Alberto Del Rio

Jose Alberto Rodriguez, better known as Alberto Del Rio from his time in WWE, has been involved in the wrestling and mixed-martial arts worlds for decades, but his work on the media side is more recent. On Saturday night, he’ll be continuing his work with Latin fighter-focused MMA promotion Combate Americas, calling their Copa Combate event from Cancun, Mexico.

The event takes place at 11:30 p.m. Eastern and will be televised in the U.S. on NBCSN and Telemundo, in English and Spanish respectively, and it will feature two tournament alternate bouts, two women’s fights (Melissa Martinez versus Gloria Bravo and Sheila Padilla versus Lisbeth Lopez Silva), and a three-round tournament between eight fighters on the men’s side with a $100,000 prize for the winner. Del Rio has been a regular broadcaster for Combate Americas as well as a podcast host for them, and he’ll again be working on the broadcast side for them this time.

He recently spoke to Awful Announcing about that, and said he’s excited to work in both English and Spanish.

“Last time I did this for Combate, I was jumping from one table to the other,” he said. “I started in the English one and I moved to the Spanish one, and the Spanish producer called my friend and boss Campbell and said ‘Can we just keep him here? Because he knows the names of the moves, the submissions, and he’s really helping us a lot. Can we keep him here on the Spanish side?’ And of course we did. I think I’m going to be doing the same for Cancun, jumping from one table to the other. But if you ask me, I’d rather stay on the Spanish table, I think that’s going to be where I’m having more fun.”

Getting into broadcasting wasn’t a planned move at all for Del Rio, but he wound up doing that with Combate Americas after the initial idea of him fighting for the promotion didn’t pan out. The CEO of Combate Americas is Campbell McLaren, the co-creator of the UFC and someone who was crucial in promoting UFC 1, which happened 24 years ago Sunday. Del Rio said McLaren brought him in as a potential fighter, but that led to him working as a podcast host and broadcaster after he realized he couldn’t handle the cage any more.

“The way Campbell McLaren and I started our relationship, our friendship, was because he wanted me to fight for him years ago,” Del Rio. “He called me and we started talking about it, and I remember telling Campbell ‘I don’t know if I want to continue fighting inside the cage, I did that a long time ago, when I was younger, when I was hungry, when I needed money, and now I’m in a different situation.’ But he was like ‘Well, okay, why don’t we try it? I will get you the training, the people you need to get ready for the fight, and why don’t you try it, and if you feel like you don’t want to do it any more, just call me and tell me.'”

“So we tried it. I went back to the MMA gym for like three weeks, getting up at like 5 in the morning and running five miles and then one day, I remember being in the boxing ring with somebody, and after three rounds, I did it like Roberto Duran and just said ‘No mas.’ I remember my little boy, my son Joseph, he was like three years old at the time, and he was just like, ‘Daddy, let’s go home, let’s go home.’ And I was like ‘Okay, I don’t have it any more. I don’t have the hunger to fight. Like Rocky, I don’t have the eye of the tiger any more.”

“So I decided not to fight, and I called Campbell and I’m like, ‘I’m sorry, amigo, I know you wanted me in the organization but I don’t feel like I can fight inside the cage after so many years,’ and he’s like ‘No problem, I understand, thank you for trying, but I really want to work with you, so I will find something for you in my company and I will call you again.’ I thought he was just saying that to be polite, but he really did it! Years later, he called me and offered me a job, and here I am, enjoying working for Combate Americas, having the time of my life and being happy.”

Del Rio said he’s really enjoying being on the broadcasting side.

“I love it, I love it. To be honest, my days inside the cage are way gone. I really enjoy being outside and helping the fighters, because I know the mental aspects that a fighter has, being inside the cage, so I love spending time with them and talking about their plans or what they’re planning on doing during the fight, talking to the cornerman, the trainer. And when the fight is happening, I love to be calling play-by-play, explaining to people what MMA’s all about.”

He said it’s been interesting broadcasting to a Spanish-language audience, as some of that involves more explanation than it does for the English-language audience.

“I know that here in the United States people are really educated when it comes to MMA, but in Mexico, even though there’s a lot of people that are familiar and completely understand and know what MMA’s all about, there’s a part of Mexico, the old-school fans who are only in love with boxing and need to understand and know the rules and what MMA is all about.”

Del Rio was born in Mexico, and Spanish is his first language. He said he feels very comfortable broadcasting in English as well, though, and his time in WWE particularly helped there.

“It’s not as easy as it is in Spanish, but I’m used to it, I’ve been doing it for quite some time,” he said. “I’ve been in the United States for the last eight years, I’ve been working in pro wrestling for many years, and in the pro wrestling business, you need to know how to use the microphone, so it’s pretty easy for me.”

Del Rio was a WWE wrestler from 2009 to 2014, claiming the World Heavyweight Championship at one point, and wrestled for WWE again from 2015 to 2016. He said his decision to leave the second time was about wanting to be home with his family more.

“I worked for that company for eight years. My first run with the company, I got fired because I stood up for myself against a racist employee who was making racist jokes against Mexicans. That’s in the past, because the company ended up calling me again, we shook hands, we made peace and everything and I ended up going back for a second time. But when I was there, I realized that was not what I wanted any more. The company is the biggest company in the world when it comes to pro wrestling, it was the major leagues of pro wrestling, but after being there and making a name for myself, with them giving me a place to showcase my talent and show the world who Alberto Del Rio really is, I realized I didn’t need them any more.”

“When you work for a company like that, you have to be on the road 220-230 days per year, and then I realized I could be making the same amount of money but doing only 120-150 days per year. So I decided to take it and go back to the indie circuit, the indie promotions, just to be my own boss. So I called the owner, Vince McMahon, I said ‘I don’t feel happy with what we’re doing at the moment, I don’t like the schedule, I want to be free again, so if you don’t mind, just let me go.’ I still had two months left on my contract, and he was asking me to stay for those two months, and I said ‘No, I want to leave now, I’m unhappy and I’m starting to lose the love, the passion for pro wrestling. And for someone who was born in the business like myself, that’s unacceptable, something like that is unacceptable, so just please let me go.’ And he did.”

“So I started working for Combate, for Impact Wrestling, for all the indie promotions around the world. So now my calendar, I go all over the world, I go from England to Monterey, Mexico, to Washington to Europe to do something in Spain and then go back to do something in Mexico. But I’m enjoying myself, I’m enjoying my career again, I’m in love with pro wrestling once again, and I have time to spend with my family, I’m back with my kids, being involved in all their sports activities and their school activities, and I’m feeling better this way.”

Del Rio said he loves both wrestling and MMA, but wrestling’s in his DNA thanks to his family. However, he’s really enjoyed his time working around the world in MMA, both as a fighter and a commentator.

“[They’re] two different sports,” he said. “I’m going to say I prefer pro wrestling because my grandfather was a wrestler, my dad, my uncle, I’m a third-generation wrestler, so I was pretty much born in this business. My love, my passion is for the sport of pro wrestling, but also I’m a big fan of MMA, because I was part of the sport for many years in Japan, Korea, and also Mexico.”

He said working for Combate Americas is special for him thanks to their focus on promoting Latin fighters.

“Now I have the opportunity to work for a MMA organization that I love so much. This organization pushes Latin talent, we have fighters from all over the world, but we can showcase our talent. So that’s a reason I love this company so much, because it’s really difficult to get the opportunity from companies out there, and this company’s completely open to giving you a run. And if you want to take your career to the top, we will give you the tools, as long as you have the talent and a good heart and you are open to doing what you need to do.”

He’s particularly excited for this Copa Combate, as the tournament format provides extra challenges for the fighters.

“It’s going to be really difficult for all the fighters because it’s totally different when you prepare yourself to fight against just one opponent, because when it’s a direct fight, you have the time to study just one opponent,” he said. “Say you’re fighting a jiu-jitsu expert, well of course, for those three months when you’re training for that fight, you prepare yourself to go against someone that will try and take you down and submit you. But when you’re in a tournament, you don’t know who will be your next opponent in the second round, in the third round. So you have to be ready for everything.”

“So in tournaments like this, your mind, your heart play the most important role during the whole night. Who wants it more, how strong your mind is, how strong your heart is. Lucky for us, all of our fighters are amazing athletes, they all want to make a name for themselves. They want to fight for the organization, they want to fight for their families. They’re dying to have someone turn their head and look at their talent and maybe find their sponsor, find someone who can help them improve their lives, improve their careers. And lucky for them, they’re in the right place in Combate Americas, because here we’re helping them, we’re promoting them, and our main concern is to take them to the top and have them be the next superstar in the sport of MMA. …And we have $100,000 for the winner.”

Del Rio said he’s thrilled to be a part of this broadcast.

“I’ll be on the mike, talking to the audience, letting them know how I feel and what I’m seeing inside the cage,” he said.” “It’s going to be an amazing event. It’s going to be a great night for Combate Americas.”

About Andrew Bucholtz

Andrew Bucholtz has been covering sports media for Awful Announcing since 2012. He is also a staff writer for The Comeback. His previous work includes time at Yahoo! Sports Canada and Black Press.