Andrade “Cien” Almas debuts tonight on NXT TakeOver: The End. He’s yet another international star making his debut in WWE’s developmental promotion. Almas, 27 years old, has been wrestling on NXT Live Events as Manny Andrade (an anglicized version of his real name) for the last half year. He’s best known as Mexico luchador La Sombra, a top star in the CMLL promotion this decade. La Sombra is a name many people know but, since he didn’t cross over to English language audiences like a Shinsuke Nakamura, may not have seen a lot or may know know a lot about. To help, here’s a few things you should know about him.
He was a wrestling prodigy
Like many Mexican stars, Andrade comes from a family of luchadors. His grandfather, his father, his many uncles, and his brother are all in the wrestling business. Some had brief national runs, but they’ve been mostly been local stars around his hometown of Gomez Palacio, Durango. Andrade trained to be a luchador from an early age, and was actually in the ring wrestling real matches before he turned 14 as Brillante Jr., named after his father. He moved to Mexico City to train in CMLL’s own school a couple years later, and was on TV wrestling matches at the age of 16.
Brillante Jr.’s name was changed to La Sombra a couple years later. The name means “Shadow” in Spanish, and reflected the high hopes everyone had for him. His trainers gave him the new name because he reminded them so much of Oro, a rising high flying who tragically passed away in the ring at the age of 21. Oro’s been mythologized in his death as the great missing star, and they put the same expectations on Sombra. Sombra’s mask and Oro’s are very similar, except for the color and for the diamond in the middle of his mask. The diamond is his family’s trademark; if you see it on his gear in NXT, it’s a little shout out to them.
He became the top star he was planned to be…almost
Sombra won CMLL’s young stars tournament before he turned 18, and won his first major title before he turned 19. He was much lighter that he’d become in recent years, and more of a one dimensional flyer at first. CMLL quickly associated him with their top stars, and tours with NJPW exposed him to different styles and helped him become a more well-rounded wrestler. CMLL started running with Sombra as a top star in 2010, giving him mask wins on their two biggest shows of the year. Andrade was the heir apparent to top star Mistico.
Except it didn’t work out with him as top.
CMLL was falling with Mistico on top, then cratered without him. Sombra was knocked by fans for being too similar to Mistico, and too much of a creation of the promotion. There were positive moments, and a win over Shinsuke Nakamura (an extremely rare win for a Mexican over a NJPW wrestler) seemed like it might finally turn the tide. Unfortunately for Sombra, CMLL’s next major show featured a four-man mask match, the fans wanted to see any of the other three men get a big win, and just kind of lost their mind when Sombra won again. It was the point of no return for those fans, who rejected him as the top face of the CMLL.
Being a rejected top star was the best thing to ever happen
The fans booing the face of the company seems to be a common story in wrestling. CMLL handled it no better than anyone else for months, but finally gave into the reaction in spring of 2014. Rush, La Mascara, and La Sombra came together to form Los Ingobernables, a trio of tweeners who refused to get along with any other face or heel. Rush had long had the character of the good guy that every hates, and his partners adopted similar personalities. It was really Andrade’s first evolution as a character since he’d debuted: his natural confidence was dialed up to loud arrogance, and he changed to a more aggressive style. Sombra’s kept his previous high flying moves, but started using more suplexes and strikes, including the charging corner double knee smash that’s become his finishing move in NXT.
The change in attitude and look worked: the bad boy Ingobernables got over big, and their shirt became the most popular at the shows. The trio’s dedication to being rebellious and current played off well in CMLL’s normal staid and retro environment. (The act worked even out of that context; Sombra’s good friend Tetsuya Naito has since cloned much of the act for his own Ingobernables de Japon group – which may lead to people accusing Andrade of ripping off Naito when he does those same bits tonight!) Sombra was more popular as anti-hero than he had as a hero, and a mask match against CMLL legend Atlantis seemed like it might cement the young wrestler as the biggest star in the country.
WWE did not unmask him (but maybe only because he unmasked himself before they asked)
The NXT debut vignette for Andrade features him unmasking, facing away from the camera. It’s a reflection of what happened nine months ago, when Sombra unmasked in front of the camera, having lost the biggest match of his life to Atlantis.
It was a surprise to many, but made much more sense when the news of his WWE deal finally came to life. Andrade was aware WWE might ask him to wrestle unmasked, as they did with Alberto Del Rio, and wisely cashed in by losing his mask before he left town.
Andrade wrestled for a couple more months in Mexico after losing his mask, and before moving onto NXT. He had no setback from being unmasked; in fact, Sombra looked great as an unmasked man, and progressed at selling his emotions in a way his old mask would’ve allow. He also kept experimenting with looks, from high fashion to jumpsuits with monkey masks and baseball bats. (Some of those looks have made it to NXT; not so much the monkey masks yet.) Even with a deal in hand, Andrade worked hard in his final days, culminating with a hard hitting match against his best friend Rush that doubled as his secret farewell to his home promotion.
He’s going to do well in NXT
Andrade’s spent 2016 wrestling in NXT live events. Most people in the audience probably wouldn’t know the name La Sombra, and almost no one knows ‘Manny Andrade’. They know him by the end of his matches. Andrade’s seemed to have little issue translating over to WWE style, and often is mentioned as having the best match of the night. His flashy moves and look make Andrade standout, and he’s been overdue for a debut. The one thing we haven’t heard from him is his voice: Andrade knew very little English before coming to WWE. He’s much time at NXT learning the language, but NXT hasn’t had him try out speaking in front of crowds on these shows. NXT’s handled wrestlers who don’t speak English as their first language better than just about anyone, but Andrade’s first promo is still going to be pretty big sign of where he’s at.
Andrade should be fine in-ring wise, and that’ll be enough to progress him in NXT. He’s been rumored as a favorite to win the Cruiserweight Classic since it was announced, and debuting in a big way before the tournament starts lends credibility to those rumors. Andrade is talented enough to slide in one of the top roles in NXT as others move to the main roster, assuming he continues to transition well to WWE style. His eventual upside is along the lines of Sami Zayn or Kevin Owens, a near top guy who can be champion if the fans or the writers get behind at the same. Tonight’s match should be the first of many triumphs for Andrade “Cien” Almas.