Armstrong. The black-white-Hispanic combination was a babyface trio from the start. At first they mostly worked tag-team matches.
3 Live Kru, often subtly, sometimes not, began to go with the theory that any two members could represent the whole team. The concept took hold enough that a six-man tag-team match was held to fill the vacant NWA World (Four-Man) Tag-Team Championships. 3 Live Kru defeated Glenn Gilberti (Disco Inferno in WCW) and the old ECW tag-team of Johnny Swinger and Simon Diamond on November 26 to win the belts. 3 Live Kru immediately announced that any two members of the team could defend the belts, and that it did not have to be the same two members from match to match. The reign did not last long, nine weeks, and then 3 Live Kru took a step back on the booking sheets.
In mid-2004, Ron Killings got a singles push, challenging for the NWA World Heavyweight Championship, and Konnan and James were used to support his quest, before the two started a feud with Jeff Jarrett’s bodyguard trio, The Elite Guard –– one of who was a man named Shawn Hernandez. That feud continued until late August 2004 when suddenly all three members of The Elite Guard were summarily let go.
Hernandez, who had worked small circuits in the south and some in Mexico made a very positive impression, and kept in touch with Carlos in case anything else came open. Meanwhile, 3 Live Kru just kept rolling from feud to feud in the mid-card.
In retrospect, though, the event in 2004 with TNA that had the longest- lasting impact on Konnan was an event called The 2004 TNA World X Cup Tournament. The wrestlers who represented Team Mexico in the 2004 TNA America’s X Cup Tournament were Hector Garza, Heavy Metal, Absimo Negro, and Mister Aguila. At the time, all were working for AAA, and Peña.
In order to recruit the wrestlers they needed, TNA asked Armando Estrada, who then worked in the office, to contact Peña and contract some Mexican wrestlers to use. After some stops and starts, Estrada convinced Peña to send the four wrestlers to the Monday night TV tapings for an almost-six-month long tournament.
The first night the Mexican wrestlers reported for the tournament was Monday, January 28, 2004. Carlos and Peña had not spoken to each other in almost nine years - not since Carlos walked away from AAA to join PromoAzteca –– when as Carlos walked around a corner to greet the four Mexicans, he saw Peña standing with them, also talking to long-time AAA Televisa heel wrestling announcer Arturo Rivera.
You can imagine the emotion of two best friends who had a fight and a major falling out and seeing each other again. Peña finally spoke first, quietly, privately, and what he said was this: “Let’s be friends. Come back.”
The seed planted that day blossomed. Peña contacted Carlos in early November 2004. Peña wanted to bring Konnan back, starting with the annual Guerra de Titanes show, traditionally the final mega-show each year for AAA. The return would be with a bang –– the two wrestlers who over his career Carlos had the most trouble getting along with, Cibernetico (Octavio Lopez Arreola) and Vampiro Canadiense (Ian Hodgkisson), would be there. Carlos did not give it a second thought.
On Sunday, December 5, 2004, at the old El Toreo bull ring resplendent with its largest crowd in 15 years (sold out with almost 19,000 fans in attendance), Konnan returned, teaming with Rikishi to lose, though via disqualification, to Cibernetico and the second La Parka. The sellout was in no small part due to word leaking out in the specialized media that Konnan was returning to AAA after almost 10 years away.
Though still working for TNA, Konnan was back in AAA, the promotion that in the overall scheme of things was his real home promotion, where he belongs, and where he still works today. He drew sellouts and got great media attention for his return in many of the major cities, and then turned heel and his feud with Vampiro drew over 20,000 fans for two outdoor shows in Guadalajara.
Still, Carlos’ tenure with TNA was hardly finished. As the calendar turned to 2005, 3 Live Kru was still in the weekly mix. Suddenly dissension arose. B. G. James’s former WWE tag-team partner, Billy Gunn, signed with TNA –– and immediately appeared on TV, trying to convince B. G. to join him and re-from their WWE team, The New Age Outlaws. Konnan eventually went heel.
On an Impact taped on New Year’s Eve 2005, Bob Armstrong came out to confront Konnan over the betrayal. Konnan led Bob Armstrong to the back –– and directly into an ambush at the hands of Apolo (Puerto Rico-born wrestler German Figueroa), who had been with TNA for over three-and-a-half years, and Homicide (Nelson Erazo, Brooklyn-born and Puerto Rico-raised), who was making his TNA debut on this show. And under what name and gimmick did TNA market these three American citizens? The concept was called The Latin American Exchange (LAX). They were put into a feud with two native sons of the confederacy, The Naturals, from Nashville, Tennessee.
Apolo did not work out. He was replaced by another Puerto Rico-born wrestler, Machete (Ephraim Vega), who turned out to be worse in the role than was Apolo. Shawn Hernandez, born and raised in Houston, Texas was brought back to be the third cog in Latin American Exchange.
As this feud progressed in 2006, Konnan began to wrestle less and less. Carlos’ hip was causing him intense pain, around the clock, further exacerbated by wrestling bumps.
Carlos went to the offices of TNA and told them of the situation, and in the midst of asking them to help pay for a hip replacement operation, also asked out of the ring. He knew a spot had opened up on the Spanish language broadcast, and he asked to fill it. Starting in May of 2006, he joined Moody Jack Melendez on that job –– and with an angle.
Carlos also at this time, for the first time in his career, tried to trademark the name and character Konnan / Konnan el Barbaro (then he could actually make money off rights fees). When he tried this, for the first time since he started using the Conan name and character in 1988, someone, likely on behalf of the Robert E. Howard estate, contacted him. They said, basically, that they had known for years that he was using the name and gimmick and did not care, and they would not ask for a dime in rights fees –– not even any kind of an acknowledgment. However, they would file to block the trademark claim, saying that after all, Conan was theirs. Carlos thought it over a while and figured that was pretty fair and decent of them, and withdrew the trademark request.
He became in essence the manager for LAX, and before long he was coming to ringside in a wheelchair, and was in tremendous pain with the travel alone being unbearable.
During these months as manager, and into 2007, Carlos’ health situation worsened. He needed a very expensive hip replacement operation –– and had no health insurance. While he had made good money in the 90s, particularly when working for WCW, once that company folded, his income from TNA and occasional independents, since he was shut out of Mexico, was not good. During that period when he would figure out his earnings for the year, he realized his income was barely above poverty level. Later, due to damage from the huge amount of pain killers he had been taking due to the pain of his damaged hip, and possibly from his years of using steroids (his doctors at the time blamed the pain killers), his kidneys failed and he was needing regular dialysis.
He also ended up suing TNA.
Konnan was clearly not going to have the money to go up to Scripps Mercy Hospital in Hillcrest and give them cash for his needed surgeries and its related post-surgical expenses. If the operation were to be done, it would have to be done as inexpensively as possible. Carlos asked around for help. It came in two ways.
TNA loaned him the money for the hip surgery. It caused bitterness because they talked about doing a fund raiser, which never happened, nor did they agree to pay for the surgery. He left the company without paying the company back, causing a lot of bitterness from those in the company. Part of the undisclosed settlement out-of-court in the lawsuit filed by Konnan, and the countersuit filed back by TNA, concerned the money owed.
Under the leadership of Georgiann Makropolous and others, who spearheaded fund raisers, more than $12,000 was raised in cash and given to Carlos to help defray costs for the kidney operation, and AAA helped pay for the remaining costs, which were heavy since his body rejected the kidney and he went through a several week ordeal where he nearly died.
Second, legendary Mexican wrestler Mil Mascaras, who is well-known for always insisting on the finest things in life, recommended an orthopaedic specialist for the hip, a surgeon from Mexico who would still keep quality at the highest while keeping expenses down.
The hip surgery was performed in Tijuana in July 2007. Without in any legal way blaming the surgeon, the procedure, or the hospital, it can now be said 30 months later that the surgery was unsuccessful. It appeared at first that it would work, as Carlos felt good the second half of 2007, but now, as spring 2010 has arrived, it is the one health condition that Carlos has that still causes him daily (often intense) pain, even if it is a day he does not step in the ring or train for MMA.
As for the lawsuit, all sides signed a document at the time the lawsuit was settled, a document agreeing not to discuss the matter in any way for a specified period of time. As of April 2010, that time frame and clause is still in effect and this writer can personally attest that indeed no one will talk about it. The no talk clause does apparently have a date in which it expires, so maybe we’ll hear this whole story one day. Konnan never returned to TNA, although at this point, even though Konnan personally and TNA remain at odds, TNA does business with AAA.
At TripleMania XIII, Peña finally debuted the first-ever singles bout between bitter enemies Konnan and Vampiro (although by 2005 they buried all their hatchets and became reasonably good buddies, and still are to this day), the two mega stars of Televisa TV, and telenovelas from the early 1990s; Konnan won via TKO in a finish designed just to make sure that this feud must continue. To say the feud was red-hot is an understatement. The TV show that aired that match drew a 17.0 rating, AAA’s highest television rating since its first year.
The next year, people started noticing that Peña did not look well. In a radical departure, he did not go to the TV monitor backstage to watch even one of the matches –– normally, he would be avidly glued in to every match, tuning out between matches only long enough to give finishes or to send comments or ideas to the wrestlers. Peña walked slowly, looked paler, and had dropped a little weight. After the show was over, early the next morning, Peña came over to Konnan –– they were two of the last dozen or so left at the venue. As quietly as he had back in TNA in January 2004, Peña leaned over, kissed Carlos on the cheek, said “I love you,” and walked away. Carlos never saw Peña alive again.
Peña’s behavior in Madero was a harbinger of what was to come. Peña actually missed a TV taping or two (the first time he has missed a taping, ever) over next three months, as the promotion headed towards its annual biggest show of the year, TripleMania XIV, on June 18, 2006, at El Toreo. Konnan did not work in the ring on the show, in no small part because he asked not to with the hurting hip, but also because he was really needed backstage. Peña was there (well, everyone believes Peña was there), but no one saw him the whole show. His notes were passed from a bunker underneath the bullring, a bunker no one was allowed into but Peña himself.
Peña missed another TV taping, and then the day came for AAA’s third mega-show of 2006, El Verano de Escandalo. This show was held back at El Toreo in suburban Mexico City on Sunday, September 17, 2006. Before the show began, Chucho Nunez quietly gathered together some of the wrestlers who commonly worked back stage or in the office at the mega-shows, and informed them that Peña was unable to attend. No reason was given. This was as unthinkable to the AAA guys as it would be were Vince McMahon junior to be absent in Phoenix in a few weeks for his annual WrestleMania extravaganza –– the thought is just almost impossible to comprehend. Like McMahon and maybe oh Giant Baba and no one else in the past generation or two, professional wrestling was everything to Antonio Peña, his water, his bread, his air, his life.
No one from AAA –– wrestlers, office people, no one but Chucho, was worried about Peña. No one had any real conception that he was seriously sick (oddly enough, those who saw him very infrequently like journalists or visitors from outside his inner circle seemed to see what was happening). Only Vampiro, who crossed paths with Peña in August by sheer coincidence, sensed that something serious was up. Vampiro told his friend Bob Barnett during this time, in a very reasoned, very careful choice of words that he, Vampiro, had seen people suffering from AIDS, and that’s what Peña looked like to him. Ian did not state he thought Peña had AIDS, or was dying, he said just what he said.
Thus it came as a giant shock to almost the entire territory when the news hit. Peña passed away peacefully at a Mexico City hospital on Friday, October 5, 2006, around 9 p.m. local time.
In addition to the shock of the actual event, wrestlers and employees of PAPSA were dealing with another emotion: rage. As note earlier, AAA split off from EMLL, and the EMLL owner, Paco Alonso, may be the Guinness Book of World Records holder for number of grudges held and never letting them go. Neither Paco nor the EMLL offices sent any flowers, condolences, or any acknowledgment to the funeral home, absolutely enraging Carlos and everyone affiliated with AAA.
During the week after Peña’s death, many felt that a window or door had been opened for the two companies to let bygones by bygones and merge back into one family. Indeed, in the 48 hours after the passing, there was more than one who said openly that had EMLL responded with an open heart and behaved with empathy, a reunification was possible (a few say very possible). Any chance of that happening went out the window in those 48 hours.
Still, AAA was rudderless. In fact, many observers will tell you it has been rudderless since the moment Peña passed away, even though this happened during a boom period for wrestling in the country and business stayed strong. Many gave the promotion mere months to survive without its founder, and the stars he created at the time of his death were not only saddened they had lost their boss and creator, but fearful their jobs and their company would shortly follow suit.
Control fell to Marisela Peña, Antonio’s sister, her husband, Joaquin Roldan, and their son, Dorian Roldan. Referee Raul “El Copetes” Salazar and wrestler Octagon ran the locker room and booking.
Octagon, an extremely close personal friend of Peña’s, took the death hard, and he may well never recover from it. Salazar had good booking ideas, but no authority over the locker room. Dorian Roldan, Peña’s nephew, is well liked but has not yet shown that he can manage his employees successfully. Televisa, which loved working with Peña and trusted him absolutely, found Dorian Roldan to be just a kid, and have never felt the same way about AAA as they did before Peña’s death. Cliques of wrestlers and in the office have formed and hardened, and all sorts of unrest in the locker room have dominated the company from 2007 to today, although things are not as bad as they were a year or two ago.
Due to the hip surgery, Konnan worked very sparingly in 2007. Of the five mega-cards AAA ran, he appeared in only one. On October 7, 2007, at the El Toreo bull ring (the last time AAA ever ran that facility, as it was torn down in 2008), the first annual Antonio Peña Memorial Cup was held. On that card, there was a multi-man, royal rumble style match to determine the winner of the Peña Cup. Konnan was the last wrestler to enter the ring, and lost to the other last man in, Charly Manson, working on the whole about eight minutes.
And, in 2008, he also worked on only one card in the ring at the company’s biggest shows. On December 6, at that year’s Guerra de Titanes mega- show in Orizaba, he lost a simple singles match to The Latin Lover in less than seven minutes.
Still, Konnan was used behind the scenes that year in a role for which he is acknowledged by even his detractors to be well-suited: creating, implementing, and delivering finishes. He had and still has the reputation as being the best finish man in Mexico.
Carlos’ 2008 and 2009 found, once again, bigger news outside the ring than inside. The hip replacement surgery had not taken, and Konnan started noticing circulatory problems. A visit to a cardiologist in 2009 led to an operation in which a stent was put in his heart. Twenty-plus years of bumps, dives, drops, punches, and kicks meant that several other nagging injuries, the kind that slowly get more and more problematic over time, kept flaring up. Still, today, the one that bothers him in the ring more than everything else put together is the hip.
Also, there were the constant headaches, not from injury, but from the business. The much-larger and much-better-financed WWE had started increasing the number of house shows in Mexico, and on TV they went from small cable channels to national TV –– with better time slots than AAA had. As 2009 turned to 2010, EMLL actually started trying and not coasting along, for the first time in years. Attempts to inject more storyline, more star-making ring entrances, and reduce the time of wrestling on each week’s main TV show actually seemed to hurt ratings.
Plus, the work rate among the native workers was by many accounts, not good. Konnan, who during this time frame had booking control only of any program in which he was in, suggested that good working Americans and Canadians be brought in, and that wrestlers like the Wagner brothers (Doctor Wagner junior and Silver King) be hired away from EMLL, to raise the work rate. Lastly, simpler but more intense angles were suggested.
The native wrestlers, many who had been with the company for years, years that Konnan was working everywhere in the world but Mexico, were outraged. Whether the idea was sound or not, what they saw was that they would be moved down the cards or cut. In 2008-2009, at least two dozen native wrestlers, maybe as many as 30, quit AAA, and the AAA roster now is the smallest it has been this century.
The locker room got out of control, as by several confirmed accounts, drug use by the wrestlers –– sometimes even openly, during TV taping days –– was rampant, and there were highly publicized incidents of locker room violence. Cliques formed among wrestlers who generally worked the top half of the cards, as they fought to try to cement their positions, and their pay. Generally in each Mexican wrestling promotion, most every wrestler gets paid by a % of the gate based on their spot on the card; only a very few, no more than 5-6 in EMLL and only the main-eventers in AAA have employment contracts that contain stipulations about pay.
And then there was the situation with Juventud Guerrera last March. Against the expressed objections of a very large percentage of the entire company, the promotion decided to re-hire Juventud and give him one more chance.
So, put all of this together, and you can see what Carlos was dealing with in his efforts to try to help the office run smoothly. When none of this had improved by 2010, Carlos was moved onto the main booking committee, not just handling finishes the day of the show but also helping to create feuds and programs for a longer term, and trying to find new stars that every promotion has needed since day one to refresh interest in the product.
Juventud’s first date in after being re-hired was the Rey de Reyes event on March 15, 2009, in Guadalajara. Juventud came out with no prior warning to help the team of D-Generation-Mex in their battle against The Foreign Legion team of Zorro & Teddy Hart & Jack Evans. In that match, Juventud tried as forever to steal the show, and would not sell for his opponents. This no-selling in particular reignited the complaints the wrestlers in the locker room had raised about brining Juventud back.
After the Rey de Reyes, the next TV taping was Friday, March 20, 2009 in Madero. Juventud was scheduled to wrestle in the main event, the first round of a tournament to crown the initial AAA World Cruiserweight Champion. He was called away for a while, and when he returned, he found that someone has taken a crap in his gym bag, onto his ring gear. Immediately, Juventud accused Konnan (who was running the locker room that night), and while these two were jawing, Jack Evans’’s name came up. Evans did not take kindly to this, and beat the tar out of Guerrera, breaking his nose. (For the record, it later came out that Sean Waltman had placed the feces in the bag in retaliation for Guerrera going on a radio show and saying Waltman had attempted suicide, which caused Waltman’s girlfriend, Alicia Webb, to lose custody of her child.)
Such incidents have happened from time-to-time in the business, but one of the unwritten rules of every promotion is what happens in the dressing room stays in the dressing room. So what did Juventud do? He went to a friend who writes for the sport section of the Mexico City daily newspaper Récord, and told the whole story (solely from his point of view). Amazingly, Récord ran the story in its edition of March 24, 2009, blowing the whole thing wide open to the entire world.
Three times since then Anibal Gonzalez and/or his father have filed suit against AAA and/or Konnan and/or Evans. The first two suits, Anibal Gonzalez lost. In the third suit, in a deposition earlier this year, Anibal Gonzalez gave a sworn statement that could be construed as meaning that another statement he gave in a sworn deposition in the first lawsuit was a lie. In the Mexican legal system, if the judge does indeed rule that Anibal lied (intentionally or not), mandatory sentencing guidelines mean that Juventud would serve jail time. As of this writing, the third lawsuit is still proceeding, and no such ruling by the judge has been made.
It was awful timing for everyone that the fallout from this stupid little story came out when it did; once again, AAA and Carlos were in shock and mourning. The very day this story hit the news stands of Mexico City, Konnan was attending the funeral service in Mexico City for the AAA wrestler who wrestled as Abismo Negro.
Absimo Negro (real name Andréés Alejandro Palomeque Gonzalez) had wrestled in the Rey de Reyes wrestling show on Monday, May 15, 2009. The next major show, a TV taping would be Friday the 20th. Shortly before bell time, some men came looking for Abismo Negro, asking for him by his ring name and his real name. Carlos knew who they were and what they wanted from the start. He went to get Palomeque, who due to past drug and no-show problems was on his third strike with AAA anyway (their had been quite the furor when he had been brought back a month earlier, asking if he can be working here, what can anyone possibly do to get fired?). Carlos did not like this scene from the start.
At first, Palomeque tried to deny threat anyone could be looking for him –– “they must be looking for Juventud” –– but finally, against strong advice from Carlos, Palomeque went to meet the men. When the night was over, and the match was over, Palomeque left with that same crew. No one from AAA ever saw him alive again. He no showed the Tuesday, Wednesday, and Thursday night bookings Carlos had made for him. Palomeque then did not show up for the TV taping card on Friday the 20th. He was found Sunday morning, drowned after a fall from a bridge following what may have been a drug-induced hallucination on a bus ride.
In late 2008, AAA and Carlos hit on an angle that sent the business through the roof and press coverage to the stars. In September 2008, after the Verano de Escandalo mega-show, AAA director Joaquin Roldan began bringing an urn containing the ashes of Antonio Peña to the ring, symbolizing Roldan’s legacy ownership of Peña’s brainchild. On October 5, 2008, during a TV taping in Puebla, Konnan stole the urn, and only agreed to return it if he lost a match at the next AAA mega-show against which Roldan would have to put up control of the AAA promotion. The mega-event, ironically the Antonio Peña Memorial Show, saw Konnan retain the urn and win control of the promotion.
The angle got the kind of heat that angles get when people don’t understand it’s an angle –– it got too hot and within four weeks, Konnan returned the urn to Roldan while Roldan publicly acknowledged Konnan as CEO of AAA. And it was the kind of angle that the biggest promotions around the world, from WWE to WCW to TNA, would run. That’s the third bit of his legacy that he’d like to be, or thinks he will be remembered for, that he helped bring lucha libre into the modern era, both in presentation and in story, out of a staid, hidebound formula that he first encountered 20-plus years ago. This angle, for sure, was as modern and controversial as any being run by any promotion in the world.
At TripleMania XVI, Konnan and the entire Roldan family had a proxy match for control of AAA, to settle the score, once and for all. Finally, at TripleMania, Roldan and the AAA army won control of their own promotion back by winning a ten-match cage match. And, at the final mega-show of 2009, Guerra de Titanes at Ciudad Madero, in an unsanctioned street fight Konnan defeated Cibernetico, to continue a feud the two had started a few weeks earlier. The blow- off match took place on March 12, 2010. With his deteriorating hip and his new increased role behind the scenes, it is expected that Konnan will cut out the great bulk of his in-ring activity and focus on the creative side.
This may well give Carlos the time to focus on the world of MMA, or something outside pro wrestling. Carlos has been doing MMA training at a gym in Chula Vista, the home to fighters such as Brandon Vera and WEC bantamweight champion Dominick Cruz. While his current age (46) and medical history (hip replacement, kidney transplant, heart stent) will preclude any actual MMA combat, his quick pick-up of the fundamentals of the sport, and his quick mind and unique vocal style, may point Carlos in the direction of a career in color commentary or TV work, perhaps for the Spanish language audience as MMA expands.
On a completely other hand, Carlos has spoken publicly and privately of how he is intrigued with the concept of entering local politics in Chula Vista (this reporter has lived in Chula Vista since August 1998; Carlos has lived in Chula Vista off and on since 1989). For a fairly large city (population close to but not quite 250,000, one of the 80 most populous cities in the U.S.), Chula Vista has very small-town suburban developer-driven local politics. In a city where over 2/3 of the residents are Hispanics), Republicans keep just dominating local political elections, with Hispanic representation in the city political structure basically zero. Carlos would be so totally unlike anyone who has run for political office in this city that just his throwing a hat into the ring would send the San Diego Union-Tribune and The Chula Vista Star-News editors dancing into the hallway with glee, for all the good copy and stories that would result. And after all, if you’ve run a wrestling office before, is city politics that much different?
What’s on the horizon for Konnan? Will Carlos still be one of the most influential, newsworthy, and hall-of-fame-worthy people inside the wrestling business for the foreseeable future? Will the lure of MMA and its impending explosion in Mexico tug away at Carlos. He knows that this bombshell is coming this year or next in Mexico. Most observers see the delay more as a television problem (a function of the poor PPV penetration in Mexico) than in any lack of interest in or philosophical opposition to the sport. With his knowledge of the sport and incredible visual and aural charisma, he realizes he would be a natural as one of the announcers for UFC or another MMA promotion as it dives into Mexico and then the rest of Latin America. Announcers are as important in real sports as they are in worked sports, Carlos is looking at making a pitch to be in that role when the time comes.
For the moment, it looks like he’ll stay on working with and for AAA in Mexico. As of April 2010, Konnan has the responsibility of much of the booking duties in the office, and no longer just his own story lines. He also helps to write and format the TV, along with Hector “Moody Jack” Melendez. As those two use every creative twist they can muster, AAA in 2010 is now trying to combat an EMLL (CMLL) that is a bit resurgent both in the ring and in TV ratings, and stave off a WWE that has been selling out most of its Mexico house shows for almost two years running and has TV ratings that close to double that of AAA. But things appear to be running more smoothly, back on track in early 2010, and people in the locker room and in the office are very optimistic that AAA still has quite the bright future ahead of it. But Carlos is now shouldering much of the responsibility for this future.
Health-wise, for Carlos, things just simply do not look very bright. One hip, the one on which he had surgery, hurts him so much he can barely walk now, pain or no pain. The other hip has begun to hurt in ways that remind him exactly of what happened a few years ago with the other hip. The next time you see him in a wheelchair may mean you have seen the last of him walking. He has problems with the kidney replacement that left him fighting for his life after surgery. His replacement kidney, with its estimated life span of seven to fifteen years, will start to slowly wear out soon enough. The anti-rejection drugs he has to take cause him to retain water, badly bloating his stomach. His heart, the one with a stent in it now, will never get better. Add it up, and you don’t have to be a psychic to see the future. That is a big part of the reason that Konnan the wrestler was beaten so soundly at Rey de Reyes, as a way to begin to transition that character to almost exclusively the leader of the Foreign Legion troupe.
Speaking of adding it up, Carlos now faces a future, as you can see, with massive medical bills, and working for a company (and in a business) without health insurance. Furthermore, the company for which he currently works pays in Mexican pesos. Starting with the March 12, 2010, Rey de Reyes show in Queretaro, for the foreseeable future, Carlos has begun to open up contacts again with TNA about talent exchanges, something that may augur more booking fees for Carlos. That will be a mine field of political negotiations considering the water under the bridge between Carlos and TNA, but as of April 2010, things are working out well between the two companies.
And yet for all of this, despite all of this, Carlos still smiles and laughs when talking about AAA, the guys, and its plans. You can see his eyes wake up and sparkle every time he tells you, in his garrulous way, of this plan or that idea he has for the future –– a future angle, maybe a future match. Once again, he loves the business.