On a recent episode of Talk Is Jericho, Chris Jericho chatted with former CMLL star and American indie wrestler Sam Adonis about his heel run in CMLL. Adonis, who can be found every Wednesday on the Wrestling Inc. podcast with Justin LaBar and Matt Morgan, credited his CMLL rise to his strong character work. He said it was through the work he put in at Arena Mexico that got noticed and fast tracked him to the main event.
"Well, I don't know if it was necessarily Paco Alonso. I think it probably would have come from a little bit lower down the chain of command because initially, I was just invited to train with them at Arena México, and for the people that don't know, I don't know how it was back in your day, but now it's almost organized like a professional sports team," Adonis explained. "You have to come to practice and perform at practice to show yourself worthy for Friday night's. They have nine shows a week. They're at Guadalajara, Arena Coliseo, Puebla and three at Arena México.
"So I was invited to train and I think at the end of the day, it came down to the amount of experience, not necessarily as a wrestler or in Lucha, but as far as character-building, being able to have a body of work that people can buy into. And I was there for one practice, and I just gave it everything I had. The agility I had and the ability to emulate what I've seen in Lucha, I kind of was able to step up and deliver as far as Lucha Libre drills go, but when they saw my character work, what I was capable of doing, that kind of fast tracked."
Adonis explained how quickly his rise in CMLL was when he was brought in by Ultimo Guerrero and later told that he would be in the main event as part of Team America along with NJPW's The Guerrillas of Destiny, Tama Tonga and Tanga Loa. Adonis spoke on his desire to learn the lucha style and to work at the pinnacle of lucha libre, CMLL.
"So the next day, I was at Ultimo Guerrero's wrestling school and talking to Bandido, who's a good friend of mine, and he says, 'hey Ultimate Guerrero needs to talk to you.' And he's asking me all these questions about where you stand, where are you going," Adonis said. "He said, 'you need to go to Arena México right now.' I said, 'like right now?' He's like, 'in this moment, go down there.' So I hailed a taxi over to Arena Mexico. Get out. They invited me upstairs and says, 'OK, here's the deal. We're doing a PPV in three weeks. You're going to be the Team America representative.' I'm like, 'hell yeah.' I mean I was excited about it because in my opinion, if you if you want to wrestle in Mexico, I mean CMLL is the bar.
"They're the ones that keep the reputation of classic lucha libre, and this going back into my ideology of wanting to be the best, I want to learn that style. Whether or not I did it in my matches, that's irrelevant. I want to know it because I can wrestle with any of these guys around the world. So when they presented me with this opportunity, I was all in. I was like, let's do it, and I was in a sense of similar situation to you, three weeks later, the week before the PPV, the new poster had come out and my picture was front and center. Main Event myself with Tama Tonga and Tanga Loa against Volador Jr., Atlantis and Diamante Azul.
"So my first Friday night in Arena Mexico was the main event, and I mean, I don't think it's really happened too many times since I've been able to do it. So it was surreal. It was bad because a lot of the wrestlers took me out the night before and got me hammered drunk, and I was hungover for my first match, but you know such is life."
Even though Adonis was a top heel at CMLL, it was his outward American character that invoked President Donald Trump that got him attention from mainstream media. Adonis explained not only how to "work a flag" but also how mainstream media learned about him.
"It was ridiculous is what it was, but it was definitely my 15 minutes if you will up to that point, but basically it all started because a NPR reporter was in town to do a story on Marco Corleone who's Mark Jindrak," Adonis explained. "He's been there for years. They came to do a story on him, and I had just started coming out to the ring with a flag with Donald Trump's face on it. And this goes back to when I was in England, every day for Brian Dixon, I'd come out to the ring with a flag. So as silly as it sounds, there's a way to work a flag. It's not just a prop.
It's the right timing. It's the way you move it around. It's not just carrying it to the ring because there's so many people that are going to have props. It's about knowing where to put it, how to how to put it into your match at the right spots. Whether you use it, it's not just a prop in my opinion, but basically he saw that and freaked out. He thought it was the most ridiculous thing. He's ever seen, and he's going out there saying, 'oh my God, this is nuts. I can't believe they're doing this down here.'"
Adonis has said that his character is not a Trump supporter and is an American idiot type character. He noted that not many journalists are wrestling fans and didn't understand the dynamics of faces and heels. However, he said that changed once he explained that he was just playing a character and does not actually like or care for Trump.
"So he was able to talk to the press department of CMLL and came back and talked to me," Adonis said. "And the whole interview was in English and I basically said to him like, 'dude, this is just being a heel. I don't care about Donald Trump. I don't like Donald Trump. I'm not a bad person. I'm here to get these people in such a frenzy that when I get my butt kicked and just get beat all over this arena, they go home happy,' and this guy, who clearly was not a wrestling guy, his eyes lit up and you could tell like, 'oh my gosh, that's that's beautiful.' He was almost so taken back by it because he's never seen how selfless a heel can be that he went and wrote this article for it.
"And NPR is so prestigious all over the place that within three or four days, I'm getting phone calls from every news department on the planet. I had CNN, Vice, Al Jazeera, Russia Today, Bloomberg, USA Today [and] GQ did article on me. Everybody on Earth came to Mexico City, and I was sitting in the dressing room and there were 16-17 reporters with cameras, and it was like literally a press conference you'd see for an NBA game.
"So that was all over the place. It was insane how they wanted to grab onto something that looks kind of dirty and controversial, but every single one of them that sat down and talked with me was just amazed that it was all done in the name of good faith. It was all done to give these people a great show and give them something to look forward to, basically this big, American idiot getting his butt kicked."
Adonis revealed that the backlash to his character wasn't as bad as many people think because the fans understood that he was playing a heel. He did note an incident that kept him locked in Arena Mexico.
"It wasn't as bad as people thought it would be just because I think a lot of people are acclimated to the concept of faces and heels down there," Adonis noted. "A lot of these people would be so angry and right up in my face, drunk as can be, getting ready to throw their kid on the ground and punch me in the face, but that same person would come back and want a picture and an autograph after the show. The two times that it kind of freaked me out, one time, I was on lockdown in Arena Mexico by myself, and it was a completely unrelated incident, but it terrified me.
"There was a gang shooting out in the parking garage. Everybody was just running, and there was chaos and there was pandemonium. She [Sandra Granados] came to me and says, 'hey, we'll wait right here.' I said, 'I gotta go. My girlfriend's waiting for me.' No, better we wait. Next thing you know, my girlfriend's blowing me up saying, 'where are you at? What's going on? Are you OK?' It was like a full-blown riot outside, and I was locked inside the riot doors in Arena México.
One direct threat that Adonis received for invoking Trump was when a black Escalade was tailing him. He said that someone had called the "local bad guys" because he was waving a Trump flag, and Adonis is glad that things turned out OK.
"The other time that was pretty bad was I was leaving, I don't know if you remember Arena Lopez Mateos, I was leaving there one night. I noticed a giant, souped-up, decked out black Escalade parked at about 1:00, and it instantly caught my eye like you don't see that car that many places around here," Adonis pointed out. "So I take three steps, and it starts inching up. So I stop, sign a few autographs and that's that, kill some time. Four or five more steps, starts inching up and this guy immediately started following me. So I'm sitting there and I'm just, 'hey who wants an autograph? Come here. How did you think of the show tonight?' Literally just killing time. Sent my girlfriend in to get the promoter, and my girlfriend got the promoter out and he went over and talked to the guy.
"They were kind of arguing a little bit, seeing what was going on. I tried to play dumb to the whole thing. Promoter comes over and says, 'hey, you go right now. Don't stop for food. Get out of here. Everything's OK.' Apparently, somebody had called from inside the arena and called one of the local 'bad guys' if you will and were telling them about this American wrestler on the inside. He was waving a Trump flag, and God knows what could have happened if I didn't have some more personal awareness."
Adonis has since wrestled for All-Japan Pro Wreslting and in the American indies most recently having wrestled for Warrior Wrestling. He said that the door is open for him to return to CMLL, but he said that he would most likely have to move to Mexico for that to happen which is something he does not feel the need to do at this point in his life.
"Kind of. They're just such a closed-door situation in there," Adonis noted. "They're so tight-lipped about everything. I've spoken to them often on many occasions, and I think realistically to go back full time, I would have to live back there again. And I think I'm just beyond that at this point. So excited to have lived there for two years and learn the culture, learn the people [and] do everything I could do, but I'm 30 years old now.
"And I like being here in Pittsburgh. I moved back to Pittsburgh because I finally started working in Japan and that was something that kind of happened for me. So I kind of chose one over the other. I don't know. I just don't see it being in the cards to turn there full time."
If you use any quotes from this article, please credit Talk Is Jericho with a h/t to Wrestling Inc. for the transcription.