UFC Bantamweight Erik Perez asked to be allowed to wear a luchador mask -- the kind made famous by Mexican professional wrestlers like El Santo and Mil Mascaras - during his walk to the Octagon before his UFC debut against John Albert in June. The UFC said "no."
But now, realizing that fighters need to be given the chance to distinguish themselves from the pack in order to capture the imagination of fans the UFC has changed their mind and Perez will wear a custom-designed luchador mask on his way to the Octagon to face Byron Bloodworth at UFC 155 this Saturday.
Perez spoke to Kevin Iole about the mask:
"When I was a child, the masked warriors were people who never gave up, never stopped fighting no matter the odds, and fought with pride and warrior spirit," Perez said. "I think all Latinos are luchadors, maybe not in the Octagon, but in life, and by putting on the mask, I become each and every one of them and they become me."
After pleading his case with White, Perez finally got permission to wear a mask before his three-round bantamweight fight Saturday at the MGM Grand Garden against Byron Bloodworth. Members of the UFC marketing team came up with a rough outline, but it was finalized by Victor Martinez.
Sports Illustrated has more on the thinking behind the UFC's change-of-mind:
Honoring his Aztec forbearers who believed they derived strength by wearing máscaras, or masks, Perez's entrance is as much about theatrics and heritage as it is about business and bottom lines. In the UFC's stable of roughly 400 fighters, Perez is the league's only Mexican-born fighter and it's most promising entry point into Mexico's 112-million person marketplace. UFC president Dana White has been forthright about "aggressively" cultivating the Mexican market and says he's at work on introducing The Ultimate Fighter: Mexico series. And for good reason. The boxing-loving country bolsters Pay-Per-View and cable ratings -- the sports' economic lifeblood -- when the card features a fellow Mexicano. Take, for example, the 1.05 million PPV buys for this month's Manny Pacquiao bout against Mexican Juan Manuel Marquez compared with the 900,000 buys for Pacquiao's June match-up with American Tim Bradley.
Jonathan Snowden adds more about the ongoing connection between MMA and pro wrestling:
With his masked walk to the cage, Perez will do more than carry the legacies of childhood favorites like lucha libre star Octagon, a dazzling performer who mixed traditional martial arts moves with his high-flying escapades in the early 1990's. He will also build another bridge connecting professional wrestling and mixed martial arts, a tradition that started in Brazil at the very foundation of Brazilian jiu jitsu and lives to this day in the verbal hijinks of Chael Sonnen and the annual mega shows in Japan.