I think the first thing I ever said to WWE’s Kalisto was, “You’re Kalisto, right?” My business partner, Michael Sandoval, and I were at a party for Gabriel Iglesias. Michael had spotted Kalisto in the room. Since we are both fans and considering that I am hardly shy, I walked right up to him and said, “You’re Kalisto, right?” This is not to say that I wasn’t intimated. The man has millions of fans worldwide, and if you’ve ever seen him wrestle, you are well aware of his athletic and acrobatic talents.
But from the start, Kalisto was incredibly warm and spoke to Michael and me for quite some time. It came immediately apparent that Kalisto was not only passionate about wrestling but just as passionate about helping and motivating others. In the last year, I have gotten to know Kalisto and his wife, Abby (Lady Lucha), and am forever grateful to call them friends. They are both incredible people who continue to inspire me.
Kalisto is known for his risky high-flying moves, agility, and for bringing Lucha libre to a global audience. But beyond the chants of “Lucha! Lucha!” how many people know the story of Manny Rodriguez, the man who is Kalisto? WWE is just one sliver of Manny’s incredible life and journey. Manny was born in Chicago but spent his childhood going back and forth from Chicago to Mexico City, never feeling immersed in either city. In 2006 Manny made his wrestling debut as Samuray del Sol. He soon made a name for himself as one of the top high-flyers.
In 2011 while on tour in Mexico, a wrestling match nearly cost Manny his life. During the match, Manny pre-planned doing a backflip double rotation from the ring to the floor. It’s an insanely hard move, but one he had done before. When the people on the floor that were positioned to catch him didn’t, he came inches to losing his life. Luckily the barricade help stopped his fall otherwise if he had hit the floor he surely would have died. He still has a scar on the back of his head that marks his near brush with death. Manny was diagnosed with post-concussion syndrome. Post-concussion syndrome is an extremely complex disorder that is thought to be caused by structural damage to the brain after a concussion. Because of the severity of the impact, for months Manny was plagued by intense headaches, extreme fatigue, and consent dizziness that caused nausea. This was the lowest point of Manny’s life. He was depressed, unsure if he even wanted to continue to wrestle.
Manny credits his wife, Abby, by giving him the motivation to recover, train, and continue to wrestle. In Mexico, Abby made sure Manny kept up with his training. In 2013 Manny signed a developmental deal with WWE and made his WWE debut as Kalisto. Manny works with a lot of charities and organizations, and one of his life’s goals is to continue to speak with and motivate children and adults. In interviewing Manny, my goal is to shed a little bit more light on this incredible man and his story. I also want people to know that Manny has an incredible heart and a great sense of humor. He loves horror movies, Child’s Play in particular, and immersive haunts that pop-up every Halloween. I want people to know more about Abby. She is currently working on her third master’s degree and dons a Lucha mask herself not only to show support to her husband but to show women their strength and their worth. The Rodriguez’s also love Persian cats and even have an Instagram page for their cats @kittylucha
When I interviewed Manny in Las Vegas recently, Abby and Manny immediately greeted me with warmth and kindness. I hope this is just the first of many in-depth interviews, not only with Manny but with Abby as well. A special thank you for the D Las Vegas for being extremely hospitable and letting us shoot our interview in their grand casino. I also have to thank our awesome camera guy David Peralta, who went a mini road trip with me to Las Vegas on a six-hour notice. And most importantly, thank you, Kalisto, and thank you, Lady Lucha, for all you do!