Without fail, if you mention the name Rey Mysterio to anyone who has followed professional wrestling over the past few decades, their eyes will light up. After all, in the world of American wrestling, there is no one quite like him—often imitated, never equaled.
Small in stature, Mysterio wore a mask that tied him to the grand tradition of lucha libre in Mexico, where his career began. Though it can be difficult for masked wrestlers to connect with wide audiences outside of Mexico, Rey had a charisma that made an outsized impression, and skill, talent, and high-flying ability that changed the industry forever. When I talk to young wrestlers today, he’s spoken of with reverence—for many, he was what inspired them to start wrestling to begin with.
After 29 years in the business, including a run as WWE World Heavyweight Champion, Rey could rest comfortably in retirement as one of the greatest and most influential wrestlers to ever grace the squared circle. Instead, at 43 years old, Mysterio is poised to return to a WWE ring for the first time in four years.
Mysterio and I are sitting in Dubai to discuss the launch of the latest video game WWE 2K19—the first game he has appeared in in since leaving WWE.
“I’m enjoying every moment of it right now. Soaking it in,” Mysterio says.
When he stepped away in 2014, at the age of 39, many thought they may have seen the last of Rey Mysterio in WWE. After all, his intensely physical, high-flying style was one that many predicted would cut his career short, and it looked as if he could no longer handle the strenuous schedule that WWE demands of its top superstars.
“Having eight surgeries on my knee has been really tough, and that was one of the main reasons I had to step away. As you know, when you sign up to be part of the WWE roster, it’s a grind. Don’t get me wrong, I loved every moment of it, without a doubt, but there comes a time when your body just says, ok, you’ve got to slow down a little bit,” Mysterio tells me.
For the past four years, Mysterio has wrestled across the wrestling world outside of WWE, allowing himself to heal, wrestle a lighter schedule on his own terms, and build up his reputation back up to even bigger than it was before. Now, he is poised to finally return for good.
“I’ve been able to refocus and concentrate on what work, and what doesn’t work for me. Being able to stay fit being able to eat the right things, take the right supplements. Sometimes you get caught up with your lifestyle, with traveling so much, with wrestling, you lose track of what you need for yourself. That was probably the best thing I could have done. Now, if the opportunity came back, and we came to a mutual agreement, I would be ready to come in and break the house down,” Mysterio tells me.
According to Mysterio, his relationship with WWE never soured in his time away, and the company has grown more understanding that he cannot work the same schedule he once did.
“I’ll tell you this, I’ve never felt rejected by the WWE. If anything, from the moment I left up until this moment I’ve felt like the doors have always been open. I’m grateful for that, truly grateful,” says Mysterio.
“Now, they do understand why I departed. Sometimes, that’s what you need. In any type of job, if you’re grinding 24/7 365 days a year, sometimes it’s good to step away and see the big picture from the outside, not being in the middle. I think that’s the best thing that could have happened.”
Rey has been officially announced to return at ‘SmackDown 1000’, the 1000th show of WWE’s long-running program, but it was at the Royal Rumble in January this year that Mysterio first made an appearance. When his music rang through the Wells Fargo Center in Philadelphia Pennsylvania, fans were overjoyed to see his return, and Mysterio looked to be in extraordinary shape, not having lost a step since he left.
“WWE definitely saw my performance at the Royal Rumble. I’m sure they saw how I looked, how I felt physically, and I really felt rejuvenated. Sometimes, that’s what we need.”
It was a special moment for Mysterio as well.
“I think that just goes to show the love that the fans have, and how loyal and how supportive they’ve been throughout my 29-year career. It also goes to show how, when you plan on giving the fans a surprise, that’s how the fans should react. It was a surprise for me to hear the reaction that I got, to hear the ovation,” he says.
“For me, the adrenaline was—I could not get my heart from pumping that hard. Even after the Rumble when I was back stage, my adrenaline was going full blast. That’s a feel good moment. I still talk about it. I get hyped up just talking about it and thinking about it. During the time of me running out and making my entrance and doing what I did in the ring, sometimes you get so caught up in the moment that you don’t really get to enjoy that feeling. I think that happened to me. I enjoyed it twice as much when I sat back and watched it at home on my couch.”
Three months later, Mysterio made another special appearance at WWE’s massive Greatest Royal Rumble event in Saudi Arabia.
“I enjoyed every single moment that I participated in the Greatest Royal Rumble. It had been four years since I performed in such a big crowd. I had been doing a lot of independent work in smaller venues. Still, fans are fans, whether it’s 10, 100, or 60,000. Just to be able to be around that atmosphere and be around a lot of the guys that I grew up wrestling with, such as the likes of Randy. I still get along with him incredibly. To me, he’s one of the best superstars out there right now. To be able to mix it up with him in the ring and have a moment with him, was awesome,” Mysterio says.
When WWE returns to Saudi Arabia on 2 November for Crown Jewel, Rey makes it clear he wants to return to the Kingdom.
“I would love to. That’s definitely on my wish list. Never say never right? Anything could happen from now to 2 November,” says. Mysterio.
Until his return, Mysterio will be reliving his greatest rivalries through WWE 2K19.
“That’s another feature, that you can create all these matches that I’ve had with great rivals like Chris Jericho, Eddie Guerrero, you name it. I had a long list of opponents who gave me the opportunity to put on a ten star match. Kurt Angle. Randy Orton was one of my favorites to be in the ring with. To be able to recreate those matches again in the video game is actually awesome,” says Mysterio.
Through 29 years, Mysterio still holds the same passion he once did for the sport.
“The moment that I stop feeling what I feel in this sport, that’s the moment I need to step away. I don’t need to do this for money or to just satisfy anybody else for this matter. I think it’s a personal satisfaction to be able to do what you love to do and transmit that feeling to your fans around the world. That’s genuine. You can’t fake that. You can’t replace that. That just comes from the heart,” says Mysterio.