recognizable celebrities, like young Latina singer Linda
Ronstadt had yet to publicly embrace their culture. There
were few Latino athletes at the time and the absence of cable TV
and the Internet meant you didn’t get a chance to see them in
action unless your family could shell out the big bucks to
travel and purchase tickets.
One of the few precious
childhood memories I have is visiting the old Toledo Sports
Arena several times per year to see Big Time Wrestling
and cheering for my favorite wrestler Luis Martínez . In
between those visits we could watch the shows on local TV for
was my childhood hero for so many reasons: We shared the same
last name, spoke the same language and shared the same culture.
We shared many of the same physical traits; we even parted out
He gave me hope. Before
there was a Hulk Hogan or John Cena, there was
Luis Martínez – the ultimate good guy – battling the vilest
villains like the Sheik, Bulldog Don Kent and Killer
Tim Brooks. No matter how bad things looked, despite
incredible odds; with the fans behind him chanting, Arriba!
Arriba! Luis Martínez would rally and vanquish his stunned
foes. He never gave up.
I met Luis Martínez
when I was 9-years-old. Actually, I became involved in his match
against Bulldog Don Kent the night they wrestled
in my hometown of Adrian, Mich. Earlier in the evening, Bulldog
had ignored my plea for an autograph and I had promised that
“Luis is going to kick your [butt].”
When he entered the ring
for the match, I ran to ringside and loudly booed and taunted
Bulldog as the crowd joined in. I ran alongside Luis, cheering
wildly as he strode into the arena. Every time Luis would gain
the upper-hand, I would take a picture, prompting an
angry-looking Bulldog to threaten that if I continued he would
come after me and destroy the camera.
To that 9-year-old’s
horror, he did just that; chasing me around the arena as I
screamed for help and almost nabbing me several times before
Luis made the last minute saves. Some in the crowd yelled at me
to run and seek safety; others laughed because instead I would
resume taking pictures until Bulldog began chasing me again.
Finally, I found the safety of my mother’s arms and Luis
defeated Bulldog inside the ring.
After the show, Luis
Martínez invited my cousins, my friend David, and I backstage
where he signed autographs, posed for photos, and patiently
answered all our questions.
For the next six years
Luis would call me periodically, to listen and encourage me as I
struggled to overcome a troubled childhood. He sent my family
tickets to nearby wrestling shows. My hero became my best friend
and the only father-figure I ever had.
We lost touch when I left
home at age 14. The years passed and our onetime friendship
became a distant memory. I decided to try and find out what
ever happened to Luis Martínez about two years ago. What I
discovered troubled me: Luis’s health had been deteriorating for
several years and he was residing at the California Gardens
Nursing Facility in Chicago Ill.; his memory lost.
Luis Martínez died
peacefully at the nursing home without any fanfare in September
of 2013, Steve Johnson, a writer and photographer for
Slam Sports, confirmed recently.
have a lot of friends in wrestling who felt Luis was a prince of
a man so what you said about him does not surprise me,” said
Johnson. ”People like that are rare in wrestling and in life.”
promoter Eddie Farhat Jr., who inherited the business
from his father, the original Sheik, agreed.
“He was a good
man; a very kind man,” said Farhat. “He truly cared about
heroes like that shouldn’t be forgotten.