What: Major League Wrestling (MLW) aired its first live telecast in December 2018, a huge step for the fledgling wrestling company.
Why it matters: MLW has been able to showcase the Latin American talent on their roster — such as Rush, Konnan, Pentagón Jr., and Rey Fenix, and Salina de la Renta — as the company looks to expand into different markets.

Major League Wrestling (@MLW) finished 2018 strong, having recently aired its first live show, as part of its goal to expand the brand on a global scale.

MLW fans were treated to Consejo Mundial de Lucha Libre (@CMLL_OFICIAL) star, Rush (@rushtoroblanco) — leader of the highly popular Los Ingobernables stable, walking away victorious, in the main event, over Rich Swann (@GottaGetSwann), on a card broadcasted live in mid-December, a first for the growing wrestling organization launched by former World Wrestling Entertainment (@WWE) writer Court Bauer.

CMLL’s Rush, leader of the infamous Los Ingobernables wrestling stable, headlined MLW’s first live event that that aired on beIn Sports.

“Live sports programming is the focus of the next phase of our company’s growth,” said a spokesperson for MLW. “There is an electricity and sense of spontaneity to live wrestling on cable television. [It was] a momentous milestone for MLW, our fans and wrestlers.”

An agreement with beIn Sports (@beINSPORTSUSA) signed early in 2018, as well as its Spanish-language telecast deal with beIN Sports Español (@ESbeINSPORTS), have also been catalysts for the indy wrestling company in adding more exposure. Considering MLW’s roster is stocked with well known talent such as Rush, Mexican wrestling legend legend Konnan (@Konnan5150), current MLW World Heavyweight champion Low-Ki (@OneWorldWarrior), and the high-energy Lucha Brothers – the current MLW Tag Team champions, Pentagón Jr. (@PentagonJunior) and Rey Fenix (@ReyFenixMx); a Spanish broadcast seemed like a logical next step.

“The Spanish language telecast was done for several reasons,” said PWInsider.com’s Mike Johnson (@MikePWInsider). “One, it was something that BeIN Sports wanted and MLW was more than happy to provide it. Two, it opens the doors for MLW to have more potential as an internationally syndicated series. Three, it was a natural extension for the company given the number of Latin stars they have. If you want to attract the Latin demographic to your product, you must come to them and make them feel as if it’s ‘their’ product. By providing their weekly series in Spanish, MLW is opening the door for that audience and welcoming them into the house. Thus far, all indications are it’s been a success in the few months the Spanish version of the MLW: FUSION series has been on the air.”

If you want to attract the Latin demographic to your product, you must come to them and make them feel as if it’s ‘their’ product

Adding a Hispanic flavor to the organization was a big part of MLW’s plans, bringing in well known luchadors from Mexico, such as Puma King and LA Park, into the fold, as well as giving young talent such Ricky Martinez, Sammy Guevara (@sammyguevara) and Salina de la Renta (@salinadelarenta‏) an opportunity to shine.

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“MLW has embraced promoting authentic lucha libre as we identified it was being neglected in America,” said a spokesperson for MLW. “A large portion of our viewing audience is Spanish-speaking and we’ve seen their appetite for lucha libre grow as we introduce more top luchadores like Rush, Dragon Lee (@dragonlee95) and our World Tag Team Champions Pentagón Jr. & Rey Fenix.  We will continue to rev up promoting lucha in 2019 and beyond.”

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MLW believes that Salina de la Renta has a bright future in the industry. Currently, de la Renta is wrestling’s first female Spanish commentator, doing color commentary for beIN Sports Español.

MLW has high hopes for de la Renta, in particular, who plays a shot-caller entrepreneur with a pipeline to Latin American talent and connections to sports leagues, TV and film, as the founder of Promociones Dorado.

The 21-year-old from Carolina, Puerto Rico, who moved to Florida to pursue a career in film and screenwriting, was inspired to jump into the wrestling business after watching E! Networks (@eentertainment) Total Divas (@TotalDivas) reality show; which features WWE’s Bella Twins (@BellaTwins), Natalya (@NatbyNature), and Naomi (@NaomiWWE); as part of a film school project.

“That was actually the first time I have ever watched anything wrestling related,” said de la Renta to ProWrestling.com (@pw_dotcom). “As soon as I saw them in the ring I thought, ‘Oh my God! I feel like I’m meant to do that.’ It just wouldn’t leave my mind. I would eat and do different things and always thinking, ‘What if I’m meant to be a wrestler?’”

Changing her career path from performance arts to the squared circle, de la Renta chased her wrestling dream before being derailed by a severe knee injury, tearing her anterior cruciate ligament and meniscus attempting a leapfrog. The injury has not deterred her, as she has continued to hone her craft as leader of Promociones Dorado and manager for world heavyweight champion Low-Ki — who has previously competed for the WWE, IMPACT Wrestling (@IMPACTWRESTLING ‏), Ring of Honor (@ringofhonor) and New Japan Pro Wrestling (@njpwglobal); and as wrestling’s first female Spanish commentator, for the beIN Sports Español telecast.

Pentagón Jr.

“Salina de la Renta is a pro wrestling prodigy, the definition of ambition,” said a spokesperson for MLW. “She is 21, speaks three languages, an entrepreneur and in just a few months has ascended on a national television series without blinking.  Very few can handle the pressure. Salina could easily be a top star on-screen or a high-level executive. Her tenacity is unparalleled.”

Between the talent MLW is developing, the luchadors being signed from Mexico, and veteran wrestlers such as Sami Callihan (@TheSamiCallihan), Teddy Hart (@TeddyHartIsBACK), Tommy Dreamer (@THETOMMYDREAMER), and former Ultimate Fighting Championship (@ufc) light heavyweight Tom Lawlor (@FilthyTomLawlor), Johnson thinks that MLW has found a formula that is starting to pay off. Johnson believes that by allowing the Hispanic stars on their roster to connect with the fans organically, as opposed to repackaging them for American audiences, MLW has managed to succeed where they had they previously failed as a company.

“The company is progressive by having personalities like Konnan and The Lucha Brothers be no different from how they would be portrayed in Mexico. They are massive stars internationally and are treated as such here,” said Johnson. “They are presented as the lifeblood of the promotion, as important as any American wrestler. That gives MLW credibility and clout with the Latin audience because they don’t want to be treated secondary and they don’t want their heroes to be presented as anything but their heroes. MLW presents them as the stars they are, but in the MLW environment and in doing so, they enrich their own company and present themselves as a more global brand.”

What: Henry Cejudo last weekend became the first Olympic champion to win a UFC title.
Why it matters: The new flyweight champion is also the only Hispanic Olympic gold medalist, with a huge personality that is an ideal crossover hit for marketers.

He is an Olympic wrestling champion, the only Latino athlete to take home gold for the United States in the Beijing Olympics in any sport. The son of undocumented immigrants who worked hard to give him a better life, Henry Cejudo’s (@HenryCejudonarrative got all that much better last Saturday night at the Staples Center in Los Angeles, when he defeated Demetrious Johnson for the UFC Flyweight Championship title.

Following the win, Cejudo, who last year narrowly escaped death in one of the Northern California wildfires, jumping out a hotel window to safety, was immediately hailed as the next breakthrough face of the UFC (@ufc). His size, at only 5 foot 4, his personality—there is a book and a play about his life story already—and his seemingly reckless style which has earned him “Match of the Night” during numerous fights, all bode well for the Mexican-American California resident.

With the UFC in a bit of a plateau, and looking to attract a larger audience of first timers from the Latino ranks, could Cejudo’s rise be great for the Endeavor-owned MMA Venture? It seems so. With Modelo (@ModeloUSAnow on board as the “Official Beer,” and 7- Eleven (@7elevenas “Official Convenience Store,” the UFC’s growth to attract casual fight fans through partnerships is in a great place, and Cejudo can help seed that market now as a champion.

His story should be noticed by brands as an authentic opportunity to connect with Latinos. It’s really a no brainer.

And while Cejudo’s story was attractive even without a UFC belt, his success in the Octagon, coupled with some of the new partners who have come along, could really pay some very timely dividends.

“Being a champion or the best at any sport is always an important milestone for an athlete, and can typically lead to new opportunities. We see this across just about any sport. Add UFC’s brand popularity into this mix, especially among young men, Henry has positioned himself for great possibilities,” said Mario Flores, Managing Partner at Sportivo.  “This win for Henry adds to his already incredible journey: from an immigrant to Olympic champion to UFC champ. His story should be noticed by brands as an authentic opportunity to connect with Latinos. It’s really a no brainer.”

While fighters pimping out signage with body art and on shorts in the Octagon is much more uniform and controlled these days, any host of brands who are fight and training sport savvy and looking for the feel good Latino engagement probably doesn’t need to look much further than Cejudo.

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That could include everyone from mobile partners to financial services, along with the regulars looking to engage in the space like health and wellness brands. And although shoes and apparel are rarely high on the list for MMA  athletes, disruptive brands that score high in the Latino demo may find a home with the UFC’s latest Olympian turned champion.

Now of course the challenge to retain a belt in MMA is just as difficult as the rise to be a champion, but that dual Olympic-UFC narrative is certainly rare, and one that can live on for quite a long time. Cejudo has always been sponsor friendly and his narrative is robust for fight sports as well.

Will it translate into not just personal dollars but a solid bump in awareness for the UFC? Time will tell, but a great stage was set this weekend, once that can be a win for all.

What: New Japan Pro Wrestling (NJPW) aired its third show in the United States, as the company attempts to catch WWE in the business of professional wrestling.
Why it matters: NJPW has a solid long-time relationship with Mexico’s Consejo Mundial de Lucha Libre (CMLL), that could be used to help the company catch up to the WWE.

New Japan Pro Wrestling (@njpwglobal) continued its expansion into the North American wrestling market last weekend, as the G1 Special in San Francisco show aired live on AXS TV in the United States and the NJPWWorld (@njpwworld) digital platform around the world.

IWGP Heavyweight champion Kenny Omega (@KennyOmegamanX) headlined NJPW’s third U.S. Event, defeating “The American Nightmare” Cody (@CodyRhodes) — son of wrestling legend Dusty Rhodes, Saturday night, selling out the Cow Palace in Daly City, California, a crowd of over 10,000 wrestling fans.

The G1 Special in San Francisco show is just one of the steps Harold Meij, NJPW’s new president is taking to globally expand the company’s brand. The former vice president of Coca-Cola Japan and Japanese toy company Takara Tomy (@Tomy_Toy) has faith in his product, which he describes as “real-life Dragon Ball Z characters,” that it can appeal across various demographics and compete in the international market.

Consejo Mundial de Lucha Libre (CMLL) World Lightweight Champion, Dragon Lee, one of the Mexican stars competing in New Japan Pro Wrestling (NJPW), battled IWGP Junior Heavyweight Champion Hiromu Takahashi at Saturday’s G1 Special in San Francisco.
Strongly promoted and marketed Hispanic talent could definitely help NJPW compete with WWE.

“My thinking hasn’t changed since my time at Takara Tomy. I want to expand the fanbase regardless of age, gender or nationality,” said Meij recently in an interview with Japanese publication The Mainichi (@themainichi). “New Japan has fantastic content, so it has the possibility of picking up popularity overseas. At the moment, there are some 100,000 registered members on our video streaming service ‘New Japan Pro-Wrestling World,’ and 40,000 of them live outside Japan. I would like to aim for the international market with things like videos in English or events for foreign tourists.”

One business relationship that NJPW could turn to for help is their partnership with Mexico’s Consejo Mundial de Lucha Libre (@CMLL_OFICIAL), one of the oldest professional wrestling promotion in the industry. The relationship goes as far back as 2008, trading talent between the two companies, including the two co-promoting the Fantastica Mania Japan tours that launched in 2011. By 2016, the relationship had blossomed to the point where NJPW agreed to air CMLL’s Friday night show Viernes Espectacular de Arena México on their NJPWWorld OTT platform.

CMLL does exist for NJPW as a place where the Japanese wrestlers can work on character changes away from the eyes of their usual fans,” said N. Khan, founder of LuchaBlog,com (@luchablog); a blog dedicated to Mexican lucha libre-style of wrestling. “[Tetsuya] Naito’s (@s_d_naito) adoption of ‘Los Ingobernable’ style was a good example of this, as was Hiromu Takahashi’s (@TIMEBOMB1105) transition towards his ‘Time Bomb’ persona, and Shinsuke Nakamura (@ShinsukeN) debuting his ‘King of Strong Style’ personality in Mexico before bringing it back to Japan.”

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NJPW’s current rise coincides with the growing popularity of the Bullet Club (@BulletClubNJPW ‏). NJPW has managed to flex the beloved branding of the Bullet Club stable; a group of foreign wrestlers founded by Prince Devitt (known to WWE fans as Finn Balor (@FinnBalor)), later led by current WWE champion A.J. Styles (@AJStylesOrg), currently helmed by the charismatic Omega; and the clique’s storyline intents on “taking over” the company.

Tetsuya Naito’s “Ingobernables de Japon” gimmick he adopted in Mexico has gained popularity among wrestling fans both in the U.S. and Japan.

NJPW also found lightning-in-a-bottle with Naito’s “Ingobernables de Japon” brand, bringing Mexican swagger to Japanese wrestling, after teaming with CMLL superstar La Sombra (currently competing in the WWE as Andrade “Cien” Almas (@AndradeCienWWE)), back in 2015.

Hot Topic (@HotTopic) began peddling Bullet Club / NJPW merchandise after company executives asked the WWE officials if they could market and sell the Bullet Club shirts they saw all over Orlando, during Wrestlemania 33 weekend, not realizing the logo rights belonged to a competitor.

“Hot Topic said we need those shirts, they’re everywhere,” said Dave Meltzer (@davemeltzerWON), founder of Wrestling Observer, back in September of 2017. “(WWE) had to tell them they didn’t have them, so they had to hunt down who did. They got them and shocked everyone with the sales, they couldn’t keep them in stock.”

Former WWE champions, Rey Mysterio Jr., has competed for NJPW in 2018.

NJPW has taken further steps to take advantage of their current popularity, enhancing the talent on their roster by adding established veterans, well known to the North American market, such as former WWE champions Chris Jericho (@IAmJericho) (who recently defeated Naito for the IWGP Intercontinental Championship at the Dominion show in June) and Rey Mysterio Jr. (@reymysterio), on a part-time basis, to introduce the company to newer audiences who grew up strictly on a WWE wrestling diet.

NJPW credits Jericho for helping the company add as many as 25,000 new NJPWWorld subscribers when he co-headlined the Wrestle Kingdom 12 show, the company’s equivalent to the WWE’s Wrestlemania annual event.

Considering the immense contributions Hispanic wrestlers have made to the wrestling industry — from the likes of Mysterio, the Guerrero Family (including WWE Hall of Famer Eddie Guerrero) of Mexico and The Colons in Puerto Rico (including WWE Hall of Famer Carlos Colon) — NJPW may be wise to further tap into this talent pool, as they continue their quest to catch the WWE and takeover of the wrestling world. NJPW seems to be taking steps in that direction, featuring current CMLL World Lightweight Champion, Dragon Lee (@dragon_leecmll) at the G1 in San Francisco show, but has a long way to go.

Andrade “Cien” Alamas (R), known as La Sombra while competing for CMLL and NJPW, is currently signed with World Wrestling Entertainment (WWE).

“Strongly promoted and marketed Hispanic talent could definitely help NJPW compete with WWE. The lack of Hispanic wrestling stars is an obvious weakness in the entire North American market. It’s why Rey Mysterio Jr. is wrestling on NJPW shows and being promoted as a special star in WWE’s upcoming [@WWEgames] video game at the same time,” said Khan. “Naito & Almas bridged the gap between Mexico & Japan, but Almas is illustrative of the problem NJPW would have, to attack the US Hispanic market. Almas was a star in Mexico, a star in Japan, and could have been successfully marketed as a star in the US by either CMLL or NJPW, but WWE is desperate for their own Hispanic star for the US and scooped him up.”

As NJPW and WWE grapple for the hearts and minds of wrestling “marks,” the winners in this corporate wrestling feud are the fans.

“A decade ago, US fans had no legal access to NJPW and only saw a few CMLL matches a week if they were lucky enough to have some specialty cable channels,” said Khan. “Every important NJPW match is now available for a reasonable fee on their site, and most CMLL matches are streamed live and are free to watch on their official YouTube channel. There’s still a bit of barrier to entry, to understand what’s going on and where to find it, but it’s a closer playing field to WWE. Before, if people wanted to watch wrestling, WWE was really the only easy solution. Now there’s a lot that’s just a click away.”

Cover Image: courtesy NJPW

What: Cuba will send a team of Olympic and Panamerican Champion wrestlers to the annual Beat the Streets Benefit, May 17 in NYC.
Why it matters: Though diplomatic relations with Cuba are in flux, Cuba participating in a goodwill event like the Beat the Streets Benefit is important in what one day may soon be a viable market for brands.

The annual Beat the Streets (@BeattheStreetsBenefit has for the past nine years held a major Olympic-style wrestling event in New York. Medalists and World Champions abound on an evening of competition in front of a packed crowd watching the world’s best wrestlers battle and showcase the sport. And while it raises substantial, critical funding for an important youth program, the BTS benefit has served another purpose: uniting athletes and fans across the globe.

For the second time in the past four years, Cuba will provide the opposition for the Team USA men on May 17, after becoming one of the first squads to take advantage of the thawing of diplomatic relations between the two nations back in 2015, the most significant since Fidel Castro seized power nearly 60 years ago. Now the Cuban squad, chock full of highly-decorated champions, gets another crack at the Americans, and another grand display of international goodwill.

Events like the Beat the Streets Benefit that spotlight Cuban athletes here are even more important in maintaining the ties between the countries in the sports world.

“Even with the still fluid relationship and challenges that exist between the United States and Cuba, bringing their elite athletes to New York on a goodwill project like Beat The Streets is invaluable,” said veteran sports marketer and Columbia professor Chris Lencheski. “The ability to storytell and build long-term relationships throughout Latin America is going to be even more important going forward as economies continue to mature, and this is certainly a story worth telling, and one that brands may find interesting down the road as well.”

Times Square has been the location for six of the previous eight Benefits, including the matchup with Cuba three years ago. Next week, the scene moves to the Seaport District/Pier 17 in lower Manhattan, a majestic venue for what is being dubbed the “Rumble on the River,” incorporating the Nigerian women’s team and culminating in a Super Match featuring Jordan Burroughs (@alliseeisgold), 2012 gold medalist and probably the de facto mainstream star of the sport, perhaps rivaled only by 2016 gold medalist Helen Maroulis (@helen_maroulis), a Maryland native who now works mentoring BTS kids in New York.

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With 20 Major League Baseball players hailing from Cuba on current rosters—including established stars like Yoenis Cespedes, Jose Abreu and Kendrys Morales—and many more on the way up in the minors, America’s pastime has been the first beneficiary in the U.S. from the longtime hotbed of talent 90 miles off the coast of Miami.

While U.S.-Cuban relations are more precarious given today’s political climate, events like the Beat the Streets Benefit, that spotlight Cuban athletes here, are even more important in maintaining the ties between the countries in the sports world. It’s hard to predict right now what it will mean for U.S. companies trying to work their way back into the Cuban market after decades away, but USA Wrestling and Beat the Streets NY made it a priority to work through whatever channels it could to make the Cuban appearance a reality.

Cover Image: Reineris Salas Perez (credit: Tony Rotundo, WrestlersAreWarriors.com)

What: WWE and Spanish Sports Channel GOL enter into TV rights deal to broadcast WWE highlights in Spanish.
Why it matters: With this deal WWE continues to grow its influence and presence in Spain.

WWE and GOL Announce a New TV Deal

Spanish media group Medipro has announced that its free to air (FTA) sports channel GOL, has signed a rights partnership with the US wrestling organization, Worldwide Wrestling Entertainment (WWE). The length of the deal has not been disclosed, but GOL has started this week to offer WWE highlights of fighting shows Raw and SmackDown through three shows: Afterburn, Bottom Line, and Experience. Spain is the latest country to broadcast the shows as they are syndicated in other international markets as well. All of the shows will have Spanish commentary. GOL’s director, Francesc Carbonell, expressed his approval of the deal pointing out that spectators will now have the opportunity to enjoy WWE’s highlight programming. The shows will also be available on GOL’s TV Everywhere platform for those with a subscription and on its seven-day VOD.

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WWE’s Expanding Presence

Randy Orton at a WWE Live Event in Valencia, Spain.

The news of GOL picking up WWE highlight shows also comes after another FTA channel, Neox, owned by Spain’s Atresmedia, expanded its current agreement with the WWE to air Raw and SmackDown on the weekends. The audience figures in Spain for Raw and SmackDown have almost doubled since the shows started airing on Neox back in January 2014. This is the main reason for extension on that contract. Speaking on WWE’s most recent deal with GOL, WWE Co-President Michelle Wilson shared the same sentiments as Carbonell:

This partnership to televise WWE’s highlight shows in Spain allows us to expand our reach and deliver additional WWE programming to our fans throughout the country.

WWE has been trying to build its reputation and influence beyond the United States for a while now and these recent TV deals show potential. The organization has also branched out from just TV and had a European tour last year which included the Spanish cities of Madrid and Barcelona. The same European tour is in the works for this year, with visits to two more Spanish cities, Malaga and Zaragoza, on the books.

Check out the stars of Portada’s Sports Marketing Board, who will meet at Portada Miami on April 18-19 to discuss various topics related to the future of marketing and innovation in sports. Register now!

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