Losing the NXT cruiserweight title doesn’t change Santos Escobar’s approach to his work in WWE.
Following a 313-day reign as NXT’s cruiserweight champion, Santos Escobar’s next goal is a second run with the title.
Escobar won the belt in May 2020 after it was vacated when reigning champ Jordan Devlin, who was based out of the U.K., was unable to travel to Florida for shows due to the pandemic. Escobar defeated Jordan Devlin on the second night of NXT TakeOver: Stand & Deliver last month to become the undisputed champ, then dropped the title days later to former New Japan star Kushida. In a short amount of time, Escobar and Kushida have added stakes and meaning to their feud, and they meet tonight in a two-out-of-three falls match for the belt.
Formerly known as star luchador El Hijo del Fantasma, Escobar is 37-year-old Jorge Luis Alcantar Bolly. He is the son of lucha libre legend El Fantasma, the nephew of Angel de la Muerte and a cousin of Fantasma Jr. Escobar starred across Mexico for CMLL and AAA, in addition to a successful run in Lucha Underground as King Cuerno.
His work with Kushida is compelling for a number of reasons, primarily the blending of their two styles. Both men represent the total pack of a professional wrestler. They can work lucha libre and strong style, as well as take to the air or work a body part on the canvas. This match could be a preview of how the NXT main event picture will look in the not-too-distant future, as both Escobar and Kushida are hungry for a chance to be world champion.
Speaking with Sports Illustrated, Escobar discussed his approach in NXT, his goals in WWE and the opportunity to share the ring with Kushida.
Sports Illustrated: A critical piece of the story in wrestling is what happens after losing a title, especially when the focus shifts to the new champion. You take so much pride in what you bring to pro wrestling, and there has been a different edge to your work since losing the title. Is that by design?
Santos Escobar: Well, it is important to note, above anything, we in WWE are in the business of entertainment. With that goes everything else. I’m always ready to perform at my best, in whatever position the company needs me to do. On the other side, whenever I have the opportunity to chop it up with an internationally renowned superstar such as Kushida, I jump right on it. Either way, I’m beyond happy to partake in the experience of being an NXT TV superstar. And we’ve built something. Now, every week, Santos Escobar must be on TV—every week, Joaquin [Wilde] and Raul [Mendoza] must be on TV, and that speaks volumes of our work, and the evolution and development of our characters.
SI: Wrestling is especially meaningful to you with your family ties, which is an integral part of your presence. Even though you lost the title to Kushida, you have many more goals in wrestling, and it is critical to keep up the momentum with or without the belt. Have you drawn upon any specific lesson you learned from family during this stretch?
SE: I learned this saying from my dad: Every time you become a champion, there is only one thing certain, which is you will lose that title. This is not my first rodeo, as the saying goes, so once you lose the title, what do you do? You come back stronger than ever. That’s what I did when I put Kushida through a table.
Some people are so good at winning. They look good; they look like a million bucks when they win. Some people look like losers when they lose. That’s not what I try to do. Win or lose, I have to look like a superstar. That’s my aim. I have to look good. My opponent has to look good, too, and we need to build a buzz. And when you lose, you have to come back stronger, which is my goal right now against Kushida.
SI: There isn’t much of a chance to celebrate moments like this on weekly television, particularly as a villain, but you posted a picture on Twitter last week of your mother. Much is made of your family’s success in wrestling, and though she is not in the ring, your mom should not be overlooked in helping create such an iconic wrestling family. What makes her so special?
SE: She’s my guide. Everyone says their mom is the best, their number one fan, and that’s who she is for me. She’s been there for me since day one. My dad taught me the business and gave me the pearls of the business for almost 30 years, but my mom is my heart, my soul. If you see any overconfidence in Santos Escobar, any ego, that is my mom. She’s the one pumping me up, telling me I’m going places, reminding me I will be champion. I hope everyone has a mom like her. For a very long time, she was preparing me for this life.
I’ll give you an example. I’m Mexican. My first language is Spanish, not English. But in America, you have to talk. You can communicate through your in-ring work, but you also have to do it on the mic. That requires an enormous amount of confidence, an enormous amount of pizzazz. All of that comes from my mom. She’s that important to my career, and even more important to me.
SI: Another important part of your career is the way you dress. It reminds me of the way Bobby Lashley conducts himself on the main roster, dressing in top-tier suits. Booker T was also someone known for looking like a star in the way he dressed. Why is dressing the way you do so vital to your character?
SE: That comes from all the lucha libre legends, including my dad. It brings me back to when I was 12 years old, being around legends like Ray Mendoza and Mil Mascaras, and every single time I’d see them, they’d say, “You want to be a superstar? You need to look like a star.” You go to a restaurant, or the theater, you have to look the part. There is another saying, which translates to “Dress the way you have to even if you owe what you dress.” It’s kind of like a fake-it-until-you-make-it mentality.
The truth is, whether it is Mexico or the United States or anywhere around the world, we are icons, we are role models. It is very important how we present ourselves. Now I also agree with people that want to be themselves and dress the way they want. If that’s what someone wants, then that’s fine for them. In my case, this is how I was taught the business, and that is the way I will pass it on to my son.
SI: You would like your son to carry on the family legacy?
SE: Oh yes. People saw him at NXT TakeOver: Stand & Deliver. It was impromptu, but he owned the moment. He was not nervous. He came to the back, he shook hands with Triple H, shook hands with Shawn Michaels and shook hands with William Regal. Every time he’s out there, he overshadows me, but that’s fine [laughing].
SI: History repeats itself, as that’s exactly what you did with your dad.
SE: That’s right.
SI: Looking at this week’s show, you have another chance to make magic with Kushida. He is an incredible wrestler and one of the best in the world. What impresses you most about his past and present?
SE: He is an amazing athlete, an amazing performer. Kushida is unique. He’s different than everyone else. We have amazing chemistry in the ring. He’s experienced, and so am I, and we bring a well-rounded product. I’m a main-eventer—that’s what I was taught, that’s how I learned the business. When I watch Kushida, there is no doubt that’s where he belongs, too. Every move he does is proper, precise and perfect. He is a great wrestler.
SI: You and Kushida could one day wrestle for the world title, but you’re also making the cruiserweight title feel significantly bigger than it has in WWE.
SE: This business is about confidence. Of course, you need the ability and the skill and the moves, but you need to have confidence. That translates into success. For me, I could be cruiserweight champion forever. I also want to be the next great Mexican wrestler. I want to be the main event of WrestleMania. To achieve that, I’m going to have to work extra hard to get there, and go through different moments, like the cruiserweight division. Maybe next is the North American division. After that, maybe the NXT title division. Then Raw, then SmackDown. I’m never content with my position. I’m always trying to evolve and offer something different. The company sees something in me, and I just need to bring it.
SI: You’re asking for such a big request every Tuesday, seeking people’s time and attention. What can they expect if they tune in to see Santos Escobar?
SE: You’re damn right about that. We ask for their time, attention, and appreciation. And if they give me their attention, in return, I will give them a five-star match. Also, you have Raquel González and Mercedes Martinez going at it for the NXT women’s championship, plus NXT champion Karrion Kross against Austin Theory. It’s a five-star card, led by the “Emperor of Lucha Libre” trying to reattain what is rightfully his, the NXT cruiserweight championship. When Santos Escobar is on the screen, you will feel happy, you will feel glad, or you will feel angry. But you will never be indifferent to Santos Escobar.
More From Justin Barrasso:
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Justin Barrasso can be reached at JBarrasso@gmail.com. Follow him on Twitter @JustinBarrasso.