Emmanuel Rosada continues his look at the Top 10 Greatest Wrestlers from the island of Puerto Rico.
The son of one of the best or the best worker in Puerto Rico – we will debate that later – Carlito rose quickly in the ranks of the biggest wrestling company in world by the mid- 2000s. Starting his career in his dad’s promotion – the WWC – Carlito was a quick learner who with the help of Ray Gonzalez and a strong push that saw the crowd gravitating towards him, earning him the merit – at that time – of the youngest wrestler to ever win the WWC Universal Championship. His feuds with Gonzalez, Konnan and Vampiro would put the eyes of the World Wrestling Entertainment (WWE) on him. Carlito, after just one year in developmental, have the honor to win the WWE United States Championship in his debut in Smackdown against John Cena. This wasn’t going to be the last time that he did that, in fact, in his debut in Monday Night Raw he would capture the WWE Intercontinental Championship. He would later feud over mid-card and main titles in the Raw brand, compete in Money in the Banks, winning the WWE Tag Tittles with his brother Primo Colon and then unifying them in WrestleMania XXV. Many would point out that Carlito never did something big or important after his WWE run, because of the lack of participation in other “big” wrestling companies – like TNA, Ring of Honor or New Japan – but it is his lack of participation in those mentioned that show how big of a name he is, not needing to go primarily to those wrestling companies. Since his exit from WWE, Carlito “Caribbean Cool” has traveled to Qatar, Pakistan, the United Kingdom, Mexico and many other places. Even when WWE offered him a contract back in 2015, Carlito rejected the offer because of “how low” he was offered. Carlito right now stands as a 17-time WWC Universal Champion, one of the biggest draw in Puerto Rico’s history – maybe the biggest in this decade, as he has headline the WWC Anniversary show multiple times – and is one of the most on-demand talents from the island.
4. Ricky Banderas – Mil Muertes
As many of the accolades that Carlito has, his counterpart from the rival – at the time – IWA did it better and bigger with a different path. Ricky Banderas – Mesias in AAA or Mil Muertes in Lucha Underground – started as Hispanic project by the then WWF with the collaboration with later owner of International Wrestling Association Victor Quiñones. Banderas struggled early with gimmicks as “The Patriot”, but in the 2000s, everything seemed to “click” for the man from Bayamon. After a brief tag team with Apolo – named The New Generation – Banderas would turn heel and a new “persona” would unfold in the eyes of the viewers. He started becoming darker, swinging wildly a chair and even being deemed as a danger for the heel stable at the time. Flash Flanagan, who wrestle as Slash Venom in IWA Puerto Rico said, “When Banderas started swigging with the chair I always preferred that he hit me in the face, his shot to the back were too hard that a head shot was better”. Banderas would become that face of IWA Puerto Rico, becoming synonymous with the company and becoming a threat for WWC. His “match of the millennium” with Rey Fenix – Rey Gonzalez’s persona in IWA – still lives vividly in the hearts of wrestling fans in the island, as an image of Banderas doing a frog splash while rain pour through the baseball stadium is always visualize. Banderas would go on to be the top guy in AAA, becoming the first ever AAA Mega Champion, a title that he has won a record setting 4-times in his career. Contrary to Carlito, who was never been vision as the face of the company – outside of Puerto Rico – Banderas run in Mexico and in California proves that he is that and then some, being a favorite in Lucha Underground as Mil Muertes and even capturing the Lucha Underground Championship. Banderas once had a brief stint in Total Non-Stop Action as Judas Mesias, but his best work will always be in Mexico and in Puerto Rico, as once upon a time, he made WWC reconsider their options because of his success in IWA.
3. Miguel Perez Sr.
“One half of the greatest drawing tag team in Madison Square Garden” is a highlight of Miguel Perez Sr. that quickly jumps out of its resume. Before there was a Carlos Colon, Ray Gonzalez or even a Pedro Morales – in the WWWF days – there was a Jose Miguel Perez. Hailing from Santurce, Puerto Rico and father of former WWF wrestler Miguel Perez Jr., Jose Miguel Perez was pivotal to the development of a wrestling territory in Puerto Rico. He started in the 1950s, training at a young age, it wasn’t long before Italian turned-Argentinian wrestler Antonio Rocca took notice of him. Alongside Rocca, Miguel Perez Sr. would headline Madison Square Garden multiple times in sold-out crowds – over 20,000 fans – with an uninterrupted run that started in 1957 and lasted until 1963. Is the only tag team to finish unbeaten on their run in the old Capitol Wrestling Corporation –CWC left the NWA and soon Vince McMahon Sr. would take over to change it to the World-Wide Wrestling Federation – as they never lost the titles. Even when he finished his duties up in the North-East, Perez was a pioneer, helping Carlos Colon and Associates to start the Capitol Sport Promotion – CSP and now WWC – as he was the first ever Puerto Rican Champion in the newly established territory, even holding the title for a record of 426 days. Perez by any standard is the pillar that help build the Puerto Rican wrestling scene, inspiring many and having a stellar career around the world.
2. Carlos Colón
“Not in the number 1 spot?” I already can feel the comments of outrage of my fellow “boricuas” as Carlos Colón was and is the hero of the wrestling scene in Puerto Rico. Is insane how of a drawing power he was in the island. “Carlos Colón was a cultural icon in Puerto Rico” said Jim Ross in Carlos’s WWE Hall of Fame induction video back in 2014. Inspire by the likes of Jose Miguel Perez, Colon started training in the states, carving a hard-working pedigree in the North-East, wrestling in various states and in Canada. Later, alongside Croatian wrestler Victor Jovica and Gorilla Moonson, Colón would start the Capitol Sport Promotion, the prime wrestling territory in the island. What would follow, can only be described as “pandemonium”, Colón became the icon, the hero, the main drawing power in the island. In the 80s, no one was a must-see in tv – specially in sports related content – that Carlos Colón. He would slay every big North American heel that came across the territory, filling giant Baseball Stadiums with over 18,000 people. A career that lasted more than 40 years, Colon would go on to have epic battles against the likes of Abdullah the Butcher, Ric Flair, Stan Hansen, and any other heel that he saw that he could draw money with. Carlos was the it guy, especially in the whole decade of the 80s. With his children, Carlito and Primo, and his nephew Epico, the Colón name would solidify as one of the greatest families of the wrestling industry. Carlos Colón holds the record of most WWC Universal Title wins with 27 reigns (he is the owner of the territory), he is a 9-times Puerto Rican Champion, NWA World Heavyweight Champion (something that isn’t recognized by the NWA), and a WWE and Wrestling Observer Newsletter Hall of Famer. Colón isn’t rank in the #1 spot because he concentrated in just one territory and while his drawing power was incredible, we tend to forget that he did it on the local level and not in the soon-to-be – in those times – biggest wrestling company in the world. Also, we can’t leave out that in the murder of Bruiser Brody, Colón was pivotal in a lot of ways that the murder is still a mystery.
1. Pedro Morales
And then there was one… “Overlooked” and “Underrated” are the first word that come to mind when we talk about the great Pedro Morales. Is amazing how, because of few appearances in the island, Morales is looked down upon and often never-talk about when you talk about the all-time greats of Puerto Rico. Hailing from the tiny island in the east of Puerto Rico – Culebra – Morales conquer other corners in the world that he never would have imagine. Morales started his career in the states, specifically in New York, were he would start travelling to every corner of the United States of America. He would wrestle in Connecticut, Texas, Virginia, North Carolina, Washington D.C or every other territory that was open for his arrival. It was in California that Morales started perfecting his craft, winning the WWA Heavyweight Championship and becoming a fan favorite. After some trips in Japan, that included a loss to Giant Baba, Morales would gain notoriety in Hawai. It was there as Jim Cornette said that “Vince McMahon Sr. tough that if a Puerto Rican (talking about Morales) could draw in Hawai, imagine how he will do in New York”. That’s exactly what happened, Morales in the then WWWF – now WWE – started raking up wins. He won first the WWWF United States Champion in a tournament by beating Freddie Blassie, but his biggest win would come up later in 1971, when he beat “The Russian Bear” Ivan Kollof to win the WWWF Heavyweight Championship – now WWE Championship. Morales ascended the throne that Bruno Sammartino had left in New York and became Vince McMahon Sr.’s biggest draw at the time – in absence of Bruno Sammartino. In that period, Morales would hold on to the championship for at least 3 years and have the dream match that everybody was raving about against Bruno Sammartino in Shea Stadium in front of 20,000 people. Morales career would continue to Germany, Japan, San Francisco, and in his home country in Puerto Rico. Later, again in New York in the WWF where he would earn the accolade of being the first ever Triple-Crown Champion in WWE’s history – winning twice the WWF Intercontinental Championship and the WWF Tag Team Championship with Bob Backlund. Morales is a WWE Hall of Famer, Cauliflower Alley Club honoree and a 1-time Pro Wrestling Illustrated “Wrestler of the Year”, a total of accolades that not a single Puerto Rican in this list has in this list. For that and many other reasons, Pedro Morales is the greatest Puerto Rican wrestler of all time.
José Estrada Sr. – Super Medico I
One part of the iconic stable known as “Los Super Médicos” Jose Estrada was a force in the singles division and the tag team division. Part of the old WWWF, Estrada is a former Junior Heavyweight Champion and regular in the WWF as Los Conquistadores alongside his son Jose Estrada Jr. In Puerto Rico, Los Super Médicos, commanded by Estrada amaze a total of 10 tag team championships between the WWC North American, Caribbean and World Tag Titles.
“Su Majestad” (Your Majesty) El Profe is one of the best well travel wrestlers in Puerto Rico. Also from Vega Baja as Chicky Starr, Angel Pantojas – Profe’s real name – is as versatile as it comes. Tag team wrestler, singles wrestler, manager, interviewer and color commentator, El Profe could do it all. As the Perón Brothers, Profe travelled internationally mixing it up with the best at those times, feuding against the likes of Bret Hart, Davey Boy, Rocky Johnson and even the Ortons. He would transfer to a manager role, were all the heel wrestlers that feuded against the big babyfaces at the time in Puerto Rico would follow his lead.
Less successful than his counterpart of “La Nueva Generación” (The New Generation) – Ricky Banderas – Apolo was still a big draw for the IWA Puerto Rico. Standing 6 foot 5 and weighting more than 250 pounds, it was impossible to ignore the man dubbed as “El León” (The Lion). Apolo has amaze an outstanding career and that has in his resume appearances around the world that include countries like Canada, Austria, Mexico, Qatar, India, South Africa, among others. In his career, Apolo is an 8-times IWA World Heavyweight Champion, a 3 time WWC Universal Champion and a former NWA World Tag Team Champion (when the championship resided in TNA).