MMA Ratings Podcast

December 9, 2019

Combate Americas Looks To Leverage Latinx Love of Lucha Libre To Reach Next Level

By Raphael Garcia

Professional wrestling and mixed martial arts are close bedfellows, and the relationship between the two forms of entertainment has been well-chronicled. Nearly every promotion has attempted to bridge the two worlds. Following in that tradition, the Latinx-focused MMA organization Combate Americas has featured several professional wrestlers on recent fight cards.
This past weekend's Combate Americas 51: Tito vs Alberto pay-per-view card not only showcased two individuals in its main event that both professional wrestling and MMA fans will recognize, but further down the card, the promotion cast a spotlight on another fighter whose name carries cachet in wrestling circles, particularly those who follow lucha libre. It remains to be seen whether these moves will benefit the organization in the long run, but so far, Combate seems to be making strides in the right direction.

In the Combate 51 main event, former UFC Champion Tito Ortiz needed less than one round to defeat former CMLL, AAA, and WWE star Alberto "El PatrĂ³n" Rodriguez. The promotion for this bout was built around cringeworthy insults and political banter designed to rile up the promotion's mostly Latinx consumer base, and although the verdict is still out as to whether it worked, this event did gain more coverage than any other Combate card to date. Rodriguez, who was known as Alberto del Rio when he was a WWE champion, garnered coverage from professional wrestling sites and personalities, which informed those fans of the upcoming fight. Ortiz also had a brief stint in professional wrestling, but his inclusion helped to increase the spotlight from mainstream MMA outlets.

However, it was an earlier bout on Saturday night’s main card that truly provided insight into Combate's longer term strategy, as Dulce Garcia defeated Anali Lopez Hernandez in the first round of their bout. Garcia, who is better known by her wrestling name "Sexy Star," is considered one of the best women’s wrestlers in the world, and has competed for promotions like AAA, Lucha Underground, and Shimmer. She’s the perfect type of competitor that Combate can use to leverage the love that Latinx fans have for combat sports and professional wrestling. Garcia now has a 2-0 MMA record to go along with a 5-0 record as a professional boxer, building in an immediate legitimacy that has worked in building up professional wrestling converts like Brock Lesnar.

Another lucha libre talent that Combate Americas has recently showcased is Melissa Cervantes, who goes by "Thunder Rosa" and "Kobra Moon" in the professional wrestling circuit. The former Lucha Underground standout was unable to secure a win in her MMA debut at Combate 49 last month in San Antonio, but her continuing efforts within the promotion will a long way towards building up her marketability in both spheres.

As previously stated, leveraging the links between professional wrestling and mixed martial arts isn’t new. Big names like Lesnar and Ronda Rousey are the first to come to mind, but Phil “CM Punk” Brooks, Ken Shamrock, Shayna Baszler, and Josh Barnett are other pro wrestlers and mixed martial artists who have competed in both worlds, to varying levels of success. But Combate is taking a different approach by seeking out athletes with lucha libre history and name value within the Latinx market specifically, with an eye towards developing them as legitimate prospects, rather than as sideshows.

Slow growth is the name of the game when it comes to building stars in combat sports. Combate has started out on the right foot with Garcia and Cervantes, as both made their debuts against opponents of equal skill level. The promotion should continue to match them up with talent on the same plane as they develop their skill sets, and take a measured and deliberate approach to moving them up the card. The Latinx fanbase remains a highly sought after demographic in MMA, and as support for women’s wrestling continues to gain steam, Combate is positioning itself to leverage the appeal of talent who can bridge the MMA-pro wrestling gap in a novel way.

Combate Americas 51 will likely be remembered for its sideshow antics and traditional "wrestling vs. MMA" main event (and its predictable result), but in the long run, we could look back on it as one of the promotion's first steps towards developing homegrown stars who can draw on their experience in the professional wrestling space. Combate Americas isn’t doing something completely new in this respect, but in Dulce Garcia and Melissa Cervantes, the promotion has two prospects whose links to the lucha world offer a unique opportunity to reach a community that appreciates combat sports and professional wrestling, but has traditionally been underserved by mainstream MMA promotions. We'll see if this approach is more successful.

Combate Americas 51
Dulce Garcia vs. Anali Lopez Hernandez: Dulce Garcia def. Anali Lopez Hernandez by submission (guillotine choke) at 2:47 of Round 1.

Combate Americas 51: Tito vs. Alberto took place December 7, 2019 at Payne Arena in McAllen, Texas.

Click HERE for more Combate 51 Post-Fight Analysis

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