LOS ANGELES — Agustin Cervantes, 36, has been a wrestling fan since he was nine. He's excited about Latino headliners Bad Bunny and wrestling rising star Damian Priest, who are participating in the 37th WrestleMania, one of wrestling’s biggest events, on Saturday.
“Representation in this type of spectacle is an acknowledgment of presence and impact,” said Cervantes.
For up-and-coming wrestler Luis Martínez, 38, known in the ring as Damian Priest, this year has been career defining. His appearance with fellow Puerto Rican reggaeton superstar Bad Bunny in the ring has brought together the world of wrestling, Latino pride and music in a new way.
“There are a lot of Latinos involved in this business, a lot of fans that follow this business, but for whatever reason, it's always kind of like low key," Priest told NBC News. "I'm super happy that I'm able to shine a light on our culture.”
Priest has helped Bad Bunny develop his wrestling moves since their first appearance together at this year’s Royal Rumble. Bad Bunny briefly became a 24/7 champion alongside Priest. The title is meant to be defending anywhere and anytime.
“We hit it off immediately. We were raised in the same town in Puerto Rico. I have a family member that was his brother's school teacher in middle school," Priest said about the reggaeton star. "Our love for this business and professional wrestling, our love for being successful on our own terms — it’s crazy how Bad Bunny has brought so many new eyes into wrestling.”
In the world of wrestling, Latinos have progressed from opening matches to headlining major events. For Óscar Gutiérrez, 46, known in the ring as Rey Mysterio, a pioneer for Latino wrestlers and second-generation luchador, platforms like WWE mean opportunities for Latinos.
“WWE, especially WrestleMania, has always been a platform for Latinos to be seen and recognized and kind of cement their legacy," Mysterio told NBC News. "In WrestleMania 22, I became world champion, following the loss of my good brother Eddie Guerrero. The match put me on the map.”
This is not to say Latinos haven’t been watching. Nielsen reports that Hispanics are 42 percent more likely to have streamed WWE pro wrestling compared to non-Hispanics, who are 8 percent less likely to do so. This viewership is also seen in Latino buying power. Bad Bunny’s first appearance translated to WWE sales. Their online store saw nearly twice the traffic of Black Friday and Cyber Monday. This is also translating to brand partnerships, like Rey Mysterio’s deal with Victoria beer.
“We do, we do try to make as many connections possible to brand Rey Mysterio WWE with Hispanic companies. We’re still trying to expand and we're making our name bigger,” he said.
Latinos' buying power is expected to top $1.9 trillion by 2023, according to Nielsen. The WWE’s programming and elevation of Latinos can mean broader reach and profit.
“I think that especially given the fact that we do over-index so heavily with the Latino market, that there is nothing but opportunity for us to really grow and explore and do even more to super-serve that audience,” said Stephanie McMahon WWE Chief Brand Officer.
“There many opportunities to connect and drive that cultural message, but it has to be genuine. It can't be forced. We rely a lot on our partners on our talent to help us craft that message to make sure that it is authentic and real.”
For fans like Cervantes, Latino wrestlers like Eddie Guerrero and Rey Mysterio presented a world of heroes. “Wrestlers were larger-than-life characters, superheroes, beacons of selflessness and performing extraordinary feats with their bodies, telling stories of resilience and success," Cervantes said. "Nothing can inspire or get you more excited than that.”
Rey Mysterio said that Latino WWE superstars have been growing and will only continue.
"To have Bad Bunny on WrestleMania this year is just a big boom," he said."The fans recognize the work you put in and at the end of the day, they appreciate that. I hope we have a good night at WrestleMania 37, for Latinos to make an impact."