The exciting performer gained worldwide notoriety during his run as John Morrison in WWE. He left the organization to broaden his resume with new projects that would help him flex his creative muscle. Lucha Underground has given him the opportunity to do just that.
The series generated buzz within the industry as the show’s first season began to air on El Rey Network in 2014. Besides showcasing the fast-paced and athletic style of lucha libre, it had a slick presentation not different than what you would find in movies. Everything from the characters to the settings was outside-the-box and unlike anything seen in pro wrestling today.
Lucha Underground resonated with audiences and is gearing up for its second season 8/7CT Wednesday, Jan. 27. With names like Emmy Award-winning producer Mark Burnett, filmmaker Robert Rodriguez and Eric Van Wagenen behind the project, it was hard for Mundo not to get excited.
“I was a filmmaker originally at the University of California at Davis,” he said.
“I’d always wanted to do action movies. It was what I left WWE to do. This is a hybrid of professional wrestling and hard-hitting style. It also has a gritty action film vibe in the spirit of Robert Rodriguez. So being able to be a character in here opens the world of possibilities for everybody.
“For me, it has been great because it’s fun to be a good guy, but it’s a lot more fun being a bad guy. I’ve always had a lot more fun being a bad guy. Within this world the extent we are able to go to in our theatrical reality exceed any other wrestling product ever. It’s really presented me with a blank canvas with whatever picture for Johnny Mundo. It’s liberating.”
An interesting challenge for the 36-year-old has been doing shoots not only in English, but Spanish as well. He has enjoyed the process.
“A lot of luchadores speak broken English or hardly at all,” Mundo said.
“So they have the task of acting in English. For me, this is exactly what I wanted. This is something different. I was born and raised in Los Angeles, took Spanish all through high school and spent the summer in Spain and happen to have a long relationship with a Mexican girl. So I’ve learned quite a bit of Spanish over the years. All the swear words in the book, really. The one thing I’ve taken away when it comes to the acting is sometimes I have more fun acting in Spanish.
“There is less thought in the words and more thought into the emotions in my case. I don’t think in Spanish. I think in English, so a lot of what I communicate with is emotion. The more I’m around television and entertainment, whether it’s wresting, rock concerts, plays on Broadway, movies. It all comes down to emotion. That’s what people watch for. They want to feel something. They want to feel happy, surprised, terrified, shocked, and everything else. So not having to worry about words and communicating emotion in a way people watching can feel is what I try to do when we do these vignettes in Spanish.”
Working for Lucha Underground has also given him the chance to square off against a fresh crop of opponents. The “Prince of Parkour” has turned heads with his incredible outings with top talent like inaugural Lucha Underground champion Prince Puma.
“When I was at WWE I wrestled everyone on the roster and I left because I felt it was time for me to go,” Mundo said.
“I did have plans on going back at some point. I still think that could happen. You never know what could happen in professional wrestling. But here I have King Cuerno, Prince Puma, Fenix, Mil Muertes and Son of Havoc to test myself against. The moves and the way these guys are approaching wrestling is very different. I think most of us are benefiting from the collision of different psychologies and styles. It has really opened up my thoughts as far as what things happen and where
“You keep in mind wrestling is entertainment. You want to maintain your theatrical reality, but also entertaining a crowd is important. Where you draw that line between sports and combat and entertainment is subjective. It has been pretty cool to be around people who put that line in a different place than I would place it personally. This is what makes Lucha Underground so great.”
Another memorable adversary during season one was Alberto El Patron, who has since returned to WWE as Alberto Del Rio. Mundo was sad to see his exit, but he understands his reasoning.
“We were all shocked,” he said.
“I didn’t think he was going to go back, at least so soon. I think in the business of pro wrestling wrestlers get the short end of the stick. Promoters are making money. Wrestlers are making money. However, looking at regular office employees, they don’t have the lifelong chronic back pain or injuries suffered from the repetitive trauma and bumping in the ring. So I always believe wrestlers need to do what is best for them.
“I’m really happy for Alberto. I believe he got a really good deal. I was really happy with the opportunity to work with him at Lucha Underground. He was somebody I wrestled a few times in WWE, but we never had the chance to go off the rails and have great matches like we did here. I’m thankful I got that opportunity in Lucha Underground and in Mexico for AAA. So I was surprised. I was happy for him and wish him the best.”
Although the series lost a big name in El Patron, they hit the jackpot signing Rey Mysterio for the upcoming season. Mundo believes the latest acquisition adds even more legitimacy and star power to the brand.
“I believe Rey Mysterio is the most famous luchador in history,” Mundo said.
“You can make an argument that Santo is more famous or at one time more popular. I’m talking right now in present day Rey Mysterio is lucha libre. He is the first name almost anyone in the world is going to associate with Mexican wrestling. There is probably nobody who could possibly give Lucha Underground more street cred than Rey Mysterio. Rey is a personal friend of mine and one of my favorites who I ever wrestled. He is humble, talented and ridiculously creative and fun to be around. So I couldn’t be happier to see Rey Mysterio on the roster. Everybody form the guys in the back to the office feels the same after interacting with him.”
The landscape is continuing to change in professional wrestling with work rate taking precedent over how much someone can bench. Mundo has seen WWE’s perception of a superstar shift in the years since his absence.
“The last couple of huge stars from WWE were CM Punk and Daniel Bryan,’ he said.
“These guys cut their teeth doing shows and working their tails off all over the world for independent wrestling companies. If these guys now can figure out which chord they can see played out in the ring, then it’s something that can resonate and be tuned into a lot of revenue for WWE. I think they are finally taking a different approach with it. I think it has opened their minds to what a pro wrestler looks like and who a pro wrestler can be. There is a time and place where you are going to want your 350-pound guy from football or bodybuilder, but there is also a time and place you’re going to want your Daniel Bryan’s or your Fenix or your Prince Puma because they have a completely different set of skills and ways of performing in the ring that a bodybuilder can’t do and vice versa.
“This transition partly came about because WWE never really made any new stars. They held on to the past so tightly they started to suffocate themselves. Now they are in trouble in a way. If you look at Lucha Underground, they have done a really good job in creating stars. Prince Puma, Fenix, Mil Muertes, King Cuerno, Pentagon Jr. These are guys were with a gimmick that may have worked in wresting for a long time, but has not had the massive following under Lucha Underground. Now they do. I think if the trajectory of Lucha Underground continues it can really become something. It can be at a point where you can see another huge promotion.”
Even though filming is well underway for season two, the “Wednesday Night Delight” doesn’t divulge many specifics. He’d rather let the product speak for itself.
“I think any time you watch the first episodes of a TV show like The Simpsons or Seinfeld and start watching later seasons, what you see is everybody involved starts to get really good at what they do,” Mundo said.
“Form the commentators, the wrestlers, technical director, guys in the truck, producers, writers, you can tell everything is becoming more streamlined and polished. When you’re watching this season, that is what you’re going to see.”
Catch up or revisit Lucha Underground in the next few weeks culminating with a massive 40-hour marathon of the entire season starting 10/9CT a.m. Saturday, Jan. 23.
- Follow me on Twitter @smFISHMAN.
Photos Courtesy: El Rey Network