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At WWE's WrestleMania 37, Bad Bunny fought for his honor in the ring — and Puerto Ricans'

The Puerto Rican musical star and WWE superfan didn't just do well in his first pro wrestling match. He made it worth watching for non-wrestling fans.
Image: Bad Bunny Wrestlemania 37
Bad Bunny at Wrestlemania 37.WWE

Puerto Rican musical superstar Bad Bunny made a surprising debut on the biggest stage in professional wrestling when he sped into Tampa's Raymond James Stadium on Saturday on top of a Big Rig with the license plate Yo Hago Lo Que Me Da La Gana ("I do whatever I want") and, in front of 25,000 fans, worked his Boricua gait and athleticism to prove that bunnies can not only fly, but also deliver a mortal "Canadian Destroyer" move to end a match.

And, not coincidentally, he proved that bunnies can bring new eyes to wrestling.

Latino fans — many waving Puerto Rican flags — filled the stadium Saturday with chants of “Benito, Benito” — his real name — as Bunny stepped inside the squared circle to join his tag teammate and fellow Puerto Rican Damien Priest, professionally known as The Archer of Infamy.

“Quizás Ustedes no saben quien yo soy, pero soy Bad Bunny,” he said in Puerto Rican Spanish in a taped introduction — "Maybe you don’t know who I am, but I am Bad Bunny" — by way of acknowledging the white people watching.

That is what it is to know true representation on a stage like WWE; that is why it matters.

But you should know. El Conejo Malo — real name: Benito Antonio Martinez Ocasio — was once a nerdy kid from Vega Baja but now pulls in 8.3 billion streams on Spotify, had the first all-Spanish No. 1 album on the Billboard 200, won a Grammy this year and has seven Premios lo Nuestro, among many other accolades.

Hearing that accent — our national language, the way many of us speak — does something to your chest, even if you're not a wrestling fan. And then when they introduced Bunny at the stadium ("From Vega Baja, Puerto Rico," the announcer roared — not the United States, but from Puerto Rico), you could not help but feel a shared surge of national pride and to care about him winning.

That is what it is to know true representation on a stage like WWE; that is why it matters.

National pride is no small thing for Puerto Ricans. Puerto Rico has been a colony of the U.S. since Washington invaded the archipelago in 1898. Its territorial status means it belongs to but is not truly part of the U.S., and the issue of our colonial status is a passionately contested thorn in the side of Puerto Ricans, and has been for decades.

Benito really brought it on the night. And he brought us with him, in more ways than one.

And Puerto Rico has gone through hell over the past few years — first there was a recession imposed by a U.S. tax policy change, followed by an insurmountable debt and a Fiscal Control Board imposed by the U.S. Congress, which was succeeded by two hurricanes that caused the deaths of more than 3,000 people, earthquakes and a pandemic. And, in the midst of that, there was former President Donald Trump, who threw paper towels at us and talked about swapping the island for Greenland.

We have, in other words, been to the mat. And it was cathartic to watch two of our own take others down to it.

Bunny belongs to the Generación de Yo No Me Dejo ("I am Not Going to Allow It") who wants to change the colonial relationship between the U.S. and the archipelago — the one which took to the streets in 2019 to get rid of a governor.

So seeing him and Damien Priest — two Boricuas — matched up against the Americans The Miz and John Morrison felt good.

Bunny is reportedly a lifelong WWE fan, and it is easy to imagine a curly-haired Baby Bunny, watching his own WWE heroes, eyes glued to the television, on a hot Caribbean night. And, for the match, Bunny took time to learn the ropes and respected the work of professional wrestlers.

Fans are calling it the best celebrity performance in the history of wrestling.

He then entered the ring to live out this childhood dream — and to fly the island’s flag.

Bunny was dressed in cat-burglar black; Priest had on purple lamé tights and braids. Both had the Puerto Rican flag sewn into the legs of their wrestling costumes.

He proceeded to make moves worthy of any veteran of the ring: intimate pins, arm drags, DDTs (a compound move involving a face- or headlock and a backwards fall, named after the infamous pesticide) and ended the fight with the aforementioned Canadian Destroyer to pin The Miz, a two-time WWE champion, to the floor. But the best moment of the match was when the two Boricua fighters locked in on their prey, nodded at each other and, in stereo, did Falcon Arrows on the two Americans.

It was better than anyone expected; fans are calling it the best celebrity performance in the history of wrestling.

Bunny brought Puerto Rico, music and Latino power to WrestleMania. And then his performance silenced his skeptics, thrilled the WWE universe and scored major points for the wrestling industry among the profitable Latino demographic.

All that is good for the WWE.

Professional wrestling has long been a popular sport among Hispanics; it has a soap opera flavor —a theatricality — that appeals to us. Nielsen reports that Hispanics are 42 percent more likely to have streamed WWE pro-wrestling compared to non-Hispanics in the past year and 54 percent more likely to have purchased WWE merchandise compared to non-Hispanics.

Meanwhile, the U.S. Hispanic population reached a record 60.6 million in 2019, up 930,000 over the previous year and up from 50.7 million in 2010, according to U.S. Census Bureau's population estimates. We are the country’s second-largest racial or ethnic group, behind white non-Hispanics, with a median age of 28.

Bad Bunny in a match during Wrestlemania 37.WWE

This means a growing Latino buying power, which is expected to top $1.9 trillion by 2023, according to Nielsen. And Bad Bunny is the man to deliver it.

One appearance by Bunny on the WWE stage at the Royal Rumble at the beginning of this year with Booker-T — Bunny wrote a song in his honor — got over 36.7 million total video views across YouTube, Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and WWE.com, and more than 2.5 million total engagements across YouTube, Facebook, Twitter and Instagram on the night of the performance, according to WWE.

That’s the kind of pull Bunny has and that WWE wants. But Bunny also got something out of it, apart from living his childhood dream. The shirt he wore with the numbers 2032 emblazoned across the front promoted his album “El Último Tour del Mundo” (The Last Tour in the World).

But the match turned out to be much more than a grab for ratings and a younger audience with a cartoonish celebrity performance. Benito really brought it on the night. And he brought us with him, in more ways than one.