Most professional wrestling fans are already familiar with the name ‘Vampiro.’ This could be due to his memorable feuds and matches on WCW Monday Nitro against the likes of Sting and Hulk Hogan, or thanks to his role as the color commentator —and eventual wrestler—in Lucha Underground, but the fact remains. Vampiro is a perfectly well-known star in the world of pro wrestling.
But in Mexico, it is a completely different story.
Vampiro is much more than just a veteran wrestler in Mexico. Before he arrived at World Championship Wrestling in 1999, the real-life Ian Hodgkinson had been wrestling for CMLL in Mexico since his arrival to the country seven years prior.
And during these seven years, Vampiro cemented his name as one of the most popular foreigners to ever compete in the country.
What most people do not know about the long-told origin story of Vampiro, is that maybe none of it would have ever happened had it not been for the pairing of Norman Smiley, then known as “Black Magic,” and legendary booker Antonio Peña.
As the story goes, Antonio Peña, then working for CMLL in the iconic Arena Mexico, not only took a chance on Ian Hodgkinson and allowed him to train and wrestle but also officially baptized him as “Vampiro Canadiense” during their very first time together. A conversation made possible by Norman Smiley, who took Vampiro under his wing and who Vampiro credits as one of the people responsible for his overnight success in Mexico.
Just to put a little context into Vampiro’s meteoric rise, just inside his first six months as a professional wrestler, he had already been in the ring with icons such as Atlantis, Octagon, Perro Aguayo, and Eddie Guerrero, among others. And this was during some of their arguable primes, as Vampiro worked with Atlantis only months after famously winning Kung Fu’s mask and with Konnan during his iconic feud against Perro Aguayo Sr.
From the very moment of his arrival, Vampiro Canadiense was an immediate sensation, especially with the female portion of the audience, as his obscure look and punk-rock attitude made him an overnight sex symbol in Mexico. He became so popular with the Mexican women that his personal life quickly became mainstream news, as it was often reported Vampiro enjoyed going out with some of Mexico’s top female celebrities at the time.
Back in the early 1990s, the lucha libre scene in Mexico was much different than what it is now.
When Vampiro arrived in Mexico in 1991, lucha libre was so popular that it was common to see some of the biggest arenas completely sold out several times a week. This meant that even while just setting in in Mexico, learning the language, and as a complete rookie, it quickly became routine for Vampiro to wrestle in front of 15,000 and 20,000 people all over the country.
Vampiro’s second year in the wrestling business would be even bigger, as he not only put his long dreadlocked hair on the line five times but he would win all five matches in only a matter of nine months. Out of those nine matches, the hair of Bestia Negra II, Rick Patterson, Pirata Morgan, Aaron Grundy, and Sangre Chicana fell victim to the skyrocketing Vampiro.
Vampiro was undoubtedly, alongside Konnan, the most popular foreigner in maybe the history of Lucha Libre. He left Mexico in 1999 after signing with World Championship Wrestling. While his time in WCW and subsequent tours through Japan was not particularly successful, his popularity in Mexico did not drop one bit.
Vampiro’s in-ring career was heavily slowed down when a top-rope powerbomb delivered by Mike Awesome on WCW Halloween Havoc 2000 resulted in a broken neck and a massive concussion. Despite him wrestling consistently for years after this massive injury, Vampiro was never the same following that match.
When the time came to return to Mexico in 2002, Vampiro was received like a returning hero by the Mexican audiences, and his legend only continued to grow as he engaged in legendary feuds with the likes of Shocker and Rey Bucanero, where he took Bucanero’s hair and lost his very own to Shocker, in the main event of the 47th Anniversary of Arena Mexico.
Vampiro lost his hair one final time in his career alongside Pierroth against legendary brothers Cien Caras and Mascara Año 2000. Vampiro would then defect to CMLL’s rival promotion Lucha Libre AAA, where he has wrestled sporadically basically ever since.
Some of the moments that stand out during Vampiro’s comeback run in AAA include competing in three Bull Terrier matches against Shocker and Cibernetico in less than a year, losing to Cibernetico in a Buried Alive Match that very much resembled the future Undertaker’s Boneyard Match, and bizarrely winning commentator Arturo Rivera’s hair on behalf of Joaquin Roldan by defeating Konnan.
Later on in 2014, when AAA launched Lucha Underground, Vampiro was signed as the color commentator. As he recalls during his 2020 documentary “Nail in the Coffin: The Fall & Rise of Vampiro,” he felt this was his “rebirth” in the wrestling business. While his job was to commentate on the matches exclusively, he noticed a lack of direction and cohesion in the matches and eventually became an agent. Then, a whole new legacy began for Vampiro.
As the 2020 documentary perfectly depicts, Vampiro began contributing to the AAA shows outside the ring, behind the curtain. Vampiro began wearing many hats in the AAA production, from producing the matches to translating for the talent to directing the cameras to develop the storylines. It showed as the promotion took a much more Americanized system, focusing on the stories and the TV shows.
Vampiro even went as far as to say, “To be back there and to see some of the things that are still around and to still be around but now to be the guy who helps young guys achieve their goals. I think this is the best time in my career! It is the most fun I’ve ever had. I’m enjoying this a million and one times more than I ever did when I was Vampiro. I hated being Vampiro! I absolutely love doing what I’m doing now.”
And this love for producing absolutely shows in Vampiro’s work. From frantically and infamously yelling for his music to be played during a live TripleMania show, to just recently putting his love of music and wrestling together with the AAA and NWA “The World is a Vampire” festival in Mexico City.
Vampiro came in with the most basic knowledge of how professional wrestling worked, not knowing the language, not knowing anybody, and in only a couple of years, became the most famous foreigner in Lucha Libre history.
And over 30 years later, he’s still there. Not only still doing as much as he physically can do inside the ring, but he is also contributing outside of it by passing down his extensive knowledge, nurturing and developing the next generation of stars.
A true legend.
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