|Wrestling Observer Hall Of Fame Member
José Díaz Velázquez, better known in the lucha libre world as Ray Mendoza, is, along with Perro Aguayo, the biggest and most important non-masked legend ever in the history of professional wrestling in Mexico. Actually, he was masked during a short run in his early career, but that information is not widely known and completely irrelevant to his success.
He was born on July 6, 1929 at the Colonia Morelos at the Tepito district in Mexico City and lived his childhood there. Life was tough because of his family's precarious economic situation, and it didn't help living in a district famed because of its street violence.
He quit school at an early age, without even having a proper basic education, and started working at a bakery so he could become economically independent to support himself and his wife Lupita Mendoza, who he had married at the young age of 15.
He was a good athlete, and street life had toughened him up, so after competing in several sports at an amateur level (including cycling, swimming, cliff-diving and baseball) he decided to join the Gimnasio Gloria (gym) at Colonia Guerrero to become a boxer. Even though at first he was only looking to learn a way to defend himself properly, he ended up joining the pro ranks in 1950 after being trained by Juan "El Charrito" Espinoza. It wasn't an easy task, because he had to be up all night working at the bakery to get the bread ready for early in the morning, and then after work go to the gym to train.
His first real contact with lucha libre was almost by coincidence. He once overslept, and arrived late to the gym so he missed the transport to Queretaro, where he was scheduled to box against Pirrín Vega. Espinoza was mad, and didn't want to hear from Mendoza anymore, so Mendoza politely asked some pro wrestlers to spar with him. They accepted, largely to make fun out of a boxer, and one of them took Mendoza to the mat. He did not know how to defend himself there, and a knee to the back injured him, largely ending his boxing career. He had a mixed career, having several managers (the last one being Manuel Moreno), around 20 bouts before retiring and as his biggest career fight, a loss to "Pelón" Cabrera in the finals of the first ever Distrito Federal "Golden Gloves" tournament. His boxing name was Joe Díaz.
He kept lifting weights at the same place until the gym owner, Efrén "Ray" Carrasco, encouraged him to become a luchador. He was a fan of lucha, with his favourites being Black Shadow and Cavernario Galindo, and at that point, probably not even in his wildest dreams he imagined he'd spend decades in the ring fighting them. So he left his work as a health inspector for the government, and trained with Carrasco. First he was taught amateur wrestling, and submission fighting that Carrasco had learned in Central America, and then the actual "pro" wrestling training was done by Rogelio de la Paz, Genaro Contreras (who is not Ringo Mendoza or a relative, even though they share the same real name), Raúl Rojas and Daniel García (who would later become famous as Huracán Ramírez).
Once in 1953 there was a no-show at Arena Roma Mérida, in Monterrey, Nuevo León, and while he was there just to train, they had him cover the match. He had not actually started the second part of his training with the actual professional wrestlers, so he basically defended himself as a boxer would.
He officially debuted some months later, also in Monterrey, and his first ring name was "El Pelón" (Baldy) Chato Díaz, but he was soon told to seriously consider changing it, because that was the name a lowcarder would have. He used several names, such as "Indio" Mendoza, El Rayo Rojo and El Hombre del Rayo Rojo, and also having a masked run as Gargantua from 1954 to 1955 until losing it to Al Velasco. But the name that finally stuck in was "Ray Mendoza", a tribute to both his maestro Ray Carrasco and his wife Lupita Mendoza. That name is often misspelled as Rey (King) Mendoza, but he never used that name, or even Rey as a nickname.
He had the build of a big rudo, a natural light heavyweight that could trim down to the middleweight division (back when weight divisions were actually respected), had polished skills, great ring presence and "angel" (term used in Mexico to refer to the special charisma that separates very charismatic wrestlers from idols), and in less than a year and a half of the name change, he made his Arena Coliseo debut. That 25th of February of 1956 he was put in a "campal" (battle royal) with Gori Guerrero, El Santo, Cavernario Galindo, Blue Demon and Black Shadow, the five most important men in lucha at the time, so that should speak volumes about the confidence that Salvador Lutteroth had in him.
During the second half of the 50s, and most of the 60s, Ray Mendoza formed a feared team with René Guajardo and Karloff Lagarde, which was heavily featured in main events all over the country. All three were excellent workers and proven money draws, so they provided years of quality wrestling for the fans and years of good gates for the Lutteroth family. As a trio, they had battles with trios of tecnicos like Santo, Rayo de Jalisco or Blue Demon, or a rudo vs. rudo rivalry with the three Espantos, famous both because of the bloodbaths and the unusual sight of six rudos brawling all over. They were also real-life best friends and very well liked by their fellow luchadores because they were backstage leaders that would confront their bosses asking them to improve the work salaries and conditions of the EMLL employees.
Mendoza's first title was the NWA World Light Heavyweight Title he won on August 11, 1959, beating long-time opponent Dory Dixon in Guadalajara, Jalisco. By doing this he became the first Mexican to have this title, and even though the title already was in Mexican land (the Jamaican Dixon won it in Mexico, and he was wrestling in the country full-time), it wasn't until Mendoza won it than the fans didn't feel that the title really belonged to Mexico, even if it meant it was a rudo winning it. During the years, he'd capture the championship for a grand total of 6 times, and the last time (December of 1973 to July of 1974) he didn't lose it, but vacated it. And he vacated it for a reason, but we'll go into further detail later.
As a Light Heavyweight Champion (and let's remember that because the NWA World Heavyweight Champion would rarely tour Mexico, this was the grand prize in all of lucha libre) he had memorable rivalries with many legends of the era.
Gori Guerrero was one of his most outstanding opponents. Both were wrestlers cut out of the same cloth, though Guerrero was a finer technician and Mendoza had a rougher style, and the questions many fans and magazines of the era would ask themselves and debate for hours who was the better worker, similar to the Kobashi/Misawa/Kawada debates, Funk Jr./Brisco, Race/Flair or the Michaels/Hart debate.
In 1965, with his rising popularity, he turned tecnico and started feuding with his old partners Lagarde and Guajardo. It all started when on June 18, Cavernario Galindo and Ray Mendoza had to fight Benito Galan and Karloff Lagarde in the finals of a one-night tag team tournament. With four rudos going at it, in-ring friendships and comraderies were forgotten and Lagarde didn't get over losing, so he challenged Mendoza to a hair vs. hair match, held on July 30 and won by Mendoza. Guajardo, who was caught in the middle of the rivalry, sided with Lagarde claiming Mendoza had just gotten greedy. On June 6, at the Arena Mexico main event Guajardo and Lagarde faced off Ray Mendoza and his new partner, of all people, Mil Mascaras. People could just not believe what they were seeing when the new tecnico dream team defeated cleanly the promotion's top rudo team. A week later, the match was repeated with El Santo as Mendoza's ally. Again, the result was the same and the arena went down big time, cheering for Mendoza. Lutteroth hit the jackpot with the turn, and when Guajardo defeated Mendoza in a hair match on August 30, they sold out the building with a gate of 150,000 pesos of the era, the best of that year and one of the best of the decade.
The rivalry didn't die off here, though, as Mendoza's revenge quest successfully headlined arenas all over the country during the following years. However, Mendoza actually never claimed revenge by beating Guajardo in a hair vs. hair match, but he usually got the upper hand in title matches.
In 1967 he had a series of matches for the NWA World Middleweight title with Guajardo, but Ray dropped the title since after winning the Light Heavyweight title since he also was well over the weight limit. Mendoza, storyline-wise, did this to prove to himself that he could become a double champion, and since there was no way that he could realistically make the weight anymore, problems with the commission were bound to happen sooner or later. Also in 1967, he held the National Light Heavyweight Title and the NWA Americas Tag Team titles - the latter three times in Los Angeles, where he toured with great success many times, as his style was very well accepted there. While in Los Angeles, he also captured the NWA United Heavyweight Title from the legendary "Golden Greek" John Tolos, on December 4, 1970 at the Olympic Auditorium. He defended the title during two months and it was ruled by the NWA that Tolos was victim of a fast count and the title was returned back to Tolos. The real reason for that is that they wanted Tolos to go to Japan to job the title to Antonio Inoki, then working for the JWA. After the promotion died, the title became property of All Japan Pro Wrestling of the great Giant Baba, and in 1989 it became part of the famed Triple Crown, one of the most prestigious championships ever in wrestling.
El Solitario was another one of Mendoza's most famous opponents. El Solitario's debut at Arena Mexico was on September 6 of 1966, and he immediately got engaged in a rivalry with Mendoza, who surprised at the young man's in-ring performance, tried to cut off his success by unmasking him. On December 13 of 1968 in what at the time was considered one of the biggest upsets ever in the wrestling history of the country, Solitario defeated Mendoza clean in a hair vs. mask match. Two weeks later, on a Christmas card, Solitario repeated the feat with Guajardo being the victim. Solitario, who was a rudo, was seen by many insiders and regular fans as the best thing going on in lucha, but the relative unselfishness (relative because of the huge money purses involved in the matches) of the two main event veterans in putting over the young star, is what solidified Solitario' s status as a main event guy in the eyes of every fan of lucha libre.
Mendoza also was one of the key players in the 1974 "independent revolution" and the start of the UWA, and consequently, one of the hottest periods ever in the history of lucha libre. Salvador "Chavp" Lutteroth Jr. and Francisco "Paco" Alonso Lutteroth joined the promotion's office, and this made some people unhappy, since it meant that Salvador Lutteroth Sr. was soon to be gone and there would be a big power change. Lutteroth Sr. was not universally loved, but he was universally respected, which could not be said of his son.
This gets us to Ray Mendoza's position in the company at that moment. Even though he was the NWA World Light Heavyweight champion at the time, Ray Mendoza was very unhappy about life in the EMLL for him and, especially for his sons (Villanos I, II and III), who he thought the promoters weren't pushing enough. He felt that there was an uncertain future under the new powers-to-be, so he, his sons and his best friends Karloff Lagarde and René Guajardo gave notice. They got in touch with Francisco Flores, a former EMLL minor arena promoter that severed his ties with La Empresa when they didn't send him whoever he wanted and didn't let him run things "his way". So on January 16, 1975, a clean break was made and with the money backing of Flores and Benjamín Mora Jr. (long time second generation Baja California promoter), a new federation was born. The new corporation was listed as "La Alianza de la Lucha Libre Internacional, S. C.", but the name was eventually changed to "Lucha Libre Internacional, S. C." when Mora's part of the company was bought out. The belts were called UWA (Universal Wrestling Association), which is the name mostly used to refer to the company outside Mexico. The promotion's first card was on January 29.
Mendoza and friends were in charge of the talent acquisitions and got a really important part of the big EMLL names to jump, plus acted as scouts in order to sign some of the hottest independent talent around. This had not been the first time that Lutteroth had had competition, but for the first time ever, this competition was seriously strong and threatening.
As one can guess, with the power Mendoza had within the promotion, he became the first UWA World Light Heavyweight Title holder (by winning a tournament). While the reasons for Mendoza's title win could be seen as ego-driven, this was the best business-wise move at the moment, as Mendoza's image was associated with the title so much that whoever beat him for it would get the rub from the legendary champion. Ray had UWA Light Heavy title switches with El Audaz and Solitario until he lost it for good to Gran Hamada.
He kept wrestling regularly for LLI/UWA and by the late 70s he reformed his team with Guajardo (who was more active as a booker in Northern Mexico than as a wrestler by then) to feud with masked idols El Solitario and Fishman or with the Japanese aces Gran Hamada and Satoru Sayama (pre-Tiger Mask). Mendoza also was a feature in the Toreo cards in a team with son Villano I, and sometimes Villano III. Since Mendoza's physical abilities were considerably diminished by this point, he was mostly put in tag team matches against a Perro Aguayo or an Abdullah the Butcher so he could have a bloody, slower paced and dramatic brawl.
One of Mendoza's last great singles matches was him challenging Tatsumi Fujinami for his WWWF Jr. heavyweight title in a 2/3 falls match at El Toreo in August of 1978. This was a really great mat based match, and while Fujinami was one of the best in the world at that point, Mendoza more than held his own and showed that his body was broken down, but he still had his wrestling mind and knew what to do and how to do it.
Another one of the memorable matches in the later days of his career was when on September 13 of 1981 he fought "The Ape Man" at the Palacio de los Deportes. Even though the name suggests something else, The Ape Man was a martial artist that fought Ray (legit toughman with a strong reputation) in a worked wrestler vs. martial artist match, which is a concept they borrowed from the New Japan Pro Wrestling and Antonio Inoki, the promotion and wrestler that made it successful. Mendoza won this fight, which was considered to be very dramatic and heated, but the style didn't really stick in and it was never used in such a big fashion (headlining a big event) again.
Mendoza announced his retirement on October of 1982 and retired some months later, already in 1983, after doing an old-fashioned retirement tour whose final match was a singles bout with Solar I in Panama. Back then there was no television in most parts of the country, and most wrestlers would do that, both to say goodbye to the fans all over the country and to get a last string of nice payoffs. Perro Aguayo, being old-school as it gets, did this retirement tour deal a couple of years ago, but of course Aguayo eventually returned to places where he'd drawn great crowds and many tears from fans who thought that they would never see their childhood idol wrestle again.
Ray retired and never wrestled again, even though he became a referee for the LLI/UWA for special matches (like major title matches where his presence would mean a fair match with the rulebook being enforced strictly, or mask vs. mask challenges such as El Solitario vs. Dr. Wagner in 1986) and also he had a hand in training (along with Villano I, Lagarde and Felipe Ham Lee) a lot of the undercard youngsters of the UWA's last days.
From 1998 onwards he was best known as the lead commissioner of the Comisión de Box y Lucha del Distrito Federal, whose current president is El Fantasma. Ray was featured on TV almost weekly, and appeared in many angles as an spokesman when title, hair or mask challenges were thrown in after a match. Even younger generations of fans knew that Mendoza being there meant respect and justice.
He always was a respected personality who was considered to be twice as successful since all five of his wrestling sons are/were good workers and top stars. He was an avid book reader who, when fame and money came in, took care of his education. Education was so important to him that he did not let any of his five sons become a wrestler until he had an university degree, so they'd have a cushion to fall back on if they had to retire early.
Even at advanced age, he tried to keep in good shape by practicing yoga. Once in the 80s while Mendoza was in a session, his leg got stuck on the back of his neck and he couldn't get it off there. He was starting to have problems to breathe, which was even worse because he panicked, and he probably would have died if it had not been for his wife coming in to see him, and luckily, helping him with the stuck leg. Even with the seriousness of this story, Mendoza would tell it with a smile to the magazines during later years and how he was so lucky to have such a lovely wife.
Mendoza was a family man, and Lupita's death in 1986 affected him very much. Unlike many wrestlers who had a girlfriend or two in every arena, he would try to see his family as much as he could. It was also because of his family that he was such a physical wreck in his late years. He had eight children (José de Jesús "Villano I" being the first one, then José Alfredo "Villano II", Arturo "Villano III", Rita Marina, Leonor, Villano V, Lupita and the youngest being Villano IV) and with such a big family to support, even being one of the highest paid wrestlers in Mexico at the time he could never let his injuries heal properly because bills would start to pile up fast. Due to that, he eventually had his meniscus (knee cartilage) removed, and most of the fingers in his hand were twisted, which is why he was nicknamed (Jefe Indio Dedos Chuecos) "Chief Twisted Fingers". Due to that, he couldn't actually get the fist shape of a regular hand when closing it.
On Tuesday April 15, 2003, he was taken to the Hospital General de Naucalpan with a kidney failure made worse by an arrythmia that shut off his right lung. He had been carrying a degree of health problems from two years back, when the death of his son Villano I caused him to get depressed, because it reminded him very much of his other son, Villano II, tragically dying in 1989. Early on the year he had been ill with a pneumonia, but he recovered well of it, even though the problem came back and this time he could not recover. Conflicting reports say Mendoza died after suffering a heart attack either at 11:00 PM on Wednesday April 16, 2003 or at 2:00 AM a day later.
More than 100 persons went on April 18 to the "Panteón Francés", where Mendoza was buried in the family's crypt, to say goodbye to him for the last time. Among the attendants from the business were his three sons, daughter-in-law La Infernal (married to V3), Canek, Super Astro, José Luis Feliciano (Guerrero del Futuro), Mano Negra, Fuerza Guerrera, El Indómito (Coco Amarillo from the original AAA Payasos), Ultraman, Pierroth Jr., Olímpico, Shocker, Karloff Lagarde Sr. and Jr., Rey Vikingo, and others, including Ringo Mendoza.
Ringo Mendoza, who has no family ties to Ray or any of the Villanos, was helped by Ray to get in the business and because facially he looked like his son, he gave him the blessing to use the Mendoza last name. They even teamed together for a while and many fans at the funeral, who still remember the team, gave Ringo their condolences and told them they were so sad that "his father" had passed away.
Ray helping Ringo did not sit well with Ray's wife and sons, because Ray did not help or support his sons when they told him they wanted to become wrestlers, because he did not want them to be as hurt as he always was and wanted them to be a doctor, or a lawyer, or anything else except a wrestler. But when he realized that he could not change their minds, Ray supported them and helped them as much as they could and used his contacts to get them regular spots in arenas like Naucalpan when they were rookies getting seasoned.
With Mendoza passing away, one of the last survivors of Lucha Libre's golden era was gone. May he rest in peace.
Luchas de apuestas record
- Lucha Libre 94
- Lucha Libre 97
- Box Y Lucha 929
|Villanos: I ▪ II ▪ III ▪ IV ▪ V